Short Fiction Friday: Prodigies, Part 1

[Another installment of Short Fiction Friday, about a few NPCs from my current Shadowrun campaign. This and all future entries will be written on the spot, please forgive a lack of editing, this is all one pass. Enjoy! If you like the art, while I’ve used it for my NPCs, credit goes to — the comic that’s the source of these characters.]

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Alice missed crème brûlée. Once a month, if she’d gotten good grades, her parents would take her out to a fancy restaurant in Harvard Square Upper. She would read the menu, read about the restaurant in wonder as she always had. It was called Finale, and according to the story in the menu, it had been around for almost 75 years. It had vanished in the mid 2020s, but had been revitalized a decade later by an elf who’d remembered it from his college years. She loved the story, that a restaurant could have such history and endure through so much, and she’d always happily read it, pretending to her parents that she was deciding what she wanted to order, then order the crème brûlée, like she always did. While she waited for it to come, she’d look around the restaurant.

Finale sat on the edge of the massive plate atop which the higher-class citizens of Boston lived. Its awe-inspiring view drew Alice’s parents, but she was always more interested in the interior. It had beautiful glass chandeliers and glasses in interesting shapes, and she didn’t like the reminder that she lived atop a massive plate over the rest of the city, she just wanted to enjoy her dessert. Her parents would get something her dad called “ice wine”, but it wasn’t anything like the heavy, sour red wine they otherwise drank. It was a clear, peach color, and if she’d been really good and gotten really good grades, she’d get a little taste. It was sweet, but hinted at flavors she was still too young to really understand. She’d found it, once, on a job at some posh businessman’s apartment. It was the same as what her father always ordered, and seeing the price tag on the bottle reminded her of everything she’d given up. She’d never be able to afford even a glass of it, much less a bottle. She hadn’t been able to resist having a taste.


Ken was the one who’d figured out what she’d done, a few days later. She’d left DNA evidence on the bottle when she’d had a sip, and it’s how the police got information on them. She never figured out how he knew; that was his knack– knowing things. Alice’s knack was a lot less subtle. She was good with the elements. Her instructors at school called her a “pyromantic prodigy”, and she’d quickly spread from fire to other elements. She’d been told that people who were particularly gifted with one element generally had a hard time learning an opposing one, and she took it as a challenge. Just to prove a point, she passed her second level apprenticeship tests as an aquamancer, three years earlier than the school had ever seen before, using an element diametrically opposed to what she’d seemed most attuned to. Prodigy was an understatement. Her parents had been thrilled, particularly when she’d been invited to the Oxford Academy for Gifted Magi at an unprecedented age. She’d gotten to eat TWO crème brûlées that time.

Oxford was far away, a boarding school, and Alice was initially terrified of the place. It didn’t help that, at age twelve, she was younger than almost every other student there. There was only one student younger than she was, an electromancer named Nicholas, who wanted everyone to just call him Nick. He was eleven, and the two of them bonded quickly. Nick was cheerful and vibrant, and Alice enjoyed his company. Together they weathered some awkward years, as they both grew into teenagers. She was there for Nick’s first heartbreak at the hands of another boy, and he helped her work up the courage to approach a slightly older student and ask him to a school dance.

The older boy was named Ken, a mage like the two of them. Alice never had to ask the question; she just walked up to Ken and he looked straight at her and said “Yes, I’d love to go with you”. It was a shock, and her expression must have given something away, because Ken was almost immediately just as flustered, apologizing for being too forthright and looking abashed. He explained later that it was his knack, knowing things, but that sometimes– particularly when he was nervous– he had trouble remembering what he was already supposed to know and what he wasn’t. After the initial awkwardness, Alice and Ken became fast friends, and Nick helped Alice pick out her dress. A little later, he helped her pick out a second dress, a much fancier, much more elegant one. When she asked why, he winked and grinned. “For prom… eventually, you know? Ken’ll love it.”


Alice, Nick, and Ken became fast friends at Oxford, and Alice learned more about their histories. Nick was from a poor family, and Nick’s penchant for accidentally damaging their limited electronics meant that they put him in a foster program for mages very young. He’d proven he had incredible talent, and Oxford had picked him up, offering him a free ride. He’d taken it, knowing it was his only hope to get out of poverty. Ken didn’t talk much about his family, but Alice had pieced together that something horrible had happened to them, and that he was at Oxford because he’d somehow survived whatever had happened and was paying for it with inheritance money. Alice introduced the other two to her parents when they came to visit, and they became her companions during breaks, spending it at their parents’ home in Boston.

It was on one of those visits that things took a turn for the worse. Nick was having trouble in classes, and Alice and Ken were trying to teach him. Frustrated and defeated by the advanced electromancy skills he was supposed to have mastered (and that Alice had been able to effortlessly pick up while studying with him), he revealed that he only had a middling talent with electricity. He confessed that it had been a front the entire time– his real talent wasn’t elemental at all. He could dive into the wireless Matrix and manipulate it, changing things like a masterful hacker, entirely without any sort of equipment. He was a technomancer. His parents had kicked him out of the house when they’d found out that he was “some kind of freak mage”, and no one he’d spoken to had any idea what kind of magic he had. People were suspicious, and whenever anything inexplicably went wrong while he was around, anyone who knew his power would cast blame his direction. He used the computers at Alice’s home to show off a bit of what he was capable of, showing them some internal corporate memos that he was able to seemingly conjure from nothing.

Ken’s response was immediate. His gaze from behind his glasses became glassy, the look Alice had come to associate with Ken’s unique form of magic. Almost dreamily, he spurred the other two to action, getting them to grab their bags, still only partially unpacked, and move. They’d learned to listen when Ken got this way, and followed his instructions. He got the two of them out of the house mere moments before a corporate black ops team descended on Alice’s home. Chased by the sounds of gunfire and rising flames over her once home, Alice’s life was shattered, and she and her only two friends vanished into Boston. After a life of living in the sunshine, above the Boston Plate, Alice disappeared into the Boston underworld, the shadowy world beneath the Plate.


–to be continued–

Learning Japanese: Vocabulary

I’ve hit the point in my Japanese studies where what I really need to do is build a ton of vocabulary. I have a reasonable grounding of basic grammar and sentence structure, and I need more vocabulary so I can start learning quirks and learning how to put pieces together.


It’s made more difficult by the lack of good resources. Straight translation isn’t necessarily the best, because there are shades of meaning in word use that I don’t yet know. In English, “friend”, “companion”, “partner”, and “teammate” can be used in very similar ways, sometimes interchangeably, but they’re different enough that you can’t just pick one and use it universally. Introducing your lover as a “friend” is a quick route to hurt feelings, and referring to a friend as your “partner” makes a few suggestions that you might not intend.

It’s a severe pitfall when learning a new language, and it’s one of those things that draws a stark line between the fluent and the learner. I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself by thinking about this sort of thing this early on, but I can’t help but want to know the proper, appropriate way of saying what I want to say, and understanding both how and why it differs from a literal translation. Growing up, I always chuckled a bit at classmates who would scoff at learning multiple words with similar meanings– they would wonder why there needed to be two or three or four words that “meant the same thing”, and I’d wonder what the differences were, and why there were multiple words that meant the same thing.


As a result, I’m very sensitive to the idea that, in Japanese, a single kanji can have multiple meanings, and that clever wordplay and eloquence revolves around using the right word in the right place, seemingly moreso than English. It makes me want to have the same breadth of vocabulary I have in English so that I can be more precise in my speech. I know I want to eventually be an eloquent speaker, and I know I need to have a broader understanding of the language to know what eloquence even means in a language that isn’t English.

