Thursday, April 17, 2008

Personnel Dossier #8: Superpro

Codename: SUPERPRO
Daniel Armstrong
former college athlete, current A.E.G.I.S. heavy weapons specialist

Appearance: Tall, blond, blue-eyed and well-muscled, Daniel Armstrong looks exactly as one might expect a two-time Heisman winner to look, save for a livid scar over his right eye - a trophy from a bit of shrapnel in Afghanistan. On operations, wears a green football jersey over body armor, a field helmet retrofitted with a football mouthpiece, and carries grenades stuffed into hollowed-out footballs.

Biography: Born and raised in the Texas panhandle, Daniel Armstrong seemed to be living the small-town Texan dream: a championship-winning quarterback at his high school, followed by a full athletic scholarship to the University of Texas and a pair of Heisman Trophies. But things took a left turn when Armstrong badly tore a ligament in the last game of his junior year, ending any hopes of an NFL draft. Managing to finish out his college career anyway with a degree in mechanical engineering, Armstrong enlisted in the Army, where he served with distinction as an antitank specialist, qualifying with most heavy weapons. After being wounded by a grenade during an ambush outside Kandahar - where Armstrong had saved most of his unit by tearing the .50 caliber machine gun from its mounting on their destroyed Jeep and walking the gun into an enemy fortification, killing over a dozen insurgents in the process - he was tapped for a specialist position in the newly-created A.E.G.I.S. anti-terror unit.

Skills and interests: Even wounded, Armstrong is possessed of the physicality and skills expected for NFL contenders - strength, excellent reaction time, a sound tactical mind, and an almost inhuman degree of endurance - as well as being a trained mechanical engineer who has customized and improved many of his own field weapons. Off-duty, tends to favor rowdy, physically punishing activities despite his injury. Enjoys the outdoors and has used his military career to enhance his knowledge of camping, orienteering and wilderness survival.

Psych Profile: Although in most situations he tends to play it off as a joke, in truth one need look no further than his outfit and code-name to see that Armstrong is still deeply disappointed over the accident that cost him his prospective NFL career, although his highly traditional upbringing, as well as a dread of seeming disloyal to the US military and A.E.G.I.S., only rarely allow him to voice this sentiment. As his degree attests, Armstrong is intelligent but at some level seems uncomfortable with the fact, almost embarrassed; again, a likely artifact of a childhood spent in Lebanon, Texas. Similarly, although he clearly understands the importance of A.E.G.I.S.'s diversity doctrine, he remains personally uncomfortable with many of his colleagues' lifestyles and attitudes but is equally uncomfortable with being seen as a stereotypical Texan. This leads him to act in an overly formal manner around many female, gay, or foreign squadmates, followed by loud, boorish behavior when he allows himself to unwind. This has not yet affected his operational effectiveness, but further psychological work is nonetheless recommended.

Personnel Dossier #7: Method

Codename: METHOD
Chris Novak
actor, A.E.G.I.S. infiltration and disguise specialist
unknown, possibly American or Israeli

Appearance: Unknown. As the world's foremost expert on makeup and disguise as well as a skilled, versatile actor, the only things that can be said with any certainty about Mister or Ms. Novak is that s/he is likely between 5'3" and 5'11" in height, 20-40 in age, dark-haired, and slightly-built, albeit fit and toned.

