Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rules-lite Savage Worlds: It works for us

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my Savage Worlds fantasy sandbox, Autumn Frontiers. We're about 14 sessions in, which averages out to about one session per month—not too bad, but a little less frequently than I would have liked. Oh well, we're all adults with busy lives, so I'm not gonna turn up my nose at 14 substantive sessions in a year. And did I mention that this is the longest-running game I've ever GMed?

Anyway, we're using Savage Worlds, and over the last year we've tinkered mightily with that system. Most of our modifications have been designed to speed up an already fast ruleset. That's one of my weaknesses as a GM—no system will ever be fast enough for me, because I live in mortal fear of boring my players with drawn-out, grinding combats. So anything that speeds things along is paramount at my table.

The first thing we did was eject the playing-card initiative system in favor of a single d6 roll per side (one for the players' party, one for the GM's monsters). This also necessitated tweaking all of the various edges that reference initiative or being dealth the Joker, etc. Spending a benny can still win the players initiative if they so choose, however. I know the playing-card initiative system is a hallmark of Savage Worlds, but to us it just introduced 52 extra fiddly bits to our already crowded tabletop. Out it went.

We've also ignored a lot of the combat maneuvers (disarm, called shot, etc) as well as most of the edges that don't show up on character sheets. When I stat out monsters, I prefer to express their threat in terms of hard numbers rather than edges (which, like feats, are difficult for me to remember during combat).

We kept the skill list, but we only use about 6 skills regularly, the rest being relegated to specific situations or characters.

Really, what's kept us most excited about Savage Worlds has been the innovative resolution mechanic: Target Number 4, which you can attempt on a variety of polyhedral dice based on your relevant skill. But you're always trying for a 4, mostly. And any dice that rolls its maximum explodes, allowing you to roll it again and add it to the previous number. This can result in some hideously high damage rolls, both for the players and the monsters they encounter, and that's kept things very interesting out in the wilderness. Anything that rolls dice to attack you can, conceivably, drop you with one attack. We love it!

In retrospect, the path we've charted with this game has a lot in common with UncleBear's "Old School Anything" concept—just strip out all the extemporaneous stuff from your game, look at what's left, and run a game with it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

GenCon photo highlights..finally

Yes, I know GenCon was more than a month ago. But I'm just now posting a few choice photos from the games I enjoyed last month. Gimme a break!

First up is a pic of Frank Mentzer DMing a session of Tower of Gygax. It really was a treat to watch him rock the party's world. I think the pic is big enough for you to zoom in and see the whiteboard o' death behind him. I didn't actually get to play with Frank, but I watched for the better part of an hour and then jumped in when a new DM took over.

Here's a shot of the GM Jam featuring (from left) Josh from Stupid Ranger, Zach from RPGBlog2, Jeff from Bonescroll, Mike/Chgowiz from the Old Guy RPG Blog and Tony Law of RPGCentric. Since I'm a player in Mike's sandbox fantasy campaign, I did my part by shouting questions designed to extol Mike's virtues and tout my own capabilities as a player.

I also played in Zach's Microlite74 game "Smash and Grab at the Kobold Caverns." The title was very accurate—the session was only two hours, compared to the normal four hours for a GenCon RPG event, and the players were literally competing to score the most loot and win the very real prize that Zach had hidden in his backpack. Toward the end of the session, as the characters began fleeing back to town with their treasure, my character drank a potion of strength, heaved open a huge door and grabbed a single gem that proved to be more valuable than anything else retrieved by the players. Thus I won the prize—a custom set of Call of Cthulhu dice! Thanks Zach—nice ears, buddy!

My first night at GenCon I arrived too late to pick up my badge. So I wandered over to a nearby hotel and watched as Luke Crane GMed a session of Burning Empires. I've played Burning Wheel and read Burning Empires, so it was a real treat to watch a game run by someone who knew the system and setting so intimately.

And that's it! Look for more horribly outdated posts here in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Savaging the D&D Monster Manual

My local gaming store is gearing up to host its twice-yearly consignment auctions, so I've been combing my collection looking for unused material to sell off. Since I'll be dropping off a load of stuff in the next couple of weeks, my buddy (and fellow RPG Diehard author) Ben pulled together a pile of saleable stuff from his own collection to add to the auction; this lot included the D&D 3.0 Monster Manual.

While organizing our shared auction wares, I happened to flip open the Monster Manual. Now, I must confess that I've never actually perused any of the various beast books for D&D—if you'd asked me last week, I would have told you that their content is utilitarian in nature...stat blocks for critters and little else.

And although I found stats aplenty, I also found myself enthralled by the narrative description of the monsters. In general, I've turned up my nose at the more mythic, oddball monsters in D&D, preferring instead to populate my wilderness with evil humanoids like orcs, hobgoblins and troglodytes. You know, monsters that can think and strategize. But skimming the Monster Manual really fired my imagination in regards to some of the more fantastical creatures in the book, stuff like thoqquas (the segmented, elemental lava-worms that will fit perfectly into a dungeon I'm working on), mohrgs (more interesting than your average undead), hippogriff (until recently, I couldn't say that word with a straight face) and, of course, beholders.

Before I knew it, I'd pulled out a notebook and begun sketching out Savage Worlds stats for a dozen of the more interesting critters. They're on the way to my campaign notebook now—and Ben's Monster Manual, having offered up one last burst of inspiration, is on its way to the auction and, hopefully, someone else's gaming table.