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Jeff's Gameblog
Thursday, 25 March 2004
Game on!
So last night was the first real play (i.e. post char generation) of Dave Hoover's Savage Worlds campaign "Avatars". After more than the usual delays, adding a new player (a fella named Ray) and a change of venue, we settled into a pretty stock wandering party of do-gooders gig.

One slight shock was Dave's announcement that all magic in the setting was clerical in nature, which kinda hoses my PC build. He's built as a wizard-healer, which is efficient since the medical skill heal and the spellcasting skill are both tied to the attribute Smarts. Now that he uses the Spirit-based faith skill instead of spellcasting my advancement plans are kinda hosed. Additionally, the professional edge: Wizard is off the table and I start out with one fewer power as a cleric. That means if I want my crappy "staff aflame" light spell, I'll need to burn a New Power edge for it. Obviously I need to go back to the drawing board as far as the advancement chart goes.

That aside, I had a pretty good time. The try-out combat went well. The Savage Worlds combat system looks alot like D&D 3E minus the Attacks of Opportunity and 5-foot steps that drive me so crazy. Pat's cow-orker Loren seems to be a bit of a contrarian when it comes to roleplaying. If the group wants to talk, he wants to fight. If we want to get on with the adventure, he wants to delay. He even took the Yellow hindrance (his PC is a coward) to assist him in hosing over party efficiency. I'm not sure what to make of this behavior.

One other thing that came up at the game was the fact that my friend Ray St. John has apparently moved back to town. I'd sure like to get him back into a game, but so far I can't find a listing for him.

I had lunch with my friend Don today. His Boy King campaign for Pendragon is chugging along well. Given his and his wife's schedules it looks like a Heroes Unlimited session is not in the cards right away. I may have to move on plans to run my BattleTech scenario soon.

Posted by jrients at 9:26 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, 25 March 2004 4:09 PM CST
Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Rondoo's path
Here's my planned advancements for Rondoo, my Savage Worlds PC, out to 60xp.

Xp Advance
5 +5 Power Points
10 New Power: Obscure
15 Smarts to d10

20 New Power: Dispel
25 Healing, Spellcasting to d8
30 Healing, Spellcasting to d10
35 Edge: Power Surge

40 New Power: Greater Healing
45 +5 Power Points
50 Edge: Healer
55 Professional Edge: Wizard

60 +5 Power Points

(Looks alot like a build-your-own-class system at the moment!)

Obviously, this is a highly tentative plan, but I think the basic structure is sound. I would love to pick up some other stuff along the way, particularly more Vigor and Guts, and maybe learn the Fighting skill, but the existence of the Wild Die discourages working on low stats and new skills are expensive. Besides, my experience with D&D 3E has shown that in this type of advancement system specialization is the key to a maxxed out character.

Posted by jrients at 1:57 PM CST
more blather about Savage Worlds
Another thing that has struck me about Savage Worlds is how suitable the system looks towards one-shot and short campaign gaming. GURPS and HERO always struck me as a little to bloated for brief games, just building a character took too damn long. BESM/SAS seems to require a bit of work as well. SW scores fewer points on flexibility, but still provides plenty of character options at a fraction of the build time. And it's not nearly as sketchy as some of the "rule light" generic stuff I've looked at, such as QAGS. I'm not saying that GURPS or HERO or BESM or QAGS are bad systems, they just have different uses. But Savage Worlds hits the sweet spot when it comes to brief games in mutliple genres. It provides sufficient crunch and character differentiation without bogging down the char gen process.

Of course the next big test will be how fast the system works in actual play.

Posted by jrients at 9:40 AM CST

I've got some indigestion that's keeping me awake, so I thought I'd blog some more about Savage Worlds while waiting for the pepto to kick in. TMI perhaps, but a full explanation seemed better than my first idea of titling this post "Waiting for the Meds to Kick In".

