Dominus Rising

DakPreta1

Minis by DAK, photo by BHR

A Darker Vision

Back after I’d completed work on Starterbook: Wolf and Blake, I had several brainstorm chats with then-line developer Herb. We fleshed out a lot of the ‘hidden’ actions of certain characters within the Word of Blake’s Manei Domini faction, especially that of my (at the time) newly created Opacus Venatori and their multi-layered leader, Berith.

Working with the Jihad timeline we were continually constructing at the time, we formulated a few key events that found their way into the background of later products.

In 2012, shortly before Herb was pushed out of the LD position, we’d begun work on fleshing out the storyline and important faction details that would lead to the 3250 setting we were devising. (Not anymore, mind: that entire idea and setting has since been scrapped, for various reasons I won’t rehash here.)

One of the major points I pushed hard for was the re-emergence of the Word of Blake as a primary foe going into the post-3250 era. That meant an evolution of sorts for the faction, so I sketched out my own thoughts on how that would come to pass.

Casting Light on Shadow

Now that I’m completely severed from the line – and that those story plans have been thoroughly trashed – there’s no harm in sharing what my thoughts and ideas were regarding this defunct bit of worldbuilding, including my perceived take on the fate of Berith, his merry band of villains, and the sinister Word of Blake.

(Note that some of the info here conflicts with later published product. Such is reality versus creative brainstorming.)

Enjoy.

Berith and the Exile: (Originally outlined in 2008; additional details added 2013.)

  1. The OV suffers the loss of Portia Thomas during the battle on Gabriel’s moon; a few others are injured, but the unit survives nearly unscathed. (Berith does face down Church again, but to no clear winner. Instead, he uses the opportunity to lure out and kill Stryker, removing the traitor from the Word of Blake’s heart.)
  1. Thomas’ loss is not made up during the unit’s subsequent redeployment to Glengarry (mentioned in Berith’s TRO75 notable); Marita takes it personally and begins to whisper her discontent. To her POV, the Opacus MD are getting better treatment and replenishment, while the Venatori “Frails” are getting the shaft. (This isn’t true, per se, but because of Kari’s bitterness, it becomes truth to her.) Her grumblings become more and more frequent.
  1. Berith leads his Opacus and assassinates the Bounty Hunter. Shortly afterwards, Berith personally kills Chandresekhar Kurita, who had hired the BH to protect him. Berith commands Kendali to “finish them off,” giving her leave to hunt and kill the remaining members of the Hunter’s crew on the planet. With that command, Berith also orders Kendali to take up the BH’s mantle and to watch for an opportunity in the future to relieve Stone of his life. Kendali becomes the next Bounty Hunter and recruits three loyal Light of Mankind operatives as her team; these operatives voluntarily accept cybernetics and “ascend” into MD-hood. They hunt down and kill all surviving members of the previous Hunter.
  1. In 3076, Marita fails in a mission for a critical second; an ambush meant to take out Berith fails only due to the sacrifice of Mi Tomitaki in her Malak, who intercepts the killing shot and dies from internal injuries and brain seizure. Later, as Berith analyzes the data, he notices Marita’s critical failure; coupled with her supposedly quiet whisperings and rumblings, he decides to fix the problem.
  1. After long analysis, Berith concludes the Frails of his OV unit are no longer pure and corrupted just like the rest of humanity. (It had been his deep desire to ‘reclaim’ these six without subjecting them to MDism; his ‘social experiment’ has failed.) During a critical point in a battle on Isesaki, he orders his Opacus to execute the Venatori for their treachery to the MD order. Four of the five remaining Hunters die, caught between the Opacus and their enemies. Bryn Rivenschild is severely injured and, because of the extent of his injuries, is welcomed into the Manei Domini. He replaces Tomitaki’s slot within the Opacus. Not surprisingly, none of the Opacus question their leader.
  1. Berith meets up with Avitue post-76, filling Kendali’s open slot with the Opacus.
  1. At some point, Berith manages to meet with Apollyon for the last time on Gibson, reclaiming Appy’s key and receiving final orders to go into Exile, taking as many of the Filii as possible. He is given command of the remains of the 52nd, which now numbers less than two Level IIs. After word of Apollyon’s death, Berith takes overall command of the Manei Domini and issues Code Omicron, signaling a massive withdrawal of all MD units from the Inner Sphere.
  1. The Opacus is attacked by a hunter squad from the Fidelis on Caph; Achillius manages to lure the squad away from Berith and leads them on a long rabbit trail, which ultimately ends in his and his pursuer’s deaths.
  1. Berith is joined by the remains of the 48th, including Precentor Rimmon. The 48th brings with them a battered Thera-class WarShip and survivors of the fighting in the Federation. The WarShip becomes a refugee vessel. At this time, however, Berith learns (discovers) of another pursuing Fidelis hunter squad. He gives orders for Avitue and Rimmon to head towards the Capellan hidden world. Berith then disbands his Opacus, giving orders to Rufus to act as the fleeing refugee’s Blakist spiritual advisor (a role he knows well). He also orders Cazer to melt into the population [somewhere where we can sow some chaos between the forming ROTS and Capellan or Marik worlds]. He then reassigns a few MD who are nearer to death (mortal wounds or growing psychosis) to himself and sets out to entrap and kill the Fidelis team.
  1. Sometime in 3083-5, Berith manages to escape the clutches of several MD-hunter squads and finally return to the hidden world to carry out Apollyon’s final orders for the Order of Dominus. He brings with him a total of 2-3 more Level IIs of various MDs, most from the shattered 40th.
  1. Kendali, masquerading as the Bounty Hunter, almost manages to assassinate Devlin Stone, failing only due to a faulty detonator circuit. The ensuing blast fails to catch Stone before he finds cover; the Bounty Hunter is killed during her attempted escape, though she manages to wipe out the rest of Stone’s Fidelis bodyguard unit in a massive explosion.
  1. Berith undergoes surgery and his VDNI is removed. He declares himself the Shadow Primus, with Avitue designated as Precentor Martial/ROM. The operation is mostly successful, though Berith suffers a stroke shortly after and is confined to a wheelchair. Out of respect for their new leader, all Domini have their VDNI and DNI implants removed as well; less than half of them remain in service as pilots.
  1. Cazer manages to link up with several former LIC and ROM operatives now displaced from The Republic’s new intelligence services. The group forms the Curaitis Organization, designed to “watch the watchers.” Cazer slowly builds her own secret network, funneling information back to Berith and the hidden Domini.
  1. In the mid-90s, the Word of Blake transfers most of its leadership and core functions to the Eryines. It still maintains a presence on the last remaining Hidden world, deep underground. The Eryines and its escort of WarShips moves periodically across the Periphery, mostly through systems that were charted by IE and classified as dead.
  1. In 3101, Berith dies from another stroke. However, his Triple Core Processor remains active and is removed from his body. The TCP is attached to a mainframe and is revered as an oracle. The new Shadow Primus, Coraline, takes the Ascended name of Anahel and begins expanding the MD’s shadow network of intelligence through the Curaitis Organization and IE (through several dummy corporations and shell organizations). The Shadow Oracle, as Berith’s alternate AI comes to be known, now functions as a key advisor to the transformed leadership group. Over the decades, the Oracle’s AI is merged with that of the Eryines‘ internal network.
  1. The transformed Word of Blake remains dormant and slowly evolves, preparing for an eventual emergence post-3250, after the Third League collapses with internal strife and violence, partially instigated by the shadow empire.

