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R/andom Tables

You might know that I am a big fan of randomized content in my RPGs. I use things like magic cards for inspiration when I need to quickly come up with an adventure and random tables to aid my improvisation during the game.

There is a lot of great random tables online, either on blogs, forums or even in some fully fledged pdf supplements. The problem is, that they are scattered all over the interwebs and quite difficult to find. I usually bookmark my finds, but even that makes it somehow tricky to find what you need. Well, it's possible that I am really bad at organizing my bookmarks. Nevertheless, I thought it would be cool to have a comprehensive list of good random tables. The original idea was to go trough my bookmarks and make a list of random tables I enjoy and post it on this blog. Well, many have tried that, and those lists are as scattered around the web as the random tables itself. Instead of joining the legion of hard-to-find random table lists, I have decided to open a subreddit, so anyone can add and up/dowvote random tables. This way we can create a somehow central database of random tables and generators for our sessions. This is why, earlier today, I started the:


r/RandomTables

Come and check it out, even if you are not registered on reddit. You can access all the tables without registering. And, if you are a reddit user, join us and post more cool random stuff. This way others can use it in their games. In the coming days, I will continue adding random tables from my bookmarks and probably start some discussions on how people are using them in their games. On the blog side, look out for more random tables related content.

[Idea Time] A reverse swords and sorcery 4x card game.

I wrote this idea for a game for November Game design challenge hosted on Board Game Designer Forum. While I was far from winning the challenge, I quite liked the idea and might work on it more in the future. Until then, I am leaving it here. IF you have any ideas on how to improve this game, leave it here.

Doomed Realm


A sword and sorcery empire survival card game.


Components:
  • Empire cards - represent special achievements/technology/buildings of each empire. Sword&Sorcery theme. Each has resource icons and special abilities that let you manipulate your dice. Can be activated via dice and/or tapping.
  • Fate cards - Natural and Magical disasters, old ones awakening, colonists conquering the lands etc. (akin to mythos cards from Arkham/Eldrich Horror). Fate cards have a target number needed to discard it. if the sum of all the dice on the card is equal or greater than TR the card leaves play.
  • Dice (d6s in different colors - 5 per player) - representing “manpower” of each empire.


Game starts by establishing each player’s empire through drafting. Starting player draws X( number of players) empire cards. Chooses one and passes the remaining to the left. This follows until one player receives one card. He draws up to X cards, chooses one and passes it to the left. This continues until each player has empire 10 cards in front of them. This represents their empire.


The aim of the game is to be the last empire standing (still having cards in front of you). Play begins by placing a fate card(s) in the middle of the table. Each player rolls their dice and places them one at a time to:
  • Your empire card to activate special ability - what card/ability you can use depends on the value of the die you are using. (exploit)
  • Enemy empire card to try to claim a part of their empire (exterminate and expand)
    • if there is an enemy die on your card, you can protect yourself from losing it by playing a die of equal or higher value.
  • Play a die on fate card to try to prevent from bad things happening.


After playing one die play proceeds clockwise until all players played all their dice. After that all actions are resolved in order:
  • Fate cards are discarded if TR is beaten.
  • Remaining Fate Cards activate
  • Territory is claimed (if one player has higher total than current owner).
  • New Fate Card(s) is played and new turn starts.


Gameplay and theme comes from special rules on empire/fate cards (think MTG level of variety).
Once you are out of empire cards you are eliminated.
Empire cards have icons represent 4X resources (food, industry, culture etc.)
Fate cards affect players based on the amount of certain resource in their empire (least, most, more/less than X) and often affect more than one player at a time.
Fate cards force players to discard empire cards with certain resources.
If you play your die on a Fate card, it stays there until the card is discarded (you roll less die on next turn).
Players will want to collaborate to defeat Fate Cards faster.
Players can negotiate / make treaties. Those are not binding.
Difficulty can be affected by playing more Fate Cards each turn and/or including/excluding certain cards.

Breaking rules is fun.

Here's an idea. Breaking the rules of a game makes for a better game experience.


Games have rules. Some have few, others have dozens. It doesn't matter if it is a rule that tells you to roll this dice at this time in RPG, or a one that tells you how to move your piece in a board game, or even a equation that limits how high can you jump in a video game. Without those rules there would be no real game to speak of. It would be more of an experience than game. On the other hand, what would it be, if you had rules that everyone has to follow, but each person is allowed to "cheat" in some way? I would call it an awesome game experience.

Let me tell you about two games that you probably never heard about: Monastyr and Neuroshima.

Both Neuroshima and Monastyr are Polish RPG games from Portal Publishing. Before Portal moved to producing board games, they were THE Polish RPG company. Now, while the games differ on many different levels (for one Neuroshima is post-apocalyptic, while Monastyr is XVII-XVIII century inspired dark fantasy), they have very similar mechanics. I won't go into too much detail into the system powering those games. The only thing you should know, that it is a somehow cumbersome mechanic, with quite a few stats and skills and by extent, quite a few rules.

The interesting thing about those systems is that during character creation you are basically choosing two ways of how to "cheat". You choose your birthplace (i.e what country/settlement you are from) and what have you been doing throughout your life (basically a professional background - a soldier or a monk). With each choice you gain a special ability that basically breaks the rules of the game in some way.

You might be allowed to re-roll a die 3 times per session, or you might always succeed in a particular test. You basically change the rules of the game in some way. Because there are so many choices (each background has at least two of those "cheats", you choose one) and you can't get more of those special abilities, it makes each player feel unique and powerful. What I have noticed with those games, that even as I hated the mechanics (I am more of a rules-lite kinda guy), I kept coming back to them because of those special abilities. This got me thinking...

Plenty of other games have special abilities that you can get. D&D has feats, Savage Worlds has Edges, heck, even fate has...what-you-call-them... stunts. But for whatever reason they do not feel the same. Edges, Feats and Stunts don't feel unique and as fun as the "cheats" from Monastyr and Neuroshima. They feel mundane, as a player you expect to have them, they are part of your character build, not something special.