Anyway, I took a good look at the SW character advancement rules tonight. It looks like you ought to gain a new goodie every 2 or 3 sessions, which seems to keep in line with D&D 3E player expectations. One of the features of Savage Worlds is a class of game mechanic called "edges". These are analogous to d20 feats, but since the system is classless edges encompass a lot more conceptual ground. I think I like edges, despite not liking feats. Maybe I just couldn't quite handle this particular game mechanic being welded onto good ol' D&D. I dunno. In addition to providing mechanical crunch and munch like feats, edges also have similar development trees. If optimum character builds are your thing, then you need to plan out your advancement picks and edge selections well ahead of schedule. For my PC Rondoo I am working on a chart plotting out a possible line of development for every advance from zero to 80 xps. That's approximately thirty to forty sessions of play. Not many campaigns I've participated in have gone thirty sessions. Still, I don't want to find myself in session 35 cursing a poor advancement choice made back in session 10. Planning this out reveals the fun and/or frustration of the SW advancement system; like any good resource management game you can't do everything you want with what you got. Even with a reasonably tight concept like "Rondoo will be a potent magic guy someday" there's still too many things to choose from. I think my solution will be to set aside any D&D notions I retain about generalist wizards and instead pick a specialty. You can't build a generalist wizard in baseline Savage Worlds without spending nearly all your advances on learning new spells. (Basically, each new spell costs you a whole edge. Can you imagine a D&D 3E campaign where learning a spell cost a feat? I don't know if the concept is crazy or brilliant.) And then you are left with a character who lacks both the power points to cast them all and the spellcasting skill to cast them effectively. I think my solution will be to try to concentrate on healing magics and the healing skill. I just have to figure out a way to wrap my head around the idea that this basically nonviolent white magic type wizard is hanging out with three other PCs. You know how typical PCs act, right? Violence and PCs go together like peanut butter and jelly. I've seen PCs do things to people that would make pirates wince.

One other quick observation about Savage Worlds and then I'm off to bed. The spell list is abbreviated, as one would expect from a generic universal type rulebook. What I find interesting is that because of the emphasis on miniature compatibility, the spells list ends up looking remarkably like it was cribbed from the original Chainmail fantasy supplement! Basically, with a couple notable exceptions, the spell list is limited to things that would be useful in a tabletop fantasy encounter: bolts and balls for zapping the enemy, heal spells, protection magics, fly spells, a spell to whip up zombies, etc. I don't know if these resemblance to Chainmail and Boot Hill(mentioned in the previous blog entry) are the result of Mr. Hensley reinventing the wheel or if he was familiar with these games and drawing upon mostly forgotten source material. I know he wouldn't be the first designer of his generation to look back that far. Jonathan Tweet is awfully found of the Chainmail combat resolution chart, and Ron Edwards has nearly started a Tunnels & Trolls revival over at the forge.

Well, my digestive track has put down the picket signs and ended the protest speeches, so I'm off to bed.

Posted by jrients at 12:38 AM CST
Tuesday, 23 March 2004

I'm really starting to enjoy learning the ins and outs of the Savage Worlds system. The dice system seems like a lot of fun compared to the humdrum of rolling the same d20 or 3d6 or d% every single time you do something. I find it interesting that one of the 'innovations' of SW is to allow for GM-less miniature skirmishes. Boot Hill, the second rpg ever published, allowed for basically the same type of play! Still, no need to beat up Mr. Hensley for bringing back a type of play oft ignored by modern game designers. Sometimes I like the blurring of the lines that separate RPGs from other gaming pursuits. One thing about Savage Worlds that I do not like is the insufficient index. I was trying to fill out my character sheet only to discover that game jargon like "Derived Stats" and "Encumberance Penalty" don't appear on the index. Hey, if it warrants appearance on my char sheet, I expect some help finding it in the dang text!

Over the past two days I have been attempting to re-read Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery. That's been slow going, partly because I'm slogging through the chapters written for the newbies, but partially because Mr. Gygax tone makes it clear that at the time of writing the book he considered himself the be-all and end-all of the hobby. Maybe I'm doing Uncle Gary an injustice, but for pete's sake his history of gaming boils down to "H.G. Wells wrote Little Wars and then I invented roleplaying". Yes, Gygax is the Man. I still consider the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide one of the best works in the field. And yes, he wasn't actually writing a lengthy history of the development of the hobby, but come on. To sell yourself as King RPG just strikes me as unseemly.

So my willpower to buy one "TSR Fever" game at a time has already broke down. I currently have winning bids in on two different editions of Gamma World and a Gangbusters. The nice thing about Gamma World at least is that good old fashioned dungeon crawls work in that setting at least as well as in D&D.

