Earthdawn style magic items in Savage Worlds

Oh, Earthdawn, you magnificent beast. Such an amazing high fantasy setting... with a system so crunchy, that a single battle can take hours. Yet, among this plethora of crunchy rules, there is one mechanic, that changed how I handled this particular aspect of gaming ever since... the rules for magic items.

Earthdawn's magic items are they own magical beings, created by heroic deeds, instead of a mage in his tower. This way, each magic item is unique, has its history and various powers that relate to it. 
You can't simply identify the item with a scroll or magic spell like it is done in D&D and other major fantasy RPGs. To benefit from the magic item's power you need to to magically attune yourself to it. It is done by finding a "key knowledge" about the item and spending some time and Exp. The key knowledge might be the item's name or part of its history. Even achieving a particular deed with the item can count as a key knowledge and unlock new powers.

Each item has a several levels of power and key knowledge requirement. So the first power might be unlocked by identifying the items name that was given to it by its original owner. Next, you might have to learn that the item was used to slay a particular beast. Then you have to slay the same beast yourself. This approach changes the magic items from simple tools, into plot hooks and I think would be a great addition to any fantasy campaign. This is my take on this system for Savage Worlds.


Premise

There are no "mass-produced" magic items. Each is a unique being with its own history and "soul". Those items have levels of power that can be unlocked. The character feels the magic flowing trough the item (knows that it is a magic item) upon touching it, but needs to learn about it before it can harness this power. The item can always be used as a mundane version of itself. As the characters learn the item's secrets, they can unlock more of its powers by attuning themselves to it. 

Power Level and Key Knowledge

Each magic item has various power levels (explained in its description). To unlock a power, the character has to learn the key knowledge of the particular level and spend a Bennie. The key knowledge can be anything from the item's name, history, name of its original owner, finding out the origins of the metal that was used in forging it. It can also be a deed, like slaying a particular monster or bringing the item to its original owner's resting place.
A low level power with an easy key knowledge will give the character small benefits, like +1 to a particular task, or making the sword's runes shine brightly and giving as much light as a torch. The higher the power level, the bigger the benefits. At third level the weapon can grant extra damage dice or shoot beams of light. The character who is attuned to an item at a high power level has access to a whole selection of powers. Achieving a higher level of attunement does not cancel the access to previously unlocked powers.

Heros of Legend

This is my favorite part of the system. Sadly I don't think it got much of a spotlight in Earthdawn. The idea is, that heroic or life changing deeds create magic items. After all, If there is magic flowing trough the world, it is only logical that some of it will get attached to the heroes... and their equipment. 
If a player wants to create a magic item after achieving something truly heroic, allow them to buy Trademark Weapon Edge next time they gain an advancement. The heroic deed filled the item with magic. The item will get +1 to Fighting if it is a weapon, +1 to Toughness for armor, or +1 to some applicable skill for other items. From now on, this item can gain Power Levels. Unlocking the new powers requires spending a Benny and completing another heroic deed. 
This doesn't change the game mechanics too much, but now, the player has a customized magic item. Spend some time with the player to create a new powers for the item.

***
This post is a translated and abridged version of my first blog post ever written on my old Polish-language blog: Nieregularnik Brawurowy. It is far from perfect, but I still like and use this mechanic...and I was feeling a bit nostalgic today.
***

Savage Hexcrawl - Part 3: GM's Encounter Rules

The "joys" of life slowed the savage hexcrawl in past few weeks down to a crawl (oh, bad puns!). Nevertheless the series is not abandoned and is continuing today with the topic of encounters. We have touched on this topic in Part 2 - where we looked at what encounters are and how they fit in into a random hex. In the Part 3, GMs will get the rules (or perhaps guidelines?) on how and when to select the encounters.


Want the rules right here, right now? No problem! Savage Hexcrawl aims to be Fast, Furious and Fun! Read the TL/DR section for bare-bone rules summary. Read the whole thing for more in-depth explanation and other musings.

TL/DR: During a hexcrawl journey, PCs can stumble upon various encounters. GM draws a card (more, if the area is rich in encounters) from action deck for each hex the party enters and every time they camp in the wilderness. 
Face cards signify an encounter. GM will either roll on a table, or have an encounter prepared.

What does the GM need?