To make those abilities feel special, they have to be almost game breaking and not fit into the existing mechanics. Look at games like Cosmic Encounter or Apocalypse World on the RPG side of gaming. Both those games are popular because of their game altering abilities. Each player can do something that changes the flow of the game. That's not all, both of those games reinforce exclusivity of those "cheats". If you have one alien, or playbook, no one else can have the same (not as true in AW, but it would be like that with a limited number of players). You, as a player, are the only owner of this particular game breaking cheat. You can do something unique that no one else can and that makes it cool.

When I released my 24h game HEIST_ACES one piece of feedback that I got over and over again is to include unique abilities. Now I know why and will work on implementing that in the future. Saying that, I feel that many games can benefit from "cheats" like that. Give each player a special ability or two that can break the standard set of rules in one way or the other and see how much more they will enjoy their character. It will make the games more memorable for the player when they get to use their one of a kind ability. You will vividly remember when you saved the day, because you were the only person who was immune to toxic fumes. Being able to occasional break the rules like that, changes the game into more of an experience. And it's only a good thing.


Savage Abilities - Savage Fan Creation Review

Savage Worlds is a very customizable system. Thanks to its simplicity it is quite easy to create new content either by "reskinning" existing material or by following the guidelines included in the companions. Unfortunately, outside of those two approaches there isn't much in a way of official advice on expanding the system. If you are looking for a more granular approach to designing savage content, you should definitely check out Zadmar's Savage Worlds stuff. It is a gold mine of great tools and rules-building supplements. Let's have a detailed look at Zadmar's  newest creation - Savage Abilities.

Savage Abilities

Savage Abilities by +Richard Woolcock  is a free supplement designed to help you with creation of new Edges, Hindrances, Templates and Powers for the Savage Worlds system. As with other publications by the author, you get an extensive list of options that you can combine into Savage Worlds abilities. Each option comes with a point cost, so you can balance your newly created abilities against the Savage Worlds standards.

Before we delve into the content proper, let's look at the layout and graphic design of the document. Most of the free supplements and conversion found online have a somehow spartan design. Usually a decent, readable layout with maybe few graphics and ornamental fonts. Not Savage Abilities - this product can be easily confused with a small press professional release. It has a standard RPG two column layout on a readable pastel background and it even comes with professional looking art and a beautiful cover (by artist Storn Cook). The grahpic design has a "feel" of the earlier Svage Worlds publications from Pinnacle. Honestly, I have seen paid products with a much worse design. As a person who appreciates graphic design, I tip my hat to the author for this approach.

The book itself offers options and advice on creation of Edges, Hindrances, Monster and Creature Templates, Powers and Crafting of items. Each chapter comes with example Abilities and adds a new interesting ways of looking at particular abilities. The Edge chapter lets you create Races trough the Edge mechanics, allowing for type of subraces (people with elven blood or high, wood or dark elves for example). Not only this will add flavor to your setting, but thanks to the point-buy system, it will be balanced against other Savage Worlds aspects. You get another "extra" within the Powers chapter. Thanks to the point cost of each part of the Power and categorizing those options into "schools of magic", you can introduce an Ars Magica inspired freeform magic system. Author goes to the great lengths explaining this mechanic followed by advice on using it. The whole Powers/Magic chapter is a great resource if you want to create a magic-rich setting. The options here, act as modifiers to the "option effects" from the end of the book. Oh, and also, this option allows you to create utility spells, that some people are missing from Savage Worlds. Want a "knock" type spell? Well, just create a Power that gives the mage a temporary boost to lockpick skill. It was at this point where I was definitely sold on the book!
The Crafting system is just a cherry on the top. While it might not be amazingly fast, it uses simple mathematical formulas to give you the price of raw materials and time needed to create any item, by using just its cost and the craftsman skill ratings. This is a great addition, that can be used as-is during campaign downtime or as a reference when PCs are ordering custom equipment from craftsmen. I can see myself expanding this system with scavenging, to be used in a post-apocalyptic campaigns.

The last chapter is the meat and potatoes of the book. It hosts almost 150 different options that you can combine into creating any of the Abilities explained in the previous chapters. The options are grouped into categories that allow for easier navigation. You can find here options for combat, senses and movement among others. While this is not a complete list of things that can be achieved in Savage Worlds, it gives you an amazing starting point into creating a plethora of new abilities!

My only (minor) issue with the book is that it uses the multiplier of 12 as it's basic unit costs. The author explains his reasoning behind it, but for whatever reason I would prefer a system based on 5s and 10s. Probably, because as humans we are used to the decimal system. This, combined with the vast amount of can lead to a small brain-overload, especially if you don't come from a math or programming background. Nevertheless this (and other of the author's suplements) should be your to-go products for creating new balanced content for Savage Worlds.

Savage Setting Rule: Defective Equipment

A common element of post apocalyptic or survival campaigns is the resource scarcity. Long time ago I have shared my way of making the resource amounts unpredictable, today I want to touch on using defective equipment. When push comes to shove, a rusted gun with a faulty trigger is better than no gun at all. If you are looking for Fast, Furious & Fun rules to express this in your games - read on!

I have originally created this rule for a Savage Worlds conversion of a Polish RPG - Neuroshima. You might know this name from board games like Neuroshima Hex or New Era. Before the fine folks of Portal Publishing have moved into board games, they have created a gritty post-apocalyptic RPG by that name. In the world of Neuroshima almost everything sucks - there is a AI that wants to finish off humanity, almost every person has some kind of disease and good quality equipment is hard to come by. So, you make do with whatever you can find - usually, the stuff is faulty in one way or the other. Normally, I am not to keen on adding penalties to tests, but in this case - it works thematically.

Defective Equipment

When items in good condition are hard to come by, using a slightly faulty equipment does not seem like such a big deal. There is plenty of rusted, bent and slightly broken stuff around. If you are lucky enough, you can scavenge some of it yourself. If you're not a scavenging type, there will be plenty of traders and merchants who can sell you some of those wares. Most of the available equipment comes faulty in some way. For every fault it gives the user penalties. Don't be afraid to add some flavor and narration to those faults - this makes for a more thematic roleplaying.

This slightly broken stuff gives you penalties to tests whenever you are using it. The car pulls to the right and the breaks are almost gone? -2 to Driving. This rusted Glock has a bent barrel? -1 to Shooting. That's not all - if your modified roll equals to 0 or less the item breaks - gun gets jammed, the car looses its steering etc. Now, only a successful Repair test can help.

