A couple years back, I posted a Cortex bundle for players who wished to play a Neo Sapien. With the introduction of Neo Megas to the universe (as of my reviews), I thought I'd take a stab at them. Neo Megas are Neo Sapiens evolved to the next level. Brilliant scientists one and all, they take normal Neo Sapien intellect, amp it up to eleven, and layer on the capability of creative thought.
Neo Mega Bundle: D20 cost
Photographic Memory: D8 (Neo Megas have extraordinary recall of anything ever experienced.)
Enhanced Communication: D4 (Neo Megas can communicate ultrasonically with each other, though in theory this could be jammed or intercepted.)
Intuitive Leaps: D4 (Unlike Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are capable of, and indeed excel at, lateral thinking.)
Metabolic Control: D4 (Neo Megas have conscious control over their metabolic systems, allowing them to drastically reduce their oxygen requirements or even convincingly fake death for a time.)
Head for Numbers: D6 (Even more so than Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas easily understand complex technical matters.)
Simple needs: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas can survive on comparably few calories, and can digest almost anything organic to achieve those calories.)
Enhanced Manipulation: D2 (Neo Megas have three opposable fingers on each hand, as well as prehensile toes. Add to tests where fine motor coordination is paramount.)
Longevity: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas can live, and be vital, for approximately twice as long as Homo Sapiens.)
Enhanced Senses: D4 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas see very well in low-light conditions and have exceptional hearing.)
Always Awake: D6 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas don't need sleep.)
Lightning Reflexes: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas have extraordinary reflexes.)
Hardy Constitution: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are preternaturally resistant to chemicals and disease, though their smaller frames makes them not quite as robust.)
Natural Athlete: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are at the apex of human physical capabilities, though they aren't quite as adept.)
Arrogant: D6 (Neo Megas are the apex of humanity, and they aren't good at hiding this knowledge. Subtract D6 from social tests where such an attitude is a hindrance, i.e. most of them.)
Vulnerability - Trauma: D6 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas who suffer sever physical trauma, such as the loss of more than half of their life points, are at risk for contracting Auto Mutation Syndrome, a degenerative and inevitably fatal disease. They must make a hard endurance check or contract the illness.)
Memorable: D4 (In addition to being seven feet tall and blue, all Neo Megas have a unique geometric tattoo prominently on their forehead, often vaguely reminiscent of the Greek letter omega.)
Animal Enmity: D4 (Animals can sense that Neo Megas, like Neo Sapiens, are unnatural creatures.)
Sterile: D4 (Like Neo Spaiens, Neo Megas cannot reproduce normally, divorcing them from the cycle of life and denying them any form of familial relationship.)
Overconfident: D4 (As the preeminent lifeform in the solar system, Neo Megas can have a tendency to underestimate their opposition.)
This is a costly bundle, as Neo Megas represent a potent brand of villiany. To offset the rather pricey bundle, most of them have Prejudice (D4) Terrans and Prejudice (D4) Neo Sapiens. Again, heroic PCs are unlikely to have those particular complications, though Duty and Infamy are good choices.
Note: The Neo Mega bundle is even more powerful than the already impressive Neo Sapien bundle. In truth, they had little in the way of physical weaknesses and few of the intellectual limitations their larger fore-bearers suffered from. They trade down slightly physically but the intellectual gains more than make up for it. I'd recommend limiting Neo Megas to NPCs for all but the most mature and experience players. They do, however, make excellent villains.
Once I get to The Perfect Warrior, expect a similar bundle for Neo Lords. (Though, while Neo Megas are borderline tolerable for experienced players, Neo Lords are simply too powerful to be anything but NPCs.) I don't intend to stat out individual Neo Warrior types.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
"Neo sapiens were an improvement upon mankind. Neo megas are man perfected. We are new force in the universe."
The Last Man is the twentieth episode of Exo-Squad. Occuring at approximately the same time as Mind Set, it introduces Charlie-Five Platoon, the Jump Troopers under the command of Captain Avery Butler. He, Captain Colleen O'Reilly, Sergeant Ramon Longfeather, and Corporal Vince Pellegrino are the representative members, though many other members (each with their own unique suit of armor) are present. They attempt a diversionary thrust at Ceres, a seemingly unimportant Neo outpost, only to suffer massive casualties in a seemingly too-elaborate trap. The reason for this is the presence of a very special Neo brood center, creating the next step in Neo Sapien evolution, the Neo Megas. Standing slightly smaller than their Neo Sapien cousins, these three-fingered Neo Megas are more intelligent than normal Neo Sapiens and capable of creative thought. One is captured during the battle and fakes his own death, though he perishes while attempting to escape the withdrawing Exo-Fleet forces.
|Random jump trooper.|
Since this episode almost serves as a new pilot, let's look at who we've got:
Captain Butler is probably the weakest new character. He suffers a bit from leader-itus. He comes across as no-nonsense, competent... and that's about it. We never really see his human side. I do like that he starts off his missions with the rallying cry, "any heroes on board?" "No, sir!" "Good! The only heroes I ever saw weren't breathing." That's probably the best bit of insight into him as a man that we see.
