The Gifted Saga: Playing the Game
Rodford Edmiston 730 Cline St. Frankfort, KY 40601-1034
The Gifted Saga is not a super hero game. It can be run as such, but there are plenty of role-playing games out there already for those who want to put on tights and fight crime. The Gifted Saga is designed to allow the Players and GM to play "What if?" with recent history and current events. While the basic scenario is pure wish fulfillment, it is suggested that the GM keep the adventures rooted in actual events and places.
Life isn't fair, but games should be. If you have several players with only two or three Powers of limited effectiveness, and one person who rolls six Powers which are all quite useful, adjust and adapt. If it is necessary for game balance to make an adjustment, you can penalize the lucky Player, give the others bonuses of some sort, allow the disadvantaged players to trade for different Powers, or a combination. Make this a cooperative effort, rather than an edict.
Don't just give underprivileged Players something for nothing; make them bargain for it. For instance, the GM can allow a player who wants an extra Power to choose one, but at the cost of taking a Disadvantage as well. This should also be chosen by the Player, as long as the GM agrees that the Disadvantage is large enough to offset the gain in ability. One popular tactic is for the Player to choose to have the Character stuck in an alternate form, or to have a standard alternate form which is distasteful, embarrassing or otherwise a hindrance.
Another possibility is to trade off flexibility for level of effectiveness, or vice-versa. Someone with Weather Control could take a reduction of range for an increase of damage done in an attack with this Power, or for adding types of weather phenomena which can be reproduced or controlled.
The Player can also change the definition of a Power. For instance, Machine Empathy could be redefined so that it worked as a mechanical version of Physical Domination (Possession). If the Player wants a Power to affect an area rather than a specific target, there are two ways to do this. The Power can be defined as including up to 1D6 + Skill Level targets each time it is used, with each target receiving a separate "To Hit" roll. With this option, the user may choose to attack fewer than the maximum number of targets. The trade-off is that there is a -10 percentage point penalty for each target, cumulative, including the first! (The justification is that since the Power normally affects several targets, it is difficult to focus on just one.)
Alternately, the Power may be defined as affecting a set area, the specific dimensions depending on the Power. A general guideline is a radius of Will in meters at a distance of Will X 10 in meters. The trade-off here is that everything inside that radius is affected, including the caster if he or she happens to be caught in the effect! Also, the Endurance cost must be paid for each target affected. The "To Hit" roll must still be made to center the effect where desired. As an option, the user may be immune to the effects of the Power, if that is reasonable.
To alter a Power which normally only affects the PC so that it will work on someone else, there are several suggested methods. The first is to limit the range to touch, and pay 1.5 times the Endurance for the other person. Other suggested penalties are:
Power only affects others; Power must be used on other first and maintained before PC can use it; Power may not be used by PC while other is using it; Power works at 1/2 effectiveness for others; Power works at 75% effectiveness for everyone, including PC.
To use such a Power at range involves similar but greater penalties. Range will generally be Will X 10 in meters, and the PC must roll to hit even a willing target.
Occasionally, the Player's random rolls will produce such travesties as "The Berserking, Leaping Revivificator," who goes berserk, leaps in and kills an opponent, then recovers sanity and brings him back to life! Or you might have "The Wheezing Speedster," the asthmatic with lots of extra Speed and Running who can just about keep up with an Olympic Marathoner. There are also the recursive Characters, such as the fellow with a Pet who has a Vehicle which has a Device, and all of them are sentient and all of them have Powers. While such Characters are good for a laugh, they would be out of place in most campaigns and should be quietly put aside for when you are all feeling that you have seen too much grim and gritty reality, and want to partake of a healthy dose of silliness.
BEGINNING THE GAME
Gifts tend to occur in clusters. Five people in one corner of a room may all receive Gifts, and no one else for kilometers in any direction. Make use of this to explain why the PCs all know each other. (Getting zapped during the Saturday night gaming session could lead to some interesting Powers.)
