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:

Are you in? free polls 

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)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d10, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d8, Notice d6
Pace: 5; Parry: 6; Toughness: 11 (1)
Special Abilities:
  • Armor +1: Blubbery hide.
  • "Money": Size+2
  • Flailing Meatarms: May attack all adjacent foes at no penalty.
  • Junk Food Regeneration: For an hour after a Garbage Troll has eaten junk food, fried food, or just plain trash, they gain Fast Regeneration.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Strolling through Savage Worlds (Part 5): Advances, Summaries, Gear

After the descriptions of all the Edges and Hindrances, the character creation section of Savage Worlds Deluxe has a single short page on advancement. "Leveling up" in Savage Worlds is dead simple. After each season of play, you can usually expect to get 1-3 Experience Points. Experience is gained by accomplishing things. If that sounds vague, it is; it's up to the GM to really determine what counts as accomplishing goals--and that's fine by me. 

For every 5 Experience Points you get an "Advance"; an Advance lets you gain a new Edge, increase a Skill greater than its linked Attribute, increase two Skills that are lower than their linked Attribute, buy a new skill, or increase an Attribute. While Savage Worlds doesn't have "levels" per se, it does have Ranks; Ranks represent a general level of competence that scales from Novice (starting characters) to Legendary. Generally, you get four advances per Rank; what this means is that "leveling up" can happen at a fairly brisk pace, but you don't get than many new toys as you ascend the Ranks. (Advancement changes a bit once you hit Legendary Rank--everything slows down a bit, allowing your character to still grow but at a steeper rate.)

There are also guidelines for creating experienced characters that works well in practice, and guidelines for replacement characters that take the place of a now-deceased PC (the new character simply begins with one less Advance than the character they are replacing).

This section is capped off with summaries of the character creation process, as well as summaries of all the Edges and Hindrances. This is fantastic and easily one of my favorite features of the book. Instead of having to flip through the entire book to make a character, you can get by with just those five pages (most of which are summaries of Edges). Once you've got a little Savage Worlds experience under your belt, I guarantee you will be able to make a character in about five minutes using just those pages.

The next chapter is all about gear. It's hard to make a discussion of an equipment chapter interesting, so I'll try and touch on the most interesting bits. Characters usually start with $500 to buy equipment, but it's worth noting that the prices here aren't based on the real value of $500 or the real prices of the items described; it's all a bit of an abstraction for the sake of getting on with it. For example, muskets and AK47s have the same price because they fill the same niche in their respective historical contexts.

One thing I can note about starting Savage Worlds characters is that they often feel a bit "cash poor" to me. In most cases you won't be able to buy all the gear you'd really like to have. I'd favor being slightly more generous with starting funds, but that's easily house-ruled.

I've written before about how much I like the encumbrance Savage Worlds. For the benefit of people who don't want to read another post, I'll sum it up again here; it states, "In general, you shouldn’t worry about Encumbrance. Characters will usually carry no more than their characters think they actually need. But occasionally it may become dramatically important—such as during a chase or when attempting to lug a heavy treasure away from a roaring dragon! When that occurs, use the guidelines below" (55). Finally, a game that gets that encumbrance rules should only matter when they might add a fun complication to the game! It tells you NOT TO CARE about encumbrance until it might actually mean something at a dramatically critical point!

Weapons in Savage Worlds are differentiated not only by how much damage they can potentially cause, but also by what specific advantages and disadvantages they confer in combat. For example, a rapier gives a bonus to parrying and a warhammer ignores some of the protective bonus granted by rigid armor (such as plate mail). They're aren't a ton of these special modifiers; in play, they're pretty easy to keep track of once you get the hang of it.

Armor in Savage Worlds doesn't make you harder to hit, as in D&D. Instead, it makes you harder to damage, adding a bonus to your Toughness. Shields, on the other hand, do make you harder to hit in melee combat and make you harder to damage when you're targeted by missile weapons.

Since Savage Worlds is a semi-generic system, the equipment section covers wide range of gear: weapons range from swords to chainsaws and laser words; armor ranges from chain hauberks to kevlar vests and powered armor; mundane items range from torches to laptops and night vision goggles.

One odd quirk of Savage Worlds: I suspect that Shane Lacy Hensley is a bit of a military history buff, as things like vehicle-mounted cannons, tanks, fighter planes, etc. are all listed with specific names--yet none of them are really described. As an absolute layman about that stuff, it's practically written in Greek; there is an assumption of familiarity here that I don't think most gamers really possess. Instead of differentiating different WWII tanks, a listing for a generic "WWII tank" would have worked just as well for my purposes.

On to the meat of the game then!