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!


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!

Back very nearly 10 years ago when we released our first product, Last Rites of the Black Guard, one of the ways we distinguished ourselves from the crowd was by giving away MP3s that could be used by the GM as in-game sound effects. Those MP3s ended up being even more popular than we’d expected, a freebie that people still comment on today.

Now, with major revisions to Degrees of Horror behind us, we’re starting to talk about what we can do to support the GMs who want to run it. Pinebox stands among a minority of settings that take place in “modern times.” That gives us an advantage over fantasy or sci-fi settings– we can extend the setting out onto the web by giving you an ETU school website.

A few of you might remember that we started a website called The Raven’s Report shortly after we finished the first draft of Degrees of Horror. If you follow the link, you’ll see that ostensibly it’s a student-run e-zine based at ETU. Most articles are reported from the naive perspective of someone unbelieving in the occult, but you–the Pinebox insiders–can read between the lines and imagine the supernatural forces at play. Each article is, in essence, an adventure seed for an ETU campaign.

As revisions to Degrees of Horror dragged on, we put The Raven’s Report on pause so we could focus on polishing the game. Now with the heavy lifting behind us, we have the luxury of revisiting old haunts. We can resume The Raven’s Report, but as just one element in a whole university website. We can include Raven’s Report news items, a page on ETU history, a campus map, university merchandise from ball caps to coffee mugs, …and more.

It’s the “…and more” where you come in. We’d really like YOU, our Pinebox fans, to tell us what sort of things you’d like to see on an ETU website. We want to offer a site that our fans will actually use and enjoy. What sort of things would entice you to check out the site as either a player or a GM? What would keep you coming back more multiple times? If a part of the site were behind a paywall, what would sort of content would you consider valuable enough to pay for?

We would really, really appreciate your feedback. This would be a site FOR YOU, so we want to get it right! The best place to comment is on the Pinnacle forums but you’re also welcome to comment on our Facebook page or in the Savage Worlds fan community on G+.

Class Notes: Archaeology of Words

-January 16th, 2013

Having recently celebrated my birthday, I’ve had cause to muse over the peculiar benefits of growing older. I was reminded of one such benefit a couple days ago while flipping through some game books that I’d nearly forgotten buying. Tucked within the pages were some some post-its with hand-written notes for Degrees of Horror.

Like the thrill of finding money in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn since last year, writers get to enjoy the “found money” of old stories and notes from years gone by. Sometimes we say “I wrote that?!” and other times “I wrote THAT?” Either way, it’s usually entertaining. The notes I found this week were a mixture of plot point notes and ideas for Savage Tales. I wrote a LOT of notes about the plot points, mainly because that’s what demanded 80% of my creative energy. Those notes ended up on all sorts of paper scraps over the years. One day it might be fun to scan them in for “director’s commentary” but in the meantime those notes are seeeeeekrit.

I can, however, share the Savage Tale ideas I’d jotted down then lost between the pages of that book. I suspect these particular ideas were ones that Ed and I came up with together because some of the elements seem like the kind of twists he would introduce.

Cram: A student is selling a drug he claims help memory retention. Unfortunately, it makes people either violent, psychic, or dead. It also works.

Cry Baby: During a party on the Red Bridge, an NPC is found floating in the river. Clutched in her hand is a child’s toy.

“Have you seen my mommy?”

Twins – good/bad

Mother’s ashes?

– Break into time capsule

Practical Joke: Time capsule being opened tomorrow and a new time capsule buried. A group of frat guys/dorm guys decide to see what’s there first. It’s a chain letter. They find someone else on site trying to get there first– the son of someone who hid evidence to a murder in the original capsule.

I like these ideas, but obviously the notes just caught the essence of the idea so that I could go back later and flesh them out. Here’s how I’d treat them today:

Cram: The gang is pulled into a mystery when a dorm-mate goes on a violent, destructive spree through the dorm– ending at the heroes. Once subdued, the character begins reciting his physics textbook in an uncontrollable flood of words. If the gang asks around, the NPC’s friends note an abrupt academic improvement, bouncing from being on academic probation to breezing through his classes. Near the time of the change he also took a job and perpetually claimed to be broke. A search of his dorm room turns up a handful of pills on the floor, apparently spilled from their hiding place in a candy wrapper. As the heroes search the room, the NPC’s dealer arrives to clean up any evidence, leading to a confrontation. Will they take his offer to buy “Cram” themselves, or turn him in?

 Cry Baby: During a rave on a remote, dilapidated bridge in the Big Thicket, the heroes discover an unconscious NPC floating in the stream below. She clutches a child’s toy in her hand, and upon being awakened asks “Where is my mommy?.” The NPC has been possessed by the ghost a child who was murdered 17 years ago. She and her mother were killed by her stepfather and their bodies dumped in the stream. They came to rest against the bridge’s pilings and their bones are scattered beneath the silt. The spirits are restless and took the opportunity to briefly possess a passed out party-goer to spread clues about their murder.

Practical Joke: The demolition of an old building on campus revealed a hidden time capsule, leaving many on campus excited to learn its contents. From the photo in the campus newspaper, the gang recognize a symbol etched into the lock-box as a occult rune of demon-binding. With the box’s public grand opening scheduled for the next day, the gang’s only shot at stopping a disaster is to get their hands on it tonight. Unfortunately, a group of practical jokers have the same idea, only they plan on replacing the box’s contents with a live frog. It’s a race to a potentially deadly prize!

From these brief ideas you can see that Degrees of Horror offers plenty of opportunity for adventure outside the classroom and even off campus. It also offers adventures involving the occult, demonic foes, and restless spirits, and even intoxicated practical jokers. What more could you want in a game?

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.