Tag Archives: Wild Cards

Game Night: Outbreak!

Game Night Badge courtesy of FreshBadge.comIt seemed like any other Game Night: Chris was running us through another session of his homebrew campaign (based heavily on the world of Amber, created by Roger Zelazny), we were spending about as much time on conversational tangents as actual roleplaying, and there was cake.

A Tuesday night like many before it, until the deep, concussive sound of an explosion rattled the windows of the International House of Johnson.

“What the—?”

“Holy—!”

“Was that—?”

Dave, Chris and I ran for the front door. Laura turned on the television and tuned to the local news on Channel 5. Rachel sent a message to Twitter from her cell phone; 140 characters announcing to the Internet that something nearby had exploded.

We scanned the treeline and saw it: a large mushroom cloud—too small to be nuclear; besides which we’d already be dead if it was—to the northeast, somewhere near the junction of Route 2 and SOM Center Road. No sooner had we registered the cloud than we heard the screaming. People all through the cul-de-sac had come out of their homes and the sounds of agony surrounded us. We watched in horror as across the street Rick fell to his knees, his face a mass of hideous, black blisters that burst and sprayed a tar-like substance over the pristine concrete pad of his driveway. Something in the house next door exploded, a soft whump followed by the shattering of windows…then flames licking toward the early evening sky from inside.

The idea that I should attempt to extinguish the fire was pushed to the back of my mind by more screaming, this time from right behind me. I turned to find Dave in the grip of some unseen agony. Unseen, that is, until his shirt split at the seams and I caught a glimpse of green scales. I took a step back and nearly tripped over whatever it was that now occupied Chris’ t-shirt and khaki shorts. The thing—gelatinous and translucent, seemed to melt, oozing out of—no…no absorbing—the clothes and coalescing into an amorphous blob that slid down the gentle slope of my lawn toward the street, leaving a wide scar of burned grass in its wake.

Dave was on the ground now, writhing and twisting as his body expanded well beyond the capacity of his clothes. I took another look…and ran. Ran away from the horrors that used to be my friends and back toward the house.

There was no question about what had just happened: somehow, somewhere nearby the wild card virus had been released in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Rick—and most of my other neighbors, it seemed—had drawn the Black Queen: a mutation that meant death, usually a very, very painful death. The same appeared to be true of Chris, while Dave had probably drawn a Joker as the virus invaded his body. A Joker meant that Dave would live, though whether that made him better off than those who didn’t might be a matter of perspective; the virus didn’t kill him, but it was mutating him into something that probably wouldn’t resemble a human being for much longer.

I dreaded what I would find inside. There was no screaming from, but that could mean that Laura had drawn the Black Queen, too. No, there she was, very much alive and looking very much like Laura. She was  kneeling over a prone figure on the floor.

Rachel, like Dave, had drawn a Joker. A spiral horn had erupted from her forehead, and I couldn’t help but think of unicorns…and faeries—a pair of gossamer wings spread from between her shoulderblades. Her hair was longer, too, at least waist-length and a rich red in hue.

Laura saw me then, and we quickly reassured one another that we were fine, though Laura said she felt “weird”. (I chalked it up to the fact that something had blown up near our neighborhood and our friends were mutating into bizarre conglomerations from J.R.R. Tolkien’s nightmares.)

“We have to get Rachel to a hospital,” Laura said.

My mind raced in a hundred different directions at once, but I couldn’t focus on a clear course of action. I nodded, glad to have the decision made for me. I half-lifted, half-dragged the unconscious Rachel to the front door.

“Where’s Chris?” Laura asked. “His van is blocking the driveway, we’ll have to take it to the hospital.”

“I…I think Chris is dead,” I said. “He…he melted.”

“Take…my…Humvee.”

I whirled toward the source of the pained, gutteral words. Dave was on all fours, doubled over in pain. Scaly protrusions outlined the ridge of his spine and a thick, green tail jutted from just below the small of his back.

