View Full Version : The Armored Core Campaign Journal!

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-14, 06:11 PM

Snow Bunny chose "Charm" as his miscellaneous skill. He tried to turn his disarming glib on Revolver and convince him to surrender. Revolver finally powered up, trying to turn his disarming cannon on Snow Bunny and convince him to die.

With the game starting at 6 sharp, I was eating dinner with one hand and trying to code macros with the other. After a lot of hammering on the keyboard and a mild case of choking to death, I was finally ready...at 6:38.

AC Francine, emboldened by the success of his missile scouting strategy, decided to take it to the extreme by unloading 16 missiles at once. This meant that he had officially used about 100 cred worth of ammunition and had already taken another 40 worth of damage. He was expecting 50 in pay.


I'm running an Armored Core game via Maptol, and I thought it would be fun to chronicle the adventures of three PCs as they navigate the barren, cutthroat world of post-nationalist Earth. Follow the team as they attack land-mass sized space station, invent ever more ridiculous AC parts, and wring every last credit they can out of the part dealers!

The men responsible? Meet Jim, precocious star of the mercenary world and unfettered idealist; Billy, rough-cut technical genius hailing from the ruthless Martian frontier; and Rhys, the man with more awesome one-liners than you could shake a boomstick at.

The game system is (currently) a composite of Serenity RPG and the old West End Star Wars D6, with ample homebrewing in between. Originally, there was a sort of dynamic initative system akin to Shadowrun as well, but it turned out to be a mess.

The game takes place on Sunday nights over a Maptool server. Without futher ado, here is some further ado: a brief word on the setting can culture (tl;dr version? Its basically 4-Answer). The next few posts will be a backlog of previous sessions, followed by some short stories written by the players.

The journal starts proper with session 8 (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=11248356&postcount=11).


Timeline of Intrasolar Colonization

255 years ago: An experimental physicist named Dr. Victoria Lane dies tragically while on vacation. Known for her attempts to prove the existence of traversable rifts in spacetime called “wormholes”, her work helps usher in a grand unification of particle physics and relativity. However, her personal dream of creating a wormhole in the lab goes unfulfilled.

181 years ago: Engineers devise a way to create a channel that accelerates objects to very high speeds, higher than any propulsion system could ever achieve. Because of the system’s high energy requirements and restriction to outer space conditions, its first incarnation is as a monolithic space station. Although science behind the phenomenon derives from many people’s work and has little to do with wormholes, the channels come to be named in Victoria Lane’s honor.

168 years ago: After a decade of testing and planning, the Lane is used to send a manned expedition to Mars. The mission is a milestone in human technology--the Lane is the largest and most expensive machine ever devised, and with several months required to gather enough power to create the channel, is also the most energetic reaction ever attempted.

The Martian voyage itself takes 36 hours, including the launch and landing. Startlingly, Mars boasts rich deposits in minerals vital to modern electronics and computing, minerals that are increasingly rare on Earth. One of the expedition’s sponsoring governments brashly lays claim to the entire planet, sparking bitter controversy.

~120 years ago: With the frontier of space finally within reach and a tantalizing glimpse of its riches, a boom of exploration begins. New Lanes take shape in Earth’s orbit, accompanied by massive, city-like platforms to support them.

The most ambitious project is a Lane intended to hurl ships out of the solar system. Fueled by desperation at the Earth’s worsening condition and the lure of profit, nations and businesses alike pour resources into a monsterous, land-mass sized platform to support the system’s daunting technical needs.

One side effect of space travel is the advent of Muscle-Tracing technology, an innovation that makes mechanized powered suits feasible. Developed in response to the scarcity of other heavy equipment in space, the once scorned idea proves wildly useful for astronauts building the orbital platforms. Soon, all celestine construction sites teems with armies of such machines, capable of moving enormous loads and boasting a wide selection of gear.

83 years ago: Military developed Muscle-Tracer vehicles see their first action during a resource skirmish in North America. Although conspicuous and ungainly, their long line of sight and ground clearance gives them a unique place in the inventory, somewhere between the nearsighted tank and the fuel guzzling aircraft. They come to be known as MTs.

Moreover, this war signifies the end of the world’s 40 year unity. Decades of construction and hardship have passed by with no noticeable change in the everyday quality of life, and resources have finally run out in many places. Nations begin to abandon the stars for more practical matters, and Lane construction slows to a crawl. Although a second Lane is nearly complete, it will take 4 years to begin operations

79 years ago: The second Lane begins operation and sends colonists to the rocky inner planets. It is the last of the old space projects to see completion, and has been plagued with budget and scheduling problems the whole way. While most of the excitement is about Mercury’s rumored mineral wealth, Venus also becomes an important proving ground for pollution control technology.

Sadly, Mercury's deposits are found to have been greatly exaggerated by the exploration firm to try and attract investors. High-level executives flee in scandal, leaving the project to crumble and tens of thousands jobless. This final, crushing disappointment is regarded as the end of the space exploration boom; headlong investment screeches to a halt and a disenchanted public demands work closer to home. Mars and Venus continue to host colonies, but gone are the dreams of leaving the solar system.

~60 years ago: Several years of drought and violent storms causes a worldwide crop failure. In the panic and massive loss of life surrounding this famine, food shipments cause entire economies to yo-yo up and down. Money markets crash from the violent upheaval, and governments go bankrupt. With the collapse of nearly all meaningful currency, the only form of wealth that remains are tangible assets and means of production. Manufacturing corporations, pumped up from decades of titanic construction projects, emerge as the new power structure.

45 years ago: The worldwide population returns to 1 billion and stabilizes. This is considered to be the end of the famine and its turmoil, and although life returns to mostly normal, peace is far from restored: Three major conglomerates, Mirage, Crest, and Kisaragi, battle for control of the last, far-flung stockpiles of natural resources and the spacedocks. A military-industrial complex springs up around their respective war efforts, and represents every industry imaginable. Mercenary organizations come and go, and are collectively known as ‘ravens’ for the opportunistic way they scavenge off human misery.

33 years ago: Global Cortex becomes the preeminent mercenary organization. Known for its integrity and uncompromising discipline, the company captures the public imagination with its fearsome MT units called Armored Cores and its personnel become romantic heroes. Populations demand raven intervention at the drop of a hat, and business booms. Unlike other elite forces, however, Global Cortex is not exclusive in its admissions—this helps the company protect its advantage by acquiring most of the qualified personnel before any competitors can.

19 years ago: After two decades of war, the Big Three corporations declare an uneasy truce. With undisputed control over both functioning lanes and most of the orbital platforms, Mirage enjoys a monopoly on all extraterrestrial travel and resources. They dictate who leaves the planet and when. Longtime rivals Crest and Kisaragi grudgingly accept landlock rather than destruction, and quickly set about squabbling with each other.

Global Cortex does not adapt well to the peace. Having barely survived an ugly power struggle and several upstart competitors, the company is forced to abandon its time-honored policy of neutrality and throw in with Mirage to stay afloat. With this change, ravens face draconian new terms and provisions on their contracts. Most die in action or leave the ranks, becoming small time warlords.

5 years ago: Venus declares their planet fully terraformed and habitable. Immediately, Mirage launches an expedition to the forgotten colony to establish a base, but face vehement resistance. Eager to break Mirage's de facto blockade on space travel, Crest and Kisaragi put aside their differences and secretly begin work on one of the old, abandoned Lane projects.

Present Day

Life as a Raven

As a Business: Most Ravens in Global Cortex operate on a franchise basis. They buy, equip, and maintain AC's at their own expense, and bear sole responsibility for their fortunes. There is no obligation on Global Cortex's part to help the struggling, and ravens of all skill often find themselves bankrupt.

Although Ravens are financially independent of Global Cortex, there are still many advantages to being a part of the Global Cortex fold. With an entire walled city, Global Cortex offers extensive support facilities and infrastructure that no independent warlord could ever hope to finance, as well as amenities and personal security that few people anywhere enjoy. Furthermore, Global Cortex is the clearinghouse for all contracts and assignments a Raven may take, relieving those Ravens of the burden of corporate outreach and PR. Ravens get to operate under the authority and trusted name of Global Cortex at all times, and when an outside force attempts to retaliate against an individual Raven, the entire company's forces will muster to their defense. Raven may have to make their own living, but they are by no means cut off.

As a Military: Dating back to the famine two generations ago, Global Cortex arose from the remnants of a national military that survived its government's collapse and to this day, it enjoys a legitimacy not known to other firms. The corporate culture is steeped in tradition and brotherhood, but also tempered by the underlying truth that Ravens may be pitted against each other at any time. Straight-laced conformity is a requirement: Ravens are expected to behave properly, honor the hierarchy, respect each other's privacy, and to be socially involved.

The AC pilots are stratified into five or six grades of "quality", A through E and S. These ranks, while illl-defined and carrying no official authority, are a powerful force in the community--highly regarded ravens are well-paid and bestowed with exceptional privileges and trust. Lowly ravens are considered expendable, and get remorselessly scorned and exploited. A Raven improves their standing by scoring victories in combat, but more importantly, by upholding Global Cortex's social values. A badly-behaved Raven will never be respected, no matter what his prowess is.

As a Person: A Raven has a short, intensely stressful career that is 98% frenzied busywork and 2% battle stress. Because Global Cortex guards its customers' privacy so carefully, Ravens rarely know what to expect on an assignment and must train for every possibility. Every move can mean a fortune lost, and a moment of inattention can be fatal. Everyday work is smothered under layer after layer of oversight and regulation--when asked what they pilot, it common for a Raven to jokingly answer, "A phone."

The psuedo warrior culture is a competitive one, and all friendships are barbed with the possibility of being forced to someday fight to the death. Harsh rules prowl around the edges of everyday life, and personal freedom only comes in faint glimmers every now and then. Outside of Global Cortex's value system, there is very little moral grounding to take pride in--every Raven, without exception, commits an atrocity at some point in their career. It's almost a rite of passage.

A veteran Raven will look ten years older than they really are. They usually have a flattened, malleable personality that is equal parts agreeable and apathetic. A Raven can be likeable in their own guarded way, but most of their friendships will be stormy. Extramarital affairs are common, as are substance abuse, depression, and stress disorders.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-14, 06:12 PM
Friday, April 22nd (Session 0)

Setting what would become a proud tradition, the game started with 45 minutes of B.S.ing, a hurried dinners, and technical disaster. First and foremost, the prewritten macros I had spent the last two days coding did not show up on my player's screen. Then I sent him some with a brute-force method, only to hit a software security issue that made half of them unusable. Lastly, I could not for the life of me get his vision to work.

Maptool has a vision system that functions a lot like Starcraft's fog of war--you can see the terrain, but you have to have a unit scouting nearby to light it up and see the little units running around. After several minutes of painstaking tech support ticked by, I finally just started clicking around at random and presto! Problem solved. I'll have to take that to IBM.

Finally, I quit stalling and launched into my story, such as it was (this was a playtest first and foremost). R0k's character, piloting a sniper AC called Snow Bunny, was a newly minted Raven tasked with hunting down another Raven, an experienced Raven turned kingpin called AC Revolver.

The chopper dropped him on the skyscraper where Revolver had been tracked, a truly massive building famous for its rooftop arboretum and ornate statues. In other words, I borrowed the metalopolis map from Starcraft 2.

I had populated this map with 2 little tanks called Panthers, a few choppers, AC Revolver, and a surprise; unknown to the player, he was about to interrupt a major delivery of weapons from a dealer known only as Blue. So not only was the player up against Revolver and his goons, I had decided to leave the door open for him to fight Blue's AC and his bodyguard MTs. This player is the challenge-loving type, and I was a little worried that he might get in over his head.

The player decided that his character was a pacifist, and proceeded to sneak by the very nearsighted Panther tanks. Despite one suffering a "convenient" breakdown, he managed to bypass all of Revolver's defenses in about 5 minutes, bringing himself face to face with the AC.

Now by this point, the player was surrounded and just inched away from spotting Blue and company. AC Snow Bunny is practically made out of balsa wood, and for all their tiny size, the Panthers carried the Or so I thought. See Session 1 missiles. Fearing that the session would be over in the next five minutes, I decided to throw him a bone and decided that Snow Bunny had caught Revolver eating lunch with the AC powered down, and hadn't spotte the intruder yet.

I shouldn't have bothered.

According to the player, Snow Bunny was the fruit of several days' work. The razor sharp optimization proceeded to lay waste to my plans by nailing the tanks like a carnival shooting gallery. P-ting! P-ting! P-ting! What I instantly realized about this game is, if you have one character with 9d6 initiative and another one with 4d6, the first guy can easily take 20 turns before the 4d6 can even blink. And so Snow Bunny went for a spin around the map, Superman-like, righting wrongs and being a badass.

Snow Bunny chose "Charm" as his miscellaneous skill. He tried to turn his disarming glib on Revolver and convince him to surrender. Revolver finally powered up, trying to turn his disarming cannon on Snow Bunny and convince him to die.

The battle was no contest and before long, Revolver was stuck in an Two opponents have similar init scores and are jockeying for a shot , with Snow Bunny in the lead. I finally decided to play my ace in the whole, and had Revolver run and regroup with Blue.

"New Challenger!" is a time-honored trope in Armored Core and the player didn't bat an eye at the second AC's appearance. He tried his Charm again, and this time, beat Revolver by miles. Unfortunately, Snow Bunny had been teasing him the whole battle. I decided that while Revolver had to surrender, he did not have to put up with humiliation and disgrace.

Revolver chose to self destruct. I hate dramatic, Hollywood explosions, so I described it as an unimpressive, candle-like process where the AC's generator melts down and reduces the machine to a mound of glowing slag. A side effect was that this showered the entire region with deadly radiation, high enough energy to go right through an ACs armor. Snow Bunny's pilot making Life Saves, he decided that it was time to return to the chopper.

Before that, however, he said in no uncertain terms that he would not let Blue get away and become an annoying villain. Naturally, I had Blue grab a nearby chopper, loaded with munitions, and lift off. A quarter of a second later, Snow Bunny's attack roll pops up and thanks to the quickdraw, Blue went sailing off the edge along with a shower of chopper debris.

With a final stop to rescue the crew of the broken down tank from earlier, he finally returned to the chopper with a cacophony of warnings about radiation and a gathering nausea in his stomach. I had just finished this sobering reflection on the scale of damage Revolver had just wrought on a densley populated city, and then blooper of the year, I accidentally ruin it by dragging the chopper token away from the extraction point, noticeably without him. His reaction was funny.

Despite the hang ups and getting my omnipotent GM ass handed to me, I was absolutely thrilled with how this session went. The player immediately began working on a whole short story about how his character dealt with the aftermath, new NPCs, and a whole bunch of thoughts about the rules.

One major weakness I saw in the game was that it did nothing to control the min/maxing. Snow Bunny was a true F1 racer of a mech, with the highest speed, the best dodge, the best rifle skills, and the best init, and that charm. We both agreed that he slaughtered my game, and ultimately decided to instutute a new rule:

You cannot have a skill score thats higher than its governing attribute. For example, if you have 4d6 Agility, the highest Dodge you can buy is 4d6.

Now, despite what my tone might suggest, this guy was an outrageously fun player. He earned 6 Bonus points for one-liners and building a likeable identity for his character, as well as going out of his way to save the stranded crew of the Panther tank. He did that, despite having to make a save-vs-death for dawdling. He said that rescuing the tank was by far his favorite part.

Join me next time, when the ridiculousness ratchets up to 11. Field goals are kicked, and someone meets Godzilla.

Monday, April 24th (Practice Session)

I had intended for this session to be like the meet-n-greet barbcue session, where everyone would hash out their characters in an easy, open forum manner and then I'd run a combat demo for any one with confusions or misgivings. As it turned out, it was more like the New Years eve party where only one person shows up, but you still have an awesome time.

Now, the one guy who deigned to attend was last session's hero, the one who spent the entire time wiping the floor with what was supposed to be a tough battle. I know I probably sound like an adversarial burk when I say that, but the point is, he didn't need any guidance from me.

I billed the AC battle as a televised Arena battle and went through the usual flavor introduction. The player wrote that Snow Bunny's pilot was still dealing with radiation exposure of last session and had to wear a radiation counter on doctor's orders, which I thought was a nice touch. He also had some NPC friends that he wanted to show off, so I let him impersonate 3 different tokens. He actually pulled off a pretty nice bit of ventriloquism and made a nice, Quentin Tarantino dialogue out of it, so he earned some bonus points. Lastly, I let him place a small wager on who might win.

The battle was short. How short? This short:

Main System: Engaging Com—BOOM!

The problem was that his opponent's AC was basically "naked" except for a pair of shields, so it only had one hit as was. Secondly, the rules make it so that the most power weapon is, technically, the most accurate. This is a very brutal game.

So anyway, after about 15 minutes of play time, I had run out of material. I calle a 15 minute break and made a quick little race game, the goal being that you had to get to 8 checkpoints, in order, with 10 initative remaining while enemies tried to shoot you down. After a few minutes of fun, opening banter, we set off.

Despite the initative cost, the player couldn't resist killing a tank as he went. Just as well, since he had a nice init roll of 50. Remember what I said last entry about being Superman if you have enough init to burn? He was so far ahead of the other tanks, that he finished the entire course before anyone could return fire.

During that time, I tried to amuse myself with some mind games. The thing is, as a player, you don't know what the NPCs initiative really is, so he had no idea how huge his advantage was. In his mind, the enemy could start shooting any second, which I think really added to the game. Just for fun, I put a huge MT token just outside his visual range, and called it "MT Boss." His reaction next move was great. That MT has picked up the nickname "Godzilla", and I've promised that he'll show up again. The player and I agreed that the race should have had a victory threshold of 20, rather than 10.

I was very proud of this session. It had a minimum of technical snafus, and somehow we managed to stay almost perfectly within the three hour budget, and I cooked out a reasonably fun challenge within 15 minutes. This will contrast with the next session, where things return to their normal, unmitigated disaster :)

Friday, April 29th (Session 1)

This is why I leave an extra hour for everything I do. I got home very late, and started the server a good 30 minute after I was expected. With the game starting in another half hour, I was eating dinner with one hand and trying to code macros with the other. After a lot of hammering on the keyboard and a mild case of choking to death, I was finally ready...at 6:38.

By this session, attendance had been limited to me and my one player. We decided to drop the pretense and just call it a solo campaign until someone really-actually joined, but until then that he could have three PCs and would play with them like a squad strategy game. This is where he introduced his character's friends.

This player, by the way, was a one-time engineering student and just a natural at optimizing things. The heavy AC 9001 was the result of this, and I immediately sensed doom--with a Life Save of 11d6, it was mathematically impossible for any of my NPCs to hurt him. The AC also had an unbelievable STR score that I think is being tuned for melee combat as I write.

The other AC, Harlequin, was a perfect balance between Snow Bunny and the Heavy, but the pilot was meant for blading. This AC was much more manageable, considering that he had taken the high-usage drain blades. But how to challenge 9001 without annihilating Harlequin? Bravely, I decided to put the problem off and ignore it.

The first auspicious session of this untested Armored Core campaign started in a bar with the three pilots. After a few lines of banter and description, I had a smartly dressed secretary tap-tap-tap her way in on high heels and basically drop and adventure hook into their laps. Her entire life's purpose fulfilled, the scretary then turned on a heel and was never seen again. I was really breaking new ground here.

The note was a summons to attend a meeting in what amounts to Global Cortex's attic, the Orange building. Upon attending, they met three NPC pilots and your typical hardboiled military-man hosting the meeting, name: Flint.

The long and short of it is, Flint revealed that for the last 10 years, the financially anemic Global Cortex has been reduced to scamming new Ravens into taking, literally, suicide missions, and finding really unethical ways to make money off of it. 85% of newcomers die on their first assignment, all of them culled from the cream of the military crop. The bare fraction that survive do so by long odds, and nothing else.

Flint then offers them a defense against this harsh reality, but before he can get into it, one of the NPCs has heard enough and excuses himself. Flint goes on to say that they five will secretly collude on all future assignments. What one Raven By design, can't. do alone, they will achieve as a team and divide the payment. Flint demands absolute solidarity, citing Global Cortex's union busters and internal affairs staff as threats. Finally, he introduces them to their first mission.

The two NPC pilots I offered were downright paltry compared to the player's powerhouses, but the player instantly fell in love with their characters. You'll see what I mean. Anyway, after a fun session of team banter and a cool "take off" sequence, I finally started the mission at the 3 hour mark.

The mission was to assault a developing rocket launch platform called Hatt Island, taking down the launch silos and the control tower. Heavily entrenched and patrolled, the players couldn't even get close to the island before their choppers were attacked by patrolling fighters. However, this lead to a really cool sequence where the player was hanging from the chopper, swinging to and fro, while sniping incoming fighters from a ridiculous range. I really have to beef up these enemies, he was beating their best dodges by 30 or more.

Finally, they managed to get close to the shore, which was good enough for the choppers. The ACs whisked over the remaining 100 yards of water and immediately set about...waiting, while a certain PC spent his 30 initiative over the next character in line. It was ridiculous how much he accomplished while the other PCs sat, frozen in time. After about the twentieth action, the other two PCs finally got their first attacks in edgewise. Meanwhile, the NPC member of the party and their piddly 4d6 initiative, hadn't even made landfall.

The player's favorite NPC was destroyed by choppers, after a grand journey of five squares an a dodge. The player was really bummed, and even withdrew his main character to sweep the remains. I didn't have the heart to do it, so I finally gave the NPC an escape pod and had him touch down on the sunny ocean. I'm actually really glad I did, too, and you'll see why.

Eventually, the PCs had crashed through the defenses like a wrecking ball. AC 9001 decided to try and intimidate the survivors into giving up. He passed with flying colors, but since I have some discernment, I limited it to them being willing to parley. They powered down, thus clearing their initiative and giving the entire team bonus points. This is when the player, whether bored or on purpose, had AC Harlequin punt a tank across the landscape.

13 attacks later, a gang of 5 MTs has shot enough ordinance to level a small city yet done no damage whatsoever. 9001's Life Save was nigh untouchable, and Harlequin was a little further out of range. This stalemate continued for another 15 minutes, despite my best efforts to prod things on with the threat of reinforcements.

Things finally changed when the player's main character got back in the game. He darted from platform to platform, crushing silos the whole way until he hit one with a rocket inside. These vehicles are extremely volatile and don't like being shot with anti-tank weaponry so, true to form, the main character comes sliding home heralded by an enormous explosion.

They board the choppers and book just as a small armada of landing craft come raining down from space to reinforce the island.

Now, there's two side to this session. Mechanically, it was kind of a flop. One AC was, for all intents, an invincible monster, and another one is untouchably agile. Even with making enemies that could shoot down an AC, it really was this slow massacre that went on for another 4 hours.. On the other hand, the RP was very memorable and the team has this extremely catchy interplay thats going to be a lot of fun to explore.

Afterwards, the player went way, way out of his way to help the NPC who lost his mech. He did a really cool trick in that, he rebuilt his AC. He sold all the old part, using these amazing Charm rolls, for a killer price and bought new ones with Appraisal, knowing the price way down. With the extra, two of his PCs were able to raise 224 for the NPC, and by helping him with his purchasing, also managed to help him buy a very good AC with it.

Sunday, May 8th (Session 2)

This marked the first appearance of our new player, DeaconBlues. Playing as Billy "Beard" Gibbons, a rough cut technical genius from the lawless Martian frontier, Deacon built his AC Francine for massive firepower and ammunition stores. The massive stockpile would nearly be his undoing.

The mission started, fittingly enough, with me leaving to answer the phone for 10 minutes. Dunno what it is about sundays, but this will be a recurring theme for me. Anyway, after a short introduction and some RP to get the characters acquainted, they set off on the assignment.

The heroes tasked with scouring a futuristic tidal power plant for a team of elite saboteurs, this mission was an attempt to present some semblance of challenge for the players. The map was made up of narrow, writhing corridors and populated with sniper MTs that I borrowed from MechWarrior canon. Adding to the fun was several piles of rubble that I planned to reveal as the enemies caved in tunnels on the heroes. All in all, a lot of fun stuff for me :smalltongue:

First encounter! True to form, one player boldly ignored their lethal cannons and demanded surrender, and his initative score gave him perfect impunity to mow the enemy down when it refused. There was some banter, Talladega Nights was quoted, and then they moved on.

Second encounter! Another sniper MT ambushed the players from a side tunnel. I had just introduced a game mechanic for Called Shots, allowing the shooter to nick away specific components of a target. Using this, the Sniper MT destroyed the friendly NPC's very expensive sensor, and then proceeded to hack away at the PC's with another four hits--for those of you who are new to this system, the entire party had enough life for about ten hits in before TPK, so this is significant.

There was much relief when the Sniper MT finally ran out of ammo and was reduced to a last-ditch attempt at punch Snow Bunny in the face. One the enemy was dealt with, a team meeting was called to discuss their impending demise and whether they should continue or not.

Our new player came up with a very cool plan, something that would soon become his trademark, to use missiles for scouting the maze-like tunnels for further enemies. After killing a couple of MTs without another scratch on the player's part, the mission was down to them and just a handful of MTs. But with their ACs limping on their last legs, could they even survive that?

It was right about then that we neared the 3 hour mark, and our busy new player announced he would need to leave in a matter of minutes. Cue the Benny Hill music as we exploded into action, hellbent on reaching a stopping point.

AC Francine, emboldened by the success of his missile scouting strategy, decided to take it to the extreme by unloading 16 missiles at once. This meant that he had officially used about 100 cred worth of ammunition and had already taken another 40 worth of damage. He was expecting a good 50 for the mission.

For all the issues this would raise later, the strategy was spectacular. Missiles raced down every corridor, annihilating MTs all over the map. Meanwhile, AC Snow Bunny had found a little Easter Egg I had left--in classic Armored Core fashion, there was an AC part just randomly lying in the battlefield, waiting to be scooped up. He gladly did.

The boss battle was somewhat anticlimactic to me because of his low attack roll, but then again, that was secret, and I wasn't discovering his massive token while nursing a nearly dead character. So I hammed up his scariness for effect.

Enter AC Snow Bunny--with only one hit left, he zooms in and, using the newly minted Called Shot button, hacks off both the boss' weapon pods, and then demands surrender. He rolled well and, with the clock ticking down to seconds, I decided to let it go.

However, I couldn't resist one final fake-out about collapsing the tunnels, just for funsies. His debut concluded, the new player bid us a cheerful but hurried goodbye, promising to attend future games.

The other player and I passed the time with some banter, then we RPed out his attempt to gain access to better parts. Up to this point, I had only given players the cheapest, bargain basement parts, reserved for the ravens who were expected to die in combat soon anyway. The D-grade parts were the next step up, but boy what a step.

So, with some more good rolls from Snow Bunny's pilot and the NPC using her leverage as the part's dealer's ex, they managed to gain access to a very small selection of advanced parts. Then there was some speculation about their supervisor Flint's true intentions in organizing this little AC ring, and then some personal Poignant Lines here and there. Good RP all around.

Join me next time, as I capriciously abuse the players trust in me with more practical jokes. We also meet a third PC who will hopefully become a regular fixture in the group, fight yet another, even trickier sniper, and finally conclude the night with some memorable RP.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-14, 06:13 PM
Sunday, May 15th (Session 3)

We left our heroes last week with one PC nearly dead after trying to tank a Sniper MT, and another one beyond bankrupt after blowing his life savings on a single, all-obliterating missile show. Worse still, betrayal seemed to have reared its ugly head as a paid informant got a PC captured and nearly killed.

The trigger-happy PC was helped out of the red by a generous loan from one of the other players, along with selling the free AC part that had so serendipitously been lying unattended in a catacomb for decades :smalltongue: . The identity of the traitor, however, remained a mystery.

We were joined by a third player this session, a good friend of mine from a previous game who had decided to take a break from his usual, charismatic leader types and play a greedy chain smoking anti-villain and an AC I'll call Heavy Metal.

We decided that this session would be a flashback, chronicling how Billy and the new character, Rhys, escaped from the disastrous failure that was the Martian colony. The first player was playing a new character, a boisterous strumpet known only as 'Witch'. The player had decided to try something off the wall, which in this case meant playing an unarmed AC that attacked by punching. Strangely, this AC would not be making the most spectacular unarmed attack.

The session started 20 minutes late, which for me is a record in punctuality. There was much phone ringing, so much so that I started to wonder who had set up the tech support call center in my home. With several 'brb's, I finally managed to establish the scene: the terraforming of Mars is beginning to fail, and the PCs were there to raid a supply dump before catching the next transport to gentle Earth.

The mission opened with some trash talk from the enemy AC, a sniper called Half-Halo who could cloak, create holograms, and use ECM to reduce the PC's sensors. In other words, he was a giant gnome Illusionist. After the obligatory "Abandon All Hope" greeting, a wave of MTs began to converge on the PCs.

Right about now, one of the major weaknesses of this game system surfaced once again. See, initative is such a big deal in this game because it can mean the difference between taking 20 actions with total impunity, or barely getting 3 actions by the skin of your teeth. The amount of initative you get can vary widely depending on the AC you build. Well, one player had optimized his AC to give him divine-grade initative, bordering on precognition. The new player, who was still forming his opinion on the game and I wanted to show a good time, had...not so great initiative, and consequently was stuck waiting almost the whole battle. This is something I'll have to look into.

Anyway, Witch breezed right by the first wave of MTs, going straight for an equipment stash. The player killed an MT, then asked if it was okay to rip the cannon barrel off its carcass for an improvised club. After taking a vote, we okayed it. The player then proceeded to bat my carefully crafted enemies off a cliff, one after another.

AC Heavy Metal headed for the other weapons stash, in a nice RP touch attempting to lie about the contents and keep it all for himself. Ever streetwise, he avoided a lot of fighting.

Meanwhile, AC Francine, not to be outdone, gunned down two MTs, then jumped on a third with its entire weight. The player had another one of his characteristic Cool Ideas, and asked to scope the whole map from a high vantage. I allowed it, but decided that this visibility was a two-way street.

Half-Halo cloaked and then pelted Francine with a round from his massive sniper rifle. A second shot destroyed Witch's sensor--I'd like to add that the visual range sucks, and the I had enforced strictly personal vision, meaning that other players couldn't spot for her, so this was a serious problem--and then a third shot hit Francine again.

By this point, I decided enough was enough, so Half-Halo took a break to try and get Heavy Metal to turn on his comrades. The player seemed really tempted, but then a timely roll revealed that Half-Halo was lying like an oriental rug. A massive Called Shot from Francine and then a shot from Heavy Metal put Half-Halo down, just like that.

By this point, we had hit the dreaded 3 hour mark and our busy second player was forced to hit the road. There were still 3 incoming ACs to beat if the players wanted to claim the entire loot, but unwilling to play without DeaconBlues, we decided to call it there.

After some fun banter, the third player bid us a friendly goodbye, promising to join next session and reprise his instantly enjoyable roll. Heavy Metal has already been the source of several hilarious, but unrepeatable, one-liners.

The original player and I, not to be satisfied, decided to return to the present and wrap up the story of Jim's Bad Day as chronicled in "Mr. Popular". The first attempt was outrageously fun, but unfortunately, we also broke the game's premise in the process. This prompted us to try a second time, with much better results.

The gist of it was this: The player's favorite NPC and digital-crush, Lee, turned out to be the one who sold Jim out in exchange for a reward. However, Lee later came to her senses and sabotaged their efforts to abduct Jim--while Jim was still captured, the headbusters were delayed enough that the other PCs were able to piece together a response and save Jim from what was certain death after his interrogation.

In a crisis of guilt, Lee was going to quit (which also served my purpose of making room for the new player) and later return as an NPC, but it didn't quite work out. Here's the abridged chatlogs, if you'd like to see for yourself...

Take 1

Spyglass aka fishloaf: That night is a surreal one
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint has nothing to say, other than the promise of further attacks in the future
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A meeting is called, and the decision is that you will lay low for a month
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( A meeting which we'll RP as a group later ))
Jim: (( gotcha ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A medic check Jim over for any signs of tracking bugs or other chemical
Spyglass aka fishloaf: When he coems up clean, he is released for a fun night of more interrogation, of all things
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint grills you endlessly about every last detail of your day, trying to figure out how you were found
Spyglass aka fishloaf: The conclusion become increasingly girm
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Your security was airtight, and you didn't break any rules
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Someone talked
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Following the screening, you sit in the abandoned commons of Orange building
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Once a cafeteria, it is now a museum of tables, sleeping under dropcloths and piled high with chairs
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A couple reactivated vending machines humm in the corner, having given you your lunch
Spyglass aka fishloaf: You have a night view of the skyline out the window, and a fresh breeze washes over you
Spyglass aka fishloaf: There isn't much to look forward to
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint has confined the whole team to the dormitories inside Orange, and you only leave for missions
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Is like a microcosm of the Compound as a whole
Spyglass aka fishloaf: And in some ways, what your life has become
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Shuffling steps announce Lee joining you
Spyglass aka fishloaf: She smells like chlorine, and her hair is a haggard, mop-like mess

Lee: Wordlessl,y she pulls up a chair

Lee: "You all right?"
Jim: (( cant impersonate ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Huh
Spyglass aka fishloaf: There

Jim: "Hungry." he lifted his snadwich, "But otherwise?" Jim shrugged, "You were sniping all the way from the pool? That's impressive." he took a bite.

