Thursday, 27 August 2015

Musings about Necromancers, Drakonheim, and Slottable Settings

I like necromancers. I've always thought they were one of the cooler mage concepts (with serious anti-hero potential), and I love the idea of all those icky minions. I enjoyed reading Brian Lumley's Necroscope series, and Gail Z. Martin's Chronicles of the Necromancer, and of course I adored Bauchelain and Korbal Broach in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. When I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle long ago, I usually used necromancer-lead undead armies (and I was gutted when the 3rd edition rules quadrupled the point cost for the rank and file undead), and in computer games I usually play a necromancer when available.

Sadly most roleplaying settings that include rules for necromancers define them exclusively as bad guys. In Shaintar, for example, necromancers are only available as NPCs. Even in the Eberron setting, where the nation of Karrnath used undead soldiers to defend its borders during the Last War, necromancy is viewed as evil.

However while some forms of necromancy could certainly be classified as evil (particularly in relation to draining, binding or corrupting souls), skeletons and zombies are typically portrayed as mindless and soulless - if you ignore the icky aspect, they're not really any different than robots.

Raising the Dead for a Living

One of the first adventures I ever ran for my current group started out rather clich├ęd - the PCs were passing through a settlement that was being terrorised by a local necromancer. The villagers spun a tale of murder and dark magic, of abductions and grave robbing, and begged the PCs to deal with the threat...

The truth was somewhat different. The necromancer was using animated skeletons to perform manual labour on nearby land that he'd purchased from the local lord. He hadn't killed or abducted anyone, but he'd paid several of the villagers a tidy sum in advance for the right to use their corpses after they died, and the contract was legally binding. The villagers were more than happy to take the money while they were alive, but had a change of heart when it came to upholding their end of the bargain, and many of them didn't want to hand over the dead bodies of their relatives. They figured a party of gullible and violent adventurers would be the perfect solution to their dilemma.

Thrown into the mix was an exceptionally stupid NPC paladin (I was poking fun at the D&D dump stat stereotype), who was already in the area attempting to deal with the undead "menace", and decided to join forces with the party. This lead to the following memorable exchange as the group scouted out the necromancer's base:

Paladin: Let's attack the base! Full-frontal assault! CHARGE!

PC: Wait! It's a fortified building with archers on the walls and heavily barred gates, you'd need a battering ram to get in there...

Paladin: Ah, tactician eh? I like the way you think!

The paladin later died while trying to single-handedly batter down the gates with an improvised ram, but his catchphrase lived on, and for a long time afterwards any blatantly obvious suggestions would be met with "Tactician eh?" 

The PCs never did kill the necromancer. He didn't drive them off with undead or dark magic, but with legal threats.

The memory of that adventure came flooding back when I read Drakonheim. In the original Drakonheim adventures, a cabal of necromancers are raising an undead army to defend their city from a hobgoblin invasion. The full setting takes place in the aftermath, with necromancers now working openly with the support of the mayor. The setting even has an overzealous paladin who keeps breaking the law by attacking the undead!

Drakonheim: City of Bones

Created by +Matthew Hanson (author of the Broken Earth and Kronocalypse settings for Savage Worlds), Drakonheim is a system-neutral setting, although it expands on a trilogy of earlier adventures that he wrote for D&D Next. As a result, Drakonheim still maintains a bit of a D&D vibe, with the assumption of common D&D races, classes/archetypes, monsters and spells.

Of course this is ideal for me, as it fits perfectly with the magic system in Savage Vancian Magic, and with my Monster Finder bestiary. It would therefore take relatively little effort to convert the original three adventures, and because the Drakonheim setting book is pure fluff, it wouldn't need any conversion at all.

For those who prefer to stick with official sources, the Horror Companion would make a good source of Edges and powers for the Gray Society (the organisation of necromancers who defended Drakonheim), and the Fantasy Companion bestiary should cover most of the monsters.

Slottable Settings

Because the setting focuses on a single city, Drakonheim could also be inserted into established settings - much like Kurstwahl, the city from Guild of Shadows (and as both have pseudo-Germanic names and dark themes, I could very easily imagine using both cities in the same fantasy world).

