Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Terror by Night

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

Unlike Into the Sub-Realm, which was a standard if perhaps overly difficult superhero adventure, Terror by Night doesn’t have the fate of the world, the city or even large amounts of money at stake. There are no brightly-garbed thugs with inhuman powers just waiting for superheroes to show up so they can start flinging sarcastic quips around. What it does have is a circus. And a vampire.

Edward Cullen wasn’t the first vamp to be shaken out of the tedium of ages by love for a mortal woman. Victor von Heinrich has had his passions stirred by a beautiful NPC in your campaign city, but being a practical lord of the night he wants to study other features of the modern world that popped up while he was sleeping for centuries. Like superheroes. So disguised as an eccentric millionaire he buys a circus and brings it to town, planning to earn the beauty’s love and in the process test the mettle of today's champions.

Terror by Night's an excellent break for groups tired of saving the world all the time. If your players fall back on their instincts and march into the circus spoiling for a fight when they start to suspect something’s up, Victor won’t reveal his vampiric powers and attack. He’ll call up the best lawyers money can buy and slap your players with as much litigation as he can manage. They may never even realize they’re up against an honest-to-goodness vampire, or that the woman doesn’t need saving. At least not from Victor.

Which isn’t to say there’s no action at all in this adventure. After sizing up the PCs through several non-combative encounters meant to make them suspicious, Victor will try to lure them into his funhouse where he’ll reveal the animatronic monsters have some surprises that are a threat even to superheroes. They’re pretty tough, too, but not ridiculous tough like some of the villains in Into the Sub-Realm. The GM’s even encouraged to make this fun rather than frustrating. Like sending someone well-suited to fighting in water against the Creature from the Black Lagoon, for example.

The module even has a dash of humor: one encounter is on the shoot of a remake of Plan 9 From Outer Space, perennial favorite for Worst Movie Ever Made. Involving whatever big-name actors the GM feels like including, yet.

If the module has a downside, it’s that the final act splits the players into ones and twos, which can be boring to the players not involved in the scene currently being played out. With the right pacing and some evocative narration (which the GM will have to come up with himself), however, even the observers can probably get into the creepy goings-on. As it is, it's an appropriate enough climax, but has to be handled carefully.

Besides having a villain who’s not really evil and more interested in toying with superheroes than getting them out of the way of his grand scheme, Terror by Night has something else V&V adventures almost never did: sequel hooks. To say Victor von Heinrich is a rarity among superhero RPG villains is an understatement, and the encouragement to get more use out of him was more than welcome.

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