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The Second XCOM Saga – minor update
by Dan Repperger

I’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks on a pretty exciting project.  I’m not quite ready to go public with it, but more on that soon.  At any rate, I got most of that wrapped up over the weekend.  It may take me a couple of more days, but I will be getting back to the XCOM Saga this week.  I promise it’s not dead.

Episode 328 – GM burnout
by Dan Repperger

* (0:30) Fear the Con 7 sign-up is in full swing!

* (3:22) John explains “datedar”.

* (17:17) Knowing when it’s time to kill a game.  The story of the dwarf game that never was.

* (28:33) Killing games too quickly.  Keeping them from dying at all.

* (34:43) GM burnout.

* (37:53) Wanting to be the GM but not wanting to run the game.

* (40:42) Why Beth is nervous about GMing and how her players can help.

Hosts: Beth, Chad, John, Pat

Episode 327 – assertive characters
by Dan Repperger

* (0:51) Chris’ showing of The Gamers: Hands of Fate on January 23rd.  Click here for more information.

* (1:47) Setting up the scenario: an actual play podcast we’re working on with Master Geek Theater.

* (2:52) How to handle a character — both from the perspective of a GM and a fellow player — that socially dominates the other characters.

Hosts: Chad, Dan, John

The Second XCOM Saga, part 51, interlude 57
by Dan Repperger

As written by Dan Krenzke…

Doctor Diane Barnes wanted to have the greatest challenge she could find for her internship. As a newly trained surgeon, specializing in trauma, XCOM was the dream assignment she would have prayed for — if she prayed. Her cocoa skin and springy, black, shoulder-length hair belayed here African-ancestry. Her green eyes spoke of a European background. A tall woman at 5’8”, she kept her thin frame in top, athletic shape.  She’d heard of the tussle in the lab when a couple of the warriors decided to have a ‘physical training session’ in front of the techs. Boys thumping their chests and showing their bravado.  So typical.

She sat in her office, when a pounding at the door got her attention. Dr. Shen was there. “Training accident. They have wounded.”

Dr. Barnes grabbed her lab coat and followed her superior to the trauma center. “How many?” the intern asked

“One,” answered Dr. Shen.

“Only one?”

“It’s enough. It’s him,” Dr. Shen gave a humorless smirk.

They got to trauma room 1 as the medics rolled in the causality. Dr. Barnes asked for a status from them. It was the causality that answered through the delirium of pain. “Broken ribs on the right side with electrical burn on the skin.” She looked at the stained armor and saw “KRENZKE” stenciled on the left side of the chest.  The medics found the emergency releases on the armor and popped it open.

“How much pain medication has he been given?” asked Dr. Barnes. Something caught the corner of her eye. She thought it was a dog.

“None,” the patient replied through gritted teeth. “RUFUS!” The shout nearly caused the former Marine to lose consciousness. “Get…out…of…here…NOW!”

Alex called the Rottie and he left the room, reluctantly.

“What is a dog doing here?” Dr. Barnes asked with astonished indignation as she filled a syringe with morphine.

“He’s just worried about me,” answered Krenzke, before asking, “What’s that?”

“Morphine,” the doctor replied as she removed the needle from the bottle.

Medics continued to hook IVs and monitors to the patient as he said, “Doctor if you’re a drug addict, is shooting up in in the trauma room a good idea?”

She stared at him in bewilderment, “It’s for you.”

Every med tech stopped and moved away from the gurney. For a moment all that could be heard were the monitors indicating the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure.

The former Marine laughed as best he could with broken ribs. “You’ll need that shot if you try and give it to me.”

Dr. Barnes looked at a particularly large, Mediterranean tech and ordered him to restrain the patient. “No, ma’am,” defied the orderly. “He’s crazy.”

Fed-up, the doctor went to administer the dose without assistance. Deftly, Krenzke half-sat up and got her in a wristlock. She dropped the needle. The monitors began to alarm. Blood trickled from the patient’s mouth as the pressure ceased on the doctor’s wrist and he collapsed back on the gurney.

