Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Status and Renown

I originally wrote this article over three years ago, back in August 2015 – but unfortunately it was never published, and much of it will become obsolete once the new Adventurer Edition of Savage Worlds is released.

However I figured it could still be of interest to some readers, so I've decided to release it now before it's too late. Enjoy!

Introduction

The greatest of heroes – and the most terrible of villains – are frequently preceded by the tales of their mighty deeds and grand accomplishments, and the influence of a powerful politician may often prove a far bigger long-term threat than the military skills of a mere gunman or lone swordsman.

Savage Worlds describes trappings as the “heart and soul” of the powers system, but it's also very common to apply trappings to Edges, Hindrances, and even skills. In this article I will show how trappings can be used to create characters with influence and prestige, with a particular focus on two core Edges that many people take too literally: Noble and Beast Master. If you ignore their flavor text (which is really just a default trapping) and focus on the underlying mechanics, what they actually do is as follows:

• Noble: You have high status in your society, and receive special treatment. Gain +2 Charisma and the Rich Edge. You can have minions, a home, and other assets, but you also have great responsibilities.

• Beast Master: A particular category of creature won't attack you unless provoked or angered, and you receive one loyal minion who can be replaced if lost.

Once we strip away the default trappings, what we end up with are two generic Edges representing various types of status and renown.

Noble Concepts

Here are ten example character concepts that apply their own trappings to Noble and Beast Master:

 A pirate captain could take Noble to represent her standing among other pirates, the booty she steals, her ship and its crew, and her responsibilities to the crew. She could also take Beast Master to represent her fearsome reputation (other pirates won't attack her unless provoked or angered) and to grant her a loyal first mate.

 A mafia boss could use Noble to represent his high status in criminal society, his ill-gotten gains, his estates and employees, and his responsibilities to his family. He could also take Beast Master to represent his renown (other criminals fear him and won't attack unless provoked) and to grant him a loyal bodyguard.

 A famous singer might take Noble to represent her popularity, her income, her expensive home and her adoring fans, as well as the responsibility for maintaining her public image. She could also take Beast Master to represent being a media darling (the media loves her and doesn’t attack her image unless provoked or angered) and to grant her a loyal manager.

 A town sheriff in an Old West setting could take Noble to represent his authority, the loot he confiscates from outlaws, his office and lawmen, and his responsibilities to the town. He could also take Beast Master to represent the respect of the people (citizens won’t turn on him unless provoked or angered) and to grant him a loyal deputy.

 A princess would use the default Noble trappings, but could also take Beast Master to represent the love and admiration of the common people (the populace won’t turn on her unless provoked or angered) and to grant her a loyal handmaiden.

 A noble savage might take Noble to represent his status among the beasts, the natural treasures of the jungle in which he lives, his domain and the animals within it, as well as his responsibility for protecting the jungle from those who would harm or destroy it. He could use the default trappings for Beast Master.

 A mercenary captain could use Noble to represent her military reputation, the money she earns, the troops she leads, her camp followers, and her various responsibilities. She could also take Beast Master to represent her renown (other mercenaries respect and fear her, and prefer not to side against her) and to grant her a loyal second-in-command.

 A pastor might take Noble to represent his popularity, the tithes he receives, his church and congregation, and his vows and duties. He could also take Beast Master to represent the love of the people (citizens wouldn’t turn on him unless provoked or angered) and to grant him a loyal aide.

 An action movie star could take Noble to represent his popularity, the income from his movies, his expensive home and many fans, as well as his numerous duties and responsibilities as an actor. He could also take Beast Master to represent the admiration of his follow actors, and to grant him a loyal assistant.

 The leader of a thieves guild might use Noble to represent her position of authority, her share of the loot, her secret hideout and guild members, and her responsibilities and duties to the guild. She could also take Beast Master to represent her dangerous reputation (other thieves are scared to cross her) and to grant her a loyal bodyguard.

Supporting Edges

In addition to Noble and Beast Master, there are several other Edges that could easily be reskinned to represent reputation:

 Attractive and Very Attractive: Rather than just physical appearance, these could also be used to represent the allure of your fame and power.

