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[ETU] SPOILERS: Degrees of Horror questions

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  • [ETU] SPOILERS: Degrees of Horror questions


    so I'm currently preparing Degrees of Horror and would like to get some input on a few questions that pop up in my head while reading the books. So I might come back to this threat a few times.

    WARNING: I will ask a few questions about specific campaign events. So if you are going to PLAY in Degrees of Horror you better stop reading. Hopefully there will still be enough people who can help me out

    Now to my current questions (though I'm sure there will be more over time).
    1. One of my biggest problems is that I'm from Germany, so I have never seen a real US University and know next to nothing about how everything is organized there (to be fair, I also never went to a German University... so not much to draw on from that either). Would you have any tipps? Any specific "roles" I should look up? I already looked at stuff like "Resident Assistant" or "Teachers Aide". I looked up a few things that came up in Wildcards (though I'm only at episode 3 so far), but is there anything obvious I should know of? Any specific movies that would help getting a "feeling" for college live in the US?
    2. So, the ETU book says Jackson Green is a grad student that teaches American history for freshmen. With what I gathered that probably means he's a TA. But GlenMac is a Professor for Anthropology. So Jackson wouldn't be his TA. Shouldn't that interfere with his assistance of GlenMac? Shouldn't his history professor be quite annoyed of Jackson that he roams around with GlenMac and maybe even remove his status as a TA? Or am I just overthinking this?
    3. Ok, so this questions is rather specific to the campaign. It says GlenMac and Helen have an open relationship. So students could easily find out about Helen and maybe even see/meet her at some point, right? But once they have the old photo that Jackson sent them, wouldn't they recognize that (or at least get a roll to do so)? That's at the end of Freshman year, but the way the plot points are written it seems they shouldn't really meet Helen before the last day or so. Did this come up with anyone?
    Thanks to anyone who has anything to add to this Like I said, I'm sure there will be more questions alter on.

  • #2
    I like your planning and approach. I'll help where I can.

    1. I don't think I can help you here. The relevant information is so deeply ingrained in my mind that I can't parse which parts are "strange" and need to be highlighted. Sorry.

    2. Anthropology and History are generally lumped into the same administrative department; GlenMac probably is the "history professor" that Jackson answers to. Most professors have to teach a handful of freshman level classes, unless their research is pulling in so much money that the university decides letting them do just that is enough more profitable that they only have to teach graduate students.

    3. It's "open" in that neither hides or denies it. But unless Helen in making special trips to see GlenMac when the students might be around, they probably won't see them together. There are a few adventures that have the characters barge into his home, and they could meet her then, but that's up to you.

    I hope that's helpful.
    I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


    • #3
      Thanks a lot!
      1. I get that. This questions is rather unspecific, I know. Luckily my players don't know a lot about US colleges either, so I'll just present them my (probably quite stereotypical...) interpretation of it
      2. Wow. So it turns out that I'm just dumb and somehow misinterpreted the german wikipedia article about anthropology (probably by just reading the introduction paragraph.... yeah, obviously I'm that kind of person). So after reading your comment and rereading (also including the english wikipedia) it makes a LOT more sense now. So this really DID help me!
      3. Yeah, I just have the feeling that at some point my students will start to question GlenMac to some degree and might have the idea to spy on him, thus seeing them, Also she is poses as a professor too, so they might even meet on campus (though just picking out a random person and recognizing her from that photo would be a stretch). Obviously I can always just decide that she is not around and it might even be more interesting if they meet her early, but I'd still love to hear if anyone had that situation before!


      • #4
        1. One of my biggest problems is that I'm from Germany, so I have never seen a real US University and know next to nothing about how everything is organized there (to be fair, I also never went to a German University... so not much to draw on from that either). Would you have any tipps? Any specific "roles" I should look up? I already looked at stuff like "Resident Assistant" or "Teachers Aide". I looked up a few things that came up in Wildcards (though I'm only at episode 3 so far), but is there anything obvious I should know of? Any specific movies that would help getting a "feeling" for college live in the US.
        Without specific questions, it's hard to give you specific advice. My college experience is limited, so there's a lot of stuff that ETU focuses on that I know very little about such as fraternities/sororities, parties, and anything involving sports. I know roughly how school clubs work though, how dorms and dorm-life work, the architecture and layout of a campus, the academics, and have visited a very different facilities. I still stumble a little bit with using "high school" terms and concepts instead of college, mostly due to all the high school supernatural drama I watch on TV. My biggest errors were that my sorority initiation was apparently "odd / lame" and I once gave a student "detention" and he was like, "What?!?" Both times, I just ran with it. Learn to double-down.

