Monday, October 29, 2012

Rippers: RPG Settings I Like

RIPPING YARNS
Last week in my survey of my favorite horror RPGs I’d read and those I wanted to read I mentioned Rippers. By happy coincidence that game appeared as a freebie for RPG Now’s Halloween Giveaway. I downloaded the pdf and read through it pretty quickly.

There had been a few Victoriana Horror sourcebooks before Rippers- GURPS Screampunk, Victorian Age Vampire, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Dracula, and even Ravenloft’s Gothic Horror sub-setting Masque of Red Death. Rippers came out at a time when Steampunk and Victoriana themes and aesthetics had picked up speed in rpgs. It was also before the heat of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had been tempered by the wet rag that was the movie.

Rippers presents a world of pulp-gothic monster-hunters, under siege but also armed with a variety of weird weapons and technology. They’ve come to be called the Rippers because they use “Ripper-tech” organic implants and extracts used to borrow powers and strengths from the monsters they fight. They need those to even the odds against their more powerful foes, The Cabal. This group, formed by a renegade member of the Rippers, is dedicated to organizing dark forces and exterminating the monster hunters. It’s a world-spanning concept, aiming at investigation and action. It has a dark-side too- with as the use of Rippertech corrupts. In that way, it’s a little like Cyberpunk- with a trade-off of humanity for power.

Rippers is a setting sourcebook for Savage Worlds- though an earlier edition of that system. I assume converting it to the most recent version wouldn’t be hard. I’ve read a couple of SW setting books before- Sundered Skies and the original version of Necessary Evil. As someone who usually adapts these concepts over to homebrew systems, I appreciate the simplicity of SW. It gets out of the way pretty quickly and offers few weird corner case systems. I can eyeball most conversions. It also means that less of any particular book is given over to mechanics. There’s more room for cool ideas.

PRESENTATION
Rippers is a 146 page-pdf, with color interiors and backgrounds. The pdf file comes with a printer-friendly version as well. Currently Rippers is out of print and only available electronically. I’m a little surprised that they haven’t done a “Reloaded” version, but perhaps sales weren’t strong enough. The lines support by a Rippers Companion, several adventures, and a GM screen. There’s also Rippers: the Horror Wars, a miniatures game I missed- it may have come first. (I’ll have to see if I can find any of those figures. The text design for Rippers is pretty much classic mid-00’s Pinnacle; simple two-column layout, with plenty of white space, and some odd font choices. The color texture background on the pages can be obtrusive reading on a tablet- so you might want to use the printer-friendly version. The art’s decent in most places, but nothing really grabs me. The writing’s generally good- simple and straight to the point. There’s some repetition, but the book aims for clarity. It offers an alternative to dense, elaborate, and/or ‘sophisticated’ approaches to rules writing. At times it feels a little dummied down, but never enough to annoy. It avoids the cardinal sin of too much game fiction.

CHARACTERS
Rippers begins by offering some suggestions for archetypes. These are just brief paragraphs ideas in case players might be stuck. There’s a certain amount of that in this character- helping hands for people who might not know the genre or might not know role-playing. More of the section is given over to the mechanics, especially what makes these characters different from the usual SW build. Rippers has a few new hindrances and many new edges related to the setting. Characters can come from different factions within the Ripper community (Rosicrucian, Masked Crusader, Slayers, etc). Each offers a unique faction edge the player may take. There’s a decent section on possessions with costs adapted to an abstract decimal pound system. Rippers has some fun and wierd equipment.

The changes from standard SW comes with the new Reason Trait, Status, Lodges, and the availability of Rippertech. Reason is a kind of sanity/stability score, which can go negative. It modifies Spirit checks as well as rolls on the Fright Table, which the book offers an expanded version of. Incidents and use of Rippertech can negatively impact Reason. The Status system is simple- a value which can be wagered to gain an advantage in social interactions. Doing unseemly things can lower one’s status as well- and even among the fraternity of the Rippers, status is all-important. There’s a well done and easy to manage system for tracking Lodges for the Rippers. These are measured on Influence, Resources, Membership, and Facilities. When PCs travel to new locales, they may be faced with inadequate local support- or be able to call on better assistance than back home. The rules include options for the party starting and developing their own lodges. That’s a useful, simple, and adaptable set of rules for SW and other games in general

The most alluring aspect for the players will be Rippertech- allowing the players to emulate or borrow the powers of monsters. So they can gain Retinal Grants, Talons, Gills or the like. These can be implants or extracts. The former requires a test to see if they can be implanted successfully. Even a successful implant can cause Reason loss, inflict damage, and curse the character with side effects. Raises on skill rolls can mitigate that. Players may press their luck- the rules make it easy to go overboard and have your character lose it. Those wishing a less dangerous and less permanent benefit can use extracts- with more modest risks (especially when compounding benefits). Characters can also research new Rippertech, an interesting and difficult process. At first it appears there aren’t that many options available for the players- they may be disappointed. However the GM section contains many other options, which they can dole out to the group later.

GAMEMASTERING
The first part of the GM’s section (30-58) lays out the world and how to run in it. It begins by describing the real history behind the Ripper orders and the threats facing it. The material's quick and broadly sketched. Likewise the longer section following, describing all the sections of the world, only features highlights. There’s an odd focus which the political figures in charge in each nation- suggesting that the authors see that as a key detail. Countries get a micro-political history, accompanied by some strange sites of interest. Most have a tag which indicates an adventure seed in the last half of the book. The world background’s lightly done and what’s there is a hodge-podge. GM’s interested in the period will probably want to fleshing it out with rpg sources- The Imperial Age, The Kereberos Club, Victoriana, and even Castle Falkenstein.

The GM section also has an decent discussion of period travel- and how to make interludes between destinations interesting and colorful. Players rushing into foreign Ripper Lodges may have to negotiate and become accepted, a nice detail as well. The section includes many pages of new Rippertech and further discussion of the challenges and perils of developing new forms. There’s even a macabre section of Cabal-developed Rippertech, using the Rippers themselves as a resource.

THE PLOTS
Finally the adventures and opposition section takes up the rest of the book (59- 137). Fourteen pages cover a detailed and rich adventure generator system. I really like this. I’ve seen these things done half-assed in other books- just a couple of pages of tables. Rippers offers many options, well-detailed, allowing the GM to craft distinct story types. It helps model the kinds of tales and sessions this setting involves. That’s followed by 42 pages of Savage Tales- adventure seeds well sketched out, but with wiggle room for the GM. Some of these are stronger than others. A few of them feel like dummied-down versions of horrors and concepts from other games and stories. For example, the Rippers' take on The King in Yellow is pretty pedestrian. There’s also the desire to throw in every period reference and detail they can. Still there’s enough here for the GM to run many, many sessions of cool stories- many linked to the earlier geography section.

As with most Savage Worlds setting books, there’s also a “Plot Point” campaign, linked Savage Tales which form a campaign backbone telling a sweeping and complete tale of the Rippers. The book wraps up with many pages of enemies and allies. Each has simple and clear details, stat blocks which don’t feel like stat blocks. There’s a nice mix of general adversaries (werewolves, ghosts) and unique named baddies. A few offer new ideas and takes on classic monsters, but most stay pretty conventional.

OVERALL
I generally enjoyed this book- despite it feel a little simplistic. GMs who have read other games covering the period or who know the history/literature of it may be disappointed by the detail. Newer gamers may actually find one of the more accessible approaches to Victoriana gaming- relying of basic tropes and focusing on only a couple key details of the period (status and travel). But more importantly, the key idea- of an ancient society of monster hunters tempted by the lure of monstrous bio-tech is a great one. That’s a new spin worth playing out. It works especially well for a fast, action-oriented, and pulpy campaign. The dilemma of the Rippertech is clear and graspable by a group. I can easily imagine adapting this to another light system. You could also take that central concept and use it in a modern or other horror setting (dungeon delvers who steal parts from monsters?). A clever GM moving the timeline forward might make a connection between this Cabal and the one present in GURPS Cabal. A fun book and one worth tracking down.