Thursday, 28 April 2016

Character Creation Steps

The Savage Worlds core rules describe the following steps for character creation:
  1. Race.
  2. Traits (attributes and skills) and Derived Statistics.
  3. Edges and Hindrances.
  4. Gear.
  5. Background Details.
However what often happens is that upon reaching step 3, the player realizes they don't meet the requirements for the Edges they want, so they jump back to step 2 and rearrange their attributes and skills. Similarly, if they decide to use some of their points from Hindrances to increase an attribute, it may end up freeing one or more skill points, so they have to go back and recalculate. And of course certain Hindrances (such as Young and Elderly) can modify the number of available points to spend.

As a result, some experienced Savages prefer to choose Edges and Hindrances before they choose their traits. This means that when it's time to allocate their attributes and skills, they can immediately assign the points they need to meet their Edge requirements, and then distribute whatever is left over as they see fit. They don't need to keep going back and forth during character creation, retroactively changing things.

My Approach

I've created a lot of different characters for Savage Worlds, and the approach I find works best for me personally is as follows:
  1. Concept.
  2. Race.
  3. Hindrances.
  4. Edges.
  5. Traits.
  6. Gear.
  7. Derived Statistics.
  8. Background Details.
The first thing I do is think up a character concept. I refine and polish the concept as I proceed through the rest of the character creation process, but I like to have at least a rough idea before I start writing anything down.

Next comes race, as many races include baked-in Hindrances which I'll need to know about before choosing any of my own. After that I choose one Major and two Minor Hindrances that I feel fit my character concept. Then come the Edges, and as characters in Savage Worlds are primarily defined by their Edges, I always like to start play with one or two.

Now I move on to the traits. I assign any free attributes or skills granted by my race, assign whatever traits are needed to meet my Edge requirements, calculate how many points are left over (taking into account Hindrances), and then distribute the remaining points as I see fit.

After that I select my gear, and then I calculate my Derived Statistics. I leave the Derived Statistics to last because they can be affected by race, Hindrances, Edges, traits, and gear - and I don't want to have to keep going back to them.

Then at the end I finalize my background, which is really just of a summary of the concept I've been refining throughout the character creation process.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Gremlin Saboteur

Last month I released the first four archetypes for a setting I'm working on, Saga of the Goblin Horde.

As I mentioned previously, my goal is to add one archetype each month until I've finished them all. I've been pretty busy with other projects this month, and ended up leaving it a bit late, but I wanted to try and stick to my goal - so here's the fifth archetype: the gremlin saboteur!

Grab all five archetypes here.

One Sheets

If you've not yet checked out the free One Sheet adventures for Saga of the Goblin Horde, you can grab those too:
  1. Sanguine Solstice: The goblins crash a Yuletide celebration, hoping to participate in a little "feasting" of their own.
  2. Bone of Contention: The goblins confront an army of undead ninja nuns while tracking down a rogue necromancer.
  3. Egg Hunt: The goblins set out to steal a clutch of dragon eggs from Rojer and his band of rabbitfolk warriors.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Like a Boss: Dealing with Solo Opponents

A question that comes up quite often from those new to Savage Worlds is how to handle boss fights, particularly solo foes. This isn't as simple as it sounds, as combat in Savage Worlds can be brutally fast, and when the party faces a single opponent the enemy is likely to go down before it can take more than one or two actions of its own.

If the boss has henchmen, then the "Fanatics" Setting Rule in SWD can help them survive longer, but sometimes it really makes sense thematically for the boss to be on their own.

An alternative approach is to make the entire encounter more abstract, perhaps using the Mass Battle or Dramatic Task rules for fighting a towering giant, or the Chase rules for a running battle across the rooftops against a master assassin - you could even adapt the Social Conflict rules for a personal duel. This sort of approach can work well, and I've used it myself from time to time, but once again it doesn't always fit every situation; sometimes the players just want to get down and dirty with the enemy they've been hunting for the last few sessions, and are itching for the chance to dish out a good old-fashioned smackdown using all of their cool Edges and other abilities.