        (Double-down is a slang term I use from the card game, 21 Blackjack. It means to have such confidence in your next card that you'll lay even more money on the table and proceed.)

        What I found helpful was to start by writing down the Dorm names, and assigning everyone to a room number. Usually, these are three digit numbers where the first number is the floor. This is often proceeded by letters that are either arbitrarily assigned to each building or assigned as an acronym of the building name, which is often named after someone important or a prominent donor to the campus. One of my characters' dorms was actually renamed to his last name based on a prominent donation by his character's father.

        Typically each dorm is a mini-apartment broken into floors. Each dorm room is usually shared by two people, although singles are often available at an increased cost. Rent is paid on these dorms with tuition, and often that includes a meal card that is good at a food center somewhere on campus or sometimes even small campus restaurants. I bought a lot of my early popularity by having the high-value meal card which I would frequently use to buy pizzas for group events.

        Each floor has about a dozen dormrooms, one of which is used by the Resident Advisor who is a student who gets paid a small stipend to be an authority figure on the floor. They greet all the new students and give out their dorm number and phone number publicly so that students have someone they can talk to and ask questions. They're sort of like a cross between a camp counselor and a school-provided friend. Each floor has one, and they usually try to coordinate monthly or weekly events for the whole dorm. Each floor also tends to have shared bathrooms. The bottom floors have a lounge or rec-room and there are sometimes study halls on various floors. Again, these are often named after famous people or donors.

        Getting the feel of the dormrooms was my biggest challenge because it really helped set up the scene. I assigned everyone a room number and a specific NPC roommate, except for one who was so wealthy he had his own penthouse. I really enjoyed having the roommates as my first recurring NPCs.

        Some dorms are co-ed, some are not. My schools had both types. I think the ETU dorms were not mixed, except for the athletics dorm, which was optionally available to any students enrolled in a campus athletics program and in my campaign was generally nicer. It can be helpful to remember that the women's dorm (the Linda Kirchman Tower) has a security office on the bottom floor so your first introduction to that building will be highlighting what school security is like.

        1. So, the ETU book says Jackson Green is a grad student that teaches American history for freshmen. With what I gathered that probably means he's a TA. But GlenMac is a Professor for Anthropology. So Jackson wouldn't be his TA. Shouldn't that interfere with his assistance of GlenMac? Shouldn't his history professor be quite annoyed of Jackson that he roams around with GlenMac and maybe even remove his status as a TA? Or am I just overthinking this?
        Jackson Green is higher than just a TA. He is a graduate student, which means he has already graduated from a college (not necessarily this one) and is a certified professional with a Bachelor's Degree. This is good enough to get a job in most fields. He could go on from here to teach High School, if he wanted. However, to become a Professor and teach at community college, he needs to go at least two more years in a Graduate program to earn his Master's degree and probably go on a bit further to get his Ph.D doctrate). Many colleges and community colleges will hire teachers to teach at introductory levels part-time if they are currently working on their Graduate or post-Graduate course work. Graduate students are often involved with professors' research projects, and many universities require their professors to engage in such projects for the prestige of the school, but I now very little about the specifics of such things. If is not uncommon, even among community colleges (junior colleges) that i've been to for professors to engage in their own official extracurricular activities and organizations such as sponsoring school clubs or creating independent organization like STEMWORKS or Keys For Life (which are two organization names I just made up).

