27 Mar 2015

Unruly: The Great Jennifer Round-Up: Chapter 1

"Hello, Laura.  Welcome to the Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls."
"You're safe here, at least from your father's hitmen."
"What if I don't know who I want to be?"
"What do you think, Laura?  Are you an Unruly Girl?"


The Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls was founded outside Oshawa in 1886 to help young, troubled women turn their lives around.  In 1889, U. F. Gephardt changed the mission, refining the girls to become his personal army.  Gephardt retired to the Century Manor Asylum in Hamilton after suffering a nervous breakdown.  The Academy, however, still continues, helping troubled and troublesome girls get an education and a good start in life, whatever their ambitions are.

The Great Jennifer Round-Up
Chapter 1
Monday mornings always arrived too soon for Laura.  If she ruled the world, she'd make the week metric, with half the days weekends.  All she'd need is a small, dedicated army, all loyal to her.  Or maybe just an island for just herself.  Laura smiled.  A tropical island, fully stocked with the best cappuccino and all the delicacies she could eat.

"Hey, sleepyhead!"  Autumn's voice broke through Laura's dream.  "Get up!  You don't want to miss your first class."

Laura flipped over in bed.  "Yes, I do."  She felt tugging on her covers.  "It's too early to be morning."

"You want to go to your first class.  We all have it.  English."

"I already speak it."  Laura held on tight to her blankets.

26 Mar 2015

Unruly: Preview of The Great Jennifer Round-Up

With "The New Girl" done and Laura ensconced in the madness, it's time to flesh out the Academy a bit more.  Thus, "The Great Jennifer Round-Up".  The Jennifers have appeared already, mostly as background characters.  If this were a webcomic, every time a Jennifer appeared, she'd be different.  The older girls at the Academy treat them as one part redshirt, one part wild animal.  The arc should show differently.

Along with the Jennifers, it's time to get Laura to class.  Classes are loosely based on reality.  Very loosely based on reality.  Being in Ontario, Laura and the other Unrulies have to take certain classes and take certain tests.  Laura is home-schooled by a parent who was using her.  Caitlin's focus is more military.  Autumn would prefer to just hack in and change her marks without having to study.  Needless to say, Headmistress Stone takes a flexible approach to requirements, not to mention coming down hard on students who get caught.

This arc gave me a new opportunity as I saw that I needed to know who was behind all the chaos.  Not too much gets given away just yet, but the seeds are there.  Jennifers don't run amok without cause.  Even the faceless horde has a motive.  While the arc wraps up, tendrils will remain for later use and abuse.  A low level of tension to add to the intra-Unruly conflict.  At this point, the Unrulies will be at each other's throats.

Tomorrow, the first chapter of "The Great Jennifer Round-Up".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the History of Adaptations looks at the Forties.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Frankenstein.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

22 Mar 2015

Test Run - Valiant Universe RPG

Hey there!  Welcome to my second test run of the Valiant Universe Roleplaying GameThe first time out, I used Nasty from Subject 13 and found that the game models her with no problems at all.  This time around, I want to try a higher power level of character.  For this, I shall use Ringette.

Last time I did a test run, it was for the older RPG, Superbabes, using Ringette as the sample character.  Ringette is a superhero, with a far broader range of powers than Nasty.  The use of her here is to show the contrast between Superbabes and Valiant Universe in their approaches.  Superbabes was a point-buy system that took a few hours to complete.  By using Ringette again, I already have a good idea of her abilities and powers.  After the break, I'll go through the same steps as I did before.

20 Mar 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Wrap Up

Last week was the last chapter of the first arc.  I've commented on each chapter individually.  Today, I'll comment on the overall arc.

As mentioned previously, Unruly was my NaNoWriMo project for November 2014.  Unruly was on the short list early in the year and became the choice by August.  I gave myself a few goals.  The first was to do a serial and let the arcs work out over how many chapters they needed instead of forcing the story to fit the format of a novel.  The second was to try to expand my cast to be more diverse.  The third was to remember that the Unrulies would be the villains in any other story.  The fourth was to have fun with the work.  The first arc, "The New Girl", set up the series and should strive to accomplish the goals.

First goal, the serial nature.  "The New Girl" lasted seven chapters, about as long as I felt it could go.  A few ideas were laid down for later arcs, such as the Jennifers and the general weirdness at the Academy.  Could "The New Girl" have gone on longer?  Not without stretching Laura's angst to unreasonable levels.  An unstated goal was to avoid the dullness I ran into in the coming-of-age stories assigned* in high school English, so dragging out Laura's issues much longer would have had me lose interest.  Never good.

