Class Notes: Cool Bits

-February 27th, 2013

In last week’s Class Notes I gave you some general reasons for why Degrees of Horror will be worth checking out: it’s relatable, heroic, challenging, and scary. This week (and maybe for the next few) I want to get more specific. This week I’m covering some of the things we’ve done to make an entire game set in college something you’ll love.

I can understand reservations over roleplaying college life. Tests, essays, research projects, all-nighters… Woo. Hoo. Reliving those moments sounds like a special kind of punishment, right? But let’s turn that on its head. What about parties, day trips, dating, or hanging out with friends? Degrees of Horror is like a musical montage of college. It skims over most of the yucky parts and emphasizes the cool stuff. For instance, more than one Savage Tale begins like this, “You’re sitting in class when” …something really unexpected and slightly awesome (or disturbing) happens. In fact, it’s like all those times you daydreamed in class about something cool happening. Degrees of Horror is it!

Setting adventures on campus is just the start. Or maybe the ending. However you want to look at it is fine by me. Let’s just say that before the adventures begin, we set the stage during character creation. Ed and I wrote a number of hindrances that make for great roleplaying. How about an Overprotective Parent, Party Animal, ADHD, or Annoying Roommate? Edges are cool and sexy (and we’ve got plenty of those) but hindrances give your character…character. They also provoke memorable roleplay opportunities. Imagine sneaking up to a darkened campus building on a moonless night, only to hear “Hey guys, whatcha’ doing?” behind you from your clueless, tag-along roommate.

We also wrote a flexible system for extracurricular activities. Join a student organization or athletic team, take a part time job, pledge with a fraternity or sorority, or more. It’s easy, flexible, and makes a small mechanical effect in the game. Activities provide extra adventure fodder for the GM and roleplay opportunities for players.

Speaking of mechanical effects, remember what I said earlier about skipping the yucky stuff? Welllllllll… I may have stretched the truth. What’s college without tests? Periodically you’ll take a Final Exam using a free Knowledge skill that you can further bump like any other skill. You’ll also get opportunities to earn bonuses (and detriments) to apply to that roll throughout the semester. Passing exams means you reach the next rank. Failure slows your progress until you can take another exam. It may seem like an unnecessary stumbling block but to quote from one of our sidebars, “Part of the campaign’s fun is that sometimes you’ll have to choose between studying for that hard exam and tracking down the intelligent insects mind-controlling the Entomology department.” Making that choice is roleplay gold.

Finally, there’s money. The “poor student” trope exists for a reason. In Degrees of Horror, we’ve assumed you’ve already paid for tuition, housing, and an on-campus meal plan. What’s left over is your “semester allowance” which you’ll have to spend wisely. It hand-waves most of the tedious bookkeeping while still making money matter. For instance, you might have to choose between buying a silver bullet or taking your date somewhere that doesn’t have a drive-thru.

All these small friction points–over things like money, tests, or personal hindrances– create  moments from which great roleplay can arise. They also build on one another to create a sense of student life while still letting the adventures stand front and center. That’s cool.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse at some of our “cool bits” for bringing a campus setting to life. Tune in next week, when I’ll turn to the supernatural!

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Class Notes: Reasons Why

-February 20th, 2013

I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of Degrees of Horror development for a long time now, but for the most part I’ve tried to avoid game “spoilers”. That’s driven by two things. First, I hate spoilers myself–let me just jump in a enjoy an experience “in the moment” without preconceptions. The other thing? I also hate overblown hype and being bombarded with daily updates that try to inflate minutia. That’s why I purposefully limit the Class Notes column to once a week. I’m treating you the way I want to be treated.

Put those two things together…and I’m probably in the wrong business. Self-promotion just doesn’t come naturally, but like it or not having spent 5 years making a game now my job is explaining why you should play it once it’s released. Here’s the thing–you can’t work on something for five years unless you love it. Sure there were times when Ed and I got burnt out, but every time we came back to the manuscript we fell in love with ETU all over again. We wrote Degrees of Horror to be the game we’d love to play. Here are just a few reasons why:

It’s Relatable: Many of you are either in college or have been in college, so pulling from those experiences when you play is second nature. Even if you haven’t been to college, it’s relatable simply by virtue of being set in our present-day world. Contrasted to a fantasy or sci-fi game, Degrees of Horror feels immediate and instantly engaging.

It’s Heroic: But not in a hack-and-slash way. You don’t play superheroes, adventuring knights, or space rangers. You play regular people. Your special-ness doesn’t come from birth or occupation, but from your choice to stand up to the darkness that so many of your classmates willfully ignore.

It’s Challenging: In a way, the present-day setting itself is an opponent. Characters have to obey the law (or at least avoid getting caught) or they risk the very real possibility of arrest and jail time. You won’t be walking across campus with a shotgun or attacking a doppelganger in the street–not if you want to avoid a trip to prison. Degrees of Horror requires characters to be not only brave, but also crafty and stealthy. Prepare the ritual, then lure the doppelganger into your dorm room.

It’s Scary: Dating. Demons. Parties. Poltergeists. Majors. Magic. Sports. Seances. Exams. Exorcisms. Being grounded in the “real world” somehow makes the unexpected and unnatural much more disturbing. Just because your characters are heroes doesn’t mean that they’re going to walk through this experience unscathed. The Guts skill is mighty important. They will know fear and you may very well know fear, too.