Lee: Lee gives a rare laugh.

Lee: "Billy was messing with you"

Lee: "I'm no sharpshooter."

Lee: "I was in the truck, watching the halmet cams for license numbers"

Jim: Jim grinned. He was tired. His normal cheer run down to a nub by the grating strain of the day. Still, the right company improves anything.

Lee: "Anything that might point to whoever did this."

Jim: "Just a name. Murphy." Jim replied. He gave her a brief description of the man, as he did for Flint and the others.

Jim: "I didn't recognize him." he sighed.

Lee: Lee nods sadly, a little too sadly.

Lee: "I can't stay with the team, Jim."

Jim: "What?" he asked, stunned.

Lee: "#### is falling apart, I can't do this." she looks frustrated.

Lee: She forestalls you with a hand "Before you give me a pep talk, just listen."

Lee: "I'm gone five days a week to somewhere I can't tell my boyfriend."

Lee: "I lose huge amounts of money every time I go, and I can't even explain why"

Lee: "I'm broke, and I'm out of excuses."

Lee: "This is a double life, and I don't have room for it"

Jim: "Lee..." Jim said slowly, "If you leave, you need to stop being a Raven. You understand that right?"

Lee: "...Yeah." she nods slowly.

Lee: "I'm prepared for that."

Jim: "And what would you do? There's nothing out there. The world's coming apart at the seams. This guy mean that much to you?"

Lee: "Wh..." Lee rarely sputters. "I dunno how to even respon"

Lee: "You've never cared about anyone like that?"

Jim: "Leave him." seeing her look its Jim's turn to raise his hand, "Listen."

Jim: He pulls his necklace off, dangles his rabbit's foot on the spindly golden thread.

Lee: "I swear, if you put that thing on me I can't be responsible for what happens"

Jim: "If you care that much. Leave him. The people who came after me don't care about me. They care about us, about this." he gestured around the room, "Like it or not we're part of something now."
Jim: (( I type slow hold on! ))
Jim: (( lol ))

Jim: "They'll come after you too. And if you leave Cortex you've got nothing to hold them back. They get you, they kill you, and probably him too. I know what it is to love someone more than your life... and I know what it is to lose them."

Jim: "So leave him, and stay here."
Jim: (( Charm roll? ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( HAHAHA ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( Hang, on, I'm deciding ))
Jim: (( k, also, did I get a minimum 2BP in dialogue? ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( Definitely. Well constructed point ))
Jim: (( but less than 5? ))

Lee: "I dunno Jim."

Lee: "We're a team to begin with because Cortex is part of the problem."
Jim: (( wait still deciding or can I roll? ))

Lee: "I can't even keep Renaissance up on maintenance, and it detracts from you guys to cover for me"

Lee: She sighs.

Lee: "I'm skirting the issue." she admits.

Lee: You see her expression grow into a snarl, as something clearly struggles to get out.

Jim: "Lee, what's wrong?"

Lee: "You're just better off with someone else." she breathes. "I'm beginning to see that this gig has something I can't give."

Lee: "Belief."

Lee: She stands up

Lee: "I ain't looking back. Stay cool, Jim."

Lee: She gives you a brief half-hug, and shuffles off

Jim: "Wait."
* Jim rolls: 7d6 => 21

Jim: "Stay."
Jim: (( upped it with my BP ))
Jim: (( would be 8d6 if I had 3 more, but you didnt reply, lol ))

Lee: You see the back of her head shake

Lee: « 7d6 = 24 »

Lee: And then the door SLAMS resoundingly
Jim: (( whaaaat? what did she roll? lol ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( 7d6 right back at you ))
Jim: (( I know that, I meant what stats ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( She had her mind made up, pretty much ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: So she spent BP
Spyglass aka fishloaf: But hang on, there's more

Jim: hahaha

Flint: "You really do stick with your people, Jim."

Jim: "To hell and back sir." he said quietly, watching the door.

Flint: Flint's boots squeak mutedly against the floor as he ambles over

Flint: "You're good people for it."

Flint: He has a seat on the table

Flint: "..."

Flint: "Lee was the one who tipped them off."

Jim: "I know." Jim said softly.
Jim: (( I did know ))

Flint: "She let me know as soon as I assembled you guys"
Jim: (( I was going to do this whole big dialogue thing if she failed the roll and confessed ))

Flint: "It happens to every Raven, Jim."

Flint: "Even the best of us don't always recover from that one."

Jim: Jim took a deep breath and leaned back against his chair. He turned to Flint and tilted his head slightly. Finally he asks simply, "Why?"

Flint: "People get stupid."

Jim: "What happens to her now?"

Flint: "All it takes is a little panic, some temptation, and a little reassurance about the consequences"

Flint: "She's on her own."

Flint: "For what its worth."

Flint: "She did try to throw them off with the wording"

Flint: "The chopper was late because of how she played them. If she hadn't, we never would have deployed in time to save you."

Flint: He stares at the floor.

Flint: "Thats why I didn't kill her." He says plainly.

Flint: "Some people get stupid for a minute." He says. "In time, you learn to forgive thm"

Jim: Jim nodded. Pushed away his sandwich, suddenly not so hungry as he was, "That was my next question." Jim replied, just as bluntly.

Flint: "Other people, well..."

Flint: "The ones you misjudge are much harder to live down."

Jim: "I didn't misjudge." Jim said, standing.

Jim: "You have any idea where she went?"

Flint: "I do."

Jim: Jim arched an eyebrow.

Flint: "But if you go after her, you'll be following her in more ways than one."

Flint: "She worth more than Martin and Drew?"

Flint: "If she is, well" he motions, "There's the door."

Jim: Jim laughed suddenly, loud and deep, "Heh heh.

Jim: "Goodnight, sir."

Flint: "Goodnight, Jim"

*cue Jim running off and that PC basically down the drain, the player assuring me that character motivations being what they were, this would take Martin and Drew down with him.

At first, I was okay with that, but we eventually decided that it was massively unfair to break the party like this without the other player's even knowing, so we tried again*

The Final Cut

Spyglass aka fishloaf: That night is a surreal one
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint has nothing to say, other than the promise of further attacks in the future
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A meeting is called, and the decision is that you will lay low for a month
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( A meeting which we'll RP as a group later ))
Jim: (( gotcha ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A medic check Jim over for any signs of tracking bugs or other chemical
Spyglass aka fishloaf: When he coems up clean, he is released for a fun night of more interrogation, of all things
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint grills you endlessly about every last detail of your day, trying to figure out how you were found
Spyglass aka fishloaf: The conclusion become increasingly girm
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Your security was airtight, and you didn't break any rules
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Someone talked
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Following the screening, you sit in the abandoned commons of Orange building
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Once a cafeteria, it is now a museum of tables, sleeping under dropcloths and piled high with chairs
Spyglass aka fishloaf: A couple reactivated vending machines humm in the corner, having given you your lunch
Spyglass aka fishloaf: You have a night view of the skyline out the window, and a fresh breeze washes over you
Spyglass aka fishloaf: There isn't much to look forward to
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Flint has confined the whole team to the dormitories inside Orange, and you only leave for missions
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Is like a microcosm of the Compound as a whole
Spyglass aka fishloaf: And in some ways, what your life has become
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Shuffling steps announce Lee joining you
Spyglass aka fishloaf: She smells like chlorine, and her hair is a haggard, mop-like mess

Lee: Wordlessl,y she pulls up a chair

Lee: "You all right?"
Jim: (( cant impersonate ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: Huh
Spyglass aka fishloaf: There

Jim: "Hungry." he lifted his snadwich, "But otherwise?" Jim shrugged, "You were sniping all the way from the pool? That's impressive." he took a bite.

Lee: Lee gives a rare laugh.

Lee: "Billy was messing with you"

Lee: "I'm no sharpshooter."

Lee: "I was in the truck, watching the halmet cams for license numbers"

Jim: Jim grinned. He was tired. His normal cheer run down to a nub by the grating strain of the day. Still, the right company improves anything.

Lee: "Anything that might point to whoever did this."

Jim: "Just a name. Murphy." Jim replied. He gave her a brief description of the man, as he did for Flint and the others.

Jim: "I didn't recognize him." he sighed.

Lee: Lee nods sadly, a little too sadly.

Lee: "I can't stay with the team, Jim."

Jim: "What?" he asked, stunned.

Lee: "#### is falling apart, I can't do this." she looks frustrated.

Lee: She forestalls you with a hand "Before you give me a pep talk, just listen."

Lee: "I'm gone five days a week to somewhere I can't tell my boyfriend."

Lee: "I lose huge amounts of money every time I go, and I can't even explain why"

Lee: "I'm broke, and I'm out of excuses."

Lee: "This is a double life, and I don't have room for it"

Jim: "Lee..." Jim said slowly, "If you leave, you need to stop being a Raven. You understand that right?"

Lee: "...Yeah." she nods slowly.

Lee: "I'm prepared for that."

Jim: "And what would you do? There's nothing out there. The world's coming apart at the seams. This guy mean that much to you?"

Lee: "Wh..." Lee rarely sputters. "I dunno how to even respon"

Lee: "You've never cared about anyone like that?"

Jim: "Leave him." seeing her look its Jim's turn to raise his hand, "Listen."

Jim: He pulls his necklace off, dangles his rabbit's foot on the spindly golden thread.

Lee: "I swear, if you put that thing on me I can't be responsible for what happens"

Jim: "If you care that much. Leave him. The people who came after me don't care about me. They care about us, about this." he gestured around the room, "Like it or not we're part of something now."
Jim: (( I type slow hold on! ))
Jim: (( lol ))

Jim: "They'll come after you too. And if you leave Cortex you've got nothing to hold them back. They get you, they kill you, and probably him too. I know what it is to love someone more than your life... and I know what it is to lose them."

Jim: "So leave him, and stay here."
Jim: (( Charm roll? ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( HAHAHA ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( Hang, on, I'm deciding ))
Jim: (( k, also, did I get a minimum 2BP in dialogue? ))
Spyglass aka fishloaf: (( Definitely. Well constructed point ))
Jim: (( but less than 5? ))

Lee: "I dunno Jim."

Lee: "We're a team to begin with because Cortex is part of the problem."
Jim: (( wait still deciding or can I roll? ))

Lee: "I can't even keep Renaissance up on maintenance, and it detracts from you guys to cover for me"

Lee: She sighs.

Lee: "I'm skirting the issue." she admits.

Lee: You see her expression grow into a snarl, as something clearly struggles to get out.

Jim: "Lee, what's wrong?"

Lee: "You're just better off with someone else." she breathes. "I'm beginning to see that this gig has something I can't give."

Lee: "Belief."

Lee: She stands up

Lee: "I ain't looking back. Stay cool, Jim."

Lee: She gives you a brief half-hug, and shuffles off

Jim: "I know." Jim said queitly.

Lee: Her shoulders scrunch up and she leans against the wall

Jim: "I didn't, not until just now. But I know." he sighed, "And I don't care."

Jim: "Don't go Lee."

Lee: "How the hell will that work??" she demands

Lee: "How on earth do I stay in this police-state-within-a-police state when I did something like that?"

Lee: "Flint's looking. When people look, they find out."

Jim: "Because they won't. Because you didn't do anything."

Lee: She breathes raggedly, raking her hands through her scalp

Jim: Jim carefully drapes his necklace back over his neck, "Lee. Why am I not dead?"

Jim: He stands up.

Lee: "I ****ed with their info. Made them late"

Lee: "It cost me the whole reward, by the way" she smirks.

Jim: Jim grinned, "You can bill me if you want."

Lee: "Heh."

Jim: "What's the price of a Jim nowadays anyway?"

Lee: "..."

Lee: "Five thousand."

Jim: "I'd have held out for at least 10."

Lee: She laughs, discretly knuckling at her eye.

Jim: "I mean, seven five, low as I go."

Jim: He gives her a tight hug, then holds her at arms length, "Don't ever do that again."

Jim: "Threatening to leave I mean."

Lee: "...All right."

Jim: "Do you like ice cream?" he asks suddenly.

Lee: She studies the floor speechlessly.

Jim: "Well if you do that sucks cause there is none." he smiles.

Lee: She laughs again.

Jim: "But there are these great cookie things in that there vending machine."

Lee: "Ugh, please."

Lee: "I've needed to throw up all day"

Jim: "Hey, that bastard keeps eating my money. I tell you what." he says

Jim: "You help me kick that thing into submission so I get my cookies and we call it even. Deal?"

Lee: "Well" she gathers herself up with a brisk sigh.

Lee: "Deal."

Jim: "Alright." he rubs his hands together excitedly, "To battle."

Sunday, May 22nd (Session 4)

Last week, the heroes embarked on a mission to raid a Mirage supply stash left unguarded in the chaos of the Martian evacuation. They laid waste to some MTs and had just about wiped the map clean when the operator came on the line with some ominous news: 3 enemy ACs were flying in to deal with the threat. When given the chance to snatch a few crates before the enemy arrived and call it a day, the players instead boldly promised to claim the entire map, and everything on it. Now here's the tale of what came of that.

I had been working all day on my faithful truck, which had faithfully broken down, and didn't reach a stopping point until about five minutes before go-time, so there went all those fancy macros I had planned to code. Between cleaning up, the world's fastest dinner, and some pregame banter, we were a whopping hour late to start.

The session opened with Witch and Francine discovering Heavy Metal's little white lie about the northern cache. Namely, that it existed and he was gonna have to share. The ACs quickly converged on the last handful of MTs guarding the containers, who had rolled so poorly that they were oblivious to the carnage going on in the neighboring caches. Silly game.

Anyway, AC Francine attempted to lie his way past the MTs and, when that failed, to intimidate them into surrender. He lured one MT away to negotiate in private, which in this case meant ridiculing his gullibility and shooting it point blank. Karma being what it is, though, this took three tries.

This is when I decided to bring in the first enemy AC, Lucky Hands. An impulsive thrillseeker a blisteringly fast AC and a Yosemite Sam voice, Lucky Hands was a tour-de-force of originality. He also accomplished nothing, thanks to an abysmal initative roll and excessive dodging.

This system, as I'm quickly learning, is not very nice when you're on the defensive. If you dodge when attacked, your disadvantage gets even worse. I had counted on the AC's blades to work in the occasional counter-slash, but sadly, his dodge wasn't quite high enough to stick it. The moral of the story? If you wanna be a blader, you need a good dodge skill.

The second AC was a big fellow called Codpiece who, fittingly enough, wielded an enormous cannon. Designing ACs is fun! Anyway, Codpiece decided to take this opportunity to attack the northern cache with his cannon. Because of splash damage (har har), he destroyed all four crates of loot in one shot, and then happily moved on to the next stash in the north east. Cue a mighty wailing and gnashing of teeth from the players as their hard earned loot faced systematic destruction.

Finally, the third AC put in an appearance, one Dragonslayer, who immediately made an attempt to save Lucky Hands. He got in one good shot on Francine, which also killed a nearby MT due to splash damage. Yes, yes, cannon, lets move on. I'm not sure why that amused one of them so much, but hey, I get my laughs where I can.

This is when the players came back with a vengeance--in exchange for a hefty pile of bonus points, I let them re-roll their initiative, and they came out winners. Witch proceeded to tear Dragonslayer limb from limb, while Francine finished off Lucky Hands with a minimum of drama. Francine also used a missile to great effect on a Mirage chopper, which had come to rescue its company's crates from the battle.

Before long, it was down to Codpiece and the players. A few negotiations lies later, the players had convinced him to send his choppers away, thus eliminating any further chance of losing the goods. I thought this was very insightful of them, since that was the next thing on my agenda. With his last attack, Codpiece launched four missiles. The two that attacked Witch might as well have self-destructed, considering her 15d6 Life Save, but one very nearly took out Francine but for some timely bonus points.

One return missile later, the fight was over.

In the aftermath, the players salvaged the crap out of everything on the map, and came away with about 2000 worth of parts, when all was said and done. Defeating the ACs also netted them a big chunk of reputation, something to the tune of 40 each, thereby pushing them up into the D-ranks. This means that I can finally start the real meat of the story next session!

Join me next time for more GM tardiness!

Sunday, May 29th (Session 5)

This session marked the beginning of the story in earnest, and the end of the lurching Frankenstein-monster that is my dynamic initiative system. The straw that broke the camel's back? One player having to wait an hour and a half before his first turn came up, and thats not okay. We aren't Playstation network here.

Anyway, we opened up with the usual pregame banter, and then decided to hash out some much needed upgrades for L0g41n's AC. The session started proper with a quick transitional infodump to wrap up last sessions flashback, complete with a Vaseline lens and harp glissando.

Cue Flint being all hard-nosed and military as he introduces Rhys McGonigal to the team, his purpose to act as a double-agent and track down Jim's kidnappers. Cue Rhys being...well, Rhys, and interrupted every five seconds with more super graphic stuff. It was fun.

The mission! The group was commissioned to attack a giant early warning system in Crests' former corporate headquarters, as well as take down some nigh-legendary artillery MTs that had guarded the shores for decades. In addition, there was a bonus for shooting down Crest's sign.

I have been looking forward to this next part for weeks: inspired by the Spirit of Motherwill mission in AC4, I decided to have my own little Vanguard Overboost sequence. Despite the paltry choppers and tanks, it went over pretty well I think, before culminating in one player shooting down the sign.

By this time, the Crest defense network had spotted the 3-story vandals, and sicced the artillery MTs on them. Cue explosions going off left and right, dodge rolls galore. The NPC was kicked out of the running almost immediately, and Billy even took a hit before I decided to bring it to a merciful end.

The next part was supposed to represent the world laying down the law on some uppity PCs :smallsmile: 3 Massive MTs, complete with a nifty quad cannon that allowed them to carpetbomb a big chunk of map, and twin gatling guns. If this smacks of overkill, bear in mind that I planned on these weapons getting systematically snipped off, one by one, within the first five minutes. The cherry on the sunday was AC Blood Brother, one of Crests pet ravens armed with a shield and tasked with taking blows for the heavy and expensive MTs.

One thing I didn't consider was Rhys stopping to scare Blood Brother away with words. One successful roll later, the battle hardened enemy runs screaming into the hills without firing a shot. I really need a better way to handle that kind of thing :smallamused:

So, now the battle was reduced to 3 MT and 3 lawn ornaments small tanks. What became of the tanks pretty much goes without saying, but I was surprised at how quickly they took down the first MT. One player basically whittled him down and then finished him with a dodging slash--I didn't quite catch it at the time, but in retrospect, this was a really cool moment.

The second and third MTs were much bigger and more powerful. Jim and Billy each got tagged by cannon fire and wasted some bullets on their battleship armor before changing tack--one MT was dissected, weapon by weapon, before Jim jumped on its back and put a shot through the canopy, finishing it off with a little flourish that will be forever known as the 'Jim Manuever'.

The other MT was standing on a cement wharf, so the players craftily decided to turn this firing vantage into waterfront property. After this, Billy decided to come forward with his own signature move, the Sniper Missile, and promptly took the MT down.

On paper, it was a pretty fun match but in practice, I could feel it wearing down almost immediately. The dynamic initiative system was an interesting experiment, but what it led to was massive inequalities in how much a player could participate. With differences of 25 initative or more, and attacks costing only 2, you end up with some players warming the bench for a very, very long time.

There's no easy solution to this problem--if I raise the initative costs of actions, well, then the system is even more cruel to people on the defensive because they if they only have enough for 5 or 6 actions total, then their whole time in battle is spent running for dear life. That's not the recipe for fun-bars, if you ask me.

Join me next time, as we make the switch to a more traditional, turn based game and explore new imbalances and cheese tactics.

Saturday, June 4th (Session 6)

This session was meant to be our first test drive of the new, turn based system. Due to some crossed wires and a schedule change, only one person showed up for a session I had designed for three. Grasping at straws (and my dinner), I took a half hour to whip up a "quick" encounter for the sole attendee, feeling like I was hosting the lame new year's party.

Cut to the office, where Jim and Fernando have been called to a meeting with Flint. Taking place just scarce days after the incident where Martin and Drew sold the team out, the player did a good job being a little grudging toward Flint.

Nevertheless, there was a job to do: Kisaragi had agreed to use Jim and the NPC Fernando to help test their new AC design. As if on cue, Kisaragi's test pilot, one Alla Daniels, let herself in. Hints surfaced that this pilot might be a psychic, but before that could be addressed, she left, CATS-style.

Before departing, Flint revealed the true significance of this assignment, namely, that a number of Global Cortex executives would be watching and that Flint had staked his reputation and the future of the "team" program on the results. According to him, the overwhelming majority of Global Cortex's ravens were E-rankers set to be sacrificed in previously described fashion, and that as an orgnization, they were in no shape for the inevitable war. Global Cortex's only hope of becoming a competent fighting force again was by expanding the player's very program and cultivating new aces. Jim and Fernando had to win and make the executives see the light.

So with that pep talk concluded, they were on their way. The mission was simple: Jim and Fernando were to recapture a dam from the clutches of Alla, Kisaragi's best AC pilot. Since this was only a mock battle, the weapons and damage would be simulated, yet still mimic the ACs real characteristics. In other words, there was no difference at all in gameplay other than the "damage" would have no repair cost.

The mission began swimmingly, with Fernando reduced to 66% in the first 30 seconds. Jim responded in kind by shooting out Alla's rifle, but missing with his laser cannon.

Now with the old system, I would have to say something like 'Fernando was never heard from again' but with our shiny new turn-based system, everyone gets to participate once per round! Armed with this innovative new gameplay, Fernando added his 2-cents to the firefight, missed, and then was never heard from again.

This was when Jim overboosted in and attacked Alla with the laser blade for 18d6, which goes on record as the highest skill roll ever made in this game. He hit Alla with three such swipes, and because she had retreated away from the dam, basically lost the battle. Not to be satisfied with living to try again, the enemy pilot decided to have a nervous breakdown, and immediately started making real-actual attacks with her AC's fists.

By this point, poor Fernando had just climbed up to the top of the dam, only to get shoved off again by the enraged Alla. After sending some deeply personal trash talk Jim's way, Alla fell victim to Jim's sword of divine laser fury. Before her AC shut down, though, she pulled one last trick and activated her Primal Armor, saturating the vicinity with radiation and causing Jim a scare. Fernando erupted out of the water and smashed Alla away, saving Jim's life. It was then that Fernando blasted off the head of Alla's AC, forcefully dropping the curtain on her crazed antics.

Cut back to the office. Jim, Fernando, Flint, and a deeply shamed Kisaragi representative named "Operator 4" exchange apologies while Rhys leered hungrily through the window. For his trouble, Jim was promised the best core in the game, while Fernando got a box of promotional T-shirts and hats.

A few plot developments later, this Operator 4 turned out to be quite the smooth operator indeed--not only was she an imposter merely posing as a Kisaragi representative, but she had left a little surprise inside the crate of hats, which immediately demolished the office, nearly claiming Flint's life but for a few timely medical rolls. Worse still, the core Jim had been promised was a lie :smallfrown:

Join me next time as we discover the motive behind this dastardly attack. Also, do you like Top Gear? If so, you are in luck!

[Edit: Thanks to R0k for the edit]

Sunday, June 12th (Session 7)

Now, last session ended with an underhanded bombing that left Flint hospitalized and the team's auspicious new beginning very much dimmed. The blame seemed to lay at the feet of their employer, Kisaragi. In this session, we decided, who better to take a job where absolute trust is required from than....Kisaragi!

The session opened with the players calling a meeting to discuss how best to take the helm in Flint's absence. The meeting was quickly overshadowed by a visit from high-level executive and legendary raven, Nine Breaker himself. Long story short, he was there to cut through all the rumors and get the player's side of the story. He then proceeded to deliver what would be an important game feature from now on. Basically, the team has 8 missions to hoard 750 monies or else they get canned. In other words, the much loathed 'debt quest' kind of hook :smalltongue:.

Given their choice between three missions, the players and my NPCs spent the next hour discussing the merits of various missions. There was a strong case for sending the NPCs on a mission involving a movie set, an impassioned case for fighting on behalf of a small town, and a very lucrative case for taking a job wherein the PCs would do a pioneering test flight that promised to make them famous. The only hang up? Kisaragi was the client, the same company whose test exercise ended in disaster last time.

So Kisaragi it was! Whoever said that money talks is wrong, because in reality it shrieks through loudspeakers to a sold-out amphitheater of 30,000.

The mission began with a tasteful shot of the earth's upper atmosphere, the ACs dangling ominously from a lifter like giant bombs. The mission was to test a peripheral that would allow ACs to re-enter the atmosphere an maneuver like an aircraft, allowing for intercontinental mission insertions. Using these drop apparatus, the players were to simulate a battle where they would dive from 300,000 feet and then land in defended airspace, their enemies consisting of drones and dummy missiles.

Now, in this story, Mirage has monopolistic control over all space transit, enforced by landmass sized space stations called "platforms". All spacefarers come and go with their blessing, and I'm sure you can guess that they're totally fair and generous with their uncontested stewardship of this vital mode of transport.

Anyway this is important because, the test had only just begun when Mirage decided that the player's venture into space was not kosher. The players insisted that they had rented the airspace weeks in advance and were clerically unassailable. Mirage responded with, okay, but we're gonna annihilate your lifter just to be sure. BOOM! Separated, upside down, and the earth's surface looming, the way was clear for the players to begin the descent ASAP.

The players, however, had something else in mind.

Speeding toward the orbital platform and reasoning that since Kisaragi is Japanese, they would appreciate their honor being upheld after this heinous insult, the players decided that this called for piracy!

I stupidly hadn't planned on this, so I called a fifteen-minute timeout to make maps. The players hatched a cunning plan where they would find the nearest docking bay, pillage everything in sight, load it all onto the first transport they could find and boogy on home. I have to admit, it was a pretty cool plan.

Sadly, the station's railguns, normally used to bombard the Earth, had something to say about it; one player only just escaped a fiery death through some plot points. The players did make it all the way to the station's surface, but then immediately faced a small army of resistance, including the most powerful enemy AC yet.

One player took cover behind the massive, surface mounted railgun and began sniping enemies. Another player immediately went toe-to-toe with the enemy AC. A third player put on the Blue Danube and described his character's difficulties with zero-gravity. It was a big sacrifice on his part, considering the damage he took, so he earned several bonus points.

Despite all the planning, the battle went south almost immediately. Between the AC and a very, very overkill-ish railgun, a dead PC was just around the corner. The players decided to cut and run, but not before enacting what is, in my opinion, the coolest tactic yet: two of the players bodily grabbed the enemy AC and then jumped over the side, irrevocably committing to re-entry. For the players, this meant systematically ripping off parts that caught their eye for later use. For the enemy AC, who had no such reentry device, this mean death.

Finally, they landed, fragments of armor raining off their haggard ACs as they touched down. A few loose ends and some RP later (there was a lot of hooking up with NPCs, use your imagination), the session concluded.

This was the first session where the players were really in danger, and I think the heavy-handed enemies were justified. According to the story, the orbital platforms are some of the most valuable and heavily defended investments ever conceived. Moreover, since the players went out of their way to pick this fight, I didn't quite feel the same obligation to ensure "do-ability" as I would something I initiated.

Anyway, it was a very action packed sequence and despite not getting the usual, overwhelming victory, I think they showed a lot of ingenuity and planning.

Join us next time as we play through a mission funded, in part, by bake sales!

2011-06-14, 10:53 PM
Wow this sounds like alot of fun.

I would like to here your system if you get a chance to post it.

2011-06-15, 01:43 AM
Oh sweet holy mother of mechanical mayhem, damn it, why does it have to be so awesome? Why damn you?:smallbiggrin:

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-15, 12:53 PM
Wow this sounds like alot of fun.

I would like to here your system if you get a chance to post it.

Thanks! Here is the old version of the system, with the obsolete parts highlighted in red

In a Nutshell

This game is meant to be simple and consistent, while still offering enough depth of strategy and self-expression to keep you coming back. To do this, character and mech creation process is a minimalistic one, with the real meat of combat laying in your choice of timing and placement. In this respect, the game plays a little like chess.

The only kind of dice this system uses are the classic, cube shaped ones called the D6. All of your major stats will be expressed in terms of how many dice they contribute to a roll. In other words, if you have a Strength of 3d6, or 3 Dice, then you will roll those three dice whenever you want to use your Strength.

This RPG system differs from many others in an important way: Initiative. It is still used here to determine when your turn to act comes, but unlike other systems, your initiative always changes. In fact, in this game, Initiative is a resource that is spent on actions and if wasted, will mean certain defeat. It is easiest to think of this game as not turn-based; it is a matter of acting until you can't anymore.

The last major concept in this game is Bonus Points. Bonus points are the chief currency of gameplay, that can provide a bonus on rolls, a means of character advancement, or even a way of bribing the GM to fudge the story in your favor. Leftover initiative will yield you Bonus Points.

All rolls will be one of the following two kinds:

Skill Rolls: These are rolls that test a character's ability in some learned endeavor. It is made up of the following stats.

Attribute Dice + Skill Dice + Equipment Bonus Dice + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Attribute and Skill dice come from your character's vital stats, and are chosen by you at the beginning of the game. Equipment Bonus Dice come from having an item in your possession that helps achieve the goal--see the description of various equipment for their bonuses, and especially note that this is how the power of a weapon is expressed. Lastly, Bonus Dice come from spending Bonus Points or, if you're desperate, spending extra Initiative on an action.

Even though this is a summary, its important to make two nitpicky rules clear right now: First of all, the GM decides which Attribute matches which Skill, but there are some general guidelines. Secondly, if a character makes a Skill roll while inside a vehicle (such as a mech), it is always the vehicle's Attribute and the pilot's Skill which make the roll.

Attribute Rolls: These are rolls made only from Attributes. They are usually reserved for emergencies, such as withstanding some negative effect. They take the following form:

First Attribute Dice + Second Attribute Dice + Equipment Bonus Dice + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

The GM can ask for any combination of Attributes that seems appropriate. However, there are two Attribute Rolls that have specific, and important jobs; The first is the Life Save, which serves as a form of hit points, but also as a save against taking damage. The second is the Initiative Roll, which is what provides you with your supply of Initiative at the beginning of a battle. More on this in the next section.

Character Creation & Advancement

Character Creation is not complicated. The GM gives you a fixed budget of Dice to allocate however you want to your Attributes, and then another budget for your Skills. You buy those skills, calculate your Life Save and Initiative, and then assemble some gear.

Typically, your GM will provide a meagre budget to buy some basic adventuring gear. For anything beyond that, you will have to invest in your character's skill with money. In fact, depending on how much you invested in certain skills, you can not only buy extra gear, but also improve gear, design friendly NPC's, give your character a reputation, and even determine what they know about the journey ahead.

Attributes: The most basic characteristics of a person, Attributes represent are what nature gave them. There are six.

Strength: This is not only the ability to generate force, but also shows a character's all around physicality and athleticism. Strength governs how much gear a person can carry, running speed, their healing rate, and many skill rolls for Athletics, Melee Weapon attacks, and Unarmed attacks.

Agility: The other half of physical aptitude, Agility represents a character's balance, coordination, and ability to move with their environment. It governs part of Initiative, as well as uses of Dodge, Covert, and defensive actions using Melee Weapons or Unarmed Combat.

Many RPG systems are written in a way that favors Agility over Strength. In this game, Strength is meant as fitness or conditioning. Even a lithe, graceful character needs good Strength or else they will be slow as an iron toad when it comes to moving across the board. A purely Agile character with no Strength is a good performing artist, not a warrior.

Vitality: While Vitality controls the fewest skills, it is very important for its role in a character's Life Save and should not be sacrificed lightly. Vitality can also govern a characters healing rate, and resistance to diseases (which are a severe threat). Some skills where Vitality can be useful are Discipline and Survival.

Alertness: Alertness is just that, a character's awareness of their surroundings and the ability to react to it. It is the other half of a character's Initiative roll. It overlaps quite a bit with Agility when skills involve Hand/Eye coordination, but the following skills should fall under Alertness for balance purposes: Ranged Weapons, Heavy Weapons, and Pilot.

