The King is Dead

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Game of Drow

My copy is currently helping to prop up a buckling shelf.
All of my RPG campaigns eventually become about politics. This is logical – the escalating power of every character type from fantasy world thieves to modern superheroes means that there will come a time they must interact with authorities and (hopefully) accept some responsibility to make the world a better place – but I tend to jump the gun. No matter how much I swear I’m going to stay away from scheming and coalition building and the like, I always seem to start dragging those aspects into the campaign before the PCs reach the equivalent of 3rd level.

Admittedly, I like scheming and coalition building and the like. It’s why (the admittedly belated) The King is Dead is built around secret societies and fighting the very state the heroes live in. And that’s why my ultimate bucket list campaign is a game of drow politics.
Yes, I’m aware of how problematic the drow are. Yes, I know this is not an original idea by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, I’d probably use my old and sadly underutilized copy of the AD&D 2nd Edition Menzoberranzen boxed set as the basis for the campaign (though I vaguely remember the pre-generated PCs being really boring – or maybe I just hated the art for them).
Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a campaign like this being possible for a bunch of fortysomething adults with kids and jobs (and writing obligations). It instinctually feels like the sort of role-playing-intensive game only high school kids and college undergrads have time for.
Except… Maybe not.
Maybe the key would be to abstract large portions of the politics and treat them almost as a board game. Perhaps influence could actually be tracked with points, then literally spent to buy off problems rather than being resolved with time-consuming role-played negotiations. The players could spend influence points and narrate the results, and I as GM could spend NPC influence points to counter those actions, forcing the players to resolve things in role-playing scenes when I want the drama.
(Or something like that. It’s early and I’m mainly writing this as a warm-up to this afternoon’s work on TKiD.)
Hmm… I’ve always assumed that if I could get a game like this going, it would naturally be a D&D campaign – but now I have to wonder if the greater level of abstraction would be better for Savage Worlds. Or maybe I should actually read Houses of the Blooded.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: Modern Floorplans: Streetscapes

Disclaimer: A free copy of this product was provided for review. In addition, Charles White has contacted me about contributing material for Olympus, Inc. That hasn’t actually happened yet, so at this point I haven’t worked for Charles in any capacity. Purchasing any of the products below through the provided links will earn Wine and Savages an affiliate credit through DriveThruRPG.

Modern Floorplans: Streetscapes is the latest offering from Savage Worlds licensee Fabled Environments. Charles and Krista White publish adventure modules and accessories, but their bread and butter is the ModernFloorplans series – architectural blueprint-style battle maps of everything from arctic research stations to warehouses. Krista White is actually trained in AutoCAD and brings a real architect’s sensibility to the projects, including functional details (like restrooms) that many mapmakers ignore.

Like other products in the Modern Floorplans line, Streetscapes is presented in printer-friendly greyscale devoid of the textures and extraneous detail particularly found in fantasy maps. It’s deliberately simple and functional, allowing players and GMs to balance the clarity of miniatures-based combat with the inventiveness of theater of the mind gaming. It consists of three 36” x 48” maps covering a city block built around a particular theme: a block of white-collar commercial buildings, a “night out” scene of bars and restaurants, and a residential block of houses and apartments.

Streetscapes is kind of a sampler for the Modern Floorplans line. One of its strengths is that each block consists of various different types of buildings. Unfortunately, the sheer width of each block means we only get part of each of these buildings; the commercial and night out streets in particular suffer from presenting only half or a quarter of an establishment. There’s enough shown of each building to run a scenario set in each block (especially the residential map), but some GMs will inevitably find that some players want to take their firefight into a restaurant’s unseen kitchen (or something similar).

The saving grace here is that every building shown in Streetscapes is taken from a previously-published Fabled Environments map. Since Modern Floorplans: Streetscapes only costs $5, the curious buyer can pick it up and get a good idea whether they like the Fabled Environments style. If they do, then they can pick up the full maps of the various building for usually $2 or less each. If they don’t, then they have a set of varied and interesting maps they can use for a modern or near-future setting game. The simplicity of the designs means that they can easily be used for any period from the 1930s of Deadlands Noir to the 2090s of Interface Zero.

(My one real complaint, honestly, is one place where there’s too much detail. The parked car on the night out map kind of gets in the way of the timelessness that is otherwise a selling point.)

