Friday, May 16, 2014

Tommy's Take on East Texas University

ETU - East Texas University - is the new Savage Setting by the 12 to Midnight guys, Ed Wetterman and Preston DuBose. Currently on Kickstarter, it was funded in about two hours...and I have a pre-release copy of the book, which I am eager to dig into.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: ETU is on Kickstarter, as mentioned above, and the Kickstarter ends June 12th. $20 gets you the ETU PDF, and $35 adds the Degrees of Horror plot point campaign, while $50 scores you both books in print. A slew of other rewards are planned, but I'm not reviewing the Kickstarter, I'm reviewing the ETU book.

I am working off of a pre-release PDF, so layout and editing are not 100% complete. It treads familiar territory for Savage Worlds, namely modern horror...but centered around East Texas University, in the town of Pinebox, Texas! The setting feels very much like Sunnydale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a distinctly Texas twist.

The college theme is not just window dressing, but instead a major aspect of the game, as characters must advance from Freshmen to Seniors, with the Savage Worlds ranks corresponding with their education (Novice Freshmen, Seasoned Sophmores, etc). Characters must have a Major, which is indicated by a Skill, though they can be "Undecided" for the first couple of years. They also have a new Trait called Academics, which indicates the balance between time focused on fighting evil and the time spent on education. A couple of great sidebars discuss Common Knowledge in ETU, as well as a good, solid list of Majors.

Lots of info is provided on the University itself, including the fight song, a random Fraternity/Sorority generator, and a discussion of the American Collegiate System for those unfamiliar.

Some great new Hindrances are included, like Annoying Roommate, Anti-Tech Aura (because stuff Just Doesn't Work around you...Harry Dresden fans take note), Cursed (which manifests itself differently in each adventure), Overprotective Parents or even being a Townie. New Edges include Local Favorite (star running back in High School, here to lead The Ravens to a championship, maybe?), Gunslinger (Seniors only!), Demon Slayer (again with the Seniors only), Precognitive Flash, Psychometry and more. While the Arcane Backgrounds are excluded, there are definitely options your heroes can grow into.

More nice touches include Semester Allowances, differences in expenses for on-campus and off-campus housing, and even the means available to each wealth level for getting around Texas! There's even rules for Insurance (including getting your folks to cover the damages to your car), and a table for quirks with used cars!

The setting rules really make the setting "pop", as always, with ETU providing some of the best Setting Rules I've seen since Deadlands Reloaded. You get Advances like normal with every 5 points...but you also have to pass Exams. If you pass your Exam, you roll on the Passed Exams table, which gives you benefits like a new die type to a Skill, extra money, extra bennies, or even a brand new adventure hook! The Interlude rules are adapted to providing a means of relieving burnout (and giving you a bonus to your Academics rolls), and everyone can indulge in an Extracurricular Activity (named at the beginning of each Semester), like Athletics (which boosts your Strength and Agility rolls at a cost to Academics), Part-Time Jobs (which grant more money, but hurt your Academics), Romance (which dings money AND Academics, but allows you a bonus d6 when spending bennies if you are in some way drawing on your feelings for your crush), as well as even Tutoring (maybe you are taking money from the Rich Local Favorite who is devoted to Athletics, to help him offset his penalties to Academics).

A "player's version" of Pinebox is included, complete with a warning not to look like a psychopath, because people are likely to shoot you.

The GM's version goes into local legends and lore a bit more, including the various monstrous legends around the area, and more than a few shoutouts that long-time Pinnacle fans will likely catch (that couple that runs the comic store sure sound familiar to me....). The female dorms are rumored to be haunted (a common theme in real life...my local university was built around a Seminary Hall said to be haunted), and if you listen closely, you hear whispering voices from the concert hall.

Rules are also provided for various types of monster hunting, from ghost detection to extensive rules for rituals (and be careful what you dabble in, because magic may corrupt you...or summon the thing that kills you, if you fail). There is no quick and easy magic here...but, sometimes, you just have to take those risks.

The book also includes more random tables, including a new Random Adventure Generator (card-based), complete with two examples...but I'm going to provide my own on the fly:

Who: 7 of Clubs (Animal)
What: King of Diamonds (Theft)
Victim: 10 of Spades (Scientist)
Why: 3 of Diamonds (Secret Knowledge)
Where: 6 of Spades (Pinebox - Abandoned business/building)
Complication: 6 of Clubs (Rock Out - A big band is in town)

I'm kinda thinking a hyper intelligent monkey has attacked the scientists that were experimenting on him and other animals inside the boarded-up petshop and is planning a Planet of the Apes by way of Dr. Moreau-like revolution at the PineRocks Rock Festival. Why? Because Sad, Evil Monkeys are fun. Maybe the PCs get drawn in when their Biology Professor goes missing (because of the monkey attack) and gets transformed into Half-Man Half-Aardvark?

I love random generators more than I should.

There's even a High Strangeness chart to draw on just so weird stuff just happens.

Other random charts include a random party generator (no, not adventuring party...this is college), an a random Research Adventure chart.

The bestiary includes important NPCs like Sheriff Butch Anderson and James Nelson, President of ETU, as well as generic stats like White and Blue Collar Workers, Townies, and so on.

Then it gets into weird stuff like chupacabras, demons (an extensive list, as well as a random creation chart), ghosts (with a massive customization list as well), the Skunk Ape (East Texas' answer to Bigfoot) and much more...including that quintessential Texas horror creature: HOGZILLA.

WHAT WORKS: Thanks to the University spin, this setting REALLY stands out, and it gets even better with all the quirky tables (I love the Adventure Generator, as well as things like the Used Car quirks). It has the same sense of fun as the campier elements of Deadlands, or the better Supernatural episodes (just more localized). A fun twist on a genre that's kinda been done to death, supported by strong setting rules, as well as Edges and Hindrances.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Sure seems like game balance could get thrown out the window if that's the kind of thing that bothers you (I'm fine with it, myself). Also, the Research Adventures chart is too specific for being so small...seems like it could potentially get repetitive.

CONCLUSION: Obviously, anticipation was high for this, given how quickly it hit its goal...I love it. The sense of fun is very high, but it's still a lot scarier than a lot of games, given that you aren't likely to develop real equalizers in your war against the supernatural until you become Juniors or Seniors. I intend to back it, just working out what pledge level, and have high hopes for the Plot Point Campaign after reading this. Great stuff, especially if you're convinced Savage Worlds can't do anything different.