Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Backwaters of Intelligence

Here is the mother of Top Secret/S.I. plot hooks. It appears to be written by a member of RPG.net- Burden Cross. Posted a couple of years ago, this idea just gets the juices flowing:
I still have everything mapped out... bought Operation: Starfire...

I will say that after reading Watchmen (I know you are thinking WTF does that have to do with anything) I would take a slightly different approach - wanting to encourage the characters to find the 'spygame' a joke, and then get reinvested in it. Artimus Mikros, old and decrepit, partially senile, trying to pull off supervillainy in an age of Osama and Berny Maddof. Orion is an underfunded shell of an organization with equipment that is twenty years old, unable to recruit top agents because the wars have taken all the prime candidates, and has been shoved into the backwaters of intelligence, doing mop up work for Interpol, MI5, and the CIA.

Oh sure, they get thrown a bone once in awhile, like getting to run Titan Team op to free a freighter captured by Somali pirates, but it was only because it was a Centauri Shipping freighter and US and British naval units didn't want to get caught up in some sort of turf battle.

News of Artimus Mikros's break from Orion wouldn't have even raised an eyebrow. Hell, Sebastian Cord left the organization and started writing really bad spy novel stuff that he was self publishing. Mikros could have just left his post and never returned and no one would have known but he still had the old spirit in him and sent a video to the SW1 Orioncomm network.

Jason, retired, living out his life with mild disgust at the once august organization he gave so much blood and sweat for, never did bother to turn in the SW1 Orioncomm. Even scared off the two techs who showed up at his house to collect it by waiving his Orion issued pistol at their heads. Didn't know why he kept it, just seemed right.

Seeing it blink and light up indicating a message was a surprise. No one was around to send Jason messages anymore. When Artimus's face appeared in the enhanced lcd screen on the watch face, it was even a bigger surprise. "I'm bringing this putrid world to the knees. Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca have been targeted. Tokyo, New York, and London have been targeted. Beijing, Mumbai, and Caracas have been targeted. Nine cities and nine days. My demands? I have none. I've only given this notice to enhance the fear and panic to speed the destruction of the worthless planet."

Jason wasn't too surprised when his phone rang moments later. Orion didn't have many agents left in its organization who have dealt with this sort of thing. No agency in any government could begin to fathom how to proceed. So much red tape, so many bureaucrats to get in the way. And no one in these days understands that sometimes people are just evil.
Burden Cross responds:
I'm glad to see that this is received positively... as the Admin in question I feel a need to point out that although Artimus Mikros is a WEB agent introduced in Operation: Starfire, I had through poor storytelling turned him into an Orion operative and undercutting Jason's motivation. Part of the 'reunion' game is to give this character a chance to have the deserved final showdown he was robbed of with this nemesis.
I only hope I can come up with as inspiring plot hooks as this one.

link to original thread on RPG.net

Monday, May 30, 2011

Buck Rogers

25th Century by jimmymcwicked
Who knows how my weird obsessions work? The latest? Buck Rogers!?!?

There have been a few instances where I have been surprised the quality of what I always took as some cheesy sci-fi franchise until I actually set my eyes upon it. One of the greatest surprises was several years ago when I finally actually watched the original Planet of the Apes. I was awed by the film quality many older films have, the feel that old westerns have.

My most recent realization came after taking time to actually watch the 1979 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Until this recent viewing I'd written Buck Rogers off as nothing better than a campy Star Wars rip off. Getting into the original comics, discovering it was in many ways the first major sci-fi setting, rediscovering the TSR RPG, I've developed a respect for the character, the franchise and it's history. TSR actually produced two versions of the game, but we'll get into that at another time.

It's a strange show. There are many times the script is clearly simplified, seemingly dumbed down for some reason, and there are other times that through setting up the plot things get rather complex. The writers seem to have a duel agenda. It's either an interesting conflict or a brilliant marketing technique. The pattern seems to be where scenes that feature Gil Gerard are the scenes that are excessively dumbed down. The character, Buck Rogers, insisting on continuing to speak as they did in 20th Century, almost nodding to the audience, sort of breaks the 4th wall and gets old incredibly fast. Another aspect of '79 television series I never noticed before was all the beautiful women! Clearly a product of the era.