 Rich and Filthy Rich: As well as money, these Edges also grant further assets and responsibilities, which could easily represent the benefits and drawbacks of high status. Note that Noble already gets Rich for free.

 Connections: This Edge can be taken multiple times, and can represent fans, or those you control or who are indebted to you.

 Leadership Edges: These Edges grant bonuses to those who obey and follow you, and could just as easily represent fanatical loyalty as military leadership skills.

 Followers: This Legendary Edge can be taken multiple times, and grants five loyal minions each time it is taken. This can be an effective way to gain permanent loyal staff and retainers, but the minions are not replaced when killed, so if possible you should try to use the minions from the Connections Edge for cannon fodder duty.

 Sidekick: This Legendary Edge grants you a Wild Card minion who is generally loyal, but who doesn’t always follow your orders. It can be a great way to represent a headstrong protégé, or the heir to your dynasty.

Many settings introduce further Edges that can also be beneficial. In particular, keep an eye out for Edges that allow Persuasion to be used for Tests of Will, or which allow Charisma to be added to Taunt or Intimidation rolls, as these are very powerful bonuses for a character with high Charisma.

Reputation-Based Hindrances

Just as it’s possible to apply trappings to Edges, so the same principle can be extended to Hindrances. With the appropriate trappings and flavor text, Hindrances like Outsider, Enemy, or even Bloodthirsty might easily be reworked to fit certain character concepts.

Besmirched (Minor)
You were accused of doing something horrific in some point in the past, and your reputation has been forever tainted as a result. You might be innocent of the crime, and may even have been acquitted in a court of law, but in the eyes of the public you will always be guilty, and they'll never let you forget it. You suffer a -2 penalty to Charisma.

Hacker’s Target (Minor/Major)
Someone keeps trying to obtain your private and personal information to leak to the press, the government, a rival organization, or simply to post on the internet. As a Minor Hindrance they just want to humiliate you, while as a Major Hindrance they’re hoping to find something that could lead to your arrest or even your death.

Media Scapegoat (Major)
The media despises you, and you are frequently followed around by reporters and paparazzi eager to dig up (or make up) new dirt. Actions you take in public will be reported in the worst possible light, and anything you say in front of reporters will be turned into sound bites that can be replayed out of context. You suffer a -4 penalty to Charisma when dealing with those who have read about you in the tabloids or seen news reports about you on the television.

Unruly Relation (Minor/Major)
One of your relatives has a knack for getting themselves into trouble, and this often reflects badly on you. Perhaps you have a sibling with a drug habit, a teenage son or daughter who shoplifts for attention, or an alcoholic uncle with a predisposition for violence. As a Minor Hindrance the relative is usually just an inconvenience and embarrassment, while as a Major Hindrance their actions cause frequent problems and risk seriously jeopardizing your career. Should the relative meet a sudden and untimely end, replace Unruly Relation with another Hindrance appropriate to their fate (such as Besmirched).

Political Powerhouse

As an extreme example of how you might build a reputation-focused political character, consider the following individual:

Politician
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Intimidation d4, Knowledge (Politics) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d12, Streetwise d8, Taunt d4
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant (Major), Vengeful (Minor), Greedy (Minor)
Edges: Noble

Noble represents his political status, his income, his home and constituency, as well as his various duties and responsibilities. As the character increases in power and influence, he might choose to take the following advances at each rank:

 Novice: Connections, Charismatic, Connections
 Seasoned: Attractive, Connections, Filthy Rich, Connections
 Veteran: Very Attractive, Connections, Beast Master, Connections
 Heroic: Intimidation d6 and Taunt d6, Connections, Strong Willed, Connections
 Legendary: Professional (Persuasion), Expert (Persuasion), Sidekick, Connections, Connections

As the politician grows in experience he would become increasingly influential, and after 20 advances he would end up as follows:

Politician
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Politics) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d12+2, Streetwise d8, Taunt d6
Charisma: +8; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant (Major), Vengeful (Minor), Greedy (Minor)
Edges: Beast Master, Charismatic, Connections x 10, Expert (Persuasion), Filthy Rich, Noble, Sidekick, Strong Willed, Very Attractive

Beast Master represents his status as a media darling: He is very popular with the media and receives frequent and highly favorable attention from most outlets. He also has a loyal spin doctor who would never betray his secrets.