        So Jackson Greene isn't a TA, because a TA is just a student who is working for a teacher to earn a bit extra money or college credit. Jackson is a professional teacher, just not one qualified to teach at the University's standard levels. The Graduate student life is not the same thing as we tend to the think of ordinary college life, in part, because many of them are actually working professionals and live off-campus. Jackson also lives off campus. He is still a teacher and that's generally how students should be expected to interact with him. He is not really one of them, and I don't think he would be part of normal campus social life. References to him being GlenMac's assistant are as a "research assistant", and specifically for GlenMac's paranormal research program.
        1. Ok, so this questions is rather specific to the campaign. It says GlenMac and Helen have an open relationship. So students could easily find out about Helen and maybe even see/meet her at some point, right? But once they have the old photo that Jackson sent them, wouldn't they recognize that (or at least get a roll to do so)? That's at the end of Freshman year, but the way the plot points are written it seems they shouldn't really meet Helen before the last day or so. Did this come up with anyone?

        I first introduced Helen Lane during a session where lots of strange hookups were taking place. The students went to GlenMac to see if he can get help and found him macking on one of the guidance counselors. Realizing that he was "under the whammy", they decided to leave them alone and get on with solving the mystery themselves. After everything was done and they went to make sure GlenMac was normal, they were pleased to find him back to his normal, logical self. But then, just at the end, he gave some hint in his dialogue that he might still be under the love spell.

        A session or two later, one of my players came back after being away for awhile, and I started with a session in the guidance counselor. It went something like this, "You're teachers all say your very bright, doing well, but you're gone for weeks at a time and now you have all these strange bruises. I'm just concerned, that's all. Is there anything you'd like to tell me?" and then it went on later, "That's not what I've heard. In fact, I have a witness that says they saw you breaking into the cemetary last night. It's not the first time I've heard of this..." At this point, the player tried to say he was doing a favor for GlenMac or some such thing she responded with "Oh, well that explains it then. You've been working one one of Maclanahan's projects?" At which point, when the player agrees, her whole attitude changes, and the scene ends with her fussing with her hair and asking, "Has he mentioned me at all?"

        That was how I introduced their relationship. From then on, she's operated mostly behind the scenes. She helped cover up the slaying of the Needler in the botanical gardens. Professor GlenMac has gone on to pass evidence to her when he became puzzled, since "she has access to greater resources". The players have come to completely trust her and treat her as behind-the-schenes plot device to cover up their mess and keep the story moving. If only they knew how right they were...


        A couple of my tips regarding Helen:

        - Nina never saw who killed her. Remember this important detail. She's certain of who did it, but she never actually saw her.
        - In my campaign, Helen doesn't know about Nina's ghost. I would suggest keeping it that way if you can. I'm not sure how to handle it if she does find out but it would definitely take things in a different direction.
        - In my campaign's Helen Lane's real name is Anna LaCroix. Having these two characters both named Helen will instantly draw a parallel (maybe they're the same person and ruin some of the build-up...)


        • #5
          Wow, thanks a lot! Lots of great stuff there!

          But I do have some followup questions regarding how you handled Helen:
          • How did you handle it when the players got the photo from Jackson? Did you allow them a roll to recognize her or something? If I were to tell my players after a long time that Helen and one of the people on the photo were the same, they would probably feel cheated ("my character would have noticed that!"), especially if they had interactions with her.
          • Are you sure Nina didn't know who killed her? As I understood it she and Helen were assigned as a team to retrieve De La Graza's Cross. And at some point Helen flipped and wanted revenge for her affair with Jack. When the characters get the vision in the second plot point they can even se how Nina tried to apologize before she dies. She didn't see Helen in that moment, sure (so the players don't see Helen either), but I'd think Nina was pretty sure about who was following her (and why). Am I missing something? I have to admit, rethinking the whole scenario makes me wonder why Nina would go out of her way to hide the cross if she knew who was behind her though.
          • Helens name is another reason I'm a bit afraid to introduce her too soon. But I do like to give the players a chance to wonder about that. But having the name AND the photo would definitely make it far too easy I guess. I love the fact that you turned Helen into a trusted "behind the scenes" person, though I'm not sure if I could pull that off (with the photo and all).


