With all of the different game systems that I read, I have seen many different ways to set up a story to run. One of the ones that I have liked the most is the Countdown clock used in the Powered by Apocalypse games and that was first introduced in Apocalypse World. I have been thinking about how to include this mechanic in Savage Worlds.
First some brief notes about Countdown clocks.
They were first described in the Apocalypse World rules as a reminder that the threats in the game world have goals and plans to reach them. These plans are dictated by the desires and intentions of those to whom they belong. And as is always the case, any plan of significance will have more than one step to reach the final goal. In other Powered by Apocalypse games, the countdown is used for the story itself the example that I am most familiar with is Monster of the Week (in fact this was my first exposure to the Powered by Apocalypse games).
The other thing to be aware of is that you do not have to go through all of the steps in the countdown. For example if the players do something that causes you to jump to a different step, then the countdown proceeds to that step and continues from there, and if the situation is resolved before the countdown reaches the end, then it stops.
Now these countdowns all have six sections, that are thematically based on the setting of the game. In Apocalypse World, they are selected hours of the clock from noon to midnight, while Monster of the Week uses descriptive text for the level of light in a day (Day, Shadows, Dusk, Sunset, Nightfall, Midnight).
I think the terms used in Monster of the Week work particularly well for both East Texas University and Rippers, so I will use those terms with a scenario put together for East Texas University using the adventure generator in the main book.
Example adventure using a countdown clock:
From the adventure generator I get:
Who: Cryptid, a natural but unproven creature such as a chupacabra, skunk ape, or night panther.
What: Someone is going to die unless the heroes act. Corporation, someone or something has targeted a company and its employees
Why: Secret, the antagonist seeks forbidden or secret knowledge.
Where: Campus, in a dorm.
Complication: Madness Reigns, someone who experienced something terrible goes completely insane. They might tell the hero’s they’re a time traveler sent back to warn them of the upcoming Terminator invasion. Or they may claim the residents of Pinebox are aliens and the students are there for them to study. The worst part of the person’s condition is that they just might be right.
Putting this all together, I get the following adventure:
A local scientific research firm is working on a lucrative project a Sovereign Specific (cure all drug). The project lead, a woman named Michelle Grey, has a son (Malcolm Grey) who is attending school at ETU. A rival of Michelle’s at the company wants to her to fail to finish the project, and possibly steal the research to present as his own. What they don’t know is that this is two magic rituals that were found.
- A ritual for a single use talisman (potion)
- A ritual to cure diseases.
The rival, Steve Haus, has gained tenuous control over a night panther, and is using it to terrorize Malcolm thus providing a distraction to his mother. Unfortunately for Steve, the night panther is slowly breaking free and will kill Malcolm and Steve if it is not dealt with.
Now since I want to use the countdown mechanic to show the flow of events in the adventure, I will write it out like this:
|Day||Malcolm is startled as a large animal leaps from the bushes, knocking him over and then running away one night as he returns to the dorm.|
|Shadows||Malcolm spots the night panther in the bushes while on his way home and is chased by it into a building where he ends up spending the night before the creature disappears.|
|Dusk||The night panther attacks Malcolm, crippling his right leg and breaking his mind. He now believes that the stray cats on campus are disguised demons that are hunting him, and whenever they catch him alone, they will transform into a large monster and attack him.|
|Sunset||Steve contacts the characters about the presence of the night panther on campus, trying to recruit them to help him capture it. He feels guilty that it crippled Malcolm, but does not admit his involvement unless the heroes have proof.|
|Nightfall||Steve Haus is killed by the night panther as he tries to capture it to prevent it from doing anymore damage.|
|Midnight||Malcolm Grey is killed by the night panther outside his dorm as he returns home at night.|
You can now determine how you want to introduce the characters to this adventure, maybe Malcolm talks about seeing an abnormally large cat outside his dorm at night, and the story interests one or more of the characters. Or maybe it is something else.
Also note, that I added the complication that was generated in as part of the events for the Dusk stage, instead of having it be a preexisting condition for this scenario, either way would work, but this seemed like a good choice. And if the players decide to follow Malcolm, and manage to catch/kill the night panther before Dusk, then the story ends with Malcolm whole and sane, if they somehow work out that Steve is behind it all, and convince him to help them take care of the creature, we would skip directly to Nightfall, from which ever step they were on, and proceed from there.