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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.

Savage Hexcrawl - Part 1: Mapping & Travel

Last time on Savage Hexcrawl we looked into the basics of hexcrawl play style. Today, we will look at how the players utilize the hex map to record their travels, map their journey while keeping the game Fast, Furious and Fun!



Mapping

Sample Players' Hex Map
It is players' responsibility to map their journey. They should already have a (preferably numbered) hex grid and pencils for drawing. For the sake of consistency, it's best if one player will be designated the mapper of the group. The mapper will draw the terrain type for each new hex the group visits. You don't have to be an artist - simple terrain type symbols, or even letters are perfectly acceptable. Best time to draw the map is when the GM describes the journey and checks for encounters.
If you want to note some of your smaller discoveries (6mile hex can hold a lot of things!), it is best to use a notebook. Just write the number of the hex and your discovery. Who knows, the party might want to return to it in the future.


Travel

Most OSR systems use some kind of speed attribute to calculate how much a character can travel during the day, then divides it by the hex size to calculate how much the party can travel during a day. All this math does not mix well with the Fast, Furious and Fun idea of gaming that Savage World has. In Savage Hexcrawl we simply use characters' Pace. Trust me, it works. It was not only playtested, but the math behind it works... if you squint a bit. Most importantly, this approach is Fast, Furious and Fun!


Determining party's move speed.

The party's Pace is equal to the Pace of the slowest character. This is the amount of "move points" you have for the day of travel. Basic, plain Hex requires 2 points to travel trough (1 to the center of a hex, another to exit it). A party of humans, in perfect condition can travel 3 of those hexes, roughly 18 miles in a day (6 to 8h of active travel, and few hours for stops, food etc.).
Various factors can affect characters' Pace, and by extent can change  the amount of points the party will receive for the day. Using vesicles or mounts will allow you use their Pace. Many other things will hinder your speed - most importantly fatigue and injury. Each point of Wounds and Fatigue lowers your "daily Pace" accordingly, even if you are riding a mount or driving a vehicle. If you are lucky enough to be a passenger - your are skipped when determining the lowest Pace. Suddenly, a donkey cart is not a bad investment.


Cost of Travel

Now that you know how many move points the party has for the day, you can start your journey. It is easy to travel on flat plains or on the roads. This way you can travel nearly 20 miles a day. Other terrains are not as fun to travel trough. 
Each terrain type has an assigned point cost to travel trough it. It starts from 2 points for easy travel trough plains or on the roads. Places like forests, hills or deserts will have a cost between 3 and 4, while going trough Mountains can will cost 6. Other things, like encounters, severe weather or crossing a river can add to this cost. So while in theory, a party can travel 3 full hexes each day it does not happen that often in practice.

Exploring a Hex

So far you know how to travel, but where is the promised exploration, you ask? Fear not! When you enter each hex, the GM will check if the party stumbled upon anything - most of the time they won't. But each hex can hold many secrets - small villages, ruins, travelling theater trope etc. If you want to explore what the area holds, the party can spend a move point and one player (let's call him the expedition leader) can make a Notice check wit a modifier designated by the GM (usually a minus). This symbolizes the party slowing down and exploring, instead of just traveling trough the hex. You can retry the Notice check as many times as you want, but each time, you need to spend a movement point. 


Camping

Travelling for a whole day in the wilderness is tiring. The party needs a good night's rest to recharge. When or they decide to stop travelling for the day, one character needs to test Survival Skill to find a good place for the camp. Any remaining movement points are added to the test on 1-to-1 basis. For each Success and Raise the party chooses a card suit. When the GM checks for encounters during the night, the party can ignore any encounter of the chosen suits (their camp is well hidden, they see the threat beforehand and know how to avoid it etc.). Critical failure on the Survival test means that the party wanders most of the night looking for a place to sleep - the characters will suffer a level of Fatigue for the next day.


Other


  • Feel free to use the rules for Dramatic Interludes to spice up the travel even more - after all, you are not just travelling in silence.
  • Don't be surprised that you won't encounter something each day. The campaign timeline, events or the fact in which hex you are can change the encounter chances.
  • If you encounter something that you are not prepared to tackle - don't be afraid to back away. You can always come back here later and check it out.


Next time we will go into more detail about the terrain types and what they can hold. Stay tuned!

Savage Hexcrawl - Intro

As I am toying more wit the "fantasy as an alien planet" stetting idea for Savage Worlds (as first mentioned here), I find that i could use rules for hexcrawl to reinforce the theme of exploration of an unknown world. In this series of articles, I will try to adapt the hexcrawl play style to Savage Words. Let's start with some hexcrawl basics and theory...

What is Hexcrawl?

Hexcrawl is a technique for running wilderness (or wasteland, or space, or any uncharted lands) adventures. It provides rules for travel, exploration and encounters. It is usually paired with sandbox style play to create a truly open world game. In a nutshell - it adds rules to, and expands upon the "you have been travelling for 3 days" parts of RPGs.


