If it weren’t for you meddling Yorkshiremen…
It looks like I might possibly have the ability to run a game again soon, sometime in the next couple of months, and I’m leaning towards GURPS Steampunk Monster Hunters. More on that later, as the situation develops.
For those who haven’t seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the genre might need some explanation. Mundane humanity is largely unaware of the monsters lurking in the darkness, and that’s really for the best. (Like Kay put it, “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals…” and if they knew about what was really going on out there, they would just make a bad situation worse.) You are one of the heroes who stands between the monsters and the innocent people of the world.
How’s this done? Mostly through digging up information from dusty old tomes, interviewing witnesses, and roughing up henchmen to get ’em to talk.
“There’s a reason champions are known as ‘monster hunters’ and not ‘monster killers.’
This isn’t Dungeon Fantasy, where you can walk down stairs into any old basement and find monsters to slay. The focus here is on solving the mystery, on the investigation, with an eye towards ending the threat. That might mean learning the Big Bad’s weakness and laying an ambush, but it might also mean giving the dangerous ghost what it needs to move on to the afterlife, or putting a stop to the mining that’s upsetting the gnomes.
In an effort to orient the players, and to get my own head straight, I’m going to work through a contrived example.
Orson Bonefat, the Earl of Blatherskite, has run up a series of gambling debts. Being an amateur student of magic, he concocts a plan to use magic to enrich himself.
A village near Bonefat’s estate would make an excellent site for a airship mooring tower. If only he could drive off the current inhabitants, he could buy up the land cheap and make a killing!
He has access to an ancient Roman template, a place of power, on his estate. Through his contacts in the mystic community, he obtains an enchanted item, a goblet useful as a magical tool for casting spells relating to the undead. He uses these assets to create charms to temporarily raise the dead as zombies – the “mindless servant” kind, not the ones that are compulsive brain-eaters.
Bonefat begins visiting the village from time to time, ostensibly to attend the cricket matches. On these visits, he surreptitiously uses one of his charms to raise the dead in the local cemetery. The charmed remains dig themselves out of their graves and go on a mindless rampage later that night. They aren’t looking to kill people – their mission is to scare folks off – but they’re not above roughing someone up if they get the chance. They mostly chase folks, bang on shutters, break into barns and chase the horses out, and so forth.
The basic questions to be answered are the Five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.
Who? The Earl of Blatherskite. He’s made some effort to hide his involvement, but he’s also Status 5. As a witch, he doesn’t have any particular Supernatural Features or Compulsive Behaviors that might give him away. Rolls to deduce his identity start off with a -6 penalty. The champions will be rolling against Current Affairs or Area Knowledge.
What? The monsters are magically-created zombies, but the true enemy is effectively a rogue witch. Rolls concerning the zombies will be against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead), and since they’re simple creatures lacking the ability to conceal their nature, those deduction rolls will be at only -2. Roll to deduce the magician behind the scenes will be against Thaumatology, at a -4 thanks to Bonefat’s attempts to cover his tracks.
When? On the one hand, the zombie attacks coincide with Bonefat’s cricket outings; on the other, he needs to drive everybody out of the village and make his dirty deals before his debts come due. Thus, rolls about timing are at -4.
Where? Linking the zombies to the cemetery isn’t much of a leap, and it’s easy to figure out that the village is the target of whatever’s going on. Anyone trying to make the connection between the village or the cemetery and Bonefat’s home, on the other hand, would be rolling at -10, since he’s going out of his way to keep his evil plans out of his own back yard.
Why? The motive for the whole situation is Bonefat’s desire to pick up cheap land so he can get rich from the airship mooring scheme. This is a plan with a couple of levels, and he’s working through zombie minions, establishing a -10 modifier for “why” deductions.
Mr Jones is an Accidental Hero/Sleuth. He has Intuition, 36 points in “Detective!” yielding 3 bonus points, and 24 points in “Talker!” giving 2 bonus points. (Bonus points can be used to buy successes, reduce damage, add things to the environment, etc., within the area covered by the wildcard skill.)
Madame Blake is a Chosen One/Psi, with Psychometry, Spirit Communication, and some minor telepathic powers. She also has Intuition, and a 15-point Destiny, which gives her 3 destiny points. Finally, she has 4 unspent character points saved from previous adventures. (Both destiny points and character points can be spent like bonus wildcard points, but without the restriction in scope.)
Miss Dinkley is a Hired Gun/Techie. She has 48 points in Inventor!, providing 4 bonus points, and 12 points in Science!, giving 1 bonus point. Though she specializes in technology and engineering, she’s been around and seen some things, so she’s picked up a few points in Thaumatology. She has 5 unspent points.
