Return to Victorian Burn

And now, after a brief pause (I suck at this!), we’re back revisiting the use of Burn Notice as an RPG campaign.

Originally presented on 13 Sep 2008

Continuing Burn Notice as the basis for a campaign, I  want to look at horror. Now I’m not much of a horror GM. I don’t really read it, watch it, or write it. Rather than horror, I’m going to go occult, something like an X-Files or Supernatural in the past, but only dealing with occult threats.

The stage is set by the return of Michael Weston to London on May 31, 1859, welcomed by the chimes of Big Ben. Michael had served time with the Foreign Service in British India, but was quickly disillusioned by the high-handed and often brutal policies of the East India Company. He found a mission he believed in  when faced with evidence of a resurgent Thuggee cult. He helped to ferret out and confront the last of the evil cult, and this led him to some frightening places and inhuman foes.

The final straw came with the Indian Rebellion. Michael wondered if his countrymen were that much better than the murderous Thuggee. While there would have been many opportunities for him once the government of India was transferred to Britain, Michael Weston returned to England, hoping to forget the things he had witnessed.

That was not to be.

Things had been released. Spirits and demons long held in check by ancient rites and ceremonies had been awakened. Some blamed these entities for the madness apparent on both sides of Rebellion. Whatever they were, and whatever their purpose, they appeared in London just as Michael Weston arrived. Someone in the Foreign Service believes Michael is somehow tied to these supernatural manifestations. The Foreign Service declares Michael cannot leave London until the danger has been dealt with–but not by Michael. His linkage to the supernatural makes them worry.
Accompanying Michael is Sam, a disgraced doctor who found service as a regimental surgeon with the British East India Company. Michael befriended Sam in India. Sam had become inured to the suffering around him, but Michael helped him to regain his lost humanity. Sam intends to get his medical licence back, and perhaps start a practice, but as events evolve, he decides to use his connections and his skills to help Michael.

Along with Sam, Michael returns with Fiona. That is the name under which she travels, but it is not her real name. She is an ex-Thuggee, an assassin trained in secretive unarmed combat techniques. Sent to murder Michael Weston, she realized he was not a cruel slaver as she had been told, and this led to her learning the Thuggee had become nothing more than assassins for hire. Still an adherent to Kali, the Thuggee assassin took the name Fiona and became Michael’s constant companion and bodyguard. In the movie, she’ll be played by Aishwarya Rai (are you listening, Matt Nix?).

In London, Michael returned to his family’s town home. Meeting his younger sister, Natalie, he learns that his father drank himself to death, and drank the family fortunes along with the way. Natalie herself is a recovering opium addict, and is haunted by visions of ghosts, wights, and other evil creatures. Natalie believes the Foreign Service is correct, that there is a tie between Michael and the entities. With their mother declared insane and sentenced to Bedlam, Natalie and Michael have only each other.

I see Michael as an Expert, with an Occupation of Spy. His work in the Foreign Service was just that, spying. For Sam, another Expert, but with the Soldier Occupation. He’s a doctor, but his time has been spent in the army of the East India Company. Fiona would be, of course, a Warrior, with an Occupation of Martial Artist. Natalie would be a Psychic, with an Occupation of Urchin (as in street urchin, the Victorian version of the homeless for children)–Natalie’s not a real street urchin, but her time as an opium addict puts her in that world.

In this campaign, the small jobs that Michael does are all linked to the central problem–the rise of the supernatural and its possible ties to Michael himself. The short adventures could be hauntings or other supernatural incidents of which Michael or one of his companions learn. Each adventure should add one piece to the puzzle.

The truth is that the supernatural manifestations are not tied to Michael. The aura that sensitives note regarding Michael comes from his confrontations with the evils of Kali in India. This aura should slowly fade, and become less and less noticeable. It might seem logical that this corresponds to the supernatural threats are being eliminated, though it is actually because of the time passing since Michael faced the evil manifestations in India.

The truth is that Fiona is not the only adherent of Kali in England. Sir Nigel Whitney Gull, a physician with ties to the royal family and a Freemason, returned from India just a few months before Michael. He has been ensnared by an avatar of Kali and is attempting to bring on the Kali Yuga–the time of Kali–through evil rituals. These rituals have raised the supernatural manifestations.

Sir Gull has many more connections than Michael, and is an important part of the Freemason leadership, as well as having strong supporters in Queen Victoria’s court. He should be introduced to the characters in the second or third adventure, probably through Sam–who, as the fixer, might also be a Freemason. He should always know just a little bit more than anybody else, yet prove only slightly unhelpful. The information he gives might help the characters, but it will be dated enough that it won’t really help them too much.

His plan to usher in the Kali Yuga requires specific sacrifices and a specific rituals. At least one adventure could be a kind of pre-Jack the Ripper as Sir Gull attempts to secure his sacrifices and commit the rituals. His identity is not known to those in his small cult, so even once the characters realize what is happening and avert it, they may not catch Sir Gull.