Intellect: A character's memory and command of knowledge or academic skills, but not the same thing as intelligence. Put another way, role-playing a low Intellect score does not mean that you have to be stupid and muzzle your reasoning. What it does mean is that you don't take well to book learning, which is disadvantage enough: Intellect can govern many useful skills such as Appraisal, Craft, Finance, Knowledge, and Medicine.

Willpower: The human spirit in action, Willpower is a character's force of personality and social aptitude. Before you scoff and delegate this to the party diplomat, remember that Willpower also adds to your crucial Life Save. Willpower also covers skills such as Network, Discipline, and Influence.

Derived Attributes and Stats: These are a characters vital stats that derive from the attributes above. There are five.

Life Save: Life Save represents your character's basic ability to survive harm. It functions as both a saving roll and as a form of hit points, but most importantly, as a measure of health. Your Life Save is as follows:

Vitality Dice + Willpower Dice + Armor Bonus Dice

Vitality and Willpower are determined by you at character creation, while the Armor Bonus is found in the description of any armor you might have bought.

The way a Life Save works is this: If your character is attacked in any way and you fail to defend yourself, you roll your Life Save against the hostile attack roll. If you succeed, you are not hurt--feel free to make up a reason, whether that be a last minute duck, mighitly absorbing the blow, or that the enemy simply missed.

If you fail, you have been hit and wounded. You lose 2 Dice from your Life Save until you heal or are treated. This penalty applies to all future Life Saves, making it harder to survive future attacks. Worse still, if your Life Save is ever reduced to 1 Dice or less, you are dying! It is important to have a good Life Save.

Initiative: This is your advantage in any sort of hostile situation. Initiative is part training, part awareness, and partly where you happen to be looking when the action begins. Initiative is as follows:

Agility Dice + Alertness Dice

As mentioned earlier, Initiative determines when its your turn to act in battle: if you have the highest Initiative, you get to move. However, Initiative is also an exhaustable resource because taking actions reduces your score, potentially taking away your topmost position in the que. You can take as many actions as your initiative will allow. Once you have spent your initiative below someone else's score, your run is over. Your next action will come when the rest of the playrs have spent themselves below your initiative, making you the top again.

Obviously, there will come a point where you will have a hopelessly bad initiative roll at the start of a battle. Other times, you may simply run yourself down to zero. What happens then is that you must retreat from the battlefield to regroup--whatever Initiative you have left is given to your enemies as Bonus Points. When the GM has decided that its okay, you reroll your Initiative and come rejoin the fight. Usually, this is after four or five actions have passed.

Gear Carriage: This governs how many toys your character can tote around. You can carry as many as items from the Gear sectionr (see below) as you have dice in Strength. For example, if you have 3 D6 in Strength, you can carry 3 items.

Movement Speed: Your movement speed determines how quickly you can traverse the board in action. Your typical, purposeful hustle is 1/10 of your maximum Strength Roll--this says how many squares on the board you can travel for every 1 initative you spend on movement. For example, if you have a Strength of 5d6, then your maximum roll is 30. Half of that, divided by 5, is 3 squares you can move.

If you really want to sprint, you can do the same as above but use both your Strength and Athletics dice. This costs 2 Initiative.

Reputation: This is a measure of your seniority in the raven world. It improves as you win, but erodes as you flee or are defeated. A good reputation may command respect from peers and enemies alike, and a fearsome reputation may let you avoid fighting at all! Your reputation starts at zero.

Skills: Skills represent everything your character has learned in their life. Your success can be measured against a difficulty score perscribed by the GM, or against an enemy. If you need a baseline, here is a table of how roll results could be described in the game world:

Incompetent: 3 or less
Novice: 6
Amatuer: 9
Competent: 12
Advanced: 15
Expert: 18
Master: 21
Perfect: 24+

There are 18 skills, some of which have special optional rules. Notice that you cannot have a skill that is higher than its governing attribute. For example, if you have a 4d6 in Alertness, then you cannot buy a Pilot skill higher than 4d6.

The skills are as follows:

Appraisal (Governed by INT) Upon success, change a price in your favor by 5
Athletics (Governed by STR)
Craft (Governed by INT) Upon success, create your own item for the cost, minus 3, just by studying another example
Covert (Governed by AGI)
Dodge (Governed by AGI)
Discipline (Governed by VIT, WIL)
Finance (Governed by INT) Roll this skill against an items "purchase difficulty". Upon success, you get it. Upon failure, you lose 2 Dice
Heavy Weapons (Governed by ALE)
Influence (Governed by WIL) Roll this in any social situation to see if your good name preceeds you. Upon success, you gain a favor from an NPC.
Knowledge (Governed by INT)
Melee Weapons (Governed by STR)
Medicine (Governed by INT) Roll this skill to restore 1 Dice to reduced Life Saves, whether yours or an allies. Also, roll this skill to concoct medicines and elixirs.
Network (Governed by WIL) Roll this to gain the help of an old NPC friend of your choosing,
Pilot (Governed by ALE)
Ranged Weapons (Governed by ALE)
Survival (Governed by VIT)
Unarmed Combat (Governed by STR)
Miscellaneous (Governed by GM fiat): Choose a skill that suits your character and his background. It should be something not already covered by annother skill

Bonus Points and Improvement: Bonus points are rewards. The GM will award them for good role play, cracking a good joke, thinking up a unique strategy, and other displays of good gaming. Lastly, you gain Bonus Points if an enemy runs out of initiative and retreats. So what do you do with them?

First off, you can use them to improve dice rolls. For every Bonus Point you spend, you gain a one-time bonus of 1 Dice to your roll. Secondly, sometimes a story might not be going well--perhaps an important NPC is dead, an action went badly, or you can't solve a riddle. In this case, you can offer the GM a pile of Bonus Points to get a re-roll, a chance to recant some poor choice of words. The GM is not required to accept the offer, so ask nicely.

Bonus Points can also be used to improve your character, although its a costly process. To improve a Skill, take the new, desire skill score. That number is how many Bonus Points it will cost to buy another dice. Improving an Attribute is done the same way, except that the cost is multiplied by four.

Selected Gear: In game, purchasing is done by using the Finance skill. However, at character creation the GM may give you a fixed budget to buy equipment with. In this case, you simply add and subtract the "Cost" value from your budgt, just as if it were money.

When you do use the Finance skill, you roll that skill and compare it against an item's cost value. If your roll beats the item's cost value, then you get the item, simple as that. If you fail, you permanently lose 2 Dice from you Finance skill.

Flack Jacket: Cost 13, +1 Dice Armor Bonus
Body Armor: Cost 16, +3 Dice Armor Bonus
Tactical Suit: Cost 25, +5 Dice Armor Bonus
Energy Shield: Cost 13, +3 Dice Armor Bonus

Blaster: Cost 7, +1 Dice Weapon Bonus
Linear Blaster: Cost 10, +2 Dice Weapon Bonus
Shot Blaster: Cost 13, +4 Dice Weapon Bonus Special: Range is less than three squares
Mass Accelerator Weapon (MAW): Cost 20, +10 Dice Weapon Bonus

Scotch: Cost 13, +2 Dice Influence Bonus
Scope: Cost 9, +1 Dice Appraisal Bonus
Toolset: Cost 11, +2 Dice Craft Bonus

The GM is free to invent more gear as he sees fit.

AC Creation

In this game, the only stats you need for your AC are Attributes and the four Derived Attributes and stats. You determine these attributes by buying and combining parts.

Armored Cores are modular battle vehicles, meant to be built and customized for a specific mission's needs. There are seven main, essential parts that an AC must have to function. Beyond that, there are eight different types of accessories and equipment you can add to help complete your mission.

Below is a list of parts available for purchase. Each part has a cost, a weight, and the Attributes they provide to your AC's characteristics. Because ACs are so expensive, the GM will usually give you an AC creation budget out side your own Finance skills.

These parts are as follows:

Essential Parts:

Cores: A technological marvel, a core is titanically strong structure laced with thousands of delicate systems. It houses a reactor, the pilot, nearly all the control systems, and the heaviest armor.

Budget Featherweight Core: Cost 10, Weight 2, Hangar Space
Speed Featherweight Core: Cost 20, Weight 1, Overboost

Balanced Lightweight Core: Cost 30, Weight 3, +1 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality
Budget Lightweight Core: Cost 20, Weight 4, +1 Dice Vitality + Hangar Space
Speed Lightweight Core: Cost 40, Weight 2, +1 Dice Will + Overboost

Budget Medium Core: Cost 30, Weight 6, +1 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality + Hangar Space
Speed Medium Core: Cost 60, Weight 3, +1 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality + Overboost
Defense Medium Core: Cost 30, Weight 7, +1 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Attack Medium Core: Cost 60, Weight 4, +1 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality + Exceed Orbit

Balanced Middleweight Core: Cost 60, Weight 6, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality
Budget Middleweight Core: Cost 40, Weight 8, +1 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + Hangar Space
Speed Middleweight Core: Cost 80, Weight 4, +2 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality + Overboost
Defense Middleweight Core: Cost 40, Weight 9, +1 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Attack Middleweight Core: Cost 80, Weight 5, +2 Dice Will +1 Dice Vitality + Exceed Orbit

Budget Heavyweight Core: Cost 50, Weight 10, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + Hangar Space
Speed Heavyweight Core: Cost 100, Weight 5, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + Overboost
Defense Heavyweight Core: Cost 50, Weight 11, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Attack Heavyweight Core: Cost 100, Weight 6, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + Exceed Orbit

Balanced Assault Core: Cost 90, Weight 9, +3 Dice Will +3 Dice Vitality
Budget Assault Core: Cost 60, Weight 12 +2 Dice Will +3 Dice Vitality + Hangar Space
Speed Assault Core: Cost 120, Weight 6, +3 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + Overboost
Defense Assault Core: Cost 50, Weight 11, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Attack Assault Core: Cost 100, Weight 6, +2 Dice Will +2 Dice Vitality + 1 Dice Armor Bonus + Exceed Orbit

Heads: While the Core houses the AC's mechanical controls, the head is the seat of the machine's avionics, sensors, communications, fire control, and other mission electronics. It is the pilot's main link to the outside world.

Budget Featherweight Head: Cost 10, Weight 2 +1 Dice Will
Speed Featherweight Head: Cost 20, Weight 1 +1 Dice Alertness
Smart Featherweight Head: Cost 10, Weight 2 +Sensor

Balanced Lightweight Head: Cost 30, Weight 3, +1 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will
Budget Lightweight Head: Cost 20, Weight 4, +1 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will
Speed Lightweight Head: Cost 40, Weight 2, +2 Dice Alertness

Budget Medium Head: Cost 30, Weight 6, +1 Dice Alertness +2 Dice Will
Speed Medium Head: Cost 60, Weight 3, +2 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will
Defense Medium Head: Cost 30, Weight 7, +1 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Smart Medium Head: Cost 60, Weight 4, +1 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will + Sensor

Balanced Heavy Head: Cost 60, Weight 6, +2 Dice Alertness +2 Dice Will
Budget Heavy Head: Cost 40, Weight 8, +2 Dice Alertness +2 Dice Will
Smart Heavy Head: Cost 80, Weight 5, +2 Dice Alertness +1 Dice Will + Sensor

Arms: One of the trademark features of an AC. Arms allow the machine to carry and aim any weapon system required by the mission without special modifications, making AC's the most versatile combat vehicle in existence.

Budget Featherweight Arms: Cost 10, Weight 2 +1 Dice Vitality
Speed Featherweight Arms : Cost 20, Weight 1 +1 Dice Agility
Balanced Lightweight Arms: Cost 30, Weight 3, +1 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality
Budget Lightweight Arms: Cost 20, Weight 4, +1 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality
Speed Lightweight Arms: Cost 40, Weight 2, +2 Dice Agility

Budget Medium Arms: Cost 30, Weight 6, +1 Dice Agility +2 Dice Vitality
Speed Medium Arms: Cost 60, Weight 3, +2 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality
Defense Medium Arms: Cost 30, Weight 7, +1 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Weapon Medium Arms: Cost 60, Weight 4, +1 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality + Weapon

Balanced Heavy Arms: Cost 60, Weight 6, +2 Dice Agility +2 Dice Vitality
Budget Heavy Arms: Cost 40, Weight 8, +2 Dice Agility +2 Dice Vitality
Speed Heavy Arms: Cost 80, Weight 4, +2 Dice Agility +2 Dice Vitality
Defense Heavy Arms: Cost 40, Weight 9, +1 Dice Agility +2 Dice Vitality +2 Dice Armor Bonus
Attack Heavy Arms: Cost 80, Weight 5, +2 Dice Agility +1 Dice Vitality + Weapon

Legs: By far the most impressive part of any AC, legs must withstand incredible stresses, respond quickly to shifts in balance, and be reliable despite the hundreds of moving parts. As a result, legs are quite heavy yet sturdy.

Special Note: Overloading an AC's legs will damage them. The total weight of your other AC parts cannot exceed your legs' maximum Strength roll.

Payload Lightweight Legs: Cost 30, Weight 6, +4 Dice Strength
Speed Lightweight Legs: Cost 60, Weight 3, +3 Dice Strength
Defense Lightweight Legs: Cost 30, Weight 7, +2 Dice Strength +2 Dice Armor Bonus

Balanced Medium Legs: Cost 60, Weight 6, +4 Dice Strength
Payload Medium Legs: Cost 40, Weight 8, +5 Dice Strength
Speed Medium Legs: Cost 80, Weight 4, +4 Dice Strength
Defense Medium Legs: Cost 40, Weight 9, +3 Dice Strength +2 Dice Armor Bonus

Payload Heavyweight Legs: Cost 50, Weight 10, +6 Dice Strength
Speed Heavyweight Legs: Cost 100, Weight 5, +5 Dice Strength
Defense Heavyweight Legs: Cost 50, Weight 11, +4 Dice Strength +2 Dice Armor Bonus

Balanced Assault Legs: Cost 90, Weight 9, +6 Dice Strength
Payload Assault Legs: Cost 60, Weight 12 +7 Dice Strength
Speed Assault Legs: Cost 120, Weight 6, +6 Dice Strength
Defense Assault Legs: Cost 50, Weight 11, +5 Dice Strength +2 Dice Armor Bonus

Generator: The powerplant at the heart of any AC is a technical achievement in its own right. These machines provide enough energy to sustain an entire community for months, yet are small enough be feasible for vehicle use. A generator's power output is one of the key determinants of an AC's effectiveness.

Budget Lightweight Generator: Cost 10, Weight 2, +1 Dice Initiative Bonus
Speed Lightweight Generator: Cost 20, Weight 1, +1 Dice Initiative Bonus
Performance Lightweight Generator: Cost 20, Weight 2, +2 Dice Initiative Bonus

Balanced Medium Generator: Cost 30, Weight 3, +2 Dice Initiative Bonus
Budget Medium Generator: Cost 20, Weight 4, +2 Dice Initiative Bonus
Speed Medium Generator: Cost 40, Weight 2, +2 Dice Initiative Bonus
Performance Medium Generator: Cost 40, Weight 4, +3 Dice Initiative Bonus

Budget Middleweight Generator: Cost 30, Weight 6, +3 Dice Initiative Bonus
Speed Middleweight Generator: Cost 60, Weight 3, +3 Dice Initiative Bonus
Performance Middleweight Generator: Cost 60, Weight 6, +4 Dice Initiative Bonus

Balanced Heavyweight Generator: Cost 60, Weight 6, +4 Dice Initiative Bonus
Budget Heavyweight Generator: Cost 40, Weight 8, +4 Dice Initiative Bonus
Speed Heavyweight Generator: Cost 80, Weight 4, +4 Dice Initiative Bonus
Performance Heavyweight Generator: Cost 80, Weight 8, +5 Dice Initiative Bonus

Booster: Because ACs are extremely heavy, it requires special equipment to transport them anywhere that walking would be impractical whether due to distance or obstruction. Booster give AC's a good deal of flight capability, allowing them to bypass obstacles and bad terrain, as well as greatly expanding their mission portfolio.

Special Note: An AC's speed (squares) while boosting is the Booster's Thrust divided by the machine's total weight.

Budget Lightweight Booster: Cost 10, Weight 2, +1 Dice Strength, 40 Thrust
Speed Lightweight Booster: Cost 20, Weight 1, +1 Dice Agility, 80 Thrust
Performance Lightweight Booster: Cost 20, Weight 2, + 1 Dice Agility, 100 Thrust

Balanced Midrange Booster: Cost 30, Weight 3, +1 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 120 Thrust
Budget Midrange Booster: Cost 20, Weight 4, +1 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 80 Thrust
Speed Midrange Booster: Cost 40, Weight 2, +2 Dice Agility, 160 Thrust
Performance Midrange Booster: Cost 40, Weight 4, +1 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 200 Thrust

Budget Super Booster: Cost 30, Weight 6, +1 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 120 Thrust
Speed Super Booster: Cost 60, Weight 3, +2 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 240 Thrust
Performance Super Booster: Cost 60, Weight 6, +1 Dice Agility, +1 Dice Strength, 280 Thrust

Fire Control System: A portable supercomputer that employs advanced radar holography to discriminate targets from the background, calculates a ballistic firing solution, and then moves the arms accordingly while accounting for wind shear, the AC's momentum, and the target's momentum. Even though the computer core itself is small, it requires a substantial refrigeration unit and power distributor to support it.

Special Note: Although AC's are not "intelligent" as such, there is an advantage to having dice in your AC's Intellect. For every dice of Intellect score it has, your AC can provide you with an equal bonus to one type of skill roll.

Budget Lightweight FCS: Cost 10, Weight 2, +1 Dice Alertness
Speed Lightweight FCS: Cost 20, Weight 1, +1 Dice Intellect
Performance Lightweight FCS: Cost 20, Weight 2, + 1 Dice Intellect,
Balanced Midrange FCS: Cost 30, Weight 3, +1 Dice Intellect, +1 Dice Alertness
Budget Midrange FCS: Cost 20, Weight 4, +1 Dice Intellect, +1 Dice Alertness
Speed Midrange FCS: Cost 40, Weight 2, +2 Dice Intellect
Performance Midrange FCS: Cost 40, Weight 4, +1 Dice Intellect, +1 Dice Alertness

Weapons: Many AC weapons are upscaled version of handheld, personnel weapons. The AC simply grabs the weapon with a hand and then the Fire Control System forms a wireless interface with the trigger system. This is done because in the past, the number one cause of AC downtime was weapon malfunction due to hurried installation.

Weapons are divided into Ranged Weapons, Heavy Weapons, and Melee Weapons. All three weapons are used differently in combat, so your choice will impact your fighting style quite a bit. Ranged Weapons are generally rifles and shotguns, Heavy Weapons are cannons and missiles, and Melee Weapons are shields and blades.

Weapons can get their destructive power from either solid ammunition or energy. Both kinds of weapons are fired the same way per their category (Ranged, Heavy, etc), but energy weapons differ by consuming Initiative in an attack. This stat is called "Usage Drain."

Arm Weapons: The first and most striking thing about an AC may be the weapons it brandishes into the field. As massive and destructive as they are (any of these can easily destroy a main battle tank), handheld weapons are the conservative, practical arms.

Special Note: Any weapon described as "Small" can be stashed in a Core with the Hangar ability, giving you a back up weapon if needed.

Small Budget Ranged (Rifle): Cost 10, Weight 2, Ammo 10, +1 Dice Attack Bonus
Small Lightweight Ranged (Rifle): Cost 20, Weight 1, Ammo 10, +1 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Capacity Ranged (Rifle): Cost 20, Weight 2, Ammo 20, +1 Dice Attack Bonus

Large Balanced Ranged (Rifle): Cost 30, Weight 3, Ammo 10, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Budget Ranged (Rifle): Cost 20, Weight 4, Ammo 10, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Lightweight Ranged (Rifle): Cost 40, Weight 2, Ammo 10, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Capacity Ranged (Rifle): Cost 40, Weight 4, Ammo 20, +2 Dice Attack Bonus

Large Lightweight Ranged (Laser): Cost 40, Weight 2, Usage Drain 5, +1 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Efficiency Ranged (Laser): Cost 40, Weight 4, Usage Drain 2, +1 Dice Attack Bonus

Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 5, +4 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Capacity Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 10, +4 Dice Attack Bonus
Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Missile): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 5, +3 Dice Attack Bonus
Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Laser Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Usage Drain 10, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Small Budget Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 10, Weight 2, Usage Drain 5, +1 Dice Attack Bonus
Small Lightweight Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 20, Weight 1, Usage Drain 5, +1 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Efficiency Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 20, Weight 2, Usage Drain 2, +1 Dice Attack Bonus

Large Balanced Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 30, Weight 3, Usage Drain 5, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Budget Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 20, Weight 4, Usage Drain 5, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Lightweight Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 40, Weight 2, Usage Drain 5, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Efficiency Melee Weapon (Laser blade): Cost 40, Weight 4, Usage Drain 2, +2 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Budget Melee Weapon (Energy Shield): Cost 20, Weight 4, Usage Drain 5, +1 Dice Attack Bonus, +1 Armor bonus
Large Lightweight Melee Weapon (Energy Shield): Cost 40, Weight 2, Usage Drain 5, +1 Dice Attack Bonus, +1 Armor Bonus

Back Mounted Weapons: Some of the largest weapons seen on the battlefield, back mounted weapons are designed for killing other ACs or hardened targets. ACs are not well designed to absorb the firing stresses these weapons dish out, and mercifully, they take longer to fire

Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 5, +4 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Capacity Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 10, +4 Dice Attack Bonus

Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Missile): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 5, +3 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Capacity Heavy Weapon (Missile): Cost 30, Weight 6, Ammo 10, +3 Dice Attack Bonus

Small Budget Heavy Weapon (Laser Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Usage Drain 10, +3 Dice Attack Bonus
Small High-Efficiency Heavy Weapon (Laser Cannon): Cost 30, Weight 6, Usage Drain 5, +3 Dice Attack Bonus
Large Budget Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 50, Weight 10, Ammo 5, +6 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Capacity Heavy Weapon (Cannon): Cost 100, Weight 10, Ammo 10, +6 Dice Attack Bonus

Large Budget Heavy Weapon (Missile): Cost 50, Weight 10, Ammo 5, +5 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Capacity Heavy Weapon (Missile): Cost 100, Weight 10, Ammo 10, +5 Dice Attack Bonus

Large Budget Heavy Weapon (Laser Cannon): Cost 50, Weight 10, Usage Drain 10, +4 Dice Attack Bonus
Large High-Efficiency Heavy Weapon (Laser Cannon): Cost 100, Weight 10, Usage Drain 5, +4 Dice Attack Bonus
Sensor: +10 squares vision

Exceed Orbit Pod (Machine Gun) Cost and Weight included in Core, Ammo 10, Total Attack Roll 3 Dice
Exceed Orbit Pod (Laser Cannon) Cost and Weight included in Core, Usage drain 5, Total Attack Roll 2 Dice

Creating Your AC: To summarize, you create an AC by purchasing your parts with either a given budget, or with your character's own Finance skill. Each part will contribute something to your AC's attributes--you add up how many dice of each Stat you have collected due your choice in parts, and that is your AC's total Attributes, ready for use alongside your character's Skills. Miscellaneous rules are as follows:

1. Overloading an AC's legs will damage them. The total weight of your other AC parts cannot exceed your legs' maximum Strength roll.

2. An AC's speed (squares) while boosting is the Booster's Thrust divided by the machine's total weight. An AC's running speed is calculated the same as a human character's.

3. For every dice of Intellect score it has, your AC can provide you with an equal bonus to one type of skill roll.

4. Any handheld weapon described as "Small" can be stashed in a Core with the Hangar ability, giving you a back up weapon if needed.

5. Exceed Orbit pods shown in the "Back weapons" come free with (and only with) Exceed Orbit equipped Cores.

6. Sensors shown in the "Back weapons" can be bought separately, but come free with Sensor equipped Heads.

Dynamic Initiative and Battle Rules

Note: This system turned out to be massively broken--it only takes a small discrepancy in initiative to keep some players waiting for 20 minutes before they can even make their first move, and if one player is really optimized, he can win the whole encounter by himself.

The current system is turn-based and follows Serenity RPG/Cortex by allowing up to 3 actions per turn, with a penalty for multiple actions of (n-1). So far, it has been much, much easier.

The Dynamic initiative has been scrapped, but the rolls for offense and defense are the same. Just ignore anything referring to initiative cost.

In this game, battles follow a simple process:

Step 1: Determine who has the highest initiative.
Step 2. Let that person spend initiative to Attack or Move.
Step 3: Let his target either spend initiative on Defending or simply absorb the blow with a Life Save.
Step 4: Go back to Step 1.

There are three kinds of actions in these battles: Attacks, Defense, and Movement.

Attacks: Attacks involve any effort to destroy the enemy, whether that be firing a weapon, feinting at them, or even ramming them off a cliff. All attack rolls takes the same form and cost 2 Initiative per attack. If you're using an energy weapon, don't forget to add the Usage Drain to that cost.

Attribute + Attacking Skill (Ranged, Heavy, etc) + Weapon Bonus + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Once you have finished creating you character and AC, you will always know what your attack roll is. However, that's not the entire story. Different weapons are used differently, each giving rise to a unique fighting style and its own merits. The weapon types are as follows.

Ranged Weapons: Because these are handheld weapons, they can be easily pointed around and fired. The wielder can fire a Ranged weapon any direction within a 180 degree arc of the direction they're facing. Also, Ranged Weapons will threaten multiple enemies, if they happen to be lined up.

Heavy Weapons: Heavy Weapons are powerful. Upon a successful hit, solid round cannons do their damage to the target and also require enemies within 2 squares to make a Life Save or take a hit as well. Missiles will follow their target for the next 2 actions. However, Heavy weapons require two actions to fire: First, you spend 2 Initiative to aim, and then you attack as normally. You must remain pointed at your enemy between the time you take aim and the time you fire. If your enemy moves too far off to the side before you can fire, your shot is thwarted and you have to aim again.

Melee Weapons: You can move and attack with one combined action. You select one move action (including a dodge!) and one melee attack, and do both in one action. The move must take you through the enemy's space, and you must be facing the enemy to attack them. You spend the highest initiative cost of the two actions.

Defense: Defense involves any effort to avoid damage. Because this game is very unforgiving when it comes to damage, there are lots of ways to defend yourself. You can dodge, parry with a melee weapon, block with another weapon, shoot an incoming projectile down, or trust in your armor and absorb the blow with a Life Save. Remember that you always get a Life Save before taking damage, even if you just failed another defensive action--the advantage of forgoing other defenses is that the Life Save is the only one that has no initiative cost.

Dodging: This involves trying to vacate the line of fire before the enemy attacks. You can dodge in place for a cost of 2 Initiative, or you can throw in one move action in any direction for a cost of 3 Initiative. Either way, the roll goes like this:

Attribute + Dodge Skill + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Melee Defense: This involves intercepting the incoming attack with a melee weapon or shield. It costs 2 Initiative plus the Usage Drain, if the Melee Weapon is an energy weapon. Note that an AC could potentially pick up a steel girder and use it as an improvised melee weapon for these purposes.

Attribute + Melee Weapon Skill + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Notice that the weapon attack bonus does not apply here.

Other Weapon Defense: A poor solution, this involves using any non-melee weapon as a shield. Upon failure, you destroy the weapon! On the upside, it only costs 1 Initiative.

Attribute + Weapon Skill + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Notice that the weapon attack bonus does not apply here.

Life Save: The last line of defense, this represents your character's armor, luck, or quickness. It costs no initiative, but upon failure, you lose 2 Dice from future rolls until repaired.

Vitality + Willpower + Armor Bonus + Bonus Dice (if applicable)

Movement: This is any effort to traverse the map. Movement is the least expensive kind of action to take, and because of how dependent weapons are on your position, being mobile will greatly improve your fortunes in battle. Movements are as follows:

Running: Cost 1 Init, move at 1/10 Max Strength in squares.
Sprinting: Cost 2 Init, move at 1/10 Max Strength + Athletics in squares.
Boost: Cost 1 Init, move at Thrust / Weight in squares
Overboost: Costs 1 init as well to move at double Boost speed in straight line. However, you must travel maximum distance before stopping, and you must make a pilot check to dodge any obstacles. Failure means that you crash and must make a Life Save or else suffer damage as though attacked..
Turn: Cost 1 Init, change your facing.
Retreat: Costs 0 Init, must leave map.

Retreating is done when you are hopelessly low on initiative, too low to make any meaningful offensive. You flee the map and return when the GM allows. You are granted a brand new Initiative roll and a fresh supply of resources to fight. This is not the same as withdrawing out of the enemies sight but staying in the battle. This represents your party's running and hiding for a good 20 minutes, waiting for the enemy to look away so that you can jump him again.

The punishment for such contemptible cowardice (:p) is this: Whatever unused initiative you had to throw away when you retreated, the enemy gains an equal number of bonus points. Furthermore, your retreat counts as a victory for him, and all the dents in your reputation that it implies.

Reputation: Whenever you flee from a battle or lose, you give up 25% of your reputation, and these points are divided up evenly among the enemy. If you are prone to retreating and regrouping often, you can quickly destroy your reputation and become known as a coward.

Now, I've been playtesting this game at great length with my friend, and we've come up with a whole slough of possible house rules to correct some of the systems weaknesses. Use them as you see fit:

House Rules and Errata

1. You cannot have any skill score higher than its governing attribute. For example, if you have 4d6 Agility, your highest Dodge score will be 4d6. If you want a better dodge score, you must first improve your Agility.

2. Special Attacks: For the cost of 1 Bonus Point, you can do one of the following special manuevers. When you pull off these stunts, you gain 1 Reputation point.

Called Shot: The called shot will work like this: It is an attack against any unhardened components on the AC, usually its accesssories. You spend 1 BP and make your attack roll just as usual to try and shoot off one of the following:

Weapon or Sensor
Overboost, EO, hangar

Your attack roll must beat the targets dodge by 20. If it does, the target receives NO Life Save, but simply loses the targeted outfit and all associated stats. If it does not, the attack misses entirely.

I like this idea because its flashy and effective in its own right: imagine being able to snip the boosters off an AC and force it to run, or blowing off the cannon that's dominating your team so badly.

I also like that it specifically does not have any killing power, so it does nothing to preclude the normal Ranged Attack. A character is not "forced" to use Called Shots to be as good as the other pilot. Also, since heavy targets are nearly defenseless against this technique, I think its important that this move just weakens, rather than kills.

As one last point, I think weapon arms need pick-me-up, so they'll be immune to called shots. The thinking here is that they are integrated into the arm's armor structure and thus hardened like the rest of the AC.

Overboost, revisited: You may overboost in whatever direction you want, but still must use all of the move. Overboosting in anything but a straight line? 12 difficulty. +3 difficulty for every obstacle the flight path goes over.

Knowledge is Power: Scan Enemy. Your pilot makes a knowledge check and, depending on the score, the character could get some info on the enemy. A really poor score would give the most basic data you could tell at a glance, “It’s an AC. It’s got some kind of rifle in hand and a heavy weapon poking up over its shoulder.” A better score might reveal specifics about the weapons, tell the character init or live save, etc. Anything like that. I think this should be governed by the Core’s intellect and the character’s knowledge skill.

Again, set difficulties. 12, competent, seems to be a good performance benchmark. One needs to score higher than that to really take advantage of a skill. But scan would still be a little useful, the character has eyes after all and should be able to tell the type of weapons an opponent has if nothing else. Knowledge really is power, especially in a game like this where weapon choice has such drastic consequences.

"Shhh. We're in stealth mode." When enemies are about to be engaged a character can do a Covert roll and (if the roll beats whatever difficulty we work out for it) that character goes into “Stealth”. In stealth mode enemies do not see the character but he/she also does not get init and therefore cannot attack either. The player then has one action as a chance to jump back out of sensor range and continue on his/her way. If new enemies are engaged the roll must be made again.

So here are the rules for it:

- You can only drop into Stealth if you haven’t rolled for initiative yet.

- If an enemy can reach you with one normal move action then you cannot go into stealth.

- If you fail the stealth roll an enemy gets one free shot at you, even if you roll for more init than them (not sure if that’s possible but I thought it cool).

- If you stay within sensor range of an enemy for more than one action you must roll again (or it can be that you drop out of stealth no matter what) failure at the next roll carries the same penalty as the first.

- You may willingly drop out of stealth to engage the enemy, in which case doing so gets you the first shot regardless of init rolled (also not sure if that’s feasible but it seems cool)

Ramming Speed! Meant specifically for heavies ala, Ram is a shoulder charge against an enemy. A successful hit knocks an enemy back 2 squares (or more as you see fit) without damaging the foe’s life save*, though it staggers them and wounds their init score.