Beefing Up the Bad Guy

Some GMs try to make bosses more challenging by heavily boosting their Parry and Toughness, but this is usually a bad idea, as it really just causes the players to fail more often. Flat-out failure of the "you achieve nothing" variety is rarely fun, and the players may become frustrated if they feel ineffective.

A better solution is to give the boss Edges like (Improved) Nerves of Steel, (Improved) Counterattack and (Improved) First Strike, as this will allow them to put up more of a fight without undermining the efforts of the players.

It's also important to remember that monsters aren't built using the same rules as PCs. You can give the boss any abilities you like, and make up new abilities as needed. As an example, consider the following take on a classic monster:
Eye Tyrant
   The Eye Tyrant is a massive fleshy eyeball with a mouth full of sharp fangs and a crown of eyestalks.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d12, Notice d12, Shooting d8
Pace: 1; Parry: 6; Toughness: 14 (4)
Edges: Level Headed, Marksman, Strong Willed
Special Abilities
Armor +4: Tough skin; a Called Shot at -2 can bypass the natural armor by striking the central eye.
Bite: Str+d6.
Anti-Magic Eye: At the end of the creature's movement for the round, it may place a Cone Template to indicate where its anti-magic eye is looking. This automatically dispels and prevents any magic from being used within the cone, including the creature's own eye rays.
Eye Rays: Shooting; range 12/24/48; RoF 5; Each victim can be targeted by a maximum of two rays per attack. After making the attack roll, choose one of the Eye Ray abilities for each successful hit. Only Eye Ray (Damage) can be chosen more than once per attack.
Barrage: The creature draws two initiative cards due to Level Headed, and acts normally on the higher card. However it can also use the lower initiative card to make a second attack with its Eye Rays as long as it isn't Shaken.
Darkvision: No vision penalties for darkness (range 12").
Flight: Flying Pace of 4" and Climb 0.
Hardy: A second Shaken result doesn't become a wound.
Immunity: The Eye Tyrant is able to look in all directions at once, rendering it immune to Gang Up bonuses.
Size +2: Increases Toughness by +2.
Eye Ray (Sleep): The victim must make a Spirit roll (at -2 on a raise) or fall asleep (and prone). They can be woken by an adjacent character as a normal action.
Eye Ray (Slow): The victim must make a Spirit roll (at -2 on a raise) otherwise they can no longer move as a free action for the remainder of the scene.
Eye Ray (Charm): The victim must make a Spirit roll (at -2 on a raise) otherwise they consider the creature a friend, and will attempt to help it (although this doesn't cause them to turn on their allies except as a last resort).
Eye Ray (Fear): The victim must make a Fear check (at -2 on a raise).
Eye Ray (Telekinesis): The victim must make a Spirit roll (at -2 on a raise) or be moved 2d6" in a direction of the creature's choice. If this causes the victim to be bashed into a solid object, they suffer the creature's Spirit+d6 as damage.
Eye Ray (Damage): The victim suffers 2d8 damage. If the victim is incapacitated by the damage, the creature can choose to disintegrate or petrify them instead (but only a maximum of one of each per attack).
Rather than increasing its Parry, I've given the Eye Tyrant immunity to Gang Up. This prevents it from being overwhelmed by multiple attackers, without making it untouchable when facing a single foe.

Although the Eye Tyrant has a high Toughness, weaker attackers have the option of aiming for the central eye to bypass the natural armor, reducing the effective Toughness to 10. An average human with Strength d6 armed with a (Str+d6) sword would inflict an average of 8.4 damage on a successful attack, but with Wild Attack he'd receive +2 to hit (cancelling out the penalty for the Called Shot) and inflict +2 damage, giving him an average of 10.4 damage against Toughness 10. That's a very reasonable chance of causing Shaken.

On the other hand, the Eye Tyrant also has Hardy - so while it's not too hard to make the creature Shaken, it would have at least some degree of protection from multiple attackers piling up weaker blows; it's going to require a raise on the damage roll to cause the Eye Tyrant a wound.

When it comes to offensive abilities, the Eye Tyrant has a high rate-of-fire ranged attack that can target multiple foes (but cannot be focused exclusively on one attacker), as well as a special Barrage ability that allows a second set of attacks later on the same turn. The Anti-Magic Eye also adds a tactical option against spellcasters.

