Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jill Trent, Science Sleuth in "Truth or Dare!" (part 1)

One of the blogs I follow is called Superdames, and is devoted to heroines from the Golden Age of Comic Books.  This past summer, the site ran a contest for new stories featuring one such character named Jill Trent, Science Sleuth, a beautiful and brilliant scientist who, along with her best friend Daisy, uses her fantastic inventions to fight crime  She's one of many obscure characters from that period who have fallen into the Public Domain.  Superdames selected her as the subject for a comics anthology of new stories.

The story I submitted was not one of the ones chosen for the anthology; but since I never like letting material go to waste, I decided to post my story here.


JILL TRENT:  SCIENCE SLEUTH

“TRUTH OR DARE”

by Kurt Wilcken

PAGE ONE

PANEL 1:
ACTION:  Splash panel showing  JILL TRENT strapped into what looks like an electric chair. A grim-faced figure hunches over a piece of electrical apparatus connected to the chair.  She is surrounded by several THUGS, including BOSS KREZNIK, who stands over her, gloating.  Perhaps DAISY SMYTHE looks on in shock as another THUG holds her back.

1 TITLE:  JILL TRENT:  SCIENCE SLEUTH

2 CAPTION: Jill Trent uses her keen intellect and scientific skills to solve mysteries and fight crime; but when one of her ingenious devices is used against her, can she outwit her own invention?

3 SUB-TITLE:  “TRUTH OR DARE!”

4 CREDITS:  Story by Kurt Wilcken; Art by _____________

PANEL 2:
ACTION:  JILL and DAISY are driving along a country road in a sleek convertible.  JILL is behind the wheel.

5 DAISY:  So, this William Moulton Marston we’re seeing, is he the one who writes those funny-books?

6 JILL:  Ha!  He’s more than that, Daisy!

7 JILL:  He’s also a psychologist who has done a lot of work with polygraphs.

PANEL 3
ACTION:  Closer view of JILL and DAISY in the front seat

8 JILL:  He has some interesting ideas.  You’ll enjoy meeting him.



PAGE TWO

PANEL 1:
ACTION:  The living room of the Marston home, a well-to-do house with 1930s style deco furnishings.  Perhaps, if there’s room, there might be a framed copy of a SENSATION COMICS comic book on the wall.  JILL introduces DAISY to ELIZABETH MARSTON.  OLIVE, a attractive, athletic-looking girl, stands nearby.

1 JILL:  This is Elizabeth, Dr. Marston‘s wife, and their house guest, Olive.  Elizabeth, this is my friend Daisy Smythe.

2 DAISY:  Pleased to meet you

3 ELIZABETH:  I’m so sorry William isn’t here yet.  He phoned to say he’d be delayed.

PANEL 2:
ACTION:  Several THUGS burst through the front door with guns drawn

4 THUG #1:  Okay, youse dames!  Don’t nobody move, and no one gets hurt!

5 THUG #2:  Where’s Doc Marston?

6 DAISY:  Holy cats!

PANEL 3:
ACTION:  OLIVE, her fists balled up and ready to fight, confronts THUG #1, who has his gun trained on her.

7 OLIVE:  What do you want with Dr. Marston?

8 THUG #1: We just need to borrow him.  The boss wants an expert on lie detectors.  As long as he co-operates, no one has to get hurt!

PANEL 4:
ACTION:  Small, dramatic pane.  JILL puts her hand on OLIVE’s shoulder and steps forward to face the viewer.

9 JILL:  I am Doctor Marston!

PANEL 5
ACTION:  The THUGS are puzzled.  She is obviously much curvier than they expected the Doc to be.  JILL is brazening it out.

10 THUG #1:  You’re W. M. Marston?

11 THUG #2:  But you’re a dame!

12 JILL:  Good eye.

PANEL 6:
ACTION:  Close, intimate view of DAISY whispering to JILL, worried.  JILL reassures her.

