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Jul. 29th, 2009

Provost

Last Word From The Management

Delia's recommendation, and the various merits of WordPress, have resulted in a migration.

http://bensmanifesto.wordpress.com

Will be the Manifesto of the People's Free Republic of Ben 2nd Edition.

Still putting things in order thought it looks like the posts and comments have migrated successfully. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen and The Adventures of the Colt Apollo will be updated from here. Other things too in the future.

Don't know if I'll do anything with the LiveJournal yet.

Jul. 28th, 2009

Provost

A Quick Word From The Management

Insert your joke here.

To those whose friends lists I'm inconveniencing with the length of my posts let me start by saying, I apologise.

Be aware though, I don't see myself remembering to add lj-cuts and I don't imagine that you'd miss anything if you didn't read my posts.

So if you do find it a nuisance, feel free to remove me from your LiveJournal Friends Lists.

That is all.
Provost

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen: Part 14

If you ask any professional athlete what the hardest thing to do in sports is, they'll all say "Hit a baseball". But a coach once told me that the hardest thing to do in sports is to walk into your Super Bowl locker room at half-time and change the strategy that got you there cause it's no longer working

The West Wing, Red Mass.

A lot of what I wrote previously about death in roleplay, aligns itself to that which most fortune tellers will tell you when the card comes up-- Death means change. They say this as if it's comforting...

Change of any kind, particularly when your characters have bought the premise that lured them into the game in the first place, is a dicey thing. It comes about in one of two ways:

1: The game has taken a life of its own, courtesy of the players' interaction with your game and, in doing so, has become different to what you thought.

2: You've used all your ideas for the first six adventures.

The first one is optimal as it represents a sharing of ideas that culminates in the ownership of a tale being shared between player and GM. Ideally, it also means that your players are doing most of the thinking for you, as far as story ideas go.

Obviously the second is the bad one. But don't necessarily be fooled into categorising them just yet...

John Rogers called attention to this. TV networks get pitches for shows every year. And one of the things they are looking for is what kind of mileage do you have for your series? What engines of conflict exist? Because conflict is the heart of each story and the risks that you run, be it writing for TV or running a game, is resolving the conflict too soon.

You can also grind a conflict, like a player's last nerve, just as easily.

Since we're talking about TV, lets take a look at my current viewing material. I'm watching Alias, and I'm up to Season 3. Season 1 had so many several engines of conflict that the whole thing appears somewhat steampunk-like in my head: To review:

Sydney Bristow lost her fiance to the secret spy organisation and her employer, SD6. She hates them, but even more so because...

...They're not really a black-ops CIA group. They are, in fact, terrorists.

Sydney also learns that her father has been lying to her for decades, first by not telling her that he's a spy. Then by not telling her that she works for terrorists. Then by not telling her that he's really a double-agent with the CIA. Then by not telling her that her mother was KGB, and so on...

Sydney goes to the CIA and becomes a double-agent.

She also has all this conflict going on that she has to hide from her best friends, Will and Francie.

She's in love with her CIA handler, Michael Vaughn, but has lost her fiancee, can't tell anyone about him in she compromises her mission and endangers his life.

She wants to be a teacher, so she's also doing tertiary education.

And all the good and bad guys are after artifacts that could spell the doom of the world, designed by a prophet 500 years ago.

So yeah, a lot of different points to enter an hour-long story or map out a 22 episode-long season. The great machine gets even more complex as other characters start to firm up. Jack Bristow tries to form a relationship with his daughter but lacks the basic skillset of interacting with someone outside of espionage parameters. Arvin Sloan is losing his wife to Limphoma. Francie has her fiance cheat on her and buys a restaurant. Will investigates SD6 and becomes a pawn more than a few times.

The machine is glorious in sheer size and ability now. Writers are able to call upon it for exciting hour-long adventures and the machine dutifully spits it out. It hums and glows so it remains a continual source of surprise to me that the creator, JJ Abrahmms, sledge-hammers a spanner into the gears and watches it crumble apart without mercy.

A few pieces are salvaged but the machine has changed as two essential conflicting components have been sheared apart and abandoned. The output episodes are different and the change is better and here is why.

Suddenly things are no longer formulaic. You can't predict the outcome of the episodes outside of the basest assumptions. A fact made more apparent with the death of one of the show's stars. The episodes serve to welcome a new audience but rewards those who have watched since the beginning.

What has this to do with roleplaying, I hear me ask. And it takes a while to answer but it is this...

It is far from unusual to have the adventures of a roleplay game continue for years. In point of fact, I'm involved in three: Jason's Shadowrun game, Rhys's Deus game and Tim's Exalted game. I'm also reading the accounts of another game called Team Grandeur and have had games run for anywhere between a year to two years.

And unlike an TV series, these episodes are usually more than 1 hour long, have anywhere between 3 to 6 stars and may have 26 to 52 to even more adventures per year.

Running a game like this means that change is an absolute necessity.

More to follow

Jul. 22nd, 2009

Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round 1st Salvo - Part 6

Marshals, Pinkertons and the miners gathered around the strand of gorilla hair clenched between thumb and forefinger of Hans Octavius Wilhem. The revelation left them stunned.

"You mean to say," Caine said, voice echoing in the mine, "that the thing responsible for all this monkey business--"

"Iz something much larger zhan a monkey," Wilhem finished. He pocketed the strand and turned to face the Mountain Marshal.

"I had zhe experience of seeing vone in captivity in ze old country. I remember it as being a powerful und dangerous creature."

"But not armed," Jack Lightning interjected. "Strikes me that ain't the kinda thing one finds in the jungle."

"Hardly," Wilhem said.

"Was there anything like that in the circus?" James Lovelace asked the miners while scanning the crime scene under the light of new and most confusing information.

"Hang on," Boxer said, eyes rolling up as he tried to remember. "There was somethin' about a civilised gorilla. Could make tea and count and dress himself. And yeah... I think it could fire a gun."

"Did you actually see it?" Wilhem asked.

"No, sir. Somethin' about it not feelin' up to performin'. Plenty more stuff goin' on that nobody seemed to mind."

"Not even ze Chinese workers?"

"Not a lot of them turned up. A lotta things get said about the Chinee, but it ain't that they're lazy."

