03 Apr 2015

Setup: Storyline

Welcome, reader. I'm Adam, the GM. This, "Pen," is an interactive story, of sorts; I'll be writing everything in these large blocks of text, but you'll be controlling what happens by writing in the comments below each post.

This is going to be pretty free-form. In designing and writing this, I'm aiming for consistency and scope, which means any loopholes you spot are free to be exploited—in fact, they may be intentional. Nag me about any details I neglect that you think might give you an edge in a situation. If you can make a convincing argument that something should happen, I'll roll with it. If I don't, point it out and shame me about it. I'm serious. This designed to be improv practice for me as much as entertaining for you, the readers. If I'm doing something wrong, tell me.

Now, the first thing we need to do is pick a storyline to follow. I've prepared four worlds for you to choose from. Each has a unique setting/plot framework and a core mechanic. Choose wisely.


You signed on to the JCTS Heinlein because past you was bored and thought present you (formerly future you) could handle a little more excitement in your life. Past you was an idiot.

Mechanic: Space travel. For those of you in the know, yes, this may overlap with Project Miranda.


You have the distinct feeling that the world you're seeing isn't real. Normally you'd just brush this off, but today someone approaches you with proof.

Mechanic: It's a secret. Figuring it out is part of the fun. I will say that it's one that I've seen done very poorly, and I intend to do it the right way here.


A friend is putting the finishing touches on their time machine when they discover evidence that it's been used.

Mechanic: Time travel.


Wanted: Private live-in wizardry tutor. Negotiable pay. Private room, great view. Last tutor disappeared without a trace, so all his furnishings are still here. Must not be currently affiliated with any of the large schools. Experience with enchanting a plus. Apply at Fabre tower in East Nordon.

Mechanic: Magic, done my way.

20 Apr 2015

Setup: Intro

Story selected: Surreal

This one's fun. Originally, I didn't intend to make it so mysterious, it's just that the nature of the mechanic is such that you'd understand my version better if you discover it organically. However, as per input from some of you, mysterious it shall be (to some extent, anyways). I've even managed to tie it into some real-life conspiracy theories.

The plot has now been tweaked, finagled, and fleshed out enough that we can begin. Here's to hoping we get the good end! ;)


By participating in the comments, y'all are going to become the little voices in the head of our protagonist. What you think, he thinks. What you want, he wants. What you say to do, he will try, but may fail at hilariously.

Now, to introduce yourself. You are a brilliant yet misunderstood entrepreneur with most of a degree in electrical engineering who lives in the beautiful little village of Manteno, California (about a half hour drive from San Fransisco). You've been working with your three close entrepreneur buddies on a project that you are 100% convinced has the power to change the world for the better. You just haven't had much success in getting anyone else to share the dream enough to throw you a wad of cash. You also have a name. And it is a good name. And you know what it is. And you told me what it was, I'm sure. Now, tell me, what was it again? Sorry, I... must have forgotten.

Final note: I know I shouldn't have to say this, but for completeness... Please, if you don't want spoilers, Google carefully. I'd recommend only using Wikipedia, if that. And if you do happen to find spoilers, please don't force them on anyone else.

26 Apr 2015


Beep beep. Beep beep. Beep beep...


You make a half-hearted attempt at opening your eyes. It doesn't work; you're so tired, they may as well be glued shut.

Something doesn't feel right.

You reach for your alarm clock's snooze button, but find your phone. It vibrates and continues to beep.

Then it dawns on you. This isn't my bed. Where am... Oh, I must have...

You answer the phone. It's Allison. What could she possibly want at this time of early.

"Ross? Where are you? We've been waiting outside for, like, ten minutes!"

"Yeah yeah, I'm awake. I... What? Oh. I'm..." You sit up and look around. "I'm not at my apartment. I fell asleep at the Lab, apparently. I was working on a—"

You hear Sean grab the phone. "You just woke up?! Do you have any idea what time it is?!"

"Of course I do. It's..." You look around for a clock. It's 10:23. "Oh. Oh... Oh crap."

The VC presentation. It's today, it's in half an hour, it's unfathomably important, and you've just spent the last 6 hours drooling into your desk.

"Yeah, good morning, genius. Please tell me you're at least wearing clothes."

You look down to check. You're in your old stained NASA t-shirt and cargo shorts. "Uhm, kind of."

Ali shouts from the background, "It's okay, I'm grabbing your suit!" You hear the car door slam shut. Sean continues, "We'll be there in five minutes. Be ready." *Click.*

Fully awake now, you scoot back in your spinny chair and stand up. You yawn. Okay, so, not fully awake.

