Fragile is a Spycraft 2.0 survival horror game in which members of the select Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's SWAT unit are sent out on a high risk warrant call and come face-to-face with something they could never have expected. The emphasis will be on tactical action, physical horror, and psychological dread. The PCs will be members of the SWAT unit, other emergency responders, or even civilians caught up in the event. Survival will be the ultimate goal, but it may come at a terrible price.
The game will be set in and around Nevada in the Summer of 2008. Aside from the specific threat that the PCs will encounter, the world will be a close approximation of our real one, and be fairly realistic in tone up to a point.
Origins can be taken from the core rulebook and the World on Fire sourcebook, with some possible exceptions if I feel the Talent or Specialty is inappropriate. PCs can take levels in the following basic classes, from the core book and World on Fire:
Explorer, Intruder, Martial Artist, Pointman, Scout, Sleuth, Soldier
As 7th or higher level characters, PCs may also take levels in the following expert classes, from the core book and World on Fire:
Brawler, Counter-Terrorist, Edgemaster, Grunt, Guide, Medic, Sniper, Tactician
I can make exceptions for the basic and expert classes if I feel the concept merits it, but this should give you some idea of what I'm looking for in terms of team roles.
I should note here that, given the themes of the game, PC mortality rates may be a bit higher than you're used to. Its recommended that everybody have a concept in mind for a backup character who can be introduced if your own PC succumbs to the horror. This is the kind of story where luck can be as much of a factor as skill, and there is no clear candidate for survival at the outset. It is also entirely possible that NOBODY will survive, though I'd try to make it a satisfying if not happy ending.
As per usual in my Play-By-Post games, I really prefer to have players post fleshed-out concepts before we even begin to talk about statistics or sheets. It doesn't need to be a novella, but do try to give some sense of who your PC is as a person in addition to whatever tactical role they might have to play. The psychological aspect of these people will receive particular emphasis given their situation.
As this is a horror game with a lot of action and mayhem, I've decided to go with the following Campaign Qualities:
Bleak (+75 XP) PCs begin with 2 fewer action dice per session and their action dice never explode
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am-I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: Last word.
Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but...you have my sympathies.
- Alien (1979)
Bloodbath (+0) Threats are automatically activated as critical hits by PCs and special NPCs
Hicks: Remember: short, controlled bursts.
- Aliens (1986)
Fast Growth (+0 XP) XP required to gain a level is 1/2 normal
Chris Redfield: There are only three S.T.A.R.S. members left now. Captain Wesker, Jill and myself. We don't know where Barry is.
- Biohazard, AKA Resident Evil (1996)
Fragile (+0 XP) After Level 1, PCs gain only 2 vp per career level (d8 vitality die), 3 vp per career level (d10 vitality die), or 4 vp per career level (d12 vitality die)
Sheriff McClelland: Good shot! OK, he's dead; let's go get 'im. That's another one for the fire.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Fragile Minds (+25 XP) A campaign with this quality features horror lurking around every corner, testing the boundaries of human sanity. The campaign uses this product’s expanded stress damage rules.
Dr. Blair: You guys think I'm crazy! Well, that's fine! Most of you don't know what's going on around here, but I'm damn well sure some of you do! You think that thing wanted to be an animal? No dogs make it a thousand miles through the cold! No, you don't understand! That thing wanted to be us!
- The Thing (1982)
Gritty (+100 XP) The cost to activate a critical injury inflicted on a player or special character decreases by 1 action die (minimum 0). Further, the range of damage at which a Fortitude save must be made to avoid a critical injury becomes 16-25, and the threshold at which a Fortitude save must be made to avoid dropping to -9 wound points become 26+. Finally, the DCs of all Medicine checks increase by 5, and the error ranges of all such checks increase by 2.
Beth: I'm an English teacher, not fucking Tomb Raider.
- The Descent (2005)
Hard-Boiled Investigators (–25 XP) In a campaign featuring this quality, characters quickly become accustomed to cinematic terror. Once a character makes a successful Will save against a horrifying event, he need never make another Will save against the same event; he is simply immune to witnessing that event again.
Hicks: We're all in strung out shape, but stay frosty and alert. We can't afford to let one of those bastards in here.
- Aliens (1986)
Hybrid (+0 XP) PCs can be Faction or Freelance
Dr. Millard Rausch: This isn't the Republicans versus the Democrats, where we're in a hole economically or... or we're in another war. This is more crucial than that. This is down to the line, folks, this is down to the line. There can be no more divisions among the living!