Lieutenant O'Reilly easily gets the most characterization of any jump trooper. Her main contribution is her realization that the Neos have cracked the jump-comm system, and so she'd devised her own. She plays well with Weston, the other techie chick in the series, and indeed we've seen them working together in O'Reilly's first cameo back on the GRAF shield. It's clear that the writers enjoy her, we'll see quite a bit more of her in the future.
Sergeant Longfeather barely registers as a character. If he didn't get an action figure, I don't think I'd have noticed him in this episode at all. He gets quite a few lines and even breaks up a fight between Pelligrino and Bronsky, but somehow barely gets a chance to shine. I do like that the guy is a freaking mountain, though. His best characterization was probably his arm-wrestling after the battle, though even then O'Reilly steals the show.
Corporal Pelligrino gets strong characterization as well. His big thing is his rivalry with the e-frame pilots. Again, this is the kind of thing Exo-Squad does exceedingly well. Even among good guys, there's tension and conflict. (Bad guys, too, have rivalry, but that doesn't feel quite as innovative.) I love Bronsky's quick, savage punch when pushed too far, and that Pelligrino quickly gains the upper hand. I wouldn't go hand-to-hand with a jump trooper if I was an e-frame jock.
The other big thing this episode introduces is the Neo Megas. Having established a new status quo with the end of the Pirate Alliance plotline, the writers are quick to shake things up. It makes sense that the Neos would attempt to close the creativity gap they have with terrans, and that they'd turn to genetics to do so. The two Neo Megas we see in this episode are smarmy, brilliant, and immediately make you want to strangle them. Well done.
Drusus has a brief argument with the as-yet-unnamed Praetorius, the Neo Sapien genetics minister. He's one of my favorite minor characters, so it's nice to see him here.
DeLeon macking on O'Reilly was a nice bit of characterization for him. We've seen him flirt with Weston before, maybe he's got a thing for brainy ladies.
About two-thirds of this episode take place on Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system. I enjoy that the series continues to tour around the actual local real-estate of space. I also like the reasoning for the attack, to divert the Neo's attention to Mars and away from Winfield's real target. (We'll find out what that is in a few episodes.)
Weston busts out some pretty bad-ass moves versus the Neo Mega. That he then got the better of her does a good job of showcasing just how tough these little (7 foot tall) critters are.
What doesn't: The title of the episode, doesn't seem to work on either a literal or literary level. There's no clear last man in the episode, and the Mary Shelly novel features a post-apocalyptic world devastated by plague. No clear connection.
Where's Nara? This episode is taking place while J.T. and Marsala work with the resistance on Earth, so Nara really should be in command of Able Squad. Minor quibble, but there it is.
O'Reilly using the old comm to communicate misinformation was clever. Her blowing up her own chip seemed rather melodramatic.
The final scene in the airlock didn't quite work for me. Weston throwing a wrench against the escaping air strained credulity for me. Also, one would think that there would be a few failsafe mechanisms in place. I get that the writers wanted the Neo Megas to remain a mystery and didn't want the Exo-Fleet to have a body to autopsy, but it's a bit clumsy how they achieved it.
Watch for: Neo Tanks make their first appearance. They'll show up several times in the future, and will play an important role in the final storyarc. (They're also damn cool, and would have made a great toy.)
Neo Megas won't be the only instance of Neo Sapiens tinkering with their own genetic make-up to attempt to gain advantage in the war.
We see the Phaeton command-style e-frame used for the first time by someone other than him. That won't happen too often, though it will occasionally occur. I rather enjoy that, as having a unique frame doesn't really seem cost-effective and the Neos are eminently logical.
By the by, this is the first episode without any J.T. Marsh in it. No other character has been in every episode to date besides him, so now it's official that no-one will be in every episode. I rather like that.