I’m not much of one for miniatures and battle maps myself (though I would pay good money for it if someone did a map of a grand Georgian country house like Pemberley), but I have to admit that the night out street reminds me so much of a collection of bars and restaurants near my house that it makes me want to run a game set there. I also have to admit that when I do use maps, I like splashy color and detail as much as the next guy – but it took me three minutes to print up one of these maps on my laser printer and it looks crisp, clean, and eminently reusable. That is a good value for both time and money. (Seriously, have you priced printing up a full-color map lately?)

Modern Floorplans: Streetscapes offers a reasonably-priced collection of useful, reusable maps that are as affordable to print as they are to purchase. The commercial district map could be used for anything from a high-tech heist to a super-powered brawl, the entertainment district map could be home to '70s street cops as easily as present-day barflies, and the residential map practically begs for tract housing horror in the vein of Fright Night. An imaginative GM and gaming group will find scores of uses for it. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Jungle Ruler archetype for Savage Worlds

I think my wife's only complaint about the film is that Skarsgard never wears a loincloth.
I saw and loved The Legend of Tarzan last weekend and my feelings are pretty accurately summed up by a great review at Talk Nerdy With Us by Arlene Allen. The new film addresses a lot of justifiable complaints about the less enlightened aspects of the character while still providing a heroic and recognizable presentation of Tarzan.

I could go on about me and Tarzan at length (the Filmation cartoon, the ERB paperbacks I inherited from my father, Bo Derek), but I want to keep this short, so here's some stats if you want to play a Jungle Ruler in your Savage Worlds game. The statistics are presented at both Novice for conventional campaigns and at Legendary for those players who want to dive into the deep end for a high-powered pulp campaign.

Jungle Ruler

Novice (0 XP)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d6.
Skills: Beast Friend d6, Climbing d8, Fighting d8, Intimidation d4, Survival d6, Swimming d6, Tracking d6.
Charisma: +0; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: 1 Major, 2 Minor (Code of Honor, Heroic, or Savage from Adamant Entertainment's Thrilling Tales are recommended for Major Hindrance; All Thumbs, Enemy, Quirk, Stubborn, and Vengeful recommended for Minor Hindrances)
Edges: Arcane Background (Super Powers)
Special Abilities:
  • Power Points: 20
  • Powers: beast friend

Legendary (80 XP)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d10.
Skills: Beast Friend d10, Climbing d10, Fighting d8, Notice d8, Survival d8, Swimming d8, Tracking d8.
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 7; Toughness: 8
Hindrances: 1 Major, 2 Minor (Code of Honor, Heroic, or Savage from Adamant Entertainment's Thrilling Tales are recommended for Major Hindrance; All Thumbs, Enemy, Quirk, Stubborn, and Vengeful recommended for Minor Hindrances)
Edges: Acrobat, Arcane Background (Super Powers), Beast Bond, Beast Master, Brawny, Danger sense, Woodsman
Special Abilities:
  • Power Points: 25
  • Powers: beast friend

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Champion of the People Adventure Generator (System Neutral)

This is a pretty cool book. 

For someone who likes Zorro and Robin Hood as much as I do, I suck at coming up with plots for characters like that on the fly. I should have written this for myself way back at the beginning of my Savage 7th Sea campaign instead of now that it’s on its way to wrapping up and Robin’s lowborn swordswoman has discovered she’s actually Queen Elaine’s long-lost child (screw canon). Oh, well... Maybe Robin can use it when I eventually talk her into running a Zorro campaign for me.

Champion of the People Adventure Generator

Whether riding masked across the California hills or hiding hooded in England’s greenwood, a Champion of the People stands apart from other swashbuckling heroes because he defends a population or area rather than acting as an agent of authority (like Dumas’ Musketeers) or seeking fame and fortune (such as most pirate protagonists). The following tables present random elements that can be combined to inspire game masters running such campaigns.

Because Champions of the People are tied so directly to specific places, many of these elements must be interpreted in consideration of those settings. Zorro’s California is much more likely to suffer a drought than Robin Hood’s England.   

Roll once on Table 1 for Villain, once on Table 2 for villain’s target, once on Table 3 for Threat, and once on Table 4: Is This a Trap?

