Monday, February 3, 2014

School Daze: BtVS

Hey, friends - here's my latest contribution to Wednesday Night RPGs at my FLGS. It's a game of School Daze set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. Some of this was borrowed from the BtVS RPG. Check out the bottom of the post for my Playtest Notes.

The System: School Daze is a role-playing game in a high school setting. High school is an exciting time. Everything in your life is in flux, and no matter what, nothing will be the same again. What better place to set a story? Each player takes on the role of a high school student, with all of their hopes, dreams, problems, and challenges. The Administrator facilitates the game using Group Projects as frameworks for the game sessions. School Daze is collaborative and functions best when the Students and the Administrator work together, developing the story and the world together.

The Setting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows Buffy Summers, the latest in a line of young women known as Vampire Slayers. Slayers are chosen by fate to battle against vampires, demons, and other forces of darkness. Like previous Slayers, Buffy is aided by a Watcher, who guides, teaches, and trains her. Unlike her predecessors, Buffy surrounds herself with a circle of loyal friends who become known as the "Scooby Gang".

Opening Sequence 

It’s another beautiful day in Sunnydale, and the first bell has just rung at Sunnydale High. You have ten minutes to get to your homeroom class, which you share with the rest of the Scooby Gang. Where are you? When all characters are in class… Principal Snyder’s voice comes over the PA system, saying something about a green notebook. In response, your homeroom teacher goes to the door and locks it. She instructs you to all to get under your desks.

  •  If characters roll to escape… The halls are quiet, but you can hear footsteps getting closer. Suddenly, Principal Snyder comes around the corner. He’s engrossed in his whispered discussion with a teacher, so he hasn’t seen you yet. What do you do?
    • If characters are caught, Principal Snyder demands they go back to their homeroom class. The teacher is sent with them to make sure they obey. They can try to convince the teacher to let them go, or go along to the homeroom class and try to escape again. Whatever they do, they take the Social Consequence of “I’ve Got My Eye On You” (-2 to all rolls to avoid Snyder). Characters could also spend a gold star to have the teacher be Mr. Giles or Ms. Calendar, who would allow them to go AND give them some information about what has happened. 
    • If characters avoid detection… Snyder and the teacher pass you by, heading towards the gym. -- If characters choose not to follow, they can choose to find Mr. Giles or Ms. Calendar, who would give them some information about what has happened. Any random wandering gets them caught by a teacher and sent back to homeroom with the “I’ve Got My Eye On You” Consequence. 
    •  If characters choose to follow, characters must roll again to move stealthily. 
      •  If characters avoid detection… Snyder walks with purpose towards the boy’s locker room. Inside, the school nurse and a paramedic are crouching over a still body. The gym teacher is standing in one corner, crying and waving off the helpful hands of another paramedic. The room smells strange (roll to identify lilacs). The teacher looks up, sees the characters, and promptly ushers them out of the room. He refuses to answer any questions and tells him to leave before he tells Principal Snyder they were out of class. The characters do not take the “I’ve Got My Eye On You” Consequence (unless they disobey and the teacher calls Principal Snyder).
      • If characters are detected… Snyder stops in the hallway, turns around and spots you. He personally escorts you back to your homeroom class. He cannot be swayed. The characters take the “I’ve Got My Eye On You” Consequence. 
  •  If characters choose not to escape… Thirty minutes pass. Your initial terror lessens, replaced by impatience and eventually boredom. Finally, Principal Snyder announces that all classes are dismissed. Teachers will usher students out via the fire drill procedures, and then students should head directly home. Their parents have already been notified to expect them. 
    •  If characters roll to escape from the fire drill line… The halls are filled with students streaming out of the building. It doesn’t take long for you to be the only people in the hall. You hear footsteps coming your way. 
      • If characters hide… You see Principal Snyder come around the corner, looking agitated. He seems to be checking the classrooms to make sure everyone has left. He gets called away before he finds your hiding place. The characters can then seek out Mr. Giles or Ms. Calendar and find out what’s going on. 
      •  If characters are caught, Principal Snyder escorts them off the premises and threatens to hand them over to the police. That’s when you notice several cop cars and an ambulance parked in front of the school. Characters take the “I’ve Got My Eyes On You” Consequence. They can find out bits and pieces of what happened from the crowd of students. 

The Victim

The body of a member of the wrestling team, Charles Maloney, was found in the boy’s locker room this morning. Charles didn’t show up for home room, so the gym teacher (who is also the wrestling coach) went looking for him. When the teacher found him, he was lying there dead with a strange smile on his face. Mr. Giles and Mr Calendar know, but are reluctant to share, that he was found half-undressed at the time. They also know that there wasn’t a scratch on him, not even defensive wounds - this suggests demonic activity. To the library!

