Monday, July 20, 2015

Theater of the Savage Mind, Part Two - Templates

In this series, I'm writing deeper rules concerning theater of the mind play in Savage Worlds. Think of these blog posts as drafts. These are not heavily playtested, simply a distillation of things I've been doing on the fly in my home games. Really they're suggestions that I'm hoping will create a conversation that leads to a final document that I, and those interested, will be able to use in their games. 

As I've said before, the Savage Worlds Deluxe "Games Without Miniatures" rules didn't go far enough for my tastes. Specifically, I mentioned that the Template conversion rules were merely a "good start." I'll be tackling those specific rules this week.

I think the rules, as is, are pretty good honestly. Though I'm willing to bet that people who use them forget that adjacent allies get hit automatically unless there's a raise scored and that the cover and diving for cover rules should still apply. I think the main reason has to do with a weakness of theater of the mind, and that's just keeping track of who is adjacent to whom.

To me the obvious answer is to use tokens (or minis) of some sort to track adjacency. In this way, players and GMs with area of effect attacks have an easy reference. Unrelated to AoE attacks, this method will also help in keeping track of Gang-Up. That said, I know full well there are GMs who can keep this sort of thing in their head. I'm simply not one of them, and honestly there's no guarantee everyone at the table have the same gift.

The one actual rules tweak missing from the Template conversion rules is the chance for a character to get hit by their own AoE attack. The solution here is pretty simple—tie it to the dice. If a player rolls Snake Eyes on their attack, they and anyone adjacent get hit. As an option, this can be extrapolated further using the Template sizes as a guide:
  • SBT - acting character, plus adjacent allies
  • MBT - acting character, another non-adjacent acting character, plus all adjacent
  • LBT - acting character, two additional non-adjacent acting characters, plus all adjacent
For a thrown weapon, cover and diving for cover rules apply. For a propelled weapon, there is no diving for anything.


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This game references the Savage Worlds game system, available from Pinnacle Entertainment Group at www.peginc.comSavage Worlds and all associated logos and trademarks are copyrights of Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Used with permission. Pinnacle makes no representation or warranty as to the quality, viability, or suitability for purpose of this product.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Theater of the Savage Mind, Part One

It's no secret that Savage Worlds is my favorite system. I've always had one gripe with it though—it's written with tactical maps and miniatures in mind. The design is reasonable, especially considering it was derived from a tactical miniatures game.

When Pinnacle released Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition (SWD), I was elated to see there were rules added for games without miniatures, but really this short sidebar section of the book was more of a nod than a solution to my problem. The range section was still too granular for me (just using real measurements), and while the template conversion rules were welcome, they were really just a good start, as far as I'm concerned.

Since Savage Worlds has refused to stop being my favorite game (I think it's just addicted to me), I've decided to take some of my favorite "theater of the mind" gaming experiences from other games and use them to fully convert Savage Worlds into the game I wish it was. In thinking about design goals, I've settled on the following:
  1. The rules will cleave as closely as possible to the overall paradigm of what one might expect from Savage Worlds
  2. The rules will remain Fast, Furious, and Fun—I've no interest in making the exclusion of tactical maps and minis more complicated than using them
  3. The rules will allow for any existing Savage Worlds character to be used with nearly zero modification
 As I've been thinking about how deep a conversion should go, here's where I will concentrate my efforts, at least initially:
  1. Expanding on the template rules presented in SWD
  2. Replacing the original range rules
  3. Modifying affected Hindrances, Edges, and Powers in SWD
It's worth mentioning that theater of the mind rules need not be miniature nor map free. Minis and maps are great way to keep gaming groups on the same page in combat. I'm simply not interested in counting squares or hexes, or using a tape measure to move characters or determine things like range or line of sight—at least not in my roleplaying games.

It's my intention to post updates on this topic on Mondays, until I feel the rules are complete—or until my ideas go down in burning flames of bad design, whichever comes first. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Long Time, No Write

Has it really been six months? Time flies. I plan to start posting regularly to G:TB, so I figured it'd be a good time to update you on what I've been up to, gaming-wise and gaming-related-wise.

For starters, I've been podcasting again. Kristian Serrano over at the Savage Bloggers Network has been kind enough to let me join him on his new weekly podcast, summarizing the news that flows through his feed. If you're a Savage Worlds fan, you should totally check it out. We also do monthly Google Hangouts On Air, where we interview different Savage Worlds personalities. The best place to get into all this is the SBN site. I look forward to seeing you there!

On the gaming front, I've actually been doing less than usual, to include paring back my GMing time. Most Fridays, I play in a Marvel Cinematic Universe Fate Core game, where I am reprising an old Savage Worlds character, the vigilante, Revenant. On Sundays, I am a part-time GM in a 13th Age game, and, starting this Sunday, a Last Parsec game. Once I month, I try to hit my FLGS, Isle of Games on their RPG day, and play in whatever is on the docket. Again, I GM, but only occasionally.

