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So I’ve got a few sessions of Savage Worlds under my belt, most notably using it for Ghostbusters, but also with two sessions’ worth of Coventry, and the time is coming for me to decide what I actually think of it– and more importantly, if I want to keep using it or not.
Savage Worlds does have a lot going for it. Because there’s no such thing as “balance,” GM prep is easy– I think up a thing, assign a few dice to it, and go. If I can’t decide what the value for a given Trait should be, I make it d6 and call it done. Because there’s no hit-point tracking and very little in the way of status effects, combat is always very fast. In a deliberate attempt to push the system’s limits (and see where they were), I came up with a couple of different scenarios that involved lots of NPCs on both sides, with the players controlling allies as the game recommends, and I have to say that the combat system worked like a well-oiled machine. The only times that wasn’t true were situations where I couldn’t remember the rules (or kept remembering them wrong).
On the other hand, for the same reason of there being no such thing as “balance,” it can be difficult to tweak a scenario for maximum enjoyment. Depending on how kind/cruel the dice are, and how well bennies get applied, any creature tougher than a goblin could potentially be a cakewalk or a TPK. In one instance, an NPC attacked a huge monster with a machine gun and all the NPC’s dice exploded, meaning she hit it with raises each time, rolling enormous amounts of damage. Even though the huge monster was a wildcard and had bennies of its own to spend, she still burned through ‘em and killed the thing with one pull of the trigger.
In the same session, the PCs, by judicious use of bennies and a lot of crazy firepower, obliterated dozens of enemy forces, only to have one of their own number blown to a fine red spray by a machine gun fired from a helicopter. The game is just as it says on the tin: savage indeed.
This OMGdeadly nature of the game is not as big a deal in Ghostbusters– one of the campaign’s house rules is that if you get incapacitated, that just means your character is sent to the hospital in traction until the next session– but in a setting where character death is a real danger, it takes some getting used to. One of my players in particular loves to throw his character right into the middle of the biggest hornet’s nest he can find (which is why he went up against the helicopter with a machine gun), which is all well and good in a game like Pathfinder, where there’s probably a cleric around to pump him full of healing, but in Savage Worlds is an express ticket to Dirtnapville.
It also means that I have to come up with “more stuff” to put into any given scenario to keep the players from feeling like they haven’t had to work for their success. After handily chewing through two dozen guys, they’re not likely to find six guys a challenge, unless I crank up the skills of those six guys to 11 (which could tip the balance quickly into TPK). It’s very twitchy. Pathfinder and the like are pretty forgiving systems, with lots of wiggle room for players to get in over their head and back out again. Savage Worlds, not so much. Where PF says “fine, scratched, hurt, in danger, dead,” SW says “Fine, fine, dead.”
Another factor here is that the difficulty to shoot anyone is almost always 4. Difficulty to shoot a big, slow-moving goon? 4. Difficulty to shoot Spider-Man when he’s jumping all around? 4. There are modifiers for range and extreme size and so forth (and a few Edges at higher levels that give you some dodging bonuses), but any setting where most fighting is done with guns, you pretty much have to depend on cover to keep you alive. The problem, from a tabletop RPG standpoint, is that standing behind cover and plinking away at someone else behind cover, just isn’t much fun. Realistic? Probably. Is realistic always a good thing? Probably not.
All of this said… dayum, but prep is easy. I looooove that. So… tough call!
Players, what do you think?
This just popped into my head, but it seems like it would be a fun idea for a one-off game.
Create any legal Pathfinder [or insert your game system of choice here] character of level 1d4+6 with level-appropriate gear.
You wake up, startled, and look around. Before you are a handful of other adventurers, similarly coming to their senses, as well as a woman in what appear to be priestly robes, who wields a magic wand. Surrounding you are several smashed and long-crumbled statues.
The woman speaks to you in a heavily-accented variant of the common tongue that takes you a few moments to comprehend. “Are you all right? Can you understand me? You have been restored from petrification by a medusa, centuries ago. The medusa is long dead. We have revived you because a great threat has arisen… and we have no heroes who have the strength to fight it. We hope that you, great warriors of the past, may have that strength…”
There you go, have fun with it. Depending on how weird you wanted to get you could tweak the available classes (say, disallow Gunslingers at the start of the game, even though there are Gunslinger NPC threats) or go for a superscience-and-sorcery angle a la Thundarr the Barbarian, depending on how long the PCs spent petrified. The PCs themselves could be from any number of different eras of your campaign world’s past.
I don’t know why, but I woke up remembering the worst game session evar this morning, and I’ve decided to record it for posterity.
