We've Only Just Begun
I see by the doomsday clock on the wall that our tour of Damnation Decade is almost over. In the past three Journals, we've looked at how the setting shifted from the decadent future to the fantastic past; mapped the tragic history of the game world; and sampled some new classes, feats and creatures. To close things out, I'd like to share some observations about launching a campaign, drawn from the sourcebook. (Don't worry, I'll also include some brand-new crunch at the end!)
First, a general note. Any time you start a new game, it can be a chore to get everyone up to speed on the setting. The Damnation Decade handbook is designed to keep the learning curve as flat as possible. If your crew is pressed for time, or if your GM wants to keep some secrets, the only thing the players need to read is the Introduction—about a page of recent world history. (You can also find the Introduction in the first installment of this Journal. GMs can simply paste the text into an email for their players, or have their crew click on the link.) For a more detailed look at the setting, players can move on to Chapter One of the handbook, which covers world events in greater depth, and Chapter Two, which zeroes in on Americo (by way of talking about character classes and other rules). But the team doesn't need to take that step to understand the setting and start rolling.
Now, some tips for the GM.
Any World That I'm Welcome To
Before you do anything else, canvass your players about the type of game they want to play. Obviously, this is a bit of a chestnut. Many GMs will ask players for input before starting up a long game. But it's doubly important in the case of Damnation Decade. People have very settled, and very divergent, ideas about the mood of the 1970s—think of the difference between Rollerball and Logan's Run. Will your game be goofy or grim or somewhere in between? It's crucial to figure that out at the start, or you could end up with one gamer playing a fiery Popeye Doyle and another channeling Jack Tripper.
Damnation Decade can adapt to a variety of styles. For instance, you might run a creepy, fairly straight-faced investigative campaign in the style of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In this approach, you don't make much hay out of the decade's wacky fashions and jive talk. Instead, you riff on the darker currents of the culture, such as drug-fueled navel-gazing and the rise of sinister self-help cults. Then again, you could go the Avenging Disco Godfather route and crank up the campiness. Everyone wears platform shoes with goldfish in them. The aliens have (evil) roller discos on board their flying saucers. Even the combat is lighthearted, with lots of nonlethal kung-fu moves and Charisma-based attacks.
Somewhere in the middle is the deadpan-but-clueless style of Soylent Green and Rollerball. In this approach, the game world is generally straightahead and "realistic," but it's dotted with goofy attitudes and inventions that clearly mark it out as the seventies (conversation pits, wood paneling, key parties). All that filigree isn't central to the campaign, but the tone would change dramatically if it weren't there.
After that's squared away, work with your players to decide on a structure: What kind of characters are your friends playing, and why are they trying to save the world?
There are three basic approaches. In the first, the group plays a team of dedicated investigators who have a built-in excuse for snooping into the unearthly mysteries across Americo. They might be federal agents, reporters for the television show Beyond the Barrier With Herman Purvis, a family of crime-solving musicians or a barnstorming basketball team with funked-up combat prowess. As the players get deeper into their adventures, they realize that Abednego Trestle's prophecies are right on the money, and they have only a few short months to stop the forces of darkness from bringing about the end of the world on December 31st, 1979.
It goes without saying that this option is strongest for a party that is on the same page about the types of characters they want to play and the investigating style they want to use. For instance, if you have a group full of people who are all fans of a particular movie or TV show, this is an easy way for them to play versions of their favorite heroes.
In the second approach, the party consists of a diverse team of adventurers brought together by a patron. This mysterious, wealthy benefactor (think John Forsythe in Charlie's Angels) has become obsessed with the writings of Abednego Trestle and is determined to stop the apocalypse. By sifting through obscure clues in Trestle's prophecies, he has tracked down a seemingly random group of people to act as his foot soldiers in the war to save the world. He will send the team out on missions based on clues he gleans from Trestle—or from more conventional sources, such as news reports that catch his eye or badly injured witnesses who collapse on his doorstep.