It is suggested that a Gifted Saga campaign begin at the beginning; that is, right at or shortly after the Gifting, which would be on or about the date the campaign begins in the real world. This allows the Characters to explore their Powers and how the Gifting has altered their world in a much more immediate setting, which provides a more personal impact. If the game is beginning at some time months or years after the Gifting then the GM will need to create an alternate history, creating changes from the real world based on the actions of the Players and the NPCs. This means that the GM needs to explain why the Player Characters are only just now using their Powers. The PCs could have been Gifted all along and only recently decided to actively use their abilities. Or, they might have been Gifted all along and not known it until recently (rare, and usually involves the "powers work only in alternate form" Disadvantage). There are also methods by which they may have just now received their Gifts, as described in the next paragraph.
After the initial Gifting, there are two sources of Gifts. One is Gifted who die, and whose Gift then goes on to another person, chosen at random. This would understandably be rare. A much more likely source is that the PC is the recipient of one of the "missing" Gifts. It was known within a couple of months after the Gifting that a large number of Gifts were unaccounted for. It later turned out that many of these were trapped in large, metal objects, such as bronze statues and steel girders. These can be released by destroying the object, or by submitting it to a powerful, oscillating electrical field. If this is done, the Gift(s) contained will fly away at random. This second process, coupled with special devices, can also be used to capture the released Gifts and channel them in a controlled fashion into selected targets.
One important note. A Disadvantage can be paid off with earned experience. It requires 20 points, and there is generally no result until the full amount is available. Don't tell the players this; let them discover it for themselves through investigation of how their Gifts work.
If the Player Characters decide to investigate the island in the Florida Keys where the strange flash was spotted, they will find it under military occupation by the US Government. The island is not on any charts, and none of the locals had ever seen it before it's strange appearance, even though it is near a major shipping channel. Moreover, the geology and biology of the island are very different from that of the other islands in the Florida Keys. Both are actually what would be found in the northern Mediterranean Sea, near Central Europe.
It is possible, if the players have been cooperating with the Feds and if they work through channels, that they will be allowed on the island. If so, they will be given a guided tour, and kept under strict supervision at all times. Sneaking onto the island is difficult, and they will almost certainly be spotted eventually, but it can be done.
However the PCs get there, the island is a strange place. There are several clusters of buildings, all damaged by the burst of energy which produced the crater. The structures appear to be military in nature, but they are empty of equipment and personnel. The government investigators on the scene will tell the PCs that this is how they found things.
One building stands apart from the others and looks different from them, a sort of tower on the highest point of the island. It is far enough from ground zero to have escaped serious damage, and from the outside seems to be intact. Inside the single room on the highest level there is a pedestal. The pedestal and the walls, floor and ceiling of the room are scorched, warped and distorted, as if washed by fire, yet there is no sign of soot or any kind of chemical stain, which you would get with most forms of combustion. Careful examination will reveal tiny shards of crystal scattered around the floor, in the cracks between stones. For those who can detect such, the island is saturated with magic. The strongest readings come from the center of the crater, but the second strongest source is the tower. The scorched room at the top reeks of it. The word "reeks" is used deliberately. At least some of the powerful wizardry performed in both locations involved necromancy, death magic. Human deaths.
PLOTS AND SCHEMES
Opening Gambit: The players hear of a private organization located north of Cincinnati, Ohio which is asking for Gifted volunteers for a research program. They will provide room and board, plus $100 per day for a minimum of two days. They promise total confidentiality and that the results will be used to help Gifted with problems.
Gremlin Invasion: One or more of the players who work in a building with large amounts of electronic and/or mechanical equipment find small, ugly critters at play. The creatures chew on wires and otherwise cause general havoc, some of it deliberate, some of it a side effect of their antics. Being very secretive, they are not discovered until spotted by accident. Investigation shows that these things are entering our world through a dimensional "hole" in the basement of a local library.
Gremlins: Strength: 5, Agility: 4, Intelligence: 5, Will: 5, Perception: 30, Fitness: 15; Speed: 40. They are around 55 cm tall, and mass about 13 kg. Powers: Enhanced Attack, Heightened Agility (+11), Invulnerability (+42, against Electricity only).
