Tuesday, June 24, 2014

MH Prospectus

Monday, November 8, 1999, around 11 p.m.  Light rain and low 50s.  
Typical Seattle weather, she thought.  The rain muffled her footsteps so that she could barely hear them over the patter of raindrops against her hood.  Here and there a mush of leaves squished thinly beneath her less-than-stylish rain boots.  It wasn’t cold like her home in Wisconsin, but the gray misting rain somehow cut right to her bones.  She gathered her rain jacket closer.  It felt clammy against her bare arms.
    It was dark on the street as she walked from her bus stop toward her apartment.  Sometimes the dark and the solitude made her nervous.  But not tonight.  Tonight she was too cold, too tired to care.  She hurried on.  Three blocks to go.
    Gradually she became aware that she was not alone.  It was a cool chill of recognition that seeped into her mind as surely as the damp air seemed to permeate her being.  When the feeling became a realization, she risked a nervous glance over her shoulder from the relative dryness of her hood.  Relief flooded her -- there was no one there.
    She turned her head slowly forward, allowing the hood to come down over her eyes, granting a view of her feet moving across the uneven pavement and little else.  Suddenly she saw a pair of black boots in that small tunnel of visibility, their toes pointing toward her.  Startled, she halted and looked up, her hood falling back and splashing her face with collected rainwater.
    She could see him clearly even in the darkness.  He was beautiful, an image out of fantasy, like an impressionist painting of her deepest romantic desires.  Her momentary fear melted away and she smiled at him awkwardly.  He returned the the smile, drawing her toward him.  He took her into his embrace, and she went willingly.  There was a fleeting pain as his fangs pierced her neck, followed by a gentle euphoria.  And then there was the darkness of sleep...

Introduction
The world is a much more frightening place than any of us knew.  The stories told to children of terrors in the dark are all too true, though we have convinced ourselves that they are not.  And a precious few are all that stands between the rest of humanity and the forces of darkness.
    Most don’t believe in evil, nor the creatures lurking in the shadows, nor the things that go “bump in the night.”  Be they demons, vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts…  They’re real.  All of them.  Beyond the power of mundane men to deal with, this is where those few come in.  But how?  How do mere mortals battle these forces of darkness?  How do they come to even KNOW of this horrific threat?
    How indeed.
    The year is 1999.  November.  The place is Seattle, Washington.  It’s at the center of a booming region which boasts all of the benefits of city life in the shadow of some of the world’s most beautiful wilderness.  It’s a city in flux, trying to come to grips with its role in the world.  And it is a city that stands at the crossroad -- not just metaphorically, but literally.  What this means will soon become terrifyingly clear.
    All this is just a backdrop.  The central purpose to the mini-campaign is to chart the evolution of a handful of heroes from more or less ordinary, mundane people into the legendary monster hunters and saviors of humanity they will become.  This is not a “coming of age” story, but rather an origin story yet to be played out.  The themes are dark, as it is at its core a horror game.  But they are not without hope.  Anything is possible, from dark conspiracies, to aliens, to time travel, to the apocalypse.  Possibly all of the above at once.
    But the first question that must be asked is who are you?

Characters
Who are these people chosen by fate to battle the darkness?  They are competent normals -- the sort of people most of us can be, though possibly with an inkling that they are somehow different, and possibly even with some small knowledge of the Truth.  
    Something undefinable separates these characters from others.  That quality is best described by its manifestation in the face of danger: rather than running from the terror, these heroes run to it.  Whether willingly or unwillingly, whether as pawns of fate or perhaps driven by an innate sense of duty, they won’t simply join the masses and run.  They’ll stay and fight.  Or at least watch for a bit.  
    This implies either an unusual psychology or a background that has otherwise prepared them to step into the breach.  The most likely archetypes will have an element of action built into them from the start: athletes, cops, criminals, former soldiers, professional outdoorsmen, stunt men, and the like who have at least dipped their feet into the deep waters.  But while less likely, there’s nothing preventing a college professor, a hacker, or even a mundane store clerk from possessing the rare spark that enables them to come answer the call of fate.
    Such characters will find themselves firmly planted between the ranks of the mundane, who will do whatever they can to flee from horror and the fearless monster hunter who actively seeks it out.  They are raw material that can be molded into the elite champions of light and defenders of humanity who populate fiction.  In time, with much guidance and training, they might just become legends in their own right.
These characters are to be built on 100 points, with a maximum of 50 points in disadvantages and 5 points in quirks.  These should generally be “realistic” archetypes, though I’m happy to entertain character concepts which already possess some measure of the supernatural explicitly.  Insofar as these are realistic characters, they should have ordinary lives, and at least a small measure of consideration of their mundane background and backstory could go a long way to making them far more interesting.  These background details will be rewarded over the course of the campaign.
The second important consideration for characters is what monster hunting archetype they aspire to become.  This is a player decision, and will help guide his character’s experiences and opportunities throughout the course of the campaign.  Some of these can be logical directions for growth based on the initial character concept; others may take the raw material and move in a new and interesting direction.  Some suggested archetypes are:

Commando - The one man combat squad, good with a gun, explosives, and all things kill-technical, he can put down anything that can be put down with bullets.  His situational awareness makes him good at finding cover, predicting enemy tactics, etc.
Crusader - God, Odin, Wakan Tanka, or some other higher power has chosen him for a higher purpose.  Spiritual warfare and good old fashioned smiting are his specialty.  Powers can take the form of miracle working via Divine Favor or abilities bestowed via another form of mystical power  Beyond the raw power granted by a divine connection is a source of training and knowledge aiding in combating the Enemy.
Experiment - Human, just more so.  Someone has re-engineered him or even grown him from scratch using biotechnology and/or weird science.  Now he’s just better than mere humans.  Whether he discovers this through play, is transformed in play, or is transformed “off camera” is determined by answering the question of who his creators were: were they the “good” guys or the “bad” guys, or somewhere in between, and either way, are they or were they allies, enemies, or neutral/tangential to the rest of the characters?
Inhuman - He is a monster, one of the very creatures his comrades hunt and kill.  Whether he discovers an existing nature through play or is transformed somehow will of course depend on the type of monster in question.  And how he comes to reject his “kind” is another fascinating question for him to answer.
Psi - The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and what a beautiful mind he has!  The only question to answer is what kind of psi he is: esper, psychokinetic, telepath, teleporter, or some combination thereof?  No matter what, his power will set him apart from humanity almost as if he were a monster himself.
Sage - Knowledge is power, and he has it.  Encountering the supernatural has spurred him to learn about it.  He will probably know magic, but not as much as a witch; magic backs his knowledge, but the knowledge is what allows him to fight the Enemy with intelligence rather than brute force.
Sleuth - Where the Sage hits the books to find the scraps of arcane knowledge that can sometimes be handy, the Sleuth seeks knowledge where the rubber meets the road: in the real world.  He’s a face man, an acquisition specialist, a detective, and all around useful guy.  He’s not the hammer blow of justice, but he is the well directed stab in the dark.  And most importantly he can help find the Enemy before it can do too much harm.
Techie - Dealing with the supernatural doesn’t mean that science can’t save the day!  After all, a long enough (and strong enough) lever and a fixed point can move the world.  How else can some spare parts, a midnight trip to Radio Shack, and a dozen 12-volt batteries be put together to banish a ghost?  Surely you’re not waking up old Fr. Flannery at this time of night…
Warrior - As the front-line melee fighter, he wields weapons from a less civilized era, wading into action with sword, axe, knife or spear.  Few monsters can stand against him in a direct, stand-up fight, and weaker ones are often one-shot drops.  Let the others do the legwork; once he knows where the bad guys are, he goes to work.
Witch - His arcane power allows him to bend the universe to his will!  Almost up to the feats of fantasy wizards, the witch can work powerful rituals in moments.  With magic fast enough for fieldwork (he can rely on it even in a fight as long as there’s someone there to hold off the opposition while he concentrates), the witch is a walking swiss army knife of ability.  

These are suggestions based on the Monster Hunter Templates in MH1: Champions.  Obviously there are numerous combinations of skills and abilities which make for good hunters.  GURPS Action and MH4: Sidekicks has some other good suggestions for archetypes to emulate, and really any concept you can envision might work -- just ask.  It’s also just fine to “trust the GM” to develop a path, though that is likely to mean something like “Experiment” or “Inhuman” in practice.
One important note: there will be no “BANG!” skills.  That is, none of the cinematic, all-encompassing skills such as Lore! or Detective! which are central to the Sage and Sleuth templates; instead, ordinary GURPS skills will be used.  Of course, this isn’t an issue for initial character creation…

