Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Savage Created

I've just completed a two-session Savage Worlds conversion of the classic Ravenloft adventure The Created with three of my regular players.  This was my first attempt to convert D&D to Savage Worlds that involved a complete adventure.  I'm using this write-up both to give details and to help draw my own conclusions on the experiment.

I deviated from the original adventure (which I didn't find very well-written) significantly.  I set up my players with pre-gen characters, all members of a traveling band of thieves in the town of Odiare for some quick and easy robberies during the Festival of Bambeen.  A cousin, their principal contact, informed them that the Sertino household was the easiest target in town with the most to gain (Franco Sertino is the town's principal Silversmith).  The robbery went, more or less, as I planned.  The thieves entered by climbing the roof of a nearby building and dropping down onto the back patio/garden.  The only hiccup was when a character put a flash pellet (yes, I equipped them with some smoke and flash pellets) at the front door.  I wrote off the blinding explosion that resulted by saying the Sertinos thought a kid had tossed a firecracker into the doorway.  The thieves heard Maria Sertino's cries of "Murderer!" as they were dropping off the roof following the heist.    They moved on, intending to hide out and count their loot.

I had the constable's men pay them a call at their boarding house.  In my version of pre-Ravenloft Odiare, Constable Aldo Brazzi is a crooked man who has a hand in every racket in town.  The arrival of the strangers was monitored closely by Brazzi's men, and the Constable intended to take an extra thick cut of their loot to teach them some respect and then get their assistance in solving the murder.  The thieves intended to fight their way out of the inn.  It got ugly.  Before I knew it, the players had shot two of Aldo's men and wounded the Constable.  Oh, and they started a fire in the boarding house as well (common tactic for them, I should've expected it).  I had to fudge the rules to "knock-out" two of the PCs, but their wizard got away and went to ground.  I then had to make it seem realistic that, in spite of the fact they'd wounded the Constable, killed a deputy, and injured another, Aldo was still willing to deal with them.  I put it down to the charismatic "Face" character, saving the captured PCs skins by making friends with Aldo.  The PCs were released with the understanding they would investigate the Sertino murder before receiving any of their gear back and whatever Aldo decided to let them keep of their ill-gotten gains.

The player with the Wizard took up a new character: one of the Constable's deputies.  He played the character as a "born-again" thug, seeking redemption after being jailed for robbery.  This lent a little morality to the PCs as they went back to interview the Widow Sertino, her daughter, and their housekeeper/nanny.  Immediately, the group suspected something wasn't right with the girl Giselle and the way she clung to her doll "Knuckles".  They then followed a red herring I set for them: the suggestion that the Widow's dislike for Aldo's sister might have something to do with his death.  Once they interviewed Aldo's sister, her husband, and managed to sneak into Aldo's workshop and acquire a copy of his will, the Widow was cleared (she wouldn't have profited from her husband's death).  Ironically, in two walkthroughs of the house they missed the bloody knife under Giselle's bed due to bad Notice rolls.

They decided to follow Giselle.  The nine-year-old girl was their only suspect.  She, of course, dragged her nurse-maid to the puppet show at the Secolo Theatre.  Mid-way through the show the PCs were called out by Aldo to interrogate a suspect.  "Mad Enzo" was yet another red herring; a demented wizard's apprentice who confessed to the crime only to seek refuge from the voices in his head.  After the interview, the PCs found the deputy who caught Enzo dead in an alleyway, choked to death by puppet strings.  A man came running from the Secolo Theatre, falling paralyzed before the statue in the centre of town before he could tell the PCs what was the matter.

In the Secolo Theatre, the PCs fought a dozen Carrionettes while Maligno escorted Guiseppe to safety.  The Carrionettes managed to paralyze them and take their bodies after close to ten rounds of combat.  The PCs woke up in the toy store, in the marionette bodies, lost a few points of Reason (my equivalent of a Horror Check) and then set about escaping.  While seeking weapons, they found Guiseppe's journal (the entries for which I redid to make the language less...childish).  The two remaining thieves managed to pull a lamp off the wall and set fire to the lower floor (and the pack of animated toys trying to keep them in the store) and escape through the front window.  The guardsman PC went upstairs and, after hitting Guiseppe's cat in the face with a hammer, escaped out the upper floor's window.

I should mention:  we get together as a group once a week and play for five hours.  Between the red herrings and the combats (which take a while in Savage Worlds because of chips and such) we were down to the last hour-plus of the second session.  I altered the story for time's sake, saying that instead of being spread out, the Carrionettes occupying the PCs bodies came with a group of other possessed townsfolk to see the fire at Guiseppe's toy shop.  As the store went up in flames I let the PCs get their bodies back and flee the crowd more easily than I should've according to the adventure as-written.  This pushed toward the final confrontation with Maligno.

