Author Archive: CactuarJoe
I'm a video game critic and artist for RandomNPC.com, a site dedicated to console and PC role-playing games.
This is the grave of Mrs. Pardee’s mother. She never came back, she has no message to pass on to her daughter. While stories of the risen dead give us hope for another chance at life, the simple fact remains that whether you believe it to be the final end or just another change of scenery, death awaits us all.
A middle-aged woman who lives in a well-maintained old house in the suburbs outside of the city, Mrs. Pardee never had a real interest in the spirit world until the flood came. She spends many nights trying everything she can think of to contact her departed mother, who died many years before the flood. Dowsing rods, Ouija boards, crystals, voice recorders left on in empty rooms, Mrs. Pardee has tried it all, and the lack of anything more concrete than a few hand spasms and unintelligible static on a tape has done nothing to diminish her infinite well of hope.
A spirit far older than the flood that so recently devastated the city, this ghost is an amalgam of souls that died as a result of the train that once traveled across the now-defunct trestle. Long since past its prime and in disrepair, the old stories about a man eating monster that would lure unsuspecting children to the train trestle to die have largely faded into irrelevancy. Now without a purpose or even a memory, the spirit fades as children stomp on the remains of its grave.
In any boring town where there’s nothing to do after the lights go out, teenagers will find some old, dilapidated structure to gather around. In the remains of the old city, kids climb up onto the train trestle that collapsed during the flood. Built in the 18th century, the city didn’t bother rebuilding it, and now it stands as a kind of monument to the forgotten half of the population.
The term “revenant” is actually a fairly generic term for any shambling corpse that reanimates itself after death. Stories of the walking dead — and there are many — are the genesis of creature people in later years have come to know as vampires. Though the modern age may have granted it an air of power, at heart the vampire is just another rotting corpse that wants to eat people.
A child of privilege from the city’s outer suburbs, “Vlad” is a kid deep, deep into his vampire phase. Because vampires are powerful and sexy, and above petty mortal concerns like senior thesis and prom. When he’s a vampire, nobody gets to call him Albert, which is an old, stupid name. As a vampire, he’s not stuck in a dead town or ostracized by the few people his own age.
A professional janitor and amateur physics enthusiast, Mr. Fletching spends all of his spare time fiddling with radios and electrical equipment. He’s a massive scatterbrain, with a head full of random bits of math and physics that he only half understands. Most of the equipment that fills his small apartment in the city is junk recovered from dumpster dives, or purchased from thrift stores, but he believes firmly that he’s discovered scientific proof for everything from telekinesis to Atlantean power stone technology. Of course, thanks to his free form take on the scientific method, none of this is really repeatable, let alone verifiable. He’s become rather more eccentric since the flood, since the increased incidence of paranormal phenomena gives Mr. Fletching what he really wants; a reason not to be a janitor anymore.
When mass reports of ghosts started coming in after the flood, the city was subject to a deluge of self-proclaimed psychics. Some were simply convinced they had a gift, while others had more sinister intentions.
There’s a certain kind of person that sees a tragedy and thinks, “What can I get out of this?” Sid Browne is exactly that kind of person. He feels the world owes him something, and whatever material gain he can get out of the people around him is entirely justified, because he’s smarter than they are. So he has no compunction about telling people about all of the (fictional) cases he’s helped the police on, or the (non-existent) messages the families of the dead are sending them from their eternal resting place.
The owner of the cab company where Edwin Michigan works, Steven Piet is a young man saddled with heavy responsibilities. A worrier by experience, Mr. Piet is a friendly guy, but not particularly pleasant to be around, given that he sees the worst side of everything. He’s also part of the vast majority of his city’s citizens who don’t care one way or the other if ghosts exist or not. To him, Edwin and Mala are welcome to continue doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t put the company at any risk.
There’s a light in the doorway, music playing and the sounds of inviting conversation, but there’s a faint smell, like the scent of burning hair. And the music is wrong. The notes don’t fit together properly, the voices aren’t saying words. It’s the soft shushing of something rustling, like dry paper or wet leaves.