Table 1: Villain
1 – 3 = Local Authority (Captain Ramon, Sheriff of Nottingham, crimelord, etc.)
4 = Higher Authority (governor of California, Prince John, etc.)
5 = Unaffiliated Criminal (roll on Table 1a)
6 = Innocent in the Wrong (roll on Table 2: Innocent) 

Table 1a: Unaffiliated Criminal
1 = A Mountebank (cardsharp swindler, monk selling fake relics)
2 = A Seducer (black widow, lothario)
3 – 4 = A Common Criminal (bandit, thief)
5 = A Rival (challenger for hero’s title as best bowman/best swordsman/etc.)
6 = An Assassin (roll 1d6; on a roll of 1, the assassin is targeting the Local Authority)

Table 2: Innocent 
1 = Persecuted Minority
2 = Friend, Family Member, or Ally of Hero (roll 1d6, on a roll of 1 – 2, their Threat is against a Villain)  
3 = Hero’s Love Interest (roll 1d6, on a roll of 1 – 2, their Threat is against a Villain)
4  – 6 = Local Notable (roll on Table 2a: Local Notable)

Table 2a: Local Notable
1 = Tavern owner / Innkeeper / Hospitality Worker
2 = Merchant / Artisan
3 – 4 = Land Owner / Aristocrat
5 – 6 = Peasant / Laborer / Farmer

Table 3: Threat
1 = Raised Taxes / Seizure of Property / Theft
2 = Abduction / Enslavement / Pressed Into Service
3 = False Charges / Imprisonment / Lawsuit
4 = Challenge (archery contest, horse race, etc.)
5 = Assault / Murder / Wrongful Death
6 = Famine / Foul Weather / Natural Disaster

Table 4: Is This a Trap?
1 – 4 = No
5 – 6 = It’s a trap! (If the villain is an Innocent in the Wrong, roll again on Table 1 to determine what villain has tricked them into this, ignoring Innocent in the Wrong results as desired)


I choose to roll up an adventure for La Pantera, my Zorro-esque heroine from the “Character Gallery” article in Savage Insider Vol. 2, Issue 2 “Taking Action.” Part of writing that article was giving her a well-eveloped supporting cast, so I have a lot to play with.

Villain = 5 = Unaffiliated Criminal ( = 6 = Assassin)
Innocent = 3 = Hero’s Love Interest
Threat = 2 = Abduction / Enslavement / Pressed Into Service
Is This a Trap? = 6 = It’s a trap!

Well, this is pretty freakin’ obvious. An assassin comes to La Pantera’s home town of Campeche and kidnaps her love interest to draw her into a trap. As it so happens, one of La Pantera’s antagonists is the assassin El Jaguar – who is her long-lost, believed-dead husband – and she happens to have a new love interest in Governor Luis Francisco de los Alamos Constante-Pedilla, a good man trapped between his duty to the people and the commands of General Santa Anna. 

El Jaguar knows La Pantera’s identity but she doesn’t know he’s her husband; seeing how cozy La Pantera’s secret identity and the governor are getting, El Jaguar kidnaps the governor in order to test his wife’s fidelity to his memory (the trap). Bingo! And probably not a plot I would have thought up without the prompt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Savage Rifts® is Pretty Danged Cool

It’s not like the Savage Rifts® Kickstarter needs my help to meet its goals, but there may very well be other Savage Worlds fans (and licensees) out there who are – as I was – skeptical about the use they might get out of the books. To them I simply say, this is the most beautifully hackable version of Savage Worlds yet.

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve always chafed at the relatively low power of Savage Worlds characters. Most normal Savage Worlds characters at Legendary Rank feel more like “name level” AD&D 1st Edition characters in terms of powers and capabilities than they do “epic level” D&D 5e or Pathfinder characters. This works well for some kinds of games, but it’s always bugged me that you’d have to be 100 experience points beyond Legendary for your hero to catch up with Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser. Savage Rifts® not only brings the mega-damage, it brings eminently theft-worthy options for ways to front-load Savage Worlds characters into less pulpy, more cinematic heroes.

I’ve been friends with Sean Patrick Fannon since last year’s Chupacabracon (though I have apparently utterly forgotten to blog about his work), so it was a delight to join Robin, fellow blogger and Pendragon writer David Larkins, Dungeonesque Red Box developer Stan Shinn, and several SW super fans in playing one of Fannon’s Savage Rifts® games. 

Yes, the one that was filmed and is up on YouTube now.