I'm actually a very big fan of this slottable-setting approach, with detailed cities that can be dropped into existing campaigns as needed, fleshing out places that the PCs are visiting. I own far more settings than I could ever realistically run as full campaigns, but slottable locations can simply be blended into my current campaign as new places to explore.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Archetypes based on D&D Classes


Last month I completed the Savage Vancian Magic fan supplement, which is designed to capture the flavour of the D&D magic system in a way that still feels and plays like Savage Worlds - or as I like to think of it, Savage Vancian Magic is to D&D settings as the Super Powers Companion is to superhero settings.

In this blog post I'd like to show how Savage Vancian Magic can be used to help design character archetypes that are based thematically on the D&D base classes.

My current campaign (Savage War of the Burning Sky) includes a similar set of archetypes. One player just wanted to play a wizard, so she picked the wizard archetype and used it as written. Another player wanted to create an aggressive warrior, so he picked the barbarian archetype and swapped a few things around. The third player wasn't interested in the archetypes at all, so she ignored them and created a rather unique acrobatic carpenter with a fondness for brawling. Everyone was able to invest as much (or as little) effort as they wished into character creation, and they all ended up with the characters they wanted.

Classes as Archetypes

I'm not personally a fan of classes, as I find them confining, and I certainly wouldn't want to add classes to Savage Worlds. However I find archetypes an excellent compromise - they provide a quick and easy way to create new characters that fit the setting, without limiting players who want to build less orthodox characters.

D&D settings are obviously designed with the D&D game system in mind, which means they usually include the same selection of common classes. When converting such settings to Savage Worlds, it can therefore be beneficial to offer archetypes that reflect the base classes:

Barbarian
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d4, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d4, Evading d6, Fighting d6, Healing d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d4, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Survival d4, Swimming d4, Throwing d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 8; Parry: 6 (1); Toughness: 7 (1)
Hindrances: One Major, Illiterate, one additional Minor
Edges: Berserk, Fleet-Footed
Gear: Battle axe (Str+d8), target shield (+1 Parry), throwing axe (Str+d6; range 3/6/12), thick furs (+1)

Bard
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d4
Skills: Climbing d4, Evading d4, Fighting d4, Knowledge (Bardic Lore) d6, Lockpicking d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Spellsinging d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d4
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6 (2); Toughness: 5 (1)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Charismatic, Novice Spellsinger
Gear: Rapier (Str+d4; +1 Parry), buckler (+1 Parry), bow (2d6; range 12/24/48), padded vest (+1)

Cleric
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Evading d4, Faith d8, Fighting d4, Healing d6, Knowledge (Planes) d4, Knowledge (Religion) d6, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Throwing d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 5 (1); Toughness: 7 (2)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Novice Cleric, Turn Undead
Gear: Warhammer (Str+d6), target shield (+1 Parry), sling, chainmail vest (+2)

Druid
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Druidry d8, Evading d4, Fighting d4, Healing d4, Knowledge (Nature) d6, Notice d4, Riding d4, Survival d6, Swimming d4, Throwing d4, Tracking d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 5 (1); Toughness: 6 (1)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Beast Master, Novice Druid
Gear: Staff (Str+d4; +1 Parry), sling, hide shirt (+1)

Fighter
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Evading d8, Fighting d8, Intimidation d4, Knowledge (Battle) d4, Notice d4, Riding d4, Shooting d8, Throwing d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 7 (1); Toughness: 9 (3)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Brawny
Gear: Longsword (Str+d8), target shield (+1 Parry), dagger (Str+d4; range 3/6/12), bow (2d6; range 12/24/48), breastplate (+3)

Monk
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d6, Evading d8, Fighting d8, Healing d6, Knowledge (Religion) d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Martial Artist
Gear: Robes

Paladin
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Evading d8, Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Religion) d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d6
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 7 (1); Toughness: 7 (2)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Paladin
Gear: Shortsword (Str+d6), target shield (+1 Parry), chainmail vest (+2)

Ranger
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d4
Skills: Evading d6, Fighting d6, Healing d4, Notice d4, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Survival d8, Tracking d8
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 6 (1); Toughness: 5 (1)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Woodsman, Ranger Fighting Style
Gear: Shortsword (Str+d6), main gauche* (Str+d4; +1 Parry), bow (2d6; range 12/24/48), leather jerkin (+1)

