Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Farthingholme Mystery: Arrival



New to the Farthingholme Mystery? Read this first. Previous episodes can be found by following this tag.

The school looks like a prison. That is all Jeanne can think as her carriage arrives in front of the imposing edifice. The school looks like a prison.

Jeanne is ushered inside by a servant stationed by the door. In the darkened interior of the foyer, a thin, white face gleams forth from the shadows. An old face, but not a kind one. The woman steps toward her, taking the girl's measure as her shoes click loudly against the tiled floor.

"You must be Jeanne," she says, "I'm Headmistress Crowley. Please follow me to my office and we will get you settled."

As Jeanne trails behind the Headmistress, she observes that many portraits of dour-faced women adorn the walls.

Headmistress Crowley's office is simply appointed, but evidences taste and not a small degree of wealth. The Headmistress slides behind her desk, leaving Jeanne standing. There is another girl here, also standing. She is small, with ginger hair and freckles. "This is your dormitory's head girl, Jessica Ellicott. She will show you the ropes here at Farthingholme Academy. Your instruction will begin tomorrow, but for now Jessica will show you to your room. Your bags will be awaiting you. Please unpack, then Jessica will take you down to dinner. Welcome, Jeanne; I am sure you will be enriched with your stay."

Jessica drops in a curtsy at the Headmistress's dismissal. Jeanne clumsily follows suit, then follows the red-headed girl out of Crowley's office.

Jessica is silent on the way to Jeanne's room, but her face betrays the fact that she is repressing some sort of emotion that lurks just beneath the surface of her reserve.



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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (part 7): Combat Basics


It is time to talk combat rules, which is really where most of the fiddly mechanics in Savage Worlds reside. 

Savage Worlds was designed with using miniatures in mind; movement and ranges are given in inches, and the game includes pre-measured templates for adjudicating blasts and cone effects. However, I've only rarely played Savage Worlds with minis or a map. It is as easy to make judgment calls as to position, who gets hit by what, etc. as it is in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. You definitely aren't tied to a grid map or anything like that. In fact, there are suggestions for not using miniatures as well; these options work just as well as the default assumptions of the game.

Initiative in Savage Worlds is handled by using playing cards. At the beginning of each round, everyone is dealt a card (the GM might get one card for each "group" of bad guys). Then you countdown from the highest card to the lowest; when your card comes up in order, you get to go. This is a great system for managing who goes when in a tabletop game because the card is right in front of you; it's a nice visual reminder that cuts down on trying to figure out who rolled what on initiative dice. A few wrinkles: characters dealt a Joker get +2 to their test and damage rolls; surprised characters simply don't get dealt a card.

On their turn in a round a character can move and take an action (such as attacking). A character can take more than one action (as long as they don't take the same action twice), but every action they take beyond the first gives them a penalty to all of their actions that round.

The most common action in combat will either be a melee or ranged attack. Melee attacks are Fighting skill tests. However, instead of rolling to hit a target number of 4, the test is made against the opponent's Parry score. Ranged attacks are made against a target number of 4, but shots taken at medium range get a -2 penalty to the roll and shots taken at long range get a -4 penalty.

If an attack is successful, the character rolls the damage dice for their weapon and tries to hit the target number of their opponent's Toughness score. On a success, the opponent is Shaken. A Shaken character is rattled or hard pressed; they can take no actions until they make a successful Spirit roll or spend a Benny to lose the Shaken condition. On a success with a raise, the opponent is Shaken and takes a Wound for each raise. A character who is already Shaken takes a Wound if they are damaged again, but they do not take 2 Wounds if their opponent rolls a raise on the damage roll. Yes, this is confusing, but it doesn't have to be.

Learning to apply the results of a successful damage roll is one of the trickiest parts of Savage Worlds to get down, in no small part because the rules aren't written as clearly as they could be in this section. I see long-time players of the game getting this wrong all the time. Oddly, this is a really easy fix. All the book really needs is to have this bit pasted in:


Each Wound a character suffers gives them a -1 penalty to all their actions. Keep in mind that Extras are taken out when they receive a Wound. When a character runs out of Wounds, they are Incapacitated. An Incapacitated character might be knocked out in some settings; in others, they might have to make an immediate Vigor roll to determine their fate--which can range from dying instantly, getting a permanent injury, or a temporary injury. If you like Death & Dismemberment rules, you might dig this as well. A character can spend a Benny to attempt to Soak a Wound, which is a Vigor roll that lets you avoid taking damage. It's wise to hang on to a Benny for this purpose, trust me.