*   *   *   *   *

Dr. Barnes was checking the charts on her only patient. He slept as his breaths came in shallow pulses. His ribs were taped, and bandages were in the streaks where electricity had arced between the armor and his underclothing. The thin burns looked like rivers that made the attempt to connect the dots of the other scars. The hideous part was where they zigzagged across the plasma scars he’d already acquired.

It was the collapsed lung that had her most concern. She checked the tubes and the drainage from his chest. He awoke. “Hello, Doc,” he whispered through short breaths. “How…am I…doing?” He could feel the fuzziness of pain killers clouding his mind.

She grabbed a chair and sat next to him. “You had your lung punctured, badly. The only reason it didn’t collapse was it filled with blood.” Her explanation was sprinkled with genuine care. “You been out for 36-hours. How are you feeling?”

“Hungry…and hung-over,” answered the former Marine. “Haven’t felt like this…since my twenties.”

Dr. Barnes did a quick check of his chart.  “How old–”

“Old enough…to be your father,” Krenzke answered before she could finish her question.

“Barely,” she retorted with a half-smile as she looked at him. She saw something pensive in his face. “What is it?”

“Forgive me…I was completely sel….selfish and wholly consumed wi…with my mental and spiritual pain,” his words continued in a whisper through the steady, panting breaths, “with using the phy…physical pain in a futile attempt to…to heal the wounds only God can see.”

“Well, as soon as the drainage has cleared, we’ll get the nanites in you to repair the ribs and lung in 12 hours after deployment,” explained Dr. Barnes. “New tech you folks have developed here. The scars–”

“Leave them. They remind me all wounds heal.”

The doctor nodded. “You know where a girl can get a decent meal around here?” she asked as she got up to leave.

“I’ll take…you to a nice place…off post,” Krenzke grinned.

“Aren’t we locked down?” she asked.

“Don’t…don’t worry. My charming personality and good looks have a way around here,” the former Marine attempted to laugh.

Episode 326 – the community of games
by Dan Repperger

* (0:51) Explaining what “local” means in the suburban sprawl of the St. Louis metro area, which has roughly 1/4th the population of the Los Angeles metro area, but covers almost twice as much land.

* (1:20) The Fear the Boot Blood Bowl leagues are forming!  You can find all of the information you need on both the beginner and advanced leagues on the forums.

* (3:34) The video game, Smite, gets us thinking about the culture surrounding various video games, board games, and roleplaying games.  How that culture flavors your entire experience with a game.  Two articles on the professionals brought in to clean up League of Legends’ community.

* (17:35) Ways for controlling the type of community you play with.

* (25:22) Creating community in games that require little or no social interaction.

Hosts: Chad, Dan, John

The Second XCOM Saga, part 51, interlude 56
by Dan Repperger

As written by Dan Krenzke and Kite Winters…

It was, for Kite, an amusing semi-secret that the part she found most difficult in adapting to her new body was the clanking sound of her footsteps, walking the halls of the base. Before her conversion — really, before the aliens had ever been seen — if her footsteps were clanking, it meant she was wearing reinforced heels, but now it didn’t mean that, but she kept trying to stand up on tiptoe anyway in expectation of them, and her current legs weren’t actually capable of that. She was not planning to bring it up, since the likely outcomes were either that she would be told not to waste time on a stupid problem, or they would want to open up her brain, again. It was a problem that could only be solved by application of time and adaptation. Her brain could adjust on its own for that.

But there was another potential problem which she wished to at least attempt to offer assistance with that brought her to this particular point in space-time. If she was remotely capable of recognizing observable patterns (which a formally trained statistician usually is, even without computational aids embedded in the cerebellum), Sergeant Krenzke would be passing this way soon upon his return from a morning run.

“Good morning!” Kite called out as he approached. She was trying to sound less mechanical, but software can only do so much to correct hardware deficiencies. Even organic software. “May I speak with you, if you have a moment?”

Sweat seeped through the sweatshirt and pants. As Krenzke and Rufus came through the door into the barracks’ hall, steam came off them. He heard Kite’s electronic voice. “Sure. What do you want?”

At times like these, Kite almost wished they had not fixed her eyes as part of the procedure. Knowing that the chunky metal frames she had favored could absorb at least one punch from most people contributed enormously to a greater sense of social ease. “I have been meaning to raise an issue with you for some time, and apologize for my temerity.”

