27 Feb 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 5

"No, stop that!  Don't go that way!"
"The Academy has a reputation in town for being dangerous, not without merit."
"The Academy doesn't need the Humane Society or Children's Aid here."
"I need to be ready for when my sister raises her zombie hordes."

The New Girl
Chapter 5 - Chocolate Bars and Gigglesmoke

Laura stirred the dregs of her hot chocolate absently.  She admitted to herself that Flora was right about the cafĂ© having the best in the city, even if Flora herself was slightly mad.  Laura sighed; the entire Academy seemed to be slightly mad.  Worse, for the past half-hour, she had been talking with Flora about how to improve her robot's organic interface.  Was she becoming as mad as everyone else there?

"There's no blood flow," Flora said.  "I'm using an oxygenation cycle, replacing the blood with a perfluorocarbon emulsion instead.  If I don't use bodily fluids, I don't get the Headmistress on my ass about ethics and the proper use of the human body again."

"I still don't see why a computer couldn't do what you want."  Laura sipped her hot chocolate.  "Smartphones and tablets know which way is up.  Why not hook one of those in?"

"The robots are just the first step."  Flora set down her mug.  "If I can figure out how to connect the squirrel brain to the robot, I can then use that to connect mine to something bigger."

26 Feb 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 4 - Commentary

Welcome to the commentary for "Squirrel Brains and History".  Please read the chapter first; no need to be spoilered.

The story keeps following Laura as she gets herself lost in the Academy's building.  The chapter let me get a bit lighter while still emphasizing that the Academy isn't for normal girls.  Case in point, Flora, who is building her own robot army.  One of the goals I set out for myself was to make sure that every girl at the school had a reason to be there.  They couldn't be up for something illegal, though.  Flora and her twin sister, Fawna, are there because they're trying to break the laws of nature and possibly physics.  Laura isn't really an exception, which I'll go on about in Chapter 5's commentary.

Flora and Fawna got their names before I discovered the Share a Coke campaign.  The idea of the twins started as a running gag.  Flora does not look like her sister Fawna, but no one can be bothered telling the two apart.  Fawna will make an appearance later, and the difference should be obvious.  For now, the mad scientist makes an appearance.

Flora also let me show how others feel about Caitlin.  Reality and appearance can differ.  The New Girl is the pilot, and getting everyone's personalities down is still in progress.  That said, the basics are there.  Caitlin is a natural leader, even if she's known to go overboard.  Flora has far more experience dealing with Caitlin than Laura, but compare Flora's reaction with Autumn and Skye's.

Alyssa turned out to be a running subplot.  Laura is taking her place in Caitlin's dorm room.  The mentioning of her is just setting things up for a later arc.  Her absence also shows that students do leave the Academy before graduation, sometimes under mysterious circumstances.  Alyssa was Caitlin's chemistry expert, specializing in explosive compounds.  The Academy had a field house.  It hasn't been replaced.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 5, "Chocolate Bars and Gigglesmoke".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing The Legend of Chun Li.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, to be determined.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

24 Feb 2015

Test Run - Gangbusters

It's been a bit since the last time I posted a character.  Time to rectify that.  Today's game comes from 1982, TSR's Gangbusters.  Set in the 1920s, the game covers the Prohibition Era, allowing players to play a character on either side of the law.

Gangbusters uses a level-based system, where characters improve on hitting certain levels of experience points.  The game isn't quite class-based, as with Dungeons & Dragons, but does use the idea of careers.  Careers provide for specific rules for a job, from law enforcement to reporting to crime.  The key aspect of careers is that each one has a different way to earn experience.  Law enforcement, including police, FBI, and prohibition agent, get experience for making arrests, with a bonus if the character stays clean.  Private investigators get experience for solving cases, sending criminals to jail if they were part of a case, and earning money from investigating.  Reporters get experience for reporting news that leads to the arrest of a criminal or politician and for scooping the competition.  Criminals get experience for earning money through crime*.  For the test drive, I'll create a private investigator, depending on how the initial rolls go.