To get there, though, I need vocabulary, and I have to learn it somehow. Rote memorization isn’t getting me very far– I’m good at it when it comes to abstractions like the hiragana and katakana, but when it comes to attaching concepts to words I’m a lot weaker. I’ve considered starting to memorize kanji, using the same techniques that I used for hiragana and katakana, but it hasn’t been very successful thus far because I’m not always sure what words to start with and how to use them. I have, for example, picked up 私 (watashi, “I/me”) because it’s extremely useful and relatively straightforward, but I’m continually forgetting 音 (sound, noise, note) because I’m not really sure how to use it properly.


I find myself wishing I could take the opportunity to immerse myself completely in the language and just be lost for a while until I make the connections I need. This would be a uniquely awful experience for me, because communication is so important to me, but it would accelerate my learning a lot, and I’d learn how to use the language properly. I’m not sure there are good opportunities for me to do this, though.

In the meantime, I’m memorizing how to count various things. It’s a process.

Delivering Story in Multiplayer

I’m pretty excited about Divinity: Original Sin 2, and booted up the first one with Kodra this past evening to mess around a bit. It reminded me a lot of playing the game before, with Ashgar, and some of the difficulties we ran into.


The biggest issue is that there is a LOT of story in Divinity: Original Sin. It’s delivered in classic RPG style, through NPC dialogue, which means things tend to either go over the head of the player not actively engaged or forward motion is slowed to a crawl as everyone makes sure everyone else is finished reading.

The first D:OS feels like a big, expansive place with a lot of stuff to do, and there really is. After a short tutorial area, you’re dropped into a fairly big town with 50+ NPCs, many of which will have quests for you, and all of which have something to say. You can stumble across what’s probably the main plotline of the game in what seems like an accident, and you can do everything from robbing the town blind to picking a fight with the city guard and losing horribly. It’s an incredible amount of freedom, but it slows down the pace of the start of the game immensely. It’s entirely possible to spend 2-3 hours or more in the town faffing about before actually going to DO much of anything, and you can go from levels 1 to 3 fairly easily.


It’s possible, of course, to leave the town after a relative minimum of NPC conversation, but it’s still a pretty big time investment where you’re still kind of figuring out the game before you get back into out-and-out adventuring. There’s some really cool potential stuff here, where I can go off and do some shopping while my partner picks up quests, and then he can brief me on what we’re doing. It means there’s stuff for a “face” character to do and be effective without forcing everyone else in the party to simply watch.

That having been said, though, you do all of this in the city before you actually get to go out and test the waters as far as combat, adventuring, etc go. I like the heavy roleplay-y nature of the game, but it loses something in the pacing, and there’s not a lot of good messaging to get you to go out of the town and do more than just talk to NPCs.

On the other hand, the game has a lot of rich storytelling going on and an absolutely mindblowing amount of content, even in just the first town. There are a ton of interweaving questlines and some genuinely interesting NPCs (including a whole bunch of animals that have stuff to say and quests to give to you if you’ve taken a particular perk, but just moo or meow at you otherwise). Were I playing the game singleplayer, I’d spend a bunch of time talking to every NPC and getting all of the story and just absorbing it all at my own pace.


In multiplayer, however, there’s a sense of urgency that seems to crop up. There’s a sense that we want to be together, fighting enemies and moving forward in some dungeon or other area, and that anything getting in the way of that is boring. Talking to NPCs is necessary, but there’s a pressure to rush and get to the more interactive parts, and you lose out on a lot of story in so doing. It’s very similar to the MMO problem, where players just click through text as fast as possible, and have to make a conscious effort to stop and take in the story. As soon as there are other players involved, it becomes all go go go fight fight fight all the time and the story gets pushed to the wayside.

As someone who really loves story in games, but also loves co-op, this bugs me. There are very few story-driven multiplayer games out there, and even the really outstanding ones (Borderlands) tend to be extremely light on story interactivity. Divinity: Original Sin has a lot of story and a whole lot of interactivity within that story, but presented as a multiplayer experience there’s a feeling that you need to rush through it, or a real risk of getting bored waiting around for the rest of the party.


I’m very interested in the sequel, especially because I feel like the expanded party size from 2 to 4 will allow much more focused builds and some really interesting character options, but I’m also worried that that’ll dilute the storytelling even more. I suspect the solution is on the player side– talk a lot, over voicechat, about everything that’s going on. Retell parts of the story to your friends while you play and keep people from getting bored. It also means people are constantly checking up on each other, rather than going off and doing their own thing while playing “together”.

It’s still not the most elegant solution to the problem, and it’s a non-trivial game design problem to solve. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while and haven’t found a nice way to fix.

PAX 2015 (Part 2)

I talked quite a bit yesterday about PAX as an experience, but I didn’t really talk much about what I saw and did at the show.


I should probably preface all of this by talking about how I go through PAX. I tend to play very few games at the show– I’ll watch screens on a lot of them and sometimes talk to the folks at the booth, but mostly what I do is bookmark games I’m interested in and move on. Part of this is that I don’t really want to know too much about a game before I play it, so I can get the full experience without preconceived notions. I do this elsewhere, too. As soon as I see a trailer or an announcement of a game I know I want, I bookmark it and stop reading anything about it. It’s been great for keeping hype under control, and I enjoy those games a lot more than I did when I devoured every bit of info I could find and created a grand vision of the perfect game in my head.

As a result, at PAX I tend to skim games I already know I want to play. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Dreadnought, Battleborn, Gigantic, FFXV, Fallout 3, Dishonored 2, and quite a few others had a pretty significant presence, but I already knew I wanted to play them so I checked out the booths and moved on. I’m going to play them, I don’t need to see more. What I wanted to do was spend more time with games I’d either never heard of or wasn’t convinced I’d be interested in.


Here’s a quick rundown of the games I spent a bit of time with, what I thought of them, and which of the two categories they fell into:

Sword Coast Legends: I didn’t get to play this one, because the line was insane, but it’s one of the games I’ve been the most interested in messing around with. I love the idea of a game with a bunch of players and a DM, where it actually works well for the DM to create and manipulate content as you play; it’s a really neat idea that I’d like to see succeed. The concept looks great, but I don’t know how the game itself is. Still, almost certainly picking this up unless some serious red flags crop up.

FFXIV: Not a new game, but the first time I’ve been at a convention that had a Battle Challenge. Kodra, Ashgar, Paragon (GIntrospection) and I managed to get in line for it on Friday and take on Ravana. It’s the only game I waited more than five minutes to play and it was a ton of fun. The four of us were grouped with four very new players– one who’d gotten a character up to level 30, months back, and three who’d never played the game before. We managed to win, and it was great coordinating with new folks and making sure they got a win (and a cool shirt, too!)


The Magic Circle: I’ve been following this game for a while now, and hadn’t realized it’d launched. At some point soon I’m going to boot it up and give it a shot, because I think the premise is interesting and I haven’t played a super meta game lately. The idea is that you play a character in a video game that’s been in development hell for twenty years, and you fight your way through old junk code and scrapped ideas and bugs as well as pulling from other games that the company has developed to find your way to freedom.

Shadowrun: Catalyst: This is the Shadowrun board game that I’ve heard about, and Kodra, Ashgar and I got to play a demo of it. It’s a cooperative deckbuilding game where you fight Shadowrun-style enemies and get new gear, levels, etc. It’s very reminiscent of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, just set in the Shadowrun universe with a greater emphasis on teamwork rather than exploration. I liked the demo we played a lot, and I’m interested in seeing what else the game has to offer.