Despite the sterility she was struggling to remove from her voice, she had to pause to take a few deep breaths. “What I suspected when I witnessed you causing a swath of your chest to be ripped off after a mission was, I believe, confirmed a few days ago in the infirmary. Specifically in the statement, ‘Make it hurt. Let me know I live.’ ” Kite broke off abruptly. While her own voice came out as a mechanical almost-mockery of how she had previously sounded, her recollection of what Krenzke had shouted at Jeremy came out like a recording of Krenzke’s voice. “I…I apologize. I did not know that would happen.”

Krenzke saw her awkwardness at broaching a question she didn’t want to ask. He suppressed a grin. “My desire to feel physical pain is not a form of arousal. It’s to…to…well…feel. Emotionally I am so numb that anger seems to be the only feeling that will surface.” He looked at her, his eyes held as much spark as a mannequin’s.

While the question was proving difficult to ask, it was easier to continue, having it answered. “Nor was mine, in source. Only in solution. The hard, the sharp, the forceful. Became gateway to re-learning. Re-remembering. The warm, the soft. The human, instead of the savage animal.”  Whatever expression Kite was attempting to form, what she managed was the briefest flicker of a twitching smirk. “While it was not war in any normal sense which did it to me the first time around, such numbness is a state with which I am familiar. I do not wish for it to progress in you to its logical conclusion. I had intended to offer the…equipment, which was instrumental in my own…humanization. The changes to my body mean I can no longer use most of it. But if you are certain instead, I will ask. Just…try to find whatever last made you feel alive outside of rage and pain. Before it progresses, and instead of anger and conflict, the sensation of life comes only in causing death.”

The former Marine thought for a moment. “Best I can figure out is that this a test of faith for me. Am I going to trust the Almighty to see me through this, or am I going to turn a blind eye to all He has done for me already. Faith, Hope, and Love are not mere feelings of the moment, but actions that require I live it out. Most of the anger that boils out of me is my own lack of living out Faith, Hope, and Love. Then again, if these are not tested beyond the mere feelings of the moment, they’re meaningless. An old US Marine Corps proverb states that pain is a form of waste leaving the body, therefore pain is good. The same could be said of the soul.”

Kite was silent as ho spoke, for once glad of her difficulties showing emotion, and when she responds she did so more slowly, carefully choosing each word. “I cannot speak of faith in an Almighty. But I think that we can find only what we are willing to seek.”  She shook her head briefly, trying to clear it, reaching one metal hand out to Krenzke’s shoulder. “I just…Even as I am now, I am certain that, should I survive this war, I will be capable of reclaiming all of my humanity which holds meaning for me. It will take time. And an appropriate analogue of blood, sweat, and tears. But it will happen. I believe very few things. But one of them is that such recovery is possible for all of us here, despite what we have done. Despite how the consequences of what we have done will change the world.”

“I’ll be praying for you. ”

“And I will be hoping for you.”

The Second XCOM Saga, part 51, interlude 55
by Dan Repperger

As written by Chris Mais…

From: cmais@xcomops.com
Sent: November-30-2017 7:02 PM
To: dan@xcomops.com
Subject: psych eval

Dan,

I am submitting myself for psych evaluation after this recent skirmish in Kansas City, and for genetic testing to see if there has been any post-manifestation of psychic powers…or if I’m suffering a hallucination projecting itself into my mind as a symptomatic response to PTSD following some sort of psychotic break or crisis event. I can not say as I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist, and I have no mastery of the understanding of the grey matter within the closed, dark confines of my skull. The language it is speaking to me might as well be Babylonian or ancient Sanskrit writing on crumbled stone, dancing with Fortran and assembly language and Pascal and ASP.NET, colliding with each other with a helix sequence of RNA on the pulverized rock, giving way to entropy and silt at the bottom of ocean of littered bodies, each a version of myself at various points in time — of men I have been reaching up to me pointing up at the skies in warning as they are holding their throats suffocating with the other hand.

It means something…something that needs to be worked out to conclusion as the safety of my teammates is reliant on my lucidity and ability to perform in intense combat situations.

