[WUSHU] Roanoke playtest

indra

Cracked Genius
Validated User
Roanoke is Clint Krause's upcoming game of American mystery, action, and terror. The players take on the roles of America's first colonists, the doomed inhabitants of Roanoke island. It draws inspiration from the likes of Sleepy Hollow and Brotherhood of the Wolf, so it'll be perfect for Halloween. (It'll also be the first commercial Wushu game not written by myself, though I did contribute some flavor text and act as editor.) This was my playtest game.

My player-characters were taken directly from the samples in the book:

Overconfident Soldier

Veteran (5) Knows one hundred ways to kill a man.
Vigilant (4) Sleeps with both eyes open.
Stubborn (3) Doesn't take orders from civilians.
Fear: Betrayal (1) If you can't trust your soldiers, you're dead.
Trappings: Musket, Sword, Helmet and Breastplate

The Overconfident Soldier has distinguished himself in battle against the Spanish and in many of the civil wars still ravaging Europe. He has been assigned by the Queen herself to ensure the safety of Roanoke colony. So impressed is he by the Croatoan's fighting skills that he plans to bring a few of them back to England when John White returns.

Fatal Flaw - His belief in his own superiority may lead him to confront forces against which the colonists have no defense...

Secretive Heretic

Witchcraft (5) Divination, blessings & curses.
Secrets (4) Keeping them & rooting them out.
Folklore (3) Spirits, demons, etc.
Fear: The Dark (1) Knows what lies in wait...
Trappings: Ceremonial Dagger, Bell, Book, Candle

The Secretive Heretic joined the colonization effort with her husband and daughter. She has been forced to hide her pagan beliefs her whole life and hopes that exposure to the traditions of the Native Americans will result in a more tolerant English society. (It's a good idea to let the other PCs in on her secret, as her magical skills make her indispensable.)

Fatal Flaw - Her curiosity about the supernatural may draw the attention of dark forces, or tempt her to make Faustian bargains with same...

Croatoan Scout

Brave Warrior (5) High-flyin', slow-motion Native-Fu!
The Trees Speak (4) Sensitive to magic & the spirit world.
Hunter (3) Knows how to track and trap almost anything.
Fear: Firearms (1) Cowardly weapons that kill in an instant.
Trappings: Two Tomahawks, Pouch of Herbs

The Croatoan Scout is a native who befriended the colonists after they rescued him from a Wendigo band (They had abducted him for use in one of their foul rituals.) He swore to stay with the colony until he had repaid his debt. Needless to say, he's learned enough English to communicate reliably.

Fatal Flaw - Not all of the colonists welcome his presence and, in a time of stress, he could become the flash point for a lynch mob.

Elder Statesman

Well-Spoken (5) Inspires allies & intimidates enemies.
Politics (4) Can read people like open books.
Duelist (3) A gentleman must be able to defend himself.
Fear: Beasts (1) Words are little use against hungry wolves.
Trappings: Dagger, Coin Purse, Powdered Wig.

The Elder Statesman is in charge until John White returns . . . technically. In truth, he has neither the military nor the religious authority that carries real weight during a crisis. However, he has complete faith that civility will triumph, even in this untamed wilderness. His wife and daughters aren't so sure.

Fatal Flaw - His faith in his fellow Englishmen may lead him to ignore the signs of civil unrest until it's too late...

Act I: The Witching Hour

We open with a late-night knock on a door. It's a lynch mob, come to burn the Elder Statesman's daughter for "having congress with the Devil." He and the mob leader (another sample character called the Zealous Witch-Hunter) square off for a short battle of words. Unfortunately for the mob, the Elder Statesman dominates that particular battlefield. He appeals to their civility and reason; quite to everyone's shock, that works.

The Secretive Heretic has been listening with wrapped attention. She dishes out some quick spell-fu to divine whether or not the Elder's daughter is a witch. She intuits that the girl has been receiving nightly visitations from an evil spirit, but she most certainly has not given herself to the Devil.