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Shoe String Budget (+0 XP) The Caliber of available gear selections is reduced by 1; if this reduces the Caliber to 0, the PC or NPC loses that pick
Spence: Please, I wouldn't wanna shoot you. I might need the bullets. Back off!
- Resident Evil (2002)
Violent (+50 XP) Threat ranges of any attack check increase by 2
Sergeant Harry Wells: We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch.
- Dog Soldiers (2002)
I have also chosen to adopt the Stockpile System, introduced in The Big Score PDF supplement. The revised Possessions chart, already adjusted for Shoe String Budget, is presented here:
Possessions 1: 1/I
Possessions 2: 1/I
Possessions 3: 2/I
Possessions 4: 2/I
Possessions 5: 2/I, 1/II
Possessions 6: 3/I, 1/II
Possessions 7: 3/I, 2/II
Possessions 8: 4/I, 2/II
Possessions 9: 4/I, 3/II
Possessions 10: 5/I, 3/II
Possessions 11: 5/I, 3/II, 1/III
Possessions 12: 5/I, 4/II, 1/III
Possessions 13: 6/I, 4/II, 1/III
Possessions 14: 6/I, 4/II, 2/III
Possessions 15: 6/I, 5/II, 2/III
Possessions 16: 6/I, 5/II, 3/III
Possessions 17: 6/I, 6/II, 3/III
Possessions 18: 6/I, 6/II, 3III, 1/IV
Detective Jared Mendoza, killed after a fall that ended with him hitting his head on a rock
Sergeant Tom Bowen, killed by having his throat cut, his head beaten against stone, and his face shot at point blank range by his own weapon
Detective Roger Grimes, transformed into an Other, shot to death by Officer Brad Rivers
Officer Brad Rivers, killed by a bite from a massive Other
Officer Tony Tanaka, killed by impalement from a massive Other
Officer Jim Russell, killed by a massive Other
Officer Jeff Davies, killed by a massive Other
FRAGILE: Backlash of Iniquity
by Silent Wayfarer
Grimes waited. The lights above him blinked and sparked out of the air. There were demons in the house. He didn't see them, but had expected them now for years. His warnings to Big Dog were not listenend to and now it was too late. Far too late for now, anyway.
Brad was a homieside detectif for fourteen years.
When he was young he watched the tv and he said to dad "I want to be a cop daddy."
Dad said "No! You will BE KILL BY DEMONS"
There was a time when he believed him. Then as he got oldered he stopped. But now in the tunnels under the house he knew there were demons.
"This is Big Dog" the radio crackered. "You must fight the demons!"
So Brad gotted his revolver and blew up the wall.
"HE GOING TO KILL US" said the demons
"I will stab at him" said the demon woman and she swung the knife. Grimes shotted at her and tried to blew her up. But then the ceiling fell and they were trapped and not able to kill.
"No! I must kill the demons" he shouted
The radio said "No, Grimes. You are the demons"
And then Grimes was a monster.
Here's the iTunes playlist I made for when I need inspiration for this game. Think of it as the official non-existent movie soundtrack:
1. Opening - The Descent (Original Movie Soundtrack) - David Julyan
2. Main Title (From "Assault On Precinct 13") - The Essential John Carpenter Film Music Collection - John Carpenter
3. Shape - The Thing (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Ennio Morricone
4. Entrada & Shootout - Heat (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Elliot Goldenthal
5. Asylum - Sling Blade (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Daniel Lanois
6. Dark Discovery - Aliens (Original Movie Soundtrack) - James Horner
7. The Bone Dam - The Descent (Original Movie Soundtrack) - David Julyan
8. Scuds - Jarhead (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Thomas Newman
9. Cardinal Sin - Sin City (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Graeme Revell & Robert Rodriguez
10. Contamination - The Thing (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Ennio Morricone
11. The Crawlers Attack - The Descent (Original Movie Soundtrack) - David Julyan
12. Clean's Death - Apocalypse Now (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Carmine Coppola
13. F.B.I. - Smokin' Aces (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Clint Mansell
14. Cannibal Song - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste - Ministry
15. Ensurance Trap - Donnie Darko (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Michael Andrews
16. Nash - I Like to Score - Moby
17. Hickey's Back - Last Man Standing (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Ry Cooder
18. Diner - Mulholland Drive (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Angelo Badalamenti
19. Humanity (Part II) - The Thing (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Ennio Morricone
20. Chef's Head - Apocalypse Now (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Carmine Coppola
21. Ace of Spades - Smokin' Aces (Original Movie Soundtrack) - Motorhead
22. Going After Newt - Aliens (Original Movie Soundtrack) - James Horner
23. The Descent - The Descent (Original Movie Soundtrack) - David Julyan
24. You And Whose Army? - Amnesiac - Radiohead
Sources of Inspiration
Fragile pays homage to a number of books, films, and video games:
28 Days Later (Movie): Danny Boyle's re-invention of the zombie movie is a great addition to the genre while also being its own, peculiar creature. I know some people don't like the way it shifts gears in the last half, but I think its good to break from the formula and take that side trip. I also like the fact that the Rage-infected "zombies" are that much scarier due to their speed and viciousness.
