Review: Rippers

"Rippers are a secret cabal of scholars, warriors, sages, and heroes who battle legendary horrors around the globe. But willpower, science, technology, and steel are not their only weapons. Abraham Van Helsing and “Dr. Jack” have shown the Rippers how to extract the essences or natural tools of the creatures they battle — and implant it in themselves." – from Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition

This was an unexpected present, turning up as one of the Halloween freebies on RPGNow. As is my wont, I grabbed it while the grabbing was good, and am only now getting around to reading it.

Summary: Savage Worlds monster-hunting plot point campaign set in the Victorian Era. 146-page  PDF file.

CONTENT

Before the book proper begins, there are a couple of pages of mock letters and newspaper cuttings explaining the setting concepts "in character". In essence, you and your fellow Rippers have discovered that the creatures of myth and superstition are real, and prey upon mankind; and you have decided to have a word with them about that.

Becoming a Ripper (8 pages)

This starts with a dozen or so character concepts, from Acrobat to Vigilante, each with a paragraph of flavour text. There are no archetypes or templates; each Ripper is unique, and the concepts are intended to stimulate the player’s imagination.

Character creation follows normal SW rules, expect for the addition of two new secondary stats: Status, needed to reflect the stratified nature of Victorian society, and Reason, which is essentially how much horror you can stand before you go mad. There are also five new Hindrances, two major and three minor, and 17 new Edges.

A sidebar in this section also explains the six main factions of Rippers at large in the world, and where there might be found. Each offers its members one of the new Edges, although these count against the normal limits.

Possessions (6 pages)

Currency first. The standard unit of currency is the Pound Sterling (Huzzah!) which is worth $100 contemporary dollars. Although the subunits (£1 = 20s = 240d) are mentioned, all prices are in shillings, to simplify tracking finances. There is a discussion of the various British coins in circulation at the time, many of which were still in circulation up to the 1970s, with their names, values, and the social classes who might be expected to use them.

Then we have the usual setting-appropriate armour and weapons, a mixture of real life and steampunk, and mundane items such as pharmaceuticals, food and lodging, and the magnificently named Ruhmkorff’s Apparatus, a backpack-mounted electric torch.

Setting Rules (6 pages)

There are a few minor tweaks – such as temporarily gaining the Outsider Hindrance when away from your homeland – but most of the chapter focusses on insanity, including an expanded Fright Table, your character’s Status in society, and Lodges.

The team’s base is called a Lodge, and to an extent is another character in its own right, with statistics reflecting its Influence on the rest of the organisation (which is a constraint on the team’s advancement), its Membership (which defines available NPC backup), its Renown (which modifies Charisma), its Resources (which pay the team’s wages and fund their research), and its Facilities (what rooms and workshops it has, each of which has a benefit for the team). Lodges also have Edges, which affect various aspects of the team’s support and assignments.

Note the implicit assumption that the whole team works for the same faction. Initially they use a Lodge assigned them by their faction, but once everyone is Seasoned they may create their own, which they may then upgrade over time as finances permit.

Rippertech (7 pages)

This is the part of Rippers which I consider unique; the monster-hunters can extract organs and tissue from their quarry and implant it in themselves, levelling the playing field between the sides by gaining some monstrous abilities themselves.

In effect, these are the setting’s equivalent of the cybertech in SF game worlds.

The chapter discusses obtaining these materials, processing them, implanting them or turning them into potions, and the potentially dire effects on the recipient’s physical and mental health. It lists a baker’s dozen of standard implants and extracts, known to anyone with the new Knowledge (Rippertech) skill.

Dr Jack’s Lab (3 pages)

Players can read up to the end of the Rippertech chapter, but from now on we’re in GM territory. We begin by reviewing the origins of each order of Rippers, and the main source of dispute between them – how much use to make of Rippertech. This fuels a cold war between the factions.

The Rippers World (17 pages)

The Rippers are expected to travel worldwide to hunt down their foes, and thus a gazetteer of locations is needed.