Accompanying rules:

- Like any unarmed attack a successful hit means gets pitted against the user’s life save.

- *If there is a building or other solid mass behind the target they do take damage if they smash into it.

- If the attack misses on dodge the character must finish his/her move action in a straight line. If a building or solid mass is hit then the attack stacks against the user’s life save as though an enemy was hit.

Unarmed Attacks: Your AC can, in fact, punch enemies in the face, as demonstrated in a cutscene in the original playstation title. Unarmed attacks are handled just like melee attacks as far as function and such, but with one twist: While unarmed attacks aren't burdened with the usage drain of laser blades, they do carry the risk of damaging your own AC. When you make an unarmed attack, YOU must roll a life save versus your own attack roll. If you fail, you have damaged your own AC as though hit.

3. The Standard sensor costs 10 and weighs 2.

4. Weapon arms: If you buy an Attack or Weapon model of AC arms, this is how you add a weapon. Choose any arm carried weapon from the "Arm Weapons" list. Add the weapon's weight to that of the Arm model you have chosen, but do not add the cost.

5. Exceed Orbit pods fire autonomously from the time you activate them until they run out of ammo or are recalled. They do not consume initiative except for the usage drain of the energy version. Their entire attack rolls are listed in the description.

6. Ammunition and Repair Costs:

It wouldn't be AC if you weren't getting nickled and dimed to death, so far be it for me to depart from that.

Rifle Ammo costs 1 per shot.
Cannon shells and missiles cost 5 per shot.

To repair 1d6 of damage to your Life Save after a mission, it costs 10. You may use appraisal, influence, or whatever other skill you see fit to try and change the price in your favor.

7. Weapons, revisited:

Heavy weapons (Missiles): Missiles now behave like little autonomous escorts, rather than just a different flavor of heavy weapon. A character may fire a missile at nothing and send it across the battlefield, searching out enemies. Alternatively, the missile can circle over head and then swoop down on anything that comes too close.

When its time to fire, the player take whatever portion of his initative he thinks appropriate. He gives this initiative to the missile to use just like a second, very temporary character. The missile spends this initative on movement however the player likes, but must have at least 2 remaining to attack the enemy. The attack roll is the ALE + Heavy weapons skill you all know and love.

Heavy weapons, (Cannons): Because of their massive size and intertia, a cannon simply cannot be used against a moving target. Players can now target a patch of ground, rather than a specific enemy. The player then rolls his ALE + Heavy Weapons skill. Any enemy with in 2 squares of the blast point must make a Big Dodge or a Life Save, or else suffer a hit.

Melee Weapons or Unarmed: A player can chain a melee attack to the movement incidental to a Big Dodge, allowing them to swiftly turn the tables.

Oh sweet holy mother of mechanical mayhem, damn it, why does it have to be so awesome? Why damn you?:smallbiggrin:

Inoright? :smalltongue:

Personally, I credit the players; They could have just been sort of, ho-hum and reactive about everything but as is, they've been running circles around me.

One thing I've been doing between sessions is offering what amounts to XP for any short stories or lore they might share. I think that's really helped them bond with their characters, and I'm definitely sold on the idea. I'll post some of those stories tonight.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-15, 10:31 PM
As promised, here's some of the short stories the players have written about their characters. I'll start with Jim, pilot of AC Snow Bunny.

“I should build a castle on the bones of my enemies. Crafted from the bones of more powerful enemies?”

A Day in the Life of Jim part 1: "Before Breakfast"

[This is a series of short stories the player has been writing to pass the time between sessions. He is very excited about this game. ~Spy]

A digital alarm clock bleated insistently from its perch on Jim’s bedside table. 5:00AM. The table was crowded with a week’s worth of change and crumpled receipts, the last stop for the contents of Jim’s pockets every night. Dragon, a green dragon hand puppet, leaned against the alarm apparently gnawing on the side despite the device’s cries. The pile of blankets on the bed rustled and an annoyed groan escaped from beneath. A hand snaked out and slapped the table top hard, missing the alarm and scattering coins with a clatter.

“Ow...” the hand tapped the table and hunted blindly. Jim brushed the snooze button and blessed silence settled over his room. His hand fell limp as he dozed off. The scene remained frozen for all of five minutes. Then the cyber demon trapped within the clock awakened once more.

“Damnit... Fine.” Jim threw off his covers and, bare to the waist, hauled himself out of bed. Little dragons ran the length of his black pajama pants. He slipped on Dragon and mock-mauled the alarm to death, “Om-nom-nom-nom.” The clock went quiet for real this time. Whether because he hit the right button or because of sheer embarrassment was hard to say. With a yawn he set Dragon back down to chew endlessly on the device.

After using the facilities he set about brushing his teeth. It felt like an awkward affair. His electric toothbrush made an awful buzz whenever he turned it on. It sounded like he was trying to eat a wasp.

“You want a piece a this?” he asked his reflection around a frothy mouthful of toothpaste. A white rabbit’s foot dangled from the gold necklace he wore. It swayed with the force of his brushing. Rinse. Spit. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “Didn’t think so.” he smiled. Stumbled over his hamper on the way out.

A few minutes later and his feet were making a rhythmic thud against his treadmill. He checked his email while he ran. Subject: Poker Tonight? Sender: Martin.

“Guy, how early do you wake up?” The inbox was otherwise deserted. No new jobs. He wasn’t really in a rush after the first one... Jim shook his head roughly.

“Not my fault.” he frowned. Mind going back to a small nuclear blast going off in a high population area, “It wasn’t...” he said less confidently. He opened up Martin’s email and sent a Yes. He needed to get out.

Jim hopped off the treadmill with a bottle of water and headed passed the tactical armor that just came in the mail. It still rested on the display mannequin it came with. Full suit of armor with pearl white hard-points and a black mesh at the joints. The face was smooth as an eggshell and almost featureless save for the thin double visor cutting across it like an equal sign. His raven insignia was emblazoned on the right shoulder-pad. Jim special ordered it from a Line Ark catalogue. A nice chunk of his pay went into the thing and the linear blaster he was still waiting on. It stared back at him blankly like a humanoid attack droid.

Jim glanced around the empty apartment, “Mind the store buddy.” He headed off for a shower.

A Day in the Life of Jim, part 2: "The Compound"

A certain aura is expected of you as a Raven. Wherever you go you represent the brotherhood. Jim took that to heart and dressed appropriately. Business casual. Charcoal from shoes to pressed button-up collar. His radiation counter was the final touch, fastened to his left shoulder before he made for the door. It beeped on and flashed a reassuringly green screen.

He passed a framed award on his way out. Certificate of Exemplary Performance, awarded to Randal Thompson for S - rate completion of speed training course. On the table beneath the award was a picture of Jim posing at the foot of monstrously large MT. There were some words scribbled in flowing script in the corner, “Nice moves Jim.” It was signed simply Godzilla.

Jim stepped out into the cool, shaded morning. A tone deaf chorus of horns, chatter, and the whir of machinery greeted him from far off. The same as every morning. His street was relatively quiet though. The odd electric car hummed by every so oftern. He had a low level apartment in an upscale tower reserved for Raven. The living area had the feel of a college dorm.There were several such towers concentrated in a section of the city separated by a wall. The barrier was a towering ring of steel and concrete that hid all but the highest buildings. Sunlight glittered across the metal and glass of a dense urban forest beyond the wall where most of the noise originated. It would be a few hours yet before the sun rose high enough to hurtle the wall.

The “Compound”, as it was officially known, was a city within a city. Only authorized people could enter through the secured checkpoints along the wall. As a Raven you couldn’t leave without a small security force unless you were on mission. Raven’s were investments, pieces of property, and had to be protected. It had been a while since Jim had actually been passed that damned wall.

A white taxi whispered to a stop in front of him. The window buzzed down and a gray haired man peeked out, “Ey Jim, off to the garage?”

“You know it Tommy.” he tapped the roof as he opened the back door and slipped in the back. The cab pulled off as soon as Jim buckled in.

A news broadcast droned on the radio, the correspondent suffering from a severe lack of enthusiasm. But then there was rarely anything good to be said on the news these days, “Sorry I have this depressing s### on.” Tommy apologized, “I’ll switch it over, what ya in the mood for?”

“Don’t worry about it Tom, let it play.”

Tommy shrugged and let the newswoman keep talking, “... increased food shortages causing civil unrest across North America and the Asian continent. Meanwhile the price of grain surged again for the third time this week reaching record highs. Stockholders are watching negotiations between the Mirage Corporation and the Venus colony very closely as analysts predict any agreements will have far reaching economic consequences...”

“You know, they found another water reservoir the other day.” Tommy noted sagely.

“Oh yea? I didn’t hear.”

“You had that race thing I think.” the driver explained, “It was in the news. Atlas was doing some strip mining, cracked an underground cave like a big damn egg. And what do you know? Big frakking pool down there. Only 40% toxic.”

“No kidding?” Jim replied, impressed, “You barely have to filter that.” Water used for showering and household chores is safe (enough) on the skin, but you’re strongly advised not to drink it. Natural water of the purity Tom was talking about has a higher value than gold.

Tom nodded, “I hear Atlas could be sending you boys some work when it comes time to move it all.” they pulled up to the Garage. A massive obsidian fortress at the heart of the Compound. An MT on patrol plodded towards them down the wide street.

“Thanks for the heads up Tommy.” Jim swiped his ID and the fare (plus the usual tip) was deducted from his account automatically. Soon as the door closed Tom gave him a wave and whisked off, giving the MT a wide breadth.

“Is that Keith?” Jim wondered aloud about the MT’s pilot as he headed towards the main entrance, “Hey Keith!” he waved.

The MT paused briefly and greeted him with a half nod, “You in for poker tonight?” he yelled again. Another nod, “Awesome man, have a good one.” Jim let Keith get back to work and headed inside to meet the first in a long succession of security personnel in the Garage.

A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 3: "The Gang"

Security consists of stone faced bruisers that went about their work with cold efficiency. Gruff men that glared at everyone with the same blunt suspicion. The first check point, just beyond the garage’s entrance, was a white walled room dominated by an x-ray scanner. The machine was basically a metal corridor that produced an image of your skeleton and any item hidden on your person. Three guards waited there, one to man the scanner, and one at either end of the machine to look tough. All were armored.

“Name and business.” the first guard growled his customary greeting as Jim stepped into the room.

“Randal Thompson, I’m a Raven.” Jim replied, producing his ID.

The guard accepted the badge, examined it closely as though it might be some cheap knock off, and then scanned it into the system for good measure, “You check out.” the larger man admitted grudgingly, “Walk through the scanner.”

“Yea... about that.” Jim began, explaining his medical need not to be bombarded by radiation. He pointed to his rad counter for effect. The guard gave him a hard stare to which Jim could only return an apologetic shrug. It took about five minutes for the guard to confirm Jim’s story. And, after an aggravated sigh, another minute or two to pat him down the old fashion way and send him to the next area.

Jim simply accepted and moved on without making small talk. Even attempting to speak to one of the guards outside of an official capacity earned an earful of snarled curses and maybe a drawn weapon. Both of which he’d learned the hard way on his first day. These were the men that defended a Raven’s Core when he wasn’t there to do so himself. The security staff was rotated out at regular intervals so Jim rarely ever saw the same men more than a handful of times. It was comforting in its way, knowing played favorites with no one and treated everyone that entered the building like a hardened criminal. It was also very time consuming.

Eventually he made it to the waiting area just before the garage proper. The muted roar of machinery and the tremors of ACs on the move dominated the place, which looked very much like a doctor’s waiting room. Benches lined the walls with vending machines in one corner. Little end tables were piled high with out of date magazines. A young man with long hair and denim clothes that always seemed to be wrinkled leaned against a wall drinking a coffee.

“Gunna wanna take a seat Jim, might be a minute.” Martin

“Huh? Why?”

“Generator swap.”

“Damnit...” Jim shook his head and went over to one of the machines, “The coffee here is awful.” he muttered, “Wait, what are you doing here already?”

“Mission.” Martin explained, “Just got back.” he looked Jim up and down, “Always stylish. Hey lemme ask you, where can I get me one of those?” he tapped his shoulder.

Jim looked down at his radiation counter, “What, this?”

“Yea man.” he smiled, “That thing is...” he paused for effect, “Rad.”

“I think I might slap you.” Jim deadpanned, “Soon as I get some caffeine, it’s on.”

The door to the garage opened and a stocky young Raven walked in. He was barely so tall as Jim’s shoulder. As soon as he walked in he glared at their denim-clad friend, “Martin.”

“Andrew.” came the cold reply. The air between them practically crackled for a moment.

“Hey Drew.” Jim waved.

“What’s up Jim? You’re kinda early.” his expression turned pleasant as if the earlier encounter never happened. You couldn’t find closer friends than those three, though at any given moment they might appear bitter rivals. Martin took out a girl Andrew had his eye on and the two had been at war over it on and off for days. The fact that they were constantly paired up on group missions, as seemed to be the case this morning, probably didn’t help anything.

“Just wanted to run some diagnostics on Snow Bunny.”

“Well don’t let me keep you.”

“He can’t.” Martin cut in, “Generator swap.”

“Oh riiiiight.” Drew said, “Because of that place and the thing.”

“Right.” Jim answered, “Did you ever find out what happened to those guys for me? I kinda almost died saving them so I’m a little curious.”

“How would he know?” Martin asked.

“He’s got a cousin in corporate, right Drew?”

Martin barked a laugh, “Andrew has a cousin everywhere man. His aunt must really get around.”

“Hey, my aunt is a classy lady.” Drew replied in mock anger, “Remember when she baked those cookies for your birthday, sent em all the way here.”

“Ok ok.” Martin put up his hands, “Those were some nice cookies too.” the three murmured agreement.

“But no.” Drew spoke up again, “I couldn’t find anything for you. That whole incident is pretty hush-hush. I gotta tell you Jim, you really dodged a bullet there. If the PR guys didn’t spin the story like they did...”

Martin nodded agreement, “Renegade arms dealers kill thousands. One brave Raven loses his life trying to stop them while another heroic pilot goes so far as to save some enemy combatants from the blast.” he recalled the news broadcasts.

Cortex did their best to cover up the fiasco that was Jim’s first mission. Painting him and Chase both as heroes, even though it was Chase’s self-destruct that killed all those people. His thoughts must have shown on his face, Andrew came over and patted him on the shoulder.

“This where you tell me not to feel bad, it wasn’t my fault?” Jim asked.

“Hell no.” Drew replied, “This is where I tell you to man the ###### up next time and kill your target before he decides it’s better to go out in a blaze of glory.”

“Thanks man, you’re a pal.”

Drew shrugged, “I do my part. Listen,” he poked Jim in the chest with a figure, “If I ever turn crazy rogue and demand a fight to the death you do the right thing and fight me to the death damnit. None of your hands-across-the-world-give-peace-a-chance-bull****.”

“Yea, smart ass?” Jim asked, “You wanna have a go right now?”

“Eh, maybe later. I’m due for a nap.” Drew laughed, “They should be done with that swap by now too.”

“That they should.” Jim agreed. He saw off his friends and headed to the door with his coffee.

A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 4: "Wheeling and Dealing"

Wheeling and Dealing

High noon at the compound was as bright as it was likely to ever be. Tall buildings offered little cover against the angry sky laser. The cool that clung to the little city shrank away under its fiery glare. It was hard to look right at any reflective surface, even with shades on.

Jim’s rad counter turned a sickly, almost yellow shade of green. The fishnet ozone layer made it nervous. Waves of heat rippled off the street and buildings like they burned from the inside. This was what it was like to be shoved in a microwave, he was sure. His t-shirt clung damply. He would’ve splashed water over his face but he paid too much for the damn bottle. He took a measured sip. Nothing ever tasted so good.

White awnings stretched out above the sidewalk protectively. It was noticeably cooler beneath them and Jim only ventured out to cross the street. An errant breeze from a struggling air conditioner would roll by whenever Jim passed an open door or cracked window. Tiny blessings.

There were few people outside who didn’t need to be there. Jim found Fernando reclining against a doorway with his arms folded. One ice pack on his neck and one sitting slantwise on his head. It balanced precariously over his eyes. He could’ve been sleeping.

“You ready?” Jim asked.

With exaggerated care Fernando pushed up on the ice pack with a lone finger to reveal one eye, “Took your time showing up.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Jim held up his hands, “Alarm was broken.” he left out the part where he broke it and its innards were spilled across his nightstand mingling with a pool of discarded change.

His partner grinned, “Don’t worry about it. I think the others are already there though.” Fernando stretched gingerly. Careful not to move his neck much. The escape pod did a number on him like he’d been in a car crash. Could’ve been worse though. Could have not deployed at all.

“Hope they weren’t waiting too long.”


There were a number of parts dealers calling the compound home. Each representing a handful of manufacturers who aimed their wares at newly minted Ravens. The places always had the air of used car dealerships to Jim. It was said that as a Raven jumped up the ranks he or she would be invited to other, more exclusive stores. As a new guy Jim had never received such an invitation.

The showroom floor was a cavernous warehouse. Displayed parts towered high like great stalagmites. Legs and arms as big as over sized train cars. Cores the size of houses. Massive air conditioners latched to the ceiling like steel bats. They growled deep and churned out streams of cold air. Equipment was organized in sections and the odd Raven could be seen strolling down the wide aisles. Often as not they were shepherded by a salesman who slipped into the role of enthusiastic tour guide. And on our right? Laser blades!.

It took a minute to spot Andrew and Lee. They stood at the entrance to ammunition, wrapping things up with an associate who looked a bit worse for wear. He was wringing his hands and shaking his head as he argued his case with Andrew.”

“... sir, be reasonable.”

“I know what all this is worth.” Drew eyed the man with a steely indifference reflected in his tone, “And that’s what we’re paying.”

“I, but...” the salesman sputtered, “Alright.” he sighed, tapping a few keys on his pda. He turned from them and brushed passed Jim and Fernando without so much as a “How do you do?”

“I can’t believe you pulled that off.” Lee said.

“Eh, just got a lot of practice.”

“Didn’t go so well?” Jim asked.

“Not for him.” Drew replied.

“Almost not for us.” Lee cut in, “No offense, you were great Drew, but there’s no way we’re getting by like this.”

Jim looked between them both, “Care to explain?”

Lee scanned for eavesdroppers, “We made 9k on the last mission.” she said flatly, “Nine thousand. My ammo costs 8 a shell. Drew haggled it down to 4 but still. How are we going to cover repairs and ammo like this?”

“Skills.” Jim grinned.

“Not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.” Drew added.

“Hey Jim.” Fernando cleared his throat, searching for the words, “I know I already said this but, uh, thanks for helping me here. I’ll pay you back, I swear.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Jim waved him off with a smile.

“No.” Fernando said, a little too sternly, as if offended by the very suggestion. He ran a hand through his dark hair, “I mean, I appreciate that. But I always pay my debts.”

Jim nodded, “I get it. But you don’t owe me anything just yet. I don’t even know if I can help you.” he looked around, “Where’s Martin?”


“There he is...” Jim shook his head.

In the next aisle over another associate was frantically trying to appease Martin and keep from making a scene. The Raven stared contemptibly down his nose at the poor man, adopting an air that spoke of standing Jim knew he didn’t have, though the poor salesman did not.

“Can I help you sir?” an associate with a bright smile and a powerful chin stepped up to the plate and offered Jim a firm handshake.

“As a matter of fact...” Jim reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wrinkled strip of paper which read, Wishlist. A hastily scrawled roster of high end parts tumbled down the small page.

The salesman’s grin went ear to ear as he looked it over, “Follow me sir.”

Fernando, having caught a glimpse of the page, turned to the others, “I think he walked in with like, 20k? Does he really expect to get any of that?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Andrew reassured him, “ Sometimes I think he picked the wrong line of work. Jim’s a god-damned wizard when it comes to money.”


The whole group was gathered by the time Jim returned. He has trailed by a haggard shell of the salesman he left with. Defeat hung over the man like a sad little rain cloud, “Thank you for your business.” the man said, the words “Please don’t come back.” seemed implied by his tone.

Jim was all smiles as he draped an arm over Fernando’s shoulder, “Okay buddy. What do you want?”

“Well, uh, I think I’ve got enough for a decent head. With some help.” Fernando shrugged, “It’ll probably be a while before I can do a mission with you guys again.”

“Nu-nu-nu-nuuu.” Jim wagged a finger at him, “We’re getting you up and running. Today.”

A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 5: "Mr. Popular"

Mr. Popular

It was early afternoon as the sunlight finally ambled into Jim's studio apartment. It crowded his living room and made itself at home with Martin and Fernando, who squinted and shied away from its over-familiar touch. The pair returned from their mission not an hour before. They savaged their sandwiches like starving wolves.

“Remember to breath guys.” Jim huffed as he jogged along on his treadmill. Its rails were covered with clipboards of charts and graphs that he studied intently. Every few moments he would tap away at his PDA and frown, “How was Antarctica?”

“Cold.” Fernando said around a mouthful of turkey hero.

“White.” Martin added between chomps.

“Mission go well?” Jim asked absently, lifting a chart and peering at a Core design like it was hiding some cosmic truth.

“Well enough.” Fernando gave a shrug and started chugging some orange juice.

“Well enough?” Martin scoffed, “Everything went off without a hitch. We busted down the door," he gestured theatrically with the sandwich, "wasted a few MTs, and then Andrew demanded the rest of the enemies’ surrender.”

“And they all just threw their guns down?” Jim questioned.

“Ok.” Martin slipped back into character. Every story he told was a one man show, “Maybe I forgot the part where 9001 ripped the ringleader’s cockpit out of an MT and Drew threatened to crush it in his fist if the other guy’s didn’t stand down.”

“Hey.” Fernando put in, “ain’t you also forgetting the part just before that where they were already gunna surrender and you shot that chopper.” Martin gave him a hard look, “What?”

“Chulupa, don’t help me.” he deadpanned.

Fernando chuckled and turned to Jim, “You got the 25 I wired you right?”

“Huh?” Jim replied distractedly, “Right, yea I got it. Thanks for that.” he powered down the treadmill and hopped off. Grabbed his PDA and another chart on his way to the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” Fernando asked as Jim walked away.

“Lee told us already.” Martin said.

“Yea well I just hopped off the plane and I was starving, so maybe I didn’t give her my all on the way here.”

“Right.” Martin grinned, “Well she hooked up our boy here with a D rank parts distributor.”

“No kidding?”

“And now he’s obsessing over every tiny detail about Snow Bunny.”

“I don’t know about this guys.” Jim walked back in with his PDA and a bottle of water. The chart nowhere to be seen, “I don’t think I can make any of this stuff work. It’s like they tore out a page from their catalogue at random and handed it to me.”

“That bad huh?” Fernando said.

“No it’s not.” Martin said with a smirk, “He’s just being melodramatic. Looking a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t pay him any mind, it’s part of his process.”

“I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Jim insisted, “And how does that saying even make sense? Is looking a horse in the mouth rude to horses? Don’t punch a gift horse in the mouth. That’s a saying I can get behind.” his eyes widened a hair as he saw something on the datapad, “Huh...” he trailed off and walked away again.

“Part of his process?” Fernando asked, confused.

Martin locked his fingers behind his head and reclined against the couch, “Jim’s gunna stress over every new part he’s got access to and every one he already has. Run a bunch of simulations. Shake his fist at the sky. And at the end of the day he’ll turn out something better than what he had.”

“You’ve got some faith in his skills there.”

Martin laughed, “Who do you think put 9001 together, Drew?” Jim came wandering back into the room, “Ah, the man of the hour. I can guess why you’re so set on this. Lee told me you had a close call last mission.”

“We all did.” Jim said seriously, tossing his PDA onto an empty seat in disgust, “And I’m not gunna fix it like that.”

“So the problem’s not the AC. It’s the pilot.” Martin remarked idly.

“You got something to say to me?”

“Lee said you tried to be Saint Jim again on that last mission.”

“I’m not a sociopath.” Jim said angrily, “I don’t like killing people I don’t have to, why are we even talking about this?”

“Because they’re all out for blood Randal.” Martin said seriously, “We didn’t sign up to fight girl scouts. You’re a mercenary, you get paid to kill people. Thankfully nine in ten of the people you get paid to kill weren’t nice people to begin with.”

“What do you want from me Martin? That’s not the guy I am.”

“Oh yea? Then what are you doing here?” he looked over to Fernando, “The Randal Thompson I met would beat the hell out of a guy just because he could. This was a guy you didn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Or in a bright alley. Or in an aisle at the supermarket. He was a bad man. But he was lying to himself then. Just like he’s lying to himself now.”

“How would you know?” Jim asked testily.

“Cause you can’t con a con man. You’re not a sadist and you’re not a saint. You’re something in between, just like us. And you gotta be that guy. Or you’re gunna get yourself killed.”

“You sayin I’m too soft?”

“Yes.” he replied flatly.

“I shouldn’t be so nice on my missions?”

“Wouldn’t hurt.”

“I should build a castle on the bones of my enemies. Crafted from the bones of more powerful enemies?” Jim half-smirked, voice dripping sarcasm like venom.

Martin ignored the tone, “That sounds pretty cool actually. But you haven’t killed enough guys for a castle, persay. Maybe a quaint bone cottage.”

Jim shook his head and stalked off, scooping up his PDA as he went, “You guys can show yourselves out.”

Martin grabbed the other half of his sandwich, “Honey glazed. I don’t even know what glazed means but it’s delicious.” he noticed Fernando’s odd look as Jim slammed the door, “What, was it something I said?”


When not on missions for their clandestine group the ACs were returned to their secluded Garage in orange sector. Getting there was a trip. A ride to the dilapidated fringe of the Compound and a long walk in the outer wall’s ominous shadow. Pot holes marred the streets. Most buildings were caked in chipped paint and sliding into disrepair. One in four still saw any use at all, if that. Orange spent most of its day buried under an ocean of darkness, like some sunken city. Street lights needed to power on until a few hours in the later afternoon when the sun finally deigned to frown upon the sector. The upshot was that the oppressive heat never really settled into that part of town.

The garage itself was impressive. Maybe more so than the massive one at the heart of the Compound. Utility vehicles and heavy machinery sang their offbeat chorus. Only six ACs stood to listen in the cavernous chamber. Harlequin, 9001, and Waverider needed no greater repair than a good detailing. Any damage suffered on their mission was for the enemy. Their weapons were being loaded on flatbed trucks and hauled away to be reloaded and inspected.

Renaissance, Francine, and Snow Bunny though... Each bore ugly scars from a battle barely escaped. Jim’s heart sank from the wounds in Snow Bunny’s chest. The blows were a slap to his pride and dishonored the memory of whom he built it for.

“That’s a nice necklace you got there.” Edwin, head of the crew that usually worked on Snow Bunny, said as he walked over. A middle aged man in glasses and gray overalls that may have once been blue. Years of oil stains that never quite washed out.

“What?” Jim realized he’d been holding his rabbit’s foot, “This, right. Thanks.” he smiled and tucked it back into his shirt.

“You alright son?”

“Just had a close call is all.”

Tony nodded sagely, “Looks like you had it rough last time out, but you all came back. That’s what counts. So you decide what you want us to do?”

“Actually...” Jim pulled out his PDA and beckoned the engineer closer, “After you’ve got the parts all repaired I’ve got some new stuff coming that I want you to swap in.”

Edwin accepted the PDA and adjusted his glasses, “Huh...” he mumbled, “Oh I see what you’re going for. This is nice. Very nice.” he handed it back, “We can do that. You want to settle up the repair bill with us now?”

“Absolutely. I can’t bear to look at her like that. How much do I owe you?”

“For you Jim? 21.”

“You’re the best Ed.” Jim grinned.

“I know.” he replied confidently.

“You know what’s going on with Francine?”

The technician looked back at Beard’s mech and let out a long whistle, “Whelp.” he started off, “The damage ain’t too bad. But the ammo?” he shook his head, “We’re talkin 100 just to rearm.”

“Damn. We don’t get paid like that.”

“Yea.” Edwin said, “He’s gunna be in a bad spot the next time you head out.”

“Listen Ed, can I ask you for a favor?”

“What’s up?”

“Can you give Beard the same treatment you’re giving me? That would really help him out.”

“True.” Edwin said slowly, “But I still don’t think he’d have enough.”

“Tell you what.” Jim tapped away a few times at his PDA, “I still got 21 here. Why don’t you charge me that extra and put it on his tab?”

“You sure about that?”

“I brought him onto the team. Promised him fun and profit. Can’t have him fall into the red on his first mission out can I?”

Edwin clasped him on the shoulder, “You’re a stand-up guy Jim.”

“So they keep telling me.” he laughed.


Protocol dictates that you can’t bring anyone within a mile of the garage. So says Flint. This left Jim with the enviable task of walking back through Orange with the sun angling into his face from where it crouched low above the distant western wall. Time did seem to fly when he talked shop. Edwin often let him watch and poke around during repairs. He seemed to approve of the Raven’s strong interest in Snow Bunny’s workings. They saved the generator for last and reaching it was Jim’s cue to leave.

The walk was lonesome and boring. He spent it staring into his PDA and second guessing every sale and purchase he’d made, “I should’ve sprang for the Ral-3.” he mourned his missed chance at a D-rank laser rifle.

His ringing phone brought him out of it, “Yellow?”

“You get over yourself yet?” Martin asked on the other line.

“One, screw you.” he growled, “Two,” he took a calming breath, “I don’t know. Maybe you have a point. I--”

“Mr. Thompson.” called an unfamiliar voice. A man in a gray suit and tie squared off with him at the corner of the street. He had an easy smile that didn’t match his eyes, “I’d like to have a few words with you.”

“Hold on.” Jim lowered the phone, “You might want to speak to my secretary about that. Little busy not talking to strangers right now.”

“But I insist.” the stranger pulled out a blaster, “Drop the phone please.”

Jim glanced around. There was no cover on the street. Certainly no one around. A car whispered around the corner and pulled up beside them, dashing any hopes Jim had of escaping. “Jim? What’s going on over there??”

“The phone.” the man insisted. Jim let it go and it clattered to the pavement, “Thank you.” he opened the car’s rear door, “Have a seat.” he gestured with the blaster.

Reluctantly, Jim ducked into the car beside another suited man. This one had an ugly scar across his cheek that tugged the corner of his lip up in a permanent sneer. Jim strapped himself in as if the ride was his idea and looked his new companion up and down, “I’m gunna call you Chuckles.”

The man replied with a “hmph” that was almost a snarl. And then Jim’s breath catches sharply and a hundred stars explode across his vision as he’s jabbed in the ribs with some kind of stun baton. After three heart beats of crippling pain he slumps over in his seat as he starts losing consciousness. The first stranger stomps his phone under a heavy boot and slams the door. Someone turns off the lights.


“... hey, nap time’s over.” someone taps Jim’s cheek a few times slowly opens his eyes, “There we go. We don’t really have all day for you to sleep on us.” The man with the cruel eyes and the fake smile stands up when he’s satisfied with Jim’s wakefulness.

The Raven finds himself strapped to a cold metal chair in an unremarkable room. Its only feature is a large window framing a sweeping view of the city below and the sun setting behind it. No wall. They were outside the Compound. Jim struggled feebly against the leather restraints around his wrists and ankles. He managed little besides displaying their superior quality.

There were two men in the room aside from him and the stranger. A younger guy with a pony tail and reddish hair knelt beside the chair. Glass bottles clinked softly as he rummaged through a small briefcase.

“The hell’s taking so long Jack?” Demanded the last man. The bruiser with the scar and charming bedside manner.

“Chuckles?” Jim asked groggily.

Chuckles glared at him at reached for the rod at his hip, “Settle down Damien.” the first man commanded.

“But Murphy he--” Chuckles protested.

“Are you a child?” Murphy admonished, “It’s not that serious. We have a job to do. Calm yourself.”

The fact that they were all throwing names around said nothing good about Jim after they had what they were after. His brief military training didn’t cover what to do in an interrogation. Antagonizing your captors was probably high on the list of don’ts. Jim was a little proud of himself. Not many situations call for words like drat. Here was one.

A sharp prick went through Jim’s arm as Jack injected him with a syringe full of clear fluid, “Okay, he’ll be all set in a minute or two.” he started feeling light headed and strange. Life his skull were stuffed with cotton.

“Excellent.” Murphy smiled, “How about a test? What is your name?”

“Ra...” His full name sprang up for memory and he almost blurted it just as quickly. But they already knew his name... why would they ask? Jim was getting confused, the drugs clouding his reason. He tried to shake off the strange feeling. Gained a clear lucid moment, “Bamf... Killington.”

Chuckles moved to crack him one, “No.” Murphy scolded, “No.” he amended,”There’s no need for that. Just keep talking to him. You’ll know when the serum kicks in.”