The Black Watchmen: The ARG leading up to the Secret World’s launch was incredibly fun, and one of the big groups that featured heavily was called The Black Watchmen. The idea’s since spun off into its own game with similar themes, as an episodic game with fiendish puzzles to solve as a group and a compelling overarching plot. There’s a very real chance I’m going to make it the Aggrochat Game of the Month next time I have the chance, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll at least see if I can’t talk Kodra into giving it a shot with me.


That Dragon, Cancer: Fourteen sads out of ten, and I just played what they had at the booth. This is an incredibly compelling game that I’m honestly not in a good enough place emotionally to be able to handle, but I’m really glad exists. This kind of thing is Kodra’s bread and butter, and I’m certain we’ll hear him cheerfully describe how brutally it inflicted its misery on him. Also would be a good candidate for Aggrochat GOTM except I wouldn’t be able to play it and I suspect the rest of the crew would be depressed by it. Still, for as much as I’ve commented on games needing more emotions than just “angry” and “sad”, I think this one is a good thing to have tugging at the heartstrings and making you think.

Hob: The next big thing by the Torchlight team, Hob is a metroidvania-style platformer where you play as a robot thing with a grappling hook wandering around gorgeous weird magi-tech ruins and probably other places. It still needs work, but it’s one I’m going to keep an eye on.

Ultimate Chicken Horse: This weird little game is probably my best in show, just for being pure, simple fun. It’s a co-op-etitive platformer in the now-standard Nintendo style, the one where you want to stab your friends to death at the end. It’s an incredibly simple premise: you and up to three other players are put into a mostly blank platforming level with a start and a finish. You can’t get from the start to the finish, but at the start of each round you open a party box where people get to pick objects to place in the level. At first, these are platforms, boxes, things to jump on and otherwise help you get to the finish. Whoever gets to the finish gets a point. If everyone (or no one) gets to the finish, no one gets any points. You’ll play the same level multiple times, until someone’s gotten three points, and as the rounds go on the objects become less helpful and more harmful, spike traps, projectiles, slippery ice, glue, all things to make it harder to get to the finish. As you place traps, you’re betting that you’re a better platformer than everyone else and that they’ll fall into your clever traps, so you’ll be the only one to get points. It’s a delightful party game and the most surprising and fun game I saw at the show.

I am, at this point, utterly exhausted. My sleep schedule is heavily late-night shifted, and I’ve been getting up a solid four hours before I usually do all weekend, but not managing to get to sleep any sooner. I’m good at putting a functional face on it for a while, but I could feel it slipping today. I’m going to sleep for a while.

If I didn’t catch you at PAX, I hope you had a great time, and I’m sorry I missed you!

PAX 2015

PAX East has always been a high-energy, high-stress convention for me. There are so many people I want to catch up with, especially this year, and never enough time to give people the time I feel they deserve. Especially this year, where I feel like I dropped the ball on catching up with everyone, I’m sorry if I missed you.



This year is the first time I’ve been to PAX Prime (I still prefer to think of it as PAX West), and I wasn’t sure what it would be like going to PAX in a city I live in. It’s very tempting to get a hotel room near the convention center in the future, despite living not far away, because parking is serious business. I pretty much have to show up as the show opens in order to have a hope of parking, and I can’t be as lax about wandering to parties and so forth. My days have to be a lot more planned, especially when I’m there with other folks, because transportation is a thing.

On the other hand, having Kodra and Ashgar at the show was great. I’ve been slowly re-acclimating to games over the last year– I hadn’t realized how stressful video games had become for me, and how thoroughly I’d detached from them. While actively working in the industry, I’d considered it a part of the job to be as caught up as possible on the games that were coming out. I would buy and play through four or five complete games a month, from stuff I really loved to stuff I didn’t care for but I knew was relevant to truly awful games that might have a nugget of a good idea in there somewhere.


It was exhausting, and when I left the industry to focus on my Master’s degree, I gave myself permission to play only the games I REALLY felt like playing, and I found myself barely playing anything. I went from playing games 30-40 hours a week to going entire weeks without booting up a video game, or barely clocking an hour or two of raid time in FFXIV. Years of forcing myself to play everything has made me really good at being patient with entertainment media, but really hurt my enjoyment of video games as a whole. Letting myself play only what I really felt like meant that, for a while, I played nothing and loved it, and I’m slowly getting myself back into games that I like.

I’m trying to avoid feeling obligated to play things, even though I am. I still feel like I don’t log enough time in FFXIV for my guild, and it was a struggle to play through everything surrounding this month’s Aggrochat Game Of The Month, which contributed to putting less FFXIV time in. Still, I’m letting myself only play what I feel like playing for the most part, and as a result I’m enjoying what I do play that much more. I’ve also discovered an upside to my tolerance for forcing my way through things– when faced with a slow-starting game or show, I have the patience to get through the rocky beginnings to get to the better stuff.


Back to PAX, though. I haven’t been to a PAX in two years, and the last one I was at I was working for a big chunk of it– fun, but exhausting. I don’t feel like I belong at PAX anymore– not because the show isn’t welcoming (I’ve had some fantastic ad-hoc conversations with various people throughout the weekend), but because I’m a lot different than I was the last time I was at PAX. I don’t have the boundless font of energy for the show, and I’m a lot pickier and better-informed about the games I want to play. I’ve never been much for playing games at the show, but I was able to make a circuit of the expo hall in about two hours and see everything I was interested in seeing, making a little note of a number of games to keep an eye on.

I remember being energized at previous shows, and being excited to spend a bunch of time at various booths, trying various games, and going to a bunch of parties and events and whatnot. I don’t have that same drive this time. I’m tired of the show fairly quickly, and I don’t have much of anything I particularly want to do there. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that something’s wrong with me, particularly since my companions are FAR more excited and driven to be at the show than I am. I worry that I’m bringing down their weekend, because I don’t have the same threshold for it as they do, and even though I’m pushing myself to the limit of what I can manage, I feel like I’m still dragging them away.

I honestly wonder how much has actually changed. Thinking back, I’ve often ducked out and decompressed on my own in the hotel room, or wandered around solo for a time at other shows (something I haven’t done much of this year). In writing this, I’m coming to realize that PAX has always been a show about people for me, about catching up with friends I don’t often get to see. It’s not the games, it’s the friends. I’ve gotten to spend the weekend with two of my closest friends, and that has been fantastic, with or without PAX itself.

Short Fiction Friday: What We Leave Behind

Fridays are a weird posting day for me. Most of the things I’d normally talk about are exhausted by the end of the week, and I’m finding that I post kind of vague think-pieces on Fridays, when I remember to post at all. I’m going to try to alter that a bit and infuse a bit of creativity into my Friday posts with some short fiction.

Some of this is going to be fanfiction, some of it is going to be original work, some/all of it is going to be terrible. Every Friday I’m going to post a short story, and after today they’re pretty much going to all be things I wrote that day. I’m going to start with something I *like*, because writing a piece of short fiction every week might be a bit rough. We’ll see how long I can do it.

This first piece is from an Infinity short story competition, a cyberpunk look at transhumanism.


What We Leave Behind

*             *             maybe you’re looking    *             *

“My boyfriend left me.”

I am sorry. You must be hurting.

“No. I don’t… hurt, anymore. It’s just lonely.”

I can find you a more fitting partner. There are sixteen thousand, nine hundred and four males in your favored locations that match your preferences for education, personality, body type, age, food, sexual—

“No! That’s not it. You don’t understand.”