Meanwhile, the other two PCs are on watch. A filthy man in tattered rags rushes out of the woods and towards the gate. He claims to be one of the vanished soldiers that were left behind after the first exploration. He yammers on about a cold winter, a dark cave, the other soldiers going crazy, and for-the-love-of-god YOU'VE GOT TO LET ME IN!!!

The Soldier unbars the gate, but something flies out of the darkness and slams into the door just as the stranger tries to enter... pinning his arm. Up on the wall, the Scout sees two emaciated men clawing at the gate. He puts an arrow straight through the skull of one, while the Soldier pulls a dagger and staples the other's hand to the gate.

While he drags the stranger inside, the surviving attacker frees himself by tearing his hand off the dagger. He charges in, but the Soldier has the gate's heavy crossbar in hand. He swings it into the madman's chest and sends him reeling back outside. The Scout notches a pair of flaming arrows and sends them through the back of the bastard's skull. They turn his eyes into bloody embers.

The Soldier shuts the gate and checks on the stranger's mangled arm. The Scout watches as two more maniacs emerge from the shadows and drag their comrades off into the night. (They also get a few arrows in the arms, legs, and chest, but it barely slows them down.)

They take the stranger to the colony's physician and summon the Elder Statesman. After a brief interrogation, they decide to let the stranger stay with the Elder until tomorrow, when they'll make more permanent arrangements. Defying decorum, the Statesman sleeps in his daughter's room the rest of the night, just in case anyone else, human or otherwise, comes to call.

Act II: The Dark Mother

When he wakes, the Elder Statesman finds a set of bizarre scratches on his daughter's window sill. He asks the other PCs for their perspectives. While the Heretic does some more divination, the others put the screws to the stranger. They get a few more details about the mysterious cave and a stern warning not to go there. The stranger claims that God has revealed to him a ceremony by which evil can be cleansed from Roanoke, but he wants to talk to the priest about it.

The Heretic's wyrd-fu earns her a nauseating vision of the cave and how to get there. Then, she finds herself standing in the street, facing a pregnant woman. The rest of the colony feels deserted. Suddenly, the air is filled with inhuman screeching and winged creatures descend from the sky! They swarm around her... and she snaps back to reality. She shakes it off and rejoins the others.

They decide to let the stranger talk to the colony's priest. Meanwhile, the lot of them will journey to the cave and see for themselves what waits inside.

A few hours later, they stand at the mouth of a black hole in a hillside. The climb down isn't long, but neither is it easy. They hear the rush of an underground stream in the distance, and they find a woman lying in the darkness. She's very, very pregnant. The Heretic grabs the Soldier's pistol and brings it to bear, but hesitates when the woman shows no sign of consciousness. The Soldier goes to take the gun away... and it fires accidentally! (That triggers the Scout's fear.)

The pregnant woman moves out of the way with a speed the eye can't follow. She's next to the Heretic in an instant, knocking the pistol to the ground. The movement kicks up a gust of wind and blows out their lantern. (That triggers the Heretic's fear.)

The sound of things skittering towards them suddenly fills the darkness. (That triggers the Elder's fear.) They run.

The ensuing scene is a delicious blend of horror and comedy as three of the four players scramble over each other to escape. I set a moderate Threat level and let them go nuts. The Scout slashes his own legs to get the creatures off him, and the Soldier crushes one under his breastplate. The Heretic lights a candle, then quickly blows it out as she tries to scrub from her mind the image of hundreds of deformed, child-sized creatures flowing over the walls and ceiling.

In the lead due to a shameful act of cowardice, the Elder trips and falls. The Scout tramples him on his way out. Tiny things with sharp teeth claw their way up his body. He skewers one with his rapier, then flings it off the blade. It hits the Scout in the back of the head. There is much cursing of the white man.

The Soldier's trusty dog, who had been smart enough to stay outside, finally guides them into the daylight. They don't stop running until they reach the colony.