Rogue
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d4
Skills: Climbing d6, Evading d8, Fighting d6, Lockpicking d6, Notice d4, Repair d4, Stealth d8, Streetwise d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 7 (1); Toughness: 5 (1)
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Thief, Sneak Attack
Gear: Shortsword (Str+d6), main gauche* (Str+d4; +1 Parry), dagger (Str+d4; range 3/6/12), padded vest (+1)

Sorcerer
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d4
Skills: Evading d4, Fighting d4, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Persuasion d8, Sorcery d8, Streetwise d6, Throwing d4
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 5 (1); Toughness: 4
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Familiar Bond, Novice Sorcerer
Gear: Spear (Str+d6; +1 Parry)

Wizard
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d4
Skills: Evading d4, Fighting d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Arcana) d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Throwing d4, Wizardry d10
Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 5 (1); Toughness: 4
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor
Edges: Familiar Bond, Novice Wizard
Gear: Staff (Str+d4; +1 Parry)

* Use the same stats as a rapier if you're just using the core weapon list.

Note that these archetypes do not include race bonuses. So if you're playing a human, for example, then you would also add another Edge of your choice.

Setting Rules

These archetypes are designed with two setting rules in mind:
  • Evading: In addition to Fighting, Shooting and Throwing, there is also an Evading combat skill. Parry is based on Evading (rather than Fighting), and Evading is also used in place of Agility for avoiding area-effect attacks, diving for cover, etc. The reason for this rule is explained in more detail here, if you don't wish to use it then just let the player reallocate the skill points as they see fit.
  • Magical Training: If you start play with a spellcasting skill, you cannot raise any of your combat skills higher than d4 during character creation.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Expanded Rule: Sleeping Guards

There are no official rules on how to handle sleeping and waking,[Reference] although it's a subject that occasionally comes up during play. The closest we have to an official ruling is the Slumber power, which allows sleeping victims to make an unmodified Notice roll to wake up if they hear a "loud noise". Clint has also suggested that some GMs might choose to allow a Notice roll with a penalty if the sneaking character doesn't achieve a raise on their Stealth roll.[Reference]

When using Stealth to sneak up on someone, foes are classified as either active or inactive guards. A failed Stealth roll allows an inactive guard to make an unmodified Notice roll, and if successful they become an active guard for future rolls. Active guards can opposed the Stealth roll with a Notice roll in order to spot the character.

I therefore propose a third state: Sleeping.

When sneaking up on a sleeping guard, a failed Stealth roll indicates that you've made a noise, and they can make a Notice roll at -2 (the sleeping penalty): On a success they wake up and become inactive guards (they assume they just woke up naturally), while on a raise they wake up and become active guards (they know that a noise woke them up and are therefore more alert).

When taking the Last Step, if you don't achieve a raise on your Stealth roll then a sleeping foe can make an opposed Notice roll at -2 (the sleeping penalty). Of course even if they wake up, they will almost certainly be Prone and (unless they have natural weapons) count as an Unarmed Defender, at least until they've had their first action. Sleeping while on guard duty is a bad idea!

Note that the sleeping penalty should not apply to the Notice roll for Danger Sense. A sleeping character who successfully uses Danger Sense automatically wakes up and acts as if they'd been awake to start with.

New Hindrance

Deep Sleeper (Minor)
  You're a very heavy sleeper, and find it difficult to wake up. The penalty you suffer to Notice rolls while sleeping is increased to -4, and you cannot make opposed Notice rolls against the Last Step. A character with this Hindrance can never take Light Sleeper.

New Edge

Light Sleeper (Background)
Requirements: Novice, Notice d6+
  You sleep very lightly, and are always alert when you wake up. You ignore the -2 penalty to Notice rolls for sleeping. Furthermore if someone attempts to sneak up on you while you're asleep and fails their Stealth roll, a normal success on your Notice roll causes you to wake up and become an active guard, while on a raise you also wake up on Hold.
  When someone uses the Last Step against you, you may always attempt an opposed Notice roll, even if they succeeded with a raise on their Stealth roll. If you win the opposed roll you wake up and spot them, while beating them with a raise means you also wake up on Hold (and can attempt to immediately interrupt them if you wish).