Finishing up with the room, the three Marshals and the Pinkerton Detective returned to the bucket and pulley system. Lightning got the miner to locate the other two miners who usually stayed in the victim's company, while considering the possibility of whether an armed gorilla could scale the rope or the cave walls. It seemed a moot point though. A gorilla wasn't going to lurk about unnoticed, particulary if the miners feared for their lives.

Still, it didn't explain why a savage animal would sneak into the mine, ignore a whole bunch of folk, shoot one guy and sneak back out again.

The footsteps of John Henry Anderson and Bill Boxer echoed back through the tunnels. They were travelling with nothing more than a disappointed and sour expression on their faces.

"I assume zhen zhat ze late Xuanzang's companions von't be joining us?"

"I'm sorry, marshal," The looming foreman looked halfway between stunned and ready to yell the cave down around them. "Apparently they'd already left."

"Possibly to track down ze circus and avenge zheir fallen comrade," Wilhem mused.

"Best catch up to it then," Jack said. Investigating was fine and all but it was not the way to uphold the law. The Lightning Clan were very clear on what it took to keep the peace and Jack was wearing both of them at her hips.

Leaving the mine and returning to the steam tank, Wilhem stoked the boiler once more and it chugged to life, carrying them across the desert. Despite a fortnight's delay, Caine was able to follow the caravan tracks and it wasn't long before they came upon the circus...

...Slashed, burned and long dead to a man. Longer, by well over a week, than the miner they'd just left.

TO BE CONTINUED IN THE ADVENTURES OF THE COLT APOLLO: 2ND ROUND 2ND SALVO
Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round 1st Salvo - Part 5

The room itself was spartan, though the bullet holes lent a more modern and macabre decor.

Hewn from one of the tunnels, the marks from shovels and pickaxes could still be identified in the room's construction. It would have taken a lot of work from a lot of people, it being spacious enough to house three miners or god only knew how many Chinese people.

That one Chinaman had taken the room for himself spoke of high regard of respect or fear. But was it worth killing over?

The marshals Caine, Wilhem and Lightning entered, with Pinkerton Detective Lovelace close behind. John Henry Anderson, the mine's foreman and his friend, Bill Boxer, hovered by the entrance along with the guards who had preserved the scene.

This was something Wilhem was grateful for. That and the cool conditions of the iron mine had done some minor thing for preserving the body itself. Still, it was vile odour that each lawman breathed and it may have been as much as for the smell as a sense of justice that had kept anyone from entering.

Wilhem began inspecting the body, a medical kit revealed in one of his chest components inside the iron armour. Lovelace watched in fascination, glancing away only to observe Caine checking for tracks or to listen to Lightning continue interrogating the foreman.

"Did the deceased have any friends?" Jack asked. "Anyone he hung around with?"

Anderson looked over at Boxer. The miner was boss of a mining crew, one of several bosses, and probably had seen more than the Foreman was allowed.

"Lotta people left him to himself. Did see two others that kept pretty close to him though."

Wilhem was only paying half attention, his focus on the corpse. The body of Xuanzang was an impressive speciman. Very little fat on him and corded muscle that pulled tight with rigor mortis. Expected, Wilhem supposed, given the work, but it seemed that there had been more than back and shoulders at work.

"I zink ze victim vas a fighter. Profecient too" Wilhem announced

"Nimble fella, that's for sure," Caine replied. "That's a whole lotta bullets just to get one guy."

Lovelace looked at the walls and had to agree. There had to be a dozen holes littered in the room. "How many in the body?"

Wilhem continued his examination, muttering to himself as he made some notes. Finally he stood up.

"Four," he announced. "Und only two of zhem vhere fatal. Ze others vould likely have slowed him down though."

Jack turned from the miners. "That's a whole lot of messy shootin' for just one guy."

"Agreed," Wilhem responded. "Und ze bullets are from ze same calibre of gun, as vell."

"He missed, reloaded and kept shooting?" Caine asked, his incredulity echoing about the stone room.

"Ain't weren't a break in the shootin' marshal," Boxer volunteered. "I told ya, it was like an army had opened up on him."

"Agreed," Wilhem replied. "Und it seems, given ze different scoring on ze bullets retrieved from ze late XuanZang, zhat zhere vere three different revolvers used."

"Given the grouping of the bullets, it seemed the shooters had their work cut out for them, trying to aim," Lovelace noted.

"Zhere is something else," Wilhem added. "He vas in possession of zis!"

The Iron Marshal used one of his mechanical arms to offer a small bronze medallion. The writings on it's octagon shape weren't legible to anyone else in the room, so Wilhem translated.

"It is an icon ov religious significance. I suspect it may be Buddhism."

The blank stares weren't going away. Wilhem took advantage of the silence to ask another question.

"Herr Boxer, ze men in ze victim's acquaintence. Vhere zhey built as hardy? Had there been displays of fighting from zhem?"

Boxer sucked in his breath in thought, and then coughed it out as the smell of the desceased hit his sinuses. "They looked pretty tough, marshal. I think I heard somethin' about a couple of the boys givin' them some trouble and then stoppin' real sudden-like."

"Indeed. I imagine zhen zhat zhey vere members of a fraternity or school. Perhaps in ze arts of fighting. I have heard of such places vhere oriental martial arts are practiced in conjunction vith religious scripture."

"I've left plenty of people prayin after I hit em," Caine said. "But I reckon we got a bead on one o' the murderers. He was a midget!"

Blank stares where the only response he got. The Mountain Marshal continued.

"See them bullets," he pointed to a grouping in the wall that, upon closer inspection, was lower than the other holes.

Jack spoke up. "Didn't you say there was a circus that came a'callin?"

Anderson nodded. "Yes, but that was two weeks ago and surely you would have seen them when they arrived in Ascension?"

Jack shook her head. "Ain't had no circus come by ou way."

The Pinkerton Detective Agency had a rule for times like this. If the clues tell more than one story, it meant that there was still more to find. Lovelace found himself agreeing with it.

"We might need to keep looking," he offered. The marshals agreed and each spread out in the room to see what more could be found. Aside from the odd mumbling or a grunt out of Caine, the investigation continued in silence. Then...

"It vas only one gunman," Wilhem said while standing at the room's entrance.

The others waited for the Iron Marshal to continue. He did not disappoint.

"All ze shots, regardless of height," he said, glancing at Caine. "Are on a trajectory from zis very spot. The murderer used three guns to take the victim down."