The final battle with Maligno was where I thought the Savage Worlds system showed its charms.  The player portraying the Guardsman had drawn the "Folk Hero" card from the Adventure Deck.  The description kind of fit the situation as they rushed the theatre full of Odiare's children and I ruled that its use allowed the PCs to break Maligno's hold on them, thus the kids recognized the PCs as people trying to help them and the Carrionettes as evil creatures that took their parents away.  So the PCs and children fought Maligno's little army of evil puppets together as the theatre burned down around them (my PCs didn't need any prompting from ghostly victims...they love burning stuff).  Because of timing: Maligno wasn't "killed", I ruled that the theatre's ceiling began to give way and it *might* have destroyed him.

I ended the adventure with a Vistani woman wandering into town in her vardo and offering the PCs a lift in exchange for the few stolen goods they had left.  The thieves took off while the guardsman stayed behind to look after his homeland, hunt for any sign of Maligno, and protect the children.  

Other Considerations:
*I had a bucket of unused chips at the end of this adventure.  Part of this is because I'm using the Deadlands Blue/Red/Black chip rules.  My PCs spent Red chips on a number of occasions.  In retrospect, I could've ended the first fight at the Secolo theatre much faster, but I didn't want to do that at the time.
*I feel that, with my group's 5-hour game sessions, I was smashing three weekends of gaming into two weekends.  The gave myself a deadline of two sessions in order to give someone else an opportunity to GM before he had to disappear for a while.
*Despite how critical I am of myself, I should note my players said they loved the game.  They said my use of music and lighting to establish mood made it feel like a horror story and that the ending was dramatic, but left room for a any good monster/slasher movie.      

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Savage Created (Players, Stay Out!)

With a little luck, I'll be running my first full AD&D conversion adventure at the beginning of next week. Since I'm in a Ravenloft mood, I'll be running a Savaged version of "The Created", a 2nd to 4th level scenario set in the domain of Odiare.  It's actually the story of how Odiare becomes a domain, so it makes for an interesting entry point.  The adventure is going to be a one-off, so I'm using pre-fab characters.  I've altered the set up and the tone of some of the characters to create Red Herrings and a darker atmosphere.

--The Constable, Aldo, is the town's "big man".  He's on the take, wrenching folks like the PCs into doing his bidding and wetting his beak from the profits.  This works perfectly with plans for the party (see below).  I've tried to make him more threatening, giving him a small cadre of thugs and a pair of mastiffs that would make short work of a single low-powered character on their own.
--The PCs will come to Odiare as thieves, invited by a cousin of at least one character who acts as a small-time hustler and informant: she'll tell them the best places to steal from during the festival in exchange for a cut of the profits.
--The first murder takes place in a house the PCs happen to be robbing, forcing them into the position of serving the constable in order to keep their ill gotten gains.

I've written up the Carrionettes as follows:

Carrionette, Evil Construct
Traits                                                         Secondary Statistics
Agility                    d6                             Charisma:
Smarts                    d6                             Pace: 2”
Spirit                      d4                             Parry: 5 (7)
Strength                  d4                             Toughness: 5
Vigor                      d10                           Reason: N/A

Skills:  Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Guts d4, Notice d6, Persuade d6, Stealth d12, Throwing d6, Tracking d6
Languages: Odiaren
Edges: Quick Draw, Steady Hands

Special Abilities:
Friend to Children:  Carrionettes gain +2 to Charisma when dealing with characters possessing the Major Hindrance “Young” (and possibly other innocents such as adults with child-like mentalities).   Because of this, Carrionettes will never harm children directly, though they might use them as shields or foils to protect themselves.
Puppet-Sized Wooden Body
--Immunities: Poison, Cold, Electricity, Psionic/Magical Domination
--Falling: 1/3 Damage
--Healing: Successful Repair roll = a Wound (2 Wounds on a Raise)
--Size: Small (-2 to Toughness, -2 to be hit by man-sized creatures)
--Weakness: Fire (treat Toughness as -2)
--Silver Needles (Attack Arms & Legs w/ no penalty): Range 3”. No damage, victim makes a Vigor roll (at -2 if already hit by a needle).  First hit paralyzes a limb (limiting weapon use or cutting movement in half), second hit totally paralyzes victim.  Paralysis remains as long as a needle is in the victim.  Removing a needle causes the paralysis to lift after d4 rounds.  
--Trade Souls: Plunging a silver needle into a paralyzed victim’s neck allows the carrionette to trade souls with the victim.  The process can be reversed by the same means.  In each case, the Carrionette body is incapacitated for 1 hour.    