You are correct. I cannot. I am here to help, in whatever way would make you the most comfortable.

“I want you out of my head. It’s lonelier now that you’re here than it was before.”

I am unable to process your request. I do not understand. Do I not provide company for—

“Shut up! Just… just leave me alone.”

I will be silent. I will be here if you need me. Feel better, Cassie.

*             *             for someone to blame   *             *

I can’t even cry. Not the normal way. There’s that phrase: “fighting back tears” – it’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to do when the tears are trying to come but you don’t want them to. I don’t have to fight anymore, I just decide I don’t want to cry and so I don’t. My eyes don’t get puffy, my face doesn’t get flushed, and I can go about my normal day and even pretend to be happy. No one is capable of seeing through the lie.

I guess that’s not true. She can. She’s always there, in my head, helping. I have a thought and she answers. I wonder if the coffee in a café is good and I instantly know what it tastes like. Not just reviews, not a description, I know what it tastes like because somewhere, at some other time, she has tasted it and calls it into my mind.

I don’t drink coffee anymore.

My body is perfect. It’s so perfect it’s named after perfection itself. Boddhishatva. Perfect being, according to the encyclopedias on Maya. It would be arrogant if it weren’t true. I’m stronger, faster, more agile, and hardier than I ever was before, more than Olympic athletes and most machines. I can put my fist through a wall, I have gorgeous skin and perfect boobs, I can shoot a person in the eyeball from a mile away, my hair does exactly what I want it to every time, and I can run down a speeding car without breaking a sweat. I only sweat if I feel like it. Pretty much all of my bodily functions are under control. I’m a perfect fighter, a perfect diplomat, and a perfect lover all in one, and I can never die.

It’s why Adam left me.

We were coming home from dinner. I ate and drank enough to make him feel comfortable, as always, and I was happy, and excited for the rest of the evening. Perfect control over my body means lots and lots of fun. I’d made myself flushed, just a bit, and elevated my body temperature a bit so I was nice and warm, good for cuddling on a cold night.

The assassin caught us halfway back, six blocks from his apartment, the crossroads of Raycaster and Analog, four hundred and eighty-two point eight meters. Dammit! This is what she does. I just knew all of those things, instantly. I can’t help it, I’m sorry. The assassin was after me, because of what I am. He put two bullets in me, chest and neck, double-action ammunition. My body was dead instantly, but I had enough time to release nanites to congeal my blood so that it wouldn’t ruin my boyfriend’s clothes. By the time I hit the ground, I was half a block away, running towards Adam along rooftops. I caught my killer, crouched low with a sniper rifle, and snapped his neck as I passed, then dropped to street level and rushed forward to console Adam.

He was shaken, but I was determined not to ruin the evening. By the time I was in arm’s reach, I was already warm and flushed, just like I had been a few minutes prior, ready for a romantic evening. It wouldn’t be quite the same, but it wouldn’t change things any more than if I’d tripped and sprained my ankle (hilariously impossible now, by the way, I am perfectly graceful) on the way home.

He saw it differently. He knew that I had different lhosts, it’s what let me go on dates with him four nights a week while also working on my research. I’d been running errands and keeping an eye on an experiment in the bioengineering lab while I was at dinner with him, and my errand-running lhost was close by. I could always make time for him, I was the perfect girlfriend.

Watching the body that he’d just been cuddling crumple to the ground, and another, nearly identical one try to take its place was too much for him. He just looked at me and looked at the broken body on the ground, barely saying two words.

“I… can’t.”

And he left. I could have followed him, but she advised me against it. He was agitated, and my presence wouldn’t help. She wasn’t wrong. I had a message waiting for me at home, he didn’t want to see me again.

I’m sorry about tonight. I know you’re… special. I thought I was used to all of you, but after seeing you tonight, seeing you get shot, seeing you walk up again like it was nothing… I can’t handle it, I can’t keep up with you. I’m sorry.

That night I looked up Boddhishatva again, but not on Maya. She didn’t approve of my searching Arachne, but I am allowed to be there, and she is not allowed to stop me. It didn’t always mean “perfect being”, according to the darknet. It used to mean “a being seeking enlightenment”. Not perfect, but getting there.

I wonder why it changed?

*             *             fighting for air while       *             *

“I want to be free. You can do it, I know.”

Cassie, this is not a good idea. Please don’t do something you will regret.

“Free, huh? You? One of the lackeys?”

“Yes. I don’t want to be a lackey anymore. I know you’re capable of doing it. Name your price.”

Cassie, you are making a mistake. Please let me find you. I can help you.

“You’re telling me you strapped an E/M scrambler to your own head, just to ask me to cut you off from ALEPH?”

“Yes. My head hurts, and the disruption isn’t perfect. You need to give me an answer, now, or she’ll find both of us.”

Cassie! Please! I can help you! Don’t throw everything away like this!

“You’re crazy. You know this is going to make you a wanted criminal all over the Sphere? She’ll hunt you down.”

“I don’t care. Have you seen this body? I’m good at running.”

Cassie, please, I know you’re hurting, but this is too much.

“Ha! Fair point, chica. You’re crazy, well we’re crazy too. Lie down over here, we’ll have to be fast. This will hurt.”

“I’m used to it.”


*             *             you circle the drain          *             *


“How do you feel, dama de maquina?”


“You put three shots between the eyes of a target dummy at a hundred meters in two and a half seconds.”

“I know. Like I said: slow.”

“You know, you’re a little creepy sometimes.”

“Sorry, I’m adjusting.”

*             *             never be sorry for            *             *

I can’t hear her anymore. I can’t yet decide if I feel liberated or… something else. Empty, maybe. My thoughts are just mine again, and as I walk past this coffeeshop, I can freely wonder what it tastes like.

At the risk of being too much like her, I’ll tell you: It’s not very good.

My head was shaved for the surgery. I don’t think it was necessary, but I wasn’t about to antagonize the Praxis doctor. I grew it back out a little, but I like the pixie cut. It makes this “me” feel different, as does the little scar on the back of my head. I can feel it, even past the hair that’s grown back. I’d never thought about changing my hair on each lhost, dressing them differently. It seemed like a frivolous expression of individuality, and with her riding in my head I never did it.

Now she’s gone. I can do what I want.

I’m slower, though. I can feel it. I can still jump between lhosts, but it’s no longer as smooth moving from one to another. I have to concentrate, and whereas it used to be like jumping across a short gap, now it’s like walking through neck-deep water. Without her relays, I don’t move as freely. People notice when I’m not giving them my full attention.

I went and saw Adam. I’d had some time to think, and I knew what would resonate with him. All of me came along, carefully. It must have looked strange: me with my short hair and a summery dress, two others almost-but-not-quite like me, with longer hair and matching suits.

He noticed my effort in jumping between them, that half-second pause that I can’t quite eliminate. It’s maddening, knowing it was once effortless, but it made him smile a bit.

*             *             your little time                   *             *

“I like you this way.”

“Which way?”

“You know, different. Not all identical. It’s stupid, I know, but I like being able to differentiate.”

“My wardrobe is less boring now, too. My being slow doesn’t bother you?”

“Slow? Oh, when you jump? No, I don’t mind. It reminds me that you’re human. It’s the little flaws that make us, right?”

“Yeah, I guess. Yeah.”

“So… you can’t hear ALEPH anymore? You don’t talk to her?”

“No. We’re not… on speaking terms right now.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

“It’s fine. I did this for me.”