Those are the basic rules for how combat works; next time we'll look at the "situational rules," several of which are actually necessary to make combat work well in Savage Worlds.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Creating Gothic Gaslamp Fantasy Bloodlines in Savage Worlds

Since I talked about how easy it is to create new races in my Stroll Through Savage Worlds, I thought I'd really give the system a workout and convert over all the "bloodlines" from my World Between setting. You could use them with Rippers or Solomon Kane fairly easily.



Caliban
You were born under a witch's hex or in a vicinity where rites of black magic were practiced. You are stunted, gnarled, bestial, or deformed in some way.
  • Born Under a Black Sign: Early exposure to witchery leaves a Caliban resistant to magic. They have 2 points of Armor when hit by damage-causing arcane powers, and adds +2 to all Trait rolls when resisting opposed powers.
  • Horrific Visage: Due to their malformed countenances, Caliban have -2 to their Charisma.
  • Broken-Bodied Brute: Though misshapen, Caliban tend to be tough as iron. Caliban add +1 to their Toughness and may carry 8 times their Strength in pounds.
  • Shambling Gate: Caliban have -1 Pace due to the tortured movements of their gnarled limbs.

Changeling
You are not truly human at all; rather, the fey stole a human baby from its crib and left you in its place. The tell-tale signs of your inhuman lineage might be pointed ears or unnaturally red hair.
  • Faerie Glamor: Changelings can use the Disguise power to alter their appearance. They use their Smarts to activate this power, and 5 Power Points specifically for its usage alone.
  • Frail and Fey: -1 Toughness.
  • Mystified by Mortal Devices: Changelings always suffer a -2 to the Repair skill. Additionally, when the character uses a mechanical device, a roll of 1 on their skill die (regardless of the Wild Die) results in the device breaking.
  • Unearthly Beauty: +2 Charisma.
  • Weakness (Iron): Changelings take +4 damage from iron weapons, but can handle iron items normally.

Created
You were not truly born at all; rather, you were created alchemically or galvanically by a rogue experimenter. Your body may bear the marks of having been stitched together or there might be inorganic material assimilated to your physiognomy.
  • Born in the Laboratory: Created have the Construct quality. Created add +2 when attempting to recover from Shaken, do not suffer additional damage from Called Shots, do not suffer Wound Modifiers, and do not suffer from disease or poison.
  • Inhuman Stamina: Created start with a d6 Vigor.
  • Less Than Human: Spirit requires 2 points to raise during character creations
  • Never Fits In: Painfully aware of their nature, Created are never fully able to ingratiate themselves into society. They suffer a -2 to Charisma.
  • Unfeeling Resilience: Created get +2 to resist all negative environmental effects.

Dhampir
One of your ancestors was a vampire. This taint manifests as extreme pallor, an aura of morbidity, or fang-like teeth.
  • Children of the Night: Dhampir ignore penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Damned: Due to their unholy nature, it costs a Dhampir two points per step to increase Spirit at character creation.
  • Hypnotic Gaze: Dhampir are supernatural beguilers. They have the Puppet power. They activate this power with their Smarts, and have 5 Power Points specifically for its usage alone.
  • Twilight Existence: Due to their vampiric lineage, Dhampir possess the Undead quality. Dhampir add +2 when attempting to recover from Shaken, do not suffer additional damage from Called Shots, do not suffer Wound Modifiers, and do not suffer from disease or poison.
  • Weakness (Holy): Holy weapons and damaging Miracle powers cause +4 damage to Dhampir.