This option is the best if the players all have strong ideas for characters that don't immediately suggest an organic group. Let's say your team wants to play, respectively, Shaft, "Dirty" Harry Callahan and star Rollerballer Jonathan E. It would be tough to figure out how to bring them all together into one squad—unless they had an otherworldly justification for fighting side by side.
Finally, the group could play people trapped by circumstance: ordinary folks in a town that has just been overrun by irradiated zombies, abductees who wake up on a spacecraft and must work together to escape, or tourists whose ocean liner capsizes after tangling with a sea monster. As in the other two approaches, the players' fight to survive leads them to a much bigger truth: The world is going to end, soon, unless they do something about it.
This approach works best for one-shot adventures and "surprise" games, where the players don't have any background about the world and learn the ground rules as they go. It can also be a good way to recreate the claustrophobic mood of seminal suspense films such as Dawn of the Dead and Assault on Precinct 13, as well as disaster epics like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. (It goes without saying that the originals, not the recent remakes, are the ones to watch. As of this writing, Inferno hasn't gotten the Michael Bay treatment, but just wait...)
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Now, for the players, a thought on creating a character. If you draw on 1970s movies for inspiration, you may find yourself backed into a role-playing corner. Many pop-culture heroes of the period were antisocial to the point of mania, and those who had some passion for helping the people around them usually ended up flopping in Deeply Symbolic Ways, such as Jack Nicholson's mischief-maker from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. So how do you integrate those kinds of loners into an adventuring party without wrecking the group?
If you don't want to compromise the loony purity of your character, give yourself some personal stake in the campaign. You're only in it for the money, and the team's patron promises to set you up for life if you help out. Or someone close to you was murdered by an unearthly creature, and you won't rest until you hunt all the buggers down. Or you're hiding a secret sin that you need to redeem, and blasting bad guys is the best way to do it.
On the other hand, if you're willing to bend a little, you could assume that you have been drawn out of your sociopathic shell by the crisis facing the planet. You're still crazy, or a loner, or both, but you realize the world will end unless you do something—so some small part of you consents to go along with the group. (But that shouldn't preclude you from sneering at the rest of the party as conformists and establishment dupes, or arguing long and loud about the best course of action—or simply taking care of business yourself from time to time.)
We Can Be Heroes
As promised, we'll finish with some crunch. Below you'll find a patron, and a set of adventurers, ready for you to plunk into a campaign. Feel free to adjust the ability scores and skill/feat/equipment selection as you see fit. You'll note, for instance, that I gave all the characters but one the Personal Firearms Proficiency feat. Why? The bad guys can pack quite a wallop, and adventurers are very vulnerable at lower levels. If you'd rather not have your players armed to the teeth, or if guns don't fit the tone of your campaign, by all means, let them choose a different feat instead. (By the way, there's an entry in the GM section of the sourcebook that covers gunplay and other legal niceties—i.e., what happens when your players start blowing away devil worshippers on city streets in broad daylight.)
The Patron: Herman Purvis
Lean and looming, with tar-black hair and a horsy face, Herman Purvis rose to fame as Tanko, the numinous alien counselor on the cult television series The Sand Puppies. Now Purvis has traded the blue pajamas of the Extra-Terran Expeditionary Force for a beige blazer, black turtleneck and tight checkered slacks—his uniform of choice for leading viewers Beyond the Barrier. In a little under a season's worth of shows, Purvis has given audiences a glimpse of lost continents, lake monsters and size twenty-five footprints. Now, fired by the prophecies of Abednego Trestle, he has gathered a team of adventurers to plunge even further into the unknown—and save the world along the way.
In person, Purvis can be immensely charming, but also gnomic and pretentious. Despite the denials in his best-selling memoir (Tanko Agonistes), Purvis identifies heavily with his extraterrestrial alter ego, and often slips into character during conversation. ("Your theory is intriguing—but irrational.") His work Beyond the Barrier, meanwhile, has led him to believe he has gnostic contact with Higher Powers. ("I perceived the alien intelligence as a probing beam of pink light.") The tricky thing is: He may actually be right.