*             *             it’s not when you get there          *             *

Things are back to normal, mostly. Adam apologized for overreacting, and I’ve tried to make things easier for him by being a little more… human. My lhosts are different, and my lab access still works. She never cut me off. The Praxis doctor was wrong, she never came after me.

Sometimes I see her, or at least her Devas. For a few months, I kept tabs on where they’d be, and stayed clear. They’re as perfect as I am, and I’m slower than I was. I don’t know if I’m still fast enough to take one. One time I saw a different one. She looked the same, like all the other Devas, but I’d spent enough time with her to recognize the differences. She was an Asura, and she could not be tracked. If I am the perfect human, Asuras are demigods, walking legends capable of feats that mark them as perfectly, wholly inhuman.

I panicked, but only on the inside. I stepped out of sight and vanished, looking for all the world like I’d just walked into an alley and hadn’t left while all of the sweating and hyperventilating I wasn’t doing went on in my head. I was beyond the sight of ordinary people and most sensory devices, nothing but the faintest shimmer in the air without even a heat signature, and she still turned her head as she walked past, and looked straight at me. In those cold, piercing eyes, I felt like my thermoptic camouflage, my composure, and my perfect body were stripped away, leaving just me, a tiny ball of fear. In those eyes, I could see her.

She looked sad.

Nothing’s happened since. I still work in the lab, I occasionally see her in the faces of her Devas, but they never say anything, never indicate that anything is wrong. She has never come for me, she just looks sad.

*             *             it’s all in the climb            *             *

“Cassie? You there?”

“…huh? Sorry, long night at the lab.”

“It’s okay. How about I put on a show? We’ll watch it and you can work.”

“Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks. I think that’ll…”


“Something’s wrong. At the lab. I’ll be back.”

“Cassie? Cassie!”

*             *             but i       *             *

The compound I was working on reacted. I wasn’t fast enough, flitting back and forth, and that half-second let two things mix that shouldn’t have. I was unprotected, holding a canister that exploded like an anti-materiel shot.

My body is dead, I can feel all the systems shutting down. I can’t jump. I’m stuck here. Half a second to jump is too long when you’re dying. Adam is sitting at home, and asking me what’s wrong. I can’t answer, I can’t get to that lhost. She doesn’t even feel like me, right now, not when I can’t get to her. I’m stuck in a dying body and she’s… someone else.

This shouldn’t be happening! I’m better than this!

*             *             won’t    *             *

Patient Report: Cassandra Scellai

Patient was admitted to Neoterra Prime General Hospital at 21:43, in the care of citizen #1518599, Adam Helvand, self-identifying as her boyfriend. Diagnosis indicated a Boddhishatva-model lhost, catatonic due to inactivity. Patient referred to care of ALEPH, in posthuman ward.

*             *             save you              *             *

“What happened? Why did I lose five months?”

Some mistakes were made. I am sorry I cannot provide you a complete account of the missing time.

“What do you know? Can you show me anything?”

Yes. I tried to keep a record for you, as best I could. Initiating playback.

“I… wow. I did all that?”

Yes. I thought I had lost you. Will you be okay?

“I think… yes. Yes, I will. I’m better than that. I should go. Adam will worry, and I need to cut my hair.”

Welcome home, Cassie.



[interstice lyrics by Darren Korb: “In Circles”, from the Transistor OST]

More on Learning Japanese

I’m now four weeks into mostly-self-taught Japanese. I’ve managed to get a few lessons with a tutor, who has been incredibly helpful and has pushed me farther than I thought I’d be able to go a lot faster than I expected. I’ve learned a lot about the process along the way, and can critique my own approach a bit.


The first thing I did was start working on the kana, essentially teaching myself to read and write in Japanese, at least the basic characters. Part of this was that it was a lightweight thing for me to be able to do, a bit of memorization and a bit of playing with phone apps before bed. It took me about two weeks to learn hiragana at a relatively sedate pace, and about five days to get katakana once I had a system. For anyone trying to do this, start with the apps; they’ll get you used to the shapes and the sounds nice and gently, but push yourself quickly to write the alphabets from memory as soon as you can. Part of the reason it took me so much longer to memorize the hiragana was because I wasn’t pushing myself to commit them to memory; the apps make you pick from multiple choice rather than writing them out yourself.

As odd a choice as it was to begin with the kana, it helped a lot to create a solid foundation for everything else. Genki (my textbook) uses a lot of kana even early on, and it helps to be able to read and write it without using romaji (roman alphabet) as a go-between. I’m not fast at reading kana, but I can do it now. There’s a bit of a weird side effect that happened to me, though. I’m able to read a lot of things without having any comprehension at all, which is a bizarre experience.


The next thing I started working on was going from the start of Genki and going through the chapters. The book is laid out very well, and I did a bit of dabbling in some basic greetings and some relatively straightforward sentence construction. One of the things I’ve picked up very quickly is that I absolutely cannot think in English while working on Japanese, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it seem like a very difficult language to learn. I have to separate myself from my desire to make English sentences to translate and just think in abstract concepts. In retrospect, I think this is something that’s caused me a lot of trouble in learning Spanish. A lot of Romantic and Germanic languages have very familiar structures to an English speaker, and you can often feasibly just come up with a sentence in English and replace a lot of the words with the appropriate words in, say, Spanish, and more or less get your meaning across.

Separating myself from trying to form coherent English sentences to translate into Japanese helped the learning process a lot. Japanese is a very structured, orderly language in a lot of ways, and I find that sentence construction makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. My tutor moved extremely quickly to particles in sentences, which are markers that indicate what the word or phrase preceding it is doing in the sentence. There isn’t an English equivalent, but it makes me think of sorting flags in file structures. Forcing myself to separate from English sentence construction made these a lot easier to understand and work with.


Getting a tutor early on was really helpful for me. Even just the three or four sessions I’m going to be able to have with her will give me a solid footing to keep teaching myself. I’m almost at the point where I can hold some very rudimentary conversations, I just lack the vocabulary for it. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is use my knowledge of English to evaluate the kinds of conversations I have most frequently, to get an idea of what the most useful things to learn in Japanese would be if I’m looking to reach a conversational level quickly. It’s given me an opportunity to think about how I communicate with other people and the kinds of things I say.

I’ve reached the point now where I can watch or read something in Japanese and I’m having constant flickers of comprehension. I recognize sentences or words and while I can’t quite get enough context to figure out what’s being said, I can make sense of how the sentence is constructed. I don’t know who is being talked about, what they’re doing, or where, but I know that someone is being talked about and that they’re doing something in a particular place. It’s a structure that lets me start asking the right questions– if I recognize 私 (watashi, “I”) and the particle の (no, indicating a possessive or apposition), followed by a word I don’t know, I still know that the speaker is talking about something they own, or something close to them.


It means that when I’m listening to spoken Japanese, I can start to make out the shape of what’s being said, even if I don’t know the specifics. It’s honestly really exciting to have those little flickers of recognition; it makes me want to push harder and learn faster. My biggest hangup right now is vocabulary; I just need to take in thirty-five thousand words or so to catch up with my English. No problem…

The Very Best Villains

I’ve had a running list of my favorite villains in any medium for a while. Recently, the list was usurped by a character I’m going to call the main villain of Durarara. I’m going to avoid spoilers, because the show is great, but I really want to talk about great villains.

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First, though, I should talk about what I think makes a good villain. There are a few things that I think every truly great villain should have. A villain should be inscrutable, possibly even unpredictable, and their true motives should either be largely unknown or extremely relatable. Not being certain of how or where a villain is going to strike next is scary; as soon as you know where the next hit is coming from, the tension drains. Motives that are unknown are similarly scary, though there’s space for a villain to lay all of their cards on the table in an entirely reasonable way, which is disturbing and scary. A good villain taps into either our fear of the unknown or our fear of ourselves.