28 Weeks Later (Movie): A very different kind of sequel to 28 Days Later which takes the premise and refocuses it. Its more overtly geared for action-horror than the first film, and its particularly brutal in depicting the effects of the virus. I'm not sure that the coda adds anything to what had come before, but its certainly something that invites speculation for a sequel.
Aliens (Movie): I think Alien might be a superior film artistically, but for pure entertainment value, you can't do much better than this roller coaster ride of a sequel. It takes the universe presented in the first film and expands on it in ways that seem natural and only build on rather than detract from the premise. The characters are great, the pacing is terrific, and it has an emotional core that's particularly evident in the Special Edition. Probably the ideal model of a survival horror movie.
Alone in the Dark (Video Game): The original PC game was the prototype for most of the survival horror genre games that followed (spooky haunted house, roaming monsters, deathtraps...sound like anything you know, Capcom?), and I suspect that the newer console-based game will be quite good, too. While most video games feature protagonists who can easily slay their numerous opponents, this game gave us fewer but more dangerous opponents, less weapons, and a protagonist who had to think as much as shoot. Whatever you do, though, don't rent the apparently horrible Uwe Boll movie, which has little if anything to do with the games. EDIT: After reading some game site reviews, it appears that the console game is really, really bad. A shame.
Black Hawk Down (Book, Movie): The real world incident in Somalia, 1993, features a very survival horror-esque premise; a group of well-trained and determined men surrounded by a horde of people who are trying their best to kill them. The book is much more balanced in its portrayal of the Somalis and their rationale for their actions, but the movie does a good job of conveying the mayhem of modern urban warfare. You also see examples of how people and organizations can either rise to the challenge or completely collapse under the strain.
Condemned: Bloodshot (Video Game): A first person video game that blends the serial killer thriller with close combat violence and even a bit of the supernatural. Its got an aesthetic of "destroyed beauty" borrowed from David Fincher, director of Alien 3 and Se7en, and the tone is pretty damn bleak. The violence is particularly notable for its creative use of improvised weapons and for its sheer ugliness.
Dawn of the Dead (Movies): I like the George Romero one better than the remake, but both of these entries in the zombie horror genre are great examples of survival horror. Once more, you have a band of survivors struggling to stay alive as the walking dead threaten their only refuge. The first film also adds in quite a bit of social commentary and satire of consumer culture, but it also works purely as a scary and exciting movie. Particularly relevant to Fragile is its use of SWAT police officers.
The Descent (Movie): Not to be confused with The Cave, this horror film follows a group of adventurous women as they go on a spelunking expedition that goes terribly, terribly wrong. The monsters of the film don't really show up until late in the film, and a considerable amount of the tension is created by the claustrophobia of the heroes' situation and personal, psychological subtext. Its also a lovely looking movie, having obvious inspiration from John Carpenter's scary movies, particularly The Thing. The CGI could've been better, and its ultimately a pretty formulaic film - but it does what it sets out to do very well. Make sure to see the UK version; the ending is much more effective, I think.
Dog Soldiers (Movie): Another Neil Marshall movie, this time a relatively light hearted action-horror story about a band of soldiers on a training mission who encounter some werewolves. Think of it as a cross between An American Werewolf In London and Aliens and you wouldn't be far off. There's some great and funny bits of banter between the soldiers, and it also manages to be pretty spooky at times.
Eternal Darkness (Video Game): An interesting console based game that was obviously influenced by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but has its own monstrous conspiracy lurking in the background. It criss-crosses time and features different periods and cultures as the backdrop for its overall story of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. There's a nice mix of action and investigation, and the bath tub scene is particularly memorable.
F.E.A.R. (Video Game): The premise of this first person shooter game is pretty familiar; a special forces soldier with exceptional (even supernatural) reflexes joins a mission to contain a strange outbreak in a fictional American town and comes across some truly creepy antagonists. The execution is what makes the game special, having more to do with Japanese horror films like The Ring or Kairo (Pulse) than Doom or Quake. There's a nice mix of high-octane, slow motion bullet ballets and periodic freaky scare tactics. I'm not a big fan of the sequels, but I hold out hope that Project Origin (a sequel made by the original creators) will be worthy of the first one.