Bio: Appropriately enough, Colleen O'Reilly. Since we barely know her, it's somewhat effective, though I can't help but think that the time would have been better used in the episode itself. Four cards in, I'm starting to think that I'm just not a fan of the idea in general. Interestingly enough, there will be ANOTHER version of this bio that features new animation depicting the graduation scene described here, which is kind of a nice value add.
Overall: Basically a solid episode. It needs to accomplish quite a few things and manages to do it all well.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Mind Set is the nineteenth episode of Exo-Squad, and the first episode that takes place in the new status-quo of the season, following the Pirate Alliance storyline. Napier is returned to Earth and given his first mission, to spring Jonathan Perry, the last President of the Homeworlds' Congress. His ex-wife, the Tokyo Rose of the Neo Sapiens Amanda Connor, is on-hand interviewing the former senators for propaganda purposes. Marsh and Napier spring the prisoners and manage to convince the Neos they died in the attempt. Infuriated, Phaeton orders Connor arrested. "No more interviews," he sardonically quips.
What works: I like the basic premise of this episode in theory. Amanda was an element from S1 that was begging for further exploration, and we've seen that Phaeton values the appearance of legitimacy. Using the prisoners for propaganda feels like something that Phaeton would do. So it all makes sense on that level. The execution feels just a little off, though. I'll get to why below.
The title is also clever. On the most obvious level, the story is very much about Amanda Connor and her mind set. But with the brainwashing of political figures, there's a more sinister connotation.
Keeping with the theme, Napier notes that Phaeton "makes the mag-trains run on time," paraphrasing words bandied about in the 30s concerning Mussolini.
Amanda Connor is a true believer, having a heartfelt conversation with Shiva about how she hopes for a better future and refusing to run away with Napier. I like that there are a few Terrans, even at this late stage in the game, who believe that the Neo Sapiens were justified and that ultimately Phaeton's regime is the best hope of the future. This makes her ultimate fate, imprisoned by Phaeton, terribly ironic. There's a great little visual metaphor, as Amanda Connor enjoys an ocean swim and the shadow of Shiva's vessel passes over her body, that foreshadows this turn of events.
We already knew Connor had history with Napier, now we find out she's his ex-wife. They have a brief but terrific exchange where they bicker about how "Sean never makes mistakes." Very nicely done.
Shiva really shines this episode. His interactions with Connor strike just the right balance. He seems to be an effortless liar. His wrath at the camp commandant for contacting Phaeton is understandable--he clearly wanted to get the situation in hand so he could put the best spin on events for his supreme commander. When the hydrofoil he thinks is carrying the political prisoners blows up, his cry of anguish feels very real. One wonders if he's more concerned about the 20 or so troops he just lost or his standing in Phaeton's eyes.
What doesn't: The episode seems to vacillate between how much brainwashing is actually going on. The visuals are certainly creepy, with chairs and limp arms and unidentified hardware on the head. Further, Perry seems to genuinely believe what's going on, crying on cue. He COULD just be an excellent actor, but really, that's a bit much. He also feels a bit off in all of his appearances. On the other hand, the other prisoners muse about how he can tell such obvious falsehoods, and seem to imply that it's all about him being threatened.
The show has mostly been good about keeping the fights tough and the opposition formidable. This episode breaks that, as four Neo frames face off against J.T. and two resistance members and the good guys suffer no serious setbacks. There's a moment where it appears that Peter Tanaka had just died, but he turns out to be absolutely fine.
Shiva finds the hovercraft because Marsala disabled a guard and left him an e-frame, albeit one without any weapons. Said guard hitches a ride on the foil and gives us a hand-to-hand eframe battle underwater. The whole situation seemed incredibly contrived. I can just about see Marsala not killing a guard, but leaving him an e-frame? Just sloppy writing.
It's a bit convenient that the very first conversation that Napier zooms in on, when trying to convince Connor that the Neos are irredeemable, concerns the execution of Prisoner 47 (aka Senator Prakosh), whom Shiva had informed her was merely resting following a jet-ski accident. On the other hand, I did enjoy how casually Shiva reduced him from a man to a number.
Surprisingly, the politicians don't figure in future episodes. (Unless there's a cameo in the last episode that I missed. Possible, but I usually have a pretty sharp eye.) I kind of expected an episode where a brainwashed politician causes the resistance trouble.