13 DAISY:  (whispers):  Are you crazy, Jill?

14  JILL: (whispers):  Shh! We have to protect the Marstons!  Don’t worry, I have a plan!

PANEL 7
ACTION:  JILL takes command, pointing towards the door (off-panel).  In the foreground, DAISY is going off in the direction she points.  DAISY’s face is to the viewer and she can see the smile she’s concealing from the THUGS; she guesses what Jill’s plan is.  The THUGS are bewildered that their “prisoner” has started giving orders.

15  JILL:  I’ll need some of my equipment.  Daisy, get the apparatus from the trunk of the car.

16 THUG #1:  Wot the--- ?


17 JILL:  You want my help, don’t you?

...

To be continued !

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Department of Filk: The Literary Mack the Knife

Okay, dipping once again into the Filk file for a bit of literary silliness.  Swing it, Satchmo!

The Literary Mack the Knife
(tune:  "Mack the Knife" (of course!))

Oh the Shark has
Pretty teeth, dear
And he shows them
Pearly white,
You won't meet him
In the bookstore
But you might meet
Mack the Knife

When the shark bites
With his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows
'Gin to spread;
MacHeath’s lethal
Like the shark, dear,
But he's also
Quite well-read

By the shores of
Gitchee-Gumi,
Hiawatha
Used to go;
Now Nikomis
Sits there weeping;
Mack please say it
Isn't so...

Once upon a
Midnight dreary,
Weak and weary,
Pondered I;
Is that tapping
Just a raven
Or is Mackie
Stopping by...?

Mistress Em'ly
Belle of Amherst
Once sat writing
After tea;
"Since I could not
Stop for Death, dear,
Mack, he kindly
Stopped for me..."

It was Brillig,
Slithy Toves did
Gyre and Gimble
In the Wabe
Vorpal Mack went
Snicker-snack, dear
Jabberwock lay
There outgabe...

Captain Ahab,
That fanatic
Sought to kill that
Monster whale;
But who really
Sank the Pequod?
Mack says "Call me
Ishmael..."

Once an Old Man
Caught a “Beeg Feesh”
As he struggled
‘Gainst the Sea;
When the sharks bit,
With their teeth, dear,
Mack said “Leave a
Bite for me!”

Rev'rend Dimsdale,
Sinning Hester,
Justice Pynchon
Sweet Goodman Brown
Mister Hawthorne
Set them up, dear,
But our Mackie,
Mowed 'em down.

Our great authors
Wrote us stories
Full of death as
Well as life;
Don’t be napping
While in Lit Class
Or you might miss
Mack the Knife!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Department of Filk: The Vampire's Daughter

Here's another piece of filk I decided to drag up from my archives  The tune is an obscure one, unless you happen to like old Warner Brothers cartoons, and even then you might not associate the title with the melody.

The original song, "She Was An Acrobat's Daughter", was used in an early Porky Pig cartoon of the same name set in a movie theater.  Carl Stalling, the composer who scored most of those Warner cartoons, liked to incorporate snatches from old songs into his scores associated with stock situations, and he frequently inserted this one any time a cartoon involved acrobats, trapeze artists, or sometimes even just floating though the air with the greatest of ease.  (No, wait, that was a different song).

But for this filk, I decided to give the lyrics a Halloween theme.  Yes, Halloween was over a week ago; but I still hope you enjoy it.

The Vampire's Daughter
(to the tune of:  "She Was an Acrobat's Daughter.")

She was a vampire's daughter
She wasn't just looking for sex
   Her Friday night dates
   Met with terrible fates
And wound up with two holes in their necks;
   Oh,
She was a vampire's daughter
Lugosi had nothing on her,
   'Til one night in the sack
   A werewolf bit her back
And she woke up all covered with fur.

She was a lycanthrope's daughter
We went out one evening to spoon
   But she gave me a scare
   When she let down her hair
And proceeded to howl at the moon;
   Oh,
She was a lycanthrope's daughter
Our love-life had only one hitch
   Our romance was sublime
   Save each month at that time
She turned into a terrible bitch

She was Doc Frankenstein's daughter
In college she majored pre-med
   But they called her a crank
   In a sorority prank
When she tried resurrecting the dead
   Oh,
She was Doc Frankenstein's daughter
And that's why I have to complain
   When I offered my heart,
   She said "No, not that part;
I want you, dear, just for your brain!"