When you are using defective stuff that does not require a test, the GM decides what happens – water purifying pills can give you diarrhea for example.

There is a good side to this whole deal. First - all that the defective equipment is usually cheaper. For each -1 modifier, you are taking off 20-25% of the cost. Secondly if you have some time, skill, tools and spare parts you can repair this stuff. A Repair test (or some other skill, like Knowledge:Chemistry when working with drugs) removes a -1 penalty for each success and raise. Repair takes time (to be decided by the GM depending on the item you're working on), so it can't be used during combat. Spare parts can usually be scavenged or bought (they cost around 10-15% of the item cost).

Equipment Degradation Sub-rule: Instead of items breaking down and needing repair on a critical miss, they become more defective. A roll of 1 on your skill die gives the item a -1 modifier. Snake eyes give -2. Those modifiers are cumulative. This rule works very well with games where both the equipment and skilled craftsmen are very hard to find - like a survival campaign.

Masterwork Items Sub-rule: Some characters (mostly NPCs) can improve items beyond their original quality. Masterwork items have a +1 modifier to tests, but can degrade as per rule above. If a PC wants to be able to create masterwork items, he needs to buy the below Edge.


Masterwork Craftsman
Requirements: Veteran, Repair (or other related skill) d8+
The character can improve items beyond their original quality. A successful Repair test on a non defective (no test penalties) item adds +1 modifier all tests using this item. The item created has a cost of 150-200% of a standard price.

Savage Eberron - Savage Fan Creation Review

I am not a big D&D player, nor I have a great deal of knowledge of the D&D settings, but Eberron caught my attention. It was he winning entry for Wizards of the Coast's Fantasy Setting Search during the 3rd edition era. From what I know, it is a fantasy setting with some pulp and noir elements mixed in. I haven't played in the setting per-se, but I have translated some elements (Warforged!) into my Savage Worlds campaigns in the past. Now +Kristian Serrano has made a proper conversion for Savage Eberron, where he tackles all of the unique aspects of the setting.

Savage Eberron

Unlike other conversions, Savage Eberron does not come in a pdf or a downloadable file. It is hosted on google docs as a living document. Anyone can comment on the document, request addition and/or changes. I think it is a great approach for conversion of this scale and it seems that the author is keeping the file up to date and takes the comments and requests into consideration. At the time of this review the file "weights" 58 pages and includes more or less everything you would want from a conversion. New Races, Edges and setting rules.

The file is pretty stark on the graphic design. What it lacks in flair it makes up in readability. It will work great, if you plan to read the file on a phone or a tablet. The file is "bookmarked" (all the content is hyper-linked in the table of contents) and laid out really well. Overall, the conversion is really accessible.

Overall, I can classify every Savage conversion into one of two camps. There are the people who translate all the rules from a given game and people who translate just the "feel" of the original content. Savage Eberron fits more into the former camp. It is logical, as D&D games rely pretty heavily on rules. The file has a plethora of new Edges and Arcane Backgrounds for the players to use, as well as every race from Eberron setting. For me, it is a little too much info to digest at once, but it is a personal opinion and I can see the fans of the original game enjoying the choices offered.

With all the system options the conversion gives you, it might be a little confusing for someone who is not familiar with the Eberron setting. The author includes only the mechanical aspects of the conversion and no fluff whatsoever. I understand this approach, but adding little fluff would make the file more accessible to users who are curious, but not fans of the setting itself. I am not talking about coping text from the source material, but explaining, in laymen terms what Warforged and Dragon Marks are would be greatly appreciated.

While Savage Eberron doesn't bring anything new or game-changing to the table, it is the most complete Eberron conversion that I have seen and a solid piece of work. It pushes the Savage Worlds system into a bit more rules heavy approach, making the experience a bit closer to the original D&D, by adapting almost every aspect of the setting. If you enjoy Eberron, but don't want to deal with the clunkiness of the D20 system - you should definitely check out Savage Eberron. On the other hand - if you are looking for some extra content for you Savage fantasy campaign - you will find plenty of content to choose from here. New Races, Edges, Archetypes and even a selection of monsters. Just make sure you google the more unique details of the setting.

While I am more for capturing the "feel" of a setting, Savage Eberron's detailed approach works very well, especially when combined with the "living document" development. If you are a fan of Eberron go and comment on the file, so it can be even better in the future.

Savage Fan Creations Review: Savage Dead Space


 Big List of Savage Worlds Fan Creation Reviews!
This post is a first review of free Savage Worlds fan license supplements. It is a direct followup to the Open Letter to Savage Worlds Bloggers and it will be an irregular feature on this blog. I hope that other bloggers will write similar reviews so I can add them to the Big List of Savage Worlds Fan Creation Reviews (also available trough the sidebar). While the list is far from big right now, in the future I would like it to be a go-to place for reviews of free Savage Worlds content. If you are a blogger and have a (or want to) review of a fan supllement - send it my way, I will add it to the list with the link to your review. Feel free to use the above logo in your post.

Now, without further ado, let's look into Savage Dead Space, a conversion by +John-Gunnar Nielsen Kristiansen.

SAVAGE DEAD SPACE

I have found the Savage Dead Space conversion on the +Savage Worlds G+ community back in march 2014. You can still find the original post about it here. It is a conversion of the Dead Space video game, which is sort of sci-fi survival horror. I have chosen this file to review, as apart from being a solid video game conversion, it is also one of those files that can easily be lost in the depths of the interwebs (at the time of writing, the file is not linked on either SavageHeroes or Savagepedia, and googling Savage Dead Space does not point to it). While it might not be 100% complete, there is enough here to have a good one-shot or implement parts of into a larger scope sci-fi campaign (the world of Dead Space might not be suited for long running campaign anyway).

Savage Dead Space consists of two files: rules/equipment and bestiary, both available as pdfs on google docs. I am looking at the only available version - the unfinished version 0.1. 