Lovelace interrupted. "Three guns? How?"

Jack replied before Wilhem could. "Mechanical arm," she said. "Seen somethin' like before."

The other marshals nodded, remembering Harry Winsom's hidden arm with gun attached.

Lovelace accepted it. "It would have to be attached around his waist," the Pinkerton suggested.

"Did the circus-folk have anyone like that?" Caine asked. "Or a midget?"

"Plenty of midgets, some other strange things but nothin' about an extra arm, mechanical or otherwise," Anderson replied.

The marshals searched both room and minds for anything else that could offer a solution to this crime. Lovelace, though, zeroed in on something near the entrance where Wilhem had stood. Bending over, he retrieved something small and fine from the rock.

"The miner don't keep pets, do they?" he asked.

"We only have the horses and they don't come down here," Anderson said, eyes squinting to try and see what Lovelace had between thumb and forefinger.

It was a coarse black strand of hair that didn't have any place being on a human.

Each marshal took a turn trying to identify it, but even Wendell Caine, who had either fought, eaten or tamed every critter in the States couldn't place it. Wilhem, last to examine it, did so under the gaze of a motley collection of magnifying lenses that sprouted from his armour.

"I believe," he said slowly, "That it belongs to a gorilla."

TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 6

Jul. 21st, 2009

Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round 1st Salvo - Part 4

Chairs skidded on the floor as the marshals jumped up from the table. James Lovelace, and Bill Boxer, could only watch the shorthand conversation taking place.

"Mine's more than a day away."

"Ze tank should see us zhere sooner."

"Thunder and I will meet you on the road."

Jack Lightning and Wendell Caine left out the back of the Ignit-Inn. Hans Octavius Wilhem turned to Ascension's latest vistors.

"Zhere is room enough for you, Herr Boxer und I zink ze journey vill be quicker if you tell us the details en-route."

Boxer swallowed and nodded, it was obvious to both Wilhem and Lovelace that the miner hadn't spared the whip getting himself to the marshals and, weary as he looked, each were impressed that he stood up and made ready to follow the Iron Marshal out the door. Wilhem's gaze shifted to the Pinkerton Detective.

"Zhere is room for you as vell, Herr Lovelace," he offered.

"I appreciate the courtesy, but I really should turn my attention to my own work and leave such matters to the professionals," Lovelace replied, not eager to embark on another lengthy, and less comfortable journey.

"Your quarry iz not in Ascension and zhere is little chance ve haven't noticed him in either camp. You vould have to visit ze mine eventually."

Lovelace stood and brushed the dust of his finely tailored suit. "Your logic, and generosity are boundless, Marshal," he replied and then paused. "If you're all making ready to leave, who will govern Ascension? Your absent fourth lawman?"

At that Wendell Caine returned through the backdoor astride the 'fourth lawman'. Lovelace prided himself on keeping a calm and presentable demeanour regardless of the circumstances. Still, the huge hairy marshal astride and even huger and hairier bear did take some effort. Between the rapid blinking - the only sign that the Pinkerton Detective was peturbed - Lovelace spied a small barrell fixed to the collar around the grizzly, like the brandy that St Bernards would carry for rescue means in frozen wastes. Attached to the barrel was a crudely shaped tin badge.

"Ze barrel is only to hold ze badge. After a vhile it vas pointless refilling it."

The only other person in the place that seemed to take it in stride was the man behind the bar, who stepped out behind it to retrieve the bucket from outside. Boxer had the fortune, when he collapsed, of having a chair beneath him. Wilhem helped him back up.

"Qvuickly, comrades," he called, following Caine and Smokey out of the saloon.

The cloud of dust in the distance was Jack Lightning atop Thunder, already eating the miles between Ascension and the mine. Smokey and Caine gambolled after her. Wilhem instructed the two to wait outside and disappeared into the office. It wasn't long before the loud whistle of steam echoed from around back and, chugging into the main street, a massive iron contraption, mounted on treads and with enough space to accomodate the marshals, their mounts and guests parked in front of them.

Wilhem too had changed, his body encased in what appeared to be a heavily modified iron bell diving suit, and a harness on his shoulders where four mechanical arms were pulling levers and twisting dials. He lowered a metal gangplank and before long, the steam-powered conveyance was jogging across the desert.

The half tank didn't have the speed that Thunder, or even Smokey, had over short distances but it's endurance was as hard as the iron it was forged from and before long, a larger gangplank was lowered and the marshals were rejoined once more.

"Explain," was all Jack said.

"About two days ago, one of the miners was found dead. He was in his room, located within the mine itself. Foreman Anderson sent me to get you guys out there."

"He let you go?" Jack said warily. "He must trust you a lot."

"I was the only one, ma'am. John Henry and I go way back and I ain't known a friend truer. He refused to let anyone else leave and doubled the guards around the mines to make sure of it."

"Smart," Octavius commented, turning his attention fully to the conversation while the arms kept the tank on course. "But ve are still vithout detail."

Boxer scratched the back of his head, clearly not comfortable being the centre of attention, let alone one whose audience consisted of a bear. "The man who got killed... He was Chinee."

The marshals said nothing, considering it and waiting for more. "John Henry got word of what you marshals did for them poor injun folk some weeks back. He hoped you might take the matter serious-like."

"A crime is a crime, regardless of vhere he is from or who he is," Wilhem stated. "Continue."

"You gotta understand we ain't had nothin' like this happen. Sure, you hear stories of what goes on at the camps or in town. Uh, no offense marshals but before you got brought in, we were just as happy staying out of town and out of trouble."

The marshals simply nodded in response. For Lovelace, it served to quickly bring him up to speed on just who he was travelling with. Though it wouldn't take a Pinkerton to deduce that trouble became relative when a Lightning came to town. In a professional capacity, this wasn't what he was paid for, but James Lovelace didn't simply do the job to get paid. This time it was he urged Boxer to continue.

"Anyways, in case o' trouble, we got guards stationed at the entrance to the mine. They ain't seen no one comin' or goin' about the time that poor fella got shot."

"He was shot, then?" Jack asked.

"Hell yes, marshal. Like a whole posse had come on into his room and shot the place up!" Boxer said, his eyes becoming wild as he remembered the storm of gunfire. Three or four guns opened up on him. Then they all vanished without a trace!"