Act III: Of Cannibals & Rituals

The gate hangs open and unguarded. Venturing in, they find the colony deserted. The group splits off: The Elder Statesman and Heretic go to seek the doctor's aid, while the Scout and Soldier go searching for the stranger.

Doc's door also hangs ajar. A strange, grinding noise scratches at the edge of their hearing. In the kitchen, they find the doc lying unconscious on the floor... while a man in rags gnaws on his leg. The cannibal swivels around, snarls like a rabid beast, and leaps at them!

The fight is quick, brutal, and satisfyingly gritty. The cannibal really knocks 'em around. It kicks the Heretic across the floor and into the fireplace, where skull meets brick. It picks the Elder up and hurls him out a window, but gets dragged along for the ride. Out in the street, the Elder earns a Coup de Grace and beats the monster's head into chuck.

Still clinging to life, the doctor tells them that the stranger convinced the priest to conduct his ceremony, and the priest convinced everyone else. They walking out into the woods a little while ago, which is when the cannibals overwhelmed the colony. The Elder heads off to stop the ritual, while the Heretic holds off the other cannibals who come to avenge (or consume) their comrade. She ends up immolating herself in a pillar of magical flame, taking the cannibals with her to hell.

On the other side of the colony, the Scout and the Soldier hear crying inside the stables. They go inside and find most of the colony's children lashed to the back of some horses. A cannibal tries to ambush them from the hay stacks above, but the Scout's spidey sense gives him warning... he steps aside and lets the degenerate tackle the Soldier to the ground!

While the Soldier and the cannibal engage in some manly wrestling, the Scout shuts and locks the stable doors. A hatchet plows through the wood right next to his face! Another cannibal is clawing his way inside mere moments later. The Scout lights the door on fire, hoping the creatures are afraid of flame.

They're not. The second cannibal comes crashing through the doors and pushes the Scout back with an all-out assault. It grabs him and throws him up into the hay bails, then leaps up itself... just in time for the Scout to full-body tackle it back to the ground. He lands on top of the creature, but its broken ribs stab him in the chest!

(I can't recall how the Soldier ended his fight with the first cannibal, but I think it may have involved a severed jaw. If my playtesters are around, can anyone compensate for my prematurely geriatric memory?) I set a side goal of getting the children out of the burning building, but the Soldier wasn't interested. He retreated to the street to lick his wounds.

Back inside, the Scout has managed to lash his opponent to one of the horses. He cuts it loose and lets it drag the creature down the street. Unfortunately, the nemesis wasn't out of Chi quite yet. It tears the horse apart and returns with renewed fury. Then, it did run out of the Chi and the Scout earned a Coup de Grace. He knocked the foul thing to the ground, tore open its shattered rib cage, and disembowled it with his bare hands.

Out in the woods, the Elder Statesman catches up to his people as they chant around the ruins of an ancient temple. The Zealot moves to intercept him and they engage in another duel of discourse. After losing the first round, the Zealot aims a rifle at his rival's back. The Elder turns and holds up a bible in defense. Incensed, the Zealot takes his shot and buries a ball of lead in the Elder's thigh. That finally wins over the colonists, who abandon the ritual and come to the Elder's aid... which is good, 'cuz the stranger had received that ritual from a vampiric demon, not from God. It would have turned them all into ravenous blood-drinkers.

Epilogue

One of Roanoke's innovations is a Doom mechanic. In my playtest, I used a version where each PC had a Doom Trait whose value increased when they won a conflict and decreased when they lost. At the end of the game, each character's Doom rating determined the tone of their fate.

All those speaches really topped out the Elder Statesman's Doom. He earned a Tragic Death, which we decided would have come during a futile effort to defend his daughter from a swarm of the Dark Mother's children. (You see, her demonic husband was the one visiting the girl at night, and it made her jealous.)

The Scout and the Heretic both ended up at a Doom of 4, which equals a mysterious Disappearance. The latter had already immolated herself, and we figured the Scout would have just gone back to his people.

The Soldier had jept his Doom under control by doing things like ignoring a bunch of children in a burning stable, so he died an Heroic Death while protecting the colony from an evil cult of natives. (They worship a completely different demon and were quite sick of the white men almost loosing vampires and whatnot on their island.)

In the end, all of these trials brought the colony to its knees and they were forced to seek the help of the Croatoan tribe. That's what happens when you don't open portals into the netherworld or let feral cannibals eat your flesh. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Commentary

I had a great time running this game and plan to run another session closer to Halloween. The premise is just so damn cool. The pre-packaged antagonists (only two of which I used) are cool. The combination of action and horror is cool. Roanoke is just plain (okay, better come up with a new adjective...) cool! (Damn!)

The only thing that got an unanimous thumbs-down from my group were the Doom mechanics. My players wanted something that 1) forced them to make a choice and 2) helped determine the fate of the colony as a whole.

The good news is that Clint revamped his mechanics based on the playtests. In the published version, players can buy automatic success in a conflict by increasing the colony's collective Doom. The GM can do the same, but it lowers the Doom count. At the end of the game, the Doom rating helps determine the nature of the colony's disappearance along a spectrum from Escape to Horrible Death.

Roanoke should hit the web in mid-October. You'll be able to Print it On Demand from RPGnow. As soon as there's a link, I'm sure you'll be able to find it at http://clintkrause.com.

--Dan
 

Kiero

Retiring User
Validated User
That does indeed sound cool, and a nice demonstration that Wushu isn't just about over-the-top stunts. Appropriate is appropriate, whether it's high-octane or gritty.
 
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Xolis

a.k.a. Clint
Thanks for the post Dan!

We went back and forth for quite a while on how Doom was going to work. In the end, I took a page from Keith Senkowski's game, Conspiracy of Shadows, in which players can gain automatic success by driving themselves closer to their doom. In Roanoke, I applied this idea to the fate of the whole colony. It should make for some really tense decision-making (i.e. do I let my character die right now, or do save myself and fuck my comrades over). The GM's ability to lessen the colony's Doom is a steam valve of sorts for pacing longer games.

Eventually, I'll do an AP of my own experiences with the game. The book should be available on October 1st, so keep an eye on rpgnow.

- Clint
 
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Feste

Disallowed Fool
Validated User
This sounds absolutely, totally awesome. I don't know a things about Wushu, but I like the character thumbnails, and I love the setting/scenario.
 

BeZurKur

Registered User
Validated User
Cool, Indra. This helps a lot in my preparation for running my first Wushu game with Roanoke. I'm curious: in the divination at the opening of Act II, what type of conflict was it and who narrated the vision? Also along the same lines, at the strangers interrogation, what type of conflict was it and who narrated his responses? I see how the Wushu mechanics work in an overt physical conflict, but I'm still a little confused when it involves social conflicts.
 

indra

Cracked Genius
Validated User
When there isn't an opposing force/character, you only need 1 success. (I don't think Clint changed that in his version of the rules. If so, please correct me.)

Divination - The player built themselves up to 6 dice of spellcasting Details, then rolled against her Witchcraft Trait. I used the total number of successes to gauge how much information I should reveal.

Interrogation - I don't think I resorted to the rules for this one. Every once in a while, I called for Scab Rolls on a perception-related Trait and used them to clue people in when the Stranger was getting nervous or being evasive. I could have run it like a Nemesis conflict, or slapped a Threat on it and let them break him down, but it didn't seem necessary at the time. I like to take the path of least resistance.

--Dan
 

BeZurKur

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks, Dan. The path of least resistance is a good tip to remember -- epecially with three types of handling conflicts.
 

Kiero

Retiring User
Validated User
Thanks, Dan. The path of least resistance is a good tip to remember -- epecially with three types of handling conflicts.
How important you want the conflict to be is usually a good guide to what level it should be. It's that, rather than the nature of the conflict that determines whether a Nemesis, mook or Scab roll.
 
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