"The Lab" is your name for the warehouse that you and your friends rent for space for your startup. It's not too big as far as warehouses go—maybe 20' by 40'. It's sort of like an apartment or a condo; it's on the easternmost end of what you think used to be just one large building, but the owner put in walls dividing it up into smaller sections to rent out. It's plenty big enough for you though. The only time it ever felt small was when Ali brought in a pack of firecrackers during an all-nighter and set them off under your desk. There's a nice dent in the door where you ran into it while trying to rapidly evacuate.

Right now, it's divided into two sections. Towards the main door (on the south side) you've scooted a couple tables together into one large desk—the one you were just sleeping on. On the other side, there's a tarp marking out the active floor space of your makeshift mocap studio. There's a counter set along the east wall with a sink, microwave, and minifridge by the desk, and various cameras, quadcopter arms, and other electronic equipment scattered on it toward the mocap tarp.

You head over to the sink to grab a glass of water.

12 May 2015

Quick Review

You're about to grab for a paper cup when you remember that they're out because Sean—*scoff* neat freak—decided to use them to hold all of the components you had lying around your solder station. You reach over and unceremoniously upend the one holding a dozen 555s.

As you're filling it, your stomach growls, so you reach over and pull a Hot Pocket out of the fridge. You slide it into the little reflector case thingy and open up the microwave. You use the little tape markers you've put on the base to position it about 130mm from the left inside edge. After a month of screwing around intense science you've determined that that's as close as you can get to optimal with this microwave's awkward resonance.

You hit start, then turn around and lean against the counter as you mentally review your notes for the presentation. It shouldn't be too bad. You've given the same basic spiel a billion times; you're the engineer—your part doesn't need to change much. You and Ali usually just end up reciting enough technical bits to make it seem like you've got everything handled. Sean and Kara have the hard parts. It's just that, well...

Presenting to this particular group had been Kara's idea. She said her parents know—well, knew, you guess—a couple of the higher-ups. She seems to think that this might give us a little sway. But they're GC. Like, the GC. Even with Kara's connection, you still aren't sure how you got a meeting at all.

You glance at the prototype you were tinkering with last night. It's not exactly pretty, and Ali hasn't even seen it yet, let alone worked an interface, but taking it with you and showing it off might lend you some much needed... tangibility. You've developed the opinion that everyone who's rejected you has done so because it didn't feel "real" enough. There isn't much else for GC to actually see beyond some mockups and pretty pictures in the slides.

The microwave dings. You turn back around and grab the Hot Pocket. You bite into it. You wince as your tongue meets boiling hot lava. Ahh, science.

You think you hear a car pulling up.

22 Jun 2015

The Cat

You finish your glass of water, then grab the pieces of the prototype and walk out onto Ali and Sean having an animated discussion over the cat sitting in Ali's lap.

"...should be euthanized. It's a hazard to our health. A week ago it nearly peed on me, and now this. Cat hair. All over my suit pants."

"D'aww! Widdle Fluffmuffin here jus' wanted a hug."

"Oh, well, in that case. C'mere you little… thing. I'll give you such a hug your eyes will bul—"

"Hey, have some mercy," you jump in. "I mean, it's a guy for gosh sakes. Call him something semi-dignified. Like Tom."

"And that is why you don't name things."

"No, we are not naming it! It does not get a name! It gets a brief car ride to a vet, or a dump site, or something. It is not staying here!"

"But he likes it here! Don't you, little guy?" The cat just stares up at her blankly.

"I know a vet," says Kara.

"Wha? Nooo!" Ali holds the cat's paws to its face in a look of mock horror, contrasting the one its eyes give: sheer boredom. It pulls its head back and starts licking its left paw.

"I'm sure she'd be happy to give it all the necessary immunizations."

"Yaay!" says the cat by unendorsed proxy.

"Kara, you're siding with this animal?"

"'Course she is. Jus' wookit his cute widdle face..." which is still showing the purest disinterest you think you've ever seen.

"Unh. We don't have time for this. Everyone, back in the car. I need to grab something from inside." Sean walks for the door. "No, 'everyone' does not include the cat," he says over his shoulder.

"Aw. Off you go Mister McCuteykins." Ali sets him out on the pavement.

"Yeah, have fun Steve," you say as you slide into the back seat next to her.

"You shoosh." Ali turns and notices the prototype on your lap. "Ooh! New toys!"

"Yeah, hopefully. Think you can get it to do more than blink by the time we get there?" You pass it to her and take another careful bite from your cooling Hot Pocket.

"We shall see..."

13 Jul 2015

Lint Roller

"Try not to get too much prototype on the cat hair, geez," you say.

"Why?" says Ali as more rubs off her sleeves. "Are the electrical properties of cat hair something we need to worry about?"