"Was there no other means of accessing the mine?" Lovelace asked, beating Wilhem to the question.

"Only one other way we know about. There's a bucket and pulley system on the roof of the mine," Boxer explained, describing the mine as cave that led underground. "But there ain't no way anyone's usin' that. The roof's high up and the only way to climb is down the rope on the pulley. And we keep that baby good and greased up to get water to all us folk."

"You'd be surprised what some people can do," assured Jack Lightning. Boxer didn't look convinced.

"And there was no sign of anyone intruding. No strangers or new workers?" Lovelace continued after a moment.

"Nobody I didn't know," Boxer replied. Lovelace had more questions and he and Boxer kept up the conversation. Caine tended to Smokey. Jack went over to Wilhem.

"Whaddya think?" Jack muttered.

"I don't believe our guide is ze culprit," Wilhem offered. "Ze crime-scene and ze body vill be able to tell us more, but vith ze time it took for him to get here, and for us to get zhere, ve may not learn much."

"More of Spokey's crew?"

"Hard to say. If so, zhen Spokey Sampson is in possession of some skilled assassins."

The Lightning Marshal's face turned grim at the thought and the journey continued on in silence as the day passed and night arose.

True to Wilhem's word, and his sleepless efforts in piloting the tank through the night, the marshals made record time, arriving at the iron mine. A cave burrowed into rock, leading deep underground, its entrance flanked by four stout men brandishing rifles. With a groan of gears, the tank shuddered to a stop and its passengers disembarked. Boxer announced the marshals and one of the guards took off down the mine to retrieve Foreman John Henry Anderson.

"Smokey and I are gonna sniff 'round up top. See if we can find some tracks." Jack and Wilhem nodded and the marshals split up with Lovelace following along into the mine. About half-way down, they made the acquaintance of the foreman.

John Henry Anderson had come to the United States as a slave. Forced into mines much like this, that which most would considered back-breaking, had instead built the towering fellow until he looked hewn out of onyx. What slave labour hadn't done, and likely fighting for his freedeom during the Civil War had, was replace both the foreman's arms at the shoulder with powerful mechanical appendages. Heavy and huge, it was clear that they were not meant for anything more delicate than swinging a hammer into stone, crushing it to powder to get at the iron vein. John Henry Anderson would have stood half a head taller than Wendell Caine and looked to be just as broad.

"Marshals," he boomed in a sonnerous voice that the mine amplified, echoed and deepened. "It is good to see you."

Jack stepped up to the man that looked as if he could snap her into with his mechanical fingers. She was far from worried. "Mr Boxer has filled us in on some of the details. Let's walk and talk."

Anderson nodded and led them down one of the shafts. On the way they passed underneath the bucket and pulley contraption where the marshals and Lovelace inspected it. With no handholds at the roof of the cave that any man could scale, and the grease coating the rope, it would be a task verging on the impossible to climb it.

Outside, and by the hole of the roof, Wendell Caine and Smokey scanned the area for tracks. Unfortunately, it being a busy hive of activity, there were plenty of tracks to choose from. Atop the boulder that housed the cave, the Mountain Marshal was afforded a view of the surrounding landscape, as well as a collection of tents that made up a small shanty town of miners who were watching Caine behind the patrolling gaze of yet more guards. Smokey gave a growl and Caine shrugged, jumping down from the boulder and heading back to the cave entrance to catch up.

"Did ze deceased have any enemies?" Wilhem asked they continued their journey.

"I don't believe so," Anderson replied as he stooped under one of the lower stalegtites. "Mr Xuanzang was a respected man amongst his people."

"Und nobody outside his people who vould vish him harm?" Wilhem asked, being no stranger to racism and was sure that Anderson was even more familiar.

"Uh, not after the demonstration, marshal," Boxer interjected. He looked up at Anderson who, with a whirring of gears, gestured for him to continue.

"Some folks got it in their heads to make trouble where John Henry wouldn't see 'em," he continued. "That Chinee fella, well he just took them insults like they was nothin'. Then, he picked up a rock as big as your head, placed it in front of them and smashed it to bits with one punch. One punch! And he didn't have anything like what John Henry's got."

"Guess that means it weren't rocks that done it," Caine said, catching up with the rest. Smokey had been left outside with the tank with the instructions of 'Don't eat no-one innocent'.

Anderson looked like he was about to say something unkind but Wilhem beat him with a question. "Have you had any vistors lately,"

Anderson thought about it. "No, nobody much came out these parts." He paused then and added, "Except for the circus, of course."

That got everyone's attention. "Circus?" Wilhem replied.

"That's right. Lugwrench's Caravan of Mechanical Marvels," Anderson said, his expression slowly changing to match the confused one planted on Wilhem's face. "Stopped by about a fortnight ago. Said they were heading onto Ascenion."

No circus had been in town and there weren't a lot of places close by where travelling performers could earn a living, but questions about it would have to wait.

The marshals and Lovelace arrived at the room of the deceased.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 5
Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round 1st Salvo - Part 3

A swinging saloon door was the only thing that kept the silence at bay. Each of the marshals and the Pinkerton looked on after the retreating would-be assassin, who had realised just how close he was to death.

Jack Lightning turned toward James Lovelace. "Mind tellin' me what was that about?"

The Pinkerton Detective met the gaze of the Lightning Marshal and couldn't say for certain whether the lawman had known about the worker's murderous intent or not. One thing he could say for certain was that she didn't care.

"The man," James began, "was planning to do something untoward to you."

Jack's expression didn't change until Caine summed it up. "His hand was driftin' gunward."

"Ah," Jack said.

"I thought it best that we eliminate any nefarious intentions in a peaceful manner," the Pinkerton man continued and shuffled aside to accomodate Octavius Wilhem at the table. "Also I thought it would serve as the best way to introduce myself to the local constabulary. Lovelace, James Lovelace."

"'Preciate you makin' the effort," Jack drawled. "Name's Lightning, Jack Lightning."

If there was one force in America - and more than a few other places abroad - as well known, respected and more effective than the Pinkerton Detective Agency - who had been charged with the security and protection of various heads of state as well as uncovering machiavellion plots against the government for years - It was the Lightning family.

"A pleaure to make your acquaintence," Lovelace replied, extending a hand and not making any sudden movements.

"Hans Octavius Wilhem, at your service," the German Marshal offered, standing and clicking his heels together as he did.