Shutdown Sequence Initiated

As of today, I am no longer the Assistant Line Developer for the BattleTech game line. Furthermore, I am no longer pursuing or working on any contracts for the game, or the company that licenses it.

There’s a lot of reasons why, but though I have every right to air them out here, I will not. Dirty laundry should stay in the laundry room, not paraded about in public. I’ve hinted at things here and there, in vague phrasing and comments. That’s more the explosion of frustration than any malicious intent, so take it all with a grain of salt.

I’ve been attached to this game since its early days of production. In 1997, I was introduced to the playtesting side through a local group in Pittsburgh; that was some pretty heady stuff, back in the day. That morphed into working as a playtester for WizKids’ MechWarrior version, and then I was invited to pitch and write for Dawn of the Jihad back in 2001.

Writing for any game line that I enjoyed – and I had quite a few on that list – was a dream come true for me. It was the spark that jolted me out of a drudging career in retail, though I knew I’d never really be able to make a sustainable living at it. Still, it fueled my inspiration and excitement, with every book that printed with my handiwork within.

In 2008, I was asked to step into the Assistant Line Developer role, supporting my long-time gaming friend Herb. Together, we headed a team that fashioned a fantastic storyline for the line, connecting two eras separated by different companies, and pulled them together. Some may disagree – this is the Internet Age after all – but I still think that our Jihad work, and the subsequent material afterwards, was the best storytelling the line has ever had.

I was exposed in full to the game industry through my ALD position, which helped me forge connections and research needed to write my first nonfiction book, Games’ Most Wanted.

My continued work with BattleTech also opened up a wider realization within me, that I loved to write. I plunged headlong into a communications career, adding to my previous years of experience in marketing and media concepts. Now I get to do what I love, which is write, and I actually have a sustainable career doing just that. And more, besides.

Mini and photo by DAK
When my friend Herb was removed from his position as LD, there was a lot of uncertainty floating around. As the line and its direction evolved, it became apparent that my experience and talent wasn’t the right fit any more. I hung on for as long as I could, mainly because I felt that I still had stories to tell in this rich and venerable universe. But that desire has dripped away, siphoned into other projects, ideas, and experiences.