Second goal, diversity.  An all-girl cast, ignoring the Men in Black, has potential, provided I avoid scenes written for the male gaze.  As such, I avoided, for the most part, girls running around in negligees.  Sure, Autumn was in a baby doll nightgown in Chapter 6, but she covered herself up instead of parading.  The other issue is skin colour.  Caitlin is Caucasian, a pale-skinned red-head of Irish-Canadian descent.  Autumn is Asian, specifically Vietnamese, descended from refugees who fled to Canada in the 70s.  Laura and Skye, well, I have no idea.  Tempering the need for diversity is the need to avoid unfortunate implications.  The Academy gets girls who don't quite break the law only because the law doesn't cover what they did.  Flora and Fawna break laws of nature and decency.  Laura creates designer drugs.  Autumn engages in cybernetic warfare against countries with no extradition treaty with Canada.  The line is thin, but clear, but having a girl at the Academy means they were noticed.  Last thing I want is to portray someone from a background in an awkward manner that reinforces stereotypes.  So, consider this goal still being worked on.

Third goal, the girls as villains.  Obviously, with the Unrulies as the main cast, they are the protagonists.  Doesn't mean they' have to be nice.  Caitlin has her own issues resulting in a megalomaniacal bent.  Vamsi is a fence dealing in mostly grey-market goods.  If I wanted a group of girls who were decent and law-abiding, I'd focus on Verity and her people, or keep working with last year's cast.  I worked in the reaction of the average bystander in when the Unrulies were out in public, but the focus was mainly on Laura and in the Academy itself instead of outside its wall.

The fourth goal, having fun.  I had fun.  Despite not doing proper background work, I still managed to be surprised by what the Unrulies could do and enjoyed writing their hijinks, even if some of it was juvenile.  Once the story got going, the words flowed.  It was a complete contrast to Lethal Ladies, where finding words was difficult.  I'm finding my own voice while still letting the characters have theirs.  So, yes, fun was had.

Next week, the next arc of Unruly starts.  A sneak peek:
"I've never eaten school cafeteria food before."

Caitlin pointed at the hot chicken sandwich.  "That counts for just two-thirds of what you said."

"How bad can it be?"

Autumn joined the group.  "Hey, I was thinking of that."  She nodded at Laura's lunch.  "Then I realized that I like living."

Laura picked up her fork and knife.  "Like we have anything back at our dorm."

"We do."  Caitlin held up her bagged sandwich.  "Some of us are prepared."

"Some of us also have plans to invade Italy," Autumn said.  She opened her salad and added ranch dressing.  "That's not normal."

Caitlin glared at Autumn.  "I do not have plans to invade Italy.  There's nothing there I want.  Liechtenstein, now there's a good place to start.  Completely mountainous, means I get the terrain advantage once I take it."

"Not Madagascar?"

"No, no."  Caitlin completely missed the sarcasm in Autumn's tone.  "Too sunny."  The redhead pushed up the sleeve of her blazer to reveal a pale arm.  "I'd burn in minutes."

Laura cut into her hot chicken sandwich.  "So, you're saying your weakness is the same as a vampire's?"

* Specifically, Catcher in the Rye and A Seperate Peace.  I want Unruly to be interesting, not soporific.

19 Mar 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 7 - Commentary

Laura embraces the insanity in this chapter.  Caitlin strikes at Verity.  Diet Coke explodes.  Please read the chapter first so you don't run into spoilers.

Laura's moment to choose what she is arrives.  She, however, went with the flow.  Laura also started showing her scary side.  Caitlin wanted messy; Laura suggested gassing a building.  Her suggestion of Mentos and Diet Coke is a real thing.  The Diet Coke reacts to the chemical composition in the Mentos, with the dimples is the mint aiding the reaction by providing more surface area.  Mythbusters did work out what was needed for the reaction, and did show a spray that went above their building's height.

For someone new, Laura found a way to start taking advantage.  She managed to get several items she wanted placed on Caitlin's tab.  Laura may not feel like she's fitting in, but only because she isn't really a follower.  Part of Laura's issue is with authority.  She's been in a culture that is outside the law for the most part, acting as her father's chief chemist for his drug dealing.  Caitlin, at least to Laura, is very much an authority figure.  The two do have friction in the next arc, and the hints of the problem have been laid down.

For all Caitlin was against a juvenile prank, she leads the girls in a juvenile prank.  Notice that Caitlin never came up with the core plan involving the exploding cola.  A small test for Laura, to see how resistant she is to anti-Verity work.  If the plan works, Caitlin takes the glory.  If it fails, Laura gets the disappointment and possibly the punishment.  There is some backstory to the Caitlin-Verity rivalry that gets hinted at.  Right now, I prefer that readers imaginations fill in what happened.