The steady thrum of an approaching chopper creeped through the window. Chuckles peered out there, "What if he's not ready by the time our ride gets here?"

"I guess we'll take him along." Murphy replied.

"And if he talks before then?"

The business man looked down on Jim with cold eyes and that empty smile, "Then he doesn't get to come." he drew his blaster and passed it to Chuckles, "Let's hope you need this before I get back."

"... a situation down here. Please respond!" a radio in Murphy's pocket crackled and the room shook with a pair of explosions from a floor below.

"The hell?" Murphy asked. He snatched at the com, "What's happening?"

"I thought no one knew about this op." Jack's hands shook as he hurriedly repacked his supplies.

"No one should." Chuckles affirmed.

"Stay here and keep him talking." Murphy ordered and stormed out.

"We can't stay here." Jack jumped from the muffled sound of gunfire.

"Who are you working with Randal?" Chuckles demanded, "Ravens don't get a rep like yours this fast without notice, and we know you had help. Give me the names!"

Jim wanted to stay tight lipped. He struggled to. But the answers simply bubbled to the surface and it was so hard to keep them inside, "Martin..." he choked out, breaking into a cold sweat from trying to grab self control. Not talking hurt his head, like his brain meant to drill out of his skull.

"Martin who dammit?"

"Martin--" the rest was lost to shattering glass as the window exploded inward. A panther rolled across the floor and came up shooting. A blaster bolt took Chuckles in the throat before he got his weapon up. Jack crumpled like a discarded toy from a shot to the chest.

Decked out in body armor and combat gear Billy scanned the room with his gun. He brandished his beard like a deadly face mounted weapon. Behind him a rappel rope dangled freely, framed in the broken window.

"You good there buddy?"

"No." Jim replied groggily, "restraints chafe... think there's glass in my hair."

"But otherwise okay." Billy whipped out a knife and started cutting Jim free.

Jim was having a hard time focusing. It was tough to say whether his rescue was real or a drug induced hallucination, "How'd you... find me?"

The battle In the hall reached a fever pitch with shots going off like a fireworks show. Billy watched the door warily as he cut Jim loose.

"Those are nice watches you guys have. Gps and everything." Beard remarked, "Took me a few minutes to jury-rig something to track yours after Martin said you got abducted."

A dozen blue slashes ripped through the door and it collapsed into a pile of misshapen kindling. Billy's weapon shot up. Martin stood on the other side like a Caucasian zorro. He smiled broadly when he saw Jim unharmed.

"What did I tell you about strangers with candy?"

Andrew stomped onto the scene, weighed down by a full plated suit of olive drab heavy armor, "Hate to break up the reunion but we need to get moving, Fernando can't hold the route forever." he hefted a shot blaster and gave wary looks down the hall.

"Lee?" Jim asked.

"Adjacent building, sniping." Billy explained.

"Would've looked hot in armor too. " Jim said slowly. Caught himself. That was supposed to be his inside voice. He tried to stand up but shaky legs dropped him right back in his seat.

"What's wrong with him?" Andrew looked Jim over, "We can't stumble out with him like that."

"Truth serum." Billy deduced, "Seen it used before. Don't worry, I know how to handle it. Hey Jim." he held a finger up for the drugged Raven, "Can you focus on this for a second?" Jim nodded, "Great" Billy slapped Jim across the face with his free hand hard enough to throw him from the chair.

"Yo!" Martin yelled.

"Pain." Beard said as if that were enough, "Pain triggers a bunch of chemicals in the brain that burn through the serum fast. It's why you don't inject someone and torture them at the same time."

Jim stood from the floor. The fog in his head was lifting quickly, "Thanks." he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, "Remind me to get you a card later."

Billy scooped Murphy's pistol off the floor and tossed it to Jim, "Don't mention it."

Martin hit a button on the side of his watch and adopted his best flight attendant voice, "Package secure. We're ready to extract boss."

Flint's reply was curt and none too happy. Jim half wondered if he were better off back in that chair.

Murphy's body was nowhere to be found in the hall, but for some reason Jim hadn't expected to find it anyway. Beyond the window that mysterious chopper chased the setting sun, leaving a hundred unanswered questions in it's wake.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-15, 10:45 PM
A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 6: "Session 0, In Character”

Jim’s mech dangled from a clamp of dubious quality. A three story white knight made of steel and badassery, Snow Bunny was his pride and joy. This was her maiden voyage. And a sharp turn would probably send him crashing to the murky street so very far below. Jim tugged on his harness to make sure he was firmly rooted to the chair.

He let out a long breath, “Calm down...” The steady drone of the transport’s helicopter blades filled his cabin. A rabbit’s foot on a golden chain hung above his control panel and swayed with the ship’s every move, “I’m doing it Sara.” he spoke to the charm, “Just you watch.” After Sara passed he’d lost interest in everything. But this... This was his chance to make a difference in the world. His chance to make her proud.

The Ravens were the most elite mercenary force known to man. Respected and feared the world over a Raven was savior or destroyer depending on what side you were on. Now Jim was one of them. He was drafted from a private security firm for outstanding performance, along with his best friend. The freshly minted license Global Cortex issued him was practically still warm in his pocket when he was shipped out.

Jim had heard all about Jericho. The last mega-city, with buildings so big other buildings were built on top of them. He had seen the old ruins of Manhattan, an island of broken pillars that clawed at the heavens. But this? He gaped down at the city through the eyes of his armored core. Once, a long time ago, it might have formed an organized grid you expected from a metropolis. But wars and constant power shifts had not been kind. Each new government seemed to build right on top of what had stood before with no regard for the city’s former design. Jericho was as ugly as it was breath taking. A sprawling mass that stretched further than he could see without rhyme or reason, like a metallic cancer spreading over the world. Smoke stacks grew out of the city in patches like little crop fields. They geysered black streams into a sky permanently stained gray.

Gargantuan skyscrapers crowded the sky. His transport ship weaved low through the forest of buildings. Mountian-like towers that stabbed up through dirty clouds. The tallest boasted sweeping mansions built atop them in the relatively clean air. They glittered in the morning light. Sky castles with their own spires and parapets that gave the buildings gaudy crowns. The palaces of corporate executives. They declared dominance over a planet they conquered. Their victory earned them a world dying a slow death. A place the less fortunate had to live. A dark layer of smog coated the city streets like bog-mist. Jim would never set foot down there without a gas mask and a hazard suit. He was thankful the armored core filtered his air.

A dossier flashed in the corner of his screen insistently. The files inside were zebra striped with black lines that blocked out most of the useful information. What little he could read he already memorized. A Raven by the name of Chase had abandoned the organization, taking his war machine with him and going into business for himself. The mission was clear cut, bring the renegade in. Dead or alive.

The pilot came through on the radio, “Valkyrie one to Raven. We are approaching the target area.”

Jim threw on his game face, hands sweating on the controls, “Thanks Valkyrie one. I’m ready to drop.” At least his voice didn’t crack from excitement.

One more hard turn and suddenly an enormous building planted itself in their path like a wall of metal and glass. The transport climbed sharply to avoid certain death against the colossus, throwing Jim back against his seat. Snow Bunny’s clamp groaning from the strain. It crested the structure and drifted to a waiting landing pad. The whole top of the building was covered by a small industrial neighborhood. Run down housing structures ringed a huddled group of manufacturing plants. There were even paved streets further in, though some of the housing buildings blocked Jim’s view.

“Releasing in 5... 4... 3... 2...” The clamp yawned open and Snow Bunny dropped into free fall. Her thrusters flared on her back and slowed the landing. A monstrous crash heralded her arrival anyway. Jim cringed. The roar seemed to echo like thunder across the rooftop. No alarms sounded. Always a good sign.

“Valkyrie one to Raven. We have a pair of missiles on board for emergency support but be advised, we are not a gunship.”

“I read you. Drop out of sensor range and avoid danger.”

“Copy that.” The transport’s shadow passed over Snow Bunny as it coasted back. It sank out of view beyond the edge of the building. A marksman rifle the size of a city bus was attached to the mech’s back. She drew it and scanned the area.

“Where’s the welcome party?” The neighborhood was oddly quiet. A white sensor antennae flipped up from behind Snow Bunny’s shoulder. A real-time map of the surrounding area flickered onto Jim’s screen. No hostiles detected.

An urgent transmission from head quarters came through on his secure channel, “Raven?” at the bottom left corner of his screen the face of a pretty brunette popped into view. She messed with her computer for a second before she realized she was coming through on video. Immediately she sat a bit straighter and cleared her throat, “Hi, I’m Cathrine, your Operator for this mission.”

“First day too?”

“Wuh? How did you... I’m not doing so hot here am I?”

“The picture of professionalism.” Jim replied with a grin, “Is what my report’s gunna say. So do you have anything for me or is this a courtesy call?”

Cathrine relaxed a bit and looked over her computer, “I’ve been authorized to give you classified information about your mission. Chase isn’t working alone. He’s involved in an arms deal that should be scheduled for...” her eyes went a little wider as she read, “Right now.”

“Wait, the veteran mercenary has friends?” Jim asked joylessly, “Who are they, what can I expect from the opposition?”

“I’m sorry.” Cathrine shook her head, “Everything else is classified. Need to know only.”

“And, as the guy hired to shoot these people, I don’t need to know?[/i]” the operator shrugged,”Awesome.” he said flatly.

“There’s a transport carrying black market weaponry.” Cathrine offered, “Destroying it is worth a hefty bonus.”

“At least there’s that. Thanks Operator.”

“No problem Raven, be careful.”

“Will do.” The channel went quiet and Jim signaled for radio silence. No sense in advertising his position. House sized death machines do pretty well that way on their own, “Maybe if I live through this she’ll remember my name.” he said wistfully.

A scan of the buildings ahead of him showed no one inside. The chipped paint, sun-baked metal, and vacant windows said there hadn’t been anyone in a long time, “At least he’s got the sense to use an abandoned neighborhood.” Jim mumbled.

A small blip on the radar caught Jim’s attention. Beyond the row of houses separating him from the street a tank was rolling down the road, “Patrols...” Snow Bunny stalked over to some of the taller buildings and out of sight from the street. Tons of steel moved surprisingly quietly if you didn’t use the thrusters.

The tank stopped at the intersection. It’s turret swiveled to and fro suspiciously. Jim tensed. There was a lot of ground to cover yet and an unknown number of hostiles, “There’s nothing strange here. You don’t see a giant robot.” he said softly. The tank’s engine growled and, satisfied, it turned down the road and continued its route.

Jim waited for the hostile to drop out of sensor range, “Looks like I gotta avoid the street.” There were parking lots behind the buildings, open spaces just wide enough for Snow Bunny to cross. Jim crept through them, darting across driveways to avoid seeing the street as much as possible. The only cars still there were run down an rusted. They looked like gas powered relics. Just how long had this place been abandoned?

Another tank moved along the edge of his sensor range. Jim froze until it passed like the first. If he judged the patrol time right, there would be one or two more tanks moving along the route. He wasn’t out of he woods yet. But he was out of rooftop, he realized. The end of the projects marked the far side of the roof. He had walked down one side of the square and not found his target. He cursed as he looked over the next side. The buildings were far shorter there than in the projects. The tallest would barely hit Snow Bunny’s waist.

“No other way.” he moved along. Without something in the way he had an impressive view of the street and the next patrol tank. He froze, crouched slightly. Snow Bunny failing at stealth would probably be the most suspicious thing those guys had ever seen. The tank rumbled along obliviously. Then came an ominous pop from inside the vehicle. It’s treads ground to a halt. Smoke started drifting out of the engine compartment.

“This isn’t ok...” Jim sighed. The tank team hopped out and started inspecting their machine. He expected someone to glance his way, to wave emphatically and radio in for the cavalry. But that didn’t happen. They were so engrossed in the task at hand. One of them seemed to know what he was doing. He studied the tank carefully, scratching his chin. Maybe he would get it up and rolling quickly. Jim invested his faith in the man. The would-be mechanic waved the others away. He stared at the engine intently. Kicked one of the treads. And shrugged. He was out of ideas.

“You disappoint me...” Jim deadpanned. The tank was apparently useless though so he continued on his path. It didn’t take him far. There was a massive U-shaped indent in that side of the building. A vast chasm separated Jim from from the other corner of the roof. He could walk around the divide, but he would have to go all the way to the street. Right along the edge of the disabled tank’s range.

There wasn’t really another option. [i]Snow Bunny[/b] paced the edge of the roof with her rifle at the ready. Jim kept a wary eye on the tank team who were taking an impromptu break for coffee and breakfast. They didn’t spot him. Though they did remind him that he hadn’t eaten all day. His stomach was grumbling by the time he hit the paved street. A huge landing area covered the corner of the rooftop he was trying to reach. He could only really make out one big structure on it. A humanoid figure. His sensors beeped to announce they detected an enemy armored core and that he in turn had spotted Jim.

Revolver was a steel gray monster. Draped in layer upon layer of armored plate he looked like a massive body builder compared to Snow Bunny’s sleek frame. He held a cannon in his rifle hand and a laser rifle in his left. Chase was a B ranked Raven known form dominating his enemies with overwhelming force. It would be best if things never escalated to combat. Revolver’s generator rumbled as the war machine powered up.

“You in there Chase?” Jim hailed Revlover.

A slurping sound, like someone finishing off a soda, came through on the other end, “The hell is everyone getting all this food?” Jim asked incredulously.

Chase burped loudly in reply, “Who are you?” he sounded bored.

“I came to bring you back.” Jim said bluntly, “One Raven to another. How about you show me where to get something to eat and we can swap stories on the way back to Cortex.”

“You must be a rookie.” Chase deduced, “Listen kid, just get outta here. You’re in over your head.”

“I can’t fail my first mission. Hey nobody needs to die today or anything, I’ll even tell them you cooperated. The way I see it surrender is the best option here.”

“You’re right.” the veteran replied, “Surrender.” Jim’s sensors blared warnings as two enemies closed in rapidly from behind. Snow Bunny whirled around and saw an attack chopper charging, its chainguns spinning up to fire. Jim’s rifle roared and a heavy round punched through the helicopter in a burst of fire a metal. The burning wreckage pinwheeled through the air and hit the street with a crash. Another tank veered around the debris to take a shot. Jim was faster on the draw. A second flash from his rifle and the tank smashed to pieces like it was crushed by a giant sledge hammer and a long gash was cut through the road.

Snow Bunny spun on her heel but Revolver was already moving, bringing up its cannon, “He was stalling for time!” Jim hauled on the controls and Snow Bunny’s boosters screamed. The cannon round ripped through where she’d just been. The explosion sent tremors through the street in the distance behind Jim as he slid to a halt.

Revolver looked down on him from the high ground, “You’re quick.”

A wicked looking blue armored core boosted onto the landing pad beside Chase. Jim’s sensors were late in catching his approach, “Who’s the new guy?” the stranger asked curiously.

“Nobody.” Chase replied coldly, “Get back to your assignment Blue, I don’t need any help.”

“Is that any way to talk to your friends?” Blue chided.

“You and me aren’t friends.” the veteran replied with a hint of disgust.

“Hmph.” Blue eased away on his thrusters, “Have it your way. Wrap it up quickly though, we’re almost done here.”

“Just have my money ready.” Blue spared Jim one more look and turned away. His overboost exploded to life and he sped off in a streak of blue towards an area beyond the air field.

Jim released that breath he was holding. Fighting two cores at once would have been... bad. Chase wasn’t giving him much time to relax though. A blue energy lance erupted from his laser rifle and almost clipped Snow Bunny’s shoulder as she ducked. Paint flaked away from the heat and Chase blasted that cannon again. Her boosters ignited and she sidestepped the shell, blazing passed Revolver faster than he could correct his aim.

“Stand still!” Chase growled.

“I’ll get right on that.” Jim muttered. With Revolver’s back exposed he zeroed in on its sensor. Snow Bunny fired. Chase reeled desperately away from the shot. The bullet sliced an ugly across Revolver’s face instead. The machine glared at Jim.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Jim said, “We could’ve been having lunch right now.”

Revolver whirled around angrily and shot another beam but Snow Bunny was just too fast. Her side thrusters pushed her out of the way and back into Chase’s blind spot. A bullet pierced Revolver’s side as Jim fired again.

“Damnit.” Chase abandoned the exchange and fled beyond Jim’s sensor range.

“There’s no running.” Jim gave chase to... Chase... He shook his head as he continued pursuit. Snow Bunny rounded a group of buildings at full speed and staggered to a halt when she entered a clear full of enemies. A half dozen MTs turned on the new comer with rifles and cannons. In the background, on a private landing pad, a loading crew was packing a transport ship with massive crates.

“Oh look, my bonus.” Jim’s target was standing in the middle of the field with Blue.

“Ah.” Blue said nastily, “So this is why you hurried over.”

“Let’s just finish this and be done with it.” Chase answered.

“Now you need my help?” Blue laughed, “Stand down men, we’re leaving.” The MTs who had Jim dead to rights began lowering their weapons and turning away.

“What the hell are you doing?” the veteran demanded.

“Well you said it yourself didn’t you?” Blue replied icily, “You and I aren’t friends. Best of luck to you.” Blue turned his back on him and walked away to direct the withdrawal of his forces.

“That’s pretty cold there.” Jim told Chase.


“Because you had a lot of respect in Cortex I’ll give you one more chance. Surrender. Your allies abandoned you and you can’t beat me alone. Don’t make me kill you.”

Chase sighed, defeated, “Fine. It’s your win.” Revolver slumped as its normal operations powered down.

“Glad you saw reason, now about that food...” a warning started flashing on Jim’s screen. Radiation levels rising. He looked at Revolver in shock as the mech’s chest started to glow orange.

Blue took notice too, he quickly turned back to Chase, “You overloaded your generator?! You idiot, you don’t have the decency to die alone, you’ll kill us all!” A static pulse rushed out from Revolver and washed over the rooftop. Snow Bunny’s warning systems went ballistic. The MTs closest to Chase staggered and lost balance, crashing to the floor, or wandered aimless as their crews died of radiation poisoning.

Blue rushed for the transport, knocking over a slower MT on the way and dooming those men to a cruel death, “Lift off! Lift off right now damnit!” The pilot didn’t need to be told twice. The transport surged up so quickly Blue had to leap to catch the clamp. He dangled from the ship as it back away from the building and turned to make its escape.

“No.” Jim commanded as nausea settled in his stomach. The transport showed him its back. Loading hatch still closing from the hasty retreat. Snow Bunny fired a round through the opening. It pierced the transport, bursting out of where the cockpit used to be. It veered off course, dropping height and circling back towards the building. A storm of explosions raced through the cargo hold and Blue lost his grip on the clamp, falling well clear of the rooftop. The transport dropped out of sight and detonated against the side of the building seconds later.

“Raven, what’s going on over there?” Valkyrie one’s pilot demanded.

“Primary and secondary missions accomplished.” Jim answered, “Be ready to pick me up at the drop point.” He felt like he might throw up. Snow Bunny was shielded from radiation, but not like this. The screen threatened the rapid approach of a lethal dose.

“Roger that Raven. Hurry, local security forces are closing in.”

Revolver was glowing white hot now. Its chest beginning to melt and collapse on itself, “Why?” Jim asked the veteran. He turned away and ignited his thunderous overboost. The sudden acceleration threw him back against his seat and held him there. Snow Bunny raced across the rooftop, overboost flare trailing like a comet’s tail.

He spotted the disabled tank still in the street. Its crew puking and doubling over in pain. Jim slammed to a full stop in front of them and flicked on his speakers, “Get in the tank!” he commanded. The crew looked up in fear and confusion. There was no time for this. He pointed his rifle at them, “Now damnit!” The men scurried into the machine as fast as they could. The last one was barely through the hatch when Snow Bunny scooped up the vehicle and blasted off again.

Jim found the transport waiting for him at the edge of the roof. The EMTs on board gave him strange looks as he unloaded enemy combatants into their care but there was literally no time to argue. They lifted off and clamped Snow Bunny in record breaking time. He passed out listening to the distant sirens from emergency first responders.

A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 7: "Trial By Fire”

Despite the air conditioning it was hot.Jim’s chair felt like a thin sheen of leather stretched over wrought iron. Hot and uncomfortable he shifted his weight. He immediately regretted the move. The corporate office was a sweeping penthouse suite. Marble and glass. The name on the large desk was Thomas Hardiman etched in silver. Jim squinted under his sunglasses as the glare of the evening sun burned through the windows. The man he’d come to see was just a silhouette with the light hitting the high back of his chair.

The Cortex executive cracked a tiny smile behind his steepled fingers. He ran a hand over his silver hair and made a production of opening Jim’s file and moving around the documents inside. No effort was made to actually read them. It was all a show, like a kid pushing food around his plate to make it seem like he ate. He was dragging things out to watch Jim sweat,

“No sir.” Jim replied. He sat up a little straighter.

“Okay...” Thomas looks down at the file, “Randal. It says here you’re an E-ranker. What makes you think you’re qualified to challenge for D?” he poured a cup of ice water from a glass pitcher.

“B rank.” Jim corrected.

Thomas choked and sputtered in surprise, “What?” he croaked as he set the glass down. It did make Jim grin, seeing a crack in the man’s composure.

“I want to challenge for B rank.” Jim continued.

Mr. Hardiman rifled through the Raven’s file muttering to himself about upstarts, “... think he is? Skip two ranks. Of all the...” He paused on one page then slowly looked back up at Jim, “This Randal Ezekiel Thompson. This is you?” he slapped the page down on his desk in disgust. Jim caught a glimpse of it. His battle record to date.

“Yea...” he said slowly, “You’ve heard of me?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Thomas took a deep breath and reclined in his chair. He swivelled around to look out the window. You could see most of the Compound from his office, “Your name’s gotten around...” he said absently, “I was a Raven too, you know?”

“Oh?” Jim said, confused, “I wasn’t aware sir.”

“Had a lot of friends who would be B’s and A’s themselves now.” he continued, “Does the name Chase mean anything to you?”

“Oh...” Jim’s confidence took a severe hit. Despite desertion Chase was an extremely well liked Raven. Every so often his ghost would swagger over to kick Jim in the ass at the worst possible time. Hey Casper, been a while. Jim thought. Chase’s shade gave him a mock salute and disappeared.

“Oh.” Thomas mirrored as he turned back. He stared at Jim for a long time, “You meet all the requirements for the challenge... so I will allow it.”

Jim smiled, “Thank you sir you--”

Thomas cut him off with a raised hand, “I will allow it provided you first pass an additional test of my choosing.”

“Okay.” Jim agreed, “What’s the test?”

Thomas checked his watch, “Be at Arena battleground 4-A with your AC by this time tomorrow. If you can find another Raven to accompany you on short notice I’ll allow it. It’s something you’ll want to strongly consider. That’s all for now. I’ll see you then.”


“Thanks for coming.” Jim said on the radio. Snow Bunny drifted to a halt in the cavernous waiting area under the battleground.

“No problem.” Fernando replied, “So... uh... do you have any idea what this is about yet?” Sea green and bristling with weapons like some spiky ocean creature Waverider stomped in beside her.

“Not a clue.”

“That’s always good.” he said dryly.

The chamber was empty save for them. What little light there was streamed in from seams in the doors overhead. Waves of dust flowed through the slanted blades of sunlight. Jim checked the time. They were right on schedule. Five minutes ticked by with nothing.

“Did we get here early?” Fernando asked.




“...” he coughed, “We’re in the wrong arena aren’t we.”

“Listen you,” Jim started, “I--”

“Glad you followed my advice Randal.” Thomas’s voice came through on the coms, “Sorry to keep you both waiting.”


“Yea yea.” Fernando replied.

“Now.” The executive began dramatically, “I will explain the rules of this test. This will also be your last chance to withdraw your rank challenge. You and your partner will face a Trial by Combat against a higher ranked Raven. Normal Arena rules apply. You fight until one side is disabled or destroyed. If you win you will be allowed to continue the normal rank challenge procedures and all damages will be repaired at no cost to you. However” he paused for effect, “If you lose not only will your challenge be summarily denied but all fees associated with this test will be billed to you, Mr. Thompson. Or your next of kin. Do you agree to the terms?”

“You said ‘a’ higher ranked Raven. As in one?”

“Yes I did. Is there a problem?”

“There’s no problem.” Fernando replied, “Jim, why would there be a problem?”

“I don’t think it’s fair.”

“You’re right.” Thomas admitted, “It isn’t fair, but I did promise her this opportunity if it ever came up. Try not to think less of me when you lose.” he said smugly.

With a harsh tremor the platform the two ACs stood on began to rise and the door above yawned open, “She?” Jim asked.

“No one told you?” Thomas sounded genuinely surprised, “Chase had a little sister.”

Snow Bunny and Waverider emerged on the battlefield. A ruined cityscape with skeletal skyscapers and cracked streets. Burnt out cars dotted the decaying road. A morbid look at the Earth’s past and fast approaching future. Like the Compound a high wall encircled the area.

“I guess that’s her.” Waverider gestured down range. A night black AC stared at them across the distance. It carried no weapons. A scarlet pentagram gleamed on its head. The IFF identified it as AC Grimoire.

Chase’s little sister... Jim shook the thought from his head, “Let’s wrap this up.” Snow Bunny whipped up her rifle and the dark AC boosted out of sight down a side street, “She’s quick.” he warned, “The streets are tight, we can pincer her.”

“I got it.” Fernando replied, “I’ll go straight, you go in after her. Be careful man, something about this doesn’t feel right.”

“Don’t worry, we got this.” Jim said. He thumbed his necklace as Snow Bunny rushed down a side street. The buildings destroyed the usefulness of his sensor. He had only visuals to rely on as he boosted down the tight streets. The only sounds he heard came from his thrusters and the echoes Waverider’s plodding steps. It was like running into a bamboo forest.

A black shape darted by the edge of his vision. Snow Bunny’s rifle flashed and a deep gash ripped through the side of a building. A section of wall crumbled away and avalanched to the street. A cloud of dust and rock billowed up.

A crackling transmission came through, “They call me the Witch.” an unfamiliar woman’s voice asked. A small video window opened Jim’s HUD and she flashed onscreen. A beautiful face marked with faded scars and an eye-patch. Her other eye was hard, bright, and red like a ruby. She looked like she’d stared death in the face and yawned, “You’re... less than I expected.” She said finally.

“How did she crack into our channel?“ Fernando asked.

“I don’t know...” Jim replied, looking around, “You out for some kind of revenge?”

“You could say that.”

“I didn’t want your brother to die you know. I tried to save him.” Maybe I can make her understand... Jim thought, Maybe...

“I know what happened. You beat my brother and didn’t have the heart to finish him so he ended it himself over the shame.” she said icily.

“Wait, so if you knew then why--”

“That IS why.” she said angrily, “How could someone like you rob Chase of his honor? And you call yourself a Raven, what gives you the right, huh?”

“Want to say that to my face?” he said testily.

“Turn around.” her voice dripped with honey. Jim’s sensor beeped a warning a split second later. Snow Bunny whipped around there was Grimoire taking the corner at full gallop.

“Bad move.” Jim announced, opening fire. The high powered rounds pinged off Grimoire’s armor like light hail, “What the?!” Snow Bunny swayed back from Grimoire’s clawed slash. The black AC pressed the attack like a wild animal, unpredictable and ferocious. It was all Jim could do to dodge.

“Fernando?” Jim called worriedly, “I need a hand here.”

“It’s just you and me little rabbit.” Witch said nastily, “I’ve already blocked your coms.”

Snow Bunny ducked a spinning kick and countered with a trio of shots into Grimoire’s back. He might as well have just thought bad thoughts for all the damage it did to her, “The hell is that thing made of, Gundanium?” Snow Bunny leapt back from a hammer kick that caved in the street.

His white AC staggered back into a more open intersection, “Don’t come any closer.” he warned.

Grimore tore free of the pavement and stalked forward, “You think I’m afraid of you?” Witch asked.

“No. But you should be afraid of them.” A pair of missiles streaked down the street, a care package from dear Fernando. The rockets screamed for Grimoire’s blood. She didn’t try to dodge.

The solid ping of a back hand sounded like a funeral bell to Jim. Grimoire slapped the first missile into a nearby building with a titanic explosion. The second was caught out of the air, it struggled in her grip like a freshly caught fish.

“No ****ing way...” Jim deadpanned. Waverider seemed to slump in disbelief. Witch hurled the missile at Snow Bunny, “Crap!” he shot it out of the air. The blast wave shoved him back further. Grimoire burst out of the fire with flames clinging to her armor. She was wide open.

Snow Bunny rushed forward and slashed with an energy blade the had dropped foes ten times Grimoire’s size. She stopped it with an open palm, fist locking around Snow Bunny’s wrist, “My turn? Witch asked politely.

A deafening screech went through Jim’s cockpit as on of Grimoire’s claws punctured its side and exposed him to the open air. The black AC pierced Snow Bunny’s armor like it was made of tissue. Jim’s heart jumped into his throat. He overboosted back in desperation and the sudden burst ripped him from Grimoire’s death grip. Not three feet to his left a savage tear was his window to the massacred innards of his beloved machine. His overboost sputtered to uselessness and he ground to a halt just two blocks away. Fluids leaked and wires sparked and he had the feeling that if either of the two should meet there would be some catastrophic disaster.

The shadow of a skyscraper separated the black and white ACs. Grimoire shook excess metal from its hand, “That’s all you’ve got huh?” Witch asked quietly. She stepped into the shadow. The blood red symbol on her AC seemed to stand out even more. All Jim could hear were the pained groans of Snow Bunny’s machinery and his own pounding heart.

“Like hell it is.” Jim growled. He opened up with his rifle and put round after round into her. Each shot ricocheted harmlessly, tearing into the street or surrounding buildings. Snow Bunny primed her laser blade and stepped forward, or tried to. Her step stuttered and she almost lost balance. Jim struggled just to keep her upright.

“Don’t worry.” she told him, “I’ll be giving you the courtesy you denied my brother.”

“Not if I can help it!” Waverider looked down on them from atop a nearby building.

Grimoire glared at him, “You managed to get through my interference... It doesn’t matter. This is between me and him, who do you think you are to interrupt?”

Fernando laughed and angled his massive compliment of missiles towards her, “Bitch, I’m the cavalry.” Waverider disappeared in an eruption of smoke as better than a dozen missiles swarmed out and dove for the street. Grimoire braced itself for the impacts, but each missile arched around her and streaked passed. A chorus of explosions quaked the street as Fernando’s barrage chewed through the base of the skyscraper. It cracked and leaned, unable to support itself.

“Timber.” he said, leaping from his perch.

“Damn!” Grimoire was smack in the middle of the giant’s path. She turned to dodge. Jim watched it all in slow motion. He took aim as she readied to leap out of the way. He pulled the trigger and her knee burst in a shower of parts and armor. Grimoire faltered and looked back at him in surprise. A mountain of metal smashed down on her like the wrath of an angry god. The roar was terrifying, like a hundred car wrecks. An earth shaking boom. It crushed the building Fernando had stood on. The force wave was enough to set nearby buildings collapsing on their own. Jim’s cockpit filled with dust and pebbles that bounced off his controls and his tac armor.

Little bits of debris were still raining down, “So...” Fernando said, “This counts as a win, right?”

“I think it does.” Jim laughed, shaking a little from the adrenaline. “I--” a black fist burst up out of the rubble, “No...” Slowly, painfully, Grimoire ripped free of the wreckage like some terrible revenant.

“She’s like the damned terminator Jim.” Fernando said with a bit of nervous laughter, “I think... I think we’re gunna die.”

A support beam had punctured Grimoire’s shoulder. She looked down as if just noticing and pulled it out. It hit the street with a loud clank, “You.” Witch said. Her face appeared on screen again, new cut decorated her cheek, “Both of you.” she corrected, “We’re done, I’m leaving.”

Grimoire disengaged from combat. By arena rules that was a forfeit, “Just... Just like that?” Jim asked in confusion.

“I should stay and kill you?” she replied.

“No.” Fernando answered for him. Grimoire turned his way, “No... ma’am?”

“Why?” Jim demanded, a little angry, “Are you looking down on me or something? Are you...” Witch just stared at him over the view screen as realization dawned.

“Right then.” She said, turning away, “I have my revenge. I don’t need anything else from you.” she cut off communications and left.


A few days passed filled with interviews and tests. For the most part Jim just had to recount his mission history and what he’d achieved on the field. He was well liked among those who knew him and his civilian behavior matched up well with the Raven’s code of ethics and conduct. Back in Thomas’s office the executive stood with his back turned to Jim looking out on a night sky. He hadn’t said a word in the last few minutes. Everything Thomas did was on his own damn time and not a second sooner.

“Witch has a high opinion of you.” Was how he broke the silence.

“Excuse me?” Jim replied.