She was King Ihmotep’s daughter
She had a seductress's smile
   A flirtatious young minx
   And just like the sphinx
She hailed from the banks of the Nile
   Oh,
She was King Imhotep’s Daughter
Her beaus had to fear for the worst
   Her embrace, although lusty,
   was also quite dusty
And if "Mummy" found out they'd get cursed.

She was Van Helsing's daughter
A fairly nice girl, you'd presume,
   A pretty young miss
   And quite pleasant to kiss
Once you got past her garlic perfume
   Oh,
She was Van Helsing's daughter
So she preferred playing it smart
   Any Tom, Vlad or Dickie
   Tried to give her a hickey
They'd find with a stake through his heart.

This song has a definite moral
You'll pay it some heed if you're wise
   If the girl of your dreams
   Provokes nightmarish screams
Better off hanging out with the guys!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Onward and Upward; or, Self-Improvement the RPG Way

(originally posted on "Live and Let Dice", Dec. 18, 2006)

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
--Émile Coué

I got an early Christmas present from my wacky brother Steeve when he and his wife visited us this Thanksgiving: the DVD of the first season of Stan Lee’s Who Wants to be a Superhero? We watched it while they were visiting and it was great fun.

There’s a scene in an early episode where Stan toasts the contestants with his trademark motto: “Excelsior!” When the hero wannabees return the toast, Stan asks them, “None of you knows what that means, do you?” They sheepishly shake their heads.

Stan explains: “It means, ‘Ever onward and upwards to greater glory.’”

There’s a Japanese business philosophy called “Kaisan”. It means “Continuous Improvement”. The idea is that in order to stay successful, a business needs to constantly work at improving itself.

Both “Kaisan” and Stan Lee’s “Excelsior” are familiar concepts for role-players, because improvement is what a lot of games are all about. Role-playing games don’t have “winners” and “losers” the way traditional games do; (something which boggled my brother-in-law the one and only time I invited his wife and him to game with us; “how do I win?” he asked). But most RPGs have some sort of mechanism to record and measure character advancement. Mike Pondsmith, in his classic wacky teens ‘n’ anime RPG Teenagers From Outer Space, puts it this way: “While we’re of the considered opinion that having a good time playing the game should be reward enough, we recognize the need for Pavlovian reinforcement in a well-run game.”

I suspect that the principle for most types of character advancement was based on video games. For every Blormian you shoot, you score so many points; if you reach a certain number of points, you get an extra life, or a new attack, or snazzy new graphics.

That’s roughly the way the granddaddy of all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons works. In the old AD&D system, each monster was worth a set number of Experience Points (or XP). In addition, the Dungeon Master would arbitrarily award additional points to players for things like good role-playing, achieving quest goals and remembering to bring chips to the table. In one group I played in, the DM would have each player write down what they thought were the significant actions their character performed that game and then he would judge how many points each action was worth. In the newer editions of D&D, the set XP from the old Monster Manuals have been replaced by a Challenge Rating system, so that the points you gain from a given encounter depends on the difficulty that encounter presents for your party’s level.

Levels are another integral part of D&D. When a character gets so many Experience Points, he will Go Up a Level. This gives him extra Hit Points and, depending on his Character Class and what Level he’s at, could also give him attack bonuses, extra skills and abilities, or new spells.

In the old First Edition, each level had its own special name, so that a Thief would start out at the first level as a “Rogue.” At the next level he would become a “Footpad”, and then progress through “Cutpurse”, “Robber”, “Burglar”, and “Filcher”. In theory the idea seems cool and even makes a certain amount of sense. In actual practice, however, it just seemed silly. (“Filcher”???) Later editions eliminated the named levels.