"I... don't know. Possibly? Static electricity, I guess. And it makes it look messy."

"Yes, that is totally the cat hair and not the bundles of zip tied wires."

Sean, who had emerged from the lab without you noticing, opens the driver door and takes his seat. He sets something on the floor before you get a good look at it.

Ali saw it, though. "You were all fluffed about being late, but you just had to find a lint roller? You're s—"

"It has a sharp tip," he interrupts. "It could probably be used as a stabbing implement. If you want to keep talking, we could test it. For science."

Her eye roll in response is only caught by you and the prototype's camera. He starts the car and pulls out onto the road.

"Wait, what if I just pass it the— no, wait, that'll..." You look over at Ali, muttering to herself. One hand holds her phone, apparently thumb-typing, while the other hand traces through the tangle of wires you wove through pieces of the prototype.

"Why are you doing that on your phone?"

Without looking up, she tells you "I found an APK for a half-decent IDE on XDA and figured out how to get it to use a local WAN thingie to talk to the 'bootloader' I stuck on all the controllers so I can push test code to 'em without having to plug in. Doesn't hold through reboots, though."

"I said 'why', not 'how'. Also... words."

"Oh. My lappy's in the trunk, this was convenient, and I type basically as fast on here as I do on there. Custom keyboard, see?"

Still not looking up from your wiry maze, she shoves the phone out at you for just long enough to see that half of the screen is flat black with a couple of small blue circles spaced randomly. "Yeah, I... sort of remember that. Wasn't it... red before?"

"Mhm, sure..." she breathes absently, settling back into the 'zone' or whatever.

You yourself settle in for the car ride. Lacking anything in particular to think about to keep your mind off the mild, baseless panic of the upcoming presentation, you decide that now would be a good time to ask yourself any deep probing questions about the universe or whatever, because that's a thing people do during boring commutes.

19 Jul 2015


…and then you remember that you are in possession of a most wonderful piece of modern technology. You pull out your smartphone and derp around on the interwebs. Pfft. "Deep." Yeah, right.

Part of your brain whines that you aren't being productive, but another part tells it that this counts as that stress relief thing or whatever, and their little argument fades away as you flick through funny GIFs and insightful blog posts about what the obvious best flavor of ice cream is or some such.

You're pulled out of your stupor by car door sounds. Momentary disorientation. Oh hey, we're here. You get out and stretch. Then you look down. Then you cringe. Gee, you're dressed really professionally.

Ali shoves a wad of clothing at you. Your suit, plus some cat. "I know, I know. Where would you be without me?"

You think for a second. "Prob'ly still asleep."

"You shoosh."

"Guys. Come on. We're late. Let's go."

The four of you head in with your standard complement of props and your new prototype in tow. You split off and head for the restroom to change.

"Where are you going?" calls Sean after you.

"The restroom…?"

"You know where it is?"

"Yeah, it's just around the corner." Wait, how…

"Okay. Be quick."

You round the corner and see the sign for the restrooms right where you expected it, which confuses you slightly; you've never been in here before. How do I know… Oh wait, this is just like that other building we were in for that presentation a couple days ago.

You become aware of people staring at you staring intently at the restroom sign. Your face flushes a little, and you head in. You pick an empty stall and start to change.

That was… weird…

A couple minutes later you emerge from your stall and check your appearance in the mirror. Your hair will have to do. You try and, uhh, 'sculpt' it into a reasonable shape. And you're going to have to nab Sean's lint roller, but yeah, the suit helped a lot. You roll your other clothes into a neatish wad and head out.

Someone is still staring at you.

You stare back at her. She's sitting in a chair at the end of the hall by a window. You… know her? No, but you think she seems like she knows you. Or is there something wrong with your suit? She smirks and breaks eye contact. You stare at her a little longer, trying to see if you can place her face, then edge toward the elevator, very discreet and ninja-like.

Then you turn and run back into the restroom and barely make it to a toilet before failing your fortitude save and uneating the contents of your stomach.

When you emerge, you note with displeasure that she is still looking at you and trying to contain a giggle. You give her the best stink eye you can muster, but you're pretty sure it comes off weak and embarrassed. You resist adding a flipped bird and make your way to the elevators.

You find the others sitting in a waiting area outside a conference room with large glass walls. It looks like another presentation is going on inside. Kara is watching it intently. Ali is watching the prototype intently. Sean is watching you intently.

"Took you long enough."

"Yeah, I, uhh, had to offer a prayer to the porcelain gods. Can Hot Pockets give you food poisoning?"

"I wouldn't be surprised."

Ali looks up. "Porcelain gods?"