Bio: Jonas Simbacca. This one contains a big spoiler for episode 9 of the season, as well as foreshadowing some of what would have been season 3.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Expendable is the eighteenth episode of Exo-Squad, finishing up the Pirate alliance storyline, the first S2 arc. The first half deals with Rita Torres' issues with Chubail, who slaughtered her first squad. She tries to contain herself (and her squad) but ultimately snaps. J.T. calls in his debt from The Embassy to get her out of hot water. In the second half, Barca lets the Neos know about the state of the GRAF shield, prompting a desperate evacuation. Fortunately, Simbacca kept half his fleet in reserve and manages to outflank the pursuing Neo fleet, letting the Pirates and Exo Fleet escape to a hidden planet, Chaos, orbiting beyond Pluto.
The two big space battles in the episode are both exciting and high-stakes. (But see below.) As Hollis says, rather melodramatically (but that's not a flaw, that's his character) "this battle decides the fate of the solar system." Indeed it does. The Neos will never get a better chance to win the war than this engagement, with (most of) the Pirate fleet, all of the Exo-Fleet, and the leaders of the Earth resistance all relatively vulnerable.
Simbacca keeping half his fleet in reserve and using it to out-flank the Neo fleet makes a great deal of sense as well. I also like, from a storytelling perspective, Winfield offering to transfer his e-frames to the Pirate vessels so they can cloak and escape. (I presume the resistance leaders, Professor Algernon, and the various Jump Troopers would have been included in that deal.) One can imagine the series continuing in that way, with the Exo-Fleet destroyed but many of the main characters continuing to operate on the Pirate fleet.
Typhonus has his inspiration, to sabotage the GRAF shield using Phaeton's agent, over dinner. Fun to see the Neos engage in normal, every-day activities and not always be on the bridge in command. (but see below.)
Watching Simbacca, Napier, and Winfield carve up the solar system has a very Yalta feel to it, especially with the Pirates promised Mars. Needless to say, Simbacca gets to be Stalin in this scenario. Speaking of, Chubail is perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the state of the alliance. It's his quote at the top of the review, and envisioning a war (cold or hot) between the Exo-Fleet and the Pirate Clans seems not at all implausible.
Speaking of dialog, the Pirates have some wonderfully insensitive lines. "And then, he tried to surrender," gets a big laugh from the Pirates and many dirty stares from the Exo-Troopers. As it should. I got the sense that Chubail was being intentionally provocative, and why not? He's not in favor of the alliance, and he's shrewd enough to know the Exo-Fleet needs them more than they need the Exo-Fleet.
Poor Chubail, though. For such a good character and honorable Pirate, he meets an ignominious end. Framed by Barca as a traitor. Simbacca's first instinct is absolutely correct: "I would never have believed it." Unfortunately for the alliance, Simbacca never has time to pursue that line of thinking or it might lead them to the real traitor...
Barca! This character continues to impress with his competence and ruthlessness. When he discovers the GRAF shield is inoperative, he words his report ambiguously enough that he can take credit for it without out-and-out lying. (Him overhearing an overblown and arrogant Algernon rant about the system was a good way to do it, as it keeps that character at front-of-mind.) When discovered, he does a halfway decent job at trying to talk Chubail down, and when that fails, well, he's ready with a hidden pistol for a quick spot of murder. He quickly frames the dead man with enough of the truth to be convincing, keeping his cover intact. Fortunately for the side of the angels, his transmitter is destroyed, which will de-fang him for quite a while.
That ending! Wow. It's a powerful scene, building on what we know of Neo Sapien physiology and culture. Phaeton has been freed of all social and legal constraints, and this is our first hint that it extends beyond terrans to Neo Sapien taboos. It's clear Typhonus had NO ide this was a possibility. This scene is just about perfect. There's real desperation in Typhonus' voice, and a hint of sadism in Phaetons'. The off-kilter camera angles highlight the surreal quality of what's happening. Great directing all around.
What doesn't: The biggest flaw in the episode is the structure. This really feels like it could have / should have been two episodes. The first part, with Torres, is a necessary point to address and gives some depth to a character who was previously something of a cipher. The second part, the GRAF failure and evacuation, featured two exciting space battles but each on is only about a minute long. I'd have liked breathing room for the second story. The first story doesn't feel like it got short-changed, but I have no doubt it could have been expanded. The one bit of payoff from Part 1 in Part 2 is Hollis getting Torres out of a jam. This was a nice element and does tie the two parts together a bit.
I'm not keen on the e-frame designs from Torres' first squad. She's not THAT old, I can't imagine that the designs would have changed that much. Plus, they're ugly as sin.
Chaos, a tenth planet in the solar system made of Dark Matter, doesn't quite work for me. I won't complain about it too much but it's a little soft sci-fi for me in what has mostly been a reasonably hard SF series to date.