Posted by jrients at 8:40 PM CST

So here's the latest draft of the Spacewarp 44 board. I rotated the outer ring of warp squares so that the center column would have warpsquares too. Also, the two color scheme was added. A piece on a red square may teleport to a a blue square or vice versa, but not to a warpsquare of the same color.

I'm starting to get excited about the first actual run of Dave Hoover's Savage Worlds campaign tomorrow night. I might even get a Heroes Unlimited run scheduled before the week is out. One of my three players, my good buddy Don, and I are supposed to have lunch on Thursday.

Posted by jrients at 4:38 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 23 March 2004 8:20 PM CST
Monday, 22 March 2004

So here's a scan of my prototype Spacewarp 44 board. My big concern, not having done any playtesting yet, is that giving pieces on a warp square access to all seven other squares may be too overpowering. I may end up with a tw color scheme, one color for the inner four squares and another color for the outer four squares. Warping would occur from one color to the other.

Now that I own a copy of Savage Worlds, I have discovered that Rondoo as built can't cast any spells. Apparently wizard-type spellcasters need a Spellcasting skill and a Knowledge (arcana) skill. Here's Rondoo revised:

Rondoo the Learner
Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigor d4
Hindrances: Clueless, Loyal, Poverty
Edges: Arcane Background (Magic), Scholar
Guts d4, Healing d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Arcana) d8, Knowledge (the Gods) d8, Notice d4, Repair d4, Spellcasting d6, Stealth d4
250 cash

Posted by jrients at 8:55 PM CST
TSR fever #4 of 4: Gangbusters
I saved Gangbusters for last because I have a little bit of hesitation regarding getting into it. Boot Hill I'm already on the road to owning, since I now have a gratis copy thanks to my friend Pat. Gamma World ought to play easily as sci-fantasy D&D, the Mutants & Magic angle also opens up the possibility of a Thundarr the Barbarian type scenario. Dawn Patrol is just a single boxed set and that's it.

But Gangbusters leaves me a bit indecisive. First off, I once owned a copy and long ago sold it. I've already bought back too much of my childhood as it is. Second, it uses a system of classes, levels and xp's. I'm not one of those rabid anti-class-and-levels people. I'm running Heroes Unlimited right now, for gosh sakes. I just worry about getting into a level and xp system because they are invariably designed for long-term play, and I don't run long-term games anymore. For my last two class-and-level campaigns we simply advance a level between each session. Which might be the solution to that particular issue in this case as well. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I find modern games are tough for me to run. Call of Cthulhu is hard and Gangbusters is like CoC without being able to fall back on magical deii ex machina.

Still, the reference works seem to like this game. Swan calls it Gangbusters "an overlooked gem, a minor classic". Schick calls the rules "well-done, underrated". Swan recommends the adventure GB5 Death in Spades, which looks like an oddball mystery scenario. "[P]lot elements vary depending on what the GM draws from a deck of playing cards" according to Schick. Could be hokey, or it could be great. GB1 Trouble Brewing is an intro scenario describing Lakefront City (a cheesy Chicago knockoff) in more detail. And GB1 was written by my main man Tom Moldvay! GB2 through 4 look decent too.

What's nice is that some of these products are starting to appear as downloadables.

Posted by jrients at 3:02 PM CST
TSR fever #3 of 4: Dawn Patrol
Okay, so Dawn Patrol might say its a role-playing game right on the box, but it's about as much of an RPG as Car Wars or BattleTech. No I don't mean GURPS Autoduel or MechWarrior, I mean Car Wars or BattleTech. Still, it's a one-box game from the good old days that I never quite got the hang of as a kid. I'd like an opportunity to try again. On eBay it seems to fetch about a ten spot plus shipping. Besides, it wasn't that long ago that I was chiding myself for not playing enough historical wargames.

Posted by jrients at 1:42 PM CST

Hey! I got my copy of Savage Worlds in the mail today, along with my 4 d20's marked 0 to 9 twice. Yippee! Now I need to sit down and type up my ideas for my PC Rondoo the Learner, so I can email the GM.

Posted by jrients at 1:22 PM CST

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