First and foremost, when running a hexcrawl (or other sandbox campaign) the GM needs to be prepared to improvise. A set of random tables can aid this improvisation, but is not necessary. Some encounters might be a part of elaborate plots, but players won't pick up on that. Others, will just be a random creations that players will want to follow and create an adventure out of it. Both are fine. Sandbox is all about the freedom of choice. Be prepared to let go of your crafted plots and improvise. The GM will also need a deck of...

Cards

Instead of dice for encounter checks - savage hexcrawl uses cards. Savage Worlds already uses a cards for initiative, so you should have a standard poker deck handy. During travel, draw card(s) for each hex the party enters. If you draw a non-face card (2-10) nothing happens, it is an uneventful leg of the journey. The party then moves to another hex and you draw again. Don't shuffle the deck if nothing happens - just keep drawing cards. It is not only faster than dice rolls this way, it also means that the chances of encountering something grow as you travel more. 
Drawing a face card (Jack, Queen, King, Ace or Joker) means that the party has encountered something. Now, you get to choose/decide what it is. We will leave random tables alone for time being (it is a topic upon itself) and focus on means of improvising the encounter. \
Now, look at the suit and color of the drawn card.

  • Card Color: Red cards mean that the encounter is beneficial to the players, black ones are unrewarding obstacles. Bear in mind, that the color dictates only the outcome of the encounter., not its nature. Even combat can be beneficial (loot, info, etc.) and a travelling merchant an obstacle (wants to travel with you, party will be more visible etc.).
  • Card Suit: Assign some keywords to each of the suits. Choose whatever fits your campaign most - there is no need for magical phenomena in a low-fantasy setting. The basic keywords I use are: Spades (♠) and Hearts ()  for travelers or creatures. Diamonds () and clubs (♣) for places and obstacles.
  • Jokers: Symbolize a twist of fate, something extraordinary and rare. Red joker means that something good happens to the party and black joker is an omen of something bad. Use Jokers for any idea that is too "out-there" or gonzo for your normal campaign.

Encounters

Use those rules to help you come up an encounter on the spot. If you are not comfortable with coming up with all of this in the midst of a session, feel free prepare few small encounters ahead of time. Create some villages, monster lairs, ruins, NPCs, events- anything that adventurers could find in the wilderness in your campaign. You don't have to decide where they sit on the map - you'll  plug them in wherever needed. Whatever wasn't used this session won't go to waste - note it down so it can be changed, tweaked and/or reused later.
When designing the encounter try to make it a natural part of the world. Ask open questions about the encounter. Places have reasons why they were built, NPCs have goals and needs.   If you add this connection between the encounter and the world, it will root the encounter in the setting and will make it seem like it was always there. Next, create few connections between your encounters. A bandit camp made out of a band of army deserters and a NPC royal investigator tasked with finding them and bringing them to justice create a great adventure hook. Will the players help the investigator and capture the bandits, or maybe they will side with the bandits? Maybe the bandits uncovered something about the local governor and that's why they are running away? What is the governor's secret?

Before you'll leave this post, think of a few encounters for your current campaign. Connect them to the world (why is it here? what is its purpose? How? What? When? Where?). Now connect it to another encounter and see how many plots you can create. Easy, right? Well, you just managed to improvise a good chunk of a session!

Savagely describing combat

I always had a problem with hit points. Chipping away health, bit by bit, with a sword? It doesn't seem "real" to me. Fights should be brutal. Hitting someone with a sword WILL leave a big mark and cripple you in some way. No matter if you are man or a beast.

This is why I adore Savage Worlds system. For most creatures in the world (extras) it takes one good hit to get rid of them. The not-so-good hits make them Shaken - hurt enough to be out of the fight for some time. Simple, pretty realistic and a great base for narrative description.

I think this simple combat narration can add a lot of flavor to games. Recently, I stumbled upon a deck of cards being kickstarted just for that - you should check out the Combat Description Cards for Storytellers and GMs.

Before I was aware of the Combat Description Cards, I was using critical hit tables from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. WFRP has a hit point system, but the tables can be used to represent both Shaken, Wounded and Incapacitated in Savage Worlds. I am using the tables and sometimes the webapp from Winds of Chaos.

Those charts are pretty gory and grim, often adding extra rules (test modifiers, weapon dropping etc). Use those extra rules if you are after more grim and gritty experience, or skip them and use only the descriptions for more heroic feel. Simply use low numbers for Shaken (1-5), mid for Wounds (6-10) and anything above 10 for death.