Rod Grit’s Horatius-like attempt to hold the bridge singlehanded was actually not so much a brilliant tactic as it was a failed attempt to get my character killed so I could try out the Blaze of Glory setting rule. It worked pretty well for the team, though.

Making myself a target also gave me time to study the character sheet in greater detail. There’s lots of neat stuff on there for fans of both Savage Worlds and Rifts®, but the most intriguing thing to me was one of the results on the Heroic Journey Rolls (a way of adding some of the old Rifts® randomness into Savage Worlds). It’s a result called “Underworld” that grants the Thief Edge and three Skill Points to distribute amongst Climbing, Lockpicking, and Stealth. A bonus Edge and bonus Skills all wrapped up as a present for a Novice hero – just like I’m trying to do with The King is Dead.

In fact, most viewers watching the game probably don’t realize that all of those characters slaughtering hordes of Coalition Deadboys and blowing up mechs were all NOVICE RANK CHARACTERS! Well, technically Robin’s character wasn’t, but that’s only because she got a boost to Seasoned as part of the character creation rules for relatively normal humans like Seras Byrd. 

It’s been hinted that some of the new mechanics developed for Savage Rifts® will affect Savage Worlds moving forwards; I can say definitively that they will affect The King is Dead. Sean Patrick Fannon has also solved a design problem for a Savage Worlds anime setting that’s been kicking my butt, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Savage Rifts® to try it out. I am going to hack the heck out of these books.

Shoot, I’m pretty stoked for Rifts® itself now. It has Vampire Hunter D-style vampire kingdoms and a crazy-ass Japanese setting. Maybe it’s right up my alley after all. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

PWYW for this thing I wrote!

Well, we finished the final touches on VARGR last night, got it off to Eric Simon at Four-in-Hand Games, and it's up on DriveThruRPG! I've been writing about The King is Dead here for a couple of years, so it's a great feeling to finally share it in some professional capacity with the world at large.

VARGR is both a short adventure and a teaser for The King is Dead setting, offering a look at the secret societies of Malleus and their related mechanics, the sorcerous vampires of TKiD, and some of the setting rules. As I wrote for the DTRPG blurb:

In an 18th century that never was, revolution rocks the nation of Malleus! Secret societies of rebels strike to unseat the vampire aristocracy with pen and sword, inciting long-dormant dreams of freedom in their fellow humans while driving stakes through the hearts of their oppressors. Frontiersmen, highlanders, mad scientists, occultists, slaves, and more unite to overthrow the immortal regime!

In VARGR, the heroes join the hunt for a mad killer, only to find he holds the secrets to defeat the vampires. Can they save him from the assassins hunting him? Can they save him from himself? Can they save themselves from the wrath of the vampire overlords?

VARGR requires Savage Worlds and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion to play.

Watch for The King is Dead campaign setting in the summer of 2016!

It's pay what you want, so you can have it for free (but please consider throwing a dollar or two our way -- and if you buy it through my affiliate link, we get a kickback from that, too). Thanks!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to DHAMPIR

Robin's probably going to make me rework the cover a bit.
In fact, I think I just figured out how to solve a design issue.

I wrote a different adventure instead. Robin and I are both running some TKiD games at Chupacabracon in Austin in a couple of weeks, and Robin felt she had a better grasp of the plot and nuances of DHAMPIR than she did the other adventure we planned to run, so I wrote the other one instead. It’s called VARGR, and it’s about a bloodthirsty cannibal you have to save from the vampires trying to kill him.

(Yes, “save.” I can't seem to stay away from moral ambiguity even though the setting was supposed to be "The French Revolution except there's no guilt over killing the aristos because they're vampires.")

Hilariously, VARGR is a sequel to certain events in DHAMPIR, but the connection is invisible if you're not one of the five people who has played DHAMPIR. The adventure is pretty short, but including all the pre-generated characters, NPC stats, new crunch, and introductory material plumps the whole thing out to about 30 pages. Unexpectedly writing a different adventure and final tweaks to the layout and art means there were delays and so we probably won’t be finished until tomorrow, meaning it probably won’t be published until Thursday.

Robin’s doing a lovely job on layout, and using period art is turning out to be more evocative and fun than expected – though choosing particular pieces has sometimes been a pain. (I suddenly find myself fantasizing about using some kind of weird, mash-up collage style for the interior art. I doubