Wednesday, 29 February 2012

19th Century Survival Horror Setting

Okay, so let’s detail the setting.

Based off of Resident Evil, I picture a mansion in the English style.  Art d├ęcor abounds in the posh sections, while doors mark off the servants’ quarters.  For setting reasons, no PC can be one of the servants, and I will explain why when I detail the masters.

The masters’ quarters are posh and well furnished, but ill-kept and messy.  A pungent odour hangs in the rooms like that of a kennel.  We could use zombies, as I said yesterday, but Victorians had a more setting appropriate fear, of Jekyll and Hyde transformations, of opium dens turning men into beasts.  I choose to take those fears literally, working an illegal drug (though legal in the master’s private estate) into a deadly vector for transformations.

The master and his family need not physically change.  They can still be anatomically human.  They will let their hair grow in, and their manners will change drastically to act as though wild and feral.  Rooms can be described with words like pungent odors, smell of offal, and eerily quiet.  This also hints at the greatest change from Resident Evil.  You are stuck in a mansion with zombies and a gun with no ammo.  Zombies need a lot of bullets, or headshots to make them stop moving.  Redskulls are zombies who get back up even after all of that.  It is terrifying, but also predictable.

The masters will have beast intelligence.  They can’t fire weapons or use tools, but any thrown object or planned ambush is still available to them.  I don’t want to cut too close to Los Gannados either, so let’s have them retreat when overpowered.  They are smart and deadly, as beasts go, and they will change the environment to ensure that player characters cannot just leave.  They will bar doors and set traps, and without fail when the PCs stop to rest, they will wait for the moment and then strike.  Most importantly, leaving will not be easy, so the masters will take their time, be patient, and attempt to wittle the PCs down.

This actually works very well for the purpose, as few PCs will take kindly to this treatment, but they will be long into the game before they start feeling really scared.  At some point, the front door needs to be barred.  This prevents the PCs from “taking their chances” with whatever monsters are outside.  If the DM is challenged over this, he needs simply to stage a scene where the monsters outside and the masters are working together.  The opium affects them both, and makes them comfortable allies.  The masters could have slipped out the back way and casually and safely barred the front door from the outside, locking the PCs in, and forcing them to go find the back door.

Or make a new one.  Hmm, that’s another thought that needs to be addressed.  And a country manor is going to have ground floor windows.  In order to keep the PCs in the mansion, they have to believe that there is going to be a safer exit somewhere inside than just booking it out the front door.  Even with the front door barred, the back door isn’t a better objective because it too leads out into the woods with all those monsters.  We need a monster that can scare the PCs into the mansion but that they can eventually get away from by finding something inside.

In RE1, that was the Cerberus BOWs, who can’t fly.  The helicopter could.  In RE0, you had a cliff outside the front door, a train wreck at your point of entry, and an exit through a cargo elevator.  We can work with the cliff idea, but the train and elevator are both modern machines that don’t lend themselves to the setting.  In RE2, the way out of the Police Station was a ladder in the attic leading down into the sewer.  Sewers are a great idea, but remember that this is out in the boonies and not in downtown London.  Escape underground requires tunnels dug for some unfathomable plot reasons.   
In RE3, Jill and Carlos were never safe, and escape led them to every possible means they could find.  Without a central room or hall to build around, RE3 is not going to be helpful here.  Escaping Rockfort Island was courtesy of the Ashford’s great love of military hardware, a cargo plane, an Antarctic ATV, even a fighter jet.  You might be able to adapt this one, recalling that 19th century warfare relied very heavily on movement at sea.  An idea is percolating that draws from Resident Evil Code Veronica together with Super Mario 64!  I love the symmetry!

The mansion is up in the cliffs, rather than hills.  The monsters outside have you penned inside the Mansion.  In the first act you can hear them paw, scrapping, howling and whining to be let in at you.  If you open the door, they surge forward.  In the second act they have settled down, but like my hound, they are camped out in front of the door.  The PCs cannot physically move the door without disturbing one, who is lying right up next to it.  Escape in the final act means breaking through to the underground harbor, a natural inlet of sea water that they sometimes use to bring in victims.  There is a convenient boat tied up down there!  And there is an obligatory underwater monster to defeat before you can leave.  All of this is hinted at with recoverable notes, documents, and reports from before the master’s fall to beast hood.  I love every part of it, and it makes for some exciting and terrifying escapes.