The biggest draw to this conversion is the bestiary. The Necromorphs are an interesting enemy and author had made sure that each one of them will "feel" different. The creatures have special abilities taken straight from this action game, which makes for some great tactical combat. After all how will you act when you are facing few Dividers (if you kill them, they will divide into 5 smaller creatures) and being lured by a crawler? The creatures in the bestiary are translated to the Savage Worlds ruleset very well. Each creature has a short description and artwork (I asume taken from the game's wiki) which add a lot of flavor to those critters. You should check it out if you need new horror, sci-fi or even fantasy creatures.

The other file gives you a little background on the game world and adds two new Edges and one Hindrance. The only other thing here is a short list of weapons. While both files are clearly unfinished, this one seems even more so. The only "saving grace" for this file are the alternate fire modes for the weapon. I would like to see the at-fire rules in more Savage Worlds settings, I think it is a great addition, especially for more tactics oriented campaigns.

Both files, while unfinished have a good one column layout, using fonts from the game. While this makes the file seem more "thematic", the font is sometimes difficult to read, especially in larger blocks of text. If this file would get finished, I would like the author to use more mundane font for the main text and stick with the thematic fonts to headers. One more thing, I bet this is not author's fault, but the graphics in the file are of a very low quality. I am not sure if this is a pdf conversion issue, or an issue with google docs. Nevertheless, the file is readable.

I would like to see this conversion finished. The author seems to have a knack at creating good tactical options for Savage Worlds players and the game has a great potential for horror/survival one-shot. It will also fit in very well into the Nemezis campaign setting. Check it out, even if you won't use the monsters and equipment you can see how you can make both of them more tactical in Savage Worlds.


Open Letter to Savage Worlds Bloggers.

Hey Savage Worlds Fan,

How are you? I am doing fine, a bit busy with work, but I get by and still find some limited time to blog here about my hobbies. Which is nice.

I am writing you regarding all those Savage Worlds Fan license creations. You know, the fan-made Edges, Hindrances, Races & Powers, but especially the fully fledged conversions of other games (and more!) to the Savage Worlds system. Even though they are scattered all over the interwebs, some kind folks try to collect them all in places like Savagepedia or Savage Heroes. If you haven't seen many of them, you should check them out - they are good free stuff. You can't get much better than free.

I am concerned, however, that many of those great free supplements don't get the exposure they deserve. They are a labor of love and usually, once created they are not advertised or promoted. Sure, they might be mentioned somewhere on forums, maybe even on social media, but that's all. Some fans may comment and even pass the word, but it might not be enough for some of those projects. I know for a fact, that some great conversions have disappeared from the face of the web and even the eldrich wizardry of Wayback Machine can't bring them back.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request your help in spreading the word about Fan License creations and helping them get readership they deserve. If you have stumbled across a conversion that you enjoyed or even used to play a session or few, take some time and write few thoughts about it. It does not have to be a proper review. Even few of the likes/dislikes will help to spread the word. Maybe you enjoyed how true to the source material the conversion was. Maybe you have adapted some of its monsters into your campaign or just used some Edges in your game? It doesn't matter - just help to spread the word. This feedback will not only allow others to see if they like the conversion, it will also be a huge ego boost for the authors. Who knows, maybe thanks to your "review" they decide to write more free content?

The easiest way to help is to post about fan creations on your blog. Do a proper review, or just write your thoughts about the document. What you liked, what you didn't like. I am sure that people will be interested in our opinions and by this we will introduce new people to some great free savage content. I will start  reviewing fan supplements on this blog and collect those reviews on a page created solely for Savage Worlds Fan Projects Reviews. If you write anything about a fan project - send it my way so I can add it to this makeshift review database. After all, why shouldn't we review something just because it is free?

What I Think about Nemezis

After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy yesterday, I am hankering for some light heated space campaign.... Savage Worlds style. There is a great Science Fiction Companion for Savage Worlds and some sci-fi settings (Slipstream, Necropolis 2350 and Daring Tales of the Space Lanes to name a few). All of those are great products that I enjoy, but when it comes to my flavor of space adventures I am choosing Nemezis as my go to setting. I feel like this game has flown under the radar for many Savage Worlds fans, so let me tell you a bit about it.


Quick disclaimer. I used to work with the folks from GRAmel, back in their "let's translate Savage Worlds to Polish" days. While I didn't work on Nemezis, my opinions might still be biased. You had been warned.

Nemezis is a Savage Worlds sci-fi setting. Humanity took to the stars millenia ago and colonized most of the galaxy. In this time, humankind didn't encounter any alien civilized races (the book didn't mention it clearly, but I think they did encounter animal like alien life), but managed woke up some cthulhu-like alien space god who destroyed the Earth and continues to destroy human settled worlds ever since. That's the jist of the setting. A sci-fi "kitchen sink" with a cthulhu/zerg threat mixed in. There's also ruins of an ancient space fearing civilization that scratches the Indiana Jones style pulp itch.

The setting comes from a Polish author and was first released in Poland. Actually it was a winner of a contest for a new D20 setting in early 2000s. The contest has gone south (the guy organizing it disappeared with the money) and the game was finally released, years later, under Savage Worlds mechanic.

The book centers around 3 planets of Eclipse system: Ash, Bariz and Cor. Each of them with a different suggested playstyle. Ash is a dying planet. The terraforming machines are malfunctioning and the once resource rich planet is slowly but surely getting covered in ice. This is a perfect place for a survival of the fittest campaign. Bariz is a heaven for diplomats. It's a place of noble houses, artists and backstabbing. Cor on the other hand is a military campaign. The Horde is trying to take over the planet and humans are fighting back... and for the first time in history they are pushing back the Horde. 

Oh yeah, I should explain what is the Horde. When humans woke up the sleeping god on the surface of the titular Nemezis planet, he has summoned/created an army of creatures to fight by his side. Think Starcraft's Zergs when it comes to the Horde - organic, ugly, powerful and with overwhelming numbers. All of those creatures serve the alien gods. Yes, gods - plural. Since humanity released the first one - the Worm of the Void - others have surfaced. Those gods can be easily compared to Earthdawn's Horrors. While they are formidable foes beyond human reasoning (like Cthulhu mythos beings), but are not all-powerful and can be defeated. Some humans see them as nothing less than gods and worship those beings. This adds cults to the mix (always a fun addition!). Cultists are the only ones able to wield magic, as the rest of humanity is limited to psionics for their supernatural needs. Psionic powers have been re-vamped from the vanilla Savage Worlds and given new powers. You also get rules for virtually anything you would need in a space campaign: spaceship rules, cyber/nano/genetic implants, high-tec weapons and armor and a Fast, Furious & Fun rules for Energy Shields. All of this on top of new Edges and Hindrances - not too bad.

