Saturday, 12 October 2013

Rippers: Prologue

Since our D&D Next DM's on an extended holiday, a few of us from that group decided to get together for a game in Savage Worlds' "Rippers" setting. I'm GMing; there were going to be three players, but James wasn't able to make it for this first session.

Michael had made his character ahead of time, but Annette had been otherwise occupied. We started work shortly before Michael arrived, and managed to get her character organised after a couple of hours. Although she enjoys roleplaying, she's expressed a dislike for character creation, so we discussed the issues around that a bit. Character creation in some games can be a bit of a slog, and while Savage Worlds is not quite as convoluted as the current D&D Next, it is up there a bit. The need to have a good grasp of the available Edges is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I've also found that, instead of buying Edges and Hindrances near the end, character creation in Savage Worlds is usually best done by starting with the Edges you want and then buying Attributes and Skills afterwards to ensure you meet the Edge requirements.

Annette explained that she dislikes the process of trying to find the right way to express her character concept in game terms. It's one thing to describe them in prose, but another thing entirely to translate that into numbers and game options. "If you want your character to do X, you have to take points in Y" was just not engaging or exciting for her. The pitfalls of the concept-to-mechanics process were also made abundantly clear when Michael's professor of archaeology turned out to not actually have the Knowledge (Archaeology) skill - an omission that was rectified in play by swapping out one of his other skills. The need to manipulate multiple interacting segments takes a certain amount of concentration; not only do you have to know which Edges to take, but Attributes are affected by Edges, and Skills are affected by both Edges and Attributes.

Character creation is often seen as a chore - a necessary evil that needs to be suffered in order to get to the fun bit. Mind you, some people do actually enjoy the character creation process itself, although that probably depends on the game. I talked a bit about some of the other games I'd run lately that approach character creation somewhat differently. Apocalypse World (and the *World games in general) give you a guided package deal where all of the thematic choices have been compiled for you, so you just need to go through a checklist and pick some stuff that sounds cool. Some games such as Fiasco and Annalise build character creation into the session itself. Annalise also starts with very vague character outlines which become fleshed out during play, while Fiasco defines characters only by their relationships and requires you to hash out a consensus of who these people are in freeform discussion before the game proper gets underway. In Fate, a high concept aspect such as "Disgraced Professor of Archaeology from Cambridge" would tend to avoid the problem of forgetting to buy all the mechanical widgets to suit your concept, although Fate still has Skills and Stunts to select or build.

During the session Annette also mentioned that she didn't mind spending Experience Points to buy more things for her character; it's just the huge lump of character creation that's a bit much to deal with all at once. I suggested a system (like Leverage or one suggestion in Fate) where you start out with little more than a broad character concept and then fill in the details as they come up in play. "Oh, we have to get away? Well, it turns out I'm a stunt driver! And I can hotwire this car!" It's something I might look into using heavily in a future game.

Anyway, on to the Actual Play!

  • Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
  • Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.

The two recent recruits to the Rippers' London Lodge meet briefly with Johann Van Helsing himself. He welcomes them to the organisation, and immediately provides them with a mission. The Rippers' information network had picked up news of a disturbance at Canary Wharf. It sounds as though it might be Cabal-related, but the Rippers don't have any definite information yet. The pair are sent off into the foggy London night to see what they can discover.

Thick fog rolls across the dockside warehouses. On the other side of the street, the wan light from a tavern is the only cheer to be seen in the gloom, but the place does not boast the raucous sounds normally heard from such common establishments. The pair make their entrance to find the bar nearly empty, with only the innkeeper and a few sullen workers nursing their drinks. A group of three are gathered near the back, two men comforting their obviously shaken comrade - Alf, the man who had been attacked.

The overdressed Rippers interview Alf, gaining his confidence with drink, coin, and encouraging words. He tells them that he was working in one of the warehouses when a long, narrow crate burst open, smashing him in the head with a flying plank and knocking him to the ground. He was dazed, but recalled the scent of roses and had the vague impression of a form shambling away. By the time he came to his senses, his mates had come to assist and drag him away. The men refused to return to work, much to the chagrin of their boss, so the wharves have lain idle since late afternoon. The men aren't sure where the ship that carried the crates had sailed from, but believe it had come through the Mediterranean. Pratchett and Baker ask if Alf will show them to the site of the incident, but no force will motivate him. His friend George, however, is eager to help.

Baker manages to jimmy the lock on the gate, and they enter the docks. George leads them between rows of warehouses. The eerie silence is broken only by the noise of movement some distance to their right, but they ignore it and press on to the warehouse where the incident took place. The storage area stands unchanged since the afternoon, with a devastated crate on the floor and stacks of them against the wall. Baker discovers a scrap of dried cloth in the ruined box, which smells vaguely of perfume and dried herbs. Pratchett breaks open one of the other crates, and discovers a mummified corpse nestled beneath the packing straw! The sound of rattling chains from the front gate cannot deter them from their investigation, and they are loath to go see what it is in case they disturb some night-watchman. Pratchett runs the corpse through with his sword-cane to test it for signs of animation, but it appears to simply be a dry husk. They search for clues as to the crates' origins, but find only a cargo lot number stamped on them.

They hear a strangled scream from the street, and finally call off their investigation to rush to the front gate. They see a drunk man sitting against a lamp-post with his neck at a fatal angle, and catch sight of a stiff form shambling away into the fog. They pursue it, and the figure turns to confront them - a mummy, risen from the tomb, with blazing green eyes. It prepares to attack, but Pratchett speaks to it in Ancient Egyptian and persuades it that they have been sent to help it in its task. In a dry husky voice it hisses "the Eye of Osiris" and motions for them to follow.

Their undead friend leads them through a series of back alleys, thankfully sparing them from any more run-ins with the public. However, it becomes apparent that the mummy's destination is a soiree at an inner-city town house. They try to persuade it to wait until the party is over, but its master compels it inexorably towards its goal. Since they can't deter it, they are reluctantly forced to fight it. Pratchett whips out his sword-cane, and Baker attempts to put a couple of ruonds in it from his pistol. The mummy tries to shrug off the attacks and make for the garden wall, but Pratchett pursues it and stries it down. As it falls, it crumbles into a pile of dust and bones. Pratchett is unimpressed, as he was hoping to keep it as a pet. Baker Rips some powdered bone from the crumbled corpse to turn into extracts.

The pair gatecrash the party to attempt to gain control of the Eye of Osiris, but just as Baker is about to make an announcement to clear the crowd he spots Johannes Van Helsing among the guests. Van Helsing heads for a side-entrance, and the two wayward Rippers take this as a cue to withdraw, encouraged by the doorman. Before they can be escorted off the property, Van Helsing catches up with them and sends the doorman away. They move to a secluded garden courtyard, where they debrief Van Helsing on the mummy and the Eye of Osiris. Van Helsing explains that the party is being held by his associate, a minor aristocrat who is an avid collector of Egyptian artefacts. He will investigate the Eye of Osiris personally, and instructs the two Rippers to return to the Lodge, get some manpower, and return to the wharves. He also expects a full report in the morning.

Unfortunately, by the time they return the site has been cleared. There's no sign of the dead man or the crates of mummies. Even the broken crate has been cleared away. Their investigation frustrated, they return to the Lodge, where Baker creates two extracts from the mummy's remains.

>>> Chapters 1 to 3

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