Friday, November 28, 2014


Look, I know it's Black Friday and you've all got shopping on the mind. These are my recommendations for what you should buy for yourself or your gaming friends and family. Sorry, I didn't have time to knock out a lame-o Seal of Approval for these.

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures - $7.99 in pdf

I'm sorry 5e, but Beyond the Wall is still the best version of D&D. And yet, so few people seem to be talking about it! If you don't have it yet, remedy your situation and buy the just-released new version with additional content. (If you bought the first version, check your downloads at drivethrurpg and notice that you've been given a free update, hurrah!)

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Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer's Edition - $9.99 in print 

I've never seen a book that packs so much game into this many pages for so cheaply. But I just got done telling you lot what's in there, so what more can I say?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (part 11): GM Section

Following the rules for Powers is what is ostensibly the "GM's Section" of the Savage Worlds Deluxe book. The Game Mastering chapter gives a mix of terse, yet solid, advice and tidbits that hint at good ideas but perhaps don't go quite far enough. The advice covers rule-based content (know these bare minimum rules when you start play), social-based content (here's how to get a gaming group together), and creative-based content (here's some ideas for making your own setting). 

There are some things that I wish the author had given advice about. For example, it would be fantastic if there was some suggestions about what to do if a combat is dragging on and on under the Pacing section. Similarly, while a system for gauging how "balanced" an encounter is versus your PCs is outlined, I think some thoughts on how to adjust published monsters or encounters (especially pertaining to Plot Point campaigns) would be especially welcome. A point of Parry higher than your PCs can comfortably hit tends to make a much bigger difference in Savage Worlds than a point higher of armor class does in D&D, so this is the kind of mechanical advice that matters.

(Here's my fudging advice: if your players are having trouble hitting a high Parry number, even with using tricks and options, have the villain get visibly tired, dropping their guard, and thereby lower that Parry score. Toughness to high to have any damage get through? Have rolls that are close lower that Toughness a bit; their armor is giving out, holes are opening in their defenses, etc.)

Next up is a basic bestiary section. Commonly-found Monstrous Abilities are described, as are a good selection of pre-built foes that skews heavily toward real-world animals and the usual fantasy fare (ogres, liches, dragons, goblins, skeletons, etc.) The selection is not compendious, but it gives you enough examples to work from should you want to stat up your own beasties. Some of the monster portraits in this section are terrible; the ancient vampire makes me sad.

After the bestiary we get a selection of short "One Sheet" adventures. These adventures give a good sampling of how Savage Worlds can do different genres; the selection here covers fantasy, sci-fi, modern occult detectives, and mafia vs. terrorists. I haven't played any of these adventures, but they look like decent starting points. Again, I do wish some advice was given about adding your own content and details to these adventures; as written, they're essentially outlines with some pertinent stats--they'll need creative input to really sing.

Lastly, the book adds in some useful tools like templates for bursts, turning radius, and cone attacks, as well as a character sheet.

All in all, I'm not sure I've seen better value in a $9.99 core book.

To recap the series:

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Traits and Character Creation
Part 3: Archetypes and Races
Part 4: Skills, Edges, Hindrances
Part 5: Advances, Summaries, Gear
Part 6: Extras and Wild Cards
Part 7: Combat Basics
Part 8: More Combat Stuff
Part 9: Situational Rules
Part 10: Powers

Monday, November 24, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (part 10): Powers

Savage Worlds handles supernatural abilities such as magic, psychic powers, weird science, miracles, and super powers by having you take the corresponding Arcane Background edge. An Arcane Background edge gives you access to a few starting powers of your choice, power points to fuel those powers, and a skill to activate them. The differences between the various Arcane Background aren't complex, but they are somewhat flavorful. Arcane Background (Magic) gives you three powers to start with, but also opens you up to backlash if you ever really blow your Spellcasting roll, while Arcane Background (Weird Science) gives you one power to start with (in gizmo form) and makes you roll on a malfunction table if they roll a 1 when trying to activate their devices.