It was at a convention. It doesn’t matter which convention it was, nor really who the other participants were. I will say that we were at least theoretically supposed to be playing Mongoose’s Conan d20 game. My character was a Bossonian archer; my memory is that the other characters were an Aquilonian soldier (P1) and a Zamoran rogue (P2). Basically, except for the Cimmerian barbarian, we were Ye Olde Hyborian Cliché Party.
That’s okay, RPGs are like that. But little did we know what were were getting into from there…
(Note: This is paraphrased from memory.)
GM: You’re in Nemedia, all headed for a tavern. It’s getting dark. Up ahead the road goes through a narrow gorge. (draws the road on the mat)
Me: Uh-oh, smells like ambush. I’ll hang back.
P2: I’ll hang back too.
P1: Well, I guess I’ll march ahead then.
GM: A bunch of bandits pop up out of the rocks and charge you! Roll for initiative. (we do: P1 gets a 12, P2 gets a 15, I get an 8)
GM: Okay, the bandits go first. These three attack you (P1), these two run towards you (P2), these two run towards you (me). (rolling dice) Two hit you, doing 15 points of damage.
P1: Holy crap! Good thing I’ve got 23 hit points.
P2: Okay, my turn. I’ll move forward and attack this one. (roll) 15?
GM: You miss.
P2: Wow, on a 15. What kind of armor are they wearing?
GM: They’ve got a real high DEX.
P2: Oh. Okay.
P1: (roll dice) 20! Let’s see if I crit. (roll) 16?
GM: Nope, not a crit.
P1: Aww, crap. Okay… (roll dice) 15 points of damage.
GM: (frowning) You kill that one.
P1: Sweet! I’ve got Cleave, so I’ll attack one of the other guys next to me. (roll dice) 18.
P1: Miss? On an 18? Seriously?
Me: (doesn’t roll anything like a 20, so I miss) I waste some arrows.
GM: These two attack you (P1) again. These two see their friend go down and break off from you (P2) to go attack the fighter.
P2: Cool! Attack of opportunity time! (starts to roll dice)
GM: Nope, they have Combat Reflexes.
P2: What does that have to do with it? Combat Reflexes just gives you extra attacks of opportunity.
GM: Not Combat Reflexes. The other one. (looks at his notes) Mobility.
P2: So they get a bonus to their AC. I still get to roll, tho.
GM: No, one of my house rules is that Combat Reflexes mean you just don’t get attacks of opportunity against them. You would have missed anyway, this is faster.
GM: (roll dice) Okay, that one hits you (P1) for only 5 points of damage that time.
P1: Cripes! I only have 3 hit points left.
GM: Suddenly this amazingly gorgeous woman comes around the corner. She’s wearing nothing but these skimpy furs, and some fur boots, and a big fur cape. She’s got this amazing flowing blonde hair and blue eyes, and she’s obviously a barbarian. But she’s like, hot. She has 18 Charisma. She’s carrying a big, blood-spattered axe.
Me: Well there’s something you don’t see every day.
GM: It’s her initiative right after the bandits, so she charges the bandit that just hit you. (roll dice) She kills him! She’s got Great Cleave, so she attacks the other two.
Me: Doesn’t Great Cleave mean you can only keep attacking as long as you kill each target?
GM: (roll dice) Well, she does.
P1, P2, Me: Ooohkay.
P1: Well, uh, I guess I’ll move to this guy and attack. (roll dice) 14.
GM: You miss.
P2: I’ll move into flanking position, with the +2 that gives me (roll dice) 18.
GM: You miss.
Me: Guess I’ll shoot! (roll dice) 17.
GM: 15. You’re -2 for shooting into a melee.
Me: You mean the -4? I’ve got Precise Shot.
GM: That’s one of my house rules. Precise Shot means you only get -2.
Me: (sigh) Doesn’t matter, I would have missed anyway.
(next round: barbarian chick easily wipes out remaining bandits)
GM: She says, “My name is Anima. You’re lucky I happened to be here, this road is dangerous. These bandits were probably searching for the cursed amulet I carry.”
P2: No doubt.
Me: I recover whatever arrows I can and say, “Well thank you, Anima. We’re headed for the tavern ahead.”
GM: “I’ll join you, in case more bandits show up and you need my help.”
P1, P2, Me: (exchange dubious glances)
GM: You go to the tavern. Anima orders a huge chunk of meat and just starts eating it right off the bone. Then she guzzles down a whole mug of ale all at once and orders another. She obviously has no idea of what to do in civilization.