Shake, Rattle and Roll: An acquaintance of one of the players, who works in the state Geology Department, mentions the "strange fellow who wanted to know about the local fault." Two weeks later, a strong tremor occurs on this fault. Dr. Hugo Shockleigh and his robot creation, Heimie, are camped in the woods near the epicenter of the quake. Dr. Shock (as he is known among his colleagues) has planted a number of vibratory generators in a circular pattern around his camp, devices about one meter across and 1 1/2 high. He has already used these to create the small earthquake, which caused property damage in a nearby city. He plans to trigger a major quake in order to test his theories on deep plate structures. If informed of all the lives which will be lost, he will comment "I never allow sentiment to interfere with the quest for knowledge." Heimie is self-aware and sapient. He doesn't approve of his creator's actions, but cannot directly disobey him. If the PC give him a chance, he will help them indirectly. If he is ordered to attack by Dr. Shock, he will do so in a manner that make it obvious to the Players that his efforts are reluctant. Even so, he is quite formidable, and could easily disable or drive off an incautious or unlucky group.
The Tour: The player characters are offered a tour of the Center for Gifted Research. It is a modest, three story building on the northern outskirts of Cincinnati. There are several people staying there currently. This includes all the members of the actual troubleshooting team, as well as Body Stocking, Equus (Marian Holst), Casey and Dart.
The Center has excellent medical facilities, a wizard's laboratory, and the "Garden Express," a teleportation focus in the flower garden out back. This can be used to go to a site or return from it, if the proper code phrases are spoken. (Opens July 1, 1990.)
Recruiting Drive: A player character arrives at work late one morning, to find a co-worker standing in the lobby, tears streaming down his face, as he sings "Shortnin' Bread" loudly, over and over. Some effort is required to bring him out of the trance. A quick search of the building reveals: A secretary singing "Three Little Fishes," an administrator singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," and a technician rendering "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." All report that a well-dressed but very aggressive and insulting man was asking for the Player Character, by name. When the co-workers told the man that they didn't know where the PC was, the intruder mind controlled them to get the truth. Upon hearing that they truly didn't know, he punished them by commanding them to sing, then left. This is Mentallo. He has been sent by Salvor to try and recruit the PC for the Chosen (see Chosen below).
The Date: One of the Player Characters is confided to by a female co-worker. Her ex-husband is very jealous and has threatened to send someone to beat up her next date. Once before, he assaulted her date himself, but had the tables turned on him. The word now is that he has now hired a professional leg breaker to do the work.
Resources: Senator Harrison Balmier is sponsoring a bill which would declare all Gifted as National Resources. He is promoting the legislation by comparing it to Japan's tradition of naming individuals as National Treasures, but close reading of the bill reveals it to actually be a special, military-style draft. (September, 1990.)
The Brownian Tube: Gifted researcher accidentally creates device which punches a hole in the atmosphere with a high- velocity stream of energetic particles extracted from the air.
"You don't understand!" he screams. "I've unleashed Maxwell's Demon!"
The Fire Giant: Psychologist establishes US government-backed project to understand the Gift. Not accepting the explanations given by Gifted researchers, he feels that the entire phenomenon is due to humanity's collective unconscious wanting heroes. Under his direction, a device is built which will supposedly allow him to tap into and direct this group subconscious. Instead, he collects and liberates dozens of Gifts, creating a self- sustaining, mindless creature which goes on a destructive rampage. It melts a swath across the Appalachians, from the project site in southwestern Virginia to southeastern Kentucky. The thing can be disrupted, but it then reforms. The only known way to make the disruption permanent is to use an attack as intense as a 20-kiloton nuclear warhead. It can be contained, but only for a short while. (See the suggested timeline below for the "official" solution.)
Gift Rap is a newsletter published by Norton Hughes, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. No one knows if he is Gifted or not, as he refuses to discuss his personal life. He communicates by letter, BBS, fax and phone. Gift Rap appears irregularly, averaging six issues per year. Norton is always soliciting stories from and about the Gifted. Below are some examples of articles which are printed in the newsletter.