Campaign Plan
The campaign I am envisioning begins simply, with PCs as outlined above.  Some may have an inkling that the world isn’t quite what it seems, some might even possess some hint of the supernatural about themselves.  None of them are really quite prepared for what they will face together.
    All of the PCs should know and be favorably disposed to one another, though they need not be friends per se.  Just three suggestions in this vein: (1) the PCs are members of a club and know one another through that affiliation; (2) the PCs happen to hang out at a specific bar, coffee shop, or restaurant; (3) the PCs engage in a common activity together, such as a regular card game, sport, etc.  This needs to be determined prior to the start of the campaign.  This is simply a meta-game convention to save us valuable time explaining why they will work together in the first place and also why they might continue to do so in the aftermath of the first adventure.
    After the Enemy first appears, the campaign begins in earnest, and it will flow along an arc determined in play by characters and overarching plot considerations.  Some of the challenges will be tailored for the PCs, but some are pre-planned.  These can be avoided, confronted head on or dealt with indirectly as the players (and their characters) see fit, and this may involve seeking help from NPCs.  
As the game progresses events in campaign will be interspersed with training montages, side-quests, etc., in order to mold the PCs to the character archetypes determined at the outset (or in play).  It is also expected that living in a world with monsters and the supernatural will interfere with their normal lives.  This is where having good backgrounds comes into play, and makes for interesting roleplaying challenges -- how to maintain your old life while occasionally saving humanity (or at least a segment of it) from horrors that most people aren’t aware of will be a major challenge.
Survival, too, is a challenge.  The game is cinematic, but bullets still kill.  We will be using some of the rules in GURPS Power Ups 5: Impulse Buys in order to tilt the balance.  But the currency will not be character points -- rather each PC will start with three “fate” points, and a maximum pool of 5.  One will be given per session.  They will also be given for good roleplaying -- in particular playing disadvantages and exploiting situational roleplaying opportunities.  
Even so, characters can still die.  If that happens, it may be possible for the character to continue (at least temporarily) as something else -- a ghost, vampire, construct, etc.  Eventually, it may be that the character moves on from this existence to whatever follows after and a new PC will be needed.  If so, such a character will be built to be roughly on par with the other PCs.
The famous TPK is also possible.  If so, there may be a way back from the other side.  Or so many PC deaths may become a prequel to a new series of characters taking up the fight of their fallen comrades -- as is deemed appropriate to the group and GM.
Finally, there is an arc to this campaign -- it is designed to come to a conclusion.  This doesn’t mean that the campaign MUST end when this conclusion is reached.  If we wish to continue it, we certainly can.  I.e., nothing that is planned specifically precludes the continuation of the campaign, but does provide a natural end point if we desire.

Themes
This is a game that deals specifically with the supernatural in a world that at least superficially resembles our own.  Therefore real world religions exist and could be involved.  An agnostic approach to the "deeper" truths will be adhered to at all times, but power will be ascribed to all religions.  Sometimes it will directly contradict the explicit practice and/or teachings of those religions.  So be it.  This game is a work of collaborative fiction, and from the moment we begin, we should all be aware of that.  That said, the "deep power" or "deep truth" concept is central to the campaign. The nature of these “deep truths” should remain a mystery to be revealed over time.
This brings to mind themes of good and evil.  Such things may exist, but they, like other platonic ideals, aren't readily seen from the perspective of our world.  Hence "good" vs. "evil" becomes a game of contrasts in which the vilest person may be a lesser (or greater) evil than a monster.  Characters (and players!) are free to consider something good or evil; but there is no explicit force for either any more than a tiger is "good" or "evil" when it kills a man.
Secrecy and conspiracy are also fundamental elements.  If the general populace knew of the threats that truly lurk in the shadows, society would falter and perhaps collapse.  Dark and terrifying things are out there.  Many of them consider humanity a steady source of food, and those are the nicer uses for us mere humans.  Given the need for secrecy, both hunters and prey fight a battle in the shadows and backwoods and back alleys of the world, neither strong enough to quite destroy the other.
Horror is an inescapable element of monster hunting.  Even the stoutest hunter can find his bowels turned to water every now and again.  Facing the supernatural is not for the faint of heart!  Death is a very real possibility, and might only be the beginning of a PC's journey of terror.  No source of potential horrors is off limits.
Finally, one important possibility should be noted, as I do not wish to pull a "bait and switch" in the game.  The potential for time and/or world travel exists within the campaign.  Whether or not it is ever revealed to the characters depends on many factors, including how long we sustain the game, what the characters do in the game, and what the players' interests are.

Magic, Psionics, and Superscience
This subject will develop over time.  Explicitly, the default magic system is Ritual Path Magic (RPM) from GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic.  RPM is highly flexible and is subtle enough (in its lesser effects) so as to believably exist in a world that is ignorant of both magic and the supernatural in general.  In its greater effects, it can perform feats to rival any fantasy magic.  
For the most part, mystical abilities are derived through mystical channels, chi powers, or by a different kind of Power Investiture based on prayers and miracles.  Other power sources are entirely possible.  The world is a damned strange place, as you're all about to find out.
Psionic powers exist and come directly from GURPS: Psionic Powers.  Superscience, too, exists.  Government labs, mad scientists, UFOs, etc., can provide tech that ranges from cutting edge to one-of-a-kind miracles.  The Truth really is out there!
With all the behind the scenes action and the tacit agreement to keep things quiet, conspiracies must abound.  Some are natural: secret orders of magical adepts, dark cults, "black" government agencies, etc. -- even other hunters.  Whether or not they exist, how deep their influence goes, and what their goals might be is unknown.  

No More Spoilers
Fnord.