Sidekick could be his daughter, son, or protégé – or perhaps even a chauffeur or bodyguard.

With Persuasion d12+2 and Charisma +8, the politician would use d12+10 for Persuasion rolls, ensuring 2+ raises except on snake eyes. With 10 Connections Edges, he would be able to request the service of up to 50 soldiers each session – and unlike the minions granted by the Followers Edge, these could be easily replaced the following session if killed. The Connections Edges could also be used to obtain financial assistance, specialized experts, and all manner of sensitive information and dark secrets about his rivals and enemies.

Obviously this is an extreme example, but it shows how a character can be built around social power and influence, and the ability to control and manipulate others. The same concept could just as easily be applied to a king (who rules over various lords and their vassals), a necromancer (who calls upon the spirits of the dead to reveal their secrets and animate an army of corpses), a demonologist (who knows the true names of many demons and can command them to obey her every whim), and so on – once again, it’s all about the trappings.

Legendary Status

Here is a quick overview of the Legendary Edges listed in the Savage Worlds core rules:

Martial Arts Master: Gives the same benefit as the Novice Brawler Edge, but you can take it multiple times and the bonuses stack.

Professional and Expert: These Edges each give the same benefit as raising a Trait by one die step, but they allow you to exceed your normal maximum.

Master: This boosts your Wild Die for one specific Trait.

Tough as Nails and Improved Tough as Nails: These each provide the same Toughness bonus as the Novice Brawny Edge, but unlike Brawny they don’t also increase your Load Limit.

Weapon Master and Master of Arms: These each grant the same benefit as the Seasoned Block Edge.

Followers and Sidekick: These Edges give you minions which are not replaced if killed. The minions granted by Followers are basic Extras and are likely to die quickly in combat, while the Sidekick is a tougher Wild Card but includes additional built-in drawbacks.

As you can see, the Legendary Edges are not usually any stronger than other Edges, at least not innately – their main benefit is that they stack with existing bonuses. Their requirements are also quite narrowly focused: in addition to Legendary rank, some might require d12 in a directly appropriate Trait and/or another Edge, but that’s all. From there we can extrapolate, giving us a basis for designing new Legendary Edges for a reputation-based character, for example:

Great Renown
Requirements: Legendary
You are particularly loved or feared by one category of people, such as the media, criminals, the police force, etc. Members of the chosen category will try to avoid confrontations with you when possible, but will still react if you push them too far.
In addition, you receive a single loyal minion of some sort. This minion is a normal Extra with 4 attribute points and 8 skill points, and is replaced after about a week if killed or dismissed.

Majestic Presence
Requirements: Legendary, Command Presence
Your presence is truly awe-inspiring, and your followers rally fanatically to your call. Your “command radius” is increased to 20”.

Never Give Up!
Requirements: Legendary, Hold the Line!
Your men will fight to the bitter end in order to protect you. This Edge adds an additional +1 bonus to the Toughness of those under your command.

Royal
Requirements: Legendary, Noble
You belong to the cream of your society, with a status far beyond that of a mere Noble. You receive an additional +2 Charisma and gain access to considerable resources and benefits, although your responsibilities also increase accordingly, and not all of them can be delegated away.

The same principle outlined here could also be applied to designing other Legendary Edges.

Summary

Although Savage Worlds places a strong emphasis on combat, it is perfectly possible to create viable and interesting characters who focus on social abilities, relying on their resources and minions (and perhaps Tricks and Tests of Will) when a fight cannot be avoided.

But even if you wish to play a ferocious warrior, you should at least consider investing in one or two Edges geared towards boosting your reputation – the skalds won’t sing of your great exploits if they don’t know who you are, and your enemies won’t tremble before you if they don’t even recognize you!

Friday, 28 September 2018

Custom Wild Dice from Chessex

A couple of years ago I ordered some custom Wild Dice for Saga of the Goblin Horde, but I've been giving them to players when I run games, and recently ran out. This time I decided to order some from Chessex instead, and the new dice finally arrived (after being bounced back and forth by customs).