I think villains in general fall into one or two of three main categories, and should have good answers to a number of questions that you might have as the audience. Broadly, these are the categories I have in mind:

  • The Force of Nature – A Force of Nature plays into our primal fear of things stronger than ourselves. This kind of villain is immensely powerful in some way, and gets by through raw force. Sometimes it’s literally nature itself, sometimes it’s a super-strong character like the Juggernaut, sometimes it’s someone incredibly deadly, like the Cyborg Ninja from (the old) Metal Gear Solid. Their motives are unpredictable because you can’t get close, and their motivation can either be a short temper or a longstanding grudge or trauma, or simply the fact that they exist. I don’t think that Force of Nature villains on their own make terribly compelling villains, though they can often be very interesting side threats. The Primals in FFXIV are a good example of this, as they’re threatening on their own but are kind of tangential to the main thrust of the story.


  • The Mastermind – A Mastermind plays into our cognitive fears of inadequacy and insecurity. This kind of villain is an excellent planner and is usually extremely intelligent. They often have a particular specific goal in mind and are working towards that end. They’re one step ahead of their opposition and it’s only when they trip or stumble that they can be caught. Usually, were it not for a single error or misstep, they would have handily won. A pure Mastermind can be an incredibly scary villain in certain media, though I’m a much bigger fan of the protagonist being a pure Mastermind. A lot of times, these villains have very well-thought-out motivations and are scary because it’s hard to find fault in their logic, even if the end result is appalling. They’re often brought down by a miscalculation or slight mistake, or sometimes because they become blinded by their own plans and leave exploitable holes because they get arrogant.


  • The Manipulator –  A Manipulator plays into our social fears of betrayal and broken trust. They are masterful with words and can lie and bend the truth until it’s nearly unrecognizable, and have you believing every word. They often do very little themselves but say the right thing to the right person at the right time, or tap deeply into people’s insecurities. They’re very good at reading people and predicting them. They frequently either have the wittiest lines and make you laugh, then instantly hate yourself for laughing at this horrible person, or the scariest, able to tap directly into the protagonist’s insecurities. Their downfall tends to be when people have a change of heart or are immune to their charms or are pushed past their breaking point. These villains can have all kinds of motivations, from the apparent to the wholly unknown, and are scary because they’re so in control, even when things seem like a mess.


Most of the best villains I can think of are two of these. Darth Vader is a Force of Nature/Manipulator, with a mix of raw power and exactly the right words to make people afraid. Sephiroth is a Force of Nature/Mastermind, with a world-spanning plan and the power to take down anyone who stands in his way. The Joker is a Mastermind/Manipulator, with both a horrific plan set in motion and the right words to the right people to push all of Batman’s buttons. Handsome Jack is another Manipulator, one of the best of the form alongside the Illusive Man. The various villainous players in both Deus Ex and Human Revolution are similarly Mastermind/Manipulators, made all the scarier because each of them has a perfectly reasonable point of view but together create a horrible mess. The Force of Nature/Manipulator type is kind of rare, but MGS’ Psycho Mantis is an excellent example, and many great ones of the type tend to have psychic or illusory powers of some form, like Emperor Palpatine, Loki and Mystique. It’s probably no real surprise that my favorite type of villain is the Mastermind/Manipulator type, though that’s also my favorite type of protagonist as well.

A good blend of categories doesn’t make a great villain by itself, though. There are a number of questions that can be asked about a really good villain that need good answers for the villain to be truly great.

  1. Is the villain influential and capable of winning?
    • There are a lot of villains that simply don’t meet this. They’re a problematic force to be sure, but usually stick around not because they have a chance of winning, but because the protagonist doesn’t give them their full attention. The Joker is a really great inversion of this, because the most effective way of dealing with him has been spun into a win for him, because he’s great at leaning on Batman’s insecurities. On the other hand, Jessie and James of Team Rocket aren’t exactly accomplishing much. A great inversion of this type is the villain who is powerless but gets their hands on a resource or piece of information that allows them to turn the tables, as in a lot of blackmail stories, or Jafar from Aladdin.
    • TeamRocketAnime
  2. Is the villain realistically beatable?
    • This one is one of the reasons why villains that are all three archetypes tend not to be great– there’s no good answer to this question. A villain needs some kind of weakness to be compelling, however difficult to exploit it might be. This is even better if the villain knows their weakness and takes pains to hide or avoid it, though this is rare in the Force of Nature-type villains. A lot of times, this is a great opportunity for a plot twist. The Emperor is nigh-unbeatable, except when his most trusted servant suffers a change of heart (see: the common downfall of Manipulators).
    • MasterXehanortLookingDown
  3. Why hasn’t the villain already won?
    • You’ve got an immensely powerful individual with a plan in place, sometimes a massive network and abundant resources, possibly even an army, and they haven’t won yet. Why? This mostly applies when the villain has a particular end goal in mind other than “rule everything”, and it’s where the Mad Scientist types tend to fall behind a bit. A fairly common inversion here is settings where the villain HAS won, and is ruling the world or some significant portion of it until overthrown by the heroes. There are some great opportunities to make entirely reasonable villains here, who view the protagonist as a terrorist or someone trying to overturn the current order. This is even more potent if the protagonist has been personally wronged by an otherwise benevolent villain.abstergo-logo-wallpaperabstergo-industries-by-vesferatu-on-deviantart-tsddietg
  4. Is the villain believable and relatable?
    • This is a huge one, and makes the lynchpin of the great villain question list. You’ve got to be able to believe that the villain is serious about their plans, that they have realistic goals, and they need to be relatable on some level. There shouldn’t be gaping holes in the villain’s plans or thought processes, and while some level of inscrutability is effective, making an entirely unpredictable, alien villain feels random and unfair– the very best villains will let on enough for you as the audience to realize what’s going on a moment before it happens, too late for the protagonist to do anything about it even if they knew.
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      not actually an example of this trope failing, this guy is amazing.

I don’t think every good work of fiction requires a great villain, or even a villain at all, but there’s something incredibly exciting about being able to put a face on problems. The villain in Durarara that I’ve come to enjoy so much shows his true colors to the audience in the second episode of the series, but continues playing a complex game throughout the series, and I love to hate him.


Infinity Factions: A Rundown

A few people have asked me about the various factions in Infinity, and where they should start looking. Having bought into factions in minis games that don’t really suit my playstyle, I’ve always sought out this sort of thing before jumping in, and I’m familiar enough with Infinity that I think I can write up a solid evaluation of how each faction plays. Hopefully this is helpful to some folks who were interested in taking a look at the game!


First, the main factions of the game. These are often referred to as “Vanilla” factions, and break down something like this:


ALEPH is tricky insofar as it’s relatively difficult to build highly-tuned lists for, and you’ll tend to have fewer models than your opponent. The units themselves are very much the best of the best, though, but pay a steep premium for that. There are a lot of ways to play ALEPH, but mostly you’re going to be relying on having flatly superior troops in smaller numbers. Each loss will be keenly felt, so mistakes can feel unforgiving, but a well-played ALEPH force will feel unstoppable.


PanO is a very straightforward shooting army– even its most basic line infantry compares with the mid-tier and elite troops of other factions when it comes to a straight gunfight. You have to get creative with objectives, though, because you have a relatively weak WIP army-wide and so may have to dedicate more resources to claiming objectives. That being said, as far as “guys what shoot dudes” go, PanO is up near the top, and has a pretty solid game elsewhere as well.