Cha4/Pers10; CR 5; HD 4d6+10d6+14; 61 HP; Mas 12; Init +1 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 16, touch 15, flat-footed 15 (+4 class, +1 Dex, +1 leather jacket); BAB +7; Grap +8/+3; Atk +8/+3 melee or +8/+3 ranged (Projector laser pistol, 3d6 dmg); SV Fort +8, Ref +8, Will +26; Str 12, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 18; Rep +12; Wealth +13; AP 20.
Skills: Bluff +16, Craft (writing) +8, Diplomacy +18, Disguise +16, Investigate +8, Knowledge (arcane lore) +9, Knowledge (behavioral sciences) +6, Knowledge (current events) +6, Knowledge (history) +5, Knowledge (physical sciences) +4, Knowledge (streetwise) +6, Knowledge (theology) +10, Perform (act) +13, Perform (sing) +9, Sense Motive +4.
Feats: Believer, Deceptive, Improved Power to Will, Iron Will, Life of the Party, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Power to Will, Psychobabble, Renown, Sensualist, Simple Weapons Proficiency, Trustworthy
Talents (Charismatic Hero): Charm (females), Fast Talk
Abilities (Personality): Unlimited Access, Royalties, Winning Smile, Compelling Performance
Possessions: Suave earth-toned leather jacket, various fertility symbols, several hundred dollars cash, ultra-rare Projector laser pistol (given to him by an obsessive Sand Puppies fan in the Department of Defense)
6 HP; Mas 12; Init +1 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 13, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+1 class, +1 Dex, +1 denim armor); BAB +0; Grap +0; Atk +0 melee (1d4 scalpel) or +1 ranged (Pathfinder .22 revolver, 2d4 dmg); SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 13, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 12; Rep +1; Wealth +8; AP 5.
Skills: Computer Use +6 (permanent class skill), Craft Pharmaceutical +6, Gather Information +2, Intimidate +2, Listen +6, Sense Motive +6, Spot +4, Treat Injury +10 (permanent class skill)
Feats: Personal Firearms Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Surgery
Talents (Dedicated Hero): Skill Emphasis (Treat Injury)
Possessions: Full medical kit, four extra scalpels for attack, suit of sturdy denim
6 HP; Mas 11; Init +2 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 13, touch 12, flat-footed 11 (+2 Dex, +1 pleather jacket); BAB +0; Grap +1; Atk +1 melee (1d6+1 oversize reinforced wrench) or +2 ranged (Blisstol sonic stunner, DC 15 Fort or paralyzed for 1d6 rounds); SV Fort +0, Ref +2, Will +2; Str 12, Dex 15, Con 11, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 11; Rep +1; Wealth +5; AP 5
Skills: Computer Use +8 (permanent class skill), Craft (chemical) +5, Craft (electronic) +8 (permanent class skill), Craft (mechanical) +7, Demolitions +7, Disable Device +7, Knowledge (earth & life sciences) +7, Knowledge (physical sciences) +7, Knowledge (streetwise) +7, Repair +9 (permanent class skill), Search +7, Speak Language (trucker), Speak Language (jive)
Feats: Talk to Machines, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency
Talents (Smart Hero): Savant (Repair)
Possessions: a comprehensive set of tools (including a bulky wrench for use as a weapon and a cutting-edge Blisstol sonic stunner), pleather jacket with lots of pockets
Occupation: Red Collar
6 HP; Mas 12; Init +2 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 13, touch 12, flat-footed 11 (+2 Dex, +1 pleather jacket); BAB +0; Grap +1; Atk +1 melee (1d4+1, sharp-edged fertility symbol) or +2 ranged; SV Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +0; Str 14, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 11, Cha 16; Rep +2; Wealth +7; AP 5.