The system uses the same percentile system used in TSR's earlier games, Boot Hill and Top Secret, where a player would roll percentile dice, the infamous d100**, then apply a modifer depending on the result.  A lower roll gets a much larger modifier than a higher.  The idea is to avoid having a stat as low as 1 while others have 50.  Each stat, Muscle, Agility, and Observation, are rolled in order.  The initial rolls are 51, 65 and 49, mostly average, and are modified to 61, 75, and 64.  The next stat is Presence, a measure of personality strength; it uses a ten-sided die, aka the d10, again with modifiers.  I roll a 7, which is then modified to 8.  Luck is next, and is a straight up d100 roll divided by 2, rounded up.  I roll 04, meaning a Luck score of 2.  The last three stats are derived.  Hit points are calculated using (Muscle + Agility)/10 + 5, rounded up.  My character has 19 hit points; the average person has 16.  Driving is the average of Agility and Observation, again rounded up.  My character's Driving is 70.  The Punching score is based on the Muscle score and is how much damage a character does when fighting hand-to-hand.  Looking up on the table, I have a score of 4, but just barely.

Time to get the personal details worked out.  I need a name for the character and his ethnic background.  In the 1920s, ethnicity played a role in how well people got along.  The bulk of the non-player characters (NPCs) have their background listed as Assimilated, but other possibilities include Irish, Italian, Black, Russian, Polish, German, and Jewish.  I'll go with Irish.  Patrick Barry is now ready to check out the careers.
Character Name: Patrick Barry
Ethnic Background: Irish

Level: 1
Career Total XP:
XP to Spend:

Muscle: 61
Agility: 75
Observation: 64
Presence: 8
Luck: 2
Hit Points: 19
Driving: 70
Punching: 4
Each career has a set of qualifications.  Some are easy; prohibition agents, at least before 1927, just need to be appointed by a politician, something a GM can handwave.  Others are more exacting; FBI agents need, as a minimum, Muscle 50, Agility 65, Observation 75, and Presence 6, leaving Patrick out.  Since I wanted to create a private investigator, I need to check how to qualify there; the answer, Patrick needs a license that costs $50.  He pays the fee and becomes a PI.  As a PI, Patrick can carry a concealed weapon, arrest anyone wanted by the police, and arrest anyone committing a crime.  Patrick can lose his license if he interferes with a police investigation, engages in gross misconduct, or gets convicted of a felony.  He needs to keep his nose clean, at least in public.

As a starting character, Patrick gets two suits of clothes plus related toiletries and accessories, $50 in cash, and any equipment provided by his job.  If Patrick was a cop, he'd get a police uniform and revolver.  However, Patrick is self-employed***, so he has to pay for everything.  As a GM, I'd rule that the license is part of the career and the first one doesn't need to be paid for; otherwise, all the PI characters would be homeless at the start of the campaign.  That means Patrick has $50 to get what he needs.  He can't afford a Tommy-gun, but he can get a .22 revolver and a box of ammunition.  He keeps the rest to help pay for living expenses, $20 per week, office expenses, $50-$75 per week.  Working for an agency is starting to look good, but the agency may not get the cases an independent would.

In the course of a campaign, as characters go up in level, they get access to more skills.  Each skill costs experience points, though the character's XP total won't go down.  Skills cost more or fewer XP depending on the utility and ease they can be used.  Photography is an easier skill to pick up than Counterfeit Detection.  At first level, like Patrick, characters can get a skill that costs 5000XP, though other skills can be used with a success chance of 20% if the skill is not exclusive.  Patrick takes Shadowing, which should serve him well as a PI.  His success chance is generated the same way as his stats, a percentile roll.  I roll 97, which does not get modified.  Patrick is one with the shadows.

Gangbusters's character generation is quick.  Roll five stats, choose a career, and determine equipment; nice and simple.  Patrick is a lithe private investigator, stronger than he appears, capable of packing a punch but far better when lurking in the shadows.  He prefers to work independently, though a partner isn't out of the question.  His only problem is his Irish luck, which is all bad.  Patrick doesn't believe in luck, though.

Patrick's character sheet follows.  As always, go ahead and use him, but please let me know.
Character Name: Patrick Barry
Profession: Private Investigator
  Rank (if applicable): --
Salary: variable
Ethnic Background: Irish

Level: 1
Career Total XP: 0
XP to Spend:
XP Spent: 5000

Muscle: 61
Agility: 75
Observation: 64
Presence: 8
Luck: 2
Hit Points: 19
Driving: 70
Punching: 4

Cash: $23

  Shadowing: 97%

  .22 revolver (Range 150, Damage 4)
  Box of .22 pistol ammunition

* Bootleggers can earn $2300 per week serving just one speakeasy; and most gangs had several.  Experience can add up quickly, even with the changes in amount of money needed to earn an XP going up every few levels.  Note also that prohibition agents earn $2300 per year starting out.  The rookie police officer earns even less.
** The d100 is wanted for acts of debauchery in several southern U.S. states.
*** Unless he got into a partnership with another PI or joined an agency.