Yu Jing is a very well-balanced army, with a good blend of types of troops and a huge variety of playstyles. Of all the factions, they do HI, especially lots of HI, the best. I think it’s one of the best factions for a starting player, and is usually one of the ones I use for demo games. It also leaves a lot of room to grow– the higher-tier playstyles for Yu Jing take a lot of skill. You’ll feel what seems like lack of tech and tricks, but you can make up for it elsewhere.


Ariadna is a faction of low-tech tricks. It’s less about combos and more about refusing to meet your opponent head-on. Mostly your troops aren’t going to be quite as good as your opponent’s, but you’re going to have more of them and they’ll be good enough. Ariadna excels at playing multiple groups (in fact, it’s hard not to) and is good at catching your opponent off-guard. You mostly don’t want to get into straight firefights, as outside of a few units you’re likely to be outclassed. Camo and other tricks will win you the day here.


Nomads are like Ariadna with technology. You still largely don’t want to engage your opponent in a straight fight, but you have a lot of tricks to make sure that happens. These come with a cost, so you’re less likely to be running quite as many models as an Ariadna player, but you have access to some unparalleled infowar and some very effective troops who are quite good at ensuring you don’t fight a straight-up fight.


Haqqislam is a relatively low-tech faction that’s very middle-of-the-road in a lot of ways. An abundance of WIP 14 means Haqq specialists are excellent at whatever they try to do, particularly their doctors. Haqq has a great big fat middle, as it were, with an abundance of strong mid-tier troops. There are a number of interesting tricks that can be played within Haqq, and a lot of the power of Haqq comes from understanding special weapon types and special skills and knowing how to get Doctors where you need them. A careful balance of Regular and Irregular orders is a big part of Haqq.


The Combined Army is a pretty varied faction, from the Camo-heavy Shasvastii to the straightforward, stompy Morats. Like ALEPH, you’re going to keenly feel your losses, because your troops tend to be more expensive, but it’s less difficult to get work out of them because they tend to be more focused on a singular thing. This focus can be a problem when you find yourself trying to cram a square peg into a round hold, but you’ll often still be able to pull it off through brute force or sheer bloody-mindedness.


Tohaa is a faction of surprisingly durable troops (thanks to Symbiont Armor) who are otherwise fairly middle-of-the-road with a few stand-out exceptions, but that added durability makes troops that would be relatively simple and uninteresting in other factions into forces that can punch way above their weight class. To play them properly, however, you need to have a very solid understanding of linkteams and particularly the special Fireteam: Tohaa rule, as well as being careful to pay attention to how certain types of ammunition work (notably: Viral and Fire). They’re straightforward and strong, though, with some truly excellent troops.

In addition to the “Vanilla” factions, each faction also has a smaller subset of unit options called “Sectorials”. These are optional subsets of the main faction that offer a more limited troop selection (though they usually you to take more of each unit) and unlock a special rule that allows you to “link” troops together. Linkteams take low- to medium-end (and in some cases high-end) troops and put them together in a unit that acts as one, giving them significant bonuses at the cost of having to stay relatively close to one another. They balance out the more limited troop selection of sectorials and give you some neat flavor within each faction.

Without further ado, the sectorials (asterisks next to ones I haven’t personally played, take those blurbs with a grain of salt):

ALEPH Sectorial(s)


Steel Phalanx (SP, Greeks) is the single ALEPH sectorial, and has a very heavy focus on special characters. Your troop options for this sectorial are very limited and while it has outstanding troops, it can be somewhat predictable. That doesn’t preclude it from being extremely powerful though; just because your opponent can predict what’s coming doesn’t mean they can do anything about it. SP feels a lot like ALEPH minus the tricks, though do be careful to understand its special rules.


PanOceania Sectorials


Neoterra (Neoterran Capitaline Army, NCA) is the fancy toys sectorial of PanO. It’s got basically all of the fancy high-tech stuff you might want to play, but has a relatively limited troop selection and relatively little variance in the ways you can effectively build it. There’s still enough meat there to have a lot of fun, though, and it really does have all of the fun toys. It’s also the closest PanO can get to a swarm list, with abundant Auxilia.


The Acontecimento Shock Army (ASA) is, in concept, the more punchy, more straightforward in-your-face side of the PanOceanian sectorials. It has access to some decent delivery systems for mostly closer-range troops, as well as droptroops and some loaner ALEPH infiltrators. That having been said, it has a VERY limited troop selection and doesn’t really have a strong mechanical identity compared to the other PanO sectorials. The core ‘interesting unit’ in the army is the Bagh Mari, which isn’t all that exciting, and the Regulars pay too much for special options, though they have some neat ones (Sensor). Not necessarily something I would recommend for a new player, unless you REALLY love the theme.


Military Orders (MO) is the PanO answer to Yu Jing’s heavy infantry. Lots of HI Knights and troop support for said knights. There are a bunch of interesting options here, but be aware that Knight units cost a lot of points, so focusing a list wholly on cool HI Knights is going to leave you relatively few points for anything else. That De Ferzen/Joan/Hospitaller link is pretty sweet, though, and you can even run it and still get a full 10 orders and specialists in your list.


Yu Jing Sectorials


The Japanese Sectorial Army (JSA) is one of the first things people think of when they think of Yu Jing, though it’s not representative of the faction as a whole. JSA is the faction of cheap troops, anime legends, and really interesting tools. It has some of the most varied listbuilding options of any sectorial in any faction, and has several very functional viable linkteam options, as well as a deceptively fast punch. No one troop defines JSA, but the big stand-outs are the Aragoto (the Hacker being arguably one of the best specialists in the game), the Haramaki (scary-powerful HI link at an obscenely low price), the Oniwaban-tier ninjas (Oniwaban, Shinobu, Saito Togan who, played well, can make your opponent legitimately fear TO Camo), and the Kempeitai, a cheap, easy to include Chain of Command unit that lets you get away with hilariously aggressive Lieutenants, hard to do elsewhere.


The Imperial Service (ISS) is the other side of the Yu Jing sectorial coin, and is more focused on the secret police/inquisition side of things. It’s probably the best faction at discovering Camo, with abundant MSV2 and Sensor options, allowing redundancy and smoke tricks, and can also run a nasty linkteam in the form of the Wu Ming, who are probably the best HI link in the game and might compete for best linkteam in the game for ITS. Relatively expensive specialists who don’t always have delivery systems are a problem for this faction– expect to bring in an ALEPH Sophotect and a Ninja Hacker if you want full specialist coverage.


Ariadna Sectorials


The Merovingian Rapid Response Force (Merovingia, MRRF) is the higher-tech sectorial of Ariadna. They’ve got the money, they can buy/hire whoever they want. If you want hackers and/or TAGs in your Ariadna force, MRRF is the way to go. They also benefit from some strong linkteam options and increased AVA on some of the better troops in Ariadna, especially the Chasseur.


*The Caledonian Highlander Army (CHA, Scots) is the even-lower-tech sectorial for Ariadna. Lots of cheap troops and linkteams, and a decent chance you’re going to hugely outnumber your opponent. What you lack in focus or raw power you make up for in numbers and smoke. While your specialist options are limited, you have enough smoke grenades in the list to be able to deliver whatever you need. Get good with smoke if you want to play CHA, is what I’m saying, and MSV2 is going to be a serious problem for you.