Thomas turned around, “You’re not going to be promoted.”

Jim balked, “What?! I--”

Thomas waved off his protests, “This wasn’t just up to me. And Chase wasn’t just my friend. He knew a lot of people. And none of them were happy about how he went down.” Hardiman paced around the table and stopped in front of him, “That’s what I would have said, if Witch hadn’t vouched for you.” he reached into his suit and pulled out a folded envelope that he threw into Jim’s lap, “There’s you new I.D. along with the paper work you’ll need to move to your new accommodations and the contact information for parts distributors that are more your calibre.”

“Sir?” Jim asked.

Thomas held out his hand, “Welcome to B Rank.”

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-15, 11:00 PM
A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 8: "The Warren"

The Warren

Arms folded and hat cocked to one side Billy stared through the large window separating him from the interrogation room, “This seems excessive.”

Flint stood with his hands clasped behind his back and his face a stone mask, “Does it.” He replied curtly.

Rhys leaned against the wall and didn’t look into the other room, “If you want my opinion--”

“I don’t.” Flint cut him off. Operator four, Olivia, entered the small room with a murmured apology. She shot Rhys a dirty look that he might have noticed if he wasn’t leering so intently.

Olivia whispered something in Flint’s ear and he gave a sharp nod. He marched out of the room with the operator close on his heels. Rhys watched them leave, “I don’t like this.” he said as the door whispered shut.

“Me either.” Billy agreed, still looking into the interrogation room, “He shouldn’t be in there.”

“What?” Rhys asked. He looked into the room as if only just noticing, “Oh right. Jim. I was upset that operator dragged Flint off to go **** and didn’t invite me. Like I don’t know how to party.” Billy gave him a curious look, “Hey, you got a better idea for what they’re doing?”


On the other side of the glass Jim sat at a black table in a white room. His hands were shackled and anchored to the tabletop. The window was a big mirror on his side. If reflected him and his latest questioner.

A blonde woman sat across from him. She hadn’t spoken since coming in. Just made notes in the paper pad she was holding. Her fine tipped pen made soft scritch sounds as she wrote... whatever it was she was jotting down.

“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked without looking up.

“I’ve already told you people everything.” Jim replied. A small camera perched in the corner of the ceiling, red light blinking. It stared at him indifferently. He was becoming very familiar with the nuances of the room. The stale chilled air. That one crack in the paint that looked like a wild bolt of lightning.

“But you haven’t told me.” she said matter-of-factly. She still refused him eye contact. So he let his eyes wander around the room. Stalling wasn’t going to do anything for him though.

Jim sighed, “Fine. Where should I begin?’

“The beginning would be nice.”


Two days before...

It wasn’t the bar’s busiest day. The odd Raven shared a drink at the counter and placed a wager on Arena matches. The games were broken up by breaking news reports about wide spread starvation and the total breakdown of relations with the Venusian government.

Fernando sighted his target down the length of his pool cue like a practiced marksman. He drew the stick back. Took a deep breath. Then stood up abruptly, “Come on man.” Jim laughed.
The other Raven made some soothing gestures, “You can’t rush art okay. Besides, you’ve got enough of my money already.” he paced the table and deliberated on his next shot, “How’s it feel to be a B Ranker?” he asked.

“Pretty damn good actually.” Jim replied with a grin, “When are you doing your challenge?” he hadn’t seen the others much in the last few days. With Flint loosening the reigns everyone found stumbled on pressing business. Not the least of which were their own promotions. He’d barely traded two words with Lee since she went off with the underwear model the other night. She might’ve been avoiding him.

“You can’t rush art.” Fernando repeated, hitting the cue ball with a crack as it pin-balled off the banks and two of its striped brothers. They zipped off arrow straight into their respective pockets. Chulupa celebrated with a fist pump, face scrunched in his weird grin-scowl of victory.

“Drinks on you tonight.” he crowed, “Corner pocket.” Moments later the eight ball fell in obediently.

Jim settled up with the bartender and they headed out, “So...”

“Alright already.” Fernando threw up his hands, “Tomorrow. I already have the meeting scheduled. You’re so damn nosey.” he laughed, “Huh?” He stopped Jim with an outstretched arm as he noticed a stranger waiting for them in the street, “Man you are the worst kind of popular.”

“Don’t remind me.” he groaned..

A large man in a business suit approached them, “You’re coming with me.” He reached into his vest. Fernando moved like a viper. The man had a split second to gasp as the Raven’s fist hammered into his stomach hard enough to lift him from the ground. Fernando’s smashed a merciless elbow into the back of the man’s neck that threw him to the concrete..

“We need to move Jim.” Fernando robbed the thug of the blaster he tried to draw. A car screeched around the corner, “Now” he insisted.
Jim didn’t need to be told twice. They sprinted off down the street. Even made it a few steps before a black jeep jumped the curb and cut them off, “****!” Fernando took aim with the blaster, “Use the watch JIm, get help I’ll buy some time.”

“That’s enough.” a familiar voice commanded angrily. Flint jumped out of the Jeep’s passenger side. He scowled down at Fernando, “Drop the gun.”

“What the HELL is going on?” Jim demanded.

“The gun.” Flint repeated. His men were getting out of the vehicles gun drawn.

“Oh, right.” Fernando lowered the weapon and set it down carefully, “My bad. Don’t shoot me.”

Their hard-eyed boss nodded, “Take him.” His security moved on a confused Fernando and cuffed him.

“Whoa whoa whoa.” he protested.

“You can drop the act.” Flint said coldly. He went nose to nose with the Raven, “I’m sending you right back to the hole you crawled out of. And you’re damn lucky I don’t do worse.”

“Can we time the **** out here?” Jim asked.

Flint turned on him, “You’re ‘friend’ here is the inside source. The one who sold you out to your kidnappers.”

“I highly doubt that.” Jim replied dryly.

“Doubt all you want.” Flint said, “We discovered correspondence between him and the man we believe to be Murphy. They have a meeting scheduled tomorrow that he was trying to cover with his challenge.”

Fernando looked as shocked as Jim felt, “I don’t know what he’s talking about Jim, I swear.”

“I know man.” Jim assured, “Don’t worry I’ll figure this out.” Fernando nodded but despite Jim’s claims he looked very worried as he was escorted into the Jeep by Flint’s men, “What now?” he asked his boss.”

“Now?” Flint asked, “Now I wring him for every bit of information he’s got. And you stay out of it.” he jabbed a hard finger into Jim’s chest, “You’re too close to this. Don’t worry, you messed up and trusted the wrong person. It happens in this line of work.”

“You’re wrong.” Jim told him, “Fernando isn’t that guy.” Flint shook his head slowly. There was a hint of sympathy in his eyes. But then he turned away.



Back in the interrogation room Jim tapped his finger on the table. The shackles clanked softly whenever he moved his hands at all. He reflected on the truth of Flint’s words. He didn’t want to believe though.

“That’s not all of it.” the woman insisted. Her pen flew across the pad. Scritch scritching. Like she was afraid to miss a detail even though the whole thing was being recorded. She looked up at him from behind her glasses, eyes a hazy mint-green, “Tell me the rest.”



Jim found Rhys in the cafeteria at Orange with a passing Operator fleeing his presence and blushing fiercely. It was hard to say whether got women through sheer luck and tenacity or if he’d perfected his own crude brand of seduction. Either way he seemed happy enough with his success ratio.

“Good to see you Thompson.” the resident gigolo/double-agent greeted. He gave Jim a measuring look, “I didn’t know she was your sister and I swear that isn’t mine.”


“I’m just running down a list of things I didn’t do that would give you that look.”

“Wait, so you don’t know about Fernando?”

“Ohhhh...” Rhys nodded sagely, “I heard about that. Total surprise.”

“Really?” Jim asked, “I figured you suspected him with all that attention you gave him.”

“Trust me.” the man smiled at the irony of the words, “My interest in little Fernando was strictly non-professional, if you know what I mean.”

Jim held up his hands to stave off further explanation, “I don’t want to know what you mean. I never want to know what you mean. Please stop asking.”

“Roger that Cap’n’Killjoy. Something else I can help you with?”

“Actually...” Jim took a seat and lowered his voice, “Information is sort of your thing, isn’t it? I want the details on that meeting Fernando was supposed to go to.”

“That’s... not gunna be easy.”

“You can’t do it?”

“Now I didn’t say that.” Rhys grinned, “But what am I getting in return?”

“Owed a favor.”


Between missions the garage was never empty. Technicians lovingly poured over the ACs in their care, making repairs and swapping out parts on the pilot’s dime and orders. Snow Bunny gleamed from a fresh coat of polish. She’d recovered well from the battle with Witch. Her latest addition was already installed, the titanic Mountain legs. An extra layer of armor reinforced them and made it like like Snow was wearing a pair of plate-mail greaves. I really need to thank Beard again...

Edwin flagged Jim down as he came over, “Wasn’t expecting you today.” he smiled broadly, “We were just about swap in your Moonlight.” the engineer shook his head ruefully. “Damn kid, how did you even get a hold of one of these monsters?”

“I’ll have to fill you in later.” Jim apologized, “And the swap will have to wait. I need Snow Bunny now.”

“I didn’t hear about a mission today...” he said slowly.

“There isn’t one.” the Raven put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, “You never saw me.”

“Well security isn’t really my job... And it isn’t actually stealing when you own the machine.” Edwin shrugged, “Okay. Whatever it is you’re doing you be careful.”

“You know me Ed.”

He barked a laugh, “That’s why I’m worried.”

“Where do you think you’re going on your own?” Lee stalked over and Edwin took it as his cue to exit stage left.

It was the first time Jim had seen her in a while, and she didn’t look too happy about the little reunion, “How did you?”

“I heard what happened to Fernando.” she sighed, “And I know the kind of guy you are by now. You want to do something stupid and reckless to help your friend. Even if he screwed you over.”

“You can’t talk me out of this.”

“I know.” she rolled her eyes, “So I’m coming too.”

Jim grinned, “I thought it was stupid and reckless.”

“Didn’t say I was smart.” she grumbled, “I couldn’t grab a hold of Billy and Martin and Drew are out doing their challenges. It’s just you and me.”

“What about Rhys?”

“Ugh... Last time I saw him he was connecting with Penny in the conference room.” she shivered away the mental image, “I’m never eating on that table again.”

“Alright.” Jim looked over to his AC, “Let’s get going before someone really tries to stop us.”



Jim’s interrogator looked pensive, “How many regulations and rules did you have to violate trying to clear Fernando’s name? A dozen?”

“I didn’t stop to count.”

“And now that it’s over, are you happy with what you accomplished?” She asked.

“How could you even ask me that?” she met his gaze with that winter fresh stare unblinking. He looked away, “Of course I’m not.”


Last Night... Lost city

The coordinates Rhys provided set them racing into the Wastes beyond the city. Desolate stretches of desert unable to support life anymore. A pox of bombed out craters spread across the land. Some of them little more than lakes of glass. Sometimes a building jutted up out of the dunes like a worn tombstone. There was little else to mark the way.

Waves of sand parted in the wake of Snow Bunny’s boost. She barely skimmed the ground as she raced by. Renaissance had to top out its thrust to match Snow’s pace, “Are we sure Rhys’s info is accurate?” Lee asked.

“I trust him.”

“You trust everyone Jim.” she said in exasperation.

“What’s that ahead?” The were riding right into the setting sun with the horizon blushing red and the day and night skies changing shifts. A silhouette that looked like a forest of jagged rocks peeked at them over the next dune.

“That should be the place.” they crested the hill and looked down on a broken metropolis. Most of it was buried. The skyscrapers that clawed through to the surface were little taller than their ACs. Like the tips of icebergs.

“What city was this?”

“I don’t think right this second is the time for a geography lesson.” Lee replied seriously, “There’s some weird background interference. I’m going to post up on the tallest thing I can find, see if I can’t get a good readout from there.”

“Then I’ll move up.” Snow was boosting into the ruined city before Lee could reply. The streets were buried a ways down but the buildings still formed a rough grid. It reminded him of the arena he and Fernando fought Witch in. Only this place had a haunted feel to it. The sun slipped passed the horizon and the sky went dark. There were few places where you could still see stars at night. This was not one of them. Shadows stared out at him through the broken windows of every building. Creepy.

“Jim!” Lee called urgently, “Something’s headed your way fast!”

Another transmission muscled into their channel, “So glad you could make it Mr. Thompson.”

It only took a moment to recognize the voice, “Murphy...” Jim scanned the area but his radar showed mostly static, “Where are you?”

“I’m honored you remember my name. My apologies for not being able to meet you in person, this is a long distance call. I see Lee is there with you, what an unexpected surprise.” he said conversationally, “How are you dear, and that handsome gentleman friend of yours... What was his name?”

“Go to hell.” Lee snapped.

“You set me up for an ambush Murphy?”

“Ambush is a crude term Mr. Thompson. Consider this a job interview. I honestly hope you do well or we’ll have gone through all this expense for nothing.”

A stocky AC in desert camo leapt onto a rooftop ahead and fired its cannon. Jim moved to dodge but the shot went wide and high, “Damn!” Lee yelled, Renaissance’s perch erupted and the AC barely escaped the blast. Lee went down among the buildings out of Jim’s view. But apparently not out of the shooter’s. The enemy ignored Snow Bunny and lined up a second shot.

Jim aimed his rifle for the cannon, “No you don’t.”

“Get out of there Jim,” Lee warned, “that enemy’s right on top of you!”

A silver-blue blade filled Jim’s vision as he pulled the trigger. His bullet sizzled to vapor like a drop of water on a frying pan and he desperately evaded the slash, “Whoa!”

The new enemy was a red and black AC of sleek and sinister design with a rifle strapped to its back. It did a quick flourish with its energy weapon. That was a greatsword of blue light as long as its wielder was tall and as wide as one of Snow’s thighs. The weapon grumbled and crackled like a fell beast. Its power was so tightly packed it seemed a solid thing. There was one blade like that. A legend, among the most fearsome in Raven lore. The Moonlight sword. The blade with the fastest draw and most punishing attack. The only defense was never to let your opponent use it. Jim wanted to punch himself for not insisting his be installed the day he bought it from Billy.

The larger AC blasted again, rocking back like an artillery piece. An explosion howled in the distance and a static cry came from Renaissance’s channel. A plume of smoke rose in the corner of Jim’s vision. Snow’s rifle whipped up and Jim shot for the back of the blader’s wrist. His foe shifted stance. The bullet hissed to nothing, consumed in the moonlight’s fire.

“Is that how you say hi to friends?” Martin’s face appeared in the corner of Jim’s HUD. He wagged a finger, “That’s not okay.”

Jim was shocked into silence. He didn’t recognize Harlequin with the new paint job and higher end parts but that was her squaring off against Snow Bunny. He looked up beyond his comrade at the larger mech hopping down from the rooftop. That was 9001, he’d bet anything.

“But, why?” he demanded, “These poeple tried to kill me, how are you working with them?”

Martin shrugged, “That kidnapping thing really shouldn’t have happened. Drew looked into it, got to the bottom of things. Good help is hard to find and all that. Ah.” he added as an aside, “No offense Murphy.”

“None taken.” the man replied smugly.

“I don’t...” Jim tried to wrap his head around things.

“This is why you don’t let Martin do the talking.” Andrew groaned. 9001 stalked out of sight into Lee’s general direction, “My father is on the board of directors in Mirage. I didn’t know they were coming after us until after what happened to you. But I pulled some strings and figured out what was going on. It was never about us Jim, they’re trying to take down Flint and his operation.”

“Exactly.” Murphy cut in, “I feel terrible about what happened between us last time Mr. Thompson. If I knew you were a friend of the family or that Andrew here was part of your team things would have gone much differently.”

“So you threw Fernando under the bus to--”

“To get you here.” Martin finished, “I know you Jim. This is how you roll.”

“Come with us.” Andrew told him, “We wanted to do something good for humanity. Make a difference. We can do that with Mirage. You have no idea what’s about to happen.”

“After you just tried to kill Lee and I?” He growled.

“Murphy, can we tone down the interference?” Andrew asked dryly.

“... you there? Jim can you hear me?”


“I wasn’t shooting to kill.” Drew explained, “Just separating you two, keeping you off balance. You heard what we’ve been saying Lee. The offer’s good for you too. I’m building a team here and there’s a place on it for both of you.”

“Jim?” Lee asked uncertainly.

“What happens to Fernando? Billy? Rhys?”

“Weeelll...” Martin trailed off, “Can’t bake a cake without breaking a few eggs.”

“Omelet.” Andrew corrected.

“What now?”

“You did the saying wrong, it’s ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.’”

“Bleagh, I don’t like omelets.”

“It’s not about what you like!” Drew shot back angrily.

“I tell you what.” Martin replied, “You can cook whatever you want in your analogies. But I’m gunna go with cake.”

“Why are you so very stupid?”

“I just do it to piss you off man.”

“Guys!” Jim yelled, “I’m not doing this. I’m not hanging the others out to dry.”

“Whaaat?” Martin said in surprise, “But you don’t even know those guys like that.”

“That’s not the point Martin and you know it. Forget this, both of you. Let’s just go back to the compound and we can figure something else out.”

Martin grinned, “No can do. We’ve already got a carrier in route. Don’t worry man, I know I can get you to come around eventually.” Harlequin settled into a combat stance, “Even if we have to drag you and Lee onto that plane in ruined hunks of scrap metal.”

“Sorry about this Lee.” Andrew admitted grimly.

“Oh you’re about to be.” an explosion lit the night behind Harlequin from right around where 9001 should have been. An old building rumbled and caved in.

Martin surged like he’d heard a starter pistol. Jim reeled back from a slash and opened fire. The blade gutted one floor of an innocent building. The front half of Jim’s rifle neatly slid off. Snow Bunny danced away from Harlequin’s attacks with her thrusters blazing. The structure crumbled in defeat behind them. Martin’s AC gave chase at top speed, a scarlet tornado casting off arcs of lightning and devastating its surroundings as it passed.

Snow’s own blade came up to block at the last second. They clashed awkwardly. Both weapons hissed like angry serpents. Jim staggered back as the moonlight tore halfway through his sword. His weapon flickered uncertainly for a moment as he regained his footing. I can’t even block that directly. His hands were sweating on the controls. He didn’t think Martin would go for a killing blow but then he wasn’t sure what to think.

At top speed Snow Bunny fled backwards with Harlequin right on top of her. Their blades flashed like rapid-fire bolts of lightning but Snow was barely managing each parry. A savage attack through Snow Bunny’s arm wide. Harlequin wall-ran the face of a building and pulled a spinning slash. The tip of the moonlight etched across Snow’s chest. Jim sprang back but Snow’s left arm dropped to the sand without him. The stump glowed molten orange where it was sliced clean off.

“Looks like you’re...” Martin grinned, “Disarmed.” Andrew sighed over the channel.

A tremor rocked the intersection behind Jim as Renaissance slid into view. Her cannon hung awkwardly from its fastenings where it was torn, “If you could move this along gentlemen.” Murphy suggested, “You’re chariot awaits.” As if on cue a cargo carrier swept low over one of the far dunes at the edge of the city.

Renaissance backed up to Snow Bunny with 9001 stalking around the corner, “I’m open to ideas Jim.” Lee said.

“Surrender.” Drew told them, “You don’t have another option without weapons.”

A trio of missiles raced across the sky from the east, “I must not have gotten that memo.” Billy declared. Francine and Heavy Metal charged over the dune.

9001 whirled around and unleashed his cannon. The center missile erupted in a storm cloud of fire that ignited the other two, “We’re aborting.” Andrew said icily.

“But--” Martin started to protest.

“No buts, we can’t take these two, beat those two, and protect the ship.” Andrew’s overboost erupted in a boom of fire that hurled him towards the waiting transport.

“I hate it when he’s right.” Martin grumbled. Harlequin pointed its blade at Snow, “I’ll see you again for a rematch.” he leapt into the air and overboosted. Thunder cracked as the fast machine sped after 9001.

“They’re leaving already?” Rhys complained, “Those pansy ass bitches, do they have any idea how long it takes to prepare a dramatic entrance like that?”

Martin and Andrew sped to their escape ship. It would take off the second they got aboard, “Take this ya god-damned ingrates.” Rhys launched a missile that screamed after them. Harlequin rushed up the cargo ramp last and spun around, unslinging its rifle in one motion. The missile exploded a scant second before it should have made impact. The transport lifted off and jetted away before the smoke even cleared.

“They’re out of range.” Beard lowered his rifles, “Two of you okay.”

“Little shaken up.” Lee admitted.

“What are you doing here?” Jim asked.

“Rhys told me about what happened and I put two and two together.”

“Rhys...” Lee asked, “If you were going to help anyway why didn’t you leave with us instead of bending your girl over a table?”

“Are you kidding?” he replied, “You have to have sex before combat. It’s a written rule.”

“I don’t think it counts if you write it on a bathroom stall.” Billy commented.

“You bet your ass it does.” Rhys insisted, “I thought you two were off doing the same thing.”

“Anyway.” Lee said, changing the subject, “We should head back to base before something happens to Fernando.”

“Right.” Rhys agreed, “That sweet ass’d be wasted in prison.”



Jim had already surrendered the audio logs from the encounter. Though not before damaging a good portion of the beginning beyond recovery. He at least had the foresight to wipe out the evidence of Lee’s past transgressions and get their stories straight on the way back to the compound.

“... and here we are.” Jim finished, “Is there something else you want to know?”

The interrogator gave that a second, “Well, perhaps you could tell me more specifics about the load outs of these rival ACs you faced.”

Jim put his head in his hands, “Woman, do you not understand sarcasm?”

She laughed, “Amanda. And I’ll be in touch.” she closed her notepad and tucked away her pen before headed to the door. Amanda had to step aside to allow Flint to enter. They shared a few words Jim couldn’t quite catch and then she was gone. Flint took a deep breath and paced the table for a minute.

Jim went to speak up but his boss beat him to it, “What you did was beyond reckless. You could have gotten yourself and Lee killed or worse, captured. I should throw you to the wolves. You know it isn’t just Mirage that has it out for you, don’t you? Crest has a damn pretty bounty on your head. I should leave you to deal with all that on your own.”

“I hear a but.”

“But.” Flint said sternly, “If not for what you two did we’d been in the dark about who was coming after us and what they were planning. And an innocent man would’ve gone to prison on my say so.” he shook his head.


“I owe that boy an apology.”

“What’s going to happen to Lee and I?”

“You?” Flint asked. He reached into his pocket and tossed a set of keys on the table, “You need to get your asses back to work. Things are getting serious. We’ll talk more about it when I debrief you all on the next mission.”

“Yes sir.”

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An older gentleman in a fine red robe stands in a cozy study. He puffs on an ornate pipe deep in thought. An oaken desk behind him has an aged look that speaks of wisdom and experience. Upon it rests a globe depicting the world as it was before the wars. Lush green and blue. There are shelves piled high with books from all realms of knowledge. The man is learned and worldly. You can trust him.

He turns to the camera as if only just noticing you there. Offers you a respectful nod of his head, “Ah.” he says, “There you are Raven.” he lifts a glass of a deep red wine and toasts to you. It obviously hails from a chateau of some kind. Though you do not presume to know which.

“You are the best of the best.” he says after a sip, “But it’s a cruel, unforgiving world we live in.” he sheds his robe and steps out with a crisp black suit. He heads to the door with a confident swagger. The camera pans along with him and you join him for the stroll. The room is forgotten as you step through the door. A battle rages on a gray sun-baked landscape. A trail of explosions march passed and dust the man with sandy debris. He brushes off his collar.

“Even the greatest warriors need someone to look out for them.” an AC races by with its thrusters blaring. The rush of the wind ruffles the man’s hair. A shot from off-screen rips apart the AC’s sensor. It raises it’s rifle to return fire but a second blast shatters the weapon. The gentleman looks on sadly. He shakes his head.

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A Day in the Life of Jim, Part 9: “The Hawk”

The Hawk

It’s weird looking up at Snow’s dismembered form. I sit on the sidelines like a concerned dad watching over his daughter’s surgery. Colossal machinery groaned and whined lifting arms to attach to her headless Core. The new part is plated with hulking sheets of armor. And still I’m tense watching. Shes surprisingly delicate in this phase. Even a small mistake would cost me thousands to repair. Technicians attach her limbs like surgeons. Rock steady robotic hands guide them. The arms snap into place at the shoulders. Welding torches sew up her metal skin. Armor rotates into place and conceals the seam. They do good work, Edwin’s guys. You’d never notice the scar. She had a heart transplant earlier. I couldn’t sit in for that. Generators and I don’t get along anymore. Her head was on the way. Looking at my watch I didn’t have the time to stay for it. Fernando was waiting.

I waved to Edwin and the rest of the techs and headed off to the far side of the garage. If possible it was even busier there. Fernando over saw a crew dismantling a quad-lite chopper. The engineers pulled off chunks at a time like a school of piranha. It was stripped down to a skeletal frame by the time I showed up.

Nando noticed my approach, “We should prop this thing up on cinder blocks.” he smiled, a bandage under his right eye, “It looks like someone parked it in my old neighborhood.” He grabbed the lip of his baseball cap and spun it around backwards. The Kisaragi logo stared back at me. Few things survived the explosion in Flint’s office. Miraculously the cap was one of them. I expected him to throw it out. Instead he took it somewhere to get altered for a better fit. Nando had taken to wearing it everywhere. A defiant F-u to the would-be assassins.

“Heh.” I shook my head. Most of the chopper’s various pieces were neatly arrayed a short distance away, “They find anything?”

“Not yet.” Nando shook his head, “Being careful can’t hurt though.”

“Maybe he really meant it.” I wondered at that. The arrival of a quad-lite for me with nothing but a short message, “No hard feelings - Martin.” I expected another bomb. A trap. Something to let me just write him off. But no. Nothing’s ever so simple with Martin.

“Sometimes I hate that guy.” I muttered.

“You been in to see Flint?” Nando asked.

“Last time I saw him was at the hand off with the EMT’s. Security won’t let me close to him. Hell, no one’s even gave me a straight answer on where he’s being treated.”

“You don’t think he’s...?”

“Nah, unless they upgraded my PDA to a weegee board without telling me. I keep getting messages from him.”
A tech jogged over, “Hey guys that’s it, chopper’s clean. What do you want to do?”

Nando looked to me. I shrugged, “Free chopper? Okay Chuck, you guys have lunch on me. Send in another crew to reassemble it.”

“No problem Jim.” the man turned away.

“Wait, wait, wait.” I called him back over, “Chuck, remember to tell them what they’re rebuilding. I don’t want to come back in here and find seven ATVs and an industrial ceiling fan.”

He grinned, “Well the air conditioning in the break room’s been on the fritz for a while...”

“Don’t do it Chuck.” I laughed, “So help me.”

He shook his head, “Alright I’m about to take lunch and you’re eating into my time. See ya round Jim.”

“You about to grab lunch?” Fernando asked.

“Have to check in with the docs again.” I replied.

“That Kojima thing?”

“Yea.” I shrugged, “I’ll catch up with you.”


Kojima particles were as mysterious as NEXTs were. On part science one part legend. All of it classified. My own research showed that Kojima particles existed and that exposure could do bad things. Anything beyond that was nebulous. Official documents I found were drowned in redactions. Papers were made flimsy with black ink like they were soggy tissue.

“Mr. Thompson.” Doctor Ralwar greeted me as I stepped into his office, “You’re feeling well today?”

“Well as I can.” I sat down on the exam table. It was the same routine the last dozen visits.

“No nausea?” he asked. A suite of holographic information popped up around me. My fully rendered heart beat on one monitor. Lungs expanded and contracted on another. A separate window showed my brain and the thunderstorm of firing neurons within.

“Only the headaches.” I replied. Ever since getting blasted with the kojima I’d get struck with a random migraine every so often. Like someone was drilling into my forehead.
“I see...” he looked over my results, “Don’t worry. This hasn’t worsened your previous condition.”

“Then what did it do?” he stood quiet as if I hadn’t spoken.

I wasn’t getting any real answers. But searching on my own wasn’t much more helpful. When I confronted the archiver about the documents he said they were “sanitized”. The only visible words were kojima and particle. Sometimes (sometimes!) the words were even back to back. All the “information” I have on NEXTs, and I hesitate to call it that, is basically urban legend. Impossibly skilled super-soldiers piloting unbeatable cores. A battalion of Nine-Balls. They had laser eyes and force fields. And everyone’s cousin’s-uncle’s-half-sister’s-boyfriend’s-college roommate happened to be one.

Alla was a psychic. That never found its way into rumor. I was prepared to believe just about anything after learning that little nugget of truth. The field of Kojima she hit me with. A greenish blue sphere of static electricity that pulsed out of her mech and almost killed me. It still haunted me with its memory and its phantom drill. There’s your force field.

“Okay.” Ralwar said suddenly, “As always Mr. Thompson you’re in fine health.”

“But you want me to come back in a day or two.” I finished dryly. Every visit he took a long look at my brain. He was looking for something. Or he’d found something. But he wasn’t about to tell me what.

He gave me a pat on the back, “Is my company really so bad?” It probably wouldn’t be if I could just get a straight answer.


“... do you think Jim?” Lee asked across the table at the bar.

My head was throbbing. I missed everything she said, “What?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yea.” I rubbed my temple, “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

She confiscated my PDA and hit a few keys, “The missions. Flint’s on vacation but we need to keep this thing going. So,” she handed it back, “What do you think Jim?”

I dragged my finger across the touch screen, “Oh wow, Lance Knight is in this movie? I love that guy.”

“Ugh.” Lee groaned, “That’s the worst stage name ever.”

“No no, that’s his real name. He’s from New New York and his parents--” I suddenly noticed her concerned stare.

“How do you know this?”

“Wha? Me? No, no. Martin.”

“Martin?” she asked skeptically.

“Oh yea. Always going on about this Spear guy.”

“Lance.” she corrected.

“See, Lance. I can’t help remembering a little a that. It’s like verbal osmosis. Let’s, uh, let’s skip to the next one.”

“Alright.” She shrugged.

I arched an eyebrow as I read, “Kisaragi?”

“Kisaragi.” she confirmed.

“They can kiss my ass is what they can do.”

“You didn’t even read the whole thing.” she protested.

“I skimmed.” I replied indignantly, “I got the cliff notes. Their Ace tried to kill me and they want to apologize by loading us into a cannon, in space, and firing us back at Earth without protective gear. Pass.”

“It’s a lot of money.”


“Fine.” she said.

“Oho.” I smiled at the last one, “I heard about all this on the news when the water table was first discovered.”

“We can’t take that mission.”

“Why not?”

“One. Do you see what they’re offering?” Lee jabbed a slender finger at the amazing 46.5 credit bounty, “That’s peanuts split across the team.”

“I’ll do it for free.”

“Two.” she made a peace sign, “It’ll cost more than that just to get us there.”

“I’ll chip in for the lifter.”

Lee held up three fingers, “We’ll damage our relationship with Crest.”

“What relationship with Crest?” I laughed, “Crest hates us after what we did to their city. Kisaragi only has plausible deniability for trying to kill Nando and me on the last mission. And Mirage has been actively trying to murder all of us since before they even knew who we were. Our only working relationship with these people hinges on the fact that we kick too much ass to ignore. And you know what?”


“That’s how it damn well should be. We’re Ravens. We don’t ally ourselves with corporations. We’re too dangerous to forget and too badass not to hire. I think this is exactly what Flint wanted. These guys think of Cortex like their tame little dog. Well I think it’s time to remind em that we have teeth.” I grinned, “I’ll go wherever you guys want me. But if it was my choice I’d go here.” Alla’s voice ran through my head. The man you used to be. No worries, he’s coming out to play.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-15, 11:03 PM
Aaaaand here's a collection of another player's short stories as well, chronicling the adventures of Billy "Beard" Gibbons, pilot of AC Francine.

"Sentreh day-own!"

A Day in the Life of Billy, Part 1: “Mr. Popular, p2”



"We have a problem."


"Yeah, it's Jim... he's in trouble."

"Backstory later, what trouble are we talking here?"


Not thirty minutes later, Beard was sitting in a helicopter, doing a final equipment check. He'd known a guy that once jumped out of a chopper but forgot to secure his repelling line. Did he live? Yes. Did he fight another day? Yes. Did his squad ever let him live it down? No.

"Beard, I didn't know you had SpecOps experience," Martin's voice piped in over the radio.

"You'd be surprised what Mirage engineers need to do on field assignments. Idonwanatalk 'bout it."

"Uh. Okay-"

"45 seconds guys," the Pilot interrupted.

"Roger," Billy piped.