I have to say, I really like the new dice. The company I used last time weren't able to include very fine detail (they had to remove the text), and also had to convert the image to an outline, but Chessex were able to produce exactly what I wanted. You can see a comparison of the old (top) and new (bottom) dice here:


I've already given away the first die -- my son wanted one for his own collection!


I have to say, one of the things I really love about Savage Worlds is all the props. Custom cards, dice and Bennies really make the whole gaming experience feel more polished, somehow.


I wonder what other props I can come up with...perhaps a custom GM screen? :)

Monday, 20 August 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start version 16

It's now been over six months since I released the last version of the SotGH Swift d12 Quick Start rules, but I've been working on this update for a while -- it adds eight additional pages and includes many changes to the rest of the document, incorporating feedback from several playtest sessions (including a very cool urban fantasy adventure ran by Manuel Sambs, using Swift d12 as a generic system).

Download it from here.

Summary of changes:
  • Removed the ability check descriptors (such as "perception-based guile checks"). These were a mouthful to describe, and the game feels more intuitive without them.
  • Briefly clarified how opposed ability checks work.
  • Streamlined advancement (dropped experience points).
  • Renamed the "abilities" to "attributes" (because of the introduction of talents).
  • Added three talents (Athletics, Perception and Stealth). Arguably they could have been left as part of the attributes, however they come up very frequently during adventures, and it makes it easier to reference them if they're listed separately (if I just wrote "Guile check" instead of "Perception check", I'd then have to clarify that it was related to perception, so that players knew which Feats or Flaws applied).
  • Added "Backgrounds". These are inspired by games like BoL and SotDL, Backgrounds represent broad skill categories (one might compare them to the way Common Knowledge works in Savage Worlds). I feel this is a good compromise, as it gives the characters more diversity without needing to track individual skills.
  • There's no longer a once-per-session cap on Flaws, instead you can now invoke them as often as you like, however you can only recover spent Karma Points (so you can't stockpile over your starting quota).
  • Rather than "Loner" being a special case, there's now a category of "Handicap" Flaws. There are also suggestions for changing Flaws during the campaign.
  • The "defend" action now provides twice the normal benefit when using a shield or buckler.
  • The "run" action now provides you a +2 damage bonus if you move at least 3 squares before attacking. In effect, it doubles up as a charge maneuver.
  • There's a small section about "Prepared Actions". This was necessary to avoid scenarios where someone steps out from behind cover, takes a shot, then ducks back again -- if there was no way to interrupt them, it would be impossible to ever shoot them back.
  • Clarified what happens when multiple complications are triggered at the same time, and added two examples of complications (friendly fire, and unstable devices).
  • If you "delay" during initiative, you can take one simple action as if it were a free action. Previously this cost a Karma Point, which meant there was no incentive for Mooks to ever delay. Now, it gives you a -2 penalty to your standard actions, and you have the option of spending a Karma Point to eliminate the penalty for rush/delay.
  • Added a section on mounts and vehicles.
  • Taking a free attack against a foe who withdraws from close combat now causes the attacker to become Staggered. This makes it more of a tactical decision, and avoids the scenario where 8 foes retreat from combat, and you get a free attack against all 8 of them.
  • Chases now use Athletics when on foot or mounted, and Agility when driving a vehicle.
  • Renamed "Fast Skirmish" to "Quick Skirmish", so the rule has the same name as the Savage Worlds version of SotGH.
  • Character creation now has a page on Backgrounds, and the Flaws have been slightly revised. The Feats have been redone (there's now a much larger list), they are now defined by category, with simple requirements and rules for stacking. There's also two pages on Spells.
  • The introductory adventure and pregenerated characters have been updated to reflect the new changes.
I'm now fairly happy with the latest rules, they smooth off the rough edges from the previous version (such as descriptors, lack of skills, the magic system, etc). Although there will no doubt be additional refinements in the future, I now feel comfortable starting work on the generic Swift d12 rules.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Galactic and Monster Countdown Decks

Back in June, I released the Saga of the Goblin Horde Countdown Deck. Feedback has been fairly positive, so I thought it'd be fun to create a couple more decks -- a planet-based Galactic Deck for science fiction games, and a Monster Deck that can be used for fantasy, horror or even science fiction (i.e., alien races). Unlike the goblin deck, these have illustrations on every card, not just the face cards.