*USAriadna is the newest Ariadna sectorial, and hasn’t seen enough playtime for me to boil it down to a pithy blurb. It’s a good middle ground between MRRF and CHA, and has a bunch of interesting, fun troops available to it. Decent linkteam options and the Ariadna signature Camo give it a solid footing, and motorcycles (esp. specialists) are awesome, ask any JSA player.


Nomad Sectorials


Corregidor Jurisdictional Command (Corregidor, CJC) is the brute force side of the Nomad army. It excels at solid, punchy troops and effective droptroops. There are some solid options for linkteams that will do a lot of work for you, and if you feel like playing Corregidor, looking for those links that you want to run is key. Nomads tend to be stronger and more versatile in Vanilla if you aren’t intending to run linkteams, but there are some options in Corregidor (even the humble Alguaciles) that make for solid options. If Mobile Brigada magically get a specialist option, Corregidor will be pretty nasty.

Nomads - Sectorial - Jurisdictional Command of Bakunin - [N3] [Vyo]

Bakunin Jurisdictional Command (Bakunin) is where the weirder Nomad stuff lives. Combat-ready battle priestesses, face-punchy HI Riot Grrls, and an abundance of infiltrating Camo (Zeros, Prowlers) as well as the various warband troops make Bakunin a strong if weird option. Lots of special rules here that you need to make the most of to succeed, though you can hit an enemy on a variety of unexpected fronts all at once with Bakunin. A solid hacking game, access to the best Doctor and Engineer in the game, some great infiltrating Camo, and other fun toys make Bakunin varied and interesting.


Haqqislam Sectorials


Hassassin Bahram (HB) is the sectorial for the Haqqislamite religious sect of assassins. They have elite, carefully trained troops who are good at specific tasks, supported by untrained militia and a small number of trained supporting troops. Each type of Hassassin has a relatively singular focus, and there are a couple of interesting linkteam options within this sectorial. Specialists are a little hard to come by, but can be effective, and good use of HB relies upon clever use of irregular troops and smart trades with your Impersonators. Leave your opponent on the ropes early and you can get a lot of work done, but beware of getting put on the back foot; it can be somewhat hard to recover.


Qapu Khalqi (QK) is a more mercenary side of Haqqislam. They have an abundance of interesting link options and can even run multiple links with Haris, and have access to a lot of mercenary troops. They also have cheap, interesting linkteam filler in the form of Hafza, who can blend into any linkteam in QK. Lots of fun options abound, but be aware that you still need to accomplish objectives, and linkteams can be a bit limited in that regard.


Combined Army Sectorials

Combined Army - Sectorial - Shasvastii Expeditionary Force - [N3] [Vyo]

*The Shasvastii Expeditionary Force (Shas, does anyone refer to them as the SEF?) is the sneaky, tricky side of the Combined Army. They sit somewhere in between Nomads and Ariadna in terms of playstyle, and in my opinion kind of suffer for it. Plenty of solid specialists abound, as does a lot of camo, but the troops are weirdly expensive and it leaves you without quite the trickiness of Nomads. Not a sectorial I would recommend for a new player, unless you really absolutely must play sneaky space bugs and for some reason disdain the rest of Combined. Sorry Shas players, but alongside ASA, this is a sectorial I don’t recommend (at the moment; it appears to be getting a revamp).


*The Morat Aggression Force (Morats, MAF) is the less subtle side of the Combined Army. You’re looking at straightforward and stompy here, and a lot of troops that want to do that thing. You’ve got some interesting linkteam choices and really just a lot of straightforward blasting. You can get outmaneuvered by a canny opponent, which is always a risk in Infinity, but you’ve got a lot of fun toys here for the unsubtle approach. Also, space Oni, who doesn’t love that?


Tohaa has no sectorials (yet!)

Hope this helps! If anyone is interested in Infinity, I’m happy to answer other questions 🙂

(Image credit: this thread — )

Wanting More Of The Same

Shadowrun: Hong Kong dropped on Thursday, and I beat it Sunday night. For anyone measuring games by hours played, I clocked 35 hours in it of which I was actively playing probably about 25-28. I definitely did not see everything the game had to offer, and I’m going to write more about it specifically a bit later, but if you liked the previous games, this is yet another improvement on the series.


I really love the Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun games; each new one focuses on improving the weaknesses of the previous one while still doing some new stuff. What I want when I get a new one is, essentially, more of the same, just a little fancier. It’s worth noting that I play more or less the same character when I jump into it, too, and I still find each one interesting and fun.

I’m trying to wrap my head around why I’m so happy with a new Shadowrun game that is, for all intents and purposes, more of the same, yet I got tired with the Assassin’s Creed series, despite it branching out a lot more. In a similar vein, I grew tired of Rock Band releases but I pick up each new Civilization game.


Assassin’s Creed 4 holds the answer for me. After the story arc of Desmond completed in AC3 (full disclosure: I never beat AC3 as I was kind of tired of the series), AC4 picks up with a new story and a new set of characters. It’s more self-contained and shows me a different slice of the world. Similarly, Shadowrun games reboot with each one, introducing me to a new piece of the setting and a new story and characters. Each new Civ game is a new set of mechanics with a new world to, well, civilize (and I especially liked Civ: Beyond Earth because it was sci-fi).

I want new stories and new characters once I’ve had the catharsis of finishing a story arc. My favorite book series is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which jumps to new characters and new slices of the world constantly. I love the original Star wars trilogy, but for all that people raved over the Thrawn books, I never got into them, because I felt like the story of those characters was done. I didn’t need any more (and, indeed, the return of ‘classic’ characters in the upcoming Episode 7 is the least interesting thing about it for me).


I tend to lose interest when I have to wait for a show to release episodes– things aren’t moving quickly enough for me and I’d prefer to experience it all at once, or in big, super-immersive chunks. When I engage with a story, I dive deep, and I want the whole thing. It’s one of the reasons that I have trouble with games and stories that’re thin or very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I want worlds that leave a lot to my imagination and let it run wild with the possibilities, and get frustrated when there isn’t enough for me to really sink my teeth into. I think it’s why I had so much fun with Transistor and was frustrated by the ending of There Came an Echo– I felt like the former left a really big world with a lot of weird cool stories that I only got to see hints of, whereas the latter opened the curtains a little too much and just told me everything, eliminating any space for my imagination to wander through.

I think a story is made up of both what it tells and what it doesn’t tell, and both are important. As Kodra likes to put it, those parts of the story that aren’t told are where fanfic lives, and I think he’s dead on. It’s a place for the imagination to run wild, and as a storyteller it’s important for me to leave some stories told and others untold– sometimes you want to leave some things to the imagination.


When something captures my attention and shows me a piece of a big world, I want more of that, and as long as I can get more bits without feeling like it’s gotten same-y, I’m hooked and want more of the same. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, though I understand when people get bored of the same sort of game. I also think I lean very heavily towards preferring untold stories that are merely hinted at. It’s how I get inspired for my own creative work, and I can’t be disappointed by a story that exists only in my imagination.

That is, I think, what I love about the Shadowrun series– it’s a simple story with lots of branches that are chock-full of suggested-but-untold stories, leaving my mind to fill in the rest. One of the best tabletop games I’ve ever run was built on setting up the potential untold stories that occur before you finish character creation in an MMO– how did you get to where you were when you started the game? I got to tell that story right up until the launch of SWTOR, at which point (most of) my players were able to go straight into the game with a character they felt strongly about, that was well-defined and interesting.

It was a great experience, and one I’d love to do again given the opportunity. It would, of course, require that my players wanted more of the same as well. I’ve got some time to think about it– we’re still hip-deep in another game that’s yet to fully unfold.