Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dungeon Vermin in Savage Worlds

I’ve been enjoying some of the posts lately about “dungeon vermin” — giant beetles, centipedes, rats, scorpions and other creepy crawlies that adventurers are sure to find in most ancient catacombs. So I started thinking about how to incorporate these suckers into Savage Worlds, the system of choice for my upcoming fantasy game. There’s not telling how much dungeon-delving the PCs will do, but if they do venture underground, I like the idea of having a thriving ecosystem waiting for them down there.

The key with dungeon vermin — near as I can tell — is that they’re not threatening on their own, but they’re able to endanger the party in certain situations (right after a big battle, for example, when the exhausted, drained characters blunder into a pit filled with giant leeches).

How to represent this in Savage Worlds? The best way, I think, is with the Shaken mechanic. Savage Worlds doesn’t use hit points; rather, each character has three wounds representing progressive levels of injury. Shaken is a sort of pre-wounded condition that limits a character’s actions and makes it much easier to subsequently wound him.

So, rather than stat out full blocks for each type of dungeon vermin, I think I’ll simply give them an attack rating, a toughness score and a custom Edge (read: feat) that limits any successful damage roll to Shaken. This makes them superbly annoying, occasionally deadly — but never to be ignored.

Think of the insect pit scene in King Kong — the characters were on the ropes, exhausted, and the scary bugs thought they had an easy meal on their hands until the rest of the party showed up and massacred the insects. But not before the swarming bugs managed to snack on a few adventurers. Dungeon vermin should be a low-level background threat for most of the game, except for that one-in-a-hundred situation where the Shaken result combines with some other unforseen scenario to make the players really sweat.


jamused said...

I'm not sure I get the mechanic. Would the Shaken results the vermin get be able to be "promoted" to a Wound if they manage to get a Shaken result on a still Shaken character? Or would they only be any danger at all if they appeared in conjunction with another threat that could actually Wound? The former I think I like, the latter I think would be a problem for tracking the two kinds of Shaken....

PatrickWR said...

Or would they only be any danger at all if they appeared in conjunction with another threat that could actually Wound?

This is what I'm aiming for, maybe with a level or two of Fatigue in there as an option for the GM in non-combat situations. I really don't want the PCs to die to a giant rat, but I like the idea of them having to hustle through a dungeon or thoroughly clear a room before stopping to catch their breath.

You know Savage Worlds a lot better than I do, though. What's your take on the above scenario? Workable?

jamused said...

Fatigue is nasty in SW, since you get the same penalties as for being Wounded.

I guess I feel that if they can only do non-wounding Shaken, they're just a waste of time. The effects of Shaken aren't likely to last more than a round or two beyond the end of the battle with them no matter how badly the players roll, even if they don't spend a Bennie. So that means that an encounter with nothing but vermin won't do anything more than soak up play time--they are in effect being attacked by creatures whose only ability is "Lose a turn." It would probably be simpler to have the encounter be: Spend 1dN rounds clearing out giant rats before you can proceed, where N is determined by the size of the pack.

If they're attacked by vermin and something more dangerous in combination, then maybe the vermin are an interesting factor...but again it might be simpler to treat them as either Extras who do nothing but Taunt/Intimidate or Trick (added bonus with a semi-decent skill at it they can actually distract the high parry or high toughness combat monsters) if they can be dispatched (a handful of giant rats) or an environmental factor if they can't (a swarm of bats with too many to kill).

I kind of like the other version, though, where the individual damage was capped at Shaken, but it was still treated as a damaging attack. Very unlikely to kill anyone unless they're already running on fumes, but not something you can just ignore as long as you're willing to move at only half Pace.

PatrickWR said...

Yep -- I like yours better! It does a more effective job at simulating the sort of "annoyance factor" that these beasties should have, while still leaving the possibility of a real threat if they're able to overwhelm the exhausted PCs. And it keeps them looking over their shoulder, which is great.

jamused said...

BTW, I understand completely about not wanting to give them a complete stat block but I think they deserve at least a Parry score even if they're 1 hit = kill, and I'd be tempted to give them Spirit and Smarts even if it's just a d4 so they can be Intimidated (say by waving a torch at them), Taunted (say by waving a piece of meat) or Tricked (say, by throwing the piece of meat over their heads). If the party is running on fumes, that'll give them some additional ways to deal with them.