"Wendell Caine," was all the mountain marshal said.

"Unusual..." Lovelace said, eyes scanning the Ignit-Inn. "Your housekeeper made mention that there were four of you in Ascension.

"He's out back," Caine replied. "He ain't allowed to have lunch indoors."

There was the sound of a metal pail rattling out the back of the saloon and a loud growling burp. Lovelace decided to focus on the task at hand.

"I've come with the intention of locating this chap," he said as he produced a photo of man who had appeared to, judging by his dour expression, been manhandled into a three-piece suit and ordered to stay still in front of the camera. "His name is William Tapping. Junior."

"Wanted?" Jack asked as she took the photo.

"Not at all. His father passed on and it's my duty to inform him of that, as well as what was bequeathed to him.

Jack passed the photo on. "Ain't seen him." Wilhem and Caine agreed, having become aware of the collection of workers from Colt and Ithaca over the weeks, in one way or another.

"That's a shame," Lovelace said, returning the photo to the folder. "I'll have to visit the Colt and Ithaca camps."

As the marshals were warning Lovelace of the kind of reception Camp Ithaca would provide, the doors of the Ignit-Inn were flung open and a man coated in grime, sweat and dust stumbled inside. His eyes roamed the tables until they locked with the badges seated together.

"Thank God I found you, Marshals!" he croaked while trying to clear the dust from his throat. Wilhem left his chair and steered the man into it while Lightning ordered another shot of whiskey. The man nodded both frantically and gratefully, knocking it back at a speed that Jack respected.

"Vhat is zee problem?" Wilhem asked after he was sure the man wasn't about to expire on the table.

"My name's Bill Boxer. John Henry Anderson down at the mine sent me to find you." He gulped the air as desperately as he had the whiskey. "There's been a murder."

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 4
Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round 1st Salvo - Part 2

The airship Chancellor owned the skies as six powerful propellors heaved its luxurious bulk toward Ascension. It was a high-class airship equalled only by the vessels of state employed by the Senate and the President.

It was also the standard to which the Pinkerton Detective Agency kept their employees accustomed.

Idly reviewing the folder packed with sheaves of briefing notes and photos the British-born, though American-at-heart detective, James Lovelace glanced outside the comforts of the airship to the dusty wastes of the desert plains of Arizona below. It was standards, such as they were, that he would have to become accustomed as well; the clients of wealth and influence that made use of the Pinkertons did so specifically to avoid locations that Lovelace would soon become acquainted with.

James's client, however, was languishing in a far worse state-- namely death. Wealthy businessman, William Tapping, had shuffled the mortal coil and, being possessed of only one heir, had bequeathed his fortune and enterprises to William Tapping Junior. A problem had arisen though as Junior, far from willing to be chained to the weighty stone of fiscal responsibility, had left home to seek his fortune away from the disapproving gaze of his father. Regardless, Tapping Senior had willed his estate to his wayward son and James Lovelace had been charged with the duty of notifying Junior of his inheritance.

Not willinging to allow his son to roam unfettered, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had kept one eye upon the roving Tapping heir. Unfortunately his vagabond lifestyle had left little clues for the agency to follow and the trail was all but cold when Junior had arrived at Ascension. Either employed at the Space Gun camps, or at the iron mine situated further from the town, Lovelace had hoped that he had remained at the approaching small prospector-like town, to make his job easier, or had moved on to somewhere more pleasant.

Docking at one of the tabeltop plateaus, a common feature to the landscape, Lovelace disembarked the Chancellor and laid eyes upon Ascension. A motely collection of buildings, some fashioned for permanence and the comfort it affords, others errected as temporary places either to stake a claim to the land or to abandon it with minimal expense, Ascension existed only for the purpose of providing each gunsmithing camp a place to relax and spend their wages.

One of the camps, the one belonging to Colt, could be seen on the horizon. A giant six-barrelled revolver pointed toward the heavens, had been studied with a mixture of awe and stark disbelief by the Pinkerton Detective. The structure was impressive though who was to say whether it would actually work. Based on the contents of his folder, Ithaca's camp lay hidden in a gulch over a deposit of gas. Both were curiousities though neither affected Lovelace insofar as it applied to the case. One of the local children loitering near the docks, had offered to carry his luggage to the town for a nickel. It was a bargain Lovelace was quick to seize.

Climbing down the steps of the airship docking port, there was one other bit of information included from the agency. Another Pinkerton had been hired recently to act as bodyguard to Samuel Colt. Apparently there had been a couple of attempts on his life and the inventor/businessman was taking them seriously. Lovelace had also heard rumours that Ithaca's proprietors had made similar dealings with the Pinkertons to secure protection, but there wasn't any time left to dwell on rumours as the climb had ended and the child already had his hand out, having already steered him toward a luxurious bordello house named Etheric Delights.

It was remarkable, given the rudimentry layout of Ascension, that any level of comfort could be found, much less the level afforded by Etheric Delights. And yet the interior was lavishly decorated, the bar was well stocked and the women present and ready to make him feel welcome were clean and attractive. The owner, Madame Wilhemina Ether, had been only too happy to provide comfortable rooms and the promise of comfortable company. She was also only too happy to provide vodka or any other spirit he would desire. However, for the second time this day, James Lovelace would forego luxury and venture into the frontier-- this time in search of the local constabulary.

Said constabulary, as informed by Bethany Cartwright, while she swept the front porch of what appeared to be a newly constructed office, was to be found at saloon called the Ignit-Inn taking lunch. Tipping his hat, the Pinkerton crossed the road toward the cylindrical cone-shaped three-floored structure, dust and dirt crunching under boots long accustomed to the paved walkways of New York. Ascension itself appeared to be remarkably quiet. The Ignit-Inn was no different.

Walking through the swinging doors, Lovelace believed he could inventory the rest of Ascension's businessmen at first glance. A sturdy fellow and a wiry compatriot, both bearing the grease and grime of cog-wranglers, were ordering whiskey to accompany their meal. A man of learned appearance, and quizzical demeaner, peered over his spectacles as if diagnosing the Pinkerton like he had walked into a surgery. Two fellows, not local to the town but, judging again by the grime, likely worked at one of the camps, were losing at poker to a wiry woman in a duster coat and a wide hat, sporting two large pistols at her hips. Seated nearby was a hulking hairy brute in overalls, who was demolishing a bucket of chilli. Also close by was another man, mid-forties, learned and accomplished with a monacle and handlebar moustache. Each of them sported the tin badges with 'U.S. Marshal' stamped across it.