          • #6
            --- ABOUT THE PHOTO:

            One of the characters was trying to solve Jackson's death while the others were dealing with the Needler. It was that same character that later received the note to "keep it safe, keep it secret", and he did for awhile -- even from the other PCs. While he did eventually tell them about the photo and what it contained, all he really knows is that it's a group of students from several decades ago that Jackson was freaked about. I told him he saw something familiar about the picture, but left it at that. (If pressed, I'd probably start talking about the architecture of the school in the background being a specific room like the Photography Lab or something, as a sort of red herring). But "eerily familiar portrait" is enough for now. They really don't have enough evidence to know what it's about, and I think the PC's know that at this point and will go along.

            I just never made the assumption that they would recognize her. I know that the book says she appears in her early 30's, but honestly, I assume the she graduated ETU, and that there was at least a few more years of strife before she made herself immortal. (Hmm... is Helen a vampire? We know there ARE vampires... hmmm... must investigate further.)

            My next adventure was a custom time-travellish episode that went back in time to reveal some more information about the Protectors, and that was when they got a hint of how organized and involved they were. Since then, the background of some event (I'm inventing) that happened '60 years ago that broke the Protectors apart has become a key subplot going on, and they think the photo kind of leads into that and they are partially right. As far as the PCs are aware, the significance of the photo has already kind of played out in being a bridge into this "what happened in the 60's" mystery. They haven't really mentioned the photo again, except to agree not to show it any more..

            Which I liked, because as we transition into the next year, I want them being a bit more independent and cautious about who they tell information to and why. I want them building up their own vaults of arcane objects "students were not meant to touch". And most importantly, I want them really investigating who the Protectors were and what happened to them. A lot of that is just stuff I've kind of made up. I really don't like that they just happen to find Clayton's Compendium, and will probably insert a little mini-adventure to lead into that one. I've done some things with a cult trying to stop the Convergence as part of "Quid Pro Quo", so maybe I could make an adventure where the PC's find out someone in the cult has been gathering "components" for a powerful artifact that must be constructed on school grounds.

            --- ABOUT HELEN:

            My personal feeling is that Freshmen year is just too early to be dealing with Helen. She's only really important so that we can situate GlenMac and President Nelson later. Once we know who she is, we only mention her again every so often to remind the players that she exists. And if she gets too curious, she disappears for awhile. All of her actions are through intermediaries, so nothing should lead back to her. If questioned directly, she's either evasive or treats it like a psychotherapy session and turns the question around, playing the concerned guidance counselor. While most of the staff might think she's been "up to some very weird things lately", she can always explain that in a way to show that she was covering for the actions of GlenMac or the PC's. As a guidance counsellor, she really shouldn't tolerate being interrogated or investigated, and if really necessary, she can get GlenMac to try to talk them into backing off.

            Anyway, my point is, that Helen should be mostly invisible and inconsequential in Freshmen year. The PCs have so many NPCs to keep track of, and not all of them are relevant all the time. She's just another Sonya Alvarez (school librarian) or Linda Darvis (in my campaign, head of security).


            • #7
              I kind of like that you made Helen a guidance counselor. It makes sense for her as that would allow her to get a lot of information on strange things happening on campus, thus keeping an eye on the progress of the convergence.

              As I read it she became "immortal" (or at least ages slower) due to the ritual they used to delay the convergence, because she got the "life energy" of her "friends". So she would have been in her early 20s I guess and just now is in her 30s (due to her slower aging - I do think she might die of old age eventually, it would just take a long time).

              I'll think about having Helen be a background NPC somehow, I might even steal the counselor idea. I'd really like to build her up a bit, as she is as close to the BBEG as we get. Maybe I'll build her up in two separate ways: one as the unknown leader behind the scenes working on some sinister plan (whom the PCs will try to stop) and second as the helpful lady they might even come to know and like. It would certainly make the finale more interesting once they PCs find out that both are the same person and it will probably make them more susceptible for Helens reasoning.

              Regarding the photo: As there are probably more photos of Helen somewhere in at ETU (yearbooks etc.) she might have changed her hair color. That combined with aging at least somewhat might be enough to not recognize her immediately. I like the idea about "something familiar". And I might give them a roll (notice?) if they actively try to recognize anyone from the photo. They will probably focus on Nina anyway. I'll keep the name Helen though. I want to reward my players if they dig deep enough and come up with the correct theory on their own

              Thanks again! This really helps me to wrap my brain around all this


              • ValhallaGH
                ValhallaGH commented
                Editing a comment
                A change of hair style, make up, and clothing can do an amazing amount to change someone's appearance. This is especially true when the observers haven't learned to differentiate by features (a common skill for military recruits, where everyone has the same clothes and haircuts and most have similar height and build).