Herr Rogers is an Avenger/Warrior with Gigantism. He’s got a hefty 60 points in Blade! giving him 5 bonus points. He has a mastiff as an Ally.
The champions arrive at the village following a tip. They begin their investigation by asking around and interviewing the people of the village. While meeting several colorful local NPCs, they rapidly accumulate several clues. The first eyewitness mentions being chased by “Old Man Toulouse, what died last winter”, a “what” clue that gives Mr Jones a roll against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead) at -1, effective 15, a roll he immediately makes by 4. We’re dealing with slow zombies!
A second eyewitness mentions details about the zombies that offer another “what” clue. Miss Dinkley rolls against Thaumatology at an effective 12. A roll of 11 establishes that these zombies were animated by magic, likely cast by no more than one or two witches.
After a few more interviews, Mr Jones compares the accounts and gathers a “when” clue. A roll at -3 (-4 starting modifier, +1 for the clue) against “Detective!” gives an effective skill of 13, another easy roll, made by 3. The zombies always attack late in the evening after a cricket game, and the violence of the attacks seems to be increasing, indicating an increased sense of urgency to whatever purpose they serve.
This prompts the champions to speculate. Perhaps the witch behind the zombies is someone attending the cricket games?
After some diplomacy, the champions gain access to the scene of the last zombie attack, where a man was killed. Madame Blake uses her Spirit Communication to contact the lingering spirit of the dead victim. (Herr Rogers grumbles about spooky powers.) Questioning the victim reveals that he had been distracted on the night of his death after a business argument. With good roleplay and lucky Psychology rolls from several members of the team, this counts as both a “who” and a “why” clue, but nobody is able to make a deduction roll. Still, those clues will modify future rolls.
That’s not good enough for Mr Jones, who has really been enjoying being the best detective at the investigation. He taps his Intuition to get another try at that “who” deduction. Before the GM rolls, Mr Jones’ player mentions a willingness to devote 2 “Detective!” bonus points towards turning a regular success into a critical success. The GM rolls an 11, just enough for a success. After conversion to a critical success, that’s enough to reveal Orson Bonefat by name!
Mr Jones makes an intuitive leap. The ghost’s description of the circumstances before his death, plus various incidental pieces of information gathered in previous interviews, points towards Bonefat as the Big Bad. But why?
… and the question of why matters, since Bonefat is a living human being. Nobody makes too much fuss when you chop up a zombie or stake a vampire who “died” two hundred years ago, but they tend to take active interest when a bunch of scruffy murder-hobos bust in and chop the head off a member of the peerage. No fair foiling the plot by murdering humans. Herr Rogers curses with feeling.
Well, if the champions can’t get a stand-up fight, they’ll settle for a caper. They pull off a complex series of actions that puts Miss Dinkley in Bonefat’s private study. There, she goes through his personal papers, using Administration to uncover financial records, a “why” clue. She uses a couple of unspent character points to make sure it’s a good clue, worth +2 to deduction rolls. Still, nobody makes the deduction roll. Even with a couple of clues, a -10 is hard to overcome.
As the team goes over the purloined papers, Madame Blake uses her own Intuition for a second chance, and offers to use all three of her destiny points to make this roll count. The roll fails, but 3 points is enough to turn that into a critical success. She puts together several lines in a ledger and puts together the whole plot. A few nights of bad luck led to an unexpected debt. Favors were called in, but too little, too late. Payments to buy an antique Celtic goblet, just before the first appearance of the zombies. Speculation in the airship business. Notes on the need for a local mooring tower. Property purchases, and offers made on other plots.
With the whole plot revealed, the champions come up with a solution that might not require an unacceptable level of anti-social behavior. With a little more investigation into Bonefat’s estates, the teams turns up a “where” clue and locates the place where Bonefat keeps the enchanted goblet: an old Roman ruin in a quiet corner of his estate.
Finally in his element, Herr Rogers takes the lead. The team loads up for a fight, sneaks onto Bonefat’s estate, and approaches the ruin. There, they encounter a party of slow zombies defending the goblet, and it turns into a fight scene. Rogers spends most of his bonus points being awesome in the battle. In the end, the zombies are put down, and the goblet destroyed.
As a final touch, the next day, Mr Jones calls upon the Earl. In a diplomatic way, he takes responsibility for the destruction of the goblet and Bonefat’s zombie minions, and politely communicates that the team will be keeping an eye on him in the future. No more evil magic, or they will take certain unspecified but ominous “steps”.
And then it’s off to Paris, to see about these reports of a rogue gorilla…