"Oh cool... So you're STILL working on this?" -- A guy at GenCon

"If I see Drah-koo-lah, I will. kick. him. in. the eye!!!" -- My 4 (almost 5) year old daughter. She GETS it!

"Meatpie Forever!" -- A playtester at GenCon 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tales from the Tomb: What's The Point?

Oftentimes, someone asks me a variation of the following question:

It sounds like Ravenloft. What's the point? Why not just play Ravenloft?
Once I regain control of my beserker rage, I try my best to illustrate how Transylvanian Adventures is so fundamentally different from every other attempt at a horror RPG I've ever seen. But I always fall a little short.

Every other attempt at a horror-themed roleplaying game follows this kind of approach...

  • Something weird happens
  • You freak out and lose some important bits that means you'll...
  • Freak out more!
  • And then you die...
But despite all best intentions, a competent Judge/GM and the most efficient, tight and infinitely enforceable testicle-vice mechanics, 80% or more of all horror roleplaying games play out like this...

  • Something weird happens
  • You freak out and lose some important bits that means you'll...
  • Go find a shotgun!
  • And then shoot it until it dies...
Transylvanian Adventures follows the examples of video games like Castlevania and the original Castle Ravenloft adventure. And who better than the playtesters to illustrate what a game of Transylvanian Adventures is and can be. 

Here are a few of their exploits...
  • One character, having fired his musket into the eye of a Zombie Velociraptor in a lost world in the Carpathian Mountains, planted his musket in the ground and performed a series of running kicks against the other two Zombie Velociraptors trying to attack him.
  • One character saw a giant spider dragging a woman out of her home. He got a running start, slid up under the spider's legs and discharged two flintlocks into its torso. Killing it before it even realized the characters were there. He was covered in spider guts. But he was a Bad A.
  • One character had drawn a crossbow. But then a zombie jumped on his back. Just as the zombie was about to sink its plague-infested teeth into the character, the character shoves the shooty end of the crossbow in its mouth and blows its head off. The player rolled a "20" on the attack roll. Nuff said.
  • One character stabbed a vampire in the head with a silver dagger. The vampire then threw the character to the ground and pinned him. Unable to use his arms, the character head-butted the dagger further into the vampire's skull -- ultimately killing the vampire.
  • One character was pinned beneath a female vampire. The vampire was about to rip his throat out with her fangs. Another character rushed to his aid and beat the female vampire with a torch, inadvertently setting his comrade on fire and killing him in the process. (One of the only fatalities I've had in a game of TATG in almost two years of playtesting).
One playtester summed it up like this: "It's like you're just barely getting out of there. But somehow you pull through. And then you do it again. And the whole time you're just thinking that ohmigod this is the time I'm going to die. I can't possibly survive this."

That's pretty much how it plays out. To capture the feeling of Transylvanian Adventures with another horror RPG, you'd have to dress all in black and play it by candlelight in the middle of a busy freeway.

The characters in Transylvanian Adventures are not super-heroes. They're mostly average joes who, even at the vaunted 11th level, probably couldn't tie the shoes of a 6th level DCC RPG Wizard or Warrior. But what I've found is that these Average Joes (and Janes) are awfully heroic (in deeds not on paper) and they legitimately kick-ass.

Not because they have a 20 Strength. Or because they have a Draconic Vorpal Blade +80 with 670 Fireball spell charges built in.

TATG characters kick-ass because it's the only option they have. Like that character above whose arms were pinned. Had he not head-butted that dagger, he would be dead. But it wasn't some mechanical mumbo-jumbo that made him head-butt the dagger. It was his desire to live. And even the guy with the torch. He was trying to save his friend so he beat the vampire with the only weapon he had on hand.

And it was all extremely kick-ass. Even the guy whose character burned to death gave it the verdict of "awesome".

THAT'S why Transylvanian Adventures is different. That's why it isn't the same as [insert scary game that came before here]. It is a game that puts characters in an impossible situation, like most horror RPGs. But instead of watching the characters flounder and drown in the bodily fluids of their own weakening mental faculties and meagre incompetence, Transylvanian Adventures sits back and revels in the characters beating the unholy feces out of everything in sight.

As another playtester noted recently, "I really like this game because something really crazy and awesome always happens."

I hope that clarifies things.

More playtest anecdotes to come...


  1. Hey there, just wanted to let you know we ran Winter House last night, was fucking awesome. We house ruled a couple things, but more or less kept everything the same. Before the vamps on 3rd floor spoke, one of them had a hole blown through her stomach. After that was over, we burned the house down and essentially told the spider to fuck itself, with several 20s and a reaver.

    1. Sounds like a great time. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    2. We all really did. Probably will be a regular setting for us. Thanks man!

  2. Here's one more point for you: because your game is fun and awesome. I really enjoyed reading the Free RPG adventure and look forward to playing more.


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