Although the Eye Tyrant can effectively shoot 10 eye rays per round, these are split into two RoF 5 attack actions, each of which can be rolled as a dice pool. The mechanics of the eye rays have also been streamlined to make the action resolution very fast, as there are effectively just two types of attack: 2d8 damage, or resist with a Spirit roll at -2 (the specific effect of the latter can be determined randomly if the ray hits and target fails to resist).

Boss Encounters

Although I've not played it myself, one of the more interesting concepts I've read about in D&D 5E is that of boss encounters. In particular, the idea that bosses can take additional actions during the round, after players have taken their turns, so that they continue to do things throughout the entire round rather having all their actions clumped together.

This is a roughly similar concept to what I was originally aiming for with my Eye Tyrant with its Barrage ability, but having the boss take a bonus action after each player is easier to track, ensures that their actions really are spread out throughout the turn, and allows the boss to scale with the size of the party.

But how could this concept be applied to Savage Worlds? Here's how I'd do it.

Boss Abilities

Bosses are always Wild Card NPCs, and there should never be more than one boss in any one encounter. Boss statblocks always list one or more abilities as being "boss actions", and the boss can perform one of these actions immediately after each player has completed their own turn. It is not possible to perform the same boss action more than once per turn unless that ability explicitly states otherwise (this makes it easy to track used boss actions each turn by preparing one card for each option, placing the cards face up on the table as each ability is used).

Here are some examples of the sort of things that might be classified as boss actions:
  • Move: The boss takes an extra movement using their normal Pace.
  • Attack: The boss makes a single regular attack (this cannot use any special maneuvers like Wild Attack, or Edges like Sweep, Frenzy, etc).
  • Spell: The boss casts a spell.
  • Tail Lash: Make a free attack against one target within 1", if successful they suffer Str+d4 damage and are knocked back 2d6"; if they hit a solid surface, add +d6 to the damage roll.
  • Buffeting Wings: Everyone within a Large Burst Template centered on the boss must make a Strength roll or be knocked back d6"; if they hit a solid surface, they become Shaken.
  • Healing Factor: Automatically remove Shaken status, or heal one wound level if not Shaken.
  • Animator: Animate a skeleton minion, up to a maximum equal to four times your Spirit.
  • Roar: Everyone within a Cone Template must make a Fear check.
  • Trip/Shove: Resolved as an opposed Agility/Strength roll, if the boss wins then the victim is knocked Prone, while on a raise they are also Shaken.
In addition, each boss could have one or two special passive abilities such as:
  • Forcefield: The boss is surrounded by a shimmering forcefield; the first time they suffer one or more wounds, the forcefield is destroyed instead of applying the wounds (but the boss is still Shaken).
  • Meat Shield: Whenever this boss is successfully hit with a targeted (not area-effect) attack, he may divert the damage to an adjacent minion.
  • Second Wind: After this boss has been incapacitated the first time, it undergoes a physical transformation, then returns to continue the fight.
  • Unshakable: This boss cannot be Shaken by damage rolls, although tricks, tests of will, etc, can still effect them normally.
  • Unyielding: This boss can never suffer more than two wounds from a single attack, no matter how much damage is rolled.
  • Durable: This boss can survive six wounds instead of three, and suffers a -1 penalty for every two wounds instead of for each wound.

Here are a few examples of the sort of boss abilities certain monsters might have:

  • Buffeting Wings (action): All foes within 6" must make a Strength roll or be knocked Prone.
  • Tail Lash (action): Knocks over one foe as described above.
  • Roar (action): Everyone within a Cone Template must make a Fear check.
  • Unyielding (passive): Never suffers more than two wounds from a single attack.
  • Durable (passive): Six wound levels, and halves wound penalties.
  • Spell (action): Can cast a spell as a boss action.
  • Animator (action): Can animate one corpse within 12" as a zombie.
  • Meat Shield (passive): Can divert attacks to adjacent minions.
  • Move (action): Can make an additional move as a boss action.
  • Trip/Shove (action): Can knock people over, with a range of 12".
  • Unshakable (passive): Cannot be Shaken by damage rolls.
  • Second Wind (passive): After being defeated, it animates a nearby corpse and returns as a revenant.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Persuasion is Not Mind Control

One of the skills in Savage Worlds that often seems to cause confusion is Persuasion, and it's not uncommon to read stories about players who mistakenly view it as "mind control". While Persuasion is certainly a very broad skill, it also has many limitations, so I think it's worth exploring exactly what it can and cannot do.