Whether this is a portent or a disability, I must know and so must you to determine my fitness for duty, and if there is any validity to any remnant of genetic reinvention and lingering or residual transhuman presence in my body, hidden since the first war.

As written by Dan Repperger…

From: dan@xcomops.com
Sent: November-30-2017 8:52 PM
To: cmais@xcomops.com
Subject: Re: psych eval

Your request has been granted.  As soon as the roster allows, you will be sent to the psi lab for testing.  Failing that, we can explore the options of psychotherapy to heal the emotional wounds or gene therapy to heal any physical trauma left by the implants you took on in the prior conflict.

The Second XCOM Saga, part 51, interlude 54
by Dan Repperger

As written by Alex Dzioba and Beth Roper…

Alex stood in front of his locker, stripping off his armor after his workout. He thought back to when his wife had introduced him to the concept of earning your shower and smiled at the nostalgia of far more innocent times.  The door opened and Beth came into the room after her latest excursion on the Sky Ranger. Alex stopped what he was doing and just sat in front of his locker, waiting for her to finish what she was doing.  She noted that the inside of his leg had a bloodstain she couldn’t account for. She put up her weapons and came over. “Hey. Let me see that.”

“Hm?” Alex pretended he didn’t know what she had been talking about. When her eyes went to the stain, he said nonchalantly “Oh that? It’s nothing.”

She pulled out a bandage and sat next to him. “Quit being a baby, let me see.” As his hands subconsciously covered it up she could tell something was amiss.

“Beth, I’m serious. It’s nothing…”

If they hadn’t been spending so much time together, she might have been convinced, but she sensed the plea to drop it in his inflection. She cocked her head at him. “My office. Now.”  He slammed his locker closed and followed her to her office. Once inside, she tended to wounds entirely too precise to not be self-inflicted. She didn’t go easy on him as she cleaned it up, but he didn’t react. His eyes were guarded and blank.

“How long?”

His words were hesitant. He didn’t want to explain himself, but he knew ducking her would not get her to drop it. “Since the base attack. Pain helps me focus.”

“Bullshit and you know it.” She sat back on the desk behind her. “Don’t you think I want to crawl into a bottle every fucking day? But I can’t because I have responsibilities. So do you.”

“Don’t give me that. Everything I do is superficial. Tell the truth, did you even notice?”

“Yeah I did, and so did Lauren, genius. You’re hear, but not here.”

Alex shut his eyes and a tear fell down one side, then the other side. His emotional dam, now cracked and fell apart.  Beth put her arms around him. At first, he cried all those cries he hadn’t allowed himself to have. Then he panicked, because he thought Dan would take him off the project. He begged her not to tell him, but agreed to stop.

The Second XCOM Saga, part 51
by Dan Repperger

November 22nd, 2017…

  • Noting we have enough Meld and cash to put one soldier into gene modification, Dan selects Alex.  He gives him a short time to prepare.
  • The order is sent down to the gene lab.  When Alex emerges, his brain will contain tissue that makes him highly resistant to psionic attack.  His eyes will see movement more clearly.  He will be given a second heart to decrease his chance of death.  His body will emit an electrical aura that will help him “feel” nearby enemies and protect him from strangulation.  And finally, his muscle density will be increased, allowing him to perform superhuman acts of leaping, climbing, and running.
  • Dan presents Alex with the order, only sending it down once the soldier signs it.  He will be in the tank for over two weeks.  And being our first team member in the vats, the commander wishes him luck.

As written by Alex Dzioba…

From: alex@xcomops.com
Sent: August-16-2017 7:22 PM
To: dan@xcomops.com
Subject: volunteering

I know where you are coming from, Dan. Transhumanist stuff can be a slippery slope. We both believe in souls, despite our difference in faith, and this could well be trading portions away. I would also love for humanity to do this without bastardizing the gifts that God, as we know him/her, but I think that it is up to everyone themselves.

Here is what I think, for me:

I love my life. I love the pleasure and even the pain of it. I will never have my body placed in a metal suit like Chris. To me, it is a mockery of life. Don’t get me wrong, if it is what Chris or anyone else wants, I’m all for it for them, but to not be able to smell my daughter’s hair as she hugs my neck, to be unable to kiss my wife’s lips, to not be able to hold my future child in my arms… It would be torture the likes of which I would be unable to bear.