More on character options tomorrow.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

No Fiction today - Zombies on the Brain!

Taking a break from fiction writing today for something that dominates my imagination.  Resident Evil.
Okay, yeah, you got me, as I do in fact have a new copy of Resident Evil Revelations.  But the new release has only dredged up an old thought. 
Resident Evil the Role Playing game.  I know, awesome idea, right?  While I’m aware of the All Flesh Must Be Eaten version, I still want to try and do something original.  That’s how I started playing around with these old ideas.
There is no way that I would wander the halls looking for cryptic keys when I have a grenade launcher that fires acid rounds!  While I love the puzzles and backtracking to pieces, there has to be a reasonable limit beside invulnerable doors to make player characters move on.  The group I’m currently adventuring with (in AD&D 2.0) is likewise brutish, so I know that they would appreciate more realism and less punch, even if the puzzles would break them.
But what does removing the Grenade launcher do to game balance?  It isn’t fatal, but it hints at the problem: a lot of work needs to go into rethinking the balance, while eroding the player characters options for play.  Not a great recipe.
Magic is the next idea to cause problems.  I like magic, but the Resident Evil franchise does not lend itself well to zipping out of the mansion to pick up some new arcane spells, and divine magic would ruin the scary atmosphere.  This is a game universe that needs either its own rules, or at the least d20 modern.
Then I thought: d20 Modern has rules built in for changing the age of the setting.  Rather than copy Capcom’s Resident Evil faithfully, why not stage a similar disaster in a previous age?  You could reduce the weapons’ power and ban most magics, and still allow a few prestige classes to work advanced weapon and magical effects in for players who are prepared to work at it.
But that brings us back to game balance.  Zombies lend themselves to any age, but T-Virus researchers don’t.  BOWs likewise strain credibility.  So I turned the problem over for a while and came up with a new angle: suppose this is set in the Nineteenth century, with guns much as we have, reduced in power for Civil War or Boer War level.  What were people afraid of in that century?  Offhand, Victorians had many fears related to Jack the Ripper, of people going missing off of the streets, and of deep routed social issues like Opium dens.  This uptight century had many fears due to how easily evil folks blended in, and how beastly they could be in private.
And that was the spark.  I have my original campaign setting!
Picture if you will a rustic manor set in the hills of England, just after the American Civil War and in the height of the Pax Britannica in Europe.  With all of the Britons’ eyes focused outward to the colonial wars of the age, a shambly, shady character conducts secret abductions from the streets of London and carries his victims, sealed living in coffins, to his master’s villa.   
The PCs can either be victims of these abductions, or the local Constables called to address the growing smell or queer screams coming from the place.  Either way, they will be attacked the second that they are close to the mansion and cannot safely leave.  Baskerville like hounds leave a nice Victorian/RE feel, while Rabbid Squirrels could chorale anyone who needs something sillier.  You are trapped in a nut house, with terrible dangers lurking outside preventing you from leaving.  What do you do?
Tune in tomorrow as I continue to flesh out this concept.  It is writing itself now.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The hallway of the Vine