The following guidelines have been condensed to keep this post concise. I strongly recommend clicking each of the [Reference] links to see Clint Black's original posts in full and in context:
  1. Persuasion can be a single roll or a protracted Social Conflict, depending on the needs of the GM and the story.[Reference]
  2. Persuasion doesn't work on PCs, although a GM might award a Benny for good roleplaying if a player allows themselves to be persuaded by a convincing argument.[Reference]
  3. Persuasion does work on Wild Cards, even though the skill description only mentions "Extras".[Reference]
  4. Persuasion can be used on any type of NPC, even animals.[Reference]
  5. Persuasion (opposed with Notice) can be used to lie or bluff,[Reference] however this shouldn't be treated as a simple lie detector test; generally speaking, it should require a particularly good Notice roll to be certain that someone is lying.[Reference]
  6. Persuasion can be used to disguise yourself as someone else.[Reference]
  7. Persuasion cannot usually be used during combat, although the GM might allow it in some situations.[Reference]
  8. Some setting-specific Edges allow Persuasion to be used for Tests of Will.[Reference]
  9. Persuasion changes only attitudes, not goals.[Reference] Although the GM might choose to rule that a particular NPC can be persuaded to follow a certain course of action, this is not an innate or automatic ability of the skill, and should never be assumed.[Reference]
  10. Persuasion is not mind control, and it can never force someone to do something.[Reference]
Changing Attitudes, Not Goals
"You're a funny guy Sully, I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last."
-- John Matrix, Commando
One of the key points from the above list that Persuasion only changes attitudes not goals. A friendly robber may be polite and gentle with you, and might even let you keep your wedding ring, but they're still going to take your wallet. And that professional hitman who's been hired to kill you? Well, you might convince him to make your death quick, painless and dignified, but he's still going to kill you.

Of course most people have more than one goal in life, and the GM can use this reasoning to give themselves some wiggle room. A government official might be particularly greedy or vain, for example, and be highly susceptible to bribery or flattery - and a good Streetwise or Investigation roll could reveal that weakness to the players.

But the important thing is that it's entirely at the GM's discretion, and not an automatic benefit of the skill.

Players can get exceptionally high Persuasion by taking the various Charisma Edges, and this will make their characters likable and convincing (particularly for Social Conflicts), but it doesn't let them control the actions of others. If a player wants to be that convincing, have them take Arcane Background with the Puppet power, and a trapping of "silver-tongued devil".

Monday, 4 April 2016

Design Overview for a Plot Point Campaign

In my previous blog post I looked at Plot Point Episodes vs Savage Tales vs One Sheets, and that expanded on an earlier blog post about using TV Shows as Plot Point Campaigns. If you've read those posts you should have a fairly good idea of how to go about creating a Plot Point campaign by reverse engineering a TV show, turning each episode into either a Plot Point Episode or a Savage Tale depending on its importance to the central plot.

But what about designing a Plot Point Campaign based on a roleplaying setting, which isn't already broken down into convenient episodes? Many Savage Worlds settings already include their own Plot Point Campaign, but perhaps you're running one that doesn't - or maybe you've designed your own custom setting, and now you want to add a Plot Point Campaign. Where do you start?

Disclaimer: It should go without saying that this is all my personal opinion. There's no "one true way" to write a Plot Point Campaign, but this approach works for me, so perhaps others may find it of interest as well.

Identify the Overarching Plot

It's obviously necessary to define the central plot of the campaign before writing the Plot Point Episodes, so let's cover that first.

Most official Plot Point Campaigns are pretty epic in scope, often to the point of being rather destructive towards their setting. Consider Necessary Evil, or 50 Fathoms, for example - the entire campaign revolves around a threat to the world, and once the heroes have defeated that threat much of the setting becomes obsolete. You can continue running the campaign after the players defeat the main villain/s of the story, but the setting will evolve into something quite different.

