Thursday, April 7, 2016

Danger: Unexploded Spell (Part I: Backstory)

Magical Bomb Disposal. I started with that. I didn't watch TV with my dad that often. Usually he'd start a show or movie with us and then wander off. So shared programs stuck with me. Danger: UXB was one of those- a British series about bomb disposal technicians in London during the Blitz. It scared the shit out of me. Not like In Search Of,  The Nightstalker, or any other terrifying TV fare I watched on the sly. Danger: UXB was tense and real. 

That came back to when I scrabbled together some pitches several years ago. I had the image of someone surviving in a city under magical siege. Dragon riders, skyships, or other flyers bombed it nightly. The attackers dropped spells and curses, contained in magical foci designed to create maximum chaos and fear on impact. Sometimes they didn't trigger or activated only partially. Then specially trained wizards would have to go in to disarm and dispell then. And often they wouldn't survive. 

Originally I thought about Danger: Unexploded Spell (DUXS) as a novella, maybe a YA novel, or a comic series. So what you've see below is the long-form pitch. Later I crafted a tighter, one-sheet, but this has more of the ideas and concepts. I read a good deal about the life during the Blitz and rewatched Danger: UXB.  At the time I dismissed DUXS as an rpg setting- in good part because I couldn't imagine how to gamify much of it. But I have an idea now. I think DUXS would be cool as something like a Worlds of Adventure for Fate. Anyway, this post covers my original backstory and ideas. In the next post I'll talk about how I'd change and adapt these concepts for tabletop play. 

PROJECT TITLE: Danger: Unexploded Spell

LOGLINE: When Quinn Daymire finds herself diagnosed with magical talent, she's recruited into the army. Put in charge of a rag-tag band, she must undertake the most dangerous assignment: deadly spell disposal!

LIKE: Lord of the Rings meets the London Blitz; A Game of Thrones meets The Hurt Locker

PREMISE: Having lived in comfortable isolation on her late father's estate, the discovery of young Quinn Daymire magical talent shocks her more than anyone else. In a kingdom at war, Quinn finds herself recruited into the Sorcerous Corps. After whirlwind training, she's sent to Crux, the capital and a city under nightly bombardment in the war. Quinn hopes of being sent back home are dashed when she learns her new duties. She will lead a team disposing of unexploded spell bombs.

She finds little help in this task either from her fellow officers or from her own subordinates- a dregs of the service. An accident at her first disposal reveals her aptitude for the deadly task. Her childhood studies give her an edge and gain her a new ally in the shifting elemental, Archwield. Quinn presses on disposing of deadly bombs and beginning build some trust. But when she uncovers a deadly conspiracy, she finds herself drummed out of the service. Will she be able to reveal the plot or will the city itself be engulfed in wild magic?

Quinn Daymire arriving in the fantastic city of Crux. More people have queued up to leave on the skyship than have arrived. In the distance we get the first inklings that the city is under some kind of assault: smoke pillars, flying magical defenses, some of the grand towers damage. Quinn's a teen, dressed in a great coat gifted to her by her mentor. She's confused trying to make her way through the crowds, but still she has time to stop and help a child find its mother. That's what she's grown up doing- managing other people as we'll see.

We learn Quinn’s lived her life in isolation- arising from her history and natural inclination. When asked where her family is, she says she has none. She explains she won't be in Crux long- she'll be returning home so that she can pick her life up where she left it before her recruitment.

Quinn tries to find her way in Crux, capital of the Empire of Hours. Her military uniform nets her a ride on the back of a wagon driven by a pair of talkative enlisted men. This city is far from the village she grew up in, far from the isolated Academy of Magic she spent the last nine months at. Driving through, Quinn sees firsthand the devastation caused by the war. Nightly raids rain fire and spells down on the city. They spot one of the Masks, chosen protectors of the Empire, surveying the damage from a spell bomb. The chaos and crowds of the city make Quinn uncomfortable. She thinks fondly back on the tidy and orderly life she had back home.

Finally Quinn arrives at Sorceress Engineering Taskforce building. An old school, it has clearly been requisitioned for the army. Quinn wanders the halls looking for a guide before finally running into GLORIANA HILLKER, a young enlisted woman with some strange markings on her uniform. She seems pleased and excited to meet Quinn until she realizes the new arrival is a Mage. Suddenly her attitude turns frosty. Brusquely, Gloriana takes her to COMMANDER HARKVRAG'S office. The Commander seems surprised that Quinn's a woman, but dismisses that quickly. He has her new orders.

Quinn's to remain in Crux. She will be heading up a newly vacant post as the Magician in Charge for a Spell disposal team. The Miremallian League has subjected Crux to sorcerous bombing runs for months. Quinn protests. She was told she would be allowed to return home, to do research, help her village. Commander Harkvrag tells her she has no choice.

Still fuming, Quinn meets her attache and number two, SIR TOBIAS CRANK, one of the dog people known as the Aperkitas. Quinn will be in charge of THE LEAD BRIGADE (named after their late Magician). They are, to put it mildly, the dregs of the service recruited to help. A Mage-Knotted Criminal; twin Goblins; a purposeless Revenant; and a handful of red shirted pseudo-toughs. They're less than enthusiastic about their new magician and start a pool almost immediately.