Dave’s gas-guzzling, military-inspired monstrosity was parked on the curb. The keys were in the shredded remains of his pants and Laura, when she recovered from seeing the ex-Navy SEAL transformed into a human-lizard hybrid, retrieved them with trembling fingers.

I shouldered Rachel into the back seat, then went back to help Dave. He was impossibly heavy; there was no way I’d be able to even drag him across the lawn, much less lift him into the vehicle. He fought through the pain, staggering to his feet and stumbling toward the Humvee.

“Drive!” he muttered, climbing into the back seat next to Rachel. The Humvee listed as Dave managed to somehow cram himself—tail and all—into the back seat. Laura climbed into the front passenger seat as I pulled the driver’s door closed.

I hadn’t driven a standard transmission in at least ten years, but necessity trumped nerves and seconds later the Humvee was swinging around the cul-de-sac and roaring toward Euclid Avenue.

I uttered a curse—probably several—and slammed on the brakes. Euclid was a snarled mess of cars and trucks, some trying to maneuver toward East 305th Street, others stalled or crashed and now blocking traffic, their drivers either dead at the wheel or having abandoned the vehicle in the street. As bad as it had been in the cul-de-sac, it was a thousand times worse on the most traveled surface street in Lake County. Horns honked, people shouted (or screamed, as the Black Queen took her sweet time finishing a few of the unlucky ones off) and a logjam of steel and fiberglass stretched out in both directions.

It took me a moment to free myself from my usual minivan mindset and realize that I was driving a Humvee. I shifted into four-wheel drive and pushed the big truck into the fray. Metal shrieked, glass broke and rubber stuttered on concrete as I pushed cars out of my way, not caring whether their occupants were alive or not. Ploughing toward the opposite side of Euclid Avenue, I finally encountered an obstacle that the seemingly-irresistable Humvee would not move: a large black SUV.

I uttered another curse and felt the Humvee rock on its suspension as Dave hauled his bulk out of the back door. Slack-jawed, I watched as Dave—at least eight feet tall now—gripped the rear bumper of the Escalade and lifted. The SUV rocked and I recovered my wits enough to let my foot off the Humvee’s brake. With Dave’s help, I pushed the Escalade onto its side and we were able to squeeze past it.

We ploughed along, parallel to Euclid Avenue, cutting through the parking lots of a lawn tractor dealership, a bar and grill, a convenient store. Dave added his power to that of the Humvee when our forward progress was arrested and we rolled through—and in one case, over—the dozens of parked cars between us and East 305th Street.

It took us an hour to reach Route 2, the freeway I hoped would whisk us to downtown Cleveland and The Cleveland Clinic, but the sight we found when we finally crossed the railroad tracks made my heart sink: a virtual lake of vehicles, none of them moving, many of them sporting familiar red-and-blue flashing lights. Route 2, and by extension The Cleveland Clinic, was simply out of reach; we were going nowhere.


With apologies to Chris Miller. We didn’t mean to kill you, really.
Wild Cards CakeThe Game: Wild Cards, a Mutants & Masterminds sourcebook from Green Ronin Publishing. Written by John Joseph Miller and designed by Steve Kenson.

Wild Cards is based on the series of novels by the same name, edited by George R.R. Martin and featuring stories by Melinda Snodgrass, Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, John Joseph Miller and many more.

On September 15, 1946, the alien xenovirus known as Takis-A was released over an unsuspecting New York City. The virus killed most it infected instantly, while a lucky few were granted superhuman abilities and others were horribly mutated.

On August 26, 2008, a new outbreak of Takis-A occurred in the east suburbs of Cleveland. How the virus was released is not yet known, but northeast Ohio will never be the same…

GM: Gus “I don’t exist in this reality” Gosselin
Players: Dave “Scales” Berg, Kris “I Feel Fine” Johnson, Laura “I Feel Funny” Johnson and Rachel “@TheInternet OMG, Something Just Exploded!” Ross.