Never one to pass up any kind of game of chance, James Lovelace took the seat of one of the workers and was dealt in. It was clear that the one who had abandoned the game was hoping to salvage some of his earnings for a journey back to civilisation. The one still at the table believed that there was some hope he could win his money back and more besides. What was most surprising though was as Lovelace sat, so did the monacled marshal who, it appeared, had been previously been more interested with analysing his lunch than the game.

Lovelace, though rich by circumstances too lengthy to detail, had made a not inconsiderable amount of money on the gambling tables across America. In Ascension though it appeared that it was more than luck that ran this table. With the German marshal - judging by the accent - being dealt in, the worker experienced a windfall of cards that soon saw his earnings, and his cheerful disposition, restored. The woman marshal wasn't even the least bit perturbed, or had a poker face that could have seen her swimming in coin from any game along the Mississipi. The hairy fellow, identified as a marshal too, once Lovelace had seen through the tangled knots of hair that could be charitably called 'a beard', didn't seem interested in the proceedings though. Instead, his gaze was fixed on the now-lucky worker who appeared to be fidgeting with his belt somewhat.

Bowing out of the game, the German Lawman returned to the study of his lunch while Lovelace found that his eyes too had been paying attention to the worker's gunbelt and the fingers that hovered nearby. The furtive glances over his cards, the small beads of sweat, irrespective of the Arizona heat, the quickening of his breath as he glanced from the woman, to her cards, and then back to the woman, spoke of a murderous intent. The large marshal in the overalls had picked up on this as well and shifted his muscled bulk behind the worker's chair, keeping him within the reach of his massive arms. The woman appeared oblivious, focusing only on her cards. James Lovelace, eager to make a first impression, and not eager to sit at a table where gunplay would ensue, decided to up the ante.

"It's problem enough," the clipped British tones wresting the worker's eyes from the woman and toward the badge Lovelace had planted on top of the poker chips, "When a man thinks he can get a drop on a Marshal."

The worker's eyes danced between the badge, Lovelace and the woman. A looming shadow that eclipsed the collection of winning was a grim reminder of the large marshal's presence. He had hoped before he quit this town and its foolhardy projects that he could take the marshal's money, as well as the bounty on her head. Right now, under the gaze of the Pinkerton, the larger marshal and the German marshal who had overheard the conversation, he realised that the only foolhardy project in Arizona was thinking he could get away with this.

I... uh... think I'll quit while I'm ahead," his hands scooping money as he banged his knees on the table in his haste to get up. Not willing to stay any longer, he shuffled out of the chair and around the marshal behind him. Worried that he might be shot in the back, he glanced back at the table as his feet propelled him toward the door...

...and into the cold electric blue gaze of Jack Lightning who hadn't moved, hadn't spoken but conveyed the message that if stayed any longer than it took to blink, he'd never open his eyes again.

Several coins spilled to the floor as the worker ran for his life.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Jul. 20th, 2009

Provost

The Adventures of the Colt Apollo: 2nd Round. 1st Salvo

In the aftermath of two wars, fought within its borders and waged through destructive steam-powered engines, America was propositioned with the grand notion of placing a man on the moon.

The man with the plan was Samuel Colt. The means was the gigantic launcher dubbed The Colt Apollo.

Sensing an opportunity to overthrow Colt's reputation in the field of gunsmithing, William Henry Baker and Leroy Smith, proprietors of the Ithaca Rifle Company, made the same offer with the promise of succeeding where the elderly, and likely senile, Colt would fail.

Congress turned it into a contest. The first of the two companies to successfully accomplish lunar travel would receive government funding for installations of space guns across America.

Competition has often descended into acts of sabotage by both companies and, with each project nearing completion, required a group of lawmen that would ensure business was conducted fairly and that the assets of each gunsmith would be protected from threats foreign and domestic.

The group of lawmen was veteran marshal, scholar and inventor-- Hans Octavius Wilhem; the barely civilised scourge of lawlessness-- Wendell Caine, and prodigy of the most dangerous family of gunslingers in the west-- Jacqueline Lightning.

The marshals make their home in the small frontier town of Ascension, nestled between the testing grounds of both gunsmithing companies, and have proven themselves a deterrant to lawlessnes and a body concerned only with fairness and justice.

(Their previous adventures can be found under the tag 'colt apollo' in the journal)

Their tale continues...


Ascension was gifted with a time of peace over the next fortnight. A peace that was only disturbed by the sounds of hammers banging on nails or, at the marshal's office, the sound of a repeating nail gun, as the office and local bordello, Etheric Delights, were being repaired or upgraded.

Etheric Delights, being the scene of an attempt on Samuel Colt's life as well as a shootout between the marshals and agents of elusive crime-boss 'Spokey' Sampson, had suffered from a room being exploded and, feeling responsible for the damage, Colt had asked for volunteers from the Space Gun project to assist. There was no shortage of able-bodied men willing to help.

The Sheriff's office had been a small affair, housing only one lawman before the marshals came to Ascension. The Iron Marshal, Hans Octavius Wilhem, had been drawing up plans for extensions and upgrades suitable to their needs. As a result, the office now had a second floor with a third being scaffolded to house Wilhem's laboratory equipment and workshop. A number of extra cells had been built, two of them being reinforced to contain mechanically enhanced outlaws. Mountain Marshal, Wendell Caine, manhandled the stout lengths of timber into place while Wilhem explained the notion of a 'nail gun' to the Lightning Marshal, Jack Lightning.

"It iz designed to hammer in ze nails more effeciently," the German-born lawman explained as Jack explored the gun dubiously. "Ze idea is to attach the board to ze scaffold."

Jack Lightning, having grasped the basics and, having been shown her target, turned her lethal skills with weapons to the plank held in place by Caine. A cacophony split the peace of Ascension with a resounding salvo that saw the board affixed with nothing less than 20 nails, many of them between splayed fingers of Wendell Caine.

"...Yes, yes, but it only needs to be shot here," the Iron Marshal indicated where the plank met the scaffold, his other hand massaging his brow to soothe the emerging headache. "Und here, und zhere."

