Class Notes: A Pinebox Primer

-January 9th, 2013

Over the last month or so, I’ve had a couple of people ask on forums “What is Pinebox? Is there a gazetteer somewhere?” I realized that a lot of fans have come to Savage Worlds since we went silent, so maybe this is a good time to bring everyone up to speed.

12 to Midnight became the first Savage Worlds licensee back in 2003 when we released Last Rites of the Black Guard. This haunted house adventure set the stage for the type of adventures we would become known for — modern day adventures in which the heroes are ordinary people thrown into supernatural mysteries.

The setting for Last Rites and subsequent adventures is the town of Pinebox, Texas– a rural town in the heart of East Texas with more than its share of weirdness. We’ve given away the setting basics here on our website. Just look to the right and you’ll see a link for Pinebox Campaign Setting. In fact, you can learn about Pinebox in two different ways. We started out with the gazetteer/almanac style common in our hobby, which is great if you want to hit the highlights in a hurry. I didn’t feel that it really gave the setting justice though, so several years ago I wrote the Jennifer Ridge transcripts— a series of travel reporter interviews with Pinebox locals. You’ll find the entire series on that Pinebox Campaign Setting link and I highly encourage you to give the whole thing a read. It’s so effective at conveying the setting’s essence that it also appeared at the beginning of our fiction anthology Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas. If you like what you read in the Jennifer Ridge transcripts, Buried Tales is a great way to dig even deeper into the setting.

In addition to the free setting information here on our website, Pinebox has been expanded through our published adventures: Last Rites of the Black Guard, Bloodlines, Skinwalker, Brainwashed, The Beast Within, and our wildly popular convention game Chickens in the Mist (yes, for real). We also collected some “loose” Pinebox adventures and released them as Ed’s Midnight Tales and Jerry’s Midnight Tales.

Our latest project was by far our largest. Degrees of Horror is a complete Pinebox campaign set on the campus of East Texas University. Between the time that we started the book and when we finished it, we had switched from being a licensee to becoming a studio directly under Pinnacle. All of the 12 to Midnight partners have full time careers (aside from RPGs) and family obligations, and revisions to our first full campaign book took a serious delay due to health problems and “life”. Now though, the book has been returned to Pinnacle for review and a place in the production queue. As I mentioned last week, we also have ideas for supplementary support material for the campaign and we have another haunted house adventure ready, so Pinebox’s future is bright. Or should I say dark and twisted? [Mwuhahahahah!]

If you’re new to Pinebox, I really hope you’ll give the Jennifer Ridge transcripts a read. They’re free, so that’s hard to beat. If you have any questions or comments, the best place to post is on the Pinnacle forums.

Special thanks to Kristian on the Savage Worlds Fan G+ community for the idea for this blog post.

As part of ongoing efforts to change the university’s image as a party school, in 1994 former President Patterson authorized the creation of a university-sponsored daycare for children of faculty, staff, and adult students. The daycare, named Tiny Wings, opened two years later on the ground floor of the Education building. The daycare was staffed by full-time, licensed caregivers as well as part-time Education students seeking hands-on experience.

From the very beginning, Tiny Wings eschewed typical babysitting and instead emphasized educational curricula. Toddlers were taught rudimentary sign language before they even learned to speak, jump-starting their communication skills. From that early foundation, Education researchers gained valuable insight into learning development by trying a variety of teaching techniques and subject matter on older toddlers.

Within two years, Tiny Wings had earned a reputation as the best daycare in town; a nurturing place for happy, smart children. Unfortunately, their stellar reputation led to a long waiting list for vacancy and grumbling about favoritism. To alleviate the problem, in mid-1998 Tiny Wings was moved from the Education building to larger accommodations in the former Forestry Sciences building, which had been scheduled for demolition. Meanwhile, construction began on a new, state-of-the-art daycare facility.

With construction of the new building more than 80% completed, the university abruptly shut down Tiny Wings. Neither the staff nor parents made a fuss over the closure, and within a month the incident was largely forgotten. This may be due in part to those who would talk–the staff and parents the staff quickly finding new jobs in other cities. Oddly, nearly all the parents of children who attended Tiny Wings found reason to leave Pinebox as well.

For a while the new construction sat incomplete, but was eventually remodeled and completed as a student coffee house/lounge that remains open to this day. The Forestry Sciences building, Tiny Wings’ final home, proceeded with its demolition ahead of schedule.  The former building is now a parking lot.

Since closing Tiny Wings in 1999, the university has left daycare in the hands of the surrounding community. Most folks have forgotten about Tiny Wings, considering how much time has passed. A lot of time. In fact, some of the little tykes who were there when the whole thing shut down would just about be old enough for college…

Welcome back to another installment of the Campus Tour. Put on your walking shoes, limber up, and please remember to stay with the group at all times. We’re not responsible for accidents resulting from your wandering off the tour path. Today we’ll be touring a trio of campus auxiliary buildings.

Shickman Concert Hall– This tall, oddly shaped building is high in the front and low in the back and serves as a concert and speaking hall. Many guest speakers have noted the unusual acoustics on the stage, allowing them to almost distinguish whispering voices coming from somewhere in the stage’s wings.

Edmund Dale Memorial Building (Military Sciences, ROTC) – This building was erected in the 1950s during the Dixiecrat movement and named after one of the area’s most well known military figures, a Texas Ranger who fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars. The many entrances to this large, single-story building offer easy access to an indoor gun range, armory, classrooms, and a small gym with changing rooms and showers. Morning and afternoon ROTC physical training takes place at the adjacent drill field, which offers bleacher seating for Drill Review. Even further to the east, an infamous obstacle course known as the “meat grinder” awaits the next batch of cocky victims.

Dr. Patrick O’Brien Administration Building– This oddly shaped building was built back in the 1930s and is two stories tall. The building is known for its maze of hallways and small, dark offices. Students and staff alike have claimed to wander the narrow hallways of the second floor in search of an exit for nearly an hour. The Student Services office is found on the first floor, where the line of students awaiting assistance is practically a building fixture.

Welcome to another edition of Campus Tour– your behind-the-scenes look at the people and places you can encounter in Degrees of Horror. This week I’m taking the tour off the beaten path, and off campus. The thing about fighting the forces of darkness in a “real world” setting is the need for supplies. Buffy and Willow went to “the Magic Box” for supplies of an arcane nature, but what about all those wooden stakes? As a student in East Texas, just where do you get your hands on a silvered dagger or body armor on short notice? My answer (in part) was Vanderhorn’s Workshop.

Paul Vanderhorn

Paul Vanderhorn’s mobile home and workshop lies at the end of a gravel road 100 yards off highway 96. At first glance, the property bears a strong resemblance to a junkyard. The cast-off frames of lawnmowers, weed wackers, and less identifiable machinery litter the yard like abandoned carcasses. Yet sheltered from view by the workshop, target range of punctured targets and mangled mannequins hint at something deeper.

Vanderhorn’s reputation as a wizard at small engine repair keeps his workshop busy and the bills paid, but his enthusiasm for renaissance reenactment earns him many a sideways glance from his conservative neighbors. When he isn’t fixing chainsaw engines, this modern blacksmith can be found tinkering with armor and weapon designs. Inside the shop, swords, crossbows, pikes, and maces sit in various states of completion alongside dismantled chainsaws and lawnmower engines. The eccentric tinkerer even has a working catapult.

Vanderhorn isn’t blind to the paranormal activity in Pinebox’s, but age and a bad knee keep him out of the fight. Although he may repeatedly warn characters of the dangers in meddling with the things that go bump in the night, he still looks favorably upon anyone willing to stand against the darkness.

“Class Note Wednesday” has once again blown past “A Little Late Thursday” and right into “Oh-Oh Friday”. The good news is that I can finally report that the edits to Plot Point 6 are complete. Here’s the breakdown:

Plot Points Completed: 6 of 12
Pages:  29 of 41
PP word count:  1,750 of 21,585

I exceeded my word count goal for this plot point by 250 words and I still need to move the character stats from its place in a separate chapter to this one. This is not an action-packed adventure like the one I wrote for plot point 4. This is much more about investigation. It’s made more difficult because the heroes don’t know what they’re looking for, only where to find it. As with plot point 5, this adventure has the potential to be memorable and fun, but as with all plot points I’m relying on the GM to fill in the grace notes.

Anyway, on with the campus tour!

The Roost

The Ravens Multi-Use Indoor Arena, aka the Roost, has served the campus community for more than 60 years. Unfortunately the ugly grey, windowless, round building suffers deeply from its cold-war era design aesthetics.

Despite the basketball arena’s occasional renovation and creative decorating every couple of decades, the building still shows its age. From peeling paint to vacant fire extinguisher racks to struggling air conditioning, it’s no wonder most campus tour guides skip this building. Even so, the building has not completely lost its luster. Every college campus has certain “dare” make-out spots, and ETU is no exception. Making out atop the ETU Ravens logo on the floor of the basketball court is the “Mount Everest” of challenges for adventurous lovers.

Inside, a high-ceiling breezeway circles the ground floor. From the breezeway, patrons enter at the top row of arena seats. Visitors who walk down the aisles to the basketball court can find entrances to a basement level circling the arena situated under the bleachers and breezeway. This basement area circles the entire building includes locker and sports equipment rooms, a loading dock, offices, multi-use classrooms, cramped conference rooms, and so on.

Second only to the football stadium, the Roost is the largest capacity building on campus. Consequently, its use frequently extends beyond basketball. For events like freshman orientation, staff appreciation, talent shows, science fairs, concerts, and so forth, the university covers the wooden floor with padded mats and erects a stage at one end of the court.

It should also be noted that, like many buildings on campus, the Roost has its own urban legends with regard to hauntings. Two ghosts are rumored to make the building their home. One is a serious but otherwise harmless young woman, said to smell of smoke. This ghost has been known to actually speak to people–usually just to say hello–then disappears a moment later. The other ghost only appears in the basement, and is often mistaken for a rival mascot at first. In a typical encounter, a lone student or staff member is walking down the basement hallway when he sees a brown-skinned figure dressed only in a loincloth and carrying a spear. The figure lets out a bloodcurdling scream and charges with spear held forward before disappearing a few steps in front of the hapless victim.

****************

Beginning next week I’ll make separate posts for my Class Notes updates versus Campus Tours. I have plenty of material I can queue up for Campus Tours, ensuring that those posts come out every week on time regardless of how things are going with the edits. Hopefully I’ll get back on track with my Class Notes posts as well, but the truth is that all the plot points to come either require significant revisions or are complete rewrites.