All of this creates a good backdrop for a campaign. Outside of the gods, the horde and the Eclipse system you can fill in the Milky Way galaxy anyway you like. There are countless human settlements, each with their own problems, traditions and flavors of humans. This vagueness is actually an advantage, as it opens up the space "kitchen sink" in which you can fit almost anything, even run a space hexcrawl

As there are no intelligent alien races, in Nemezis you play meta-humans. Advanced technology and the need to adapt to new planets allowed humans to change their genome. Many of them will look like your standard "space opera" aliens - those seen in things like Star Trek or even Guardians of the Galaxy. You want a different colored war-mongering humanoid? Maybe a race of great inventors or some animal hybrid? You can have them. Humanity has settled the stars millennia ago - it's only logical  that completely new "civilizations" have been created during this time. For me, this is a great idea, as most of the "aliens" in popular media are just reskinned humans anyway (in TV and movies, quite literally with a new skin of latex and body paint). It always bothered me that most of the aliens were so similar to humans - either in shape, as in understanding of the world. This simple approach fixes that issue. Unfortunately you do not get rules for creating your own races. They had been cut from the original Polish release, because the exact same rules exist in the  Science Fiction Companion. Actually, there are few changes between the Polish and English version of the game, but I would say that the English version is more polished (oh, bad pun!). Especially thanks to some mechanical changes (Nemezis has the best rules for energy shields I have seen in Savage Worlds).

I can see playing "Guardians of the Galaxy"-like campaign using Nemezis without much problem. You have all powerful creatures and ancient mysteries right there in the book. Those can easily mimic threats like Thanos and explain the existence of infinity stones. As for aliens- just create some meta-human races with similar feel. The books is far from perfect, but it ticks most of the boxes I want in a FFF space adventure. The addition of alien gods, cults and the Horde is the icing on the cake. I would just treat the "core" planets of the Eclipse system as backdrop and go explore the galaxy.

Video Games can make your RPG better!

...or how to get source material for your RPGs from AAA games.

Let's talk about video games for a while. While tabletop gaming has stayed more or less a niche hobby, video games have gone through quite a journey since their humble beginnings. There is no denying that video games' popularity sky-rocketed in the past decade or so. Thanks to that, AAA video game companies nowadays have budgets comparable to blockbuster movies. They spend a lot of money on writers, designers and artists. Not to mention paying for focus groups and playtesters to make sure the game is accessible and satisfying. There are a lot of creative and talented people working in the video games industry right now, making really awesome things. That's a lot of high quality art, plots, levels and other designs just waiting to be discovered.

Even if you are not an AAA gamer (like myself), you can take inspiration (or simply take ready-made pieces) from those blockbuster games and use it in your campaign. You can find everything - from detailed dungeon maps, through fully fleshed NPCs, interesting monsters, adventure and quests ideas to small things like magic items and weapons. You get some inspirational quality artwork to go with this as well. If you look at it the right way - all of this is a system-agnostic source material, that can be hacked and transplanted straight into your games. Just choose a video game with a similar setting to what you are currently running and you are good to go.

Apart from the ready made content, video games can teach us a bit about good design practices. Of course, not everything will seamlessly translate to the tabletop medium, but there are some interesting video game "mechanics" we can use in our sessions.

Video game artbooks, strategy guides and (most importantly) wikis hold a plethora of content for you to choose from. Fan curated wikis are the highlight of the bunch. What they lack in art, they make up with detailed descriptions and accessibility. After all, they are available freely online. Below you'll find examples of where and what to look for when mining those sources for good inspirational content.

Items, Weapons, Armor and all that jazz.

You can always use some more clutter in your games, right? Well, wikis (especially those for cRPGs) are the to go places for findings items that will fit your campaign. Almost every wiki will have a page dedicated to showcasing the games equipment. Like the ones for Dragon Age: Origins or Skyrim. Of course the damage and prices won't translate 1:1 to your system of choice, but you get some cool art and often some flavor text - really, that's all you need to introduce some new items.
It gets even better when you want some artifacts. Unique equipment from computer games will usually have a story behind it and much cooler design.
If you are simply looking for art to either represent the item during a session or for inspiration, you can't go wrong with artbooks. They will usually have a section dedicated to equipment filled with gorgeous concept art. It is worth investing into few AAA game artbooks.


Design wise, many computer games nowadays are moving away from simply giving the player better "stuff" as the game progresses. Sure, it seems logical to give  players more powerful weapons and armor every time they achieve something. The truth is, by doing so you will soon run into a power creep issues. On the tabletop side of gaming, this means that you have to make your enemies stronger to pose any challenge to the players. You are also taking away choice from the player. After all, it's a no-brainer to exchange the sword+2 with a mace+4.

To avoid that, you can experiment with Team Fortress 2 style item mechanics (as pictured above). Each of them has a strength and a weakness, so no single item is clearly better than the other. In games like that, players choose weapons based on their play style and current situation. Maybe the new crossbow is much more powerful but it is very loud, or take forever to reload? This way you allow your players to experiment with different tactics, which can be a fun experience. 

Level Design, dungeons, towns...and names?.

Every game needs to take place somewhere, so why not use what's already there? When you need a dungeon or a town, you can do much worse than "borrowing" one from a video game. Heck, cRPGs and action games are basically littered with them.
For maps your best bet is to go with a strategy guide. Wikis have maps here and there, but any strategy guide worth it's salt will have maps paired with detailed descriptions of what is found where. Getting few strategy guides shouldn't be a big burden, as they can be found online and in charity shops for next to nothing.

For gameplay reasons you won't find vast mega-dungeons and truly city-sprawling settlements in video games. A small dungeon or a nice looking village/town (re-skinned from a video game "city") map can be found easily, usually with some cool location names, enemy types and some vistas to go along with it. Use the whole "set" or pick and choose what you want. Try to stay away from very iconic motives, especially names. You probably have players who know what Winterhelm, Megaton or Kaer-Morhen is, but not many of them will know where the Frostmere Crypt, Cottonwood Cove or Loc Muinne comes from. So, don't be afraid to take few names and put them in your campaign - video games are filled with good location and NPC names.