I’ve spoken to Shen and Vahlen. Gene Therapy is a different matter. One of my fears, after talking to those who have been touched by “prophets,” is being controlled and the damage that would come from that in my mind. I’m still having trouble with what happened, what I and we did to fellow humans, in France.

I’m not saying that what we did was wrong, but the fact that it was so natural a thing to do. I’ve been praying for forgiveness for what had to be done. I don’t think I’d survive being under their control. So, I’d like to volunteer for Gene Therapy, specifically for the Neural Dampening treatment as well as improving my bone marrow and the second heart treatment.

Sheesh. You remember when we used to play games instead of fight galactic wars?

November 30th, 2017…

  • The council report arrives.  They’re pleased with our progress and have nothing but praise for the XCOM project.
  • While some funds are set aside for transhuman pursuits, the remainder is put into base upgrades, including the construction of the Gollop chamber.

The Second XCOM Saga, part 50
by Dan Repperger

November 21st, 2017…

  • An alien supply barge is spotted departing the temple ship.  We don’t care where it’s headed or what it’s carrying, so long as it hits the ground hard.
  • A Firestorm is scrambled and proves more than a match for the alien cargo ship.
  • As Dan tries to think through the right team for this mission, he can’t help but notice the folder of transhuman requests still sitting on his desk.  If this is the future of XCOM, then we have to learn what it looks like on the field.  We don’t have any gene-modified units yet, but we’ve got everything else.
  • Dan calls Ryan to C3.  The team has been selected for him, but it’s his to command.  Annette, Kite, Chris Hussey, and both SHIVs.  That gives him a psychic, two MECs, and two robots to work with.  Krenzke has volunteered to be the nominal ground commander and also the only normal human on the field.
  • When handing over the C3 headset, Dan makes no pretense about it: this is a field test of a new form of combined arms warfare that we’ve been avoiding up to this point.
  • Dr. Shen has been working on the ARC throwers over the past few months, and has modified them to be capable of not just stunning aliens, but also repairing the SHIV and MEC units.  Annette and Krenzke will both be carrying one.
  • Dan gives one final note to Ryan, which is that he may consider the SHIVs disposable when compared to any other unit type.  He then sits in a nearby chair to observe the exercise.
  • Once loaded, the Sky Ranger departs for Brazil.  It lands in the rain forest at night.  Why do we always make these runs at night?
  • The troops are deployed directly in front of the main loading ramp of the alien ship.  Ryan sends the two SHIVs forward to take the first look, forming up the other units in a line behind them.  Krenzke will be paired with Kite, and Hussey will be paired with Annette.
  • L1 picks up a Meld canister just inside the ship.
  • The team moves through the cavernous, forward bay unopposed.  Chris notes an aural contact, but it’s coming from deeper in the ship, behind raised energy fields.
  • There are three exits from the room.  Before anyone can muddle out how to handle them, three bugs race into the room.  Fortunately, they move on the closest targets, which happen to be the toxin-immune SHIVs.
  • Annette tries to flay the mind of one of the bugs, but finds no purchase in its psyche.  The creature is so simple that it’s difficult to strike with psychic powers.
  • Hussey and Kite converge fire on the closest bug, incinerating it.  Kite follows up with a grenade, injuring its two allies.
  • The surviving bugs swarm around L1, but they simply weren’t bred for this kind of warfare, and their claws do little to its armor.
  • As L2 locks down a Meld canister, L1 obliterates one of the bugs.  Hussey locks onto the second and puts a particle beam through its torso.
  • Still facing a room with three exist into the next chamber, Ryan elects to have the SHIVs form on the middle door, with the two side squads roughly near the left and right doors.  The SHIVs will move through first, and based on what they see, the flaanking teams can either move toward the middle, run along the sides, or pull back to the prior chamber.
  • L1 begins fabricating new armor to fill in the gaps left by the bugs.  Ryan gives Dan an odd look.  “Yeah, that’s a thing,” the commander says sheepishly.  “Dr. Shen built it a while back.  I probably paid for it.  The file is in my desk somewhere.  I don’t recall the project name.”