The arc wraps up with Laura making a decision about who she wants to be.  It echoed back on the end of Chapter 6 and let me bring the arc to a conclusion that still left the door open for more later.

Tomorrow, final thoughts on The New Girl.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the March news round up.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the History of Adaptations looks at the Forties.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

16 Mar 2015

Test Run - Superbabes

I've been making it too easy on myself lately when it comes to testing out character generation for games.  Time to step into the mouth of madness and look at an older superhero RPG, Superbabes.

14 Mar 2015

Happy Pi Day!

In fact, you should be having pie now.  3/14, '15, 9:27.

Happy pi minute!


13 Mar 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 7

"Witness protection.  I'm not the dealer or the kingpin.  Just the designer."
"What will it take to get you to stop crying?"
"It must be like learning to swim after being dropped in the ocean."
"What if I don't know who I want to be?"

The New Girl
Chapter 7 - The Unruly Girls

Caitlin set out lunch on the dorm room's table.  She looked at each of her roommates, Autumn, Skye, and the new girl, Laura.  "Go on, eat."

Autumn gave the sandwiches a wary eye.  "What's the catch?"

"No catch."  Caitlin sat down and picked up an egg salad sandwich.  "I know what we're doing next."

Skye grabbed a roast beef on rye.  "About time."  She took a large bite from her sandwich.

"What are we doing to Verity this time?"  Autumn picked through the sandwich pile, settling on a ham and Swiss.  "Replacing her hair dye with hair remover?"

"Nothing that juvenile.  No, what we're doing is helping."  Caitlin grinned.

12 Mar 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 6 - Commentary

Welcome back!  Please read the chapter first so you don't run into spoilers.

One problem with with new roommates is getting used to their morning habits.  Some people are up at the crack of dawn, others prefer to sleep in.  Add to it the fun of weekends, and things can get chaotic.  Take Skye.  She's not a morning person and she had a late night.  Caitlin, however, is a morning person, one who has learned to let sleeping Skyes lie.  Laura's the wild card in the morning routine.

Caitlin has a point.  Her new roomie not only got high the previous night but had another Unruly involved.  The problem is something that had to be cleared up; as I mentioned in last week's commentary, the Unrulies can't be involved in an out and out felony.  Drug possession and use may fall under that restriction.  From Caitlin's point-of-view, Laura is a potential liability to both her and the Academy.  If someone else finds out about Laura's drug use, that person could blackmail Laura or have the school shut down.  Caitlin finds the Academy too useful to let that happen.

Fortunately, this is part of Laura's background that was worked out before NaNoWriMo 2014 started.  I knew Laura was in witness protection, I knew she turned evidence over to the Crown* in return for being sent to the Academy, and I knew she was a budding young chemist.  If you go back to Chapter Five to when Mackenzie asks, "Is your name really Laura?", note that Laura never answers with a straight yes or no.  The "gigglesmoke" is not physically addictive, though the euphoria it generates may still create a dependency.  Nothing's perfect, but Laura thinks she has a handle on it.

Caitlin is fun to write.  She has a gaping blind spot that everyone else notices.  Cassie has fun poking at Caitlin's arrogance.  It does come back to gnaw on Caitlin in a later arc.  For now, it's a character flaw.

Laura's journey through the halls let me establish a bit more of the setting.  Sasha doesn't recognize Laura as a fellow Unruly until Laura mentions the twenty-four hours.  The Unrulies are used to seeing other girls in similar uniforms that anyone not in a school uniform is automatically suspect; us versus them.  Laura quoting the twenty-four hour rule showed Sasha that the new girl belonged.

The scene with Autumn and Laura let me contrast the two girls.  Autumn has been at the school since being a Jennifer.  She knows the ins and outs, where to go, where to avoid, and who the movers and shakers are.  Autumn knows how to deal with Caitlin and everyone else.  Laura is the new girl, lost.  Marooned, even.  Laura has reached her breaking point, between arrogant roommates and being torn away from the only people she knew, plus being dropped into the middle of the Caitlin-Verity war.  The contrast is there, but Autumn is tossed out of her depth when Laura starts crying.  When in doubt while writing, force a character away from her comfort zone.  Add something that complicates the character or characters' life.  Drama adds words.