Up Next: Aces! (Session 1, Part 2)

Con on the Cob 2007: Day 3 – Interviews

Con on the CobThough I was presented with numerous opportunities to get my game on again today, I abstained. Today was all about earning my press badge, so I wandered around the convention with a digital recorder and badgered people until they agreed to talk to me. Alas, due to a compatibility issue between operating system and digital recorder, I am unable to retrieve the interviews, or I’d spend a little pre-party time editing and uploading them. For now, I will provide a teaser list:

  • Brannon Hollingsworth of The Wandering Men. Brannon is one of five authors who collaborated on the upcoming, novel Skein of Shadows, and tie-in RPG setting, Crown: City of the Fallen.
  • Matt Duhan of Gozer Games. Matt designed Collateral Damage: The Anime Board Game.
  • Larry Elmore, legendary fantasy illustrator. Larry’s paintings have appeared on numerous roleplaying game source books and novels, and he helped define the look of Dragonlance. Recently, Larry did the cover for the final issue of Dragon magazine.
  • Sean Patrick Fannon of Talisman Studios. Shaintar is Sean’s forthcoming fantasy setting for the Savage Worlds system.
  • Steve Kenson of Green Ronin. Steve was the lead designer for Mutants & Masterminds: 2nd Edition and is currently working on the Wild Cards setting book, due to be released in August of 2008.
  • Evil Mike of Pinnacle Entertainment Group sat down for a few minutes to talk about The Savage World of Solomon Kane, the new licensed Savage Worlds game based on the works of Robert E. Howard.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll score another interview or two before I leave tonight.

Once the interviews have been retrieved from the digital recorder and edited (to add intro and outro material as appropriate), they’ll be up on the Con*Live blog/feed and where ever else I can put them.

Nerdstuff: Con on the Cob 2007

Con on the CobCon on the Cob 2007 starts in about two and a half hours and ends Sunday evening. This is good news for my inner geek and bad news for my aspiring writer. On the other hand, maybe a little geeky distraction is just what I need to push through to 20,000 words. Ideas come from the strangest places, after all.

There are a handful of reasons I’m going to the con instead of writing:

  • Miscellaneous G™ is one of the organizers.
  • Fantasy artist Larry Elmore will be there.
  • Green Ronin’s Wild Cards expansion for their Mutants & Masterminds RPG. If you’ve been reading KJToo.com for a while, you probably know that Wild Cards is my favorite sci-fi/superhero/alternate history series in the history of ever, and it’s a perfect setting for a roleplaying game.

It’s after 1:00 already and I’m carpooling with Gus, who’s going to be here in 30 minutes or so. I’ve got to get ready. Beard pictures when I get home tonight (probably after midnight).

Election Day 2006

The morning Laura and I went to our polling place and cast our votes using the ES&S iVotronic, which is not nearly as nifty (or portable) as some other iProducts, specifically my Apple iPod. I was mildly amused that the machine must be activated by briefly inserting an “electronic ballot” cartridge — roughly the size and shape of an old SEGA video game cartridge — prior to each vote being cast. I was hoping that the ballot screen would be replaced by Road Rash 2, but instead of being able to beat motorcyclists with tire irons and chains I was presented with candidates for Governor, Attorney General, State Auditor and so on. Worst. Game. Ever!

Also amusing was the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Greg Hartmann. They say that name recognization plays a big part in elections; if so, poor Mr. Hartmann will likely be denied the office, as his name is associated with a politician who drew an Ace when exposed to Xenovirus Takis-A and gained the ability to manipulate the emotions of anyone with whom he came into physical contact. Gregg Hartmann (D-NY) created an alternate persona, Puppetman, who fed off negative emotions and psychic pain from those he touched. Though this Hartmann appeared to be a kind, compassionate humanitarian, he was actually a deceitful, calculating sociopath who used his abilities to further his own political career.Leigh, Stephen. 1987. “Strings” Wild Cards (George R. R. Martin, editor), Bantam Books

So, yeah, there’s a bit of a stigma attached to that name.

In related news, Kyle has shown an early interest in the democratic process, and he came home with an “I Voted Today” sticker on his cap. He voted on a modified ballot that included such proposals as fewer naps, later bedtime, decreased border security between the living room and the dining room, and mantadory petting periods with the kitties.