He slapped the "arm" button on his Linear Blaster. A mean S.O.B. of a weapon that was completely overkill for anything other than military use. Some say that time seems to slow down in a high-stress situation. This was not true. Primal senses in the human body kicked into place pouring adrenaline and other chemical additives through the blood-stream, shortening reflex times and removing limitations on muscles that normally prevented overuse and unnecessary strain. It was like pumping more current through a wire; things don't go slower, you go faster. Of course, tell that to some philosophy major, and he'd say it was all the same in a relative sense, to which Billy would respond, "Yeah, that's bull****."

"This is bull****," Billy grumbled. Not a month into his new employment on Earth, and dark matters were already coming into play. The guy closest to what he could identify as a friend was taken hostage, and apparently it was his crush's fault. By the way, she was on overwatch through this operation.


"We're live in 10." The pilot again.

"Locked and loaded." Billy had a habit: before jumping into an operation, he made sure his last statement was something memorable and appropriate, then he'd shut up for as long as possible. That way, if he was killed in the initial chaos, his quoted last words would be something he'd want to be remembered for. It made sense.


With that, Beard was out the side-door without so much as a semblance of hesitation. The line grew taught and his momentum hurtled him towards the window. A disorienting smash, and he was in the room.

Two hostiles; Beard shot one then the other. No effort.

The pair crumpled; Jim sat in a chair, looking like a zombie.

Beard advanced and kicked the gun away from the baddie he caught in the chest. Contrary to the films, a downed enemy was still alive and potentially dangerous for a surprisingly long time. Finishing shots to the cranium resolved this with an acceptably high success rate.

Two such shots later, Beard went back to check out Jim.

"You good there buddy?"


A Day in the Billy, Part 2: “Interview”

The speedy core came grinding to a halt right at Francine's mighty feet, sparks flying and loose components tumbling away. It feebly raised its rifle in one last ditch effort to score some game-ending hit on a vulnerable spot. Mid-rise, the core's arm was smashed and ground beneath one of those mighty feet. Billy aimed the rifle directly at the downed core's head; it raised a hand to try to swat away the barrel about 2 seconds after Billy started sending a salvo of shots, annihilating the central sensory unit of his victim.

"Told ya so," Beard growled.

One Hour Earlier...

"Mister... Gibbons."

"That's me," Billy grinned back at the suited man sitting across the table.

Beard helped himself: cowboy boot clad feet rested on the table, leather cowboy hat resting on his lap. The classic sound of Southern hard-rock stuck in your head simply by looking at him.

"So tell me, Mr. Gib-"
"You can call me Billy."
"Fine. Billy. This is supposedly a formal affair, but whate-"
"Listen kid."
"Yeah, kid. Relax. You're not fooling anybody."

Billy grinned even wider at the guy. He pulled his feet off the table and leaned forward in the chair, resting his chin on one fist.

"You're an up and coming Raven yourself, probably about rank C. Daddy's probably involved in Global Cortex. You want to build up your resume for a bit and gain experience testing, and probably schmooze a bit with the high-rank Ravens while having time to practice in the arena. You're here as a rank reviewer to do just that."

"I... don't have to deal with this. Request denied," the man said indignantly.

"I understand, I'd be threatened by me too," Billy said wistfully, as he took off his sunglasses and wiped the lenses.

The man said nothing, and instead continued to gather his files.

"Oh lordy lordy... have I broken you, kid?"

The files stopped rustling at that point.

"I could demolish you in the arena. Wouldn't be a scratch on my paint. You'd be dead. I practice with the best."

"So I was right. NO WAIT! Here's a bet: respond to this. You, me, arena, one hour. You blow me up, I lose everything. No rank, no AC, everything goes to you, I leave, disgraced. I win... you give me that promotion."

At this point, the kid was practically livid. Just the way Beard wanted it.

"Fine. Hope you enjoyed your career, Mister Gibbons."

"Oh, I did. I did..."

One hour later...

Francine was geared up and good to go, sporting an urban camouflage scheme. The arena chamber the kid chose was a famous one, mostly urban sprawl with a central park region. The timer clicked down from 2:00 minutes. Most Ravens would be frantically spending this time making last minute plans and adjustments: attempting to memorize the current arena layout, doing last-minute load distributions or optimizing combat macros and targeting preferences.

Instead, Billy opted to unwrap a fresh stick of gum and start chewing. Minty fresh.

"Commence fight, five seconds, mark-" the arbiter's voice piped in through the radio.

Across the field of battle, Billy could already see his opponent overboosting high above the arena. This kid sported one hotshot of a core. Billy'd seen only a few that were faster, and only one frequently, since he fought with it. Unlike Snow Bunny, this guy lacked any amount of true finesse. It was a twitch build. He could move fast and go for the boom-and-zoom approach, but when it came down to a protracted engagement, these guys couldn't hold their own beyond the first hit.

It was the result of rich boys spending too much time in the arena and not enough time in the field.

A few toggle presses and selection switch flicks later, combat data streamed in; most of it fed directly to the FCS. Francine still had yet to move during the fight, with the exception of the head moving to focus on the rapidly approaching core.

"What, too scared to MOVE!? DUMBASS!!!" The kid yelled over a broadcast frequency.

"This guy's got anger management issues," Billy commented to himself.

One hundred and fifty meters away. The kid let off a series of snapshots aimed in Francine's general direction, which hit nothing in particular; the core's beamsword was deployed and drawn back, prepared to deliver a violent thrust right through Francine's center.

Beard pulled the trigger.

A pair of missiles launched in precisely timed duration. The kid jinked, and gave a perfect opening for missile one to nail his left thruster. The speedy core immediately whipped around, the thrust unbalanced, exposing the rear of the core for missile two to directly hit the right thruster. The core, off-balance, unsteady, and now without thrusters to push it through the air, hit the side of a building with all the grace of a flung brick.

The unit spun again and smashed to the ground in a heap, tumbling forwards with its impressive momentum. It came grinding to a halt right at Francine's mighty feet, sparks flying and loose components tumbling away. It feebly raised its rifle in one last ditch effort to score some game-ending hit on a vulnerable spot. Mid-rise, the core's arm was smashed and ground beneath one of those mighty feet. Billy aimed the rifle directly at the downed core's head; it raised a hand to try to swat away the barrel about 2 seconds after Billy started sending a salvo of shots, annihilating the central sensory unit of his victim.

"Told ya so," Beard growled, "what rank are you again?"

Yet another hour later...

"Paige! Great to see you again!" Billy leaned on a length of railing within the AC garage, still sporting the majority of the combat armor he traditionally wore when in the cockpit. The helmet had been replaced with a prominently displayed cowboy hat, which was almost big enough to draw attention from the huge beard-framed grin.

"You know Mister Gibbons, you could have passed the test with flying colors the traditional way."

Paige still carried the demeanor of a disgruntled accountant. Odds are it was entirely from dealing with situations (and ravens) exactly like this.

"Awww, where's the fun in that?"

"Well. Now that you mentioned it, nobody really did like Administrator Lambert's son being in that position. I don't think Mister Lambert will stand him being anywhere near another Armored Core for a long, long time. You know he was rated as a C?"

"Oh really?"


"Huh, go figure. Well, D's fine with me."

"You realize, by all rights, you technically have earned a C ranking."


"And you are refusing it?"


"...and you are aware that your fellow Raven, Mister Thompson, has just acquired a B rank?"

"Oh yeah. Nice bit of work. Witch is a... heheh, hard lady. To impress, that is."

Mr. Paige gave a look somewhere between wonder, confusion, and disdain.

"So be it," he said, offering his hand and straightening his face, "congratulations on your promotion, Mister Gibbons."

Billy took the hand.

"Many thanks Paige. Many thanks."

As Paige walked away, Billy took a glance up at Francine. The machine would be returned to its former glory yet.

A Day in the Life of Billy, Part 3: “Francine's New Face”

Francine lay around the hanger bay, in multiple pieces. Its owner, Billy "Beard" Gibbons, observed the maintenance work and upgrades from a control gantry with Rhys and the foreman. Two massive cranes hoisted the revolver-stylized rifles, now detached from the arm units.

"Careful with those. They're irreplaceable," Billy said. He gave a stern look towards the foreman.

"Come on Billy. How long have you worked with me now?" he retorted.

"Just about the entire time I've been on planet. I know you're proficient Steve. Still, don't muck this up."

"Yeah yeah..."

Rhys piped in: "You're ditching the pistols, mate?"

"Yup. I've got a new vision," Billy murmured, "see, I'm getting old."

"Oh right," Rhys chuckled.

"No, really, I am. Which is why I'm upgrading the head, sensor suite, and AI of Francine. When I'm done, she'll be able to register some lowly guard flicking his cigarette away... from five hundred yards in fog."

Billy delivered that last line with a fist pound on the guard railing to emphasize every word. He was geeking out about this; granted, the others probably didn't know it, because they could never picture him as his middle-school geek self. But still, that's what it was.

"Knowing you, it's been proven through a few hundred combat simulations by now."

Billy slowly grinned before responding: "One thousand tests. Thank you. I'm a professional. See that SATNAV system? You recognize it. We stripped it off Half-Halo on Mars..."

Billy had to wave off whatever comment the phrase, "strip" brought to Rhys' mind.

"With that thing, I'll be able to sic missiles on people before they realize we're in the A.O."

"Whatever you say Beard..."

A Day in the Life of Billy, Part 4: “Charity Operation”

A charity operation.

Beard said it to himself once again, sitting in the cockpit. He'd been approached by an old friend, Dell Conagher, one of his old engineering buddies. Dell always was one for fair play and keeping a clean slate. It came as no surprise when he backed out of Mirage at about the same time Billy did. The big difference came from the fact that Billy then started killing people for money, while Dell started helping them. Both men being Texans at heart, they met in the only place truly appropriate for two serious Texan engineers to discuss serious business: a smoky bar with good food, a steady flow of beer, and good whisky.

"Billy. How's it been?"

"Regular. I'm a G.C. Raven now."

"Cool. Pays well?"

"Ups and downs. You know Raven work."


Intimidating, curt, and shady would be adjectives quickly invoked by the pair's demeanor and tone. Contestants in an event to promote efficiency within spoken language couldn't speak in more measured and deliberate sentences. The waitress set down a burger for each of them (the kind that made your arteries shrivel in horror), and an unhealthily large stein of beer for each as well. The pair offered a nearly synchronized polite nod in response.

"So. This business," Beard spoke through chews.

"I'm part of a humanitarian engineering conglomerate. We structurally reinforce residences in areas with populations too destitute to afford safe maintenance on their homes," Dell replied. Once technical terms could be slung, the rule of efficiency flew out the window.

"Nifty. Can't see how it involves Ravens though."

"Mmm," Dell murmured, indicating both enjoyment of his burger and as a signal he had much more to say, "Our operations sometimes crossover into areas still hot from civil disputes."

"You need an A.C. to keep you safe? Seems like overkill," spoke Billy, remaining skeptical.

Dell's face quirked a bit, "Side note: hear anything about that situation on Venus?"

Billy wasn't ready for the conversation change, and his face showed it. "Yeah, not much beyond the news. I think there's going to be a war soon. Lots of death. Lots of destruction. Lots of jobs for bad men. Like me, I guess," Billy said before he took another bite.

"You're not gonna believe this next bit," remarked Dell.

"Try me."

"Fine. Some mercenary groups are intimidated by this," he continued.

"I believe it. What's not to believe?" Billy questioned.

"I'm getting to that. You know, Big corporations, big governments get involved. Small merc groups get squashed. No money, no contracts... they're folded into big groups. They like their independence," Dell said darkly.

"Yeah, yeah. Sounds like Mars," Billy reminisced.


"Yeah. In the waning days, there were tons of small-time merc groups. Mostly thugs. Some only had an MT, APC, and infantry squad to their name. Enforcers. Scum. Not much better than that. The big fights started happening... they dropped like flies. Bigger groups with more experience stuck around longer," he explained.

"Like yours."

"Yes, like mine."

"Well," Dell began, "Our group's mostly ex-Mirage; same fieldwork you and I did."

"So, combat engineers, if we were military," Billy snorted.

"Hey, hey! 'Applied field engineering'. Remind me why you left Core Design for that?"

"After a few years, I wanted to fly them, not build 'em. They said I should get 'field experience' before I applied to be a Mirage sanctioned Raven."

"Of course."

"So where were we going with this?"

"Right: like this," Dell began again, "We're ex-Mirage, and we operate in bad neighborhoods, so we keep to field-op organization, and we have an escort."

"So you bring guns?"

Dell told his story: "Not prominently... but yes. To stay safe. Worked great, until the attacks started. 'Bout a month ago, merc thugs started doing organized attacks on our convoys. Unexpected, but we got rid of 'em easy enough. Two weeks ago, they brought armored vehicles. Luckily, a guy or two was packing an EMP charge, just in case. One week ago, they sent in an MT. That whole convoy was annihilated. That ain't cheap." His face grew darker throughout the monologue.

"Feels like overkill to me," Billy growled.

"It is. Our boys won't go out anymore, sayin' it's suicide. Because it is." Dell explained.

"What can I do?" Billy asked.

"Well, there's more," Dell continued, "See, our charters prohibit us from maintaining any heavy combat assets, defined as MBTs, IFVs, missile carriers, mechanized artillery, MTs, or, Hell's teeth, Armored Cores."

"Power armor-" Billy began.

"Haha, forgot that part. Yeah, that's in there too. Basically, we're cut off from all military-grade toys. Doesn't say nothin' about hiring out though," Dell explained.

"So, you want to hire a Raven?"

"Yes. If we keep you on-station for a week or two, I think they'll get the idea we mean business."

"Man. What's your intended R.O.E.?"

"Extermination. No prisoners. We play hardball. We're not gonna be the targets of some hot-shots thinking they can get some 'action' picking on teams working to help society," spoke Dell with a vengeance.

"Wow... I think I can support that. Let's talk finances," Billy stated.

"Well, like I said, we're humanitarian. Nobody involved makes profit. But, I had a chat with our deep-pocketed funding committee. You're covered for any maintenance, ammunition expenditure, and logistics getting to and from the AO. Deal?"

Beard sat back and considered a bit. The burger was good, that was for sure, and so was the beer. The mission?

"For a stranger, no. For an old friend? I think so. Forward the details to my handler at Cortex, he'll make sure I'm on-station when you say. You've got another gun, buddy." Beard grinned.

"Much obliged!" replied Dell, offering his hand.

That meeting had been on Monday. Today was Saturday. Missions did not go through GC and get disseminated to Ravens in that span of time. Beard couldn't help but wonder how powerful Dell's backers truly were. Powerful enough to get Flint to personally okay his absence from a 'very important meeting', apparently.

The rain and mist kicked up a bit. The forecast had been dismal for this sector all week; the rain collection groups were indubitably going to enjoy a nice boost in sales. Francine, and Billy within, crouched on standby within an enclosed courtyard at roughly the center of the cluster of buildings Dell's crews were working on today. Billy had met a few of them earlier in the week: good guys. They reminded him of a past life on Mars; hard men for a hard age. Good senses of humor, and brutally competent. Intelligent, yet thoroughly grounded in concrete reality.

Anyone who asked would know that Billy left Mirage because of the leadership; definitely not the people.

Dell himself was on-station in the command group, monitoring the AO. Francine was in passive-scan mode, being fed tactical and strategic regional information from that command group. This suited Billy; Francine's new SATNAV unit was having issues with software compatibility anyway. Universal part bus agreements be damned, if a company could make it inconvenient to mix and match hardware, they would.

Dell piped in through the comms, "Sentry units still showing no signs of activity. It's the 3rd hour of operations; for the past three attacks they've all showed up within half-an-hour of the third hour."

Billy cracked a smile, "Ya know, maybe I'm just a huge, well-armed, sinfully expensive good luck charm, Dell."

"For your price? I wanna see some fireworks," Dell quipped.

Billy sighed and rubbed his eyes. Sitting for three hours strapped tight into a cockpit with a five-point harness got old. One could only be perched on the verge of action for so long before the edge dulled, so to speak.

"Hrm. That's odd." Dell remarked.

Billy immediately perked up, "Are they here?"

"Maybe," Dell replied.



"The hell's that supposed to mea-"

"I'm getting there cowboy-"

"Fine, fine."

"Anyway, I'm reading a sensory dead zone from Sentry... five's location. Probably the humidity; these things are a bit sensitive. For a sec it looked like an EMP charge, but I doubt anyone's sappin' my sentry," Dell explained.

"Sentry five?" Beard asked, "That's the one that was near the border to the industrial storage complex, yes?"

"That's right. Team two was on station near there, I'll check in with them," Dell responded.

"Cajun Three-Two, Cajun Six Actual, come in, over."

The only response was static.

"Cajun Three-Two, do you copy?"

More white noise.


"I'm on it. I doubt it's anything else."

Billy's hands fluttered over the controls as he flipped switches and swapped displays from overwatch and recon preferred readouts to his combat HUD. The Kiai booster surged to life, and the core shot out from the center of the complex, landed, and took off at a sprint before lifting about a foot off the ground and propelling itself forward at a blistering rate on a cloud of superheated vapors. Francine had shed a few pounds, and its performance showed.

"ETA, twenty seconds."

"Rodger, I've still got nothing from Team Two."

Buildings shot by at an impressive rate; the scenery evolved from ruined mass-quartering apartment complexes to light industrial facilities and storage depots. Beard leaned Francine back and cut the booster; the core caught itself landing and eased off its movement by transitioning from a sprint to a run to a jog.

"Getting my visual feed?"

"Yeah, I got it. Sentry'll be directly right, next intersection."


Francine approached the corner of the intersection, keeping to the edge of the nearby warehouse for concealment. Sensors were now on stealth-sweep; the core sent out an intermittent short burst for quick, short-range detection. It didn't deliver consistent results, but it was better than being blind, and it didn't broadcast your position to anyone caring to listen in with their own sensor package...

"I'm getting solid static on my scans, Dell."

"We're getting jammed..."


Billy rounded the corner, energy rifle primed. Nothing. Just the large tripod, tower structure, and dish of the sentry detector system. Notably though, it was cut in half, the dish and half the tower beam lying on the pavement. The ends were still glowing a dim-red, bathed in steam from being quenched by the rain landing upon the severed ends. Francine's ultra-precise visual detectors indicated the box of a spent casing of an EMP charger lying not ten meters from the assembly.

"Well that's interesting..." Billy grumbled.

"Sentry down!" cried Dell.

"Moving up, let's see if they stuck around," Billy nearly whispered.

Francine edged forward at a walk; Billy tapped a button and a high-ratio widescreen display overlayed beneath his usual forward-visual hud, indicating a 360 degree camera feed of his surroundings. It was a tool that took practice and training to use effectively, but the benefits were truly worth the time commitment. There'd be no sneaking up on him.

The laser rifle was still held high as Billy reached the intersection. He magnified the view of one of the tower ends: a clean cut. Whatever got it was of a devastatingly high temperature, and executed through a very quick maneuver. There was a single type of weapon in the world in common use that left that mark.

"Dell. Listen very closely: your group needs to evacuate. Now." Billy said as levelly as he could.

"Rodger. Why?" Dell responded, puzzled. Billy's word was enough, but it had better be a damn good reason.

"There's another Core on the field."

The words had hardly left Billy's lips when the huge warehouse doors behind him exploded outwards, led by a blindingly bright beam of death. Francine whipped around, armored hand grasping the intruder by the weapon-arm and throwing it forward using leverage from the shoulder. The hostile AC flashed brilliantly as its extension retro-boosters flared and brought it back to bear in a shockingly short time. Francine was still on the defensive. Billy retracted both arms and began ducking and weaving to dodge the flurry of blade strikes.

"Arms back, arms back... don't go for the quick shot, you'll just loose an expensive, brand-new rifle..." Billy mumbled to himself. He was speaking from experience.

This guy was good. No mercy, no quarter: exactly how you fought with a blade specialist. The moment Francine got range, it could ventilate the opposition; until then, it was at the mercy of the much quicker duelist core. The thing slashed high-left to low right; Francine closed in and blocked any further extension or reverse swing with its heavy actuator; Billy gunned the booster and rocketed around a corner. Escape, for now.

Francine transitioned from a heavy-forward lean to a near back-float as it switched from forward-facing boosting to rear-facing. The swordsman core emerged, rocketing around the corner, now leading with a recently-deployed energy shield. Billy put a few shots into the shield with the laser rifle before the endeavor registered as futile.

"I'm coming for ya Billy boy..." spoke a familiar voice over the open comms.

"****! Klein!" Beard yelled.

"IN THE FLESH!" Klein responded, entirely too enthusiastically.

Billy tapped a toggle on a joystick, and Francine began attempting to radar-lock; Klein was a slippery bastard, always fitting his builds with ECM-suites. Mirage's favorite ghost to deploy when nobody was watching, and they wanted it to stay that way. The distance between the cores was decreasing at a frightening rate; far beyond what Beard was comfortable with.

Billy's eyes jumped from the tactical map, to the 360 monitor, to the main visual display, and back again rapidly. He veered around a corner; midway through the turn, Francine registered a missile lock simultaneously with Klein's core breaking the minimum engage radius of Francine's missile pack.

Billy fired anyway. What the hell.

The whole process took a quarter of a second. A missile blasted away, leaving a thick plume of smoke, perfectly outlining its trail as the thing corkscrewed right, then back again. Klein practically dove forward, legs extended and arms forward to dodge the missile, which barrel-rolled under his AC and exploded, creating a shower of dust and chunky brick fragments in the adjacent building. The debris quickly disappeared, blown away by Klein's booster and vanishing from sight as Billy arced around another corner.

Klein recovered from the dive, bringing his core's legs back down and ducking slightly to regain equilibrium. He instinctually brought his beam-arm close to the ground as a check; bad form, but good for Billy. The man didn't even think the move through; Francine's arm was up and a laser blast traveled from the barrel before erupting in a plume of sparks on Klein's laserblade.

The assembly exploded, taking the core's left arm with it. Billy seized the moment; switching from full-reverse to maximum forward in the blink of an eye. Francine's components groaned under the resulting accelerations and accompanying stress. Francine extended an armored fist as Klein's core shot forward, unable to jink or change thrust in time to compensate.

The fist assembly impacted the opposing force's head assembly with one hell of an impact. Billy grasped at the last second, and the two cores had enough opposed motion that the head ripped clean off. Francine came skidding to a halt as Klein swapped to secondary visual sensors and over-boosted around a corner. Francine held the head close before Billy engaged the "compact" feature, crushing the expensive part for all it was worth.

"You still got it boy-o. I'll be in touch," came another broadcast.

"Son of a bitch," was all Billy could respond in turn.


Francine was stowed in the transport home; Billy still resided in the cockpit. Dell was on the far end of a visual/audio communications channel.

"We appreciate your help Billy..." began Dell.

"Okay, look, Dell. How long have you been running operations in that region?" Billy cut in.

"Oh, about a month and a half."

"And the attacks only began when you started THERE, right?"

"Pretty much."

"Never been attacked before?"

"No sirrie."

"Jeez man," Billy breathed as he took off his helmet and rested his head in his hands.

"Look. Mirage does NOT want you there. Not at all," Billy said.

"You can tell that from one Core?" Dell asked in bewilderment.

"Normally. No. If KLEIN was there? Yes. Dear Heaven above, yes. Stop everything there. End it. Get out, while you still can. If they're calling in guys like Klein now? Whatever's happening, they want nobody in on it." Billy explained.

Dell was silent for a bit.

"You knew the guy?"

"Ravens like him were a big reason why I went freelance instead of Mirage sanctioned. That's all I'm going to say, for both your peace of mind, and your safety."

"Well geez... I hope this doesn't cause any true trouble for ya buddy," Dell offered.

"Yeah, I'm keeping my nose out of the issue. Hopefully, that'll do. I suggest you do the same. Beard out," Billy finished, cutting the transition.

The experience had shaken him, for sure. But for right now, he was getting another call from Flint. There'd be time to put all of this in perspective later. Now? Business as usual.

Flint's voice came through loud and clear, "Beard, you read?"

"Got you, chief."

"I hear your missions through, and you've got some flight time ahead of you. Accept this video feed... Jim and Fernando are in deep. I assure you it'll be interesting," Flint continued.

"Well okay..." Billy replied. What else was he going to do?

Now, Rhys also has a long, and actually rather moving story. Unfortunaltey, its very much transgressive-type fiction, the kind I can't really post here. :smallfrown: Rest assured though, it was good.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-20, 02:38 PM
Sunday, June 19th (Session 8)

Last week, the players took the helm of the team for the first time, and found themselves immediately burdened with a whole new world of responsibilities. Not the least of these burdens was a budget deficit of 500 credits, and some steep transit costs attached to every mission from hereon out. Nonetheless, the group soldiered on, bent on reforming Global Cortex from its present corruption.

This session opened with even more good news: A certain cadre of elite ravens had sent the team a letter threatening to summarily shut the team down if they didn't leave on their own. The players, getting in touch with their Italian side, decided that the best way to address this was to crash a party and challenge their harassers to a duel of honor.

The place? The Arena itself, since if you're gonna settle a matter of honor, a few ticket sales on the side can't hurt. The time? Some other time, when the GM has that map ready! :smalltongue: In all seriousness, though, the Arena is like the NFL or FIFA of its time, and its not exactly a trivial thing to reserve the SuperDome for your private throwdown.

So, with next week promising to be the fight of their lives, the PCs settled down to the current crop of assignments. The players decided to help Global Cortex retrieve a fallen AC that a local warlord was planning to salvage and put up for auction. Meanwhile, the NPCs would tackle a second mission, thereby doubling the team's income for this week--this is a very cool strategy but somewhat risky if you're the type who cares about NPCs. If not, well, its simply cool.

The players decided to gear up with a pretty cool selection of gear consisting of:

An AC Snow Bunny equipped with nothing but a laser blade and shield. Sword and board finally has his day!
AC Francine, carrying a new laser rifle, and an outrageous sensors that can reveal almost the entire map
AC Heavy Metal, which is equipped with Rhys. :smalltongue: And some guns and stuff.

Fast forward several hours (in-game): the players dropped from their cargo lifter and onto the battlefield, where an intimidating five tanks and MTs sat unawares around the encampment. The players prepared to turn the entire affair into target practice, I immediately began having the auctions "guests" arrive, complete with entourages of tanks and so on. Billy wisely chose to listen in on the radio traffic, which revealed that the AC's pilot was alive and captured, ready to be sold along with the AC--after all, they don't come with instruction manuals.

After intercepting one of the guests, a warlord who would later turn out to have a 90 credit bounty on his head, the players finally decided to drop the curtain on the stealth and come in, guns blazing. A change to how I handled missiles (think 'Summon Monster I') meant that one tiny tank kept Jim and his dreaded Snow Bunny occupied for nearly three rounds. Sadly, even the Little Tank That Could had his limits, and before long Jim had fileted him with his new Moonlight blade.

Meanwhile, Billy and Rhys set about raising hell in the main encampment. The enemies consisted mainly of tanks and choppers and turned out to be the worst kind of enemy: time consuming, but not really dangerous. Afraid of losing momentum and devolving into whack-a-mole, I brought in a chopper full of everyone's favorite Sniper MTs to try and liven things up. The players were so excited, they immediately poured a bunch of BP into incinerating the chopper before it went ten feet, payload and all. Well.

Finally, the battle was concluded thanks to some intimidation rolls and more carnage. When the dust settled, there were a good 30 dead mooks littering the battlefield, and the Global Cortex recovery chopper had the AC firmly in grasp. However, the company seemed to be pointedly ignoring the news about the pilot held hostage, and insisted that the whole area was going to be cleansed with airstrikes. Despite the silver-tongued pleas of Billy to entreat Global Cortex to reconsider, the company decided that, since Michael Bay was in charge of this mission, calling off the airstrike was not an option. With the clock ticking down to Armageddon, the players exploded into action.

This is when things got overwhelming. One player went all the way across the map to take the warlord hostage, while another went searching for the pilot in the camp. The third continued his dialogue, meaning that I was running three conversations and five NPCs at the same time. Someone also thought they might have found some salvage somewhere in the mix, and was cawing about it.

Finally, with the aircraft shrieking overhead and a wall of explosions cascading toward them, the three PCs ran hellbent to safety, clutching armloads of whatever they managed to loot before the hammer dropped. Sadly, the tank in which the warlord was hiding got left in the camp, as did the suspected salvage crate. Any hope of collecting the bounty would hinge on someone going over the wreckage with a vacuum and dustpan. On the plus side, the players did manage to rescue the pilot, who I think will become an addition to the team to reward their efforts.

In proud Armored Core tradition, the PCs celebrated with a little after party in the office. The rather suspicious circumstances of this mission were discussed, operators were terrorized by the horndog Rhys, and phone calls were made. I am struck by what a prominent game feature bureaucracy is becoming.

Join me next week when the players confront their accusers in hopes of finally proving their worth to the world at large!

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-06-29, 12:04 AM
Monday, June 27th (Session 9)

Last session, the players were confronted with a legal attack from within their own company, specifically, a fraternal group called the 'Honor Society'. An angry letter and voicemail informed the players that unless they quit immediately and went home, they would get the book thrown at them. No, even worse than Twilight.

The players boldly answered this with a personal challenge to one of the leading ravens on the honor society, the celebrated Nathan Pierce. Dressed to kill, they crashed his retirement party and then commenced a week of taunting and heckling, until the man finally consented to a 5-on-1, televised arena match. And then Rhys seduced his wife (he rolled a 50 against a DC of 30, what can I say?) for good measure.

This week, the story picked up with the players flying out to the dueling site, an abandoned bomb shelter complex that allegedly had some significance for the PC's boss, Flint. Anyway, after some pregame banter, the session started right up. The party consisted of:

AC Snow Bunny, reprising its wildly successful role of sword-and-board-and-Oh-Dear-Lord-why-did-I-allow-this? Flown by The Juggernaut Jim.
AC Francine, sporting a laser rifle and missiles. Flown by Billy
AC Heavy Metal, equipped with a new laser rifle and improved booster. Flown by Rhys.
AC Waverider, a light AC with cannons and a rifle. Flown by the NPC Fernando
AC Renaissance, a medium AC with not much to do in the story. Flown by Lee.

With camera choppers buzzing overhead expectantly and safety crews lurking around, the players decided to open up with some taunting to put the enemy off balance. The enemy was Nathan Pierce's AC Judgement, a ridiculously over the top enemy that was a response to Snow Bunny's overwhelming offense and defense. A few influence rolls later, an enraged AC Judgement swarmed them with a cannon shot, a hail-mary of seven missiles, and a smoke bomb that cut their vision down to nil.

To be honest, the battle was decided right there. With five players to pile up to 15 attacks per round on Nathan's lone AC, no amount of buffness was going to save him in a straight fight--his only chance was to make hit-and-run attacks from the map's ample cover and his forgetting this tack cost him any chance of victory. What he could do, however, was prolong the inevitable.

Waverider took a cannon shell that reduced him to 50% and Renaissance to 75%. Pierce's plan was to try and even the odds by taking out those weak ACs first with the swarm of missile. Renaissance took two more missiles, and I was just about to bring in the last missile and type Lee's last words when bang! Rhys shoots down the final missile and literally saves the NPC.

The missiles had gone quicker than I planned, leaving Snow Bunny with a full turn to hunt down AC Judgement. A couple rounds of hide-and-fail later, Judgement is cut to ribbons and about to drop, bringing a subplot to a rather anticlimactic end.

Grasping at straws, I decided it was time to turn a straightforward, shoot-em-up story into a cutting edge spy thriller of intrigue and nuance. That totally lends itself to improvisation, so this can only go well! Yeah.

Okay, here's the facts: Nathan had only consented to the fight at the request of his old friend and boss, Nine Breaker. The reason? To try and leverage the PCs into cutting ties with Flint--this is a goal for Global Cortex's management, for reasons I won't go into other than "the shareholders hate Flint". In fact, they hate Flint enough that it so happens that he is not long for this world, and Nine Breaker would rather see these promising new ravens stay clear of the blast zone.

The tl;dr version of that? The arena match is a diversion to save the players from something bad.

Anyway, Nathan begins petitioning the players to renounce all association with their boss Flint. There was a lot of debate on what to do about this--one PC was convinced that Nathan was just bluffing his way out of a fiery death, while the other players managed to extract the truth of the matter. They were just about to agree and secretly regroup their plans of reform somewhere else, without Flint, when they decided that just to be safe, they would go ahead and finish the battle here. Bye, Nathan.

For being uncooperative with the will of the shareholders, I dropped in the Power Rangers Mirage special AC force to punish them. I know it sounds a little abrupt in writing, but they had been foreshadowed in past sessions, and the players appreciated it. They appreciated it so much, they killed half of it in the first round, and then another AC one round later, and chased the toughest AC home with his pants down in the third. Those ACs were fairly tough, too. I was proud of the team.