That pretty much sums it up. I've got some ideas floating in my head, begging to find a new home. I also have a couple reviews I would like to get done. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Crit or Get out of the Chair

Now that I've made my interest in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons known, I'm considering running a game. This may seem like a no-brainer, but honestly I have some anxiety around running D&D. To be completely honest, I've had very little luck with the game since my teen years.

In the late '90s, I ran second edition just a couple times—a "default D&D" game and a Ravenloft game. Neither moved into campaign play, and the Ravenloft game was a complete failure. The only saving grace of those sessions was that my wife had fun and I introduced my sister-in-law to gaming too.

When third edition came out, I liked what I read and attempted to run The Sunless Citadel. I never finished the module, handing over the DMing reigns to another player. I did get to play a full campaign in third edition, though, at least to 12th level. And I did run some X-Crawl which, while not purely D&D, went well and gave me a chance to flex my dungeon design muscles.

When fourth edition hit the shelves, I was really excited about the possibilities in the system. I attempted to run Keep on the Shadowfell, and for various it just didn't go well. Before long, I realized that fourth edition just didn't feel like D&D to me, and it stood as the last time I got involved with the game.

So here we are with the fifth edition of the best-known roleplaying game in the world, and frankly, I have no idea how to run it.

I certainly have a desire to run the game. Actually I've been itching to get D&D right for years. I think it's part of the reason I've had a tough time keeping other campaigns going—I get the fantasy itch and can't find a way to scratch it. Pathfinder is too complex for my tastes these days, and no other  game system has the feel I recall. I toyed with some retro-clones, but it felt weird "going backwards."

One thing the third and fourth editions taught me is that I need to not run modules, and one related thing in my favor is the amazingness that is the fifth edition Dungeon Master's Guide. If I do run D&D, I'll likely use the DMG to build my campaign and design my adventures. The plan would be to create a homebrew setting, semi-on-the-fly. I'd lean on my players for background information. For example, if a player selected a cleric, they'd help me design their deity.

If I run it, I'll report on the whole journey here.

Until next time, do good, avoid evil, and play more games!

Friday, January 2, 2015

My (Very Late) Thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

I truly believe we are living in a golden age for RPGs. Roleplayers have an amazing array of choices, in terms of games available and avenues in which to buy and play them. The giant RPG publisher may be mostly dead, but not for lack of RPGs being made and sold. 2014 was an exceptional year within this golden age, and I believe it will be remembered as a landmark year, partially due to the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

I'm not going to bore you with a breakdown of the rules and mechanics of play—I'm writing this way too late to have anything new to say in that realm. What I'd like to do is just share some thoughts on what I've seen, and what I think of it.

The first thing I should note is that for me, this feels like an alternate history 3rd Edition. Now don't assume I'm bagging on 3.x. It's a great game, and I got years of great play out of it's myriad variants (D&D 3.0, Classic Spycraft, and Mutants & Masterminds 2E being my highlights). That said, it was a huge departure from the original 2nd Edition core books. (I should note I was completely out of the D&D loop during the Black Book era of things like Skills & Powers.) When I read through and played 5th Edition, it felt more like a natural progression from those original 2nd Edition books than 3rd Edition. So what if Wizards of the Coast never released 3rd Edition in 2000 and managed to keep the 2nd Edition line, as I remember it, going? Then add in the things designers have learned over the last 14 years, and took the same "it still has to feel like D&D" approach. I believe 5th Edition is pretty damn close to what that 3rd Edition would look like. Why is this an important thought to me? Well, the original three 2nd Edition books were my favorite D&D iteration. (Yeah. I'm that one guy with 2E as his fave.)

The Player's Handbook is very well done in 5th Edition. I love how you can play through your whole class using only one section of the book, with only minor departures if you decided to play a spellcaster or take an occasional Feat. I think 13th Age does a better job of compartmentalizing the classes, but that book departs more from the feel of D&D for me (not a bad thing, just different). Speaking of "an occasional Feat," I love that Feats aren't really necessary in play. I was skeptical when I'd heard this, but it's true. The trade-off between raising your stats and getting a Feat is perfect. I think Feats are great in concept, but they got way out of hand in 3rd Edition.

There's been a great deal of positive sentiment for the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, and I have to agree. In fact, I'd say this is the best DMG ever made. The main reason? It acts as a true Dungeon Master's, well, Guide. The tools for building a world, creating a campaign, all the tables—I'm sure this will change over time, but today, I can't imagine what changes I'd make to this book. Truly brilliant.

As for the Monster Manual, I don't have much to say, other than I'm glad it's not a binder with loose leaf like the original 2nd Edition core—which has stood as my second-biggest 2nd Edition complaint (second only to racial level limits from AD&D in general). Other than the binder kerfuffle D&D has never really had a bad core monster book.