Recently, Gil Gerard and Erin Gray made an appearance in a web series called Buck Rogers Begins. Unfortunaely the series project is now dead according to Gil:

Gil Gerard: 'Buck Rogers' reboot is dead

In the age of remakes and reboots, a Buck Rogers project would seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, after speaking with Erin Gray and Gil Gerard, I cannot offer fans any hope.
"Buck Rogers Begins" was set to be an origin story as laid out in the comics, explaining how Lucas ‘Buck’ Rogers was propelled from World War I, into a future Earth in the 25th Century. Gerard and Gray were set to play Buck's parents and Bobby Rice will be Buck.
"My daughter was set to be Buck's girlfriend", Erin Gray referencing her daughter Samantha portraying Madison Gale.
"The story begins in the early 1900s, pre-World War I and then continues to the modern time to remake the series", Gray continued.
Gray cited "lack of funding" and "production savvy" as reasons the project fell apart. Gil Gerard wasn't as kind:
"It's done. Done. It's the victim of incompetence."
His harsh words continued stating that "The trailer is all to show of it. I don't hold any hope for it."
This is a long way from Gerard's original comments when the project began: "This is the story I wish we had been able to tell."
Buck Rogers appears to be stuck on the sideline as Hollywood cranks out superhero and sci-fi adaptations for newer audiences.

They did get as far as making a promotional scene... seen here:

However, there are reports of Frank Miller taking on Buck Rogers!


Frank Miller and Odd Lot Entertainment, the creator and production company behind upcoming The Spirit are close to teaming again on the classic sci-fi property Buck Rogers, says The Hollywood Reporter.

Odd Lot is in negotiations to option the rights to "Rogers" from Nu Image/Millennium, which obtained those rights this year from the Dille Trust. Millennium is expected to get a credit on the movie but won't be involved in day-to-day production.

Miller will write and direct his own big-screen take on the comic serial; while the creator has only begun to sketch ideas, it's expected to be a darker take, with many of Miller's signature visual elements and themes, such as corruption and redemption.

It's likely to be a priority project for Miller, though he has been mulling a Sin City sequel.

One of the first pop-culture vehicles to tackle the issue of space exploration, the story of Buck Rogers began life as a comic serial in the late 1920's and early '30's and has seen numerous film and television versions over the years.

So, Buck Rogers has not been forgotten. I'm excited to see what will happen in the end.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Younger Characters

For Top Secret/S.I.

Alternate/additional rules to the Optional Age rules on page 9 of the Players Guide.

7-11-3 General
-2 Other
MOV +10
STR -30
CON -20
12-20-3 General
-2 Other
MOV +10
STR -10
40-493 General
2 Other
MOV -101*
50-644 General
3 Other
MOV -20
STR -10
654 General
3 Other
MOV -30
STR -30
CON -20

* Select Aging Disadvantages from the following list: Short-Windedness; Hearing Impairment; Night-Blindness; Dependants; Vision-Impairment.
** Select Aging Disadvantages from the following list: Clumsiness; Deep Sleeper; Illiteracy; Moral Qualms; Phobias; Unattractive Appearance Uncouth

The Admin can add to (or subtract from) this list as he or she wishes. In addition, the Admin may allow you to "buy off' aging disadvantages by spending a Fame & Fortune point (or each disadvantage you choose not to take. Characters starting younger than the age of 21 will be able to remove Disadvantages as they ‘out grow’ the additional ones selected due to their age. Similarly, they would gain STR as they grow, but would slow down slightly.

Here is another post

I believe I've successfully recreated the look of the Top Secret/S.I. page layout with the extensive options available through Blogger. Not exactly the right font, but very close. The real success was in the black background and the white title.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flavia de Luce

Flavia de Luce by VanaVanille
Allow me to introduce Flavia de Luce.