Areas range from the Atlantic Ocean to Tibet, and split by continent; each has a capsule description, example encounters or hazards, sites of interest (including mythical lost cities), and pointers to the relevant Savage Tales in that chapter.

Running Rippers (9 pages)

This is advice for the GM; how to evoke the setting and the mood, how to handle travel and the things that might go wrong en route to the next mission.

As usual in SW, there are no random encounter tables, and encounters are not scaled to the party’s "level"; you meet what you meet, and you’re expected to know when to fight, when to talk, and when to run. The GM is encouraged to enhance the horror aspect of the game by using disproportionately nasty foes from time to time.

There’s a list of 20-odd less well-known Rippertech items which the PCs might research or find, and rules for handling the inevitable PC custom-built Rippertech. There’s another list of relics, powerful religious or magical artifacts; players can’t make these, but could get hold of them. There’s a list of Bloodlines, which are the Bad Guys’ equivalent of Rippertech, ’nuff said.

Adventures (14 pages)

This has the obligatory random adventure generator found in almost all SW settings, although driven by die rolls rather than card draws. The intent is that this is used to generate day-to-day missions, with the Savage Tales being more important set-pieces.

The generator covers each of the basic activities of Rippers; hunting monsters, investigating mysteries, recruiting supporters, researching Rippertech and socialising to gain influence. That tells you the kind of thing player characters will get up to.

There is a shorter, parallel section on distractions – events that happen in the wider world, like border skirmishes, which may help or hinder the group.

Finally, there is a section on running the cold war between the Rippers and their organised opposition, the Cabal, in an abstract way. This has the effect of constraining the Lodge’s activities; you need a certain number of Rippers looking after the Lodge, and others dedicated to containing the Cabal threat using these rules – only those who are doing neither are available for more traditional adventures.

I like this section; it goes beyond the plain vanilla adventure generator into creating a partial sandbox environment, in which enemies and random events appear and must be dealt with.

Savage Tales (41 pages)

The meat of Rippers is in the 39 adventures in this section. The first ten are the plot points, which when played in sequence define the default campaign; the rest are meant to be run between them, in no particular order, other than each has a "trigger" such as some piece of information – "Feast of Blood", for example, can only happen when the heroes conduct a research or investigation adventure after finding something on a specific volcano.

Suffice to say that over the course of the campaign, the players will meet most of the gothic horror classics and hopefully deal with them.

Encounters (25 pages)

This would be a bestiary in most setting books. It lists stats and background information for 10 famous NPC Rippers, 7 friendly but generic NPCs, and several dozen new or variant monsters, including evil wild card NPCs.

The game closes with a character sheet, Lodge and ally sheets, and an index.

FORMAT

This is one of the earlier SW setting books (2005), and the download includes both a full-colour and a printer-friendly version of the book.

The layout and typeface are clear, especially in the printer-friendly version, and there are quarter-page colour illustrations every few pages.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Layered PDF file please. Even in the printer-friendly file, the character sheet has a colour background, which kills printers and makes it harder for me to read. I also find it helpful to suppress everything except the illustrations, print the monster of the week’s picture, and scale it over the table to the players, saying "You see… this!"

CONCLUSIONS

One thing I’ve noticed about Savage Worlds over the years is the bias towards Victoriana and gothic horror in its products. I have a limited tolerance for either, so I am unlikely to run Rippers. I can see that it is a really well-done treatise on the topic, and if the genre were my cup of tea I’d jump at it; but is isn’t, so I won’t. Don’t take that as a criticism of the product, though; it’s just how I roll.

I like the idea of Lodges, which are in some ways similar to the team bases in supers games or Suzerain. I could see myself adopting something like that, especially for The Warforged’s proposed wizard’s tower in Gis.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I dithered over whether to give it a 3 (fine, but not what I’m after), but since I’m likely to use bits of it, I decided on 4 (some bits usable for my main campaigns).

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