Because the session happened on a work/school night, he had to cut it there without letting the dust settle in the usual RP afterparty, but the decision was this: their boss now aware of the attemp on his life, he has become a fugitive. The players could either go on the lamb with him and become independent mercs, or they could simply cover his tracks and proceed in his place inside the company. The jury is still out.

Join me next week when the players make their decision and we kick off the late term game! Will we uncover more about the disturbing news of kojima weaponry? Will Rhys get more gratuitous tail (hint:yes.)? Will the fate of Venus and the Atlas aquifer be written? Find out!

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-07-01, 11:27 PM
Midweek Update!

The players unanimously decided that they were fed up with Global Cortex and that whatever clemency they might have been promised was probably just a lie.

I forgot to mention this in the last entry, but NPC Fernando was the exception--for reasons hinted at in the short story, "The Warren", he hated NPC Flint with a passion and when asked to throw away his career for Flint's sake, he parted ways with the rest of the party.

One player decided to write a short story about what came of that, as well as a little bit about the party's escape. Enjoy!

Too High

Fernando would return to the Compound after the Nathan Pierce disaster to find Cortex security forces waiting for him. He was immediately arrested at gunpoint and detained in a dungeon-like cell with no greater explanation than, “Move.” Jab with blaster barrel in the back. He was starting to sense a pattern regretting taking Nathan at his word. It wasn’t until the next day that he was released and escorted to Administration.

Administrator Lambert sat behind his pompously ornate desk perfectly at ease. He reclined in his chair with hands behind head and an easy grin. It was a far cry from the complete <bad thing> that Rhys had described.

“Fernando, right?” he asked, “Can I call you Fernando?”

“Uh...” Nando shifted in his seat uncomfortably, “Sure.” They’d finally let him take a shower just before heading up there and all he had was casual dress, a plain tee and denim jeans. He stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Good.” he said, leaning forward, “Good. So I’m told that you’ve jumped ship. Cut off all your ties to Flint and his little group. You had problems with him?”

“I hated his guts.” Fernando said flatly, having no qualms about distancing himself from Flint in particular.

“Well that’s great to hear champ.” he beamed, “Because as of this morning, he and all his people still out there are wanted fugitives.”

“Flint’s alive?”

“I know right?” Lambert replied, “McGonigal too that <person of dubious parentage>...” he muttered, “But hey, it’s not a perfect world. You take your wins where you get them. Which reminds me.” he reached into his desk and pulled out a thick envelope, “This came down the chain for you.” he tossed it into Fernando’s lap.

The Raven opened the package. A new Raven ID. Platinum. A Rank. So Pierce wasn’t all talk then, “There’s some formalities you know.” Lambert explained, “We’ll work out your new living arrangements after we have the rest cleared. Your Platinum account should be active today but there are still some other forms you’ll need to sign. A non-disclosure agreement about this little mess we have here. A new contract specifically prohibiting activities like Flint’s operation. Your AC...” he snapped his fingers, “Ah what was the name?”

His assistant/bodyguard spoke up, “Waverider, sir.”

“There you go, Waverider.” Lambert continued, “That was stored in Orange when you arrived, we didn’t want to cause a stir with what happened.” he added as an aside, “Apologies for that by the way. In any case you’ll be escorted back there to claim it and any personal effects that were not ‘confiscated’.” finger quotes.

“That’s not so bad.” Fernando mused, “Is everyone still in the building?” he asked, “A lot of the people were like me, ya know? Flint was just ‘the boss’ they didn’t have bad intentions or anything.”

“That probably won’t be possible.” Lambert said matter-of-factly, “Trevor, where’s that list I was looking through before?”

The big man sifted through a file and pulled out a few pages that he handed to Fernando, “Here you go sir.”

“There was an unfortunate incident during the attempted apprehension of Flint.” he said conversationally, “It seems he wasn’t even there, you know how these thing go...”

Fernando stopped listening. In his hands was a list that might as well have been the personnel roster for Orange. Except next to every name was the word DECEASED.

“... And after you grab your stuff and we get all your paperwork squared away,” Lambert was saying, “you’ll have your pick of bases to work out of. Any Cortex location in the world. That’s just great right? I mean, isn’t that great?”


Orange building was cordoned off. A small security presence on the outskirts of the area kept the odd curious Raven from having a look. Fernando’s escort car was stopped by armed guards who formed a check point on the road in. Signs plastered to the decaying buildings declared the whole outdated section was scheduled for demolition.

The “Flock” had turned its back on Cortex and gone Rogue. Most other Ravens weren’t surprised. The group was a bunch of dishonorable troublemakers to begin with. There were toasts raised to the team’s departure. Bounties for each member were posted within hours. Eager Ravens eyed them hungrily. He knew they were hated, but this? It’s like everything that was ever said about them had just been validated in the eyes of the community at large.

He toured the building under the pretext of looking for some lost knickknack. When Mirage came after Flint they came for a fight. And they got one. The cafeteria was a mess. Tables blasted to kindling or punched full of holes. Flint’s security staff might have made their last stand there. They went down fighting. But they were the only ones. The rest of the building featured bullet holes and blood spatter. The office had lakes of shattered glass. Red pools staining the carpeting. Some of the desks were practically lacquered with blood. He could almost see the defenseless operators mercilessly gunned down at their work stations. He couldn’t stomach being up there long.

In the garage a heavy truck honked its horn impatiently and broke Fernando out of his inward daze. He wasn’t authorized to pilot his mech. Not yet. Another meeting in two hours. More paperwork. So Waverider lumbered onto the flatbed with the drunken wobble of a pilot just learning the controls. There were fail-safes in these machines. It took effort to stumble outside of a high speed combat situation. The amateur threatened to topple the green AC a second time. The Raven would have winced if he could bring himself to care just then.

Engine growling, the truck trudged off and took Waverider out of its old home for the last time. It felt strange. Standing in that vast empty room. Cortex had pulled out every machine. Every bit of equipment. Until it was only Fernando and a legion of dust in an empty warehouse. He pulled out his shiny new badge. He was one of the big boys now. This close to getting all the respect, money, and fame he’d ever want. He always imagined it feeling better.

The floor was stained in patches. That one oil. This one blood. Mirage was... thorough. But the cleaning crew wasn’t. It felt... surreal. Like none of it was really happening.

“Was it worth it, Nando?”

He turned in surprise. A man in white armor stood there. Stared at him through a cool blue visor. Judging, “Jim? I--”

Crack! A metal fist cut across his jaw like being slapped with a brick. The Raven staggered. Tasted that familiar copper flavor of blood. And a little switch flipped on instinct. He weaved under Jim’s next punch and hit him with a hook to the kidney that shook the armor. Jim grunted. Fernando’s knuckles stung like he’d hit a metal wall but he kept his feet moving. Pa-tang! He shotgunned a jab into the side of Jim’s helmet and put distance between them.

He got his hands up to defend, “What the hell man?!” there was no one else around but that would change soon, and when it did there would be serious problems, “What are you even doing here?”

“This is supposed to be a rescue.” Jim yelled back, “But instead you’re working for them?!” Fernando never heard him so angry, “Mirage sent a kill team after us not five minutes after you left.”

“What?? They didn’t tell me anything about that...”

“What. Are. You. Doing. Here?” Jim demanded. He circled Nando slowly. The way a tiger might its prey. The Raven kept his hands up and watched his friend, circling along with him.

“Flint’s an <nothing good>.” Fernando shot back angrily, “I’m not throwing my career away for a <dirtbag> who tried to put me back in prison.”

“...That’s why?” Jim said coldly, “THAT?” he jumped like an uncoiled spring and snapped a high kick into Nando’s guard. The blow hit like a piece of rebar and jolted Nando to the side, but he countered with a straight. Jim slipped the hit, turning his head with the punch and letting Nando’s fist squeak across his helmet. Jim’s shoulder smashed Nando in the chest as he grabbed the arm and pivoted, suddenly Nando’s world was upside-down and he was tumbling through the air.

“Arg!” he smacked into the floor with a thud.

“You can’t swallow your pride but you’ll sell your soul??” Jim spat. He gestured around the room at the blood stains, “Edwin, Thomas, Patricia, Marshall, everyone on these damned crews was your friend, and they killed them!” he trembled with rage. Unflappable Randal, Saint Jim, looked ready to kill someone. He unslung the blaster rifle from his back.

Nando froze. Ever since the threat of kidnapping and murder became a real day to day concern he’d taken to carrying his blaster pistol. Now it was digging into the small of his back as he lay on the ground. Normally he would have drawn at the start. But he knew Jim and never would have expected it to go this way. The Raven didn’t even think about grabbing it though. Randal looked ready to shoot if he so much as twitched. Awful time to lay on the floor of the dustiest building in the Compound.

“I don’t have all the intel yet.” Jim said quietly. Suddenly the definition of calm with the rifle in his hands. He crouched next to Fernando, “Did they hit the office?”

Fernando nodded slowly, “Nessa, Judy, Shannon...”

“Penny? Izzy?” Jim cut in, “… Olivia?”

“I...” Nando sighed, “I don’t think so.”

“That’s good.” Jim replied evenly. The Raven realized Jim was talking to someone else too. A conversation in that helmet he couldn’t hear, “Find out where they are.”

“I’m not sure...”

“You owe me.” Jim said sternly. He touched the floor, “You owe them.” he got up and started walking away.

“Wait.” Fernando said, standing up and drawing his pistol, “How can you do it?”

“Do what?” Jim faced him. Saw the weapon as if he half expected it and raised his own.

“Leave?” Nando explained, “You wanted this more than any of us. To be a Raven. To make the Ravens great again. I thought that was your dream.”

“Not anymore. Not if this is the price.” he shouldered his rifle, “I don’t want to do this. But don’t test me.”

Fernando’s hands sweated on the grip. He was never what you might call a marksman. But at less than ten feet he couldn’t miss. Of course that didn’t matter. Jim was wearing blaster stopping tactical armor and he had his white t-shirt and jeans.

“Tactical security will be here any minute Jim.” he said, “Who are you talking to? Billy? Lee?”


“Alright, well he’s gotta be nearby. The two of you will never make it out of the Compound if you get tangled up with Tac-Sec.”

“We’ll manage.” Randal said evenly.

“I know.” Nando said with a sigh. He lowered his gun, “Hit me.”

“Excuse me?” Jim asked suspiciously.

Maybe he was being practical. Maybe he wanted some kind of punishment for making the choices he did. He didn’t know. Probably both, “Don’t knock any teeth out or anything. Just <bloody> make it look good, okay? I’ll find out about the girls and figure out how to get you the info.” Fernando looked around warily, expecting a few guards to stumble on him just hanging out with the enemy while Jim wasted time being surprised, “Come on man, we ain’t got all day.”

Jim holstered his gun. He lashed out with a kick that punted Fernando’s pistol across the warehouse and then smashed him in the stomach with an uppercut. The blow put him up on his toes and forced out all his air in a pained gasp.

“...Thanks.” Jim said as he let his friend drop.

Nando fell back to the ground on his hands and knees, “Guh... don’t mention it.” he groaned and clutched his abs.

Jim sprinted off. Quick as a bunny and quiet as you please. Tac-sec was just a minute behind him in showing up. They jogged up to the Raven in a clatter of armor and weapons, “Sir are you alright? Where’s the intruder?”

“I’m fine.” he croaked, shaking off their help. He picked a random direction and pointed, “Goddamn thief, he ran that way. And what the hell took you people so long?”


For the Homies

Getting into the Compound was easy. The team had spent months being intimate with every security procedure. Getting back out was a fair bit harder. But with a little luck and a little of Fernando throwing the hounds off the trail everyone made it back to base. Such as it was.

The Lifter called a long abandoned airstrip home for now. A barren stretch of land whose greatest export was blast craters. The ship had another good trip in it, two if they were lucky, before Flint had to call in a favor to get the thing refueled.

But the problems of tomorrow are in tomorrow for a reason. For the moment, Lee, Dell, Rhys, Billy, and even Jim hung out on a the ancient roof of a hangar of dubious structural integrity, “To Edwin.” Jim raised his shot glass, “A great man.” he knocked it back.

“A sweetheart.” Lee noted.

“A hell of a damn poker player.” Dell said.

Billy grunted an affirmative. Or he had heartburn. The man was a rock, you could tell nothing. He poured out a little extra for the shot Ed couldn’t have.

Rhys nodded, “I won’t miss you stealing my hard earned credits you old bastard.” he cleared his throat and refilled his glass, “To Patricia. She made the cutest faces when I... okay not appropriate. You know what I meant though hun.” he toasted the sky.

“She was really funny. And she listened, you know?” Lee lamented, “It’s not gunna be the same without her.” Billy patted her on the shoulder. Another round of drinks. Another shot for the hangar.

“What do we do now?” she asked no one in particular.

“Get <liquored> up?” Rhys offered.

“No, I mean what’s our plan?”

“That’s not a plan?” he wondered, “That’s my plan. At least the mission statement.”

“I mean after this.”

“Have <wheewhackywhoohoo> with me?” he suggested.

“No.” she groaned.

He looked at the others, “You guys?”

“No.” came back unanimously.

“I miss Penny and Izzy, you people are no fun.” he says half seriously.

Jim was with him. When he thought something happened to Olivia a light went on inside him that hadn’t in a long time, “First things first. We need to get our people before something happens to them.”

“Your women?” Lee arched an eyebrow.

“If I remember right,” he said, “didn’t you have to leave somebody back in the city too?” she got quiet, like she hadn’t thought of that, “I won’t put anything passed these people. We take care of our own. Then we take care of our enemies.”

Billy nodded, “Can’t go after Mirage out the gate. Too big, too strong, and they’re waiting for us. I say we pal up to our friends at Kisaragi, build up our strength.”

“That’s a good plan.” Jim said. And it was. In matters of diplomacy you wanted Rhys or Jim in your corner. But when it came to warfare? You deferred to Billy. Experience coupled with brilliance is a hell of a combination.

Beard leaned in conspiratorially and started detailing his plans for their fledgling war effort. Jim tried to focus, but he was too drunk and too distracted. Olivia... Christine...

2011-07-04, 02:01 PM
Haven't read it all yet. But this is fricking amazing. It would make an absolutely wonderful mecha anime, scene-by-scene. :smallsmile:

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-07-04, 04:31 PM
Haven't read it all yet. But this is fricking amazing. It would make an absolutely wonderful mecha anime, scene-by-scene. :smallsmile:

Thanks, man. I really lucked out with getting players who enjoy their characters so much, it has really added to the story.

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-07-04, 06:40 PM
Sunday, July 3rd (Session 10)

Last week, what began as a private duel between the players and a contemptuous raven celebrity turned into the final clash of a decades-old conflict within the company. Forced to choose between recanting their dreams of reforming Global Cortex or death, the players chose to stand by their principles. In response, the powers that be stood by and watched as Mirage made a brazen attempt on the PC's lives right there in the arena, using their dreaded Sigma black ops squad. Although the PC's utterly spanked the would-be assassins, a parallel attack on the base they had learned to call home, Orange buidling, had brought a cruel death to many of the party's friends and most beloved NPCs. Their leader, the NPC Flint, was left a fugitive.

This twist of fate has turned the PC's against the corporate wing under which they have always operated. Equipped with only a lifter and their damaged ACs, the party has boldly struck off into the uncharted badlands of north america to seek their own fortune. This is the story of that new beginning.

Its also a story that I tried to host the night before Independence Day, on a weekend. Needless to say, the attendance sucked, occupied as people were with eating steak and family time. With the session involving a lot of far-reaching decisions and most of the players unavailable, I decided to put the story on hold.

Instead, the one player and I decided to flashback 20-odd years for a one-off adventure, chronicling the story of how the dreaded Nineball was finally defeated.

For those of you who haven't played the PS2 titles, Nineball is a recurring AC villain in the games. Although the specifics vary, he is always cast as this lone berserker boasting unmatched agility and firepower. Fighting him is strenuous at the very least and at his worst, can only be done with cheese tactics.

Given my track record of pathetic enemies, I was really nervous about co-opting such a legendary figure. This came only a week after my last boss, a ridiculous, logic defying AC Judgement, was beaten in about three rounds. Could my rendition of Nineball put up a fight worthy of the name?

Anyway, the party consisted of the following:

An unnamed AC as piloted by the player. The character was a tough, cigar-smoking maverick dude known only as "Bitch Maker".
AC High Spire, piloted by Bill Rocker, an arrogant, coldly pragmatic NPC who would come to be known as "Nine Breaker"
AC June Bride, piloted by Wendy Barbados, a crackshot and longtime mutual friend of both Bitch and Bill.

The story! The great war is in its declining years--having ground nearly all semblance of the world's former order to dust, the animosity between the corporate powers is draining away for lack of anything to fight over. Mirage is emerging as the clear victor, and the wise person will curry favor with them. Global Cortex is a newly formed company, the direct successor to an alliance of North American countries that is forced to embrace mercenary work for lack of other funding. Despite their attempts to remain impartial, they are also being caught in Mirage's gravitational pull.

The war has taken a devastating toll on the servicemen--only in their late twenties, Bitch, Bill, and Wendy are Global Cortex's most experienced surviving AC pilots and as such, they are chosen for a special mission. A lone AC has been destroying bomb shelters, and the demographic breakdown of the victims shows a pattern--apparently, this AC is only targeting refugees from a specific region. Whatever the AC's intentions, it suggests that he is simply taking a broad approach to get a select few individual(s).

The purpose of their mission is to protect the next most likely target, the Jacobi bunker complex. Bitch and Wendy volunteer without hesitation, but Bill, held back by a vested financial interest in another assignment, takes some convincing. But soon enough, the mission began.

The first battle was with technical difficulties concerning the player's vision on the map. After ten minutes of facepalming, I finally figured it out.

The mission! The team dropped into the Jacobi bunker complex to find a silent compound, civilians locked away and forgotten by a security force too underfunded to stay and protect them.

While Bill and Wendy go off to scout, Bitch is given the ominous task of guarding the bunker complex. Before long, Bill complains about the lack of activity, decrying the whole mission as a waste of time better spent getting rich elsewhere.

Now obviously, there's only one thing that can happen after a line like that, and perfectly on cue, the radios go dead.

Heralded by a rumble underfoot, Bitch finds himself face to face with the one and only Nineball. Legendary killer of a hundred-plus ACs, the fiery red menace leads with a called shot to Bitch's head. Called shots, by the way, effectively destroy a specific part and since the AC's head is somewhat important, this was my way of showing that Nineball is not one to fool around.

Nineball's attack roll was sky high, higher than Bitch could possibly roll a dodge. Because of this, I allowed the player to spend multiple actions to evade one attack, at the cost of...well, his actions. When all his said and done, he had mortgaged away his entire turn just trying to stay alive.

Already secure in his absolute dominance, Nineball had no pressing need to crush his ten-dozenth AC when there was a job to do. Bringing his shoulder mounted cannon to bear, he turned away from Bitch and used his free turn to annihilate all but one of the bomb shelters in one deadly salvo. The smoke and dust settled to reveal a mess of caved in bunkers, any question of their occupants' fate answered by the utter silence.

I still was reluctant to turn Nineball on Bitch, so I had him use his next turn on attacking a random satellite dish and then finding some cover. At this point, Bill and Wendy cruised in to join the fight, summoned by the resounding explosions.

Nineball dodged attack after attack until Wendy made the fateful decision to try and circle around and shank him from behind with her laser blade. For her efforts, she came away with a whiff and a laser scar of her own. She was still just inches away from Nineball when Bill helpfully decided to smother the whole area with artillery fire. Nineball came away unscathed, while Wendy's AC was reduced to a barely standing skeleton, a good sneeze away from destruction. Bitch missed a called shot, and soon found himself staring down the barrel of Nineball's rifle.

However, before Nineball could reprise his first attempt at decapitating Bitch, Wendy's turn came. Crumpled in a ravine, the NPC took a last desperate, called shot and BAM, Nineball's rifle unraveled into a shower of scrap. Enraged, the red aggressor dove down into the canyon to finish her off. As a final touch, Nineball turned off the jamming, treating the rest of the team to her last, agonized scream through the radio.

The player decided that this was the last straw. His turn came, and the soundtrack cued (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSJuBKzOYJg). Chaaaaaarge! :smalltongue: Dumping plot points into an attack roll, he hit Nineball again and again, chipping away his life save and beginning the enemy's destruction. Meanwhile, Bill circled around, discarding his artillery cannons for a laser blade that did quite a number on the boss.

Nineball was not without fight left in him, though. Through a chain of events, Bitch ended up losing all of his weapons to Nineball's attacks, while Nineball scooped up Bill's discarded cannon and went to town on the team. Remember kids, every item you misplace is a gift to the enemy. Finally, it came down to Bitch, attempting to defeat the bane of all ravens with fisticuffs, and Bill, struggling to get a shot in without hurting his teammate.

Can you guess what Ludacris song might be pertinent here?

Anyway, Bitch was knocked down, and Bill made a hasty decision. He charged forward, accidentally stepping on Bitch with his 60+ AC. Bitch's AC did not pass the roll to withstand this, and the structure quickly caved in under the weight, partially collapsing the crew compartment and crushing Bitch's leg beyond all hope of recovery.

Nevertheless, a timely punch from the ailing Bitch reduced Nineball to one hit left, out of the whopping 13 he had to start. Nineball decided to cut and run, already granting the PCs an unheard of achievement. Not to be satisfied, the empty handed Bill deployed his exceed orbit pods for one last, desperate shot at Nineball's retreating back.

And its good! Lanced through the heart with a sky blue beam of Smite Evil, Nineball exploded in midair and tumbled to a stop, his AC's remains burning sullenly. The legendary killer took his place amid an impersonal heap of junk.

By this point, the player had put it all together. In the epilogue, Bill returned a hero and got decorated left and right with awards, going down in history as the "Nine Breaker". The player made a show of Bitch being the forgotten lone wolf, nursing his prosthetic leg while silently toasting his friend Wendy's efforts. I had Nine Breaker secretly apologize for Bitch's lack of recognition, and was just about to make the big reveal when the player beat me to it. His perception is uncanny, I swear.

Anyway, the M.Night Shayamalan moment was Bitch turning out to be none other than Flint. After a brief tour of the loose ends and tying Nineball to another, current NPC, we closed the session with a fast forward 20 years to the present day.

The player had a ton of fun with the session, which made me happy. It was just the perfect difficulty, with enough challenge to make the player rise to the occasion and pull off some memorable moves, without being pointlessly hard.

As for the narrative, I was a little worried about how he would react to playing what amounted to Flint's interactive backstory, feeling like it smacked of Favorite NPC. I justified it to myself by reasoning that 1) the players all seem to like that character and 2) it did explain quite a lot about how the current conflict developed, and I was careful to throw in some other fun easter eggs that the player would enjoy. That said, I think the Boss needs to give back the spotlight and take a back seat in future sessions. Your thoughts?

Anyway, join me next time as the players make the most of their bold beginning outside of Cortex!

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-07-22, 10:47 PM
Sunday, July 17th, (Session 11)

Last time, player attendance made us run a flashback session that told the dramatic story of Nineball's defeat and how Flint came to be his tough, hard boiled self. Easily the most fun and cinematic encounter yet, it set the bar for future experiences in the game. Would today be a repeat performance?

Two weeks later, we return to the present to tell the story of the PC's first operation as an independent unit. The party consisted of the usual suspects, including

AC Snow Bunny, a sword/board melee AC with massive armor, piloted by the golden boy Jim
AC Francine, a roaming headquarters with vast sensor range, missiles, and a laser rifle that has been brutally effective against enemy missiles. Piloted by Beard
AC Heavy Metal, a standard-heavy AC featuring upgrades, a rifle, and missile system. Piloted by the ever-reday diplomat, Rhys

The session opened with the usual pre-drop RP, where the PCs sat in a conference room making lewd jokes at the NPC's expense. The players were preparing to embark on an errand by the mysterious kingpin Mr. Don't, called such for his evasiveness and deniability. Knowing their situation and anticipating their need for a home, Mr. Don't had generously offered them ownership of an old, decommissioned bunker in the lawless american interior if they agreed to do his dirty work; namely, silencing the base's current inhabitants.

The PCs, showing off their tactical savvy, studied the battlefield before departing. The surrounding region was patrolled by a fairly intimidating number of MTs, all of whom would be taking shots at the lifter if they took the Where Eagles Dare approach. Instead, the players decided to use a canyon running up the center of the map and some ECM pulses to make a quick entry, while Beard would spot from afar with his regional surveillance system.

When the time came to drop, they worked their plan and, thanks to some good covert rolls, Jim and Rhys had no problems bypassing the patrols. The next phase was for Jim and Rhys to quickly storm the base proper and eliminate the targets--Beard, meanwhile, would stay on the perimeter and storm the base with missiles instead.

The starting gun sounded, with Jim and Rhys charging in, only to find most of the MTs unmanned, balancing on maintenance gantries as they awaited repair. Nonetheless, they proceeded to ruin some poor technician's day by flattening everything in sight, including an innocent truck that happened to be sitting there. Bastards! :smalltongue:

After some failed negotiations with MTs, I decided to bring in the main course: a blast door grumbled open and AC Anatolia-01 stormed out. A black and white AC bearing the unmistakable star of The Law, the pilot demanded the players immediately surrender. In NPC-language, this means "destroy me, please."

To their credit, the PCs were reluctant to deprive the game world of a lawman, and agreed to parley. It turned out that this base was essentially the last stand for the recently ousted military dictator of Anatolia, and these MTs conssited of his followers. The motivation for this whole mission, Mr. Don't's ill-fated agreement, seemed to be more an act of coercion, one that the diehards had failed to uphold.

The rest of the mission came down to an RP session, where the players decided where to go from here. On the one hand, Mr. Don't was a very powerful and influential figure in the region, one who did not tolerate double dealing--his instructions clearly demanded that the players cleanse the base and everything in it. On the other hand, the players seemed to like the sheriff right off the bat, and were still unhappy with the thought of taking away lawful authority in a region where order was in short supply.

In the end, the agreement seemed to be that they would have their cake and eat it two by calling a truce with the sherriff and sharing the facility. Everybody wins!

This was when a heavy-hearted Jim bounded forward, and spent 5 bonus points on an instant-kill attack on Anatolia-01. He answered the other player's disbelief with the explanation that, the last thing they needed was a powerful enemy like Mr. Don't. I agreed with him, personally, and also the diplomacy ship had already sailed as soon as the players decided to open fire, with no conceivable way for the base to welcome the players after making that kind of entrance.

Ever pragmatic, Beard reluctantly agreed with Jim, adding that they really had no idea if Anatolia-01 and company were good guys or not, especially considering the circumstances the party had found them in.

Rhys, however, was not so comfortable with the results--he tried to appeal to Jim's ideology, arguing that, what was the point of leaving Cortex on moral grounds if they were going to resort to this kind of thing on their own? Sadly, the NPC-operator also sided with Billy and Jim--majority overruled Rhys' impassioned case.

The mission faded to black with the remaining MTs dying one by one as the players carried out their orders.

So, a real bombshell of a session as "Saint" Jim did his first really evil act. Atonement spells, by the way, are really hard to find in the armored core world, so he might remain beige for a while. Joking aside, it was actually a really powerful moment in telling, and I was proud of the RP that came from it. Its one of the few *stab* moments I ever seen that was well done.

Join me next time as we process the fallout from this development and possibly even welcome some new PCs into the group!

Ya Ta Hey!
2011-08-07, 01:10 AM
Sunday, July 31st, (Session 12)

Last session, we left the players with a bittersweet victory as they occupied their new headquarters at the expense of some seemingly just people. Surprising everyone was Jim, spurred by grim necessity as he singlehandedly toppled the Anatolia peacekeeper Walter Feng and his deputies, thus depriving the region of a stabilizing force. Competing militae and war profiteers were once again free to run unchecked, crushing thousands of refugees under their conflicts.

Today, we found the party in flux; two new players had joined, while Jim's character was being retired and Billy's player was busy. In light of this, the party consisted of:

Rhys McGonigal, tactician and horndog, piloting his multi-role AC Heavy Metal
Maladera, a new acquisition soon dubbed "Peaches". Her AC Renegade equipped with an interesting mix of riot shield and rifle.
Leona "Brightmoon", a pilot and much-needed expert in public relations with an unhealthy hero complex.
Gabriel "JD" Donovan, Leona's partner and bored arena jock who has taken to the battlefield in search of more legitimacy.

aaaand NPC Jim, who would be serving as Operator and GM mouthpiece.

With this much turnover, absences, and another two players on a tight schedule, it ended up being one of "those sessions" where you're mostly crossing t's and dotting i's on the character gen and rules. An hour and a half went by this way, but with the discussion taking dangerous turns toward the political, we decided that things should get under way.

Cue the new conference room, deep within the hardened bowels of the bunker complex the players would someday call "home". Jim, now an NPC and administrator in the newly fledged mercenary firm, comes walking in with a call for volunteers to handle a "situation". Once reassured that Jersey Shore was in no way involved, the players stepped forward to hear Jim's briefing--Rhys, still angry at Jim's stunt last mission, made a nice bit of RP out of his resentment.

The mission! The team's invaluable long-range cargo plane, aka the "lifter", had gone missing while collecting supplies to furnish the new base. Suspecting that the aircraft had been captured by one of the many dissident factions in the area, the players were tasked with searching out its last known landing site and recapturing their vehicle. Without it, their mission radius would diminish to a measly hundred miles and greatly reduce their pay potential, so failure was not an option.

The players tracked down the lifter to a festering shantytown. Colonies of improvised shacks towered over the bleak, dried mud, their tarp roofs rippling in the breeze. The battle began promptly as a Maladera promptly shot down a chopper, showering one part of the area with burning jet fuel. Needless to say, the heaping shacks immediately stoked a raging inferno that threatened to destroy the whole community.

Jim, his recent crime still weighing heavily on him, got on the radio and insisted that the players put out the fire. Now this had been part of my plan to make a unique encounter--the players would have to fight off the enemy minions while also dividing their attention to the fire, and rescue. I hoped to give the new players a chance to showcase their creativity and shine despite not having the same 1337 gear that the veterans might, and I was looking forward to it.

Maladera, a massive shield in one hand and a rifle in the other, glanced somewhat helplessly at the gathering flames, before the player got an idea. What I had forgotten was the town's water supply; courtesy of a humanitarian group, three massive water towers perched on top a central hill very near the burning remains of the chopper. Maladera simply swung her rifle around and, 3 shots later, had created a small flood that handily solved the worst of the issue. I had to applaud the players thinking, even while I described some of the buildings washing away.

The other players had promptly tracked down the threat. Colonel Niles Malik, the mysterious AC from the very, very first session (Session 0), was out in full force along with a quartet of minions in generic ACs. Malik turned out to be a force in the area and, alarmed by the team's arrival in the area, was bound and determined to neuter them by taking their lifter. After making the usual, unacceptable perfunctory demand, the battle began in earnest.

Two of the minions, lavishly dubbed 'AC-1' and 'AC-3', began the fight with an intimidating display of running and hiding. Leona, JD, and Rhys took off after them, guns blazing amid the teetering shacks and putrid sanitation. AC's 2 and 4 sped southward to ambush them, only to be intercepted by Fire Marshal Maladera. Mala made short work of AC-2, while Leona easily sidestepped the sizzling blades of two enemies (1 and 4) over and over again. Rhys began a hunt for the AC-3. JD, eager for some action after all that waiting, boldly rushed up the plateau and took Malik (the boss) head on.

Funny thing--there had been a nasty argument about some stupid rules thing just a second before, and I was so preoccupied that I forgot to roll Malik's initiative and take actions for two full rounds. Even so, the boss' life save was so high that even just standing there and taking swing after swing from the melee specialist JD, the AC hadn't been scratched.

Needless to say, I felt like a jerk after this breach of verisimilitude. Reluctant to add to the new player's frustration by owning him on his first session, I had Malik simply point his ignited laser blade and reassert his demand--leave the lifter, and you can go home. Time was up for two of the players, so on that cliffhanger, I ended the session.

All things considered, the session was okay. I barely made the session in time due to a late work shift beforehand, and wasn't very prepared, but I think we're having a fairly good time nonetheless--however, there seems to be a lot of metagame distractions, and the story isn't exactly its most colorful right now. I think we have dungeon syndrome, and I should probably introduce the final, overarching conflict when I conclude this mission.

Join me next time (ie, tomorrow) as we explore the conclusion of this battle. Will the players stand up to this first test of will and become a respected force in the area? Will the new pilots achieve their private goals of fame and growth? Is there any hope for this lawless region, or will the rigors of relentless violence drag down our heroes to its level? Find out!

[EDIT: The word of the day is 'promptly', can you tell?]