If a character is ever alone… he or she sees a vision of the person/thing they most desire (draw from character motivations/relationships). The temptation is borderline aggressive, and may give the character pause. Then they smell something - roll to identify the smell of lilacs. If they have information about the demon at this point, they gain a +1 to resist the temptation. If they fail to identify the smell, they sniff again and take a -1 to resist the temptation. The temptation lures them into a private area and then attempts to drain their life force. Being a Scooby, they get a chance to fight it off. If they succeed, the vision immediately vanishes and they are left alone. If they fail, another member of the Scooby Gang or an NPC interrupts - but the character takes the Physical Consequence “Weak In The Knees.”

The Baddie

  • First successful research roll: Erised Demon
    Looking up information about illusion demons that tempt or lure their victims and has a strange smell leads you to a passage about the Erised Demon. This demon reflects a person’s innermost desires in order to cloak its true appearance and lull victims in for the kill. It weakens the mental defenses of its targets by emitting a potent pheromone that smells vaguely of lilacs. 
  •  Second successful research roll: On page 721 of a black tome with the title rubbed off:
    "Wizards have been known to summon Erised demons to foment confusion among their enemies and to gain control over their vassals. The spell caster needs to stay near the demon, however, or it begins to act randomly." 
  • Third successful research roll: On page 34 of a thin red diary bound by a silk cord: A passage by a wizard that actually used a Erised demon for some dark purpose: "To cause the demon of Erised’s chaos to descend permanently, it must feast on the eyes of an innocent - someone who has not a single base or carnal desire." It is also found in another section of the diary that: "The demon must remain in light, no matter how small, at all times. It's power of reflection will vanish if darkness surrounds it." 
The Magicks

Darkness spell - Twilight's Embrace (borrowed from the BtVS RPG)

Requirements: Simple ingredients to be found at the Magic Shop. A small amount of nightshade and mandrake root, a dark cloth, silver thread, and a candle flame from a candle anointed with the essential oil of moonflowers.

Effect: Light is gradually excluded (like a haze forming, or deepening twilight after the sun sets) from a circle
no more than ten feet in diameter.

To summon the twilight’s embrace, the following words must be intoned while wrapping the nightshade and mandrake in the cloth:
"Oh Lady of Moon and Shadow, Mother of Night. Keep us from the coming light.
 Spread your cloak where I decree, by my words, So may it be."

Then the candle must be extinguished with a brass candle snuffer. The spell will appear where you choose. However, you must be in or within sighting distance of the area to be affected. The power of your words and your conviction can have strong effect on the spell. Be wary, yet strong in your convictions and you shall succeed.

Finding the Spellcaster

The characters may decide that fighting the wizard would be easier than fighting the demon. They may know (or roll to know) that there is only one person in the school - aside from Willow, Mr. Giles or Ms. Calendar - with the knowledge to conjure something like this: Amy. However, Amy doesn’t really have the raw power to do something like this.

Finding Amy is easy - she’s at home, and claims to have no knowledge of the Erised demon. A successful roll will get the information out of her that a group of freshman recently approached her, wanting to learn the dark arts. She’s been teaching them what she knows and cluing them in to where they can find more. Another successful roll gets her to give you three names: Jennifer Robbins, Martin Simmonds, and Ciara Smith.

  • Jennifer Robbins is a trombonist in the pep band. You find her outside of the school, all alone (waiting for her mother to pick her up). Groups of students walk by her, laughing and chatting, and she looks after them wistfully. Jennifer refuses to answer any direct questions, since she doesn’t acknowledge Scooby authority. But she will readily accept any overtures of friendship, exclaiming “OMG it worked! I have friends now!” She will happily tell her new “friend” that she cast a spell to make people like her. She has never heard of an Erised Demon. If asked about Martin or Ciara, she says that they talked about magic but she didn’t know what spells they were casting. She readily tells her “friend” where they might find the other two. 
  •  Martin Simmonds is a goth kid with a secret. You can find him behind the school, smoking cigarettes and looking shifty. If asked about the Erised Demon, he says, “Wait, is that what killed Maloney? I told Ciara she was going too far.” He tells you that Charles and Ciara were dating, and that Charles cheated on her and then dumped her for another girl. He leaves immediately, claiming that he is going to find a way to stop Ciara “before it’s too late.” 
  • Ciara Smith is difficult to find. Jennifer thinks that she’ll be at home, but she isn’t there. Martin tells you point blank that she must be in the school somewhere, but doesn’t offer any specifics. 
The Final Battle 

Suddenly, anyone on or near campus hears the screaming of a female voice. Rushing towards the sound leads them to the roof of the building. If they succeed in a roll to rush, they find Ciara laying there unconscious with Charles Maloney standing over her. If they do not succeed, they arrive just in time to see Ciara choke out her last breath. The air smells strongly of lilacs, and used spell components (for Twilight’s Embrace) litter the ground.