Of course you don't have to take things quite that far, but the campaign should at least cover a major event, otherwise it's not going to feel very cinematic. If you're creating a Plot Point Campaign for Eberron, for example, then it might be set during the Last War, or it could involve a world-shattering event instigated by the Lord of Blades, or a second planar incursion of Xoriat, etc - something of major significance to the setting.

In addition to the main thread, I also like to weave in a couple of subthreads, to help give the story depth. These subthreads should support the main thread without overwhelming it.

Summarize the Episodes

Once you've defined the overarching plot, it's time to break your story down into a series of Plot Point Episodes. Necessary Evil provides a Plot Point Summary with around 50 words per episode, and I find this an excellent way to design the outline for the campaign, giving a short overview of each episode.

I find that 10 Plot Point Episodes is a good number to aim for, although anything in the range 8-12 is fine for most campaigns.

Example: Drakonheim: City of Bones

One of my recent projects involved writing a Savage Worlds companion for the Drakonheim setting. Although it doesn't include a Plot Point Campaign, my work did require me to become very familiar with the setting, making it an easy candidate to use as an example.

The Drakonheim setting contains a lot of great content for a campaign, but a few things in particular scream out "epic" to me. These are the three threads I would probably choose to weave together into the overarching plot:

Central Thread: Great Wyrm

The recently-awakened dragon Kolrax has started using his potent magic to secretly bind lesser beings to his cause, demanding obedience from a hobgoblin clan as well as a clandestine organization within Drakonheim. But how does such a proud and arrogant creature view a city that was built with the bones of his own mother, and how will he use his expanding influence?

Subthread 1: Band of Four

The Band of Four were renowned heroes from the Golden Age of Drakonheim, who were killed in a backlash of necromantic energy after destroying the Lich King Ezarion. A seer prophesied that they would return again in Drakonheim's greatest hour of need, but such prophecies often have an unexpected twist.

Subthread 2: Ancient Lore

The Gray Society is an ancient order of necromancers, who now walk openly in the streets of Drakonheim, after saving the city from a hobgoblin invasion. Some of their researchers have recently rediscovered a long-lost technique for creating intelligent undead, but where did they discover this dark ritual? For not since the time of Ezarion has a mortal wizard been able to achieve such a feat.

Plot Point Summary

Here's my Plot Point Summary for a fictitious Drakonheim Plot Point Campaign, split into 10 episodes. Obviously this summary includes a lot of references to information found within the setting book, so I'm afraid much of it may sound obscure if you're not familiar with Drakonheim - but the underlying principle should still be fairly self-explanatory, and can be applied to any setting.

Episode 1: Gray Matter

A menacing creature has emerged from the sewers, and hunts the streets of Drakonheim. Is it an escaped experiment of the Gray Society? An ancient guardian disturbed by goblin diggers? Or an elaborate setup designed to turn the public against the necromancers? This pilot episode introduces the heroes to the setting, and to the cutthroat politics of Drakonheim's major factions.

Episode 2: Broken Crown

The heroes are hired to investigate the origins of the Gray Man, and uncover his secrets, but they soon find themselves caught up in a deadly race against other organizations. Who are these mysterious rivals, and can the heroes beat them to the prize?

Episode 3: Taste of Power

A rash of crimes has recently hit a number of key businesses in Drakonheim, and the only thing connecting them is an addictive elixir that has a strange effect on those who drink it. But what is the source of these potions, and who is selling them to the criminal underground?

Episode 4: Sleeper Agent

Strange things are afoot in Drakonheim, and someone powerful is trying to use the heroes as pawns in a deadly game. But who is pulling the strings, and what is their true goal? Can the heroes uncover the identity of this mysterious figure before it is too late?

Episode 5: Eyes of the Enemy

The hobgoblin army was scattered when Hazdrol was killed, but a new war chief has swiftly risen to prominence, rallying the clans to his cause. However there's something disturbingly familiar about his appearance - can the heroes connect the dots and uncover the truth?