Monsters and other Enemies

Steal enemies. Plain and simple. The video game monster come not only with great artwork that can be an inspiration for narration, they also have their own tactics, flavor text and possible loot drops. More than this, many video game monsters have special moves and AI. Maybe they attack in swarm and explode upon deaths? Maybe they are immune or have a weakness against certain element? All of those things can be adapted to tabletop and they make for a fight. When looking for interesting monster AI, look outside the cRPG genre. Action games have a wider variety of monster behaviors. A good source for Boss enemies are MOBAs. Each "character" in any MOBA has a set of skills that can be translated to some cool RPG attacks. Because of recent MOBA popularity you can find very detailed wikis describing them. You can easily re-skin those characters to make an interesting boss encounter.

Is that all?

Not by a long shot. There is a lot more that can be mined from AAA games - NPCs, quests, subsystems, mechanics and we didn't even touched on the topic of music (game soundtracks make a great session background noise). There is also much more we can learn from analyzing the game's design choices. But this topic is way to big to fit into a blog post (and possibly my brain).

Bottom line is - AAA video games must be doing something right to stay so popular, so why not use some of their content in our hobby? Thanks to fan created wikis, official artbooks and strategy guides we are given great amount of inspirational tools. So, visit some game wikis, get some cheap strategy guides from your local charity store, invest in some artbooks from games you really enjoy and mash, hack and adapt this content to RPGs!

Magic: The (random) Creature & Adventure Generator

..or how to use Magic: The Gathering cards for improvisation and inspiration in RPG.

I just stumbled upon an interesting Gnome Stew's article: Troy’s Crock Pot: Draw a card, any card. Author Troy E. Taylor shows you how you can use your Magic The Gathering cards to create a quick and handy random creature encounter deck. It is an interesting read, but it simply boils down to "Hey, why won't we use those cards with great art as a random creature table?". There is much more you can do with Magic cards in a RPG than just draw creatures from it. 

When I was still playing/collecting MTG I used those cards as a big source of inspiration for my fantasy adventures. Now, after I sold all of mine MTG cards I am using a website that has every MTG card scan known in existence - magiccards.info. If you are looking for something less high fantasy in style, you can always find scans from different card games - Card Game Database is a good starting point. If you search around the interwebs enough, you can find full card scans of almost any card game.

In this post I will focus on MTG cards, but those techniques apply to any card game - all you need is some evocative art and some text.

Savage Magic Creatures

Before we jump into different ways of using MTG cards I want to make a quick note on how use the Troy's random creature deck technique in Savage Worlds. Basically, you use it as described - but instead of creating stats for every single card, just choose a similar creature from bestiary and tweak it a bit. There is no need for fine-tuned creatures, especially if they are only used for random or one-off encounters.

I won't be uncovering uncharted lands here if I say, that all you should be re-skinning monsters. It is a good practice for a system like Savage Worlds that can save you a lot of time during unplanned sessions. Use any Savage Worlds bestiary you can find (there is a good free one here). Once you have chosen the mook add extra Edges or Monstrous Abilities to make it more thematic. Consider the card's name, type, special rules and flavor text as well as art when you decide what creature to base it on and what to add. When choosing the base creature - get something that poses a similar threat instead of something not just looks alike. You will have a much easier time tweaking the stats this way.

For example, the Festering Goblin (found using the Random button on magiccards.info) above can use the statistics of a normal Goblin from Savage Worlds Deluxe Bestiary with the "Undead" Monstrous Ability added (he is a zombie after all). On top of that I would add something to represent his ability "When Festering Goblin dies, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.". I see it as when you strike the final blow on this guy, all the maggots, spores or gases crawl out the carcass. It is not a powerful ability (-1/-1 in MTG is not a huge deal) so let just say 2d6 damage in Savage Worlds terms. That gives us an ability: 
  • Disease-ridden: Upon death all the corpse releases all of its disease spores and gases. All adjacent creatures must pass a Vigor test, or suffer 2d6 Damage.
Just like that we have created a new, thematic Savage Worlds monster based on the card. It has a interesting gameplay mechanic (exploding bodies, seen in so many video games) that can surprise the players. 

But Wait! There's More!

Drawing random magic cards can also  be used to create detailed adventure plots. While this won't give you a completely polished scenario, it will give you enough info for a hook and background for a session. It will guide your imagination and create possible scenes in the adventure. It is up to you to connect those seemingly random elements into a cohesive whole. You will draw (or use the random function from the magiccards website) to answer few questions that will generate the scenarios background. In the most basic format you should answer 4 questions: Who (the threat is), What (he plans to do), Where (it takes place) and Why (is he doing it). 

Let's take this technique for a spin, shall we? (I am choosing the cards below at random. I will click random tab on magiccards.info until I get something that fits). I have randomly chosen the following 4 cards (I skipped quite a few cards. I just chose things that looked cool and seemed to fit. This part took me around 10 min):

Who?
What?
Where?
Why?
So, the villain of our piece will be a local honor guard. He seems to be possessed by a demon (Oni). Our key location is a mausoleum and the reason for all of it is a Foul Familiar. It may seem like a bit of random elements, but I already have a scenario idea in mind:

A Honor Guard has is trying to kill a strange phantasmic creature that takes control of citizens in his domain (took this solely from Foul Familiar's artwork). The Foul Familiar is a ghost of a person who was not ready to die and just wants to have a body again. He possesses people who are close to the mausoleum (where their body rests). It would all have been well, if the Honor Guard didn't start tracking it - now the spirit will try to posses someone and escape to have a "normal" life elsewhere. Unfortunately, the guard was very determinated to find out what is making people act strange. He was not able to trace it under normal circumstances, so he made a pact with a demon that will help him track this - what he believes is a- monstrosity. The way the Guard sees it - it is all for the greater good, he is protecting citizens by sacrificing himself. He plans to go into exile once he has done this duty (he's a honorable man after all). Aided by the demon, he is able to track the creature's current host, but any attempts on killing the creature end up in the host being dead (either from the Honor Guard's hand, or by the creature escaping from its host and taking its life with it). Now, the city is in terror. People start dying in mysterious ways and the town guard (of which the Honor Guard  is a somehow high ranking member) seems useless to stop it (after all the only the Honor Guard can see the creature, he slows down the investigation to finish his duty). This is where the players come in. Someone (a family member of one of the recent victims perhaps?) hires them to solve the crimes. What will players do when they find out it is an esteemed guard who is committing the crimes? Is he really following his duty, or is he so far under the demon's influence that he does not see he has become a villain?Will they side with the Guard or the Spirit?

