Wednesday, April 9, 2008


"Those who fight monsters should take care that they never become one.
For when you stand and look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Rippers is a Savage Setting of Victorian Horror for the Savage Worlds gaming system. Imagine every myth and folklore of mad science and playing god, every boogie man that kept you up at night, imagine, all the myths are true. Mix one part Van Helsing, one part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and add a dash of your favorite mad science story, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau, and you might end up with something like this. Where Abraham Van Helsing leads a clandestine organization devoted to, what else, fighting monsters, opposing him is the brilliant and sadistic Jack the Ripper. And you, my friend, have just entered into this covert horror war.

I purchased the PDF version, so I can't tell you how the print version is put together, but the PDF is quite nice. There was only 1 page that was rather hard to read, but out of 146 pages, that's not bad at all. And it's very well organized, with both a detailed table of contents and an index, having these always scores points with me because of the functionality I demand from my RPG books.

There are main three setting specific changes that Rippers makes from the standard Savage Worlds model, introducing Reason and Reputation, which are derived characteristics. Reason, in a world of monsters and monstrous deeds, might be a bit fleeting, akin to Sanity or other similar measures of a character's ability to deal with the supernatural. However it's not quite a one way slide into oblivion and madness, Rippers also provides the appropriate edges for recovering reason, whether through therapy or a bout in a mental institution(which will unfortunately leave you with a whole new set of mental scars, but at least you're not babbling incomprehensibly). Either way it's a very powerful thematic tool.

Reputation in a Victorian world is of course quite important. However this more so than reason seems to be a slide towards the bottom, with plenty of opportunities for losing it(e.g. staying at a lodge that doesn't have enough influence), and very few for gaining it. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I think that I would like modify it a bit before GMing for Rippers. While some may enjoy roleplaying this aspect more fully, when you're fighting monsters I don't think it needs to take a front seat. However if one were to just take this mechanic and rip it into simply a Victorian oriented campaign where roleplaying status was key, then that would make an suiting combination I believe.

In addition you have the standard equipment list, supplemented by your cinematic monster hunting gear. Including a Gatling pistol and various exploding/trick/silver/grappling ammunition for your trusty crossbow. Which I felt was an especially nice touch.

The other options included are Rippertech, essentially grafting monster parts onto your characters, and Lodges. Now I have to say that the possibilities granted by these two are really neat, and having a base of operations for the players is always a powerful adventure tool. Especially when combined with the very comprehensive random adventure creator included. And when I say comprehensive, I mean it, you can create a pretty convincing scenario with just a few rolls. However it is mostly oriented towards the Rippers setting specifically, so keep that in mind. Also I have some problems with the aspects related to the strategic missions for the upkeep of the lodge that one assumes that you're sending your NPC buddies out on. The more and better your people that you send out, the more cards you draw, and yet success is based simply on whether you've got more red or black cards, and if there are face cards it's a big time success or failure. Now the two jokers give a little bit of skewed odds towards more cards being a good thing, but I think I'd tweak it a bit to let you actually discard a card with more or more experienced people.

But the meat of the book is definitely the plot point campaign and savage tales. There are about 30 adventures set around the world with opportunities to meet everyone from Sherlock Holmes(deliciously subverted as he wastes away in the grips of cocaine addiction) to Dr. Frankenstein. Not to mention encounters with cryptids such as the Jersey Devil and of course your standard beasties from Werewolves to Vampires. I'm keeping it short as not to spoil too much, but there are quite a few plot twists and subversions that will keep you entertained.

While there is some overlap with the Savage World of Solomon Kane, there is very definitely a different atmosphere evoked. In Rippers, one is no wandering hero, but a part of an organized force battling a sometimes losing war against monsters. Rippers also leans more towards steampunk sensibilities than Solomon Kane, if that interests you, though I think that there is enough that sets them apart that warrants getting Rippers if your players are interested in the time periods, or even if they were at least excited about something like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Five Fists of Science(one could easily see Tesla and Edison set as agents or enemies for instance). Actually one with delusions of grandeur might imagine a massive cross generational campaign spanning time periods and, errr...well, one gets ahead of themselves.

All in all, a solid product, even though at times it seems to be confused whether it wants to focus on being a Victorian, a Horror, or a Monster Hunting setting, it does manage meld them together in an enjoyable way. If you're not interested so much in the supernatural horror involved, then perhaps this isn't for you, but frankly, I think most people will be getting it exactly for that reason. And the rules contained will adapt pretty well to any Victorian or Steampunk oriented game. While it doesn't qualify as best value/purchase of the year, to me it's easily worth the $20 bucks or so that I paid for it.

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