Episode 6: Ezarion's Legacy

The pieces of an old mystery begin to fall into place, as the heroes discover a very dark secret. But even a cursed sword cuts both ways, and Drakonheim will need every advantage it can get if the looming threat proves real.

Episode 7: Drums of War

Drakonheim faces war once again, and the stakes are even higher than last time. The heroes must call upon all their allies, old and new, if the city is to have any hope of survival.

Episode 8: Return of the Four

As Drakonheim stands on the brink of war, a great prophecy is finally fulfilled, but it comes at a terrible price that none had predicted, and which few are willing to pay.

Episode 9: Bone Legion

Secret organizations finally show their hands, revealing their secrets as the armies clash, and Drakonheim finds itself in the midst of war on all fronts. The fate of the city hangs in the balance, and the future looks grim.

Episode 10: Blast from the Past

With the armies locked in terrible battle, the true enemy finally reveals himself, and only the heroes have the means to stop him. But how far are they willing to go, and how much are they willing to sacrifice, to save the people of Drakonheim?

Writing the Adventures

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, a typically Plot Point Episode would probably be in the region of 1200 words, while a typical Savage Tale would usually average around 1000 words, and these would be structured in a similar way to a One Sheet. Hopefully you've already written a few One Sheets before attempting to tackle a full Plot Point Campaign - so now you just have to apply the same approach to each of the Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales.

Savage Tales

The Drakonheim setting contains eight adventure outlines that are each around the size of a Savage Tale and structured in a very similar way, and these adventures introduce the players to several important locations and people, so we're already got a head start. However I'd probably want to add at least another dozen Savage Tales, perhaps even twice that, if I wanted something comparable in size with other Plot Point Campaigns.

Adventure Generator

Most Plot Point Campaigns also include a random adventure generator, as this is a great way to add extra adventures on the fly. The Drakonheim companion already includes an adventure generator, but if you're thinking of creating your own I'd recommend taking a look at other setting books, as well as online adventure generators - you don't need anything complex, just a skeleton of a story for the GM to build upon.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Plot Point Episodes vs Savage Tales vs One Sheets

In my "TV Shows as Plot Point Campaigns" blog post, I talked about the two types of adventure commonly used in Plot Point Campaigns - the Plot Point Episodes which cover the central storyline, and have to be played in a specific order, and the Savage Tales, which can be inserted into the campaign when and where the GM sees fit.

But many settings also like to offer a third type of adventure: One Sheets. These standalone adventures are usually around 1000-1200 words, and cover both sides of a single sheet of paper. Much like Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales, One Sheets provide an overview of the adventure along with any necessary NPC statistics, but avoid getting bogged down with too much detail. Structurally they're very similar, but how do the three types of adventure compare size-wise?

Size Comparison

I ran some very rough numbers on Necessary Evil, and found that its Plot Point Episodes tend to average around 1200 words, while the Savage Tales tend to average around 1000 words. That's the same sort of range (1000-1200 words) as most One Sheets. There is quite a bit of variation (with a few adventures dipping below 600 words, and others reaching 1500 words), and the starting adventure is more like a feature-length pilot episode at over 2200 words, but a goal of 1200/1000 words would seem to be a good general rule of thumb for Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales respectively.

However this does seem to suggest that a Plot Point Campaign is very much like a collection of One Sheets. In fact there's even a One Sheet in the back of Savage Worlds Deluxe called "The Fires of Ascalon" which describes itself as a "Savage Tale"!

Getting to the Point

Why is this information interesting? Because it breaks down an intimidatingly huge task (writing an entire Plot Point Campaign) into a series of smaller and far more manageable tasks (writing lots of One Sheets).

If you're pitching a new campaign then you're probably going to want to write a few One Sheets anyway, to drum up interest and support - and once you've got a few One Sheets under your belt, you'll have a much better idea of what is needed for a full Plot Point Campaign.

It also gives you a good feel for how you can split up the effort, as you can easily delegate Savage Tales to other writers while focusing on the central plot - the Plot Point Episodes. And because you've already written a few One Sheets, you should have a fairly good idea of how long it'll take you to write the Plot Point Campaign.

If you can write a One Sheet, then you can write a Plot Point Campaign. It's just a matter of scale.