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A flatmate of mine was interested in trying (as her first time playing an RPG) something about Sweeney Todd.

What good, simple, system would work for this sort of game? If possible, a system that has some unique victorian touches?

What would a player-driven plot look like?

If possible, I am looking for one system that can cover the three major types of scenario involving Todd, though different system suggestions are acceptable:

  • Playing a driven ex-transportee, out for revenge in an overcrowded and victorian london
  • Playing the judge, being hunted by a transportee, playing politics in an ...
  • Playing after the fact, trying to uncover the truth behind the man called Todd.
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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is really a "how I would do it" thread, so here's how I would do it - I'd use The Shadow of Yesterday or Lady Blackbird, because they are strongly character-driven games that you can easily apply powerfully baked-in (ha!) situations to. Your errant transportee has the Key of Vengeance and the Secret of the False identity; your judge has the Key of Lechery perhaps, Johanna has the Key of Innocence and the Secret of Imbuement (great hair), everybody is rewarded for playing toward their character's Victorian archetype and every one is pointed at every other.

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You might want to use Call of Cthulhu (preferably with the Gaslight sourcebook to satisfy your Victorian requirement) or some version of DnD's Ravenloft, depending on your familiarity with these systems.

Regarding the possible plot... there's a myriad options for this (see Jadasc's question in his comment above, for example), and it is a very subjective matter that I think you should tailor as close to your new player's personality and preferences as possible.

I myself (without knowing the player) would go for a "sequel" with both systems (CoC, DnD-Ravenloft.) Have the player (there would be a single PC afaik) be a consulting detective (like Sherlock Holmes) who's given the task of solving/backtracking the story, with perhaps a further hook of personal involvement (being a relatively distant relative of a major character of the original story.) If you want to avoid a more blatantly supernatural plotline (Todd's ghost, others' ghosts, beheaded zombies, furnaces of returning doom and so on :)), have Todd's daughter turn out - gradually - to have gone also mad upon learning about her parents' fate: she could be out to take her revenge on the horribly flawed system of justice that allowed such events to pass... Hunting for, among other persons, consulting detectives as well (who might, in the end, turn out to be her last distant relatives.) Finish it by a tragic and revealing confrontation between the PC hero(ine) and the new villain - or by a happy marriage*.

* in exile... perhaps in a new, shared domain in Ravenloft or in the Lovecraftian Dreamlands, where the newly weds could be reunited this way or that even with the original Todds. ;)

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Sweeney Todd can be run easily as a horror story, or as a monster on the rampage, depending on both how it's approached and which side the PC's are on.

The two most closely suited for the purpose are Ghosts of Albion and Cthulhu by Gaslight. These two have advice on running games of investigation into horror, and Sweeney Todd is a suspense/horror borderline; both games are set in the victorian era, meaning little to no conversion needed. Both games have supernatural sources in mind, however, but in both cases it can be ignored easily. (Ghosts of Albion is similar in setup and tone to BTVS, but less genderist and moved back 100 years... and co-created by Amber Bensen, one of the Buffy cast...)

The use of Castle Falkenstein is also a viable option. While it lacks specific advice on running investigative games, it's designed to be very well focused upon victorian setting issues. From the skill list to the card based engine, it aims for immersion. The default CF setting is a parallel earth, with some non-humans (Faeries, dragons), superscience and magic, but those can very easily be ignored.

If one is already familiar with GURPS, Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds, the setting books for those systems are viable choices - players have far less need to be familiar with the rules than the GM, so GM familiarity can make the game smoother - but generally, the genre emulation is often not mechanically assisted in such conversions.

Spirit of the Century is early 20th century, but the mechanics are excellent, simple, and adaptable.

Ravenloft is adaptable if the only system you know is D&D, but it really doesn't do the era emulation at all mechanically, and is mostly survival horror. The White Wolf version is better able to do it, because d20 is more flexible than AD&D, but it's still going to be mechanically a poor fit.

Vampire by Gaslight is a set of LARP rules modifications for playing Vampires in Victorian settings. The system is quite useable, but focuses on vampires, not humans.

  • The best known Victorian RPG systems:
    • Space 1889
      steampunk science fiction elements added
    • Castle Falkenstein
      has fantasy elements added
      • R Talsorian Games
        playing card based engine, standalone rulebook
        pdf and OOP print, stock number CF6001
      • SJG GURPS version GURPS Castle Falkenstein
        Setting Book for GURPS system
        print only, OOP, stock number #SJG6099
    • Cthulhu by Gaslight
      • Chaosium
        setting book for Call of Cthulhu.
        PDF
  • Some lesser known Victorian RPG systems:
    • Vampire by Gaslight
      White Wolf - Old World of Darkness Minds Eye Theater setting book.
      Live Action Role Play - Mind's Eye Theater system
      pdf
      Note: this focuses on playing victorian vampires, and is probably unsuitable.
    • Ghosts of Albion
      Eden Studios - Standalone Core Book using Cinematic Unisystem rules (d10 only)
      based upon the TV series of the same name.
      PDF
  • Not quite victorian
    • Spirit of the Century
      Evil Hat Productions, Standalone corebook using FATE engine (dFudge or d6 needed)
      setting is 1920's style adventure stories. Easily back adapted to Victorian.
      PDF, Print & PDF bundle
    • Ravenloft setting for AD&D or 3E
      TSR (AD&D) or White Wolf (D&D 3E); WotC 4e version scheduled.
      setting is not truly victorian, and very much horror-fantasy.
      WWG PDF

There are some other indie games focused on investigation, and some other victorian games, but not being familiar with them, I can't recommend for/against them.

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For player-driven stories featuring victims of a monster, try Annalise.

For Victorian flavour, try Perfect.

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I would use Sorcerer because its highly character driven, and literally made for playing highly motivated characters struggling with their demons. Which i feel Sweeny Todd is all about.

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