Me: Uh huh. Well I’ll go find a seat somewhere and order a meal.
P1: I guess I’ll sit with Anima. I eat about the same way she does!
GM: You spend the meal staring at Anima. She’s hot.
P2: I’m looking around for pockets to pick.
GM: (roll dice) You find about 22 silver pieces from picking pockets.
(fast forward over a painful scene of attempting to do a little RP talking to the innkeeper and such that goes nowhere)
GM: Anima says, “Those bandits were sent by an evil wizard who wants the cursed amulet I’m carrying. We have to go kill him.”
Me: Like, right now? It’s night.
GM: “Yes. We’re going now.” (erases the canyon from the map, then draws almost-identical lines to indicate a road) So after paying your tavern bill, you start heading for the wizard’s tower. You’re walking on a raised road that goes through a swamp. Anima says, “There’s undead in this swamp.”
P1: Bring ‘em on! They need wiping out.
GM: Anima says, “Be careful what you wish for!” (laughs the typical “I’m an evil GM and you’re in for it!” laugh)
Me: I’m not afraid of undead. We’re protected by Mary Sue the Barbarian.
GM: These zombie-things come shambling out of the swamp at you. They all have gemstones in their chest that look like the amulet Anima is carrying. She says, “Oh no, they’re being drawn to the power of the amulet!” Roll initiative. (we do: I get 19, P1 gets 11, P2 get 15) Okay, the zombies go first.
Me: Wow. Before my 19?
GM: Yep, they’re really fast.
Me: Huh. Really fast zombies.
GM: They all shuffle towards Anima. (creepy groaning noises) She snarls and says, “I hate undead!” and attacks.
Me: Because her initiative is higher than 19, too.
GM: (roll dice) She kills that one. And with Great Cleave, she runs over and attacks the next one (rolls dice) but misses.
P1: Uh, I’m pretty sure that Great Cleave doesn’t let you move.
GM: Yes it does. That’s one of my house rules.
P1, Me: (shrug at each other)
GM: Okay, your turn.
Me: (roll dice) 20! I assume I can’t crit these guys.
GM: No, you can’t. Also, you missed.
Me: What??? I rolled a 20!
GM: Yeah, but they’re undead. You need a magic weapon to hit them. Anima can hit them because she’s carrying the amulet that gives them their power.
Shortly thereafter, the session ended due to time. Strange as it may sound, the other players and I did manage to have some fun, but for all the wrong reasons. It was a bit like a cross between a tabletop RPG and living an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Tremorwhips are burrowing, vaguely snake-like creatures native to Coventry. The smallest specimens have deadly venom; the largest specimens have long, barbed tentacles and swordlike stingers on the end of their tails. They are attracted to vibrations in the ground, making them a perennial road hazard and a constant nuisance at industrial stations. This is a fairly typical specimen, roughly 20′ long (rising 12′ from the ground when attacking) with two tentacles.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6(A), Spirit d10, Strength d12+2, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d6, Notice d10, Stealth d10
Pace: 6/20, Parry: 5, Toughness: 12(2), Charisma: 0
Bite/Lash: d6 (Str+d6)
Burrowing 20″: Surprise on Stealth vs. Notice (+2 attack; +4 raise)
Hardy: Once Shaken, further Shaken results ignored
Large: Attackers gain +2 on attack rolls
Natural Armor +2: Natural defenses
Size +3: Adjustment to Toughness based on creature’s mass
Slam: Opposed Fighting vs. Agility for 4d6 damage
Stretch: Reach for slam attack equal to current Size
Swallow Whole: Fighting -2 to swallow target 3 sizes smaller; swallowed target is immobile and takes automatic bite damage each round; attacks from inside the tremorwhip ignore armor and size bonuses to Toughness
Text and “Coventry” setting ©2012 by John “The Gneech” Robey. Artwork ©2009-2012 by Marauder6272. Stat block created by Hero Lab® (Registered Trademarks of LWD Technology, Inc. Free download at http://www.wolflair.com). Savage Worlds is Copyright © 2004-2012 by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. All rights reserved.
I’ve been making a few noises about this for a while now, but the Players Handbook for my new Savage Worlds campaign inspired by Borderlands is finally ready!
From the guide:
Coventry is a gung-ho adventure campaign somewhere between Mad Max and Cowboy Bebop, with a side of Escape From L.A. The year is 2766 and your characters all live on the quarantined prison world of Coventry, trying to make your way as best you can among the local monsters, the faction wars, the octane-sucking racing circuit, and of course the occasional insane robot. You might be a local, born and raised on Coventry, you might have been “dropped” here, or you might even have arrived here by accident due to a shipwreck or other mishap. However you came to be here, however, it’s all but impossible to leave.