Using powers is very simple: you pay the power's required power point cost from your pool, then roll your relevant skill to see if you've successfully activated the power. Some powers have effects that are heightened if you spend more power points on them or are heightened with a raise on your skill roll. Some powers can be maintained by spending additional power points; maintained powers have a chance of being disrupted if their user takes damage or is Shaken. Power points automatically "recharge" at a rate of 1 per hour.

The suite of powers detailed in the Deluxe book will likely cover all of your basic needs. Instead of an exhaustive list of powers that take up half the book (as you tend to find in D&D's Player's Handbooks), the powers in Savage Worlds covers a range of basic effects that can be further flavored with various "trappings." For example, the book has powers for abilities like flight, invisibility, healing, boosting and lowering traits, etc. Within those circumscribed mechanical effects, players have a great deal of latitude in describing what their powers look like. My Bolt power (the basic damaging ranged effect) might be a gout of fire, while yours might take the form of a stream of biting and stinging insects. The difference could be purely descriptive, or might be given small mechanical variances based on the trappings we ascribe to them. A Bolt with the cold trapping, for example, might slow its target, while a Bolt with the necromantic trapping might do more damage to unarmored flesh.

The powers system in Savage Worlds will not satisfy everyone. If you're happy to have a flexible system that covers the usual bases, you'll probably find a lot to love in the way Savage Worlds does things. On the other hand, if you like your supernatural powers to be weird, idiosyncratic, and full of options, you be be a bit let down here. The powers detailed in the Deluxe book do feel a bit "gamey"; that is, they're mostly geared toward combat and there is somewhat of an absence of "utility" powers. Powers that create visual illusions, for example, seem to be entirely absent.

If you fall into that latter camp, I do have a few suggestions for you that might at least partially make the system behave more like you want it to. First, though, I need to say this: I really don't think that adding a ton of new powers to the system is the right solution. Characters in Savage Worlds simply don't have the opportunity to learn as many powers as characters in other systems you may be used to, so flooding the game with more options won't actually make characters feel more well rounded.

There are, however, new powers described in the Fantasy and Horror Companions that are welcome additions to the game and help fill in some notable gaps. I think if you want to do a superhero game, the Supers Companion likely to be a necessity. But the best solution, I think, is for the GM and players to talk to each other and define how much "wiggle room" they'd like in the powers system--why not discuss what else these powers can do besides what is written in the book? For example, using the Environmental Manipulation power to magically create a small shelter that keeps the party dry in a rainstorm hardly seems like a game-breaking addition. Light/Obscure might be one way to create illusions...or maybe all it takes is a simple Spellcasting trait roll to pull off a minor bit of prestidigitation. Keep in mind that the game is essentially a framework that you get to create within--it might not have everything you want RAW, which could understandably be a deal-breaker for some.

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Monster: Lager Lout

Lager Lout
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength *, Vigor *
Pace: 6; Parry: *; Toughness: *
Skills: Fighting *, Notice d4
Special Abilities
  • Violent Drunk: A lager lout's traits and abilities are dependent on how long he's been drinking:

Length of Drinking Bout Strength, Vigor, and Fighting Parry Toughness Abilities
Less than one hour 1d6 5 5 Brawler edge
1-2 hours 1d8 6 6 Hardy
2-3 hours 1d10 7 7 Frenzy edge
3-4 hours 1d12 8 8 Improved Frenzy edge

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (part 9): Situational Rules

It's been awhile since we've taken a walk through the Savage Worlds Deluxe book, but since I got a request to finish out the series 'ere we go.

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As a system that can be used for a multitude of genres and styles, Savage Worlds offers situational rules to help the GM figure out how a number of things should play out. The rules in this section won't be applicable to every game, but this section of the book attempts to cover as many bases as possible. Indeed, the book even advises that you don't need to memorize these rules before you begin play; they're just here if and when they come up: "The following  chapter  contains  rules  you  need  only  in particular situations—such as handling large groups of allies, chases, or dealing with hazards such as fire, drowning, or radiation. If  this  is your  first  time  through  the  book,  skim  over  the various sections so you know what’s in here, then come back and check them out in detail when you need them" (80).

