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.