Moon-Blooded
Though not a were-creature yourself, one of your progenitors bore the curse. Your bloodline manifests as animal-like features and a predatory temper.
  • Animalistic Frenzy: Moon-Blooded fly into a bestial rage in combat. They do not take prisoners unless ordered to do so by someone they consider a superior or am “alpha.” If the Moon-Blooded's bloodthirsty nature is known, they suffer -4 to Charisma.
  • Keen Sense: Moon-Blooded have extraordinary sense of hearing, sight, or smell; they get a +2 to Notice when using that sense.
  • Low Light Vision: Moon-Blooded ignore penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Monstrous Fortitude: Moon-Blooded are difficult to wound; they have +1 Toughness. 
  • Red of Tooth and Claw: Moon-Blooded have teeth or claws (or both) that cause Str+d8 damage.
  • Weakness (Silver): Moon-Blooded take double damage from silver weapons.
Nephilim
The celestial seed of a traitorous angel begot your bloodline. This taint makes you seem otherworldly and has imbued you with a terrifying beauty.
  • Accursed: Since their angelic ancestor broke the Lady's commandment by laying with a mortal, the Nephilim bear the curse of all their kind. They start with one less Benny per session.
  • Angelic Benefactor: Despite their personal inclinations, Nephilim are driven by their angelic blood to help those in need.
  • Divine Spark: Since Nephilim are touched with the deity's power, they start with a d6 Spirit for free.
  • Lay on Hands: By calling upon their divine heritage, a Nephilim can heal themselves or others. They possess the Healing power. This power uses Spirit to activate, and a Nephilim has 5 Power Points that can only be spent on this power.
  • Terrifying Beauty: Nephilim are marked by their otherworldly beauty; their beatific and perfected form gives them a +2 to Charisma.
Sea-Blooded
Somewhere in your lineage lurks an ancestor who was a “deep one.” This taint manifests itself in a somewhat frog- or fish-like aspect to your appearance.
  • Call of the Sea: A Sea-Blooded can never drown in water, and gains a d6 Swimming skill for free. Additionally, their Pace will swimming is equal to their Swimming Skill.
  • The Look”: All Sea-Blooded have something fish- or frog-like about their appearance. This unfortunate aspect of their bloodline gives them a -2 to Charisma.
  • Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Distant and nightmarish beings communicate with the Sea-Blooded while they sleep. These dreams are dimly remembered, but still give a Sea-Blooded a d6 in the Knowledge (Arcana) skill.

Witch-Blooded
Included in your ancestry is a progenitor who fornicated with devils. This corruption manifests in horns, a forked tongue, cloven hooves, or a witch's teat.
  • Hellish Constitution: A Witch-Blooded has a +4 bonus to resist fire and heat.
  • Infernal Will: A Witch-Blooded's demonic gaze gives them a +2 to all Intimidation and Taunt tests. Furthermore, they get a +2 to resist Tests of Will. 
  • Silver-Tongued Devil: The natural cunning a Witch-Blooded gains from their demonic lineage gives with a free d6 in the Persuasion skill.
  • Weakness (Holy): A Witch-Blooded takes double damage from holy weapons and damaging Miracle powers. Additionally, they feel uncomfortable in sacred places.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Farthingholme Mystery: A Choose Your Own Blog Adventure Game

Let's introduce a setting...




The Farthingholme Academy


The Farthingholme Academy is an exclusive boarding school for girls located a few miles from Birmingham. Farthingholme does not accept applicants; rather, it reaches out to the families of the young women it has identified as “worthy candidates” and offers them an education for an unbelievable pittance. The young women who attend the Farthingholme Academy are instructed in household economy, French, pianoforte, cartomancy, “female accomplishments,” and dancing. Oddly, few have heard of the school; it is as if it had sprung up overnight—yet Headmistress Crowley claims that is has a long and illustrious history as a place where young women of potential are “transformed” into women of unquestionable character and social importance.

* * *

And a character...



Jeanne Madison Moores


Jeanne Moores is the daughter of one of the few men in England who truly believes that young girls can benefit from education as much as favored sons. However, as a Birmingham mechanic working at a bootblack factory, John Moores lamented the cost of sending his only girl to school. When an invitation for his daughter to attend Farthingholme Academy at an easily affordable rate arrived in the post, it seemed a godsend.



Jeanne is a precocious girl of twelve; she's particularly interested in history, geography, and natural science. She's also managed to pick up the rudiments of fencing by watching her older brothers compete in their school tournaments. She's a curious girl—in fact, perhaps far too curious for her own good.



Jeanne loves her father, respects her brothers, and misses her recently-deceased mother. Indeed, Jeanne believes that her mother died because of foul play and not the cholera that the doctors claim took her life.



Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6

Charisma: 0; Pace: 8; Parry: 4; Toughness: 5

Skills: Fighting d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (History) d6, Knowledge (Science) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d6, Taunt d6

Hindrances: Curious (Major; Wants to know everything); Loyal (Minor; Tries to never disappoint friends); Stubborn (Minor; Always wants her way),

Edges: Alertness (+2 Notice), Fleet-Footed (+2 Pace, d10 running die), Luck (+1 Bennie)

Bennies: 4


* * *

And the rules...

The Mysteries of the Farthingholme Academy will be a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book in blog format. You, Dear Reader, will get to guide Jeanne as she navigates the strange and uncanny world of Farthingholme. At the end of each post describing what Jeanne is encountering and experiencing (which will hopefully be a weekly occurrence) there will be a poll with options for what Jeanne could do next. You will get to vote on those options, if you so choose; the most popular choice will inform what happens next in the "game."

If you'd like more information about what Jeanne is seeing or thinking, feel free to leave a comment on the post; I will reply filling in the gaps as I'm able so you can make a more informed choice.

The polls will look like this:


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Undeath in Venice


I had heard that the canals of Venice stank of filth and refuse, but I have happily discovered that this is not the case. Due to our past association in the business of the Cursed Amethyst Mystery, Miss Mary Evans, Dr. Thaddeus Osterhaus, Zhi Lu, and myself were invited to the Venetian wedding of Cornelio Fierro's daughter to the son of a local shipping magnate. We all gladly accepted the invitation, but unfortunately this was not to be the happy occasion (or holiday from home) we might have wished for.

The ceremony itself was the usual dull, monotonous, Catholic affair. The bride, Alessa, and the groom, Tiziano, looked to have true affection for each other, at least. The wedding erupted suddenly just before the vows were exchanged; a spectral presence armed with a ancient-seeming sword materialized at the altar and the church was instantly over-run with armed robed figures! The spectre swept the bride-to-be up and flowed toward the door with her. Our attempts to halt this uncanny interruption were checked when the robed figures swarmed upon us. 

Luckily, I had my sword cane with me and the other had smuggled in their pistols--well, except for Zhi Lu, who needs no weapons to wreak havoc. As it turned out, the things we fought were not men...or even things that used to be men. They were wooden, like life-sized, faceless marionettes. They battled us as if in a frenzy, but in the end they were only fodder that slowed us down. By the time we shook free of them and burst through the church's doors, we could only stare agape as the phantom glided down the Grand Canal with Alessa in its arms!


And thus began a fierce chase by commandeered gondola as we attempted to catch up to the purloined bride. Alas, more marionettes sprang from the depths of the canal and hindered us. We were so far away at the end of this second melee that we could only watch helplessly as a ghostly galleon arose from the depths of the sea; Alessa was taken aboard, and the ship set sail at an unnatural pace.

Returning to the church, beaten in body and spirit, we made plans as to how to proceed. Cornelio, of course, pleaded with us to rescue his daughter; even if we weren't moved by the father's affection, our pledge to the Rippers organization placed the task of foiling this plot at our doorstep. Eager to be re-united with his bride, Tiziano offered us his services.

For my part, I took the wooden remains of one of the marionette-men to the University of Venice to see if anyone there might be able to tell me more about our foes. Using my Oxford credentials and a handy Italian phrasebook, I managed to break bread with a Venetian scholar with an interest in folklore. He informed me that this "creature" looks much as the villainous playthings created by a man called Giacomo della Florio, a puppeteer of the Renaissance who sold his soul to breath life into his creations.

My companions, meanwhile, had discovered an interesting fact: Alessa is the spitting image of a medieval princess named Isabella, who was sought after (in vain) by an evil tyrant of Otranto called Prince Manfred. Indeed, the sword the spectre bore matches the description of the one Manfred wielded in life.

And so, with no other leads with which to guide us, we know head to the ruined castle of Otranto with the bereaved Tiziano in tow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (Part 6): Extras and Wild Cards


All right, now that we know how to make characters and outfit them with gear, how does this game actually work on a mechanical level?