Biography: Very little is known about Chris Novak, including his or her real name or even gender. No Western intelligence service can pinpoint the date or place of his/her birth, though s/he seems to speak American-accented English in mixed company and admits to practicing Judaism. Even in the 21st century there are many places both in America and Israel where one may be born and live "off the grid" - a rural farm or kibbutz, for instance. Novak first caught the attention of critics and film fans as the star of the micro-budgeted indie film "Faith and Credit", playing the main character, an embattled Wall Street investment banker confronting the emptiness of yuppie existence. According to later interviews with the filmmakers, "Christopher" Novak had arrived for the audition already dressed perfectly for the part, in khakis and a Polo shirt, and after getting the part showed up every day for shooting already perfectly made-up and in costume. He was reportedly very easy to work with; his only request was that his payment be deposited to a numbered offshore checking account in the Caymans. Novak won acclaim for the part and was offered lucrative supporting roles in bigger-budgeted film and television, but instead dropped out of sight for six months. At the next year's Toronto Film Festival, a "Christine" Novak made waves as the breast-cancer stricken girlfriend in the lesbian confessional film "Dying in the Light." Film fans noticed the resemblance and industry rumor began to spread about the mysterious pair of twin actors, but the gossip was fanned into a flame when "Chris Novak" took a showy role as a cross-dressing con artist in the HBO series "Flim-Flam." Novak agreed to a few carefully-staged interviews where he/she confessed that "Chris" and "Christine" were in fact one and the same, but refused to divulge which was true, or almost any other personal detail, preferring to talk about the craft of acting and his/her dream project - a biographical film about Lon Chaney. All of this caught the attention of Special Forces Colonel Thomas Union, who wondered if Novak might be induced to lead an acting workshop for field agents. To his surprise, Novak enthusiastically accepted, on the single condition that no inquiries be made about his/her personal life or origins; this was unacceptable, but a compromise was eventually reached - Novak's background was checked out by an NSA technician who was suffering terminal cancer and who agreed to keep no permanent records of his findings. He gave Novak the all-clear, paving her way for his/her inclusion as a working field agent for A.E.G.I.S.

Skills and interests: To all appearances, Novak's life - acting and disguise - are his/her primary and possibly only interest. He/she is clearly intelligent, capable of carrying on conversations on a great many subjects and having a working knowledge of many technical fields, but this again seems to be a function of the need to play a role to absolute perfection. That said, he/she seems to derive a great deal of enjoyment from the life-and-death nature of field work, where a bad performance can literally kill.

Psych Profile: As possibly the world's greatest living actor or actress, very little can be known about Method with any certainty. That said, some things may be usefully surmised: an intensely curious mind, for one, and an ambitious drive to be the undisputed top of a field. Novak's reticence to share personal details may be interpreted as deep-rooted and pathologial paranoia, but that is a facile conclusion: based on his/her interviews and conversations with colleagues, it appears Novak is an idealist who believes he/she is serving a larger cause by transcending race, nationality, and gender.

Personnel Dossier #6: Mesa

Codename: MESA
Carlos Ezterra
Medical doctor, "shaman," A.E.G.I.S. field medic

Appearance: A tall, long-haired, smooth-faced Hispanic with clear Native ancestry, Ezterra favors comfortable clothes - flannel and denim - and has a friendly, approachable manner. In the field, wears a white trenchcoat over a tie-dyed shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots.

Biography: A scion of an upper-class Mexican family, Ezterra attended the best private schools in Mexico City, followed by medical school at UCLA. After completing a successful research residency (largely dealing with herbal remedies to various poisons) and being published in a pair of leading medical journals, he seemed poised for a lucrative practice; however, a near-death experience in Mexico City, where he apparently experienced a religious vision, realigned his priorities drastically. Ezterra sold all his material possessions, broke off contact with his family, and became, to all intents and purposes, a hermit, subsisting in a largely uninhabited strip of Baja California, and occasionally assisting poor local villagers with their minor maladies (which, given the lawlessness of the area, often included gunshot wounds). All that changed, however, when terrorists in the Dominican Republic poisoned the staff of the American embassy there with a painful, slow-acting, and very rare toxin - a toxin that Ezterra had researched during his internship. He was sought out as a consultant by government and law enforcement agents and ultimately managed to save the lives of most of the afflicted. Afterwards, Colonel Union prevailed on Ezterra not to disappear again, but to serve his fellow man as a medic and biologist for A.E.G.I.S.

