by Craig Sheeley
Editor's note: This article reveals many of the secrets of The Haunting of Langley Manor, the featured adventure in the GURPS Horror worldbook. Players intending to play in this adventure – whether in the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1980s or the 2030s – should read no further.
One of the most difficult tasks for the GURPS Autoduel GM is to get his PCs out of their wheeled tanks. I found an excellent way to accomplish this, using the adventure from GURPS Horror.
The Haunting of Langley Manor concerns a 250-year-old vampire living quietly on a secluded estate. To cover her undead existence, the vampire uses her hypnotic charm to control the members of the Langley family, controlling her substantial financial holdings through them. Much to the vampire's chagrin, the latest and last member of the Langley clan, Jeanine, has resisted her vampiric charm, and will soon begin to spend the vampire's fortune. So the vampire sets out to scare the new heiress away. That's when the heroes enter.
Getting PC duellists involved in this horror adventure simply requires a clever plot manipulation or two. They might be friends of Jeanine Langley, or she may have hired them as security guards for the estate. In my own campaign, I had the duellists rescue Jeanine from a road ambush. Out of gratitude, she invited them to stay with her at the mansion she had recently inherited . . .
To set this adventure in a GURPS Autoduel campaign, certain changes must be made. First, a plausible reason for Langley Manor to have survived the food riots must be provided. Perhaps the estate has a reputation as haunted – an ironic touch – or it may just be very well-defended. The financially savvy vampire would certainly have seen the food riots coming and prepared for them. Or the mansion may have been deserted during the social upheavals around the turn of the century, only to be refurbished by the vampire and her Langley minions once a semblance of civilization returned to Autoduel America.
Second, the mansion itself must be updated. A 21st-century estate would be heavily fortified, probably with automatic security systems and weaponry – the vampire has plenty of money and no reason to want extra people around. The interior of the house will be well-appointed with video screens, computer terminals, intercoms, etc. This high-tech gadgetry can become an important red herring in the investigation of the haunting. After the vampire tried the old walk-through-the-mortal-while-in-mist-form, my PC duellists tore the mansion apart looking for the hidden holographic projector.
Third – and perhaps most important, from a roleplaying standpoint – the citizens of Autoduel America will react very differently to horrific circumstances than those of the squeamish 20th century. Even the most mutilated corpse is unlikely to impress someone who has seen hundreds of death-sport athletes killed in slow-motion replay. Death is familiar to duellists; what will frighten them is a monster that keeps coming, long after it has been filled with lead.
This means that fright-check modifiers must be adjusted for Autoduel characters. Anything that can be ascribed to a techno-trick – the ghost in the hall, the bumping in the closet – calls for an unmodified fright check. Events which can be attributed to mortal beasts and men – the wolf on the hill, the "blood" on the stone in the cemetery – may not call for a fright-check at all (blood they've all seen many times, and a wolf can be killed). Things that can't be explained by modern science or mundane coincidence – like the creepy-feeling-in-the-pajamas – will call for fright-checks with substantial modifiers. If a duellist pumps the over-sized wolf full of .44-caliber slugs and it doesn't die, he'll be making a fright check at about -3. When one of my duellists hid with Jeanine in the fireplace and closed the flue, the vampire used her mist form to seep in with them. The effect was sufficiently unearthly to give the bold duellist an unwanted quirk!
Finally, never forget the vampire's ability to charm mortals – including PCs. This can be especially important in an Autoduel vampire adventure, in which the "investigators" routinely tote heavy weaponry. Even a vampire isn't fond of a flamethrower. If one duellist is particularly heavily armed – especially if he has a disadvantage like Berserk – make sure the vampire charms him fast.
Once the character is under the vampire's spell, take the player aside and explain to him that he feels particularly fond of one NPC (the vampire in her secret identity). Make him believe that the character is using Charisma, Diplomacy, Sex Appeal, or some other "innocuous" skill to influence him – don't let on that he's under a vampiric charm. Let him roleplay his character normally, but pass him secret notes to direct his actions ("You really don't want to shoot that security guard"). Keeping a steady stream of notes flowing to all the players will prevent the other players from recognizing the ringer in their midst.
Throwing an occasional pedestrian adventure into an Autoduel campaign will help keep the focus on people rather than hardware, while adapting a Horror adventure to the 21st century should prevent your duellists from becoming cocky or jaded. Have fun keeping them on their toes and out of their cars!
Copyright © 1997-2015 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.