The prison world of Coventry originally appeared in my Star Hero campaign in the early ’90s (Holy crap, was that really 20 years ago? O.o), and I’ve toyed with the idea of running a game there off and on many times since then, but it wasn’t until the Savage Worlds setting 50 Fathoms, combined with playing Borderlands 2, that a solid vision of how to make it work as a campaign finally gelled. By using the Savage Worlds “Plot Point” model, all I have to do is toss out a few hooks and let the players create the actual campaign, by fleshing out the ones they bite on.
Coventry as it appears here is a bit different from my initial conception in details, but much the same in spirit. I originally pictured it as a kind of “lost world” jungle setting with megafauna and people attempting to carve civilization out of it without help from the outside, but after playing Borderlands the idea of it being more like a dystopian “through the looking glass” world full to the brim with its own variety of Mad Hatters really appealed to me. This version is also in a separate continuity from my Star Hero game, not so much to avoid any clash with previous continuity (assuming any of could even remember the previous continuity), as just for stylistic reasons.
I’m thinking about trying to write up the setting for eventual publication as an officially-licensed Savage Worlds setting, but that will take time, development, and probably a Kickstarter campaign to finance some non-cribbed artwork. What I’ve got here is a draft/proof-of-concept more than anything else, but I’m pleased with it and I think the group will have fun with it.
…After we finish the current Ghostbusters scenario, of course. ¬.¬
Still! Players, start your thinkers. If all goes well, we could be playing this game on the 29th.
So I’ve been working on an idea for a Borderlands-ish game for Savage Worlds– SF semi-apocalyptic setting, lots of crazy OTT stuff, largely tongue-in-cheek, hordes of badguys that the goodguys take out in a spray of bullets, that sort of thing. And hero durability is an important aspect of this… SW is not a system of attrition, like Pathfinder. It’s a game in which you are often fine, fine, fine, dead. So taking a cue from the game that inspired it, this homebrew of mine is looking to use personal deflector shields.
My first idea was to have a system where shields gave you a certain number of “free soaks,” negating a number of wounds as you took them. A weak shield would give you one, a great shield would give you three or four. The problem is, this felt a little too much like just putting hit points back into the game, which sorta negates the whole point of the “up, down, or off the table” structure of Savage Worlds.
A new idea have had since and like better is giving shields a rating that subtracts from incoming damage, from d4 to d12+x, just like an attribute. An average shield probably has a value of d8 or d10. Every time you take a hit, your shield’s rating goes down by a step, until it’s finally depleted after d4 and needs to recharge.
So imagine for a moment you have a d10 shield and a Toughness of 6. Someone pulls out a submachine gun and shoots you, hitting twice and rolling 2d8 each time to get totals of 9 and 10. The first hit is against your full d10 shield, so you roll and get a 6. The first hit’s damage becomes (9-6=) 3, well under your Toughness of 6, so the bullet bounces off your shield, reducing its rating to d8. The second hit, you roll your shield’s new rating of d8 and get a 3. The second hit’s damage becomes (10-3=) 7, which overcomes your Toughness of 6 and you become shaken, while your shield’s rating drops to d6.
The effect of this: well you can see in the example above that without the shield, you would have been shaken and had two wounds (shaken on the 9, wounded twice on the 10 because it got a raise over your Toughness), while with the shields, you end up just shaken. The nice thing about shields being a die rating is that you don’t really need to “track” it, just have the right size die handy. The reduction in die size with each hit both simulates the way deflector shields traditionally “go down,” as well as adding some tension to the fight. (“My shields are all the way down to d4! Run for cover!”)
The big question is, how do your shields recover? I’m thinking maybe they go up by +1 step at the beginning of your turn (up to their maximum), or fully recharge if you draw a joker for initiative.
The other question is, how do you handle allies, particularly large groups of them? I’m thinking that they probably have a “group shield value” that drops by one the first time that group is hit on a turn but only the first time. The same way allies’ ammunition levels simply drop a step after every fight, all allies in a group have the same effective rating as an aggregate of all the wild shots that have flown around in the combat. (But since large groups of allies are often being shot at by large groups of opponents, having the rating go down with every hit would deplete the shield immediately on the first turn.)
Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Keep in mind that the system needs to be “Fast! Furious! and Fun!” and has to scale quickly in large combats. I’d be interested to hear what other savages out there might have to say!