Skills and interests: Ezterra is a gifted doctor and surgeon with considerable skill at treating battlefield-type wounds and injuries with a minimum of preparation and equipment; he is also an expert on the use of, and countermeasures against, several types of chemical and biological weapons. In his personal life, however, he is deeply spiritual and intuitive, believing himself to be on a shamanic mission to preserve life and enlighten his fellow man. This leads him to adopt an unconventional, and occasionally controversial, holistic method of healing - many A.E.G.I.S. operatives, grateful for his quick and effective treatments, are nonetheless uncomfortable with his penetrating psychological insight and concern for their spiritual well-being. However, they can rarely argue with the results. Away from A.E.G.I.S., he favors difficult tomes on religion and spirituality - Herman Hesse is a particular favorite - and the music of Los Lobos.

Psych Profile: Although dismissed by more than one frontline trooper as a "Trustafarian" - a rich kid suffering an attack of conscience - Mesa's personal convictions are both real and deep-rooted. He has a sense of morality and justice that compels him to speak out against things he perceives as wrong, even when he knows his input is unwelcome or unpopular. As a result, he tends to stand on the outside of the group; a position he nonetheless claims to welcome, saying it feels appropriately shamanic. That said, Ezterra seems to recognize the danger of taking oneself too seriously, and leavens his everyday conversation with an understated, droll humor. He is conflicted about working closely with the United States government, which he views as imperialistic, but has been persuaded by Colonel Union that he can do more good from the inside, and that terrorism is an enemy of all civilization, not just any particular hegemonic power structure.

Personnel Dossier #5: Highball

Codename: HIGHBALL
Simon Llewellyn
RCAF paratrooper and A.E.G.I.S. field specialist

Appearance: Tall, blond, toned, and with an intense, piercing stare, but affable and approachable when in a good mood. A clothes-horse; spends a lot of money on tailored suits and takes good care of them. Still likes to dress well even on operations, favoring fitted shirts and khaki pants whenever possible.

Biography: Born to lower-middle-class parents in Edmonton, Alberta, Simon Llewellyn did well in school but still displayed a somewhat roguish streak - obsessed with maintaining his elderly vintage car, Llewellyn earned money extralegally by pool hustling, gambling and running book on his peers' illegal street races, and selling liquor and cheat sheets to classmates. Likeable but deeply private, he remained on the outside of most of his classmate's more attention-getting activities, and was smart enough never to be formally charged and only rarely caught; a handful of school disciplinary slips are the only hard clues to these youthful indiscretions. To pay his way through college, Llewellyn joined the RCAF reserves; then, dissatisfied during his junior year, he quit college (a breakup with a girlfriend, rumored to be pregnant, may also have contributed to this decision) and had his reserve officer, whom he had befriended, pull strings to get him into officer's training school. Initially attached to the paratroopers, Llewellyn was later moved to the military police, where he displayed a knack for investigative work. His almost singlehanded takedown of a sophisticated theft operation run out of a remote mountain base got the attention of the brass, and when Canada was asked to submit a list of personnel for consideration for A.E.G.I.S. his name was on the list.

Skills and interests: A skilled manipulator with a gift for getting people - especially women - to say and do more than they meant to, Llewellyn also has a meticulous attention to detail that has enabled him to both catch, and create, the most elaborate forgeries, and that also likely comes in handy with keeping his lies straight in his head. That, and his private nature, have worked to his advantage at A.E.G.I.S., where he is expected to maintain cover with little contact with, or support from, his fellows. Llewellyn has maintained his youthful love of motors into adulthood and currently owns and maintains several vintage models. He also seems to have taken to his new upward mobility with relish, cultivating impeccable tastes in fine dining, wine, clothes, and music.