Watch for: A couple of animation flubs this go. First up, in Typhonus' mess are Draconis, Shiva, and Livia. (Hey, Livia, haven't seen you since early season 1! Interesting that your model pack is still floating around enough to be prominent. Are you going to show up again? Me thinks yes.) The generals in command of Earth and Venus definitely aren't on Typhonus' flagship. I suppose Livia COULD be, but given the other two I'll chalk this up to an animation error.
Speaking of, one of the guys in the mess hall when the pirates are yucking it up is Sandouski. He died rather spectacularly in S1E12, Betrayal.
Bio: none, probably no room in an already packed episode.
Overall: When the biggest flaw of an episode is that you wish it was twice as long, you know the show is doing something right. A great and satisfying conclusion to the first storyline in S2. The show never loses sight of what makes it work, with flawed characters sometimes making bad decisions. There are no easy solutions for the good guys (or the bad guys) and sometimes bad things happen to (more or less) good people. It doesn't feel like our heroes have the upper hand, by any stretch, but it does feel like they've clawed their way from almost certain extinction to a playing field that is at least somewhat level. The alliance was a struggle to put in place, a struggle on both sides to keep intact, and will clearly require sacrifice and compromise. But it doesn't feel like it's going away any time soon. It's a great way to start the season, and plays fair in terms of cleaning up the mess left by the end of S1. I look forward to seeing what the series throws at us next.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The seventeenth episode of Exo-Squad, loosely continuing the Pirate Alliance arc, is Ultimate Weapon. The Pirate Clans transition from Saturn's moons to Io, but the Neos have built a massive Fusion Pulse Cannon on Sinope, one of Jupiter's moons. They plan to bombard the fleet and, when Io and Sinope are in alignment, destroy the Exo-Fleet base. Further complicating thing, Simbacca wants Marsh and DeLeon to train up some of his best and brightest as e-frame pilots, using captured Neo gear. With the help of his new squad (and heavy casualties), the Sinope weapon is taken out and the Pirates successfully reach Io.
The Fusion Pulse Cannon makes a good deal of sense. The GRAF Shield makes Io impregnable (or so the Neos believe), but sending giant balls of matter at the base is a good way to bypass. After all, crush a rock to 1/10th its size but leave all the mass and it'll still do the same amount of damage.
I like that the tension between Pirates and Exo-Fleet remains, hasn't been magically brushed away. Simbacca is impatient with Marsh and DeLeon, Hollis punches Marsh for defending him, etc. (But see below.)
It makes sense that DeLeon would deduces the existence of a spy. Their response, blinding all ships but the flagship. They're both shrewd ones. Barca, too, is a savvy guy. In response to the fleet going blind, he transfers to Simbacca's flagship. There he continues to sew dissent, specifically trying to turn Hollis against Simbacca. (This will pay off in episode 9 of the season, Inner Dark.)
It's sensible that Simbacca would want his own e-frame pilots. (But see below.) It's also sensible that, even for trained pilots, getting proficient in e-frames will take more than a couple of days. I also enjoy the repaint potential inherent in the various pirate 'frames. I don't think we ever got a toy, in any colors, of Hollis' frame, which surprised me back in the day. It seemed like an obvious candidate for a toy. Plus it would have settled the spelling of his name once and for all.
I thought Marsh was a bit caviler about bringing the Pirate squad out a second time to assault Sinope, especially after the apparent loss of 5/6th of his recruits.
The humor and banter was a bit mixed. After Hollis punches Marsh, DeLeon cracks wise ("you've got to keep your eye on his right... and THEN duck") which works. When Simbacca says he'd kill anyone who did that to him, Marsh's attempt at humor falls flat.
Bio: This outing is Marsala. Once again, it feels largely redundant with what we learned of him in the Into the Heart of Darkness storyline. Like the three previous ones, this seems like padding.
Overall: Probably the weakest episode to date, with the possible exception of the S1 opener. This is the first semi-stand-alone episode in the series, which doesn't help. The FPC is introduced here and then disposed of, a first (but not a last) for the show. This isn't necessarily bad, but add in some of the odd humor and Marsh's change of heart about sending raw recruits into the meat grinder and a strange ending and this episode feels like it can't quite decide if it wants to be a solo endeavor or part of a larger arc. I'm still enjoying it, but for pretty much the first time since early EARLY season 1 I find myself picking at the flaws more than just along for the ride. On the plus side, the story continues to steamroll ahead at a fast pace, and it feels like the momentum is still here. Perhaps the next one will be better. (Spoiler alert: it will be.)