Hexcrawl is not a new idea - it existed in the beginnings of the hobby. Companies like Judges Guild, among others, produced modules for this gaming style. Hexcrawl was loosing its popularity to the ready-to-use adventure modules that, where the new hotness in the 80s and was somehow lost in the folds of time. It resurfaced recently thanks to the OSR movement. This is when I got hooked.
The idea behind hexcrawl (and the origin of its name) is that a map of the game world is expressed on a numbered, hex(agonal) grid. Each hex represents equally sized area (Savage Hexcrawl uses 6 miles hexes) of a certain terrain type and can hold many encounters. This creates a game board of sorts, that players will explore.

The GM prepares the map of the lands ahead of time. He fills it with terrain types, cities, rivers, roads, etc. Non-lazy GMs will create adventure sites and possible encounters for some, or all the hexes. Others (including myself) prefer using random tables and improvisation. Use of randomized content is often seen as a necessity in hexcrawl or sandbox gaming. The truth is, you don't have to use it if you don't want to. You can prepare adventures and encounters ahead of time and plug it in during the session. Most GMs use middle-of-the-road approach, with some prepared and some randomized content.

Players receive a corresponding, but incomplete version of the hexgrid map. Depending on the campaign, they might be given a small known area (few hexes here and there), location of a major cities or some other landmarks. Even a blank hex sheet will work (this is what I'll be using for my campaign). The players will explore the area moving from hex to hex, completing their map and encountering all kinds of people, places and adventures.

If you are thinking about running a campaign where exploration is the main focus, you should give hexcrawl a try. It can the simple "your travel for X hours" into a a whole adventure on its own and adds a"gamey" aspect to travel. 

Next time we will look into how to incorporate hexcrawl into Savage Worlds, while still keeping it Fast Furious and Fun!

Explaining Shaken in Savage Worlds

It seems that people are having problems with the rules for Shaken in Savage Worlds. There are topics upon topics about this small rule. Many see it as a burden, and even stun-lock for your character. I disagree. I think that Shaken can be fun. And I plan to show you how [cue the music].



Shaken, not Stirred

Shaken may seem fiddly at first, but once you get a hang of it, you'll have no problem using it in more creative and/or narrative ways. First let's look at the mechanical bits of Shaken - so we know we are on the same page.

A character can get Shaken in various ways - Tests of Will, Fear, and, most commonly, damage. Once Shaken, their Pace is halved and they can't take any "actions". On their turn, they make a Spirit test to snap out of being Shaken - or they can simply spend a Bennie to do so.
When you are Shaken, you are easier to wound - if an attack makes you Shaken again, treat this roll as a Success with a Raise - in-depth explanation here). If you got wounded, you are also Shaken.
Those are all the crunchy bits of being Shaken, what follows, is a set of points helping you look at Shaken in a different, more narrative, light.

What it means to be Shaken?

Shaken is not a stun-lock. Nor it is just a status that appears over their head. The character doesn't just stand there. Something happened to the character to make them shaken. Ask yourself - what was it? Maybe the bullet scratching their arm made them panic? They grab their arm and dash for cover. Maybe the fire spell missed them, but set their sleeve on fire? Maybe they simply had the air kicked out of them? Or maybe they just froze in fear?
Savage Worlds is a cinematic system, so look at Shaken with  movie logic. How many times you have seen an action flick where the main guy gets shot in the arm, and the only effect it had on the plot is that he sat down, grabbed his wound and maybe mumbled a few curse words. That's Shaken right there! Watch some action movies and try to identify "Shaken status" for the characters - you'l be surprised how varied Shaken can be.
Don't be afraid to narrate what is happening to the character who just got Shaken. Don't have an idea? Ask the player what happened to him, that shook him. Make the shaken more than just a status.

I'm Shaken, now what?

Shaken character can't do much else, than moving at their puny half-Pace - that's no fun. The way I see this rule, is that the character can't do anything that requires their full attention...or a roll.
On the character's turn, I don't simply tell them to roll their Spirit - I explain how Shaken is is affecting them (your sleeve is still on fire, you are gasping for air, your vision is blurry and everything spins, etc.) and ask them what are they doing. They can do anything, that would be considered a free action - yell few commands, ask for help, drop down - even try to put down their flaming sleeve (they succeed when their Spirit roll succeeds). As long as it requires no extra roll, it's viable. Now, ask them how they try to compose themselves and let them roll the Spirit (or give you a Bennie). Don't just skip their turn. Even if they are limited in their option, Shaken players can still do stuff.
As a Shaken player - don't waste your turn on a simple roll, make sure you do something! Think of all the ways you can impact the scene, without rolling the dice. It is a good improv and roleplaying exercise.

Stirring it up?

This approach may not be strictly by-the-rules and some people might be against it. If you are that kind of gamer remember this: Savage Worlds is not a game about balance - it is about cinematic action! Making people skip their turn entirely is an opposite of action and simply lacks fun. 
GMs - let your Shaken players come up with cool, small actions that do not require a roll. Give them a Bennie for something that surprised you, or was a cool idea. They deserve it! And make being Shaken fun - narrate it!
Players - Shaken is a roleplaying opportunity - use it! Yeah, you can't roll on any tests apart from the Spirit one, but you can talk, yell and walk. This is a lot! And your GM will probably reward you with a Bennie for your wicked roleplaying skills. Worst comes to worst, you can use it to remove the shaken condition, eh? 