Even as Quinn tries to come to terms with the situation, her teams given deployment orders. Crank drags her along. As they leave, Quinn sees THE SOULFORGE BRIGADE, an all-female team, and their magician, DESPATIR SOULS. Despatir has been injured in his most recent disposal efforts. The Soulforge Brigade, including Gloriana, give Quinn a hard stare. Crank pulls her along- explaining as they ride the basics for unexploded spell demolition. The Brigade clears the area, sets up basic artifact wards, and then sends the magician in. Armed with a Spell Key and a few fragmentary pages of singed notes, Quinn crosses the threshold. She finds a spell bomb, dented but still lovely, like a brass ornamental egg, crashed on the table of a now empty house. She prepares herself.

And the bomb goes off.

As the magic clears Quinn finds herself confronted a magical “thing” calling itself ARCWIELDER This is how some spell-bombs work- containing spirit who, when released, wreaks havoc or summons a potent effect. Arcweilder seems confused, especially since Quinn manages to speak with it- the language of such things has been lost for some time. But Quinn learned those words from her own father, a heretical linguist. The two verbally joust with Arcwielder trying to gain permission to destroy, but Quinn keeps the upper hand- eventually bargaining the beast into her service.

If the “A” story is the plot of the the magical bombs and the risks involved with those, then the B Story revolves around Quinn gaining the grudging admiration of The Lead Brigade. Her team's shocked when Quinn emerges from the house with Arcwielder in tow. Money changes hands back as those who bet on her being dead must return their winnings.

Quinn discovers her talents are unique- but require some careful use. She crosses paths with the handsome, but damaged Despatir, who seems to have secrets of his own. She also finds herself at odds with NYSENKO TURNS, leader of the elite FULCRUM BRIGADE. Turns comes from the highest nobility and sees his place and magic as a birthright. He has a couple of sycophant assistants to help with the most taxing magical problems. Turns dislikes Quinn for her weak and provincial landed gentry background. Such background as well as her gender makes her unworthy of being an officer.

Quinn begins to adapt to the city despite the hostility of her comrades. The Soulforge Brigade resent her- fearing that as a women, she will be switched with their own beloved commander. She begins to discover some of the personalities and problems of her own team. But mostly she's faced with a stream of deadly jobs, trying to keep spells from going off, keeping others under control and adjusting to the nightly raids.

Quinn's called in to bring her unique skills to bear when the Fulcrum Brigade screws up a job. She revels in the opportunity to show up Turns but in doing so creates an even more powerful enemy. She also misses the activity of one of Turns' assistants, and his handling of the disposed bomb. Quinn continues her work, but now has made an enemy of Turns. At the same time she realizes that certain magical items recovered from the disposals have gone missing. For his part, Turns begins a whispering campaign against Quinn. When she goes in to dispose of another bomb, it goes off- destroying Arcwielder, and causing huge damage.

Quinn's called up for her incompetence. Turns reveals the details of Quinn's background- her father's heretical and banned work and the fact that Quinn has used that. She lands in the brig. Quinn knows now she's never going back home to her country house. She may well be executed.

The Lead Brigade stages a break-in using their unique skills. They're aided by Gloriana, who has come to realize that Quinn isn't a threat. Quinn thinks about going with them and escaping, but something's not right. She finds a sign- Arcweilder was not destroyed. She puts two and two together- someone has been engineering things behind the scene for some other purpose. To that end, they needed the magical creature.

Quinn and her team race against time to uncover the plot. They quickly realize that Turns has been an unwitting dupe. One of his assistants has been in the pay of the Miremallian League. They have been dropping in highly magical parts and pieces over the last several months. This allowed them to skirt the main magical interdictions of the Empire of Hours. Now they will assemble the device together to destroy the Great Hall of the Empire and the Queen with it. Quinn and her team rush to the scene. They battle it out and all seems lost- but for Quinn's previous bargains with Arcwielder, the linchpin of the device. The bad guys are defeated and the Empire saved.

The force reinstates Quinn and she returns to her barracks. This time the Lead Brigade has finally arrayed itself in proper uniforms, giving her a measure of respect. Quinn's changed a little- she still has a distance to go, but this is a start.

CHARACTERS
Quinn Daymire: A young woman dragged into the middle of the war. Living in the countryside, she took over responsibilities for her household and village when she was still young- to the consternation of many. Isolated and officious, after he father's death, she ran things and indulged in her reading and studies. When the Sorcerer Testing Service came, she reluctantly took the exam to demonstrate to others that there was nothing to fear. She was as shocked as anyone when the tester announced his results.

Quinn spent nine months in rapid training, learning the basics of magic with others. She had a decent knack for seeing the construction and components of spells and so her masters assigned her to magical engineering. Quinn got through this, assuming she would eventually be allowed to return to her village, perhaps to put those talents to use there. Her remarkable ability to ignore the reality of the situation stood her in good stead until she reached Crux.