Bookstuff: Wild Cards and A Song of Ice and Fire

Once upon a time, I was a member of the Science-Fiction Book ClubActually, it’s at least thrice upon a time, as I seem to re-join every six or seven years for some reason.
and I forgot to promptly return the “Selection of the Month” cardThis happened more than once, and I have several books on my shelf because of it. One other that I can recall off the top of my head is Marrow by Robert Reed, which I’ve not read. Yet.. As a result, one of the books I received was George R.R. Martin‘s A Storm of Swords. I probably would have sent the book back, but I’m a huge fan of a series of books that Martin edited back in the 1980’s called Wild Cards.

The Wild Cards series is a sort of alternative history of Earth, one that diverges from our own history slightly after World War II. The key event is the release of an alien virus into the atmosphere; a virus that radically alters a significant portion of the population of first New York City and eventually much of the world. Those affected by the Wild Card virus gain super-human abilities (Aces), become hideously deformed (Jokers), or die immediately (referred to as “drawing the Black Queen”).

Wild Cards is a collaborative universe, with stories written by George R.R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams (Dread Empire’s Fall), Melinda M. Snodgrass and Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber), to name a few. The authors each created several characters that inhabited the Wild Cards universe, from Doctor Tachyon, the alien who brought the virus to Earth to Father Squid, the Joker priest, to Jack Braun, the Ace known as The Golden Boy (and later The Judas Ace).

Wild Cards: Death Draws Five

The series spans seventeen volumes, but I only have the first thirteen. There was also a four-issue limited series comic book published by Marvel’s Epic imprint, which I own in its entirety, and a GURPS supplement, which I do not. Though I thought the comic book was a merely mediocre, I absolutely loved the novels. I’ve re-read most of them at least twice, and went through all thirteen volumes I own last year. The most recent installment, Death Draws Five was published just last month. Volumes fourteen through sixteen have proven to be somewhat difficult to find, but I’d certainly like to complete the set eventually.

A Storm of Swords is the third volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since I’d enjoyed Martin’s collaborative work in the Wild Cards series so much, I thought I’d give his solo stuff a shot. Rather than jumping into the middle of the series, I went out and picked up a copy of the first volume, A Game of Thrones. I read the first few chapters and then something new and shiny caught my eye, so I set it aside. The novel (which weighs in at 800+ pages) sat on my shelf for several years, until I was looking for something to take to the hospital when it was time for Kyle to make his debut. In the week Laura and I spent running back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic, I managed to read about a quarter of A Game of Thrones, quickly learning that the point where I’d stopped reading years ago was the chapter immediately before the plot took a very interesting turn.Should you happen to be reading/have read A Game of Thrones, I am referring to an event involving a young lad who likes to climb things.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire puts the “epic” in “epic fantasy.” In the first volume, Martin is setting the pieces on the board, but it is very clear that the game is already well underway, and has been for quite some time. It’s a big game, too. Each chapter focuses on one character, and eight characters share the spotlight in A Game of Thrones. Six of the characters are from a single family, the seventh is a dwarf who is at one turn admirable and at another replusive, and the eighth isn’t even on the same continent as the others. All of these characters are involved in a “game of thrones,” attempting to prevent one faction or another from siezing control of the Seven Kingdoms, plotting to take the throne themselves, or even simply watching helplessly as the game is played out around them.

I finished A Game of Thrones just yesterday, and I’m itching to run out and buy the second volume, A Clash of Kings. The fourth volume, A Feast for Crows was released last year, but at about eight hundred pages per installment—not to mention dozens of other unread books on my shelves—I’ve got plenty of reading to keep me occupied until it is released as a paperback. Of course, between volumes two and four is A Storm of Swords, which I already own in hardcover and will probably purchase in paperback just to make the reading experience a little more enjoyable. I should keep that in mind the next time I’m tempted to join The Science Fiction Book Club again.