Reports have surfaced of a quintet of gifted who were kidnapped by organized crime, with the intention of forcing them into criminal service. They rebelled and escaped, but two were killed in the process. One got better. The other stayed dead. At apparently the same moment of this individual's death, a female high school student in Wyoming burst into heatless blue flames. Speculation is running rampant.
Gift Rap has begun taking advertisements. One of the first is an offer to provide fake ID. Prices range from $10 for a driver's license, to $500 for a passport.
The results of the first survey of Gifted has been printed. No trends in IQ, income, race, social background, hobbies or anything other than geography can be found. Special thanks is given to Charles Fisher for providing data and a map on Gift distribution.
There are rumors that the Soviet Union is forming a special Gifted branch of its military. This is generally discounted, since the Soviets have so few Gifted. However, it may be that they are using Gifted as espionage operatives. (This scenario occurs before the breakup of the Soviet Union. If your campaign is set after this, substitute another country.)
After much urging, the US government has allowed experts from other countries to study the paramilitary base in the Florida Keys. The Press is still denied access.
The word on the grapevine has it that the Chosen are up to something besides their publicly proclaimed goal to lead the world into a Gifted-governed, Utopian future, but no one seems to know exactly what.
Three Gifted bank robbers have been caught after a spree that netted over four million dollars, the money having been taken from eight different banks. No bystanders were hurt in the robberies, and no police or bank guards were seriously injured. The robbers and the press are treating the escapades as Robin Hood-style larks, rather than as serious crimes.
A new publication, calling itself "Rap Sheet," has begun circulating. It claims to be an alternative to Gift Rap, but the word is out that the newsletter is being published by a US government organization as a way to gain inside information on Gifted.
A SUGGESTED TIMELINE
Note: This is background information for the GM, and should not be revealed to the Players unless they discover it as part of the play of the game.
August 12, 1498: Wizards Enclave founded.
April 10, 1990, 5:28 PM, EST: The Gifting occurs.
May 3: First reports of a Gifted mass murderer and thief in Central Kentucky surface. No one knows who this is, and efforts to stop him or her are fruitless, since "The Monster," as the press has dubbed the Character, follows no apparent plan.
May 20: Donald Criswold advertises for Gifted volunteers to study, in an attempt to discover the source and nature of the Gifts. He will provide room and board, plus payment, to all subjects. The project is located in Criswold's country mansion, thirty kilometers north of Cincinnati. He is trying to buy a larger building, something more appropriate to his self-appointed task. Criswold, owner of Advanced Aviation, is a notorious eccentric and Korean War ace, who loves flying. He is rumored to have bought a B-58 Hustler on the pretense of using it as a research craft, only to convert it into a business jet.
June 3: The Church of the Chosen opens, headed by a man known only as Salvor. He claims that Gifted are intended by God to lead humanity to a golden age. His announced goal is to legally take over the world and lead it into a golden age. June 13: An invasion of Gremlins at the University of Kentucky causes extensive damage. This invasion is successfully fought off by several Gifted.
June 15: Someone, presumably Gifted, erases the Internal Revenue Service's records in their main office. Fortunately, the backup records in other locations are not affected.
June 28: A Gifted teenage boy who cannot endure his monstrously altered form tries to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of a tall building. Witnesses say that his crumpled, apparently lifeless body shimmered, then changed back to it's original, pre-Gift appearance. The young man shortly awoke, completely healed. He later discovered that he was still Gifted, and had a new set of powers.
July 12: After learning of Criswold's efforts, several Gifted
volunteer not only for the tests, but to help with the research. Included are Pietr Sansavos (better known as San Savant), and Ed Wilson (who has chosen the name Adamant, the Indestructible Man).
July 29: The Center for Gifted Research opens permanently in its new facilities in northern Cincinnati.
August 2: Iraqi troops invade Kuwait.
September 28 & 29: A special conference is held at the Center for Gifted Research. (See the story "Hot Time" for details.) At the conference the Gifted man known as Reach tells anyone who will listen about how great the Church of the Chosen is. October 8: One or more of the PCs receive a thick manila envelope from Reach, containing material on the Church of the Chosen.
October 11: The home(s) of those who received this material are searched while the occupants are away. No one in the neighborhood sees anything. A check will show that Reach has been missing for two days.