  • The SHIVs move into the next chamber.  A long, narrow hallway runs down the middle of the ship with cargo nooks lining the sides.  Walkways run along the exterior of the ship.  Going down the middle means leaving the troops open to ambush from the ledges, but going down the ledges means potentially leaving one of the flanking teams on its own.
  • Before Ryan has to make that call, three hulks rush from one of the ledges and into the middle of the room.  The watchful SHIVs soften them up a bit but don’t drop any in the initial exchange.
  • Through holes in the wall left by the firefight with the bugs, Hussey and Annette are able to see the targets.
  • The MEC slays one hulk in a flash of energy.
  • Determined to master her psychic powers — and for the right side this time — Annette focuses her thoughts on another hulk, leaving it on the ground with a hemorrhaging brain.
  • With the last hulk hiding beneath a platform, the SHIVs have no lock on it anymore.  However, Kite is able to step just through the right-side door and kill it with a shot to the back.
  • Looking over the layout of the craft, Ryan makes the tough call.  The group will move down the center.  The flanks are simply too far apart and would leave the fire teams isolated if something went horribly wrong.  So instead, the SHIVs will lead the way, and the two fire teams will trail behind them, keeping what cover they can and always watching the sides.
  • No sooner than the team starts to slip through the cargo hold, a prophet and its two elite guards come into view.  Dan rolls his chair up to a console, rewinding the helmet cams to confirm what he saw.  “Why aren’t they in the flight room?” he ponders to no one in particular.
  • There’s no perfect position from which to conduct this fight, so the teams will have to improvise.  Ryan starts by ordering the SHIVs to lock down where they are and keep the center aisle hot.
  • The prophet floats forward.  Seeing only SHIVs, it has nothing to attack with its vast, psychic arsenal.  A bony arm reaches from beneath its robes, pointing at L2 as the creature speaks in its native tongue.  This seems to imply their constant chatter is internal communication and not meant for our benefit.
  • Being under no threat of psychic attack, the SHIVs advance and hook into the next set of bays, putting them on either side of the prophet.  They tear into its body with focused energy.  Hussey is able to take a single step forward and drop a grenade at its feet, burying the creature.
  • The two elites fall back into a cargo bay on the left.  They both open fire on L2, but neither hits.
  • L2 retaliates and kills one of its attackers.  L1 moves up and into a clear line-of-fire, but its shots fail to connect.
  • The SHIVs are a bit exposed, but Ryan keeps the other units moving slowly.  There’s only one elite left in the area, and no one will weep over a wrecked SHIV, anyway.
  • Even under a slow advance, Kite manages to catch a glimpse of the elite.  She’s locks on, fires, and exterminates the alien.
  • As the SHIVs continue leading the advance, L1 spots the other Meld canister and stabilizes it.
  • By the time L1 and L2 reach the far end of the cargo bay with the rest of the team a short distance behind, the mid-section of the craft buckles from the damage it sustained both during impact and the more recent firefight.  Fortunately, no one is hit by the debris.
  • An energy elevator leads up and onto a terrace surrounding the flight room.  Two grays and a smith are standing guard.
  • Kite fires two shots at the smith.  The first strikes home with devastating effect, but the second shot misses the mark.
  • As the SHIVs hold guard up front and the MECs hold the near flanks, Annette and Krenzke are able to move up a bit, keeping cover, but looking for an easy target.
  • Fortunately, the smith makes a mistake.  It tries to align for a shot on Hussey, but our MEC is faster on the draw, burning the alien cyborg down before it can fire.
  • As the team maneuvers for better positions, we can hear the grays — and possibly other targets — moving around the terrace above.
  • The SHIVs go up first.  L1 immediately spots and drops one gray, but the other is unaccounted for.
  • As the rest of the team moves up, prepping to breach the flight room, the SHIVs are sent to run a circuit around the terrace in search of any stragglers.
  • The SHIVs spot side doors, meaning the entire team can swarm the the command center from three directions.  However, L1 also spots the gray and drops it.  By the time the group enters the command room, they find it empty.
  • 12 xenos dead, 0 XCOM losses, and no team injuries, though L2 will spend a day in the shop.
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