She is eleven years old, obsessed with chemistry (specifically, poisons) and an able detective. She is the protagonist and voice of the 2009 mystery novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allen Bradley. Written in 1st person we are with Flavia as she unravels the mystery that involves her father's past, stamps, and that dead guy in the cucumber garden. Set in England in 1950 the book is a full fledged mystery novel refreshingly without violence or sex. Yet, this is not a young adult novel. I don't see that there'd be any problem for younger audiences reading it, other than many of the things Flavia observes or talks about would probably be over a younger reader's head. She is a genius child that seems more able than any contemporary eleven year old today. She is a young, female Sherlock Holmes (and knows it!). The narrative is extremely heavy with wonderful and almost random adjectives that fully flesh out the history of Flavia's world. She seems on the verge of A.D.D. and yet we seem to remain on the tracks while all the descriptive tangents disguise the rails.

I was happy to discover there are two more books in what has become a series- The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, and A Red Herring Without Mustard. Bradley's website lists three more books on the way!- I Am Have-Sick of Shadows, Seeds of Antiquity, and The Nasty Light of Day. More information can be found at Allen Bradley's site here.

A Q&A with Alan Bradley

Question: With the publication of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, you’ve become a 70-year-old-first time novelist. Have you always had a passion for writing, or is it more of a recent development?
Alan Bradley: Well, the Roman author Seneca once said something like this: “Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms--you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.” So to put it briefly, I’m taking his advice.
I actually spent most of my life working on the technical side of television production, but would like to think that I’ve always been a writer. I started writing a novel at age five, and have written articles for various publications all my life. It wasn’t until my early retirement, though, that I started writing books. I published my memoir, The Shoebox Bible, in 2004, and then started working on a mystery about a reporter in England. It was during the writing of this story that I stumbled across Flavia de Luce, the main character in Sweetness.
Q: Flavia certainly is an interesting character. How did you come up with such a forceful, precocious and entertaining personality?
AB: Flavia walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story. I was actually well into this other book--about three or four chapters--and as I introduced a main character, a detective, there was a point where he was required to go to a country house and interview this colonel.
I got him up to the driveway and there was this girl sitting on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil and he stopped and asked her what she was doing and she said “writing down license number plates“ and he said “well there can't be many in such a place“ and she said, “well I have yours, don’t I? “ I came to a stop. I had no idea who this girl was and where she came from.
She just materialized. I can't take any credit for Flavia at all. I’ve never had a character who came that much to life. I’ve had characters that tend to tell you what to do, but Flavia grabbed the controls on page one. She sprung full-blown with all of her attributes--her passion for poison, her father and his history--all in one package. It surprised me.
Q: There aren’t many adult books that feature child narrators. Why did you want Flavia to be the voice of this novel?
AB: People probably wonder, “What’s a 70-year-old-man doing writing about an 11-year-old-girl in 1950s England? “ And it’s a fair question. To me, Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years: that time of our lives when we’re just starting out, when anything--absolutely anything!--is within our capabilities.
I think the reason that she manifested herself as a young girl is that I realized that it would really be a lot of fun to have somebody who was virtually invisible in a village. And of course, we don’t listen to what children say--they’re always asking questions, and nobody pays the slightest attention or thinks for a minute that they’re going to do anything with the information that they let slip. I wanted Flavia to take great advantage of that. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of dealing with an unreliable narrator; one whose motives were not always on the up-and-up.
She is an amalgam of burning enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, youthful idealism, and frightening fearlessness. She’s also a very real menace to anyone who thwarts her, but fortunately, they don’t generally realize it.
Q: Like Flavia, you were also 11 years old in 1950. Is there anything autobiographical about her character?

Flavia de Luce by LeelooKido
AB: Somebody pointed out the fact that both Flavia and I lacked a parent. But I wasn’t aware of this connection during the writing of the book. It simply didn’t cross my mind. It is true that I grew up in a home with only one parent, and I was allowed to run pretty well free, to do the kinds of things I wanted. And I did have extremely intense interests then--things that you get focused on. When you’re that age, you sometimes have a great enthusiasm that is very deep and very narrow, and that is something that has always intrigued me--that world of the 11-year-old that is so quickly lost.
Q: Your story evokes such a vivid setting. Had you spent much time in the British countryside before writing this book?
AB: My first trip to England didn’t come until I went to London to receive the 2007 Debut Dagger Award, so I had never even stepped foot in the country at the time of writing Sweetness. But I have always loved England. My mother was born there. And I‘ve always felt I grew up in a very English household. I had always wanted to go and had dreamed for many years of doing so.
When I finally made it there, the England that I was seeing with my eyes was quite unlike the England I had imagined, and yet it was the same. I realized that the differences were precisely those differences between real life, and the simulation of real life, that we create in our detective novels. So this was an opportunity to create on the page this England that had been in my head my whole life.
Q: You have five more books lined up in this series, all coming from Delacorte Press. Will Flavia age as the series goes on?
AB: A bit, not very much. I think she’s going to remain in the same age bracket. I don’t really like the idea of Flavia as an older teenager. At her current age, she is such a concoction of contradictions. It's one of the things that I very much love about her. She's eleven but she has the wisdom of an adult. She knows everything about chemistry but nothing about family relationships. I don’t think she’d be the same person if she were a few years older. She certainly wouldn’t have access to the drawing rooms of the village.
Q: Do you have a sense of what the next books in the series will be about?
AB: The second book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, is finished, and I’m working on the third book. I have a general idea of what’s happening in each one of the books, because I wanted to focus on some bygone aspect of British life that was still there in the '50s but has now vanished. So we have postage stamps in the first one... The second book is about the travelling puppet shows on the village green. And one of them is about filmmaking--it sort of harks back to the days of the classic Ealing comedies with Alec Guinness and so forth.
Q: Not every author garners such immediate success with a first novel. After only completing 15 pages of Sweetness, you won the Dagger award and within 8 days had secured book deals in 3 countries. You’ve since secured 19 countries. Enthusiasm continues to grow from every angle. How does it feel?
AB: It's like being in the glow of a fire. You hope you won't get burned. I’m not sure how much I’ve realized it yet. I guess I can say I‘m “almost overwhelmed”--I’m not quite overwhelmed, but I’m getting there. Every day has something new happening, and communications pouring in from people all over. The book has been receiving wonderful reviews and touching people. But Flavia has been touching something in people that generates a response from the heart, and the most often mentioned word in the reviews is love--how much people love Flavia and have taken her in as if she’s a long-lost member of their family, which is certainly very, very gratifying.
(Photo © Jeff Bassett)

I took The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in via audiobook and was just enamored with the voice talent. Jayne Entwistle skillfully became Flavia de Luce. What a brilliant performance on her part and an absolute win for whoever cast her for the job.

One thing this has inspired me to do is run a short mystery game for my captive audience here at home using my beloved Top Secret/S.I. rules only to discover there has never been rules for young characters written. Based on what the rule book says for optional rules for older characters I played around with reverse engineering some and came up with this- Top Secret/S.I. Younger Character Rules.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Poison Belt

Today is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday. With that we'll talk about Professor George Edward Challenger and The Poison Belt. There might be spoilers within...

I've said before how unlikable Professor Challenger is portrayed, yet as the reader you can't help but love the character. What an interesting writing technique. It seems most authors aim for their protagonists to be the best of the best or the most likable possible, perhaps with an eye bent towards marketing to audiences. I feel that pull if put to the task of writing fiction. But Doyle uses the everyday man as the eyepiece (Dr. Watson for Sherlock and Mr. Malone for Challenger) to observe a protagonist who is abrasive and often unpleasant. This is remarkably more realistic, in my opinion.

The Lost World was wonderful. It set me on the course to follow the adventures of Professor Challenger straightaway. The Poison Belt was strange. The themes in the short novel rang so familiar that I was often imagining scenes exactly described before from the likes of The Stand, etc. Except that Poison Belt predates them all, pretty much. It's remarkable how dark the story is.

The ending leaves us with redemption. The world is reborn unawares. Challenger and his crew are the only people in realize the truth even though the world feels a renewal of life.

One thing that is remarkable about Doyle's Challenger stories are that the scientific discoveries are so Earth shattering (almost literally!) that the world would be changed by them. Yet Challenger's bane is that the proof, although often pretty strong, isn't enough to shake the world's common mis-beliefs. It seems the world is more comfortable believing Challenger is a crazy mad scientist. And unfortunately for him, his manner often fits that bill.

There are only a few stories featuring G.E. Challenger. The Lost World, The Poison Belt, The Land of Mist, and two short stories- When the World Screamed, and The Disintegration Machine. I hope to find and enjoy them soon. We'll meet back here and talk about it when I do...


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