Monday, 8 August 2011

Savaged Denizens of Dread #1, Bony Hands

Bony Hands, the Elusive Hungry Dead
Description: An emaciated pile of skin and bones, so slender and small it is only visible out of the corner of the eye.  Its mouth is lines with needle-like teeth and it moans in a manner that suggests long-unsatisfied hunger pangs.  The creatures feet are all-but invisible and barely scrape the ground, whereas the hands are oversized and tipped with sharpened bone claws.
Traits                                                         Secondary Statistics
Agility                     d8                              Charisma:
Smarts                    d6                              Pace: 6”
Spirit                       d8                              Parry: 6
Strength                d6                              Toughness: 8
Vigor                       d10                          

Skills: Fighting d8, Notice d6, Stealth d8 (+4), Tracking d6

Special Abilities
--Claws: Str+2
--Bite: Str+d6+2.  A Bony Hands may only employ a bite attack when it has grappled a victim.
--Fear -1:  "I saw something out of the corner of my eye!  But where is it now!?
--Improved Grappling: +2 to all grapple related checks.
--Improved Frenzy: Bony Hands make two melee attacks per round without penalty.
--Partial Invisibility: All attacks against a Bony Hands are at -2, due to the fact they can only be seen with peripheral vision.  Moreover, Bony Hands gain +4 on all Stealth checks.  Magic that detects undead or reveals the invisible can dispel this property.  Normal “Dispel” powers are ineffective, as this invisibility is innate. 
--Scamper: Opponents man-sized or larger are at -1 to hit a Bony Hands.  This penalty stacks with the Bony Hand’s “Partial Invisibility”. 
--Small: -1 to Toughness
--Undead: +2 Toughness; Undead Immunities

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The World of the Ephemeral Dead

As I'm writing this I'm planning to run the second half of a ghost-town adventure for my current Deadlands: Hell on Earth game. Its allowed me to think of what I'd like to incorporate into future ghost-centered stories. So this isn't a single post, but a running list I'm making for myself and anyone who cares to read it.

If you have ghostly game-table activities that have worked for you in the past, feel free to note them in the comments section. I'm always interested in what other folks are thinking.

--Round-Robin Intention through Possession--
Possession isn't just a good way of getting a party to jump at shadows. It can also help investigative minds sort out what's going on in a ghost's head. I had the idea to have the entire party roll for possession simultaneously and then I'd toss random notes to the victims and have them read them in their best "otherworldly" voices. The notes would give random clues to the ghost's nature as it jumped from person to person. Of course the notes would be out of order, so they'd have to put the pieces together. Also, I was figuring it might be a fun way of getting some of the folks in my group who don't full-on role-play to cut loose. I might also reward the best ghostly voice (or the person who came out of their shell the most) with a Benny. I figure I could do this two to three times over the course of an adventure with different ghosts or the same ghost revealing important details through this chaotic roulette-style possession. And of course, whoever reads the last note is the body the ghost stays in and through-whom it attacks the party.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Introducing a Darklord through the Tarroka

I can't remember where I read the idea, but I want to advocate it to anyone who will listen. If you are able to print tarroka cards, consider printing off extra copies of particularly nasty ones. Here's my idea for when my heroes will inevitably incur the wrath of a Darklord:
--While on the run the heroes encounter a small Vistani caravan. I have it in mind so make my campaign Vistani-friendly, so the heroes have easy access to a mentoring force that can direct them when they get lost (I know the Vistani aren't good, but that's part of the fun).
--Anyway, they stop by the caravan's fortuneteller for a tarroka reading and the young woman pulls a horrid series of cards: all darklords.
--There's only one possibility: the Darklord's influence is being felt by the cards. The man/woman/creature and his/her/its minions are due to arrive at any moment! The young woman can only offer the party the advice to flee as fast as they can and pray that their pursuer kills them swiftly.
--As the heroes exit the fortuneteller's vardo, the Vistani have already come under attack. Though they are neutral, the domain lord chooses to look past this as they harbor fugitives in his/her/its realm.

Ravenloft Maps

I recently acquired a copy of Campaign Cartographer 3 and decided to create some maps related to my Ravenloft ideas. None of these maps feature "cannon" sites, but what is GMing if not an opportunity to put your personal spin on a setting. Below is my first map, depicting the village of Shroudhob on the Isle of Liffe; a pastoral settlement that is besieged by black-hooded horrors.

