The Haunted Mansion Savage Experience – Intriguing GMing Tips Gleaned From A Con, Part 3
The third game I played at the recent IntrigueCon was the scariest.
Haunted Mansion was a homebrew one-shot using the Savage Worlds (aff.) rules. It was Scooby Doo meets Stranger Things.
A business magnate mysteriously disappeared. The local high school kids decided to host their Halloween party in the magnate’s decrepit mansion rumoured to be haunted.
I played The Jock. Nathan played the Nerdy Girl. Brittney played the Emo Witch. Dustin was the awesome GM with the cool scary faces and sound effects.
Quick Savage Worlds Overview
Savage Worlds is a fast and light system. Probably the easiest to start playing of the games I tried at the con. You spend “Bennies” to help you tweak gameplay with re-rolls, soaking up hits, and other special effects. In this game we earned Bennies by roleplaying any classic scary movie tropes or by gaming out good/evil acts.
A simple set of stats and skills plus dice rolls resolved actions. Die type (d4, d6, d8, etc.) rolled is based on your ability or skill level.
Rolls explode, meaning if you roll the highest number on any die you roll again and add the result. Keep rolling and adding if the highest number keeps turning up.
In addition, you’d often roll your ability/skill die and a d6 and take the highest result (after explosions). This created an interesting dynamic, especially with d4 rolls. The d4 represents poor ability, but it explodes most often, making it worth using your character’s weaknesses.
The GM also has a pool of Bennies. There’s a mechanic I did not quite grok where the Bennies we spend become a pool the GM can spend to put up obstacles or complications. The GM also started the adventure with a small stack of Evil Bennies.
Demon Dogs Climb Tower Walls
We started out with the three of us exploring the mansion. I was looking for munchies. The nerdy girl was curious about what she’d read in the newspaper and was nosing around. And the witch wanted to find the tower where legends say the magnate’s daughter was held like a prisoner.
We bumped into each other and then the Haunted Mansion started pouring the weird on us like syrup on goblin cakes. So we became a team.
We eventually found the daughter’s tower. We spotted demon dogs outside. They started climbing the walls and attacking us. We fled, blocked the door, and ran straight into a haunted painting of The Captain.
The Witch was making friends with The Captain, but The Jock was freaking out and shredded the painting with a fire poker. That’s when the Haunted Mansion became our enemy.
We explored upstairs and encountered ghouls, which were family members transformed into demons looking to rip our throats out. We could hear the party downstairs suddenly stop, and our classmates started screaming. The Jock sort of, um, convinced the ghouls there were easier pickings downstairs. No witches or dudes with fire pokers. Whoops.
While fending off more ghouls and other dangers, we explored the Haunted Mansion and gathered enough clues to figure out what had happened to the Magnate and his poor family.
So we headed to the basement. Of course. There we encountered more insane undead family members, mansion staff on meat hooks, and other terrible, terrible things.
We’re just high school kids. So our sanity was starting to dip.
We eventually figured out how to undo the failed ritual the son performed that caused the afterlife to pour into the Mansion and take everyone’s souls.
In a final, harrowing battle against a horde of ghouls attempting to pour through a rift from the Abyss like the aforementioned goblin cake syrup, the Witch managed to close the gate while Jock and Geek fended off ghouls attempting to disrupt the Witch’s counter-ritual.
The magnate was finally at peace. His evil family members responsible for the failed ritual dead or punished. The others rescued or laid to rest.
It was a fantastic finale and a great adventure.
Watch The Clock
This game more than any of the others had a rushed ending due to time limits. This taught me the importance of time management. The slow parts in the middle could have been sped up to give more time for the epic end run.
This is important for home campaigns too. If you can end each session on a high note, you create great momentum and positive energy for your next game.
If your session ends in boring fashion, with confusion of next action or purpose, or bickering, your next game will have to repair or recover from that.
So keep a clock handy.
Decide in advance how much time various encounters or situations are worth. Even ones that emerge during gameplay and weren’t planned.
Is this chat with the guard worth 15 minutes, 60, 120? How about the encounter with the lizard chief or the front doors? Just get a sense of game import vs. time budget.
Then try to pace things for exciting session-enders that have enough time to build into a wonderful resolution moment or cliffhanger.
Thanks for making Haunted Mansion a blast Nathan, Britt, and Dustin!
This wraps up my gameplay reports from IntrigueCon. I still have some lessons learned I’d like to pass along in a future next Musing. So chat with you again soon.