Skills: Bluff +9 (permanent class skill), Diplomacy +8 (permanent class skill), Gather Information +7, Intimidate +7, Knowledge (streetwise) +6, Perform (dance) +9 (permanent class skill), Speak language (jive).
Feats: Dancing Fool, Sensualist, Simple Weapon Proficiency
Talents (Charismatic Hero): Charm (choose a sex)
Possessions: a wardrobe full of unspeakably fabulous duds (including a sturdy pleather jacket), a fertility symbol that can be used for attack in times of emergency
10 HP; Mas 14; Init +3 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 18, touch 16, flat-footed 15 (+3 class, +3 Dex, +2 denim armor); BAB +0; Grap +2; Atk +2 melee (1d4+2 knife) or +3 unarmed (1d6+2 nonlethal damage) or +3 ranged (Beretta 92F autoloader, 2d6 dmg); SV Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +0; Str 14, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 11; Rep +0; Wealth +6; AP 5.
Skills: Balance +8 (permanent class skill), Climb +4, Drive +7, Escape Artist +7, Jump +6 (permanent class skill), Tumble +8 (permanent class skill)
Feats: Armor Proficiency (light), Brawl, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency.
Talent (Fast Hero): Evasion
Possessions: various sporting goods, denim armor, Beretta pistol and plenty of ammunition, a mammoth Muscle Car that can hold an entire party of adventurers comfortably.
10 HP; Mas 15; Init +2 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 15, touch 13, flat-footed 13 (+1 class, +2 Dex, +2 leather armor); BAB +1; Grap +5; Atk +5 melee (1d6+5 club) or +6 unarmed (1d6+5 nonlethal dmg) or +3 ranged (Smith & Wesson M29 revolver, 2d8 dmg); SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +1; Str 18, Dex 14, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 13; Rep +0; Wealth +4; AP 5.
Skills: Climb +8, Knowledge (streetwise) +5 (permanent class skill), Move Silently +6,
Feats: Armor Proficiency (light); Brawl; Personal Firearms Proficiency; Simple Weapon Proficiency.
Talent (Strong Hero): Melee Smash
Possessions: stylish clothing (including protective leather) with lots of jewelry, a .44 magnum handgun with lots of ammunition.
13 HP; Mas 17; Init +1 (Dex); Spd. 30 ft.; Defense 13, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+1 class, +1 Dex, +1 pleather jacket); BAB +0, Grap +0; Atk +0 melee (1d6 club or 1d4 knife) or +1 ranged (Colt M1911 Autoloader 2d6 dmg or sawed-off shotgun 2d6 dmg); SV Fort +4, Ref +1, Will +2; Str 11, Dex 13, Con 17, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 15; Rep +0; Wealth +4; AP 5.
Skills: Diplomacy +4, Gather Information +4, Intimidate +6, Knowledge (arcane lore) +5 (permanent class skill), Listen +6 (permanent class skill), Sense Motive +6 (permanent class skill)
Feats: Believer, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Trustworthy
Talent (Tough Hero): Damage Reduction/1
Possessions: clerical outfit with pleather jacket for protection and lots of pockets for hiding weapons: Colt autoloader, sawed-off shotgun, knife and club.
Praying for the End of Time
One more dust bunny of fluff before I sign off. I hope you've enjoyed this preview, and that it inspires you to dive head-on into the world of Damnation Decade. Check back at the Green Ronin site often for new bonus material, and please share your thoughts about the game on the message board—let us know what you like and what you don't, and how your campaign is shaping up.
Finally, I need to thank everyone who got this game into shape, from the friends who shared my gaming table; to my tireless editors; to the illustrators, who nailed the world perfectly; to the good folks at Green Ronin, who stayed solid through some serious ups and downs. All of them put in a tremendous amount of hard work and produced, if I say so myself, a game that looks and plays great.
What else can I say? Switch on the strobes and crank the bass! I'll see you in '76.