Can you see how those few cards make your imagination going? While this is just a setup, I could write a whole scenario out of those 4 cards. Alas I am a lazy GM so I would much rather improvise from this little setup and see what players would do. I would probably prepare few previous murders for PCs to investigate, some NPCs with whom they can interact and go from there. So far, this whole thing took me a little over 30 minutes.

Once you are confident with creating something out of those 4 cards, feel free to ask yourself more questions and get more random cards as your answers. This way you can create a very detailed adventure...or a very detailed background that you can easily improvise from. Go on, give it a try and tell me what you think.

Possesed Corpse - a Savage Worlds Monster Template

In the last post I described a new Arcane Background - Blood Magic, that allows characters to use demon powers. The part of the deal with the devil is that the demon will take possession of the Blood Mage's corpse after he passed away. This post concentrates on those corpses.

Possessed Corpse is a template that you can add to any character and/or monster in Savage Worlds. After all, any creature can get possessed, even if they did not sign a blood pact with a demon... some were simply in wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe they were a part of ritual demon binding or maybe they died close to a demonic shrine, who knows?

To create a Possessed Corpse  you need to take statistics of your "victim" and add the below template on top of them. Note that the Possesed Corpse will have access to all of the previous owner's Skills, Edged & Hindrances - with the exception of AB: Miracles and anything connected to it.



Possessed Corpse Template

Attributes: Strenght +2 steps, Vigor +1 step, Dexterity -1 step
Skills: Fighting +2 steps, Intimidation +2 steps
Parry +2, Toughness +1
Charisma: -4
Abilities:
• Demonic Claws: Str +D8
• Immunity to poison and disease.
Infernal Stamina:  +2 bonus to recover from being Shaken.
Resistant to Normal Weapons: suffer only half-damage from non-magical attacks except for cold iron and/or blessed weapons
Weakness (Cold Iron/Blessed weapons): take normal damage from pure iron and/or blessed weapons.

The possession of the corpse takes mere moments. Once the creature falls dead its body starts bulging with muscles, grows claws and turns more bestial to resemble the demon that possess it. After a turn, the newly Possessed Corpse rises.

Once the Possessed Corpse is killed, the demon returns to its native realm, possibly plotting revenge on the person who banished it.

***

For some demons, possessing a corpse is the only way in to the mortal realm. They won't be as powerful as if they would manifest in their true form - after all, they are limited by this mortal flesh. This is why they tend possess fresh corpses - those still strong and functioning. Muscles, joints, senses - all at the disposal of the demon who projects its consciousness and takes control of this flesh. No matter what kind of creature the "donor" was, the Possessed Corpse has the intelligence and the personality of the demon who possessed it. Even if it can't communicate it (like a possessed animal for example), it will still have the demon cunning - if limited by animalistic or mortal urges. Rules wise they still use their original Intelligence Die for tests, as those are the limitation of the host body.

Those corpse possessing demons do not have to be bloodthirsty killers. More often than not, they will have a much more sophisticated agenda for the time they gets to spend in the mortal realm. While, some might want to kill the Player Characters, others might want to barter or work with them... maybe even sign a new Blood Pact? The demons in my campaigns are usually cunning puppeteer types - a much more interesting foe than straight up monsters attacking the PCs.

Savage Worlds Arcane Background: Blood Magic

Time to come back to some Savage Worlds content with a new Arcane Background - Blood Magic.

Arcane Background: Blood Magic

Requirements: Special (Make a pact with a demon)
Arcane Skills: Blood Magic (Vigor)
Starting Power Points: Special (see below)
Starting Powers: 3 - can be chosen from ranks higher than the character.

You are one of the brave or foolish enough to make a pact with a demon. The demon lends you its powers, In exchange for your life force - your blood. There is one more caveat, after you die the demon will take over your corpse... but, you won't be needing your body then, right?

Powers & Trappings: There is a plethora of demons in existence, so no trappings and powers are excluded. Discuss with your GM what kind of demon you have signed a pact with to narrow down the power and trappings choice. You can also choose Powers from ranks beyond your own. There is only one rule that you need to follow - Any helpful powers (like Healing or Armor) can only be cast on you.

Blood Magic: You don't have Power Points of your own, you borrow the demon's power. You cast spells using "No Power Points" rule from Savage Worlds Deluxe. You are doing so by letting some of your blood as a sacrifice to the demon. This blood manifests into a spell. The act of bloodletting won't cause a Wound if it's done with a small blade, but can make you Shaken if done wrong (Failure on Blood Magic Test). If you wish, you can sacrifice more blood to fuel the spell. Each Wound you deal to yourself (it's a free action)  gives you +2 to the Blood Magic roll. You can do the same by sacrificing the life force of others, but it requires a Multiple Action Penalty during combat. 

Demon Mark: After buying this Edge and every time you buy a new Power Edge, your body changes a little to resemble the demon who helps you. Your eyes or skin might change color, you can start growing horns or claws. The final decision of how exactly your body changes is up to the GM, but It should be based on the type of demon with whom you have a pact with. Each of those marks give you -1 to Charisma if visible.

Demon Blood: Using demonic powers taints your blood. Not only you are considered a demonic entity, but you can also loose control and give in to the demon inside you. Each time you roll a 1 on a Blood Magic skill die, test your Spirit. If you fail, you loose control for a short while - the GM will decide your action for your next turn based on the demon's agenda. Similar thing happens if the character is Incapacitated - but this time the demon takes over for D6 turns (or minutes if out of combat)

***GM's Notes***

I first wrote Blood Magic as a tool for GMs (well, myself as a GM). At that time it was a re-skin of AB: Magic with a small extra rule - after death of the blood mage, the demon takes over his body. This was basically my take on the old arcade-games trick to let the characters face off a "second form of the boss" - in this case a corpse inhabited by a demon. You can also wait and make a return of the big bad few sessions later. Will the demon seek vengeance on Player Characters, or will it be grateful for killing the old owner of said corpse? 