House of the Dead (Video Games): A light gun arcade shooter that features hordes of zombies, weird mutant monsters, and some truly laughable voice acting. It has a lot of sequels, and another atrocious Uwe Boll film version. The original was a lot of fun, though, and is on the over-the-top scale in its depiction of survival horror.
I Am Legend (Book): I haven't seen the movie, to be honest, but what I know about it suggests that its a decent survival horror flick. Anyways, I'm more inspired by the book, by Richard Matheson, which is about the last man in a world overrun by classical-style vampires. There's a great sense of isolation and loneliness throughout, and the conclusion is both chilling and heroic in a strange way. Its probably one of the oldest examples of survival horror, and its very grounded.
The Kingdom (Movie): Its not a great movie, really, but the depiction of people isolated in an alien culture who end up in a life struggle with implacable foes means it has at least one toe in the survival horror genre. Replace "terrorist" with "monster" and you have some idea of how this could parallel the action in Fragile; investigation, terrible consequences, and lots of shooting.
Night of the Living Dead (Movie): The original black and white movie George Romero made in 1968 (40 years ago!) is probably the single biggest influence on the survival horror genre at large. Cheaply produced but still very effective - perhaps because of its low budget rather than despite it - it was the first film to really posit a scenario with walking dead and a small group of survivors holding out against the unexplained (a theory is raised, but never confirmed) outbreak. The ending is brutal and particularly pointed in its social overtones. You owe it to yourself to see it, even if you're normally the kind of person who doesn't like "old" movies.
Rainbow Six Vegas (Video Games): Take the first person tactical shooter genre, then crank up the action to over-the-top levels, and you have some idea of what this game is like. Featuring a ridiculously expansive terrorist attack on Sin City (where do these guys get all their reinforcements?), its mainly an excuse to rappel, sneak, or crash into flashy urban hot zones and shoot a whole lot of bad guys while your cover gets shot to Hell. Aside from being a cross between tactical and purely action shooters, its setting is particularly relevant to that of Fragile.
Resident Evil (Video Games): Capcom coined the term "survival horror" with this famous series. While the translation and voice acting got better as the series progressed, the stories also got more and more outrageous. In any case, the gameplay set a much imitated prototype, with a lonely hero surrounded by monsters and zombies, having to navigate puzzles and deathtraps while also collecting the occasional ammo, weapon, or health boost between sparse save points. I haven't seen the movies, but I assume they have at least some resemblance to this premise.
[REC] (Movie): A Spanish horror movie, the premise is that its found footage of a newscaster and her camera man as they follow some firemen responding to a seemingly routine call-out. What they find in a quarantined apartment building leads to a lot of screaming and running around as a saliva-based infection rapidly spreads. Its much more effective than it sounds, particularly because of the shift in the last twenty or so minutes. Inevitably, they've made what sounds like a shot-for-shot American remake called "Quarantine", but see the original if you can manage it.
Silent Hill (Video Games): A survival horror game series about the titular American town where the barriers between our world and a nightmare universe overlap. The protagonists are always relatively Average Joes and Janes, and the emphasis is mostly on subtly disturbing you with psychological horror rather than simple monster bashing. There's a movie that I've not seen (I'm suspicious in general of video game-to-movie translations), but I doubt its quite as effective as the games. The first one really creeped me out.
SWAT 4 (PC Game): Sierra had tried to do a SWAT game a few times before they hit a good one, SWAT 3, a tactical shooter that focused on police rather than military action. SWAT 4 was even better, and featured more options based on real world SWAT methods and scenarios. There's a particular mission involving a doomsday cult that is probably the main inspiration for Fragile, and which you'll see clear parallels to if you've played the game. If you want to learn more about SWAT tactics and like slower-paced, more deliberate shooters, you should consider tracking down a copy.
The Thing (Movie, Video Game): A semi-remake of a 50's science fiction film (The Thing from Another World), John Carpenter's 1982 horror film was originally panned by the critics as too gory. Nowadays, it seems relatively tame, though the special effects are still grotesque and jaw-dropping. The Arctic setting is about as isolated as you can get, and while there is some action here and there, its mostly about the paranoia the outpost personnel feel as a shape shifting and personality absorbing alien infiltrates their camp. Its great visually, and its really quite bleak. The console game that came out some years back is a pretty fun game on its own right and improves a great deal if you're a fan of Carpenter's movie. Its got much more shooting and a variety of incarnations of the monster of the title to wrangle with.