That’s Degrees of Horror in general terms. Next week I’ll pick out some specific examples of “cool bits”. I’m always looking for feedback on these Class Notes (or anything else), so please shout out on the Pinnacle Forums, our page on Facebook, or Google + Savage Worlds community. As always, if you have any Class Notes requests please let me know. As mentioned, I’m not good at self-promotion so Tuesday nights I’m usually struggling for ideas!

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Class Notes: Feel the Fear

-February 13th, 2013

This week’s Class Notes column is courtesy of Kerry, who asked “Will Degrees of Horror be using Fear Effects?”

Yes. [Wow, this has got to be the easiest Class Notes I've written thus far.]

Oh, you’d like me to elaborate?

First, for the sake of our newer viewers at home, let me explain Fear Effects. Seven or eight years ago, 12 to Midnight published a fear system to supersede the standard Savage Worlds version. In the interest of Fast! Furious! Fun! we eschewed a new sanity number in favor of an expanded fear table. And by expanded, I mean 100 different outcomes!

Here’s how it works: When the GM calls for a fear roll, she first decides the severity of the fright. We categorized these “fear levels” as Minor Spook, Medium Shock, or Great Fright, and the latter two invoke additional penalties to your Guts roll. Players who fail their Guts roll  make a second roll to determine the outcome. Minor Spook had 20 possible outcomes, Medium Shock had a greater range that was also more severe, and so on. If you critically failed your Guts roll then you moved up to the next level. Critically failing a Great Fright put you in Horrific Terror territory, with some really, really nasty outcomes.

A few years later we released a refined version of Fear Effects as a GM screen. The basic concept was the same, only the dice you used to roll outcomes changed. In most ways, the Fear Effects from the GM screen works the same way in Degrees of Horror. We kept the 100 possible outcomes, but simplified the outcome ranges and the dice you roll to achieve them. It’ll make layout somewhat easier, although I can tell you from experience with the GM screen that there’s no “easy” way to lay out a table with 100 outcomes.

As a player, if you’re worried about those Guts rolls (and you should be) then you can take an Edge that gives you +1 to Guts rolls, or another lets you take the better of two rolls on the Fear table.

I really think that Fear Effects is a Fast! Furious! Fun! way to capture the fear inherent in a horror game without the need to add a new sanity stat to your character sheet. (In full disclosure, we’re already doing that with your Studying score.) As a GM, you’ll delight in new ways to torment your players. It’s a win for everyone!


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Class Notes: Archetypes

-February 6th, 2013

I’ve been asked a few times whether or not Degrees of Horror will include Archetypes. Yes! We aim to please! I don’t think I’m giving away the farm by sharing that list with you here:

  • Activist
  • Actor/Performer
  • Crusader
  • Jock
  • Journalist
  • Local
  • Martial Artist
  • Occultist
  • Outdoorsman
  • Psychic
  • Scholar
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Wild Child

So there you go– a baker’s dozen Archetypes to get the creative juices flowing. In the book each Archetype also has a two or three sentence description followed by starting character stats. Now that you’ve seen our list, what’s your character concept? If you were playing a freshman college student, would you start with one of the above or go with something different?

I’m sure you can think of other Archetypes we could have added, but with space always being a consideration I can’t even guarantee that these will survive the editorial process and into the printed book. If it’s a choice between cutting Archetypes or other cool parts of the book, my personal feeling is that it will be a trivial matter to make Archetypes available for download separately. In fact, I may very well use some of these as inspiration for the pre-generated characters to use with the upcoming Sorority Secret one-sheet I mentioned last week.

Got ideas for future Class Notes? Send ‘em our way!

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Sinister Secrets

-January 30th, 2013

Before we get into this week’s news, I wanted to thank everyone for their input on last week’s post about the an ETU website. If you haven’t spoken up it’s certainly not too late, feel free to jump on the Pinnacle forums and share your ideas!

Speaking of things seen on Pinnacle’s website, have you read this week’s update? As part of a much bigger initiative, we are contributing a Degrees of Horror convention one-sheet called Sorority Secret, described thusly:

Luke is a guy who has everything going for him—good looks, good grades at ETU, and you as his friends! That makes his abrupt disappearance all the more perplexing. You’ve been following his last known whereabouts and the trail goes cold at a prestigious sorority house on Pinebox’s “Greek Row”. Is there a reasonable explanation, or is the truth something more sinister?

Needless to say, we’re excited to be able to give our fans some time at ETU. Pinnacle wisely never announces release dates until books are practically ready to ship, so this is one way we can guarantee a fun, frightening Degrees of Horror adventure in advance, if only for a convention slot. In addition to the one-sheet, we’ll also  provide a collection of pre-generated characters so you can make the most of the time in your convention game slot.

Although we really hope you’ll sign up convention slots to run Sorority Secret, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention our most popular convention game of all time- Chickens in the Mist. If you’ve never played this game, you’re in for a huge treat. If you have, then there’s little need for the reminder– it’s unforgettable fun! We’ve also had GMs run Last Rites in a four hour convention slot, although I’ve heard that it can be somewhat rushed. No matter what you run, we are always flattered and humbled when you choose a 12 to Midnight adventure. If you DO run one of our games, please let us know either in the forums or even in an e-mail.

We hope you are as excited as us about Sorority Secret. While I don’t have an official street date for download, it’s safe to say “relatively soon” and certainly well in advance of Origins.

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