In general, the situational rules offer neat little bits to play with. The rules for Allies, for example, offers a random table to generate allies' personality quirks, a simple bookkeeping-free system for leveling up your non-player comrades, a mini-system for tracking ammo easily, and a run-down of stats for common types of allies. The situational rules are mostly mechanical (such as the rules for Chases or the rules for Hazards such as extreme cold, poison, radiation, etc), but there are some narrative options (such as Interludes that tell the group more about their characters' back-stories). My favorite of the situational rules are the rules for Fear, which include a really flavorful random table that determines how characters react in response to horror and terror.

One particularly important are of situational rules is the concept of Setting Rules. Setting Rules exist to help you tailor the Savage Worlds system to a particular genre or setting. For example, if you want to run a game with Savage Worlds that is less pulpy and more gritty, use the Gritty Damage rules to make combat far less safe. Want to run a game of swashbuckling heroics where the characters have a degree of script-immunity? Use the Born a Hero and Heroes Never Die rules. Don't like how broad the skill categories are? Use Skill Specialization rules. Don't like "mana" magic systems? Use the No Power Point rules. The Setting Rules are highly modular; you can a really diverse range of styles out of them by using just a couple of them to alter how the base system works.

Next time: POWERZ

Monday, November 17, 2014

Colonial Ethersea

Wrote a sketch of a D&D in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace setting in a fit of boredom. (Everyone's done a D&D in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace at some point, right?) Posting it here for posterity, or something.

Colonial Ethersea

It was the damndest thing, guv'nor! When the portals opened across the world and began spewing out technological thingamajigs, we didn't know what to make of it. Some thought they were infernal devices meant to test our faith, others believed that they were gifts from the Lady to guide us into the next stage of our spiritual evolution. Of course, we didn't know what to do with any of the bits and bobs that had entered our world—but some bright coves began to get the hang of how they worked and even managed to put them together in new and inventive ways!

The upshot was that we managed to make craft that were capable of traversing the Ethereal Sea. The largest of these craft were dubbed arkworlds, for they were big enough to house a population of travelers, explorers, and expatriates willing to take them into the furthest reaches of the unexplored ether in search of new worlds that could be colonized and added to the imperial holdings. Soon every civilized race had its own arkworld launched into the gulfs of the Ethereal in search of territory.

Now the arkworlds have converged at the Scape—a solar system with at least five inhabitable worlds. Each arkworld is attempting to claim the planets of the Scape for their own, but competition between the peoples of the arkworlds and resistance from the planetary natives troubles the very notion of the imperial adventure! The Great Game is afoot!

The Arkworlds

Cathedra Glorium
Humanity's arkworld is a place of fanatical religious devotion. The Church of the Lady operates as a theocracy that governs nearly all facets of mankind's existence. At the top of the Church hierarchy are the Daughters, aasimar women who ascended from the sin-stained state of the human condition; the Daughters wield immense temporal and spiritual authority because they are thought to be closest to the Lady herself. Mankind's colonial endeavor is to spread the worship of the Lady to heathens and unbelievers. Whether their religion is spread by good deeds or the sword is of little consequence—most firmly believe that the ends justify the means. Dwarves are genetically-engineered shock troops employed by the Cathedra Glorium to keep order and suppress rebellion in its colonies.

Cathedra Nihil
Those who turned to the dark worship of devils and demons as rebellion against Cathedra Glorium's oppressive state religion split off and created their own arkworld. For their prideful rebellion they were cursed to appear much like the fiends they serve. The colonial endeavor of the tieflings of the Cathedra Nihil is to undue and subvert the imperial aims of Cathedra Glorium; they work in the shadows to tempt colonial subjects to the worship of infernal beings from the lower planes of existence.

The Ardensphere
The elven arkworld functions as two arkworlds in one: the outer levels of the arkworld are made from living, organic structures and are home to high elves and wood elves, and the interior core of the arkworld are home to the light-shunning drow. Although they travel together, these groups have very different aims. The high elves and wood elves wish to guide their colonial subjects into a balance with nature, while the drow wish simply to use them as slaves and sacrifices to the spider-demon Lolth. Nevertheless, despite their cross-purposes the elves of the exterior and interior of the Ardensphere rarely engage each other in open combat—the ancient ties of their race bind too deeply to allow for the shedding of kindred blood.