"Ah," was all Jack said and while she might have ventured more her neck hairs raised like an arched cat. A lifetime of training and reflex made a nailgun as effective as the Lightning Coil Throwers at her hips and she spun, letting fly another fussilade of roofing nails into the mechanical arm of an cowardly snake trying to get drop on her from behind. The arm, fashioned from brass and a collection of cogs and gears, was designed with nothing more complex than the purpose of drawing a gun as fast as its springs and hydraulics allowed, as well as pulling the trigger just as quickly. A rudimentary bio-mechanical addition, though expensive, was nonethless reduced to a sparking ruined lump to the surprise of the outlaw attached to it.

Caine, still in possession of one of the planks, slammed it and the outlaw back against a freshly nailed wall of the marshal's office. Pinned and powerless, Jack was only interested in one question.

"Why?"

"I ain't tellin' you nothin'," the response muffled by the length of pine over his face.

The wall creaked a little as Caine leant against the board, keeping the outlaw's skull firmly trapped between the wood. "Hey Jack?" The Mountain Marshal called, "You gonna be nailing this board anytime soon?"

"I'll tell you everything!" came the panicked shout, his flesh and blood hand waving frantically as if hoping to blindly catch the salvo of nails. Jack Lightning and Octavius Wilhem stepped closer to hear him. Caine kept up the pressure.

"Ain't nothin' personal," the outlaw started and his predicament was a blessing only in that he couldn't see the dread gaze of the Lightning Marshal. "Spokey Sampson has put out a bounty. The man who kills you, gets Winsom's job!"

"Und did you zee zhis "Spokey" Sampson?" Wilhem asked, still uncertain if such a figure had even existed.

"...Ah, no, Marshal. Sir." came the reply from behind the plank. "But the word's out and they're a lot of people that want to be in Wilhem's boots.

"Not right now they don't," Jack replied and as her words punched through the plank, Caine could feel a slight tremble beneath it.

Having been provided a volunteer to try out the newly constructed cells, the marshals detained the outlaw and continued their work.

The days turned to weeks as construction continued. There were no new volunteers for Winsom's position and word of his death had carried the message to the visiting workers of Colt and Ithaca come Pay Day-- these were lawmen with whom you did not fuck. As such, policing Ascension had become a quiet affair.

Not content to take his meals away from the office at Etheric Delights and, not willing to subject himself to night after night Jack's special, and only, recipe of bacon and beans, Wilhem had managed to employ a housekeeper named Bethany Cartwright. An aging woman who had journeyed out with her sons when they sought employment at Camps Colt and Ithaca, she was only too happy to maintain the office and prepare the meals, if only to afford her some company during the day. She ws also, to Wilhem's delight, not wholly proficient but knowledgable regarding the tools of steamcraft and cog-wrangling.

"Mister Cartwright, rest his soul, did like to talk about his work," she answered after sorting out the Iron Marshal's vast collection of wrenches.

The week of peace became two and it seemed like the marshals had done a good job of keeping order in both the town and the camps. But an ill wind was blowing it and it bore a newcomer to Ascension by way of the luxury airship 'Chancellor'.

TO BE CONTINUED

Jul. 14th, 2009

Provost

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen: Part 13

Death...

It's the 13th installment, it's a couple of days after fencing at Abbey-- where not only did I get a lot of opportunities to practice dying but would look upon the idea with some favour, given the bruising; and the universe appears to be focusing its energies through me to talk about this sombre event in role-play...

Also it seems that next Sunday's game could result in player death as well, so best to get this off my chest.

Before commencing, a little about the 'universe's energies' and the meaning behind it. Jerry Holkins (Tycho Brahe) of Penny Arcade, discussed the notion of player threat and death as per his experiences with Dungeons & Dragons. PVPonline, while somewhat less effusive, portrays the popular stereotype of the Games Master being a totalitarian authority whose players' lives are sustained by whim alone.

I myself haven't sat in on a game of such draconian design before, though I imagine anyone reading this has or, like me, is familiar with legends and exploits of such games. So I can't offer what might be called a 'balanced and fair' account as to the reasons outside of what I write. To those reading this feeling misjudged to the extent that I would wish not to be one of your players, EVEN MORE than I would now; all I can offer is your money back.

Waaaaaiit...

In case I don't remember to add the hyperlinks to Penny Arcade and PVPonline, a quick summation: Jerry Holkins, upon hearing that a group of new players under the storytelling auspices of PA cohort, Mike Krahulik (Gabriel), don't get the sense of being threatened, turns his mind toward the notion of running a game of Lovecraftian or Poe-like misery. He also highlights something that runs, at first glance, contrary to philosophy of players being the most important thing in your game:

Players have nothing to fear from a world that literally exists at their whim, or for their entertainment.

As much as a GM tries to leave open avenues, or plan for, the actions of players, there are also situations be it by virtue of dice rolls, or a threat miscalculated, or an ill-fated action, that results in the death of a player-character that you (GM) have invested time weaving him/her into your story.

Seeing that many plot arcs and character relationships disappear, the hardship of introducing a new character, both to the group and to the story, not to mention any hue and cry levied at you by the player may seem like too high a price just because the dice came up with nothing higher than a 3. And frankly, this is a noble idea and likely things will flow along a lot easier between you and your players...

...right up to the point where it happens again. And woe betide you if it happens to another player who raises the point that you spared the other character, so why not his/her's...

The popular phrase I've heard is that "I want the character's death to mean something". Whether it adds to the story or you don't want to tarnish the legend of the character by having it end with the ignobility of falling on his own sword, the 'good death' is about putting the player first.

If you mean it.

In the amount of years spent roleplaying, I've suffered the deaths of two prized characters. One, by virtue of underwhelming dice rolls against overwhelming dice rolls, the other executed on a matter of character (and player) principle. In the case of the former, the GM obeyed the results of the dice, though not the time at which they were rolled and, through judicious divine intervention, weaved the tale that the character's life had been extended just long enough to serve a higher purpose before being laid to eternal rest. I give the GM huge props for this - not just because it was my character - because firstly, he altered our story enough to make it work ver well, and secondly, he followed through with the character's death at the dramatically opportune moment.