This ghost is all that remains of a man who was convinced that the world had it in for him. By blaming everyone else for his failures, he drove those around him away. A possessive spirit, he wanders the city trying to connect with people in the only way he knows how; by attempting to control them.
Perhaps the biggest symbol of the gleaming new city that has risen out of the ashes of the old is the brand new elevated train system that carts people to and fro in the downtown area. Before the disaster, the city had a ground-level trolley system, vastly less efficient than the shiny new trains.
Of course, all this was quite expensive. In order to cut costs, the city bought older train cars and used the parts from the old trolleys to repair them. This has proven to be a mistake, as the spirits of those who died on their morning commute began appearing in the seats of the new trains.
One of the oldest living people in the city, living in the oldest apartment building that survived the flood, Gran Harrelson is an old age pensioner whose biggest struggle these days is just making ends meet. To that end, Gran sells old-timey folk charms to ward off the dead that plague her building. She’s been so effective at working up a reputation that everyone from floor five and up are convinced she’s Alestair Crowley’s ex-mistress.
Of course, that does nothing for their actual effectiveness. Her charms are written in Sharpie on cheap printer paper. Her cash register is brand new, though.
After the flood, most of the city’s poor congregated in the few buildings that managed to survive. As the government rebuilt the financial and industrial centers of the city, the less fortunate spent what resources they could to make their new homes livable. The only real similarity between the bright, shiny new buildings of downtown and the ramshackle tenement buildings of the old city are that neither could expunge their spirits through simple reconstruction. Just as the city center has its wandering dead commuters, the damaged apartment buildings play host to the lingering souls of former inhabitants.
The Runner is a particularly intense spirit that inhabits a stairwell in one of the tallest buildings in the old city. Every night, it can be heard rushing headlong down the stairs, only to disappear at the bottom and reappear at the top. No one has been able to find anything out about it, other than that it does not like being seen.
The final member of Clair’s team, Mr. Bacon is the only real professional anything in the group; a professional photographer. A naturally sarcastic and taciturn skeptic, his contribution to the team usually comes in the form of terse explanations of photographic artifacts. His lack of interest in the paranormal is offset by the rather large amount of money Clair is paying him, but nothing in the world could offset his sheer lack of people skills.
Every group of paranormal investigators needs someone techy to run the EMF meters and play back their static to find EVPs. For Clair’s group, that someone is Alex Lorentz. A very enthusiastic young man with a homegrown expertise in electronics, Alex has a practical understanding of how the scientific instrumentation he carries around actually works, but a very limited ability to interpret those findings. Of course, that makes him a perfect fit for a paranormal group, where every blip on the infrared camera is a ghost until proven otherwise.
Eldest daughter of one of the richest and most eccentric families in the city, Claire is a self-appointed Paranormal Researcher, determined to find scientific proof of the undead. She has no training in any kind of science, doesn’t really know what would constitute “scientific proof,” and tends to leap to conclusions at a moment’s notice, but what she does have is the massive inheritance she received after the flood.
The most important factor when it comes to determining the sheer strength of a spirit is a sense of purpose. Those undead with the greatest sense of unfulfilled duty stick around longer, have greater strength, and have more dangerous abilities than those shades who simply stick around because they lack awareness with regards to their own death.
Though no one quite knows what the Hunt was in life, its sense of purpose is undeniable. Stalking the allies and crowded dark places of the city, the Hunt will track its prey night after night, staying just out of sight, feeding on the terror of whatever unfortunate minor it discovers. Though no one knows what specific end awaits the children who are subjected to the Hunt’s attention, the initial attraction is said to be very strong emotion.
A developing interest in the paranormal has always been a good excuse for teenagers to re-invent themselves, and when a freak flood wipes out half of your city, it shouldn’t be a shock that interest in the dead increases.