A couple of people suggested giving all the decks the same back, so that they could be mixed and matched. I tried it, but it really didn't work out thematically (sorry guys), so in the end I decided to give each deck its own back:



As with the goblin deck, I've released free Virtual Tabletop versions (which you can grab here and here), as well as physical decks which you can purchase here and here.

I've also teamed up with Just Insert Imagination to create a couple of discount bundles, for people who want to buy all three decks along with the Mutation Deck. This is particular nice for those who live outside the US, as DriveThruRPG only print cards in the US, and the international shipping costs are brutal; if you're buying four decks at once, it's not quite so bad.

You can grab the physical bundle here, or the print-and-play bundle here.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Silver ENnie Award!


I entered the ENnies for the first time this year, submitting both Blood & Bile and Saga of the Goblin Horde. While I didn't expect to win anything, I figured the extra exposure (from being included in the submission list) might draw a little more attention to my work.

With 514 submissions from 251 different publishers, and only 5 nominations in each category, the competition was pretty fierce. So I was both surprised and honored when Saga of the Goblin Horde was nominated for "Best Free Game" by the judges!

Sadly I wasn't able to attend Gen Con in person, but I watched the live stream, and was very excited when Saga of the Goblin Horde won a Silver ENnie! The Gold ENnie Award went to Todd Crapper, for his excellent High Plains Samurai: Legends -- you can see the full list of winners here, and watch the recording of the award ceremony here (Best Free Game starts at 23:37).

As far as I can tell, this is the first time a Savage Worlds fan licensed product has won an ENnie, and I hope it will encourage more people to take fan products seriously. It was also the only Savage Worlds product to win a 2018 ENnie Award (although this is certainly no reflection on those other products, as they had to compete with some much bigger industry names).


I know there are veteran game designers who pick up loads of awards, but this was the first product I'd self-published on DriveThruRPG, and the ENnies really help draw attention to my work. Even though Saga of the Goblin Horde is free, I do sell related products (like the Configurable Map and the Countdown Deck), and have plans for many more in the future, including the Swift d12 version of Saga of the Goblin Horde.

Of course I couldn't have done it without the support of my fans, so I'd like to give a huge thank you to everyone who voted for me! I'll also be releasing the new adventures I ran at Savage Con as soon as I've finished writing them up.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Savage Con: What a Ride!

At the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Savage Con, the UK's only Savage Worlds convention. It was a pure gaming event, with three time slots on Saturday and two on Sunday, and three different games for each time slot. All of the games looked good, so I had to pick carefully.


I drove up to Redhill with an old friend of mine (Steve), and as he didn't have much experience with Savage Worlds (or know most of the settings), he decided to sign up to the same games as me. Unfortunately I came down with a rotten cold just before the con, and lost my voice, but I gave it my best shot! Here's a quick breakdown of the games I attended.

Saturday

Game 1: Deadlands - The Taxidermists Tale

Owen Lean is a Savage Worlds freelancer who has worked on a number of different projects. While I never really got into Deadlands, I've heard a lot of good things about this particular One Sheet (which he wrote for Pinnacle), so I jumped at the opportunity to join his game.

We had an absolute blast! Owen provided a selection of pregenerated characters with strong ties to each other and the adventure (he really should release these for other people, they're a perfect fit for The Taxidermists Tale!), and the players worked well together as a team.

While Owen has a natural knack for GMing and improvisation, and obviously knew the adventure inside out, I think we still managed to give him one or two surprises! But he just rolled with it, and kept the Bennies flowing, even when I shot the Big Bad for 6 wounds!


Think "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" meets "Only Fools and Horses". This adventure was written by Alexis Hunt, but it was run by Nikk Lambley (both are hosts on the TTT Podcast), and he did an amazing job.