One drawback with this system is that it tends to encourage Leveling Up Syndrome: “Dang! I’m only 100 points short of my next Level. I’m going off into the forest to kill a few kobolds so I can level up.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself; a clever Game Master can throw together a quickie encounter or two to make the kobold hunt more exciting; or better yet, devise some way for the kobold hunt to lead into the adventure he had planned out before his player decided he needed more XP. But every now and then you’ll come across a player who wonders aloud how much XP he’ll get for offing that peasant walking down the road. When that player is playing a Paladin, you know you’ve got problems.

Another problem is that since characters have the potential to become obscenely powerful as they advance in levels, the system makes them pitifully weak when they start out. This is particularly the case with the Magic-User class. In the old AD&D system, Wizards started out with the least number of Hit Points, were allowed to cast only one spell per day, and were prohibited from wearing armor. Not surprisingly, a lot of players just skipped over the first few levels and started off their characters at a point where they could actually do something.

Not all game systems stratify character advancement into levels. Point-buy systems, such as HERO or GURPS, allow players to use earned Experience Points to buy improvements to their characters; adding new skills or abilities, or bumping up stats, or even buying off disadvantages. These games typically recommend that the GM give out only a couple points per player per session, as opposed to D&D which can award hundreds or even thousands of points per encounter. But in GURPS you can make some significant improvements to your character with only a dozen or so extra points where it can take several thousand points to hit the next level in D&D.

I know of at least one game system where experience actually makes your character worse! In Chaosium’s classic Call of Cthulhu, each character has a certain amount of “Sanity Points.” Each time he encounters an Eldritch Horror or a Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know, he loses some of his sanity. Ultimately all the characters will go mad and become NPCs; their only hope is to stop the Horrors before it’s too late!

I have to admit, I’m usually kind of lax about passing out Experience in the games I run. Unless I’m running a D&D campaign, I often forget all about it. I picked up this habit from the Champions campaigns my friends Bryon and Cath used to run when I lived in Darkest Iowa.

They had a library of nearly a thousand character sheets, (that was when I first met them; they eventually surpassed the thousand mark), converting nearly every character from the DC and Marvel Universes into HERO stats. Each sheet was laminated, because it made them easier to file, because it protected them from soda and pizza stains, and because Bryon had access to his schools laminating machine. Being preserved for the ages in imperishable Mylar meant that the character sheets could not be changed, but that was okay. “Comic book superheroes rarely change,” Bryon explained to me. What changes a character might undergo in the comic, (when the Hulk became grey and smart, for example, or when Superman acquired his “electric look”) were usually significant enough to warrant a totally new character sheet.

(Note: this applies only to American super-heroes. Japanese comics are more likely to follow a character’s development from rookie to uber-hero. The heroines of Magical Knights Rayearth, for example, start out as ordinary schoolgirls who have to grow into the roles of defenders. Goku, from the popular Dragonball series, is a poster child for kaisan and takes the concept to ludicrous lengths).

So in their various Champions campaigns, Bryon and Cath never handed out XP at the end of gaming sessions. Instead, they’d reward players through the social interactions their characters would have with other characters and with NPCs. Cath in particular did her darndest to cultivate romantic sub-plots for characters. Not all players like this approach, but I think it gave a more organic, satisfying feel to character development than a mere shoveling on of hit points every thousand miles would.

Then there’s always the alternative experience system suggested in Teenagers From Outer Space: “Have you ever considered paying your players off in M and M’s? Instant gratification can work wonders.”

Hey, if it works, it works.

Excelsior! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Apologies Are in Order

I only intended to go on hiatus for a week or two with my "Dark Redemption" serial while I worked on a couple other projects; but somehow a week or two has become a month or two and I seem to be no closer to getting back to the story.

But to get back into the habit, I will be posting some old material of mine on this blog for a few weeks.  Next Saturday expect to see a piece I wrote about Gaming and kaizan.

And what after that?  That will be a surprise.

I hope to get back to "Dark Redemption" eventually, if for no other reason than I'd like to find out how it all ends too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 57: Heart to Heart

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Cassandra True has discovered that her roommate Cecily has become involved with a vampire and has confronted her about the subject.  In order to gain her friend’s trust, Cassandra decides to share her own apprehensions and concerns about her own relationship with Strephon.