20 Feb 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 4

"Who do you think gave it to her?"
"My father's in jail because I turned Crown's evidence on him."
"Innocent, Autumn?  Since when?"
"This is an insane asylum!"

The New Girl
Chapter 4 - Squirrel Brains and History

By the time Laura slowed down enough to take a look at her surroundings, she was lost.  The main building of the Academy was larger than Laura expected, with enough alcoves to that got her so turned around, she was sure she had passed the same stairwell several times.  Laura wished she had marked the stairs with chalk or something, to be sure.  The halls had a few students wandering them, even this long past the end of the school day.  Laura had to press up against the wall when a gaggle of girls in tattered uniforms rushed by.

A crash of glass followed by several cut off curses caught Laura's attention.  From a room around the corner, she heard a dusky girl's voice yell, "No, stop that!  Don't go that way!"  Another crash, heavier, was accompanied by the shaking of the floor.  Laura held out a hand to steady herself against the wall.  The quiet following disturbed Laura more.  She ran towards the where she thought the noises came from.

Around the corner, Laura found a door half off its hinges.  She crept towards the room.  Dust billowed from the cracks between the door and its jamb.  "Hello?" Laura called.  "Is anyone hurt?"

19 Feb 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 3 - Commentary

Welcome to the commentary for "Power Corrupts.  Absolute Power is Kind Of Nifty".  Please read the chapter first; no need to be spoilered.

Now that the rival girls are out of the way, it's time to get to know Laura's new roomies better.  Skye surprised me during this chapter, taking time to explain things to Laura.  Autumn was the original choice, but she has her own issues.  Mind, I don't think there's a girl at the Academy who doesn't have a subscription full of issues, but Skye seems to be one of the better adjusted Unrulies.  With Skye being the fount of information for Laura and, by extension, the readers, I could slip in information as needed.

Caitlin finally let me show her personality.  She's the leader of the group, a position she grabbed.  The rest tend to let her lead and then pretend to follow her.  There is history between Caitlin and Verity, one that should reveal itself over time.  I didn't want an info dump there; I prefer that the reader come up with a few ideas instead.  Caitlin's plan has some obvious flaws, such as assuming Verity doesn't want to be Homecoming Queen.  But, that's a later plot.

I managed to finally reveal more about Laura and why she was sent to the Academy.  The other girls, or at least Skye, were kind enough to say why they got sent, too.  Laura has ties to organized crime through her father.  Skye plays rough in sports, which has bled over off the field.  Autumn hacked North Korea; she'd be arrested if she ever set foot in the country.  Caitlin tried to overthrow a school board to put herself in as the head of a military junta.  I wasn't trying to be serious, though not every reason was going to be grim and gritty, either.

The Jennifers finally get explained.  Named after one of the most common girls' names, the Jennifers are the first year students.  They're mostly feral, though the junior students, the Grade 11 girls, are tasked with making sure that they're fed, watered, and mostly accounted for.  The Jennifers were the girls who attacked the car Laura arrived in, though that wasn't really made clear.  The first year girls are mostly redshirts, but they will reappear and may even have an arc of their own.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 4, "Squirrel Brains and History".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the February news round up.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, fixing Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

13 Feb 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 3

"Verity has a grudge."
"Whoever gets chosen gets paired with the Homecoming King and Prince of AM Farewell Collegiate at the Homecoming Dance."
"I think you'll be a great addition to our team."

The New Girl
Chapter 3 - Power Corrupts.  Absolute Power is Kind Of Nifty

Back in the dorm room, the four girls sat around the dining table while a kettle heated up on the small stove.  Skye had a pad of paper in front of her, making notes and doodling drawings while Caitlin thought out loud.  "St. Dymphna's homecoming is interesting and all, but not that important.  Disrupting it is something we can worry about later," the red-haired girl said.

"What about Jay?" Autumn asked.  "I wouldn't put it past Caroline to fix the votes to hook her up with him."

"Worry about that later, Autumn.  Verity is up to something else right now."