(GM: What has happened is that Reach was spotted by one of von Druben's men and is suspected of mailing revealing information about the inner group to someone. By spell, the locations of those receiving the COTC material are determined and a search team sent to each to retrieve the material. If nothing incriminating is found, the search team will assume that it has been hidden and begin kidnapping people to interrogate them. They will be taken to where Reach is held, an empty warehouse along the Cincinnati waterfront.)
January 17, 1991: First confirmed use of Gifted in battle, during the Gulf War.
On June 5, 1991, Fergis De Joffry, better known as von Druben, makes his move to take control of the Gifted Earth. (See the adventure "The Coup," available as a separate module.)
July 4, 1991: Those Who Stand Above, at the request of Yehudi, overrule the Council, granting the Gifted more time for their preparations.
February 12, 1992: Half the known Gifted have by this time left Earth, either traveling into space or to alternate Earths. This exodus is aided greatly by Jonathan Egger's invention of a spell which makes travel across great distances - either spacial or dimensional - much quicker.
June 22, 1998: The Fire Giant is created, and causes great destruction through large tracts of the Appalachians. Unable to defeat it or contain it for more than a few hours, a coalition of Gifted cooperates in a spell that jumps it forward in time.
* * *
First Nuclear Power Plant Technician: The controls are jammed! Someone will have to insert the damper rods by hand!
Second Nuclear Power Plant Technician: That's a suicide mission!
Adamant, the Indestructible Man: Why's everyone looking at me?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GIFT
Note: GMs, do not reveal this information to the Players, unless the earn the knowledge. Don't even hint at it if they make no effort to uncover the secret behind the Gifts.
In AD 1522, a group of would-be wizards, sorcerers and magicians from all over the Old World created a settlement in an isolated mountain valley in central Europe. This village was mentioned briefly in the very rare fourth volume of Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim's "The Philosophy of Natural Magic." At this time, there was very little magic in the world, and it was extremely difficult to use. The members of the group were determined to learn why, and what they could do about it.
As any alchemist could have told them, the secret of magic and the secret of longevity were related. After several decades of work, the inhabitants of the village (in most cases by this time, the descendants of the founders) learned that to work magic, you must take magic into yourself and make it a part of you. Once they learned how to perform this feat, the first, simple Gifts were created.
The generation which possessed this early Gift lived to an average age of over 90. Though they aged normally, they were vital and healthy until the very end of their lives. Their major contribution was an improved form of Gift, which they passed on to their children. This second generation lived, on average, to be 150 years old, and only looked elderly in their last decade or so of life. Again, improvements were made, so that the third generation was ageless, and nearly immune to disease and injury. The fourth, and last, generation was nearly immortal, living until killed, which took some doing.
With each improvement of the Gifts, the inhabitants' command of magic and life span both increased. They had cast isolation and concealment their spells over their valley for centuries, until it had literally disappeared from the maps. Neither did the effects of their magic extend outside the valley walls. This was both deliberate and desirable; as part of their discoveries, the wizards had learned that magic breeds magic. If they lowered their barriers, the forces they worked with would gradually extend to the outside world, which was not prepared to deal with them. Evidence was discovered that the secret of magic had been discovered before, several times in history and prehistory.
In each case, a lack of precautions had resulted in uncontrolled use of magic, which had in turn led to disasters as the magic grew until it was beyond control. Legends of great destruction from various religions may have been inspired by such events.
The world did not know of the valley's existence, but the inhabitants were not unaware of the outside. Every few years, emissaries were sent forth, to learn what was happening. One of these was Pietr Sansavos, one of the oldest members of the fourth generation.
Pietr attended college in the United States in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, returning home just as the Great War was beginning. Due to the inability of most Americans to pronounce his name, Pietr had accepted the nickname San Savant, a joke he continued on each of his subsequent excursions.
Although life in the valley was idyllic, and nearly Utopian, there was disagreement over what the inhabitants should do with their powers. Some members of the community felt it was their obligation to teach the rest of humanity the secret of magic. Others felt that they should guide the world surreptitiously, until it was ready to accept the benefits which magic could bring. Still others, very few in number, felt that no one outside the valley deserved any help from those within. One man, Germain de Joffry, quietly decided that it was his people's destiny to rule as gods.