Cassandra made a couple fresh cups of coffee and sat back down on the couch with Cecily.  She told the whole story, from the day she met Strephon in the lobby of Aeser Technologies, through the wolf attack and the dinner party with Aeserman and her date with Strephon at the Club Cyba-Netsu and her ordeal with mad Mrs. Morrigan and above all, her strange dreams.  Cecily squirmed a little when Cassandra described seeing the vampire waiter at the Cyba-Netsu and her ensuing conversation with Ms Kuriyama, but Cassandra did not pursue that particular subject and continued with her story.  She finished up with her discovery of the strange parallels between what she knew about Strephon and the character in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

“So… this Strephon is a fairy from the waist up?” Cecily said when she had finished.

Cassandra felt her cheeks burn.  Put that way, it did sound stupid.  “Well…”

“And his legs are mortal.  What about the parts in-between?”

“You would ask that question.  And what about you?  You almost made out with a ghost!”

“I didn’t know he was a ghost!  Besides, everyone believes in ghosts; no one believes in fairies.”

“Arthur Conan Doyle believed in both.”  Cecily gave a snort in response.  “And what about Wisp and Banshee?  They were certainly something supernatural.  And don’t tell me you don’t believe in the supernatural.”

“Okay, okay.  I was just playing Devil’s Somethinger’nother.”  Cecily paused a moment to give Cassandra time to sip her coffee.  “How does he feel about you?”

Cassandra grimaced.  “That’s just it.  He keeps me at arm’s length.  But he keeps seeing me.  So I don’t know.”

“Hmm…” Cecily gave her cup a little swirl.  “That could mean he’s jerking you around, which means you should run away as fast as you can.  Or it could mean he’s afraid of a relationship but likes you too much to stay away.  How do you feel about him?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.”

“Then let’s put it this way.  What bothers you the most; that he’s not exactly human, or that he’s been lying to you?”

Cassandra looked down at her coffee.  That really was the question she’d been trying to avoid.  Cecily was incredibly perceptive when it came to everybody’s problems but her own.  “Neither, I think.  It’s just that ever since I met him, all these weird things have been happening; the wolves, the stuff at Aeser Technologies, Morrigan… I feel like I’m being drawn into something that I can’t understand that’s beyond my control.”

A strange, faraway look had come into Cecily’s eyes.  “Yeah…” she said dreamily, “I know what you mean…”

“And I’m getting you involved too.  It’s my fault!”

“What?”  That seemed to catch Cecily’s attention.  “No, I was the one who introduced you to the Club Cyba-Netsu, remember?  I probably would have met Philippe there anyway.”

“All right then; your turn.”  Cassandra set her coffee down and folded her hands in a business-like manner.  “Tell me about Philippe.”

Cecily scrunched her face.  But she couldn’t very well back out.  “Well, for starters, he doesn’t sparkle.”

“Thank God for that.”

“I met him at the Cyba-Netsu the night after the ghost, remember?  You didn’t want to come with me that night.”

Cassandra remembered.  If only she had been along, maybe… But let Cecily tell her story.  “Go on,” Cassandra urged.

“I saw Kuriyama that night and she invited me to sit at her table with her friends.”

“Friends meaning vampires?”

“Well, I didn’t know that at the time, now, did I?  It was… You’ll laugh.  It was like being at school and being invited to sit at the table with the posh kids.”

Cassandra didn’t laugh.  She knew exactly what Cecily meant. She nodded encouragingly.

“Well, she introduced me to Phillippe, and he was so dark and dangerous and sexy.  I didn’t know he was a vampire until he… until he did it.”  No need to ask what ‘it’ was.  “It was incredible.  It was like he was drawing my soul into his…”  Cecily’s gaze wandered off again and her voice took on a tone of dreamy bliss.

“How does he treat you?  When he’s not… doing it?”  Cassandra tried to keep the disapproval out of her own voice, but didn’t quite succeed.

“What do you mean?”