Leading to Cassie.  Where would the fun be if Laura and Autumn didn't get back to their dorm without running into someone?  Thus, Cassie appears.  Cassie is another fun character to write, mainly because she isn't always on stage.  Writing her full time would become a chore.  The goal with Cassie is to make her seem like she's living up to the blonde stereotype while still letting her get some good barbs in on the more arrogant characters in the cast, like Caitlin.

The painkillers are just a combination of two over-the-counter pain relievers, ibuprofen, as seen in Advil, and acetaminophen, as in Tylenol.  The two pain relievers work in different ways and don't interfere or otherwise interact with each other.  There's no chance of an explosion on the miscibility table**.  The caffeine is doing what caffeine in Advil, Tylenol, and Aspirin does, speed the absorption of the pain relievers.

Skye turned out to be the wisest of the group, something I hadn't anticipated.  She's a people person, provided that she isn't competing in a sport.  Despite the mixed metaphors, Skye has good advice for Laura and asks the key question, "Who do you want to be?"  It's a tough question, one that Laura doesn't have an answer for yet.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 7, "The Unruly Girls".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Ma & Pa Kettle.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the March news round up.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* In Canada, criminal cases are in the form of "The Crown v. $defendant_name".  Crown prosecutors try the case on behalf of the Crown, representing the government.  We get our parliamentary democracy with a flavouring of constitutional monarchy without having to pay for the Royals full-time.
** First edition AD&D had a miscibility table to be used whenever two potions were drunk at the same time.  There was a 1% chance of the potions causing an explosion.

10 Mar 2015

Test Run - Edge of the Empire

More character generation testing abounds!  Today, I'm looking at Fantasy Flight's RPG, Edge of the Empire.  The game is another licensed setting, this time Star Wars.  Set at the start of the Rebellion, characters come from the edge of known civilization, trying to make a living while keeping their heads down to not attract Imperial attention.  The mechanics use dice specific to the game, with symbols indicating successes and failures.

It's going to get long, so let's break here and continue after it.

8 Mar 2015

Daylight Savings Time, or Everyone Have a Free Heart Attack

Once again, Daylight Savings Time returns.  A cruel theft of an hour of sleep when sleep deprivation is already a problem.  The loss of the hour causes a number of health issues, including an increase in the risk of a heart attack in the first two days after the time shift.  That risk decreases the same time after returning to Standard Time.  We have high school students not getting enough sleep as it is.  Drivers are affected; the number of fatalities on the road increases after the switch to Daylight Savings.  The switch back again lowers.

If the health risks weren't enough, the switch is happening two weeks before the amount of daylight hours is greater than the hours of darkness.  The vernal equinox is March 21; it's March 8, thirteen days before.  The switch remain in effect until after October 31st, six weeks after the autumnal equinox.  The switch just isn't made with people in mind.  Waking up in darkness, as in winter, isn't a sign of being a good person.  Waking up early isn't necessarily a good thing.  There are people who work better later into the night, and this switch causes too many problems for them.

In short, ban Daylight Savings Time.  It's time has gone.

6 Mar 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 6

"Let me demonstrate my knowledge of chemistry and its effects on the human body."
"If anything happens to Laura, the Headmistress will have your hide, Cait."
"And you used me the moment you saw me.  You don't care about me!"
"Look, Laura, tell me where the drugs are.  I can get rid of them for you."

The New Girl
Chapter 6 - Rock Bottom

Laura woke up in a tangle with a blanket, still wearing the clothes she had on the day before.  She stretched and rolled out of bed.  Caitlin looked over from the room's dining table.  "About time."  The redhead picked up her bowl and took it over to the sink to rinse it out.

"What time is it?"  Laura looked around for a clock.

"Quarter to eight."  Caitlin finished washing her bowl and put it away.

"You're up early."  Laura looked over at the other beds.  Autumn remained curled up under her covers.  Skye, however, stirred.

"We should keep it down."

A voice from the grave rumbled in Skye's bed.  "Too late."

Caitlin held a finger to her lips.  "Go get changed," she said, her voice lowered.  "I'm taking you to the school's doctor."

5 Mar 2015

Unruly - The New Girl Chapter 5 - Commentary

Ah, Chapter 5, the one that needed research into Canadian criminal laws.  Please read the chapter first so that things might make sense.

An important element of Unruly is that the girls had to fall into a legal grey zone.  Whatever they did couldn't, or, at least, shouldn't be covered by the Criminal Code of Canada.  Rule Two, the Academy is never to get involved, gets broken if the police need to be called out on the girls.  If the police are involved, Rule Four, don't get caught, is also broken.  The Academy and Ms Stone, the headmistress, crack down hard if either are broken.  Last thing anyone wants is their fief being disrupted.