            • #8
              Click image for larger version

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              • Deskepticon
                Deskepticon commented
                Editing a comment
                That's either a huge photograph or a very tiny hand.

              • LordRahvin
                LordRahvin commented
                Editing a comment
                Thanks, I'll fix that.
                edit: Maybe I'll just stick with the blood splatter on the right.
                Last edited by LordRahvin; 04-13-2019, 03:42 AM.

            • #9
              So, here is another quick question, not too important, but maybe someone has an answer before Sunday where I'll run the first adventure

              At the end of Swat Lodge the characters are ordered into the presidents office with Detective Blaine Bishop next to him. Does that make sense? Shouldn't it be Sheriff Butch Anderson being there, as ETU grounds are under the sheriff departments jurisdiction?


              • #10
                I think of it more like a conspiracy between the President and Bishop, as they both seem to know about weird stuff. It could be that Nelson just wants Bishop to hear the stories for himself, so that he was someone to talk to about this, someone who won't assume he's crazy. Maybe after both PCs leave, they have a drink and talk about the bad feelings they have about all of this and how dangerous it could be if too much attention is brought on this event. Maybe they both agree to play down the events a bit, and keep some of the story out of official documentation where they can.


                In my campaign, the meeting with the police was immediately afterward while the firetrucks and whatever were still there. The head of security (whom the PCs were suspicious of) and an unnamed police officer were about to question the PCs but Malanahan and Jackson interrupted them. Maclanahan personally vouched for the group, offered to write a written report of his own, and encouraged the head of security to "let these traumatized kids get to their dorms and get some rest". He told the PCs that he wanted to see them in his office the next morning when they are feeling better. He then tries to get the whole story from them, in a private meeting, and introduces some information that sets the opening events for the next session.


                It's also worth noting that the son of Pinebox's district attorney goes to this school and may have even been one of the freshmen endangered in the Roost incident. The district attorney knows and works closely with Detective Bishop, even on personal matters regarding the safety of his son. (see savage tale "Quid Pro Quo")
                Last edited by LordRahvin; 04-13-2019, 03:01 AM.


                • #11
                  Hey, I'm back with a question I didn't want to ask in the facebook group due to spoilers:

                  If everything works out my players should play "return to the roost" on Friday. As I was reading the adventure again, I noticed that they get Grave Speak as a pretty difficult ritual for this from Jackson. I'm fine with that, but I was wondering how other people handled that. I took a look at the wildcards show, but they didn't use the ritual.

                  So my question is: If they use the ritual, would you handle it "by the book"?

                  If everything works out great and the players get a raise with the final ritual check, Nina would have to answer 6 questions (one per round, the power has a duration of 3 and I think rituals double the duration). Those could be anything and the spirit has to answer the truth. So a simple question like "who killed you" could potentially ruin some of the plot, don't you think?

                  It's also more likely that things don't work out great and they wont get a raise. In that case it's pretty likely for Nina to either possess a character (which means she could say whatever she wanted, spoiling even more of the plot about the protectors... also this could be permanent!) or she might even haunt the caster (which I guess means that more communication would also be possible).

                  I don't even want to think about a demon appearing, though that would be fun it might very well end in a TPK (but to be fair, that's not my biggest concern).

                  I could have Nina not remember what happened exactly or who she even is, that would be an easy way out. But given that she actively tries to lure the students to guarding the cross I'd think she has a pretty good idea of what happened.


                  • Deskepticon
                    Deskepticon commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Well, for starters, you don't need to reveal anything you might think is a spoiler. This includes if the characters use Grave Speak. Answering "truthfully" does not mean answering directly. Asking, "Who killed you?" might get a response of, "Someone I considered a friend."