I am also toying with an idea for creating charts or cards like that exclusively for Savage Worlds. Just some good narration bits for Shaken, Wounded and Incapacitated. With different sources giving different effects. 

What are your tricks and/or sources for narrating combat?

Savage Hexcrawl - Part 2: Looking at Terrain

We are back with the irregularly scheduled content for Savage Hexcrawl! Part 1 focused on the mechanics of travel. This part will look into those little hexagonal areas players will be travelling on. What are they? What do they mean? How can they become a tool for narrative roleplaying? There's only one way to find out! (that's a lie, there is plenty of ways, websites and content about it. Yet, I hope you will continue reading... ekhm, as we were).


What the Hex?

I am using 6 mile hexes in my fantasy campaigns. Why 6 mile? There's a great in-depth explanation on The Hydra's Grotto. But, in a nutshell - it is big enough to hide plenty of adventure and small enough to wrap your mind around it.
Also, Math
If each hex can hold plenty of encounters, how are you supposed to draw it on a map to show each find? The simple answer - you don't. On the map, both GM's and players', you should only worry about the general terrain type of the place. Note each discovered ruins, village and person  with the hex number on a separate sheet, or in a notebook.. We'll comeback to this notebook later, now we will look into what you should have on the hexmap - terrain.

I get bigger!

Mapping and Noting down...

On the right, you can find a (clickable!) table with some basic terrain types for reference. This list is by no means exclusive. Those types will change depending on the genre, campaign or even climate you are playing in. Each terrain is represented by a simple icon and has a cost in movement points (to be used with rules from Part 1). This is the general layout of the hex region and, by extent, how difficult it is to travel trough the area. It doesn't mean that the whole place is one huge swamp, forest, or hill. Just that it is this land's major feature - you need to fill in the blanks.

This is where imagination and some abstraction gets mixed in. Each icon represents a small piece of the game world. Maybe fully fledged by the GM, or maybe full of random encounters - it doesn't really matter. What matters, is that it is a place where many things can happen. Maybe you'll find a small hamlet where you can rest, a canyon that needs to traversed, temple ruins of a long forgotten god that you can explore, or maybe you will just travel trough this land encountering none of those? It doesn't mean that they are not there, they are just undiscovered.


Because each hex can hold so much, it is much easier to jot each encounter down, than to try to represent it on the map. After some time, you'll find that you have plenty of places, people, leads and other details about the game world. Even smallest detail can lead to a whole evening of adventure. It can also lead to nothing, it might be just a random thing that happened. Or maybe it will payout later, in few game days or even few sessions from now. Those notes, combined with hex map will help, both the players and the GM to immerse themselves in the world.


...Enconters

While exploring the lands and discovering new hexes is in the hands of players, the things they encounter in them depend on the GM. Each time players enter a hex, GM will check for encounters (yes, even previously discovered hex, although odds might be different). Encounters can be anything - people, places even the infamous wandering monsters. We will look at encounters, and the system behind them, in the future. Today, I just wanted to show you how much adventure you be found in a single hex. I will leave you with this artwork by the talented Courtney Campbell of the Hack&Slash blog fame. It shows a detailed 6 mile hex. Just a few hours of travel.



Wild OSR Superstar appears!

Couple weeks ago, I have submitted an entry to Tenkar's Tavern "So, You want to be an OSR Superstar" contest... and to my great surprise I have advanced to the next level with my magic item - Umarlak.

***
I am not an hardcore OSR gamer by any extent. I own quite a few OSR products, but I am yet to run, or even play a campaign with one of retroclones or the good old school dnd. I borrow heavily from OSR into my campaigns though. Sandboxing based on improv is my go-to GM style at the moment. I am in the midst into translating good, old hexcrawl into Savage Worlds. I think that the OSR movement is great and all gamers can benefit from it. And, I think that OSR is much more than a sum of old school dnd and its retroclones.

What I am trying to say, (apart from bragging about the win, of course) is that you should check out the OSR movement. Doesn't matter if you play dnd, Savage Worlds, Fate or anything else. This play style has a lot to offer, and is much more narrative and free flowing than you might think. Also, OSR is not some order of hermetic wizards that will banish you, if you ever approach them without a +2 retoclone of oldschoolity. Go and dig trough the OSR treasure trove, find what you like and use it in your games. I know, that's what I'm will be doing.


This was an OSR Public Service Announcment, sponsored by my ego.