The town of Coldwood Cross is both a red herring and a base camp for a couple of adventure ideas I've had. It provides a place for heroes to rest and purchase equipment and an opportunity for them to jump at shadows.

My most recent map is the town of Marinova in Borca. Here I've tried to depict a clear distinction between districts with "Old Town" to the south and west with its thatched roof buildings and "New Town" to the north and east with its more modern and expensive gothic architecture. Not sure what I'm going to do with this map, though Marinova may be the location of an alchemist's shop where an important evil artifact has been casually mislaid on a shelf.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Wilderness Encounter: Aldo Reinhardt

Aldo Reinhardt, Reluctant Instinctual Killer
Race: True Werebear
Homeland: Darkon, Mtns of Misery
Traits                                                          Secondary Statistics
Agility                      d8                              Charisma:
Smarts                      d6                              Pace: 8” (6” in human form)
Spirit                        d8                              Parry: 9 (7)
Strength                  d12+6 (d10)       Toughness: 11 (7)
Vigor                         d12+2 (d10)                        

Skills: Climb d8, Fighting d12+2 (d10), Guts d10, Intimidation d10, Notice d12, Swimming d6, Stealth d8, Tracking d8
Languages: Werebear, Darkonese, Vassi, Balok
Special Abilities:
--Bear Hug: A werebear that hits with a raise has pinned his foe and attacks a +2 until the foe is freed.  The opponent may only attempt to escape the hug on his action, which requires a raise on an opposed Strength roll.
--Bite/Claws: Str+d8
--Infection: Per every point of damage delivered by a werebear, there is a 1% chance of infecting the victim with lycanthropy. 
--Immunity: Werebears are immunity to normal weapons, can be harmed by magic (spells and weapons), and can only be killed by weapons of Cold Iron. 
--Low Light Vision:  Werebears ignore penalties for Dim and Dark lightning. 
--Size +2: 8’ tall and over 1000lbs in weight. 
--Weakness: Werebears take damage normally from magical weapons and spells (can be incapacitated), but can only be killed by damage from a weapon of Cold Iron. 

Gear: Wolfbane-Magical Dagger (+1 dmg/+1 Ftg; +3 damage vs. Wolves and Werewolves), Crossbow

*Darkon, somewhere in the Mountains of Misery
--Warm and friendly. A large man with a powerful laugh.
--Claims to be a hunter and woodsman.
--Invites travelers into his isolated cabin for a hot meal and a mug of ale.
--(Red Herring): Wolves howling and scratching at the door (maybe they followed the heroes). Aldo talks of werewolves and even shows the heroes one he’s turned into a rug.
--(Red Herring): Stone Circle nearby, Aldo claims to be the last in a line of druids dedicated to guarding that circle and looking after the mountains. “I tend the spirits of nature here in the mountains. That stone circle is the front door of their lodge.”
--He is, in many ways, regretful of the fact he must kill wayward travellers. He states it’s a matter of instinct when the time comes to finish them off.
--Reluctant, but opportunistic, serial killer.
--He’ll move to kill the heroes in a ritualistic fashion. Poisoning food and drink, subduing those who do not fall to the delicious meals and spirits he puts forth.
--Reinhardt has control of a family of bears, with whom he shares his kills. The creatures are mad for the taste of humanoid flesh.
--Aldo prefers not to slay victims at his cabin, but instead drug them and let them awaken tied up at the lair of his “beloved kin”.
--If Aldo has followed the party for a number of days through the Mountains of Misery, he may pronounce sentence upon them for any number of faux crimes against the “old druidic code”. Hiding behind the façade of meting out justice against poachers and the abusers of nature, Aldo takes some solace from his violence instincts.
--We could perhaps look at Aldo as the hunter, who has trapped rabbits or similar defenseless animals (the party of heroes) and isn’t quite indifferent to the fact he must now approach and take the life of each one.
--Perhaps Aldo has a second lair deeper in the wooded mountains were he displays his “trophies”: the skins and heads of men, elves, dwarves, etc. he had trapped and killed. Perhaps there are telltale signs of this in his cabin, where he has an unusual number of books bound in human skin, carved bone ornamentations, and mugs that look very much like skull caps.
--If the group escapes, Aldo will likely pursue them as he wants to keep his home, his family of bears, and his ritualistic killing practices a secret.
--Another thought: Since Aldo invites people into his home, it is important to play up the safety of this practice in adventures prior to the heroes' encounter with the werebear.  The PCs would encounter peasants, farmers, Vistani, etc. all willing to share their fires and food with strangers.  For this to work, there needs to be a sense that there are good people to be found throughout the domains of dread and that the places they live are brief safe havens from evil creatures only the PCs are brave enough to challenge.