Psych Profile: A textbook example of a mostly-benign sociopath, Simon Llewellyn has a savant's gift for using and manipulating people while at the same time being also apparently utterly unable to meaningfully relate to them. This is supported by the anecdotal evidence: people who speak to Llewellyn report finding him either intensely charming and interesting, or cold, sardonic, and distant. He lives off-base and has little use for fellow A.E.G.I.S. personnel, except perhaps as sex objects, though this has not yet been a problem at work - human resources at the Ziggurat apparently make a habit of warning new women off him in a casual, off-the-books fashion.

Personnel Dossier #4: Bushido

Codename: BUSHIDO
Laurel Yokohama
web designer, A.E.G.I.S. assault specialist

Appearance: An attractive young woman who appears slightly trendy/nerdy on first sight - the impression accentuated by black-rimmed glasses and a baggy, thrift-store wardrobe. However, she is exceptionally well-toned and -muscled, and sports a small scar on her forehead that her long bangs are designed to conceal. On operations, however, she ties the hair into a tight bun and dons yellow ski goggles, a dark turtleneck, jeans and Doc Martens.

Biography: A Seattle-born sansei - third-generation Japanese-American - Laurel Yokohama lived the fairly ordinary suburban life of a bright, creative tween with a knack for Photoshop. This changed, however, when her maternal grandfather Sho decided that, as his only grandchild, she should be initiated into the secrets of the Heavenly Sword martial art school - of which Sho was the last living practitioner. Unsure at first, but eager to please, she took up the sword and practiced rigorously with the old man after school. When he succumbed, ostensibly to liver failure, a few weeks before her high school graduation, she put the sword away and got ready for college; however, when a pair of thugs from Osaka arrived at the estate sale and menaced her mother for a written record of the Heavenly Sword technique, then revealed that they had murdered her grandfather on a Yakuza don's orders, Laurel trounced them with her sword and thereby attracted the interest of both local authorities and Interpol. A special-forces colonel from the U.S. Defense Department offered Laurel his unit's protection, information about her grandfather's Yakuza enemies, and a job training his men in her grandfather's techniques; she accepted, and when that man, Colonel Thomas Union, was made head of the newly-created A.E.G.I.S. group, she accepted membership as a part-time field agent, dividing her time between counterterrorism and her work as one of Seattle's hippest web designers.

Skills and interests: Laurel is the only living master of the ancient Japanese Heavenly Sword technique - which enables its wielder to pierce even the strongest materials with a properly-forged katana - but, to her, it's a burdensome family obligation rather than an actual interest. In her private life she's much more fond of indie rock (including the late great Sleater-Kinney), the local art scene, and cyberspace activist groups like the Electric Freedom Foundation and BoingBoing.

Psych Profile: The initial profile of Laurel Yokohama was of a skilled dilettante whose interest in the counterterrorism game will end once she feels the men responsible for her grandfather's death have been adequately brought to justice. Her left-leaning politics keep her suspicious of the motives both the U.S. government and A.E.G.I.S. and the occasions when Bushido has encountered terrorists using American training and equipment have only served to reinforce this. However, this appears to have in part been counterbalanced by a deep personal loyalty to Colonel Union, who has apparently replaced her grandfather as a mentor figure in her life, as well as a growing psychological dependency on her work as Bushido, which seems to offer a useful release from her often aimless and unfulfilling civilian life. Whether she is aware of this remains to be seen.

Personnel Dossier #3: Boudica

Codename: BOUDICA
Name: Gwynn Ifans
Occupation: supermodel, A.E.G.I.S. assault specialist
Nationality: Welsh
Age: 26

Appearance: A strikingly curvy six-foot redhead with sharp features, close-cropped hair, and an earthy, ribald demeanor. Dresses fashionably in civilian life; on an operation, favors black leather under a brown biker jacket.

