As most of my players know, I usually like to start prepping for my next weekly game about 6 months before we start actually sitting down to play it. This may seem like a long time, but I like to establish the tone and mood of the setting before I ever start deciding on the actual stories that will take place. To this end, I spend a lot of time with the setting, coming up with, in the case of a modern game, the types of business establishments and locations that will be included, even coming up with names and finding or creating photos of the businesses, or at least their logos. I also start building a playlist to be the soundtrack for the game, whether the players will ever hear that soundtrack or not. This all helps me get inside the world in which the game will be happening, which is important for making a lot of decisions about the game and the stories we will build there. Since my current weekly (okay, mostly weekly – there have been a lot of issues lately, as evidenced by my lack of writing here, that have pulled me away from leisurely pursuits) game will be ending in a few months, I am now in that 6 month window to begin preparing for the next game.
The current weekly (see above for disclaimer) game has been running since June 10th, 2012. It will likely end sometime this summer after running for around 26 months or so, though to be fair, there were several patches of inconsistent playing time during those two years. Still, that is a pretty long time for my group. The characters just hit Legendary Rank (we use the Savage Worlds system) last week. If you’re wondering what we’ve been playing for so long, it is the War of the Dead campaign setting by Lee Szczepanik, from Daring Entertainment. We’ve had a blast fighting zombies, and the types of bad people who rise to power in an apocalyptic setting, for the past two years. Two years though, is a long time to play a horror game. I decided early on that the next game would not be a horror game, though Achtung! Cthulhu by Modiphius is on my shortlist of games to run. Still, I wanted the next game to be a modern game. The two weekly games I’ve run previously to the current one were both fantasy games (the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path for Pathfinder and a short-lived game using the Hellfrost setting by Paul Wade Williams of Triple Ace Games), so I didn’t want to run a fantasy setting for the next game, though the excellent Sundered Skies setting, also by Paul Wade Williams, is on my shortlist of games to run as well. Finally, I decided to stick with the Savage Worlds system, even though I looked closely at the FATE Core system by Evil Hat Productions. I like a lot of the things FATE Core does, but I do like the way Savage Worlds handles certain things a little better. Still, it would be awesome if some of the features of both of those systems could be combined…
All of this led me back to Jason L. Blair’s Streets of Bedlam setting for Savage Worlds, published by Fun Sized Games. There are a ton of things to love about Streets of Bedlam, and it is within shooting distance of a game I ran about 6 years ago that ended far too early. That earlier game ended because we were using a system that couldn’t handle it, and several players had conflicting ideas about what the game should be like. That game was set in Hudson City: The Urban Abyss by HERO Games, for the Dark Champions system, but we were using Wizard’s of the Coast’s D20 Modern system. I was going for a street-level vigilantes style of game, with no “superpowers” because, let’s face it, using D20 Modern’s Feat system could allow the characters to achieve the equivalent of superpowers very quickly, if only they dressed those feats up in superpowered names, which Savage Worlds calls “trappings.” At any rate, the game crashed and burned after just a couple of months. Now, Streets of Bedlam gives us a chance to play in a similar world with a more focused approach, and rules that support the game we are trying to play.
When I first discovered Streets of Bedlam, during the Kickstarter, I was already in the planning stages of the current War of the Dead game, and already had too many resources tied up in that idea to switch, plus I really loved War of the Dead and was anxious to run it. It is only natural now that the War of the Dead game is winding down that I revisit Streets of Bedlam.
I’ve done enough planning to know that there are some things I will be doing differently from the Streets of Bedlam/Savage Worlds “rules as written.” First, I will be using Hudson City: The Urban Abyss as the physical setting of the game once again. This setting is incredibly detailed, with street-level maps, businesses, and tons of setting details already provided. I will be incorporating locations from the Streets of Bedlam setting into Hudson City, but this will save me an incredible amount of work, and give the game a lived-in feel. Also, I won’t have to come up with street names or businesses on the fly, since Hudson City is almost as detailed as any real-world city map & guidebook. I will also be incorporating some details from two other setting into the mix, because they also have details I like. Those settings are Silver Gryphon Games’ Wellstone City, which feels a lot like Streets of Bedlam, and Bedlam City by Plain Brown Wrapper Games.
Next, there are several Streets of Bedlam archetypes and archetype choices that I will not be allowing as options for player characters, because they don’t fit the style of game I am looking to run, or in some cases would have difficulty fitting with the other archetypes. For example, I’ve cut the Boss and [Redacted] archetypes completely, and restricted the choices for the Regent and Saint archetypes. Also, I’ve written some Setting Rules that mimic some of the things I like about the FATE Core system. One of these I am calling Bullet Points, which ties a type of FATE Point mechanic to the Savage Worlds Benny economy, much like the different-colored chips of Deadlands Reloaded. Another is something I am calling Suffer the Consequences, which incorporates consequences for wounds.
Finally, this will not be simply a vigilante-style revenge fantasy game. It will also not be a low-powered/no-powers superhero game. Nor will this be a simple blood-spattered ultraviolent gore fest. The style/tone of this game will be that of a neo-noir crime drama, along the lines of movies like Chinatown. While some vigilante style action and some good old-fashioned ultraviolence will undoubtedly be a part of the game, I don’t want the players to think their characters can solve all the challenges and obstacles of the story by shooting, pummeling and killing their way through them. There should be a heavy focus on investigation and intrigue, talking to witnesses, examining crime scenes, etc. I also don’t want the players to think they can or should try to “cleanse the city” of all the “bad guys.” Most of the people they interact with will be some form of “bad guy” by someone’s definition, and many of them won’t be very nice by the standards of polite society. The players should have to make difficult choices and deal with less than savory types to accomplish their goals. After all, the characters themselves will be flawed good guys, more shades of grey than white knights.
Along the lines of preparation, I plan on putting up a website for the game soon. I don’t think I’ll be using Obsidian Portal, as it is becoming less and less user-friendly with every change they make to it. I am considering a Shutterfly site, as I have used those before and they worked pretty well. I plan on posting short fiction about the game, descriptions and photos of locations in the city and non-player characters, as well as other things.
Since the group for the War of the Dead game at times got up to 10 players, and that is WAY TOO MANY for a game of this type, I will be limiting this game to 3-6 players only. These 3-6 players should be mature enough to handle the subject matter, good enough role-players to participate in a story-heavy game, and be up for cooperatively building the types of stories that fit the tone and style of this game.
That is what the game is shaping up to look like. I plan on doing a series of these posts with more details of the game as we move forward. Look for more details in the near future.