I finally realized a few days ago that I just don’t have it in me to tell those stories anymore. So how is that fair to the readership, the fanbase, the players who thrive on such things? Uninspired writing is dead writing, as I see it. I don’t like writing lifeless words.

So I finally made that painful decision and cut the cord.

BattleTech is still important to me, for what it has done to my life, my experiences, my creativity. But it doesn’t need me anymore, and I can walk on my own now without it. I have new projects, new universes, new ideas to explore – and I hope to share them all with you in the coming years.

If you’re a fan of BattleTech, I say ‘thank you’ for your steadfast devotion and love of the game – even if you don’t like some or all of what I’ve put out. You’re the reason it’s still around, in its varied forms. Enjoy it. Universes like this are hard to come by.

And for my friends, colleagues, and those whose paths I’ve crossed, I say ‘thank you’ as well. You’ve given me a lot to experience and enjoy, and hopefully I will get to work with you on other exciting ventures. Don’t be a stranger.

And to everyone: watch the spines for my name. You’ll see it out there, someday soon.

Seylah.

Collision of Culture

AIHA professiona group scene

Art by Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler; ©AIHA; used with permission.

I distinctly remember when the idea first popped into my mind. It was during the first all-staff meeting at my new employer, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). I was only two weeks into my new position as a Content Specialist; hardly an expert on the Association, its membership, or its subject matter.  (Go ahead and google “industrial hygiene;” I’ll wait. I did the same thing when I got the job interview…)

The more creative side of my brain – the part that has kept me gainfully employed as freelance writer and designer in the tabletop game industry – perked up during the presentation on the Association’s new Career Stages initiative. (“I sense opportunity!” Yes, my brain interrupts me a lot during meetings.) Extensive study and discussion by various committees had finalized an infographic that delineated the profession into various knowledge areas, tracks, and career stages. Made up of four stages, three knowledge areas, and three career tracks, these 12 segments encompassed the life cycles of careers that involved industrial hygiene.

The question being posed to the staff, at the time, was a way to properly identify and then represent to the membership – and ultimately the public – at large.

The immediate difficulty, as I saw it, was properly describing in simple terms the areas, tracks, and stages. As presented, the descriptors were text heavy and unwieldy for any casual audience. How could one properly introduce these stages to an audience that probably had limited knowledge as to the IH profession?

At that time, I considered myself a member of that particular audience, being only six days on the job.

As the meeting went on, I found myself thinking back to my games experience, both in developing and playing. I’d just started to introduce my local group of players to Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (SW:EOE) roleplaying game (RPG). As with most RPGs, the rulebook had information on creating characters to play within the Star Wars universe. (“What’s an RPG?” you ask? Here’s a great, succinct explanation.) These ‘basic’ character archetypes are a staple in most of the popular RPGs and feature pre-made stats, record sheets, background, and artwork. It’s an incredibly simple way to introduce new players to character roles within the universe.

What if there was a way to take the Career Stages concepts and merge them into some hybrid form of archetype characters? After the meeting, I went and pulled up a couple of these sample character sheets and called over Sue Marchese, the Director of Communications and my immediate supervisor. In halting detail, I spewed out my idea, gesturing at the characters on my monitor. To her credit, she didn’t immediately give me a weird look, nod, and pat me on the head. (I’ve since discovered she’s as much of a genius risk-taker as I am.)

Marcus station game of life screen

Station art from the AIHce “Game of IH Life” concept. ©AIHA; used with permission.

She actually stopped and thought for a moment, then gave me a weird look. “Write up a proposal and we’ll talk to a couple of people.”

I churned out a rough proposal over the next day, including several different archetype examples from games I’ve worked on or participated in, such as Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and Cosmic Patrol. The project was tentatively called “AVATAR,” so named after how people online tend to use picture representations of themselves in various communities.

Fast forward 16 months. At AIHce 2016, AIHA unveiled its new IH Professional Pathways program. A work in progress, IH Pathways is an initiative that, when fully completed, will accomplish three goals:

  • Represent to the public what an IH career looks like
  • Provide direction and support for current IH professionals in crafting and refining their own career paths
  • Categorize essential resources and materials for current IH professionals to succeed at their current position

Over the coming months, I’ll share stories and insight into this developing program, which I believe is a unique take in the association world on career development and outreach. If you haven’t already, please visit the new IH Pathways portal and check out what we’ve already done. (Or at least, enjoy the art created by my friend and colleague, Klaus Scherwinski.)

There’s a lot more to this 16 month journey, involving a bevy of talent and your usual storyline tropes. (I’ll be sharing more in subsequent articles on LinkedIn, on Synergist NOW, and my own personal blog.) Stay tuned, as our epic voyage is just beginning!