The first important facet of how the game plays is that Savage Worlds divides characters into two categories: Extras and Wild Cards. Extras are everyday people, mooks, monsters not worth naming, and generally characters that aren't that important to the "story." When an Extra takes a Wound, they're incapacitated. Wild Cards, on the other hand, are the player characters, the major villains, and the truly fearsome monsters. They are only incapacitated after first taking three Wounds--so they're far more hale and hardy than Extras. Wild Cards are also far more proficient. While Extras only roll their Attributes or Skills when making a Trait test, Wild Cards also roll a Wild Die. The Wild Die is a d6 (in most cases); to make a Trait test, a Wild Card rolls their applicable Attribute or Skill and the Wild Die. These dice aren't added together; rather, a Wild Card simply has the option of taking the highest roll of the dice they've thrown. This makes Wild Cards way more capable than the average person in the game.

Most Trait tests are made versus a target number of 4. Due to the Wild Die, a Wild Card has a 63% chance of hitting the target number even if they have a measly d4 in the relevant trait. Also adding to this high success rate is that Trait tests (and damage rolls) can Ace. Essentially, dice rolled in Trait tests are open-ended or "explode"; that is, if you roll the highest possible number on a dice (such as rolling a 4 on a d4) you get to re-roll that die and add the new result to the first roll. Since you keep rolling until the dice doesn't Ace, it's possible to succeed wildly even if you've got a weak Trait or to score a one-hit-kill since damage dice can also Ace.

For situations where it is important to see how well a character has succeeded, rolls can also score a Raise. A Raise occurs for every four points that a roll exceeds the target number, so for most rolls you'll get a Raise on an 8 against a target number of 4. Also note that you might be able to attempt a Trait test even if you don't have the relevant Skill; simply roll d4-2 and your Wild Die-2 (if you've got one). There are also rules for opposed rolls, cooperative rolls, and group rolls for those situations where you have a group of ninja trying to sneak up on the player characters and don't want to roll a Stealth test for each ninja. And if all this Wild Die business sounds like it makes things too easy, consider that if you even roll a 1 on both your Wild Die and your Trait dice you've just got a Critical Failure and the GM gets to make up something horrible that happens to your character.

The other mechanic that separates Extras from Wild Cards is Bennies. Now, some people have an innate reaction of disgust to the name "Bennies," but you can cross that out and write-on "Hero Points" or "Luck" instead if you like because that's essentially how they function. Player-controlled Wild Cards usually start with 3 Bennies per season; they can be spend to re-roll a Trait test or to try to "Soak" damage you'd rather not take. In my experience, players tend to hoard a few Bennies for the purposes to soaking damage because the death spiral in Savage Worlds is not something you want to mess around with.

While a player character starts with 3 Bennies, they can be awarded with additional Bennies during play for great roleplaying, creatively getting around a major obstacle, and generally for being entertaining. I can't stress this enough: GMs are advised to keep Bennies flowing fast and furious toward the players. Reward them for doing cool things that make the game fun and they will do more things that make the game fun. The fun is the point.

GMs also get Bennies. They have both a "common pool" of Bennies that can be spent on any villains you control and Bennies specifically attached to their Wild Card villains. Note to GMs: don't stockpile your common pool of Bennies to spend on the Big Bad! This will only make combat slow to a grinding crawl; use the common pool to boost Extras and keep things moving. Also considering not using your Wild Card's Bennies solely to soak Wounds. Go for big, dramatic actions with re-rolls. Again, the best practice is to use them on things that add fun to the game--which isn't necessarily the "tactical" thing to do. Don't worry, you'll still have opportunities to go tactical on the players; we'll talk about that next time when we start in on combat rules.

Monday, July 21, 2014

King of the Junkyard Zombies





King of the Junkyard Zombies (Wild Card)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d8, Shooting d6, Spellcasting d8
Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 10 (2)
Special Abilities
  • Claws: Str+d6
  • Metal Detritus: +2 Armor
  • Fearless: Immune to Fear and Intimidation
  • Fear: Causes fear when first encountered
  • Undead: +2 Toughness, +2 to recover from Shaken, Called Shots do no extra damage
  • Minor Necromancy: Zombie power, 15 Power Points

King of the Zombie. –°emetery.
FOTO: Ilja Hub√°lek
Actor: Josef Rarach
FX Makeup: Vlad Taupes (studio FX Creator, Barrandov)