The second instance was when a different GM (same group though) engineered a scenario that clashed against my character's zealotous principles. Prior to this his game - supposedly a meatgrinder of a mission - had suffered because he was new to GMing and didn't really want to break friendships or the story by killing characters. In the end, it wasn't the GM who killed my character, it was the other players (one being the other GM mentioned above)-- thought this did not stop him from being somewhat angry at me.

I explained the character's motivations that led to his grisly fate and then explained that his meatgrinder of a mission needed a death. That it would add an element of risk for the other players and would lead to the excitement that he was hoping to achieve...

I think we're still, some years afterward, at the position of agreeing to disagree.

But that is what it comes down to. I'm all for character death meaning something, but it can't be used as a crutch to give your players eternal life, simply because each fatal instance lacks operatic gravitas. The first rule is to put your players first. To entertain them. But part of that entertainment, that is often overlooked, is not always giving them what they want. It's giving them what they need. And what is needed for excitement to take place, is risk.

The universe turns its purpose upon the axis of me this morning as I shuffle randomly through the music playlist and come across something I hadn't listened to in a while. Last year I attended a lecture by Matthew Reilly - whose literary work I cannot recommend enough if you're looking for a fast-paced action thriller novel - and, having the presence of mind to record it for future dissection, come across the explanation he offered as to why he killed a much beloved character and co-star of a story, much to the chagrin of the multitude of fans of said character.

Boiled down, it is this. Thrillers keep you guessing. Action should as well. And neither exist to make you feel safe. Excitement is risk's reward, but like most things you enjoy, it extolls from you a price. And that price is that in order to make you feel good, there is a chance that you could end up feeling bad.

It's a gamble. Any game is a gamble and this - despite everything else written here or previous about the notions of storytelling or character - is a role-play GAME.

Joss Whedon offered similar explanations about events that took place in Serenity and, as Whedon goes; so goes my nation...

Already rather weighty, this dialogue of death, it cannot conclude without something else being addressed. The GM not only has to be in the frame of mind to offer risk to his/her players, not only to be in the frame of mind to take something from his/her players that represents immeasurable amounts of time and care, but must also understand that this applies to the Non-Player Characters in his/her stable.

Those who follow The Adventures of the Colt Apollo will be aware that a parcticular nemesis/nuisance was killed by the players. He'd been around since the third or so game, had a great riffing relationship with the player of Jack Lightning, had a history, needs and wants. In short, he was a decent character.

I agonized right up to the point when he burst into the room, guns blazing, whether I wanted to put him here in a situation where the players would likely kill him.

Now some of the players will say that the only reason I decided to bring him into the battle was because I was challenged, nay veritably slapped in the face and accused various indecent things because it looked I wasn't going to. And while I was looking around for some kind of excuse to leave him alone, I knew that when it comes to an adventure arc, there needs to be a payoff. Not putting this villain into the mix would have seen the adventure end with a number of henchmen dead or incarcerated. Throwing him into the mix after a series of battles at a moment where Jack Lightning wasn't able to use her guns as lethally as normal, was that risk that made the last game sing.

The trap that a lot of GM's fall into is the one where they've created a character as cool as the players and want to keep that player for ever and ever and play along just as if he/she is a player-character too. This isn't always a villain, sometimes it's ally, sometimes it's a mentor. It ties back to 'Why do I give a shit' (about this character) and the risk is you can give a diahaorretic tsunami of a bowel movement that leaves the characters with a foul taste in their mouth whenever this pretender-player-character arrives on-scene.

Now I'm not necessarily prescribing death for these characters in every instance, the example I have provided is just one case however where death, used as closure, can enhance the story to the satisifcation of the players. The risk averted was the non-player character being resented because he was just too cool for the players-- that he could do things way better and look better while doing them.

Don't forget who you're here to entertain.

Little bit of Comics fandom to have with your RPG nerd...

Way back when in the days of Marvel Comics where Frank Miller was writing Daredevil, he introduced the character 'Electra', whose purpose was to establish in the mind of the reader that she was kick-ass enought to take Daredevil on, but also form a bond with the reader through her and DD's romantic entanglement that would serve two functions: Establish how much more kick-ass Bullseye was when he killed her, and to develop pathos in Daredevil's fight for revenge. After this was done, Miller responded to the fans expectations/requests, simply saying that she wasn't intended to live, but thanks anyway.

Then Marvel executives noticed the attention she received. And pretty much said that Miller could write a new story in which she comes back to life, or they'd get another writer to do it. Miller, hoping to preserve his character in some form, opted to write the reserrecution in an attempt to his story justice...

Nowadays Electra has been resurrected more times than Jesus and Elvis and hasn't held a straight 15 issues of quality since her return.

There is one last thing to make mention of here, and it's how a character's death is handled by the players. GM's, if you're lucky, this will be the roughest thing you'll ever have to do to a friend, and yet it doesn't make them any easier to be around for the next 15 to 30 minutes. I've had players lose characters in my games before and only once, I think, it actually went well *. Every other time has been a short play on the Seven Steps of Loss and its a show that repeats itself regardless of player or location. The best things I've learnt is:

Check the rules. Have your players forgotten something that might save them? Nine times out of ten, the player will throw the character sheet in your face before thinking about opening the game book.

Give them a break. In fact, pause the game to bring things back to a less tense moment.

Try to discourage other players from throwing in their own two cents unless it's something that
would actually save the character, at least until things have settled down.

Ask the player if it's okay to return to the game when things have settled. Make sure you ask them if they want to stick around. Usually this character death is what the players are going to use as inspiration for some feat of daring do and it's good that the character still has some influence in the game.

Don't ask, or necessarily accept, a new character during the same game if you can help it.

And finally, for the players who are GM's, don't give your current GM too much shit. Of all people, you should understand that player death cuts both ways and it's not like it's a barrel of laughs for us.

Unless you're one of those despotic GM's mentioned earlier.

And in that case, you can eat my entire arse.


*One situation in which a parcticularly annoying player, with a particularly annoying character, managed to get the rest of the party into such trouble that a bounty was called upon them. Said character was also a Munchkin, so it came as a surprise to us all when the weakest party member managed to sneak up behind him and blow the back of his head off.

What made it even better is the annoying player, busy throwing a tantrum and tearing up his character sheet, was frantically asked by the murdering player not to do that.

Because he wanted to see what kind of loot was left on the body. 

Those of us I remain in contact with remember this as the Halcyon Days of roleplaying.

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