Flora's "hobby", the robot army, doesn't really fall under a specific section of the Criminal Code.  The use of them might, but their mere existence isn't proscribed.  If they turn out to be dangerous, like in the lab last week, they fall under workplace safety regulations.  Even the lasers Flora wants aren't illegal.  There is not one Canadian law about owning lasers; again, the regulations are under workplace safety.  However, if Flora were to shoot or have one of her robots shoot someone with the lasers, then she could be charged with Assault Causing Bodily Harm.  That charge doesn't specify what weapons are and can be used when someone slaps another.  Since Flora isn't planning on shooting anyone except her sister's zombie army, which can't suffer bodily harm through the convenience of being dead, she should be safe.

Laura's "gigglesmoke" also falls under a loophole, mainly through how drug laws are created and enforced.  Designer drugs aren't necessarily illegal, at least under the Criminal Code.  If they were, pharmaceutical companies would have trouble with research and development.  A body of law has built up codifying what drugs are and are not illegal, and anything not specifically illegal is, thus, legal.  Laura's intoxicant just hasn't been through the legal system, in part because she knows better than to use it where someone could report her use to the police.  Given that gigglesmoke is an intoxicant, other laws may come into play.  Laura is underage; the age of majority where a teenager can legally smoke and drink alcohol is nineteen in Ontario*.  If she were out in public, she could be arrested for public intoxication, which doesn't care about the nature of the intoxicant, and for being intoxicated as a minor.

When I discovered that Flora's lasers were more or less legal to own, I had to verify my research.  The Internet is a font of information, but there's no real check on accuracy, even when googling.  I turned to friends who have interests and careers in the relevant fields, including one lawyer**.  They confirmed my findings - lasers are totally legal to own, provided workplace safety regulations are adhered to.  Flora fails in that regard, but no one is reporting her to the Labour Board.

One useful bit of writing advice: When stuck, add something to create a problem for the characters.  It's similar to the Raymond Chandler quote, "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."  The idea is that the character or characters now have an immediate problem that has to be dealt with, letting words be written.  During NaNoWriMo, words have to be written.  Good thing I introduced Mackenzie earlier.  The scene wasn't planned when Mackenzie was first introduced.  Mackenzie had other ideas.  Mackenzie's return also let me show that consequences do happen.

Back at the Academy, Caitlin is Caitlin.  Glib, but I saw the chance to show Laura's roommates without filtering them through Laura and took it.  Caitlin can be shamed, as Skye and Autumn demonstrate.  The budding world conqueror surprised me in this chapter.  Caitlin has a softer side, one that cares.  Sure, she cares because what Laura does could affect plans and schemes, but she does care.  Caitlin also has little patience for silliness.  Serious Caitlin is serious.  That makes her a prime target for people who like popping egos, like Cassie.  Cassie appears to be a brainless beauty, incapable of even calling people by their proper names.  I did work on a few nicknames for Cassie to use, like Kitty-Cait for Caitlin.  Autumn doesn't even rate a name.

I also got a better introduction to the Jennifers, the first year students.  They've been mentioned throughout so far, but having Caitlin interact with them let me show more of them.  The Jennifers got their name from one of the more common girl's name around.  Jennifer hit number one on baby name lists in the 70s, dropping since.  However, tradition is harder to change than popular baby names.  The Jennifers aren't feral, but they aren't anyone's priority.  They fill the role of useful extra.  If this was a webcomic, every Jennifer in a scene would look different while the main cast never notices.  The older girls use and abuse the Jennifers as needed.

Tomorrow, The New Girl Chapter 6, "Rock Bottom".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, tracking the history of adaptations, beginning with the Thirties.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Ma & Pa Kettle.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of /Lost in Translation/.

* Teenagers in Ottawa can just cross the river into Gatineau, Quebec, where the age of majority is eighteen.  Buying alcohol in Gatineau to drink in private in Ottawa was, until recently, not allowed but impossible to enforce.  Even now, there are limits to the amount that can be brought back, but, until there are border controls on the bridges between Ontario and Quebec, the limits aren't enforceable.
** Technically, his specialty is elsewhere, but getting his degree did require a broad knowledge before he specialized.

2 Mar 2015

Test Run - Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space

Time to test out another game's character generation.  This time, I'm working with the Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space RPG from Cubicle 7.  Since the game is using a licensed property, let's get the legal stuff out of the way.  Doctor Who and related terms are trademarks of the BBC; the use here is not intended as infringement.  What follows below is meant as a demonstration of the game system.