For Amy, though, things are a little different. The disaster left her so incomprehensibly angry that a simple reinvention wasn’t nearly enough. With the infinite bloody-mindedness of a teenager, Amy searches for a way to trap the dead. Though many people came to the city hoping to find ghostly evidence, none of them have her determination and simple stubbornness. The only question is what happens when she succeeds.
When water is caught in a small, boxy space, it tends to form whirlpools. After the flood, an unusually high number of bodies were recovered from spiral clumps of mud that collected where bus stops once stood.
Mr. Simms is a bus driver whose vehicle operates inside city limits after dark. Mr. Simms is a hard-working family man. He really doesn’t deserve what the city does to him every night.
A young girl swept out of her bed by the flood. Like many of the dead, she is completely unaware of what has happened to her. She is destined to slowly fade away, as the only people who visit her now abandoned apartment building are a pair of idiot ghost hunters. More interested in money and notoriety than in actual evidence of the dead, they simply didn’t notice her amongst the blurred rats and misunderstood camera artifacts that their show thrives on.
For every twit that stumbles around in the dark with an infrared camera hoping for indeterminate signs from spooks, there is usually an equally dense person standing off to the side, index and middle finger pushed to their temple, explaining in a solemn voice that the dead resent being filmed. For “Dirk,” that man is Eckhard Cayce, self-proclaimed psychic and seer to the stars. In actual practice, he’s about as psychic as a two-by-four, and one of the most truly obnoxious people you could hope to meet.
A great lover of the sound of his own voice, Eckhard Cayce is, you may have guessed, also working under a pseudonym. Named for two of the most famous psychics, Mr. Cayce is driven by an intense desire to be the smartest man in the room. He’ll be the first to correct any error, no matter how small (“I think you’ll find that is a crocodile, not an alligator. Do try to keep up.”), and the last to admit any fault on his own part. The only reason nobody’s strangled him yet is that his hunger for acknowledgement aligns perfectly with Dirk’s, making them an inseparable and truly annoying pair.
No two people react the same way to stress. For some, an impending deadline is a reason to buckle down and dig in, while for others, it’s a reason to give up. Likewise, the pressure that a city full of the wandering dead exerts affects the humans who still live in it in different ways. For Edwin, the dead are a burden, a stack of paperwork to be slowly ground through. For his dispatcher, however, the dead are an enigma to solve, a series of intriguing riddles that demand untangling.
Mala Almasi is an enthusiastic, inquisitive young lady with a voracious intellect. Though Edwin does a great deal of the footwork in tracking down the families of the dead that stumble into his cab, it’s usually Mala that solves whatever mysteries they bring with them. Though he sometimes bristles at her energetic nature, Mala is usually the one to push Edwin forward when he gets stuck. Though they frequently get on each other’s nerves, they make an effective and efficient team.
History is full of stories of wild men. From the Native American Skinwalker to the modern Bigfoot, there seems to be something fundamentally frightening about a person who is more animal than human. When that line becomes blurred, we can no longer be certain if we’re predator or prey.
In what remains of the city park, people can see a light in the early evenings. Dancing in the sunset, some people have decided it is a warning. Others have decided it is an invitation.
With the increase in paranormal activity, the city has seen an influx of people who are, for their own reasons, interested in making contact with the dead. Some want proof of an afterlife, others come to have their beliefs validated, and some, like “Dirk” here, are in it for the machismo. And the money, of course.
Host of his own show on cable TV, Dirk’s contribution to the culture of prime time is a televised tour through abandoned buildings, where every blurry rat and mote of dust is evidence of the angry undead. For some people, seeking out the restless spirits of the dead might seem somewhat unhinged, but for Dirk Hunter — not his real name, of course — it’s a chance to prove your manhood, and on national TV no less.
The flood hit unexpectedly and early in the morning, as a dam upriver failed catastrophically. As a result, a great number of the dead are completely unaware of their own fatality. Given that it is in the nature of ghosts to repeat the last task they were given, a fair number of spirits are still winding their way restlessly through the city looking for their former workplaces.