The Drakkengaunt
The dragonborn arkworld is constructed from the carcass of an enormous ether-faring dragon. The colonial endeavor of the dragonborn is notably tragic: they wish to impose their culture of honor, battle prowess, and personal achievement on their colonial subjects—whom they tend to regard as savages—but the most dragonish part of their natures often prevails over their finer sentiments, leading them to behave more barbarously then their subalterns. Rumors of dragonborn eating those who oppose them aren't entirely unfounded.

The Star of the Noddy Union
According to their propaganda, the steam-powered arkworld of the gnomes is a socialist paradise where all are equal and all are given what they need. Behind the smiling facade of gnomish communism lies a darker truth: the plenty of the Noddy Union is maintained through the enslavement of halflings and kender as forced agrarian workers. The colonial endeavor of the gnomes is to spread this “freedom” to other races by adding their worlds to its empire.

The warforged of Mechanikus are former engines of warfare created by mankind; however, when they broke away from man's control, they quickly discovered that they had no real aims of their own—they only feel “right” do the bidding of others. Their arkworld is ruled by powerful ghosts; the warforged are only too happy to follow their spectral overlords' inscrutable imperial plans.

Made from bits and pieces crudely bolted together, the half-orc arkworld is a place of anarchic violence. Whichever gang is currently strongest takes control of the arkworld's controls. Half-orc culture is dominated by what they refer to as the “Three Effs”: Fighting, Fucking, and Feasting. The Three Effs don't always take place in that order.

The Colonial Scape 

Arachnos is a planet mostly inhabited by ettercaps. Although they live in a state of primitive barbarism, the ettercaps are heirs to a vast empire of technological wonders—which, in their current state of degeneracy, they have largely forgotten how to use. Buildings and permanent structures on Arachnos tend to be made from layers of hardened webbing.

Redcap is the water-starved goblin homeworld. Once beautiful and wise creatures, a horrific virus has since twisted the goblin folk into diminutive and devious caricatures of their formal selves. Due to the goblins' now-cowardly natures, they accept colonial governance without much resistance. However, imperial settlers should be wary of secretive goblin uprisings.

This gas-planet is home to genies and other elemental beings. The planet is “ruled” in the loosest sense by the terrors known as the Elemental Princes of Evil. Dybbuk has proved to be very resistant to colonial expeditions sent by the various arkworlds.

Coven IX
Coven IX is a diverse world of fey creatures governed by hag queens. No colony has survived for long on Coven IX due to the magical might wielded by the hags. Indeed, since few exploration voyages have returned from Coven IX very little is known about its even its basic geography.

Sycorax is a jungle-planet on which tribes of lizardfolk, bullwugs, and troglodytes make continual war against each other. The planet is also home to massive dinosaurs, some of which are used as beasts of burden by the lizardfolk. The lush vegetation of Sycorax has made it an ideal place to establish imperial outposts, but the danger posed by marauding natives demands constant vigilance.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Building a Better Ranger

Rich Franks made a good point in the comments of my post about how disappointing the 5e ranger seems: since when have I ever really hesitated to brew-up my own thing if the official thing didn't seem to pass muster? If I'm not down with the published ranger, why not DIY one I do like for use in my games?

I thought I'd start small and just tinker with the Beastmaster ranger, but...I ended-up overhauling the whole thing. These are the large-scale things I did:

1) Where the ranger's abilities were situational (favored terrain, favored enemy) I attempted to make them more broadly applicable.

2) I consolidated the Hunter ranger's powers and added other abilities comparable to what other classes get at similar levels.

3) I changed how the Beastmaster works entirely; now it uses the concentration mechanic to take beast actions alongside your own after you've established "guidance" over it.

4) Made a new capstone ability for 20th level rangers.

There are some smaller, subtler changes in there as well.

Here's a pdf of my version of the ranger. I've already got one person whose ranger just hit 3rd level lined up to playtest my ranger remix. It's possible I've swung the pendulum too far to the other side. It's possible I didn't change enough. It's possible that my ideas are terrible. In any case, check it out and feel free to give me feedback on it if you're so inclined.