Biography: Born in a small town outside Cardiff to an Irish linguist and a Welsh historian, Gwyn Ifans was raised on the stories and songs of the old British Isles; her mother's Gaelic was spoken in the household as often as English. When, at twelve, her parents' marriage begain failing, she chanelled her anger by joining a martial arts dojo and taking up archery. She left the house at fifteen for Manchester, but modeling for tabloids and swimsuit magazines kept a roof over her head and paid for some irregular college attendance. At nineteen, having made contacts and turned heads in the world of archery, she was made an alternate on the UK Olympic team. During the infamous terrorist attack on that year's Games, she apprehended two fleeing suspects with well-placed shots. This attracted the attention, both professional and otherwise, of an MI-6 colonel on the scene, and upon her return to the UK they began dating and he brought her on as a part-time "asset." After supplying the ministry with useful intelligence gleaned in the jet-setting fashion world, her name came up as a possible candidate for A.E.G.I.S. training.

Skills and interests: Besides being an Olympic-level archer, Boudica holds black belts in two separate martial arts disciplines as well as a clutch of military certifications, including a pilots' license. Away from A.E.G.I.S., she retains her lifelong love of history and mythology. Her years in Manchester, however, left her with a passion not for Kate Bush or Clannad, but drum'n'bass - the louder the better. She also drinks in heroic quantities and has put many larger, older A.E.G.I.S. agents under the table.

Psych Profile: Intelligent and perceptive, but with lingering issues about men and relationships left over from her parents' divorce, and likely exacerbated by her day job. For the most part disciplined and self-reliant, but tends to push herself too hard and then overcompensate with hard partying. MI-6 tox screens in the past tested slightly positive for both MDMA and cocaine, and she is a moderate to heavy drinker, but thus far her indulgence does not appear to impinge on her operational effectiveness.

Personnel Dossier #2: Bunker

Codename: BUNKER
Clark Connors
former U.S. Army Ranger, current bodyguard and A.E.G.I.S. consultant on personal protection

Appearance: Described by a colleague as being "built like an Abrams tank, only less huggable." At six-foot-five and 280 lbs. of lean muscle, Bunker towers over almost all other members of A.E.G.I.S. and has a grim, businesslike demeanor that many find unnerving. Shaved bald, with some Celtic-style tattoos visible around the neck, Bunker nevertheless favors well-cut suits whenever possible, although he dons full S.W.A.T. incursion gear, airbrushed with similar Celtic designs, for the most dangerous A.E.G.I.S. ops. He moves slightly slowly and ponderously, the result of a gunshot to the leg received while protecting a client several years back.

Biography: Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, the son of a pair of trial lawyers (one white, one black), Clark Connors excelled both in school and varsity sports, though to everyone's surprise he favored soccer over football. Attending Boston University for pre-law, he left before moving on to law school and enlisted in the Army instead, serving in the personal retinue of a general assigned to the Middle East, where he learned the fundamentals of executive security and earned the nickname "Bunker." After receiving an honorable discharge, Connors took his skills to Hollywood, where his business acumen and erudite, professional demeanor helped him build a world-class bodyguarding career in short order. When Connors was shot defending a pop star from a crazed fan, and the star (who had lost much of her fortune to drugs and a well-publicized divorce) was unable or unwilling to pay for the extensive surgery and hip replacement he needed, Colonel Thomas Union stepped in and offered Bunker reactivation, a promotion, and a position as head of A.E.G.I.S.'s personal protection staff.

Skills and interests: Bunker has risen to become one of America's foremost professional bodyguards, owing both to his physicality and his sharp intellect - he is skilled both at anticipating threats and planning around them, as well as improvising responses to the unanticipated ones. In his personal life, he is an avid reader of nonfiction and has recently taken up watercolor painting as a form of stress relief.

Psych Profile: Though Bunker presents an unwelcoming, dangerous manner, this is largely a deliberate, professional choice to aid the performance of his job; in private, while he is not naturally gregarious, he is thoughtful, generous, and intensely loyal to people who have earned his respect. It is possible that this could prove to be a disadvantage should Connors ever be forced to choose between following orders and helping a friend.

Personnel Dossier #1: Colonel Union

[this is the first of many character bios I've written for the game; later, I'll return and add character sheets and illustrations to each of them as time permits. -j]

Codename: n/a
Colonel Thomas Union
director of A.E.G.I.S.