After playing a bit in a dark fantasy setting, I introduced the player version of Blood Magic - and it was a blast! Mainly because some of the less Smart or Spirited characters had a decent shot at using magic. I had a successful barbaric blood mage who would fight with an axe and use the powers to buff himself. He was the inspiration for negative Charisma modifiers. It started as scars from bloodletting, but the demon marks soon followed. This modifier is a double edged sword, it can be bad for persuasion and general interaction, but great for intimidation.

Have I mentioned that this Arcane Background is not really a Background Edge? Because it isn't! A character can make a demon pact if there is an occasion for it during their adventures. They still need to spend EXP for this edge, but now you can buy some magic power outside of character creation! So GMs - feel free to tempt your players with this power. After all, if (when?) their character dies you'l have a great new nemesis for the party!

As for the power and trapping selection - it is up to the individual GM and their campaign. In my fantasy game there were different kinds of demons (deception, frost, fire etc.) that had their own available powers and trappings. You might want to stay with a generic red-hellfire-demon theme and some blood related spell trappings, if you are aiming for more dark and grim theme. 

As for casting the spells, all rules from "No Power Points" apply, except from Backlash rules. Instead, you loose control over your character for a turn on a 1 on Arcane Skill Die. As for sacrificing others - it is usually kept for out of combat bonuses, as multi-action penalty negates the bonus unless you'll deal more than one Wound. My players sacrificed some animals outside of battle to get this bonus. I would also allow sacrificing as a free action during combat if your victim is willing or bound.

Last, but not least - You can use this Arcane Background outside of fantasy. After all many modern horror campaigns have demons. You can even fit it into a sci-fi campaign by re-skinning the demon to some alien symbiote or AI that takes over nanobots inside your body.

Stay tuned for a template that you can apply to any creature after the demon has taken over their corpse.

Who, What, Where, When, Why, How to improvise - part 2

In Part 1 of this article we established that a key to successful improvisation is to “Ask questions and use the answers”. If you want to create more fleshed out details you should ask yourself more than one question. Feel free to use a variant of the 5Whys technique. Don't concentrate on just the Whys - use any open ended question word (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How) you can/want to get more interesting answers. 

Before we move any further, try improvising some content for your current game from one of the questions below. Ask yourself a chain of at least 3 questions based on your previous answers to see what you can come up with. To get detail - think about your current game - the setting, the player characters and their past.

  • Who lives in this house?
  • What does this stranger want from you?
  • Where is the artifact hidden?
  • When will the assassin strike?
  • Why is there blood here?
  • How did this beast got in here?


It might seem tricky at first to come up with good answers on your own, but don't be discouraged. The goal of this silly exercise is to make you more confident with asking yourself open ended questions when fishing for answers, not to come up with great answer. Inspiration for great content will come to you as you play the game - party's previous exploits, setting details or even a piece of art... heck, maybe even one of those dreaded random tables! 

Now you know how to create some random content on the spot, let's see how to use it during a game.

Where to Start?

First of all, don't be afraid to fail when you start. Not everything you come up with on the spot will be gold. Even with years of practice, some things that you will come up with won't be great - and I speak from personal experience on that front. Don't get discouraged

When you are stating tinkering with improv, create a "safe space" in your game where you can fail and it won't matter. You can use a trick that I was almost abusing when I was starting - creating "side quests".

Prepare for your session as you would normally. 
As you do, identify some spots in the adventure, where player characters have some down time or are doing something that requires a lot of time - travelling, investigating, research etc. Now think of a few small things that COULD happen during this time. Ask yourself "What can happen to the [player] during [x]?". Meeting strangers while travelling, getting pick-pocketed while in a busy market - that sort of things. Write down few of those small things. If you want to experiment with random tables - come up with 6 things, so you can roll a D6 to find out what happens during the game.

As you get to this spot in the adventure, choose one of the things to happen to player characters. Let them interact with it. They will you some questions about the encounter and from that you can come up with some answers using the open ended questions. Just ask yourself a series of them in your mind and come up with something - anything. If it is not a great answer, nothing is lost - PCs will continue down your planned adventure. If, however, some of your answers will spark the players imagination - they will follow this little unscripted plot. Now you will have to ask yourself more questions to create more content. (Pro Tip: If you are short for ideas on the spot, excuse yourself to the bathroom or to grab a drink - use this time to come up with something juicy).

The beauty of this "side quest" approach is that you can stop it an any time without disturbing the overall plot. So whatever you come up with, you won't work yourself into a corner - plotwise. This way, you can't lose!
A word to the wise: before you start doing this often, tell your players that random things can happen to their characters. After all - it is a living world and not everything is connected to the adventure at hand.

What and When to Improvise?

When you are starting out, you should focus on improvising small details and adding some side quests for flavor. Add random details to the scripted content - maybe use a sense that you don't normally cover in your narration. Smell can be a powerful tool here, just add random smells to NPCs and locations. Add some small details to anything you can. A shield the PC found is not just a generic shield, it has dents, old blood stains and has a coat of arms of a local barony on it. Suddenly everything in the game world will seem more alive and complete. From that, players will ask you questions. Who did this shield belonged to? Did we just kill a noble? 

Those questions should be a trigger for you. They are an opportunity. They mean that the player is interested in some aspect of the world and they want to investigate it further. You want to answer those questions. Each of them is a potential side quest. And you know what a collection of interconnected side-quests is? A whole adventure. Unscripted! Just like that! 

Your players are your biggest asset when it comes to sparking your imagination. They will give you the ideas that you can develop on the spot into plots. Adventures created this way will seem more organic, more connected to the characters. You no longer require to come up with mysterious strangers to give the PCs a task. Players themselves are being proactive into creating their own adventures. You bait them with some random detail, and they will basically create the scenario for you. It's that simple - all you need to do is to answer some questions!

Go! Start Improvising!