Campaign Idea - Fantasy World as an alien planet

I was thinking about this campaign idea for a while. What if PCs in a fantasy world, are actually humans sent to a distant, alien, but earth-like planet on a mission?

This idea first occurred to me when reading Polish fantasy book series - Pan Lodowego Ogrodu, by Jarosław Grzędowicz. In the books, the main character is sent to alien planet to find some missing scientists sent there by earth years before. This world, is inhabited by human-like creatures (minor differences in looks), who have achieved early middle ages (maybe late antiquity) technology level.
Earth is abiding laws similar to prime directive, so they make the main character look like one of the inhabitants and equip him with appropriate weapons and clothing. Communication with Earth is non-existent.

If you ask me it is a great idea for a RPG campaign! It gives the players a reason to stay together and explains the out-of-game knowledge the players might posses. This can also explain why PCs are leveling-up quicker compared to other people (nanites?). It also makes for a great GM tool - you can easily introduce strange creatures and alien vistas to the world. Players can have limited intel about the layout, customs and creatures of the world - this would make for a great Sandbox style campaign. Where focus is put on exploration and discovery. Maybe their mission is to map a portion of the world (Hexcrawl?). 

This idea can be summed up in few points:
  • Players are humans sent from technologically advanced Earth on a mission.
  • Players will look and be equipped accordingly thanks to the Earth's technology.
  • Communication with Earth is limited or non existent.
  • The planet is a low-fantasy world - magic is rare (and unexplained by humans).

I might tinker with this idea more and run in the future on Savage Worlds.
What do you think? Do you know of any similar campaigns?

Using FATE Aspects in Savage Worlds

I think that FATE is a brilliant system - especially the Aspects mechanic. In the right hands, Aspects will create great stories that more than once will surprise the players and the GM. Unfortunately (at least in my eyes) FATE is not well suited for campaign style games. I use Savage Worlds for my campaigns, and I use it with Aspects transplanted into it.




What are Aspects?

First things, first. If you are not familiar with Aspects, I encourage you to download a free copy of FATE core and read about them. The book explains Aspects in much greater detail than I ever could.

In a nutshell, Aspects are a sub-mechanic of the FATE system that lets you add depth to your character and influence the story as a player. They are similar to Edges/Hindraces from Savage Worlds, but instead of choosing them from the list - you come up with them. Aspects can be anything: a physical or mental trait, catchphrase, a piece of equipment or connections - whatever defines your character. Think about your character in more detail - anything that comes to your mind can be expressed as an Aspect!

Players can "invoke" their aspects for a mechanical bonus or to state a fact about the game world. Spend a FATE point, explain how the aspect applies and you're good to go. GM can use players' aspects as well. They "compel" them to make the player to roleplay their aspect, which might create some complications and give you an extra FATE point. This simple mechanic encourages creativity, adds depth to the characters and creates some great opportunities for roleplaying. Again, if you are not familiar with Aspects, read about them in detail in FATE core.

How to transplant FATE Aspects to Savage Worlds?

Simple - you just need to add them on top of Edges, Hindrances and Bennies. Don't remove any existing rules in Savage Worlds. Just follow those few simple points:

  • When creating a character, come up with aspects as per FATE rules:
    • High Concept Aspect.
    • Trouble Aspect.
    • 1 to 3 more aspects if needed.
  • You can change an Aspect every time you spend 5exp.
  • You can add a new Aspect every time you gain a new Rank.
  • You start with 5 Bennies.
  • Bennies are also FATE points.
  • Use Bennies as per SW rules (soak, re-roll etc.), additionally, you can:
    • Spend a Benny AND invoke an Aspect for a re-roll +2 or flat +2 bonus.
    • Spend a Benny AND invoke an Aspect to state a fact in game world.
  • GM can compel player's Aspect to complicate the situation, player can:
    • Accept the compel and get extra Benny.
    • Discard a Benny to prevent the complication
  • NPCs and the game world can have Aspects, players can compel them.

That's it - this is enough to add the magic of Aspects to Savage Worlds. I hope that you'll find this little house-rule useful. It keeps the Savage Worlds games Fast, Furious and Fun and adds a surprising amount of depth to the game. I usually use them with my Experience for Achievements rule and it works out great!

Word of Warning - Some people remove particular Edges and/or Hindrances to make room for Aspects and make sure that none of them "overlap" - I don't. I find that is is a good idea to not to change those mechanics. They are there for a reason - they create the feel of the setting and are just plain fun. Edges especially give players something to aim for. Just try to steer clear of Aspects that are similar to existing Edges and Hindraces. Treat Aspects as another way to add color to characters and the game world, separate from Edges and Hindraces.