I'm hoping to run a D&D campaign in the near future, and for the first time, I'm actually interested in trying organized play. I'm sure I'll have more on that last thing after I try it.

Until next time, do good, avoid evil, and play more games!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye 2014; Hello 2015

The year I just left behind was bittersweet for me, to say the least. My family made its second big move in less than 3 1/2 years—back to where we left in 2010. I've returned to Tucson with a  greater appreciation for the place and with one additional family member. I left behind an amazing gaming community in Denver, but there have been great strides made in finding my place back in Tucson's community. My wife and I tried to revive our classic podcast, The Game's the Thing. That didn't work for various reasons. My own weekly gaming has been met with a myriad of challenges in terms of scheduling, player group, Ooh Shiny Syndrome, and my own drive and conviction. Although there were both good and bad, I have to say I'm glad 2014 is over and the prospect of a "clean slate" is an attractive one.

It's my intention to start blogging here again whenever I can. I have a lot of new things I want to try in 2015, from games to gaming techniques and styles. I intend to expand my writing beyond blogs too, and I hope to wax about that here. In addition to the printed word, I am working on a new podcast which will feature me talking with my friends, but minus my beautiful better half, Veronica. There's another podcast and project I'm working on with a friend (Veronica is involved, too, but you won't typically hear us together), which I'll talk about as soon as I can—all I'll say for now is you'll be hearing more about me as a gamer father.

So here's to new beginnings. Keep an eye on this space.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

[Play-Thru] Fate Accelerated Edition

When Spirit of the Century (SotC) was coming out, I was excited about a pick-up pulp game that used the new version of FATE. When I got the product, I was skeptical of the idea that a 400+ page tome could be used to do anything quickly, let alone throw together a roleplaying session.  Luckily SotC turned out to be a killer game, and once you have some time with it, it's certainly right for a pick-up game. Fast-forward several years and the promise of third edition FATE has come to fruition in Fate Core. It's brilliant--I'll say that--but my favorite thing to come out of one of the hottest RPG Kickstarters in history is not the main product, it's Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE). It's my favorite because it not only fulfills the promise of SotC, but it might just be the perfect pick-up game, period.

Before I get into my Play-Thru I'll clarify a thing or two. First, FAE is in no way limited to pulp adventure. You can literally use it for anything if you have a flexible mind and group. Second, at 48 pages I don't feel the need to get into too much detail about the mechanics. Just broad strokes folks.

The big difference between FAE and other versions is the skill list, in that there is none. Instead, players are asked to stat six approaches--no doubt taking a cue from Cortex+ [Edit: Turns out I was wrong about this bit; Cortex+ got it from Fate--credit where credit is due]. Players then start the game with two or three Aspects and one Stunt (which uses trimmed-back rules).

I decided to test FAE at a local charity game day. I called the adventure Quest for the MacGuffin. Here was the description: "Players will create pulp adventure characters with the new and not-yet-released Fate Accelerated Edition. These characters will then complete a quest involving a MacGuffin, in a setting the players help create."

With that information, I pretty much sat down, explained Aspects, Approaches, and Stunts, and we got to work. The players decided they wanted to do '30s-era pulp, with Nazis as the bad guys. They also decided there would be magic, but it would be extremely subtle. After the setting was decided, the players made their characters. Then the players decided their MacGuffin would be the Eye of Odin. Finally, they decided their characters learned the Eye was at a castle in Germany. The rest was left up to me.

That above process took about 90 minutes. There were four players, and two of them had never played any version of Fudge. We then used the remaining two and a half hours to play. I had the setting, the characters, and the destination, so I simply created obstacles in their path. Before the session ended, the players were in several scenes and five encounters, including a satisfying climax.

In my second test, I ran FAE for five people, three of which had never played any version of Fudge. We still got the creation process done in 90 minutes and played a satisfying story in about two and a half hours, this time the players were members of a space federation, dispatched to investigate what happened to Science Outpost Sagan and the Dark Matter Harvester. It went equally well.

One interesting side effect of both sessions is many of the players walked away with characters they cared about and wanted to play again and a campaign setting they wanted to spend more time exploring. I just found that fascinating.

Aside from pick-up games, I could see FAE being used as a sort of "proof of concept" tool. Let's say someone in your group has a setting idea, but the rest of the group doesn't get it. Run a session with the loose idea in FAE and figure it out. Alternatively, let's say your a designer and you get a setting in your head. Here's a way to brainstorm while playing.

The PDF can be had for literally any price you desire to pay. Evil Hat is selling it on a "pay what you want" model, and they encourage you to just download it for free if you'd like, and then give them money if you think it's worth more than zero dollars. The print version will only set you back $5 when it's available. Knowing what I know, the value of FAE can't be judged by page count. I'll pay the $2.50 Evil Hat asks for sure. That's a no-brainer.