Quinn has many obstacles she must overcome. She's used to being in charge- and even if not obeyed cheerfully, then at least being obeyed. She's developed a brusque manner. She's also been isolated and alone for most of her life- even before her father passed, they rarely had company. She's book read but not wise and is about to see the grim details of the world first hand. She also has to deal with the stigma of her father- a linguistic researcher and historian banned for his controversial work. Yet it is precisely that banned work that does give her an edge in bomb disposal- she has learned much about the language and symbols the magical spirits use to communicate amongst themselves.

Sir Tobias Crank: Quinn's second in command. He very much considers himself the wall between the affairs of the officer magician and the enlisted men. He tries to run a tight ship, but he's working with the dregs. He's short, a sort-of cross between a halfling and Scotty Terrier. His people, the Aperkitas, were magically created long ago. They don't understand magic or high-faluting philosophies, but the get what's right in this world.

Arcwielder: A magical creature, cycling through the various elements. It has a role and a mission, but will not speak of them. It finds itself bound by its own relentless curiosity when it meets Quinn. Later it finds itself helping the young mage as she works to protect the city.

Despatir Souls: Souls comes from one of the oldest houses of the Empire, but one which has suffered much in recent generations. Some speak of a curse. Souls could have had his pick of positions based on his line, but decided to come here. He's brooding and distant, even with his own team. Unknown to most his own magics cost him dearly. He's damaged goods, literally and figuratively. Quinn's presence, in the long run, may be the key to his own redemption and transformation.

Nysenko Turns: One of the rich and powerful nobles of the Empire of Hours. He has access to power and wealth, and has used that to give himself a relatively safe position here. The question- never dared asked- is how he got assigned to this posting. After meeting and dealing with him, most conclude that someone in his family wants him scrubbed away. Turns has a testy relationship with Souls- Souls is tied to one of the most notable families, but he ignores Turns and the rules of decorum.

Gloriana Hillker: One of the youngest of the Soulforge Brigade. Like many, she holds an unrequited affection for Despatir. But she's young enough not to realize her feelings are likely doomed. She's excited to have someone her age joining the Brigade and feels as if a trust was betrayed when she learns who Quinn is. She bad talks the newcomer, until realizing late in the game that her reactions have no reality.

Commander Harkvrag: The elder Commander assigned to oversee this particular segment of the spell-disposal units in Crux. He tries to allow things to fall where they may. Most of his time is spent in briefings with the high command and trying to get more resources. He wants a dedicated team of mages working on the problem of evolving spell-triggers, but few will listen to him. He's obsessed with the idea that there's a opposite number to him operating in the Miremallian Empire. He's drawn a picture of what he imagines that enemy looks like.

The Lead Brigade: Each Brigade is named after the previous Magician Officer in charge. In this case, Theophilius Lead lasted two weeks before being blown up. This Brigade has become the dumping ground for problem and non-human men. While there are a number wearing “red-shirts,” a few are notable. Evantoad and Vakuum, twin goblins: the former's a whiny second-guesser and the latter's his vacuous sister who makes up excuses for him. Taskler Cage: a former dashing criminal, now bound by magical knots and gaeses to serve his country. Citizen Box: a undead raised up by a malformed spell to vengeance on his murderer. However Box died from an accident and so his call for vengeance is more aimed at increasing street repairs.

The Soulforge Brigade: The all-female disposal brigade. It has been originally constituted under the auspices of Dame Regan Soulforge. It had an excellent success rate. When Dame Soulforge died, there was talk of disbanding, but the pressing need meant that the newest Magician Officer Despatir Souls took command on a temporary basis. Their continued string of victories has meant that Harkvrag has refrained from changing that set up, despite pressure from many and rumors of improprieties.

The Fulcrum Brigade: Contrary to standard convention, this group has been named after Nysenko Turns' noble line, the House of Fulcrum. This is a spit and polish group, despite the danger. Turns has managed to keep himself above the really dangerous work- by pulling assignments where the devices are known, falling back on controlled demolition instead of disabling, and by having a set of lieutenants who undertake the really dirty work. His team does have a fairly high survival rate as a result of his desire to avoid problems. Despite the discipline, they have the best resources.

WHERE TO NEXT?
This particular story serves as a solid arc setting up the main character and her journey. She's advanced some here- but still has a long way to go. She's taken on a significant adversary, but the war still remains. She's learned something about magic, but questions remain unanswered. She's built trust among her team, but still has to learn more about them. With that in mind, here are some obvious arcs, plot points and developments:
  • Exploring the backstory for members of the Lead Brigade.
  • Coming to some kind of understanding with the Soulforge Brigade. Quinn's made progress, but has a long way to go.
  • Dealing with advances in Spell Bomb technology
  • Crazy researchers tagging along
  • Life in a city under constant bombing- the difficulty of getting things, how people survive.
  • The history of the war- what are the terms, who are the enemies, who are the allies?
  • The precise nature of her father's banning- who worked behind the scenes on that.
  • Quinn on holiday, returning home and the changes there.
  • Turns' problems within his own family.
  • The mysterious Masks and their role in the life of the Empire
  • Romantic relationships? Uncovering the secrets behind Despatir's life.