Skye nodded.  "We should have had Laura follow her."

Laura held a hand up.  "No, we shouldn't.  Laura doesn't have any idea of what's happening and would like an explanation."

"Laura's also referring to herself in the third person," Autumn said.

12 Feb 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 2 - Commentary

Welcome to the commentary for "The Girls of St. Dymphna", where the rivals are introduced.  Please read the chapter first before continuing.  Things might make more sense.

Chapter 2 turned out a little short.  I was still getting into the groove of writing and setting out cliffhangers.  The goal of the chapter was to introduce the rivals, the titular girls of St. Dymphna Collegiate.  St. Dymphna is a fictional private Catholic school in Oshawa, which isn't fictional.  Part of my pre-NaNo research was to figure out the names of key locations, like the Academy and St. Dymphna.  With St. Dymphna, I searched for patron saints of either education or teenaged girls.  Instead, I found the patron saint of the nervous and the mentally ill, leading to also being the patron saint of psychologists and psychiatrists.  Take from the choice what you will.

While the rivalry between the Gephardt Academy and St. Dymphna Collegiate is fierce, Caitlin has run into her match with Verity.  Caitlin was looking at being a girl short before Laura's arrival.  Verity's crew - Caroline, Mackenzie, and Sarah - doesn't match up one to one.  It took some work to figure out each girl's character.  Autumn and Caroline have as much a history as Caitlin and Verity, though they don't have the same role in their respective teams.  Likewise, while Skye and Sarah both are the muscle, Skye is Caitlin's second-in-command, a role Caroline holds with Verity.  Chapter 2 sets up the rivalry, showing how Team Verity feels about Caitlin.

With all the prep work, sometimes characters slip through the cracks.  Mackenzie was one of them.  I really had no idea of what she was like before her appearance.  Mackenzie became the little bundle of energy when she met Laura.  A veritable force of personality, Mackenzie established herself, at least in my head, and guaranteed another appearance later.  The rest of Verity's people also worked themselves out.  Verity, though, held back.  She's cagey; of course, having Caitlin as a rival means a heightened sense of security is needed.  The best I can say at this point is that she has an impressive vocabulary.

There's a hint at Laura's home life.  She followed Caitlin's advice, "Don't lie, but don't tell the truth."  While the advise appears to be conflicting, it boils down to avoiding obvious lies, like being from Halifax or Calgary instead of Scarborough, while not revealing any involvement at the Academy.  Verity's opinion of Unruly Girls was stated; any girl who even has a whiff of the Academy on her would be frozen out by Verity and her minions.  Caitlin is testing Laura as much as Verity in the chapter.

A quick note on names.  With the core Unruly cast - Caitlin et al - I had the names worked out long in advance.  The rest of the cast didn't really get names until I needed them.  Verity and Caroline were the first to be named.  When I named Caroline, I noticed that Coca-Cola was having a new promotion, Share a Coke, where 570mL bottles of Coke had names on them, including Caroline.  Since naming characters gets difficult, especially for minor and one-shot appearances, I decided to grab the name off any bottle of Coke I bought.  Sarah and Mackenzie both appeared on bottles of Coke.  This time around, I am completely not responsible for character names.  If one seems odd, go tell Coke.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 3, "Power Corrupts.  Absolute Power is Kind Of Nifty".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Hook.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the February news round up.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

6 Feb 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 2

"First rule, always wear your uniform."
"Second rule, the Academy is never to get involved."
"Third rule, always support your sisters."
"Fourth rule, 'Don't get caught.'"

The New Girl
Chapter 2 - The Girls of St. Dymphna

Laura fidgeted with the hem of her jacket.  She felt the eyes of her new roommates on her back, just outside the coffee shop she sat in.  Caitlin's plan was a bad idea; there was no way Laura felt she could get close to these girls from the Academy's rival school.  Laura tried to remember the name, St. Dainty, St. Dimples, St. D-something.  She wasn't even sure she'd recognize them.  Caitlin mentioned their uniforms, forest green blazers with plaid skirts falling mid-thigh, pink blouses, and white knee-high socks.  For all Laura knew, the girls she was supposed to keep an eye out for could have changed to regular clothes before coming to the coffee shop.