The Erised demon initially retains Charles’ shape as it attacks the characters physically. Then, after the characters retaliate, it tries it’s illusion power (described above). The characters get at +2 situational bonus to resist temptation, but if they fail they will cease to attack the demon and begin attacking their friends. The Physical Consequence “Weak In The Knees” also applies. All characters must work together to keep the demon at bay while one person casts Twilight’s Embrace.

It takes three successful rolls to cast the spell (prepare the spell circle, wrap the components in a cloth while speaking the incantation, snuff out the candle). Ciara’s spell circle is shoddy work and her components are either of poor quality or completely used up - however, upon a successful roll with a -1 situational penalty, the character may be able to salvage something. Salvaging a spell component takes an extra round, but gives a +1 to all subsequent spell-casting rolls.

If the characters fail, have them each describe their dying vision (their greatest happiness).

If the characters succeed… light slowly leaves the area around you, like a haze forming or the deepening twilight after sunset. As the demon is encompassed in the light, it starts to flicker, to fade. You see one last vision of the person/thing you most desire, reaching out to you in desperation. And then, it’s gone.

Solving the Case

It doesn’t make any sense - if Ciara had cast the spell, then she could have sent the demon away on command. Why would try to cast Twilight’s Embrace?

If characters go back to question either Jennifer or Martin, they are nowhere to be found. No one is home at Martin’s house. Characters that go to Jennifer’s house can hear faint voices coming from a small window into the basement. Jennifer’s mother opens the door and exclaims, “Oh my, more guests? Come in, come in!” She then fusses over you, insisting that she get you something to eat or drink. Roll to escape mother-smothering. Alternatively, characters can try to break into the basement directly.

  • Two out of three successful rolls gets the characters into the basement in time to see… Jennifer has her back turned, pulling books and spell components off a shelf. Behind her, Martin stands holding a knife. A successful roll is enough to disarm Martin without Jennifer realizing the danger. Martin admits that he is the one who raised the demon to eliminate his romantic rival, Charles. He needed Jennifer’s eyes to keep the demon around permanently.  
  • Three out of five successful rolls gets the characters into the basement in time to see… Jennifer is curled up on the floor, hands clutching her face and whimpering. Martin, brandishing a blood-stained knife hisses, “hold still!” A successful roll is enough to disarm Martin, but Jennifer is physically and emotionally by the ordeal. “He… he wanted - Oh God, he wanted my eyes.” 
  •  More than five rolls… a male scream cuts through the air. You charge into the basement to find Martin on the floor, clutching his stomach. A knife hilt protrudes from his abdomen. Jennifer stands over him, looking terrified. She had several cuts on her face. Jennifer is physically and emotionally by the ordeal. “He… he wanted - Oh God, he wanted my eyes.” 
The End…? 

Playtest Notes

When our Willow decided that she needed someone to help her cast the spell, the gang decided to recruit my villain, Martin. Whoops. However, they had already assumed that Willow was going to be targeted by the spellcaster due to the "eyes of an innocent" thing. So I just had Martin attack Willow in the middle of her spell. Then I just combined "Solving the Case" with "The Final Battle" as best I could on the fly.

On another note, the "Opening Sequence" guaranteed that the party got split - pretty typical of a BtVS episode, but this can be murder on the pace of an RPG. When people aren't in the scene, phones come out and attention wanders. Do your best to switch frequently between scenes - even in the middle of a conflict, since that can help to add tension. Depending on your players, a "no devices" policy may also be helpful.

I definitely gave out a lot more of the Gold Stars this game. Rewarding good role-playing is subjective and difficult for me to remember - if it's really good, I get sucked into the story and stop thinking about mechanics. So I told the players that they would earn a Gold Star every time they activated one of their Ranks in a negative manner. The trick was that I could also activate a Rank negatively, but they wouldn't earn a Gold Star. I also gave Gold Stars whenever someone rolled a 6 on the die (borrowing from Savage World's "extraordinary success" idea).

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