Steve said this was his favorite game at the con, because he understood the setting, and knew what sort of things he could do. I think this was probably my favorite as well, by a narrow margin—although all of the GMs were top-notch, and I'd be very hard pressed to choose a favorite, the party dynamic we had in this particular game was a perfect fit for the scenario.

There were five players, with nobody dominating the group or taking a backseat role, and we were able to reach a reasonably quick consensus on how to execute our heist (and because it was a sandbox game, it really was entirely our own plan). Nikk is really good at doing different NPC voices, and he reacted to our plans without trying to lead us in any particular direction. I think his GMing style would be a perfect fit for a more freeform game like Blades in the Dark.


Another humorous game, this one co-written by Alexis Hunt and Eric Lamoureux, and run by James Clarke (who is also a host on the TTT Podcast). The PCs are aliens attempting to kidnap a pageant winner from a small redneck town, as they need her DNA to save their planet.

James did a fantastic job of GMing—his NPC voices and impressions were hilarious, and the adventure had all sorts of twists and turns, with some very memorable scenes (such as riding on a lawn mower with a zombie, and licking a corpse during a funeral). James also created some really cool thematic props, and added a truly disgusting conclusion to the adventure.

I really enjoyed the game, but with just two players (Steve and I) it didn't have quite the same group dynamic as the earlier games. With one or two more players, it would have been perfect.

Sunday


On Sunday morning I ran Saga of the Goblin Horde for Alexis, Nikk, James, Pete and Steve. In retrospect I should have insisted that the louder players sit at the back of the table, so I apologise to Pete for not always responding, but I hope everyone had fun.

Most of my One Sheets take me around 2-3 hours to run, depending on the size of the group, and this time I had a 4 hour time slot. So I decided to prepare three adventures, and just squash them down as needed on the day, depending on how much time I had left. The adventures were connected to each other, and I will release them as a three-part mini PPC when I get the chance to write them up properly.

The first adventure drew inspiration from heist movies such as The Italian Job and The Bank Job, except it involved stealing a Hand of Glory rather than money, so I called it "The Hand Job". The second adventure was called "Hole of Glory", and involved using the Hand of Glory to gain entrance to an underground lair. The third adventure, "Mourning Wood", was a treasure hunt in a haunted forest.

Game 2: Lankhmar - Bob the Slob and Clobber Job

Although I backed the Lankhmar Kickstarter, I never read the original novels, so to me it's just another fantasy setting. I mainly signed up because I wanted to be in one of Alexis's games—and he certainly didn't disappoint!

The adventure involved tracking down and capturing a man named Bob the Slob, who had apparently ripped off the thieves guild. In theory a simple job, but of course it ended up being far from simple to execute, and as you can probably imagine (with Alexis as the GM) we got up to all sorts of shenanigans—from the rake who seduced seven women at the same time, to the toilet grappling scene, to the brutal rooftop chase, all supported by Alexis's funny NPC voices.

At the conclusion of the adventure we turned the tables on our employer, and managed to trick the thieves guild out of a huge sum of money. But of course Alexis couldn't leave it at that, so he told us that several months later we were assassinated in our sleep, after the guild discovered what we'd done :P

Summary

Steve and I had an awesome time, and really appreciated all the effort that went into the organization and planning of the event. I've been running and playing Savage Worlds since 2010, but this was the first time I've had the chance to play (as opposed to GM) a face-to-face game in English.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: ENnies voting has started!


I've published a lot of content for Saga of the Goblin Horde, but I couldn't have done it without the support and encouragement of the community. I hope I can count on your support once more in the 2018 ENNie Awards, as Saga of the Goblin Horde has been nominated for "Best Free Game", and there is some stiff competition!

Please don't forget the other Savage Worlds products that are up for nomination, either: The Seven Worlds Campaign Book (Best Adventure), Up to Four Players (Best Website), and Holy Crap: The Great Sects Change Operation (Best Supplement and Best Writing).

You can vote here: ENnies 2018 Election

To celebrate the nomination, I've also decided to release some bonus material for the setting, starting with the Goblin Princess archetype, which you can download here.

Enjoy, and thank you for your support!