Appearance: Tall, thin, and distinguished, with the grace and poise of a politician and the tough, wiry frame of an old soldier. Blue eyes with wire-rimmed spectacles. Hair is iron-gray and receding. Favors business suits in public; among comrades, tends to wear dress ungreens devoid of insignia.

Biography: The scion of an old and powerful Washington family, Thomas Union counted federal judges, diplomats, and Congressmen among his family and friends. He was born on the fast-track and stayed there, attending elite private schools and finally West Point, a decision that rankled some members of his family, who had expected him to take up the richer (and safer) career of a lawyer or lobbyist. Entering the Army as an officer during the so-called "War on Terror," Union learned Arabic and volunteered repeatedly for front-line duty rather than let his family pull strings to secure him a safe assignment. Like many, he was dissatisfied with the lack of leadership and accountability among the Army brass during the protracted struggles in the Middle East, and vowed to find a better way. After many of his innovative ideas and tactics were shot down by his higher-ups, Union resigned his commission in disgust, returning to private life and marrying Caroline Dowd, daugher of a prominent Senator. However, unable and unwilling to simply drop his crusade, Union joined a prominent Washington foreign-policy think tank, venting his frustration by writing impassioned papers about the changing nature of 21st-century combat. When a new presidential administration took office, with the goal of rebuilding America's strained foreign relations and cooperating to establish an international anti-terrorism task force, Union was tapped to join the planning commission. His recommendations sparked controversy among the Washington establishment but won him the admiration of the President, who prevailed upon him to take a job as head of the new organization, now known as Allied Extra-Governmental Incursion Security, or AEGIS.

Skills and interests: Col. Union is a skilled military tactician and strategist, but with a politician's eye for the big picture that is often lacking in his peers. Despite his rarified upbringing he has a gift for commanding respect among people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs, as evidenced by the growing retinue of close personal friends that follow him from assignment to assignment. His upbringing has, however, left him with a taste for the finer things in life - opera, good food, art, and literature - and he tries to impress a similar love of the good life into his men.

Psych Profile: Thomas Union is by nature passionate, with strongly-held ideals, and has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to follow those ideals wherever they lead, even when it results in conflict with his family or superiors. That passion is presumably what inspires his associates and followers, since Union is otherwise a private man in many respects, and appears to open up only to very close friends or to his wife. He has a documented knack for understanding other people's motivations, a skill that has proved useful in the counterterrorism business, but does not have the "common touch" per se - behavior analysis shows that he is much more likely to be found listening to Bizet in his office than watching the football game in the mess. Despite his upbringing and military background, Union appears to have little use for formality, which he considers a useless illusion, and encourages individual expression and unconventional thinking among his officers. He also takes risks with personnel, often going outside normal channels to find people with the talents he needs. These qualities appear to have served him and AEGIS well so far, but have also earned him enemies in high places, and may make him vulnerable if AEGIS's performance is ever called into question.

Welcome, recruit.

My friends and I - in the midst of wrapping up our long-running 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons campaign and eagerly anticipating the release of 4th edition in June - decided to have some fun with D20 Modern, a system we've owned for years but played very little of (or in a heavily-modified form).

My inspiration was twofold: first my infatuation with the original Command and Conquer, a classic strategy game about a government agency battling an evil group of terrorists for control of a mysterious mineral, and secondly the infamous 80's cartoon and comic book series G.I. Joe, which I trust needs no introduction. Mainly I was looking for an uncomplicated excuse to have us all roll up some colorful characters and place them in our own personal action movie. This blog is mainly going to be a way for my players and I to exchange information, but if you've stumbled in from the great wilds of the internet, feel free to misappropriate anything here for your own uses. My personal feeling is that D20 Modern is a nifty system that's never gotten a fair shake from gamers, so I'd love it if this inspired someone to try their hand at it.