Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rippers – A “Cyberpunk” Twist on Victorian Horror Adventuring for Savage Worlds

This coming weekend, I'm getting back to running one of my very favorite tabletop RPG campaigns. I've talked about Savage Worlds before, but in preparation for my review of the new edition of the core rules that released at Gen Con, I want to give one setting in particular the full treatment, rather than the mentions in passing it has warranted in previous articles. I've described Rippers many times as “Van Helsing meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, if either of those movies had been good.” It is a monster hunting and slaying take on Victorian Horror gaming, but with an emphasis on action and adventure over experiencing fear. The twist on the setting is the “Rippertech,” a sort of unholy science that implants parts of defeated monsters into heroes who need the extra “edge” to oppose the forces of evil. This mixture of weird science and supernatural power is at the center of the Rippers setting, and it lends a little dash of cyberpunk to what might otherwise be Victorian Horror by the numbers.

Lots of werewolves, vampires, and other classic movie monsters here to be fought and stripped for parts.

The setting holds that there is a gathering darkness, and that werewolves, vampires and Count Dracula himself are very real. Exposure to these beasts usually means death for the unwary, but the mysterious Dr. Jack found not only that the beasts had weaknesses, but that their power could be turned against them. The creation of potions, powders and implants called Rippertech was pioneered by Dr. Jack and some of the greatest minds of a generation including Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau and Dr. Henry Jekyll. An organization using Rippertech, blessed prayers, sorcery, mentalism and good old-fashioned weaponry to destroy the growing supernatural menace was founded with Dr. Jack and his good friend Abraham Van Helsing at its head. That is, until Dr. Jack went mad along with his best students, and they defected to the other side, organizing an army of monsters and depraved cultists into the Shadowy Cabal.

The Rippers is comprised of seven Factions, six major and one minor. The Rosicrucians practice Enochian sorcery and have turned from the study of Rippertech as they saw what it did to their founder – Dr. Jack “The Ripper.” The Brotherhood of St. George also eschews the technology, as a loose organization of religious figures around the world who trust in spiritual power. The Old Worlders are Led by Jonathan and Mina Harker, and they watch over central Europe, the traditional seats of power for Vampires and Werewolves. The Witch Hunters focus on tracking and destroying cultists and evil magicians and are led by the puritannical Serious Chapel. The Slayers are the faction that is most likely to use Rippertech, originally a society of Vampire Hunters led by Van Helsing. The Masked Crusaders are a group of costumed adventurers and gadgeteers, mostly American, led by The Yankee. Finally, there is the small group called Frazer's Fighters, who are based in Egypt, holding back the mummies and other terrors from the sands.

A typical Ripper hero, complete with strap-on Wolverine claws,
in case the Hugh Jackman/Van Helsing connection was lost on anyone.

One of the other unique things about this setting is the creation and maintenance of the player's Lodge, which is founded after a few sessions of play (at Seasoned Rank, for those who know the system.) A base of operations is selected and outfitted with various facilities and staff, and the monthly maintenance of this “home base” is financed through wealthy patrons, some of whom may be the play characters themselves. Each of the areas that can be improved has in-game benefits and many missions will be dedicated to staffing or securing funding for the local Lodge. The Lodge also comes into play with the Take Back the Night strategic system which handles what all the NPCs recruited to the cause are doing in the long-term struggle against the Cabal. NPCs may fight and die to hold back the darkness, or in their triumph, it may be defeated, so that the scope of the Lodge's responsibilies may be increased beyond the local level.

The book comes with a Plot Point campaign and a system for allowing the players to direct what happens next, whether they want to hunt for a monster for better Rippertech, recruit new members, or handle social obligations to keep the coffers full. Victorian morality and status are modeled in points that are easy to lose for being seen carrying weapons or being rude when in the view of “those who matter,” and hard to regain (you can marry well, or attempt to gain the notice of Royalty.) The small adventure tempates are designed to be slotted in at GM discretion, like many plot point campaigns, a little improvisational ability is needed to fully make use of the material and give up some of the control over what happens next to the players. The group will travel the world, from London to Egypt, through Prague and Germany to the United States and beyond. A campaign will cover years of great change, wars and revolutions and a World's Fair held in Chicago. Society engagements or border crossings can be just as fraught with danger as fangs and claws on a foggy night, as the main plot has the heroes tracking down their Organization's missing leader, Abraham Van Helsing.

Cover Art from the Rippers setting/campaign book.

There are full-length adventures and a companion sourcebook available on RPGNow and Drive-Thru RPG as PDFs, and I highly recommend the companion for rules on Gypsy Curse magic, a revised Take Back the Night system and the Frazer's Fighters rules at a minimum, plus lots of new rippertech, items, monsters and adventures to flesh out a campaign. My personal home group consists of a Scottish Lord, a female Tomb Raider/Egyptologist, a German Rippertech Surgeon, a blind French Novice (Catholic Nun-in-training,) A Gadgeteer Hero with Electrical powers based on his work with Nicola Tesla, and a mysterious Gypsy Fortune-teller. (Yes, this particular gaming group is an even split, player gender-wise.) I highly recommend GMs who are interested in this setting to make a long list of named NPCs, as you'll need them to fill in when you have to fall back on a random adventure generator to not make the results bland and generic, and the NPC Rippers who achieve triumph or glory while Taking Back the Night are more dramatic with personalities and names.

If you like the idea of the setting, but aren't really into the tabletop RPG thing, there is a Facebook game, and a setting book for using the Savage Worlds combat system as a Miniatures Wargame, though the RPG and the minis sourcebook have little crossover outside of shared history and a few characters who have statistics as hero units. Personally, I'm perfectly happy with Rippers as a setting for a home campaign. I am getting a lot of use out of my Ravenloft Masque of the Red Death Materials for rounding out the alternate history aspects, and got to work in elements of the book “Devil in the White City” for our Lodge's trip to Chicago, an inevitability considering that is where we're all from.  Saturday Morning, we're back at it.

Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Alpha said...

Solid write-up

Choms1337 said...

yeah veyr nice blog and cool post :) Followed :)

Zombie Ad said...

Sounds like very cool rpg setting.

Post a Comment