A bell chimed as the door opened.  Laura glanced over.  Four girls walked in, each wearing the green blazer and plaid skirt that Caitlin described.  They walked up to the counter to place their order.  Laura drained the remains of her cappucino, then lined up behind the girls.  Caitlin's request echoed in Laura's mind, "Find out what their plans are."  Innocent enough, but Caitlin's tone and expression said something far more serious about the red-haired girl's plans.

The girl in front of Laura turned around to face her.  The tiny girl, with metal-rimmed glasses and neatly cut short black hair, smiled.  "Hello.  Didn't hear you behind me.  I don't think I've seen you here before."

5 Feb 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 1 - Commentary

Welcome to the commentary!  Please read the chapter first before continuing.  Things might make more sense.

November first hit and I was ready to go the second midnight hit.  Amazing, since it took several false attempts at working on the idea to figure out what form it should take.  If you've read Beaver Flight, you'll know that I realized that it wasn't a novel.  Posting previous works, though, reminded me of the serialized story.  That's when it clicked in my head.

Unruly never really fit as a novel.  Every time I tried to figure out where it was going, the story kept being a number of arcs, following the girls through their schemes and problems.  I wanted to focus on different groups as needed, whether it was Caitlin and her roommates or another batch of Unrulies.  The opening, though, was always in mind and came out more or less as envisioned.  A dark sedan arriving at the school, Laura with two men in black inside.  The picture was a picture, the black sedan arring at the Academy's gates.  Unruly could have gone the webcomic route if I could draw.  Since I can't, I wrote it.

Laura is the reader's avatar, at least for the first arc.  She's the newcomer entering the school.  The Academy is a big, scary place, so as Laura discovers aspects, the readers do.  The idea of the first arc is to give enough of a idea of how the Academy operates as well as introduce Laura's classmates.  Naturally, the first person Laura meets is the Academy's headmistress, Elspeth Stone, a graduate of the school.  The grounds aren't well kept, but that's partially for security.  Think of the field full of velociraptors in Jurassic Park II, except this time, the raptors are near-feral teenaged girls.  The men in black discovered that the hard way.

The four rules were made not long after I worked out how Laura's arrival would look.  In summary, the rules are:
#1 - Always wear your uniform.
#2 - The Academy is never to get involved.
#3 - Always support your sisters.
#4 - Don't get caught.
The rules exist to try to limit the characters.  They can't get away with murder; that would get the Academy involved.  At the same time, Rule 4 exists to force the girls to think creatively about murdering others.  Have I mentioned that the Unrulies aren't nice people?  They aren't.

The blurb at the beginning about the history of the Academy came about after some research on Oshawa's early settlers.  Ulrich P. Gephardt doesn't exist.  Any school mentioned in Unruly doesn't exist.  I did research the naming conventions in Oshawa to work out a few names that would fit.  Gephardt started the Academy as a way to reform troublemakers into proper ladies.  When that failed, he decided to turn the troublemakers into his own personal army.  When that failed, he suffered a nervous breakdown caused by constantly looking over his shoulder for a waif ready to pounce on him like a raptor.  Gephardt did not understand the psyche of the adolescent girl.  Yes, that is a lot of work to put into an element that gets a paragraph at the start of an arc.

I did introduce a large number of characters in the first chapter.  In part, this was to make sure that they were around already and that character dynamics could be shown.  In part, the early introductions were to show the size of the Academy.  And, in part, having the neighbours introduced let me set up some conflicts later, notably the Caitlin-Cassie dynamic.  Laura's roommates - Caitlin, Skye, and Autumn - have a dynamic where they get along for the most part, mainly through Skye and Autumn saying, "Yes, Caitlin," a lot.  With Cassie, Vamsi, and the twins, the dynamic changes.  Vamsi is the fixer, the middle-woman with contacts that can get her anything she asks, short of nuclear payloads.  Cassie is the annoyance, the thorn in Caitlin's side.  Cassie has nicknames for almost everyone.

Finally, I hinted at Verity.  Verity will show up next chapter, but there's a history between her and Caitlin that will come out at some point.  Caitlin's the plotter, the schemer, and she always has something in motion.  Never play chess with her; she'll always be several moves ahead and will use tactics to distract her opponent.

The idea for the preview at the end came what I did serializing Beaver Flight - picking out choice lines without context.  The preview was inspired by the old serials and series like the Battlestar Galactica remake.  Whether it works or not depends on the reader, so let me know in the comments.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 2, "The Girls of St. Dymphna".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Mrs. Columbo.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Hook.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.