Working in secret with a handful of followers, this individual set a trap for all those who might oppose him. The trap was sprung, placing most of the valley's community in stasis. Germain planned to use his and his cohorts' magic, plus a carefully gathered army of mercenaries, to conquer the world. He would then release his fellows a few at a time, presenting them with a finished work. Those who would not join him would be forced into exile on other plains.
The United States, as the most powerful nation on Earth, would be the first to fall. A base was constructed under concealment spells and transported to a location in the Florida Keys. The mercenaries, most of them under mind control spells, were gathered, equipped and trained. Only time stood between Germain and completion of his plans. Or so he thought.
A few of the villagers managed to evade Germain's trap. One of them, with help from a mortal, engaged in a desperate ploy to defeat Germain, accidentally killing him in the process. His death was not only unfortunate, it was a tragedy to the valley's imprisoned inhabitants. To deter anyone from attempting to release the wizards, Germain had placed a very powerful spell on the stasis sphere which held them. If the stasis were broken with Germain more than a few kilometers away, the trap would release enough energy to destroy those it contained.
The liberators had no choice; there was no way to disarm the trap without Germain, and he was dead. They broke the stasis, and in the few seconds before the trap was triggered, managed to warn a few of the occupants to escape. The rest, some 4328, were killed, their Gifts flying away to seek new hosts.
The resultant Gifting was studied intensely by the survivors of Germain's plot. An interesting factor was that the Gifts were stronger in their new hosts. Perhaps this was because the villagers had developed a dependence on the Gifts, or perhaps the Gifts somehow added their original owner's life force to that of the new host. Some believed that because the Gifts were focused on granting the new owner's heart's desire, instead of helping work general magic, that specialization was what made them stronger. Whatever the reason, finding out why was only part of the work the wizards had ahead of them.
Note: While the new Gifted are stronger in the specific areas of their powers, the previous Gifted (the wizards) are much more experienced and knowledgeable in the ways of magic. They are also much better at the all-around use of magical abilities.
A Gifted Saga campaign set anywhere in the southeastern United States may use the island in the Florida Keys as the site of the base, adjusting the skip distance and width of the distribution band as necessary. Campaigns located in other areas of the country will probably have to relocate the base.
Here are brief descriptions of the primary Gifted-related organizations involved in the Saga. Most of the characters mentioned will be defined in the section of example characters.
The Chosen: Led by a man known only as Salvor, members of this organization claim (and many honestly believe) that the Gifted have been chosen by God to lead humanity. Their activities are often outrageous, but rarely illegal, and they do much good work, especially on behalf of the Gifted. The stated goal of the group is a legal takeover of each country on Earth, to create a unified world government that has both great power and allows great freedom. What not even Salvor knows is that he is a dupe, a puppet of Fergis de Joffry, son of Germain. Fergis, using the name von Druben, has mind-controlled Salvor into creating a secret group of battle-ready Gifted. He plans to continue his father's aborted effort to rule the world, getting revenge on those who killed Germain in the process. Members: Salvor (Leader), Mentallo (Recruiter), Mind Mistress (Recruiter), Von Druben (see above), Cat (Warrior), Tempest (Combat Support). [Plus nearly thirty other Gifted and several hundred normals, who are all regular members and have no knowledge of von Druben or his secret plans.]
The Elitists: This is a group of Gifted who have come together to gain economic and political power. They have little regard for the law or for anyone but themselves. On the other hand, they have no objection to making a legal buck, as long as there is little work involved. Members: Phase (Leader), Variant (Lieutenant/Warrior), Wedge (Lieutenant/Warrior), Gort (Muscle), Kong (Muscle), Shrike (Long Range Support).
Study Group For Paranormal Occurrences: This is a US government group founded in the early seventies for the purpose of learning the truth about various claims of the paranormal. After nearly two decades, they finally have something they can't explain away, and aren't sure what to do about the situation.
All original materials in this document are Copyright 1995 Rodford Edmiston Smith