Sir Gull may continue to be an adversary even after the supernatural threats are averted. Once the cycle of rituals is broken, the threat is gone. The Foreign Service still doesn’t trust Michael, but they have work for him in London and elsewhere, as supernatural threats continue to exist, and there may be even more mundane adventures ahead. Michael might no longer be shackled to London, but he certainly won’t be able to leave England. Once the Foreign Service feels it can trust Michael, well then they might have work for him abroad.

Killin’ Zombies! Nazi Techno-Zombies to be Precise

In my last post, I mentioned a short campaign idea based on the movie Outpost: Black Sun. The Outpost series (I see there are three of them) is basically a zombie movie franchise with a slight different: the zombies are technological in origin and they are Nazi. That makes them extra fun to kill.

Kill it! Kill it! From Outpost: Black Sun

But killing zombies isn’t easy in the Outpost series. Killing zombies at all is kind of difficult in most media portrayals. A headshot is not an easy shot to make, and in Outpost, the headshot won’t do it. The zombies are animated by an electromagnetic field that keeps them active even after catastrophic injuries. An electro-magnetic pulse renders them vulnerable, but those things – in the movie – are large and one-shot. After you fire it off, you’re just out of luck.

There’s no way I would put my players up against un-killable foes. Actually, I might, but it would be a very different game. It would be about remaining unseen and losing foes who have spotted you. That’s not the kind of game I was envisioning.

They’re here to kill zombies and chew bubblegum. And they’re all out of bubblegum. From Outpost.

So what are the mechanics of facing Nazi techno-zombies? I would throw out “the EM field keeps them undead” and switch that to “the EM field keeps them powered.” You mess up the device that routes the power within their body and they are rendered inert. You could put that device in their head no problem, and then the headshot trope works. I’d put it in the chest, behind reinforced ribs – I mean you’re cracking them open to put the device in anyway, why not leave a little extra protection behind?

The actual game mechanics are pretty simple. In a game like D&D, you’d have a super high AC but very low HP. You would make the target area really hard to hit, but not terribly difficult to destroy. In the games I’m running, it would pretty much be the same thing. Give them a target number of Olympian proportions, but the damage threshold of a Mook. Really hard to hit, but one shot can kill.

Inspiring Outpost

I recently watched Outpost: Black Sun, the sequel to the movie Outpost. Both movies offer some gaming inspiration, but I think for a short campaign, Black Sun offers the most grist.

The story of Outpost: Black Sun is that of a young Nazi Hunter (second generation) who finds out about a secret Nazi project from World War II and in pursuing it, stumbles upon an old acquaintance who seems to be some kind of engineer/researcher of weird science – like Dr. Zarkov in our A Team of Losers Pulp campaign, but saner. In the Balkans, they stumble across an expanding bubble of electro-magnetic sciency wiency stuff. And the Nazi zombies are there. And there are evil special forces guys who are also good.

And loud roar! Scary!

Okay, anyway, Outpost was also inspiring, but much more of a “survive the night’s siege of supernatural monsters” game. That’s cool, but not really a campaign. I see Black Sun as a short campaign. I’d break it into four or maybe five one-pagers.

The first would be hunting down the evil Nazi who clues the team on to the Zombie-machine (of course he never admits that’s what it does, and since he’s old, if they are about to get that out of him . . . heart attack!). I’m thinking either the PCs are a group of famed, globe-trotting trouble shooters hired by McGuffin Exposition or they are a super-secret team from government of your choice. They know something about something – this scientist dude was involved in something and they finally have a bead on him – but they don’t know the whole story.

The second would be finding the outpost. It should be someplace remote and also shitty. There’s a low-grade civil war going on and both sides are firing surface-to-air missiles at everything, so no helicopters allowed. Besides, they don’t have an exact location, just a bunch of vague clues or half-remembered directions using long-lost landmarks. This is where the PCs hear all the crazy rumours from the townsfolk. Everyone says the village was ethnically cleansed, but the locals talk about werewolves and ghosts. This should also be the part where the team meets their first Nazi Zombie. And those things are tough to kill, not like regular zombies.

The third adventure would be chasey, shooty fun, as the team moves through a no-man’s land created by the expanding bubble of science in which the Nazi Techno-Zombies can operate. The PCs have a chance to help villagers and realize just how tough these bastards are. There’s also a dude that’s with the Zombies, and he doesn’t seem techno-zombified.

The fourth would be the Outpost – dungeon-crawl! It’s an underground base, a secret factory for putting stuff into people so that they are super strong and super tough to kill. The PCs need to destroy The Machine (patent pending) and then the Zombies will be regular Nazis – which are evil, but not so hard to kill. Of course, the heroes succeed . . . or get wiped out. It depends.

I’d do a fifth based on another team of specialists that seem to shadowing the PCs. If they are caught, it turns out they are working for the same employer OR for the same government, but a different agency. These guys are here to bring back all the techno-zombie tech so that employer or government can build their own zombies. In the fifth, I’d give the PCs a chance to track down the baddie, and stop the spread of techno-zombies!

While Nazi Zombies are pretty cool, I might do Soviet Zombies as well, and set it in Siberia or one of the Central Asian republics.

You can learn more about Outpost: Black Sun here.