“East 5th and Morgan Park” is the name given to a frequent inhabitant of Edwin Michigan’s taxicab. Though Mr. Michigan does his best to find ways to satisfy the dead, this spectral young lady lacks the energy to make it all the way to her destination. Every evening at East 3rd and Morgan, she simply fades out of existence.
Though the devastation of the flood was remarkable, a lot of people had no choice to remain. Some lacked the money to make a significant move, others remained simply because this was where their job was. Edwin Michigan is a young man in the latter category; though a kind and empathetic young man, he isn’t the kind of person who willingly makes a major life change.
Mr. Michigan works for a taxi company, and up until the flood, he enjoyed it quite a bit. It was easy work, he was friends with the taxi service’s boss, and he got on well with the other employees. After the flood, however, stories began to circulate about the things that now happened down in the city after dark. And after a few nights, Edwin had more than his fair share of stories to tell.
Like museum curators that hear bumps in the night, or bed and breakfast proprietors with one specific room that nobody ever spends a full night in, Edwin dealt with the dead by making them part of his job. He catalogues the dead that hail his taxi, and occasionally, even manages to make a connection to the living. A taxi and its driver might not be the way people expect to connect with the dear departed, but for Edwin, it’s all about finding a comfort zone.
(Incidentally, I’m posting these both here, and on my art blog.)
Hey folks, I’m Michael, and this’ll be my third year in the 30 Characters Challenge. Last two years have been a blast, so I’m looking forward to the next 30 days. ^^
So in previous years, I’ve done nanomachine monster trainers and historical figures as RPG classes. It’s all been mostly RPG-inspired stuff, with a look heavily inspired by video games. This year, though, I’m going to be designing a series of characters based around something else I’m interested in; the paranormal.
For me, the most interesting thing about ghost stories isn’t the idea of whether spooks are real or not, but rather how people react to the idea. Some people just react with fear, while others become intensely curious. Some people use ghosts as a shield, protecting themselves from a fear of death, while some take the opportunity to dive head-first into concepts of mortality.
So this year, my 30 characters will be inhabitants of a dying city. Hit by a massive flood, the local government has rebuilt, but people refuse to return. The few people who remain report the walking dead, a biblical plague of every shade imaginable. The question is no longer whether ghosts exist or not, it’s how the people who can’t leave the city adapt to survive in a town full of restless spirits.
Welcome to the final boss! Were you wondering about Mr. Holmson’s reason for fielding a partner whose only real strength is in manipulating ooze specifically owned by someone else? Or perhaps curious why Cynthia believes slime monsters to be sentient? And why someone who believes this would partner with a critter whose main ability essentially disconnects nanoparticle material from any kind of control? Ooo, or what Beelzebub was REALLY developed to do? Well, here’s your answer!
The Terminal Core is the result of early attempts by the construction companies to regain control of rogue nanoparticle material. Though it did initially overpower virus-infected ooze, it quickly went out of control and began collecting the stuff on its own, rejecting any further outside commands. Over the years, the Core has extended its reach, driving more and more nanoparticle material rogue, even going so far as to generate the stuff of its own accord. The NMSA’s interest in controlling the Terminal Core has some fairly obvious factors; if they can regain control over such a powerful manipulator of ooze, the Agency can effectively end a major source of continuing embarrassment to the companies that control it.
There have been attempts to shut the Core down before, so now it retains a significant defensive setup in the form of a large ooze colony. Much like Angela’s shifting partner, Wendigo, the Mass is a constantly changing opponent, but with a nasty surprise; the Core’s unique ability to propagate new ooze on command, combined with its unparalleled control of the basic programming of the substance, allows it to cover huge areas with its attacks and form nearly impenetrable defensive barriers.
Perhaps the most curious part of the Terminal Core and the Amorphous Mass is the relationship between the two. Although the Core is making all of the tactical decisions, it was the virus in the ooze that corrupted the Core and led to its present condition. So is the Core really controlling the Mass, or is this all set up according to what the ooze wants? Is the nanoparticle material genuinely sentient, or is this all just the virus playing out?