                    Be cryptic and slippery. If the players follow up with, "What was his name?", answer with "It wasn't a man."
                    "Okay fine... her name?"
                    "I always called her darling."

                    Something like that. Then plant clues for the players to discover who "darling" is: an old note stuffed in the dust cover of a library book; a farewell address in a yearbook; etc.

                    A big part of ETU is the mystery... you should run parts of it like a detective novel.

                • #12
                  Not that it matters, but I'd like to point out that while some grad students are full-time professionals pursuing a graduate degree on the side (like I did), there are also full-time graduate students that may be working part-time on the side and quite possibly as a TA. AFAIR, all of the TA's during my undergrad days were grad students. The TA's may be involved in a professor's research, or they may just be doing some of the grunt work like grading papers or providing "office hours" for students to ask questions to free up the professor's time for research and/or book writing since the publish or perish phenomena for those seeking tenure is a very real thing.


                  • #13
                    Hey, thanks for the information to both. Luckily for me (and probably the students) it didn't come to the usage of the ritual...

                    But now they want to do it together with Jackson to find out more information about Nina and ask her some questions.

                    Like before, I'm a bit worried. I'm planning on letting Jackson do this and lead the ritual... and really hope that doesn't go wrong. I will try to keep it cryptic for my players, using some of the ideas from Deskepticon. Should it come to the worst and Nina were to possess someone, I'd probably have her loose some of her memory or have it be very unclear.

                    Any further ideas on how to handle this are highly appreciated


                    • #14
                      In my campaign, there was some inter-departmental stuff going on and Professor Maclanahan had a rival in the school in the form of the head of security. Near the start of the story, GlenMac's department came under investigation and during that time the players were kind of shut out from being able to get advice from him and had to learn to do things on their own. They did consult with Jackson Greene, who was clandestinely moving some of GlenMac's stuff, and that's how the PC's got the opportunity to steal one of GlenMac's books, Mundos De Los Muertos. It is the reproduced diary of a man who travelled the world trying to find some way to resurrect his dead wife. Possession of the book (and knowledge of Spanish) is one of the first obvious things needed for the ritual although that requirement later went away once enough downtime was spent studying it.

                      The other ingredients needed were dirt from a newly buried grave, a human tooth, and a child's tear. The first two ingredients were relatively easy, although one did involve breaking and entering. The third ingredient proved to be troublesome and watching the party speculate and argue about how to acquire it was funny. They asked a lot of questions about what exactly fit those requirements and I did not answer, but warned them that magic is a fickle thing and the quality of the effect was directly linked to the quality of the ingredients. In the end, they got all three ingredients and broke into the Roost to cast the Grave Speak spell.

                      Grave Speak was the only magic the group had for most of their freshmen year. After a bit, they started keeping a stock of those ingredients.

                      The way I handled Grave Speak was that it pretty much made Nina corporeal but bound her to a summoning circle. She was compelled to answer questions from the caster (only), and couldn't communicate with anyone. Her presence made the room hot and when she was angry her hair would catch on fire. The compulsion did not force her to answer truthfully or completely, but it did make her answer and would cause her terrible pain if she hesitated. The experience was slightly torturous for her and made the players a bit uncomfortable because they were hoping for a friendly conversation with the ghost and instead they seemed to be torturing her for information. The fact that she had a temper and some fire powers didn't put them at ease either.

                      In the end, Nina begged them for help in hiding a powerful artifact from the person that killed them. She warned them that it had a curse, but disappeared into a pile of ash before she could elaborate. They decided not to tell GlenMac about any of this stuff and the wealthy character ended up hiding the cursed artifact in a safety deposit box.

                      And that was their first exposure to rituals and ghosts.

                      I joked with them afterward, "I can't believe you guys almost burned down the Roost, AGAIN."

                      The Roost / Return to the Roost is awesome. I got to run that at a convention sometime.
                      Last edited by LordRahvin; 11-02-2019, 03:16 AM.


                      • #15
                        Yes, Blaine and the Nelson have a conspiracy going to protect the kids of ETU, so the detective being there instead of the Sheriff is on purpose. Besides, Sheriff Butch Anderson wants to do as little work as possible and he doesn't care about "no jurisdiction crap!"