Thursday, November 26, 2020

National Treasure: Book of Secrets—Using Downtime to Customize Adventures


The PDF Treasure Hunter Adventures 4: Mercenaries & Magic discusses the idea of Downtime, the time between adventures when the members of a party pursue their own activities, goals and dreams. Building on that, this article examines how the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets uses details from the characters' Downtime to add customized details and complications to an adventure scenario. Here are a few examples.

  • At the start of the film, Ben Gates and his dad learn that their ancestor, Thomas, is accused of being a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This contradicts their tradition that he tried to expose the Knights of the Golden Circle, and creates a stain on their family's honor that they must work to expunge.

  • We also learn that Riley published a book, but still has run into financial difficulties. As he says, his accountant set up a “corporation” on an island that doesn't exist, because “that's what rich people do.” Somehow he has been penalized for more than he earned from the discovery in the previous adventure, and now is in debt. Also, he wants to establish his reputation.

  • It turns out that Ben and Abigail are having difficulties in their relationship, which adds a wrinkle to their interactions. Just how this affects the party depends on whether Abigail was a hero or NPC during the previous adventure(s). What is more, even thought this conflict does not seem to last long, it informs the roleplaying during this scenario. It also introduces a hopeful new boyfriend for her, who becomes important later.

  • In this case, the GM also uses NPCs from the previous adventure. Peter Sadusky and his FBI agents have been keeping tabs on Gates, and recognize that Mitch Wilkinson is a bad man with bad intentions, so they become active in the background. In this way, they provide a means for the GM to steer the heroes by revealing additional information when needed.

  • Like father, like son—Patrick Gates also has a complicated relationship with his ex-wife. They certainly respect each other, and of course have a long history as well as a connection because of their son. This again provides opportunities for roleplaying, and it's easy to imagine players earning bennies due to funny jibes or heartfelt moments.

  • Finally, there's a big plot hook introduced that sadly has not been explored—what is on page 47 of the President's secret book?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

National Treasure—One Way to Pace a Treasure Hunter Adventures Campaign

During the pandemic I've been watching a fair number of old movies, since there have been few opportunities to go out and see new ones. Since I've also been working on material for Treasure Hunter Adventures, this list has included National Treasure from 2004. I remember seeing that back when it was released, since I was working on similarly themed material for use with the d20 Modern RPG at that time. While watching it again, I realized that it could provide a good example of pacing in a Savage Worlds campaign. Here's how it would work.

Session 1—Seeking the Charlotte

The movie begins with our treasure hunters seeking the wreck of a ship, the Charlotte. We're not told just how they tracked it to a location somewhere around the Arctic Circle, except that Ben learned about this business from his grandfather, and Riley seems to have created an algorithm for doing so. Whatever the case, this drops our heroes and NPCs into this adventure in media res. They break out some metal detectors, find the ship's bell, and start digging. That leads into exploring the wreck and finding the meerschaum pipe, which brings this session's activities to a head. Ian Howe decides to turn against Gates and Poole, there are tense moments and a big explosion, and then the heroes need to figure out how to make their way back to civilization. After all of this, they are definitely due for an Advance.

Session 2—Stealing the Declaration of Independence

This situation starts with some roleplaying scenes in which the heroes try to warn various government agents about the danger to the Declaration, culminating with a visit to Abigail Chase. When that effort fails, they decide to steal it for themselves. There is a good deal of research—which can be adjudicated through a number of skill checks—and then it's time to take action. While Riley works his technical wizardry, Gates goes to the party to steal Abigail's fingerprint and thus gain access to the document. While this plan is unfolding Ian and his goons arrive on the scene, causing a confrontation that leads into a great chase scene. Once again, by the end of the chase, the heroes have escaped and are due for another Advance.

Session 3—Following the Clues

To learn more about the treasure, the heroes take Abigail and the Declaration to visit Ben's dad. In addition to some good opportunities for roleplaying, they can examine the back of the Declaration and find more clues. That reveals an Attendorf cipher and leads a scene in which they employ a kid to retrieve words from the Silence Dogood letters, and what is nearly a confrontation with Ian. After a bit of thinking and shopping, they head for Independence Hall. They recover the special glasses, but are caught up in another chase scene. Ultimately this ends with Gates agreeing to meet Sadusky's people on the USS Independence, where Howe arranges an extraction. Here again there is time to recover, reflect and take a third Advance.

Session 4—Going Underground

The end of this business requires a visit to Trinity Church, where the characters find an entrance to an underground complex. There is a lot of activity as they utilize a complex, old elevator mechanism, and difficulties erupt while they use it. This leads to what seems like a dead end, and a false clue provided by Ben and his dad send Ian off on a wild goose chase. Next, the heroes solve one more puzzle related to the pipe and find the treasure chamber. After that it's just a matter of convincing the authorities not send anyone to prison, and leading to the arrest of Ian Howe and his associates. There's negotiation of a finders' fee and what to do with the treasure, after which the heroes can take their fourth Advance and thus become Seasoned characters.