“As someone once told me, if he’s jerking you around you should run away, fast.”

“He treats me wonderfully.  Like I’m the center of his universe.  And he doesn’t jerk me around.”  Cecily was starting to get defensive again.

“I’m sorry.  I just keep on thinking of that one girl I saw at the Cyba-Netsu; the one who was begging the green-haired waiter to bite her.  It was like she was an addict or something---“

“I’m not doing drugs!”

The suddenness of Cecily’s response startled Cassandra.  “I didn’t say you were.  I just–“

“We’ll I’m not!  And you have no right to be making those kinds of accusations!”

Cassandra frowned.  She hadn’t thought she was accusing her of anything.”

Cecily stood up, angrily.  “Do you know what I think?  I think you’re an uptight little bitch who’s so afraid of adventure that she can’t handle it when something a little different happens in her life!”

“Cecily, wait!”  But it was too late; Cecily had already stormed back into her room.

Cassandra groaned.  That had gone badly.  She looked at the clock.  She had two hours left to sleep before her alarm went off.

All that coffee was probably a mistake.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 56: Judgment

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

The life of Cassandra True, a reporter recently hired by the Morning Star, has lately been engulfed in the supernatural, ranging from werewolves to a ghost to a deranged witch and her faerie minions.  Perhaps the most mysterious is her new acquaintance, Strephon, whom she has just discovered has even deeper secrets than she imagined.  But now she has discovered that her roommate, Cecily, has become involved with vampires.

Cecily did not roll into the flat, giddy and exhausted, until the far side of 3:00 am.  She did not expect to see Cassandra sitting on the couch waiting for her.

“You shouldn’t have waited up,” Cecily said.

“I know.”  Cassandra’s reply was dangerously quiet.  Cecily realized that they were about to have that conversation which begins “Cecily, we have to talk.”  She had been dreading that conversation for days, and especially did not want to have it now; not when she was so tired and after the night had otherwise gone so well.

“I suppose you went to the Cyba-Netsu,” Cassandra continued.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yah.”  Cecily could guess by the careful way Cassandra phrased the question that it was a trap.  What the hell.  Get it over with.

Cassandra just gave her a hard, long look, like she was trying to nerve herself to say something.  Then she said it.  “I was wondering.  I know when you donate blood at the Red Cross, they give you donuts afterwards.  What do you get at the Cyba-Netsu?”

Cecily’s hand darted to the scarf around her neck.  The accusation veiled in the sarcastic remark felt like a slap in the face.  Sandy didn’t usually do sarcasm, at least not very well.  Cassandra’s face reddened, but she kept her relentless gaze on Cecily, daring her to deny it.

“It’s not what you think.”

“Then show me your neck.”

Damn!  Why did Sandy always have to make things difficult?  She didn’t want to have to deal with this!  She just wanted to crawl into bed.  Cecily felt herself growing angry.  She pulled off the scarf defiantly and let it flutter to the floor.  “There!  Are you happy?”

Cassandra bit her lip and stared at the puncture marks on Cecily’s neck.  Any moment now, it would come:  the disapproval; the anger; the judgment; the disappointment.  Well let it come.

“I’ve been worried about you.”  Cassandra’s voice was low, but it was still a reproach.  “I wish you had told me.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

The two glared at each other for a moment.  At least Cecily glared; she couldn’t tell exactly what Cassandra was thinking.

Finally Cassandra looked away.  “That’s too bad, because I have a problem.”  God, here it comes, she’s going to bring up the rent again, Cecily thought.  “You see, I just found out why Strephon’s been lying to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it.  I’d like to ask a friend I can trust for advice, but I’m not sure if I can trust her if she won’t trust me.”

Cecily wasn’t expecting that.  All the anger, all the defensiveness, all the self-righteous mind-your-own-business-ness she had been building up just oozed out of her.  She was tired.  She just couldn’t maintain it. 

She sat down on the couch next to her.  Cassandra’s eyes were moist with tears, but she was trying not to show it.  Cecily put her arm around her.

“Sandy, we have to talk.”


NEXT: Heart to Heart