A desk shoved aside as Vyncynte Tyshauun bent his full force on it from behind.  Atticus Cyrane was the first into the hallway, looking about furtively, then called back “Clear” in a whispered voice.  Tolorian was next, lithely bounding up the 3 foot difference in height from his previous position to stand beside Atticus, while Vyncynte hoisted himself up to join them with a noisy grunt.  Their party had entered the hallway, and if any luck was with them at all, their host wouldn’t even know that they had made it.
Atticus, a human cleric in robes of white, light blue and silver, was already scanning the hallway.  His mace was out and primed, but all he found, even seeing invisible, was an empty hall, save for the rows of junk piled up to the walls.  The floors were hardwood, spit polished and well kept, while the walls boasted hardwood paneling up to the one third mark, while the top two thirds showed a rather ugly beige paint job.  It took Atticus’ keen eye for detail to notice the natural wood cover, a barely visible hue of green, where most of the surfaces where painted deeper browns.   Iron sconces controlled the lighting, hosting tiny flames every three feet, ensuring more than adequate lighting.  Atticus’ eyes settled on the vine that climbed the far wall, branching off and out of sight.
“Harrumph!” this was Tolorian, “Beige and brown.  Lord Wrynne hoards all of the money, protected by dozens of traps, and he still can’t afford good taste.”  The elven wizard himself wore robes of bright amber, bordered by black.  His blond hair and fair complexion stood out. 
Brown haired and plain Vyncynte only sniffed, a common inflexion of his that usually meant “Who cares?”  His banded mail ended shy of his arms, which were heavily ripped with muscles.  “We found the trail yet?”
Casting detect magic, Atticus pointed ahead and straight through the wall with the vine.  “That way, about 50 feet.”   
Vyncynte replied “Don’t look at me like I’m some kind of wrecking crew.  Find us a way to it then.”
“Indeed,” chimed in Tolorian unhelpfully, “the last time we went straight, we took a detour through a grave yard.  Such terrible taste in traps too, this ‘lord.’”
“There’s not a soul in the corridor,” advised Atticus, “but keep your voice down.  Any one of these chairs of cabinets could be a host for a listening spell or something.”  The corridor stretched on and was filled with junk piled to the sides.  Every hardwood shelf or and cabinet carried a potted plant.  Vyncynte strolled on, loud foot falls being as quiet as he ever got. 
As the group reached the large vine, they found its soil bordered by pretty stones.  The soil pit covered most of the corridors width, and Atticus paused a minute, wondering why the corridor was clearly given to this vine.  Vyncynte was totally unconcerned, though, and wandered on to the right passage, looking for a way around the wall that stopped his progress on straight.  Tolorian paused a minute to consider the left hand passage, which ran on straight to a door, with ever more junk piled up by the sides of the hallway.
“Hey, Atticus,” Vyncynte boomed, “I found a switch!  What’s it do?”  Atticus broke away from contemplating the vine to scamper after Vyncynte, or at least reproach him for making so much noise.
“Hey, don’t touch random switches!  We know this place is loaded with traps.”
“Well, why did you think I asked first?”
As they argued, Tolorian’s eyes met the vine, a split second before the vine, met his neck.  But a split second was all he needed to signal for help.  “Heylk-“
Vincent and Atticus turned, but as they did every potted plant in the corridor began to shake vigorously, noisily.  They saw the vine grappling Tolorian, eyes wide and struggling to concentrate on his spells.  The smaller vines grew alarmingly, not at Tolorian but right for them!
“What is it?” called Vyncynte as he drew his battle axe. 
Atticus, moving off to the wall and standing over a hardwood chair, called out loudly “By the wisdom of Ambros, Identify Monster!” His eyes flashed, and he knew instantly the name of this foe, but only some of its weak points.  “It’s an Assassin Vine. I knew it looked odd.  It’s another trap!”
Vyncynte rolled his eyes, wishing for something a little less obvious.  He drew back and cleft the advancing vines with his axe, moving toward Tolorian as he could.  The vine clearly didn’t like that, and the vines drew back.  Vyncynte readied himself to charge to help the still struggling elf, when numerous loudly scrapping sounds, some before him, and some behind him, caught his attention.
“Uh, Vyncynte,” called Atticus, calmly.  Vyncynte half turned his head enough to see Atticus no longer standing, but caught in the chair he was formerly standing over.  “I don’t get it; Animated Objects should have been visible when I cast my Detect Magic spell…” Rows of cupboards lined up behind Vyncynte.  Ahead, more shuffling and scraping, and still more furniture turned the corner to block Vyncynte from the scrabbling elf Tolorian.
“Great…” Began the axe man, but he was soon engaged in a fairly intense melee on all sides.
Meanwhile Tolorian had his neck free and began using his free hand to search his satchel bag.  With a deadly vine wrapping about his left, he was grateful the monster’s attention was occupied elsewhere. He produced a scroll from his satchel and grinned in triumph.
Atticus glared at the evil furnishings that had eluded his magically enhanced senses so thoroughly, trying to divine why.  But for some reason, while ‘Identify Monster’ was still active, all he learned from each stare was that the furniture was ‘plant.’  This wasn’t unusual, since they were all carrying small, wiggling, menacing pot plants, he had overlooked it.  But now that he was looking harder, the chair he was sitting on was registering as ‘plant.’  Even this might not mean anything, since rich folks paid handsomely for Livewood for its artistic properties, and Livewood wasn’t killed by felling the tree or working the wood.  So what were these…?
“Oh!” shouted Atticus.  He could have kicked himself if he could have only stood.  The furniture was Livewood!  The Assassin Vine was controlling all plants!  Even the Livewood furniture, because they were all still plants!
“Burning hands!”  A cone shaped burst of flames erupted on the further side of Vyncynte, as the now free Tolorian carefully measured the distance and range of the spell to roast the wall of furnishings attacking Vyncynte from his side.
Atticus disbelieving, asked “How did you get free, Tolorian?  Surely you can’t cast spells grappled.”
“Fear not, scholar, for I have in my possession a bewildering plethora of scrolls for every occasion, and the plant beast had only in its possession one of my casting hands.  The creature shall be long bound by my Scroll of Empowered Charm Monster!”
Vyncynte, grateful for the reprieve behind him, turned back to help Atticus.
“No, no, no, “ shouted Atticus, “the plant!  That’s why I didn’t detect the animate objects!  Because it’s the plant!  The plant is manipulating the furniture, not magic!  Attack the plant!”
Turning back on the plant that so recently bound him, Tolorian readied his verbose magic. “So, Assassin Vine, it now seems your carefully prepared role in this ambush has been revealed.  Know that what follows is but a taste of the fury your wicked and tasteless master shall experience when I let loose my awesome magical might upon…”
Vyncynte cleft the Assassin Vine with his axe, cutting the long winded diatribe short.  The Vine was felled in one blow of the magically empowered axe, and the furniture immediately ceased moving.
“For what reason did you interrupt my arcane vengeance?” Tolorian was quite irate.
“Sniff.  To save you spells,” was Vyncynte’s reply.
Tolorian replied “But, it was charmed and helpless before me.  I was on the verge of painlessly and with all swiftness dispatching the creature.”
Vyncynte “So was I.   Hey, Atti, I need healing.  And can I press the button now?”

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dream Travel

Tyreeque Boshaunn set his sword and shield by the bed post, a little uncertain but unwilling to challenge his master’s assurances that they would come with him.  He prepared for bed normally, save for the hide armor he wore.  His magical pendant and rings would be with him in a burlap sack in his arms, but also tied to his right wrist.  When he awoke, he would swear something fierce if they weren’t with him.  He climbed into bed, and moved to snuff the candle on his night stand, black skin glowing in the warm light.  He reclined, and recalled his master’s words:
“Tyreeque, listen well, for students of my school have many gifts to master.  You could choose to go off into the dark and dangerous dungeons, fighting the hoards of beasts to your ladyfriend, but know that the monsters you seek have already found a way around such horrors.  You will need a way around them yourself, or you will be doomed to toil forever, and Mackaelah will be in their clutches too long.  Listen, for you alone can fight for her, and I shall now teach you reach her.”
Tyreeque shifted uneasily in bed.  It wasn’t easy to listen to his master, not with Mackaelah in who knows what danger. 
“You want me to sleep?” he started angrily in his memories.
“To dream,” replied the master.  "It is the fastest way…”
Tyreeque remembered his anger, his turning away in that tense moment.  “Master, I cannot…”
“Heed me.”
“No!  I just can’t rest while she’s in their clutches.  My group is getting ready to go.  If we hurry we might still catch them in the mountain pass before they get underground.”
“Please…” quoth the master.
“Enough!  I will send when she is safe.  Goodbye master.” And Tyreeque left in his rage. 
Lying in bed “I had so much to learn master… I may yet still.”
Tyreeque burned with the shame.  He now knew exactly what the master was talking about, about the ability to dream and arrive at the place of dreaming.  He might have intercepted the monsters if he had just listened.
And Mackaelah might still be alive.
It was a long way to the monsters home lair, and his group was down in numbers.  In fact, with magical protections blocking most teleportations, and a moat of deadly aboleths blocking the way, it might be impossible even to get close to it.  The evil ones may have almost won.
“Though I learned too late to save you, “ he told the image in his mind, the image of Mackaelah, and his master, “I will make it right.  They won’t hold me back tonight.”
As Tyreeque closed his eyes, he willed the image to change, to the back entrance of the dark underground citadel, past all of the defenses.  He knew more difficult challenges lay ahead of him, allegory in dream form for the monsters he would have to face in the physical world, but he doubted they would be as dangerous as they would be here in waking reality.
“I’m coming for you, now.” He meditated on the place until he was no more awake, and what follows is his journey in his dream to the destination he pictured.