Friday, July 24, 2015

Story Seed - A Sea of Endless Stars

Image Source:

The desert before me stretches in all directions as far as my eyesight will go. Rocky mountains break through the sand and blasted earth; jutting upward and striving for the heavens in some bid for absolution from the scorching dry air. My mule plods along at my side, unaware of anything but the gentle tug of the reigns that dangle from my fingers.

But the desert is also the sandy beach on a shore of endless night. A sea of stars shimmer in the deep blue waters of the evening sky. Vast nebulae rippled across that deep blue sea like waves of an incoming tide so vast that no seawall could break it, and no mooring withstand it.

To the far west the light of early pre-dawn burned at the illusion like a flame eating away at the canvas of some vast masterpiece. There was beauty in this destruction much as there was beauty to the desolation of the desiccated landscape around me. Soon that sea would evaporate from the heat of the unforgiving fire. I stopped and drank my fill, sating a deep thirst that would return in due time. I drank deep, relishing in the cool waters of that starry sea. I glanced at the mule and knew it would not partake; you can lead a beast to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #42 - Time and Again Part 5 - Temporal Stimulus

Image Source:

On the odd chance that you are finding this new without having read earlier entries you can find Parts OneTwo, Three, or Four by clicking through.  We've reached the terminus (for now) of my ranting about time, but before I go I wanted to share my sources, and ask for your suggestions. Time travel is one of my favorite subjects and new movies and TV shows on the subject are always welcome, and given the spare few books dealing with time travel I have read I'm more than happy to entertain suggestions from my readers.
Histories that are, were, and might have been ...

This is a little "bibliography" of sorts, or perhaps more of an Appendix of whens, wases, and could have beens ...

Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list but these represent my favorites and inspirations...


  • Back to the Future (series)
    • The first of these is the best, but the second gets in good with me because it dabbles more into the timey wimey of time travel. The third I enjoy because who doesn't like a little western steampunk with their sci-fi?
  • Terminator (series) 
    • Of the four I have thus far seen the first two are the best, but even the 3rd and 4th make decent action films. Only the first three have any time travel elements in them however.
  • Timecrimes
    • If you haven't seen this, go find it and watch it, it's an a amazingly convoluted time travel tale that somehow managed to be (at least as far as I can tell) completely consistent and 100% close looped without leaving anything dangling. Really very well done.
  • Predestination
    • Another lesser known movie, this one is as much a character study as it is an object lesson in time travel mechanics.
  • Primer
    • This is very much a character piece, but it is also noteworthy for its more unique take on the methods of time travel.
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (and Bogus Journey)
    • These are comedies, and the treatment of time travel is pretty light, but they are pretty fun regardless. Look at the interesting time travel solution to a locked door problem late in the first movie as an example of how time traveling characters can get really creative.
  • Timecop
    • Van Damme-it this one is a real mixed bag of early '90s action-sci-fi. Notable for the paradox that occurs when the same person from two points in time intersect (it's messy).
  • 12 Monkeys
    • In my opinion Terry Gilliam's best film that doesn't include Monty Python. Predestination, bootstrapped information, and a delightful sense of paranoia (plus a young Brad Pitt being amazing). This one is so good it managed to spawn a TV series that even SyFy couldn't screw up.
  • Frequency
    • Another unique look at time "travel" (more like communication) that gets into the consequences of altering past events. The way that the main character starts to assimilate the new timeline's memories is nicely done.
  • Looper
    • Predestination and paradox (sort of). I really love the idea of characters having to outwit their earlier selves, or trying to off their own future selves. 
  • Project Almanac
    • Of note for the interesting paradox the results from a person encountering a copy of themselves and the chaos theory/butterfly effect of changes as the hero tries to fix things.
TV Series
  • 12 Monkeys
    • Considering how much I love the film that this is based on, and that it was going to be produced and aired on SyFy I went into it with a great deal of trepidation.  Thankfully the end result was not only good, but shockingly good, excellent even. They managed to take the concepts and ideas of the movie and expand them, alter them, and yet stay true to them in such a way that the end result is a rather amazing product all on its own. This one dives deep into the time travel aspects of paradox and predestination, but also starts to introduce the wild card of free will into the mix. I can't wait for season 2.
  • Doctor Who
    • Do I really need to explain myself here?
  • Quantum Leap
    • Another non-traditional take on time travel. The series ender confounds some people, but it's hardly enough to detract from the series as a whole.
  • Lost
    • Gripe all you want about the ending, but during its run Lost was a show that had the bravery to the kitchen sink of weird at the viewers. The time travel elements were surprisingly well put together too.
  • Flash Forward
    • It's a shame that this series never got past season one as it was looking at predestination versus free will in a very unique way that I found really interesting. 
  • Continuum
    • Along with 12 Monkeys above this one has some great looks at temporal mechanics. In this case alternate and multiple timelines, bootstrap paradox, and the consequences of changing the past. 
  • The Time Machine
    • Arguably the grand-daddy of all time travel fiction. Far flung futures, human evolutionary offshoots, and the troubling nature of things beyond our control. 
  • A Sound of Thunder
    • I haven't actually read this yet but it's so well known as an early use of the "butterfly effect" to show the effects of unintended consequences. It's also spawned any number of other fictions...
  • Shockingly that is all I can think of for written fiction, which means that I am more than open to suggestions from my readers for good books or short fiction about time travel. Hit the comments below and let me know.

I unabashedly love time travel, and one of the things I didn't do with this series that I wanted to was to go into details on time travel continuums.  It's likely I will return to this series again in the future (sadly the past isn't possible) and explore the subject more, but for now I thank you for bearing with me and sincerely hope that if you actually read all of this you enjoyed it and got something useful out of my efforts. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday Tools #2 - NPC Records

So like a lot of people (I hope) my memory isn't exactly iron clad under the best of circumstances.  Usually when I throw together an NPC on the fly I'm lucky if I can keep them consistent within the same scene let alone during the entire session or over multiple sessions. As a result I built up a couple of records for use during campaigns.

The first is a generic NPC record. I use this for things like gang members, town guards, soldiers, and the like. Any time that the PCs are meeting one of a group that is pretty much going to be a bunch of cookie cutter goons (and yes, even friendly NPCs can be goons).

The second is a Named NPC Record.  I use this for ... named NPCs ... *ugh* ... Anyways, this sheet is useful for the guys important enough to get names AND who are not under the threat of immediate death. Player contacts, NPC antagonists with a more long term presence, town leaders, generals of armies, gang or guild leaders and the like.

Both of these forms were designed around the standard template for NPCs in the Cypher system but are open and generic enough for use with just about any RPG system.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Story Seed - Incident on Mars

Image Source:

Simon checked his O2 regulator again, the needle had sunk to just 6%. The respirator on his face was uncomfortable, damp with condensed moisture from his breath, and chafing around the edges where his skin was raw and windblown. The martian shook his head wearily, adjusted his pack and rifle, and then set off again. Six percent wouldn't last his very long, but he could see Olympus only a few kilometers away. Thanks to the terraforming efforts he might even make it.

One foot in front of the other. Little puffs of red sands blew away in his wake as the still thin atmosphere whisked them off. Simon loped along in the low gravity but he was already flagging, the long klicks from Marineris Dome wearing on him in combination with the cold and the constant grit thrown up by the wind. His buggy had done him well covering more than half the distance to Olympus before it's batteries had run dry. The solar cells couldn't keep up with the demand though so he'd been forced to abandon it, with a recharge and return protocol in place.

Now that he was within sight of his goal he thought back to the events that had caused this trek. Marineris Dome had been drilling a new shaft for its mine when they'd uncovered something unusual buried almost two hundred meters under the martian surface.  The worked metal spoke of something not from Mars, but it clearly wasn't human made either. They'd excavated it, an oblong probe roughly a meter in length and half as wide. Scans had shown it was solid, and its mass backed that assessment up. It was like a great metal raindrop, and some of the miners had been quick to assume it was the remains of some meteor that had fallen to Mars in its early days when there was a thicker atmosphere.

Of course that wasn't the case. High metal content meteors would still not take on this kind of shape and refined surface quality no matter how "gentle" their impact with a planetary body. Simon had pushed to quarantine the object, but by then it was too late. As the object warmed it had begun to see minute shifts in mass and exterior dimensions. Although they were not state of the art the Dome's quantum sensors had shown readings that spoke to exotic particle generation and decay.

The hallucinations and weird behavior soon followed. What happened next was something Simon wanted to forget. He'd need to be able to report to Mars Central Security, however, so he forced himself to remember. The weird behavior had started to spread. At first people were just acting out of character; there were a lot of short tempers, but people also started to do things obsessively. When the medical officer first called him to ask if the thing's radiation could be causing mutations he had almost laughed at the man. Within days Simon's laughter had evaporated in the face of reality turned to horror.

Some of miners, technicians and other scientists were experiencing strange mutations. In hindsight Simon supposed that there was a correlation between the instance of strange behavior and that of the mutation, but at the time it was something out of fiction. As the mutated workers began to attack those who remained human things descended into chaos.

That was when Simon had fled, taking a buggy and making best speed for Olympus. Two days an hundreds of kilometers later Simon was almost at his destination. The martian man flipped on his suit's radio and tried to reach Olympus Control. Static filled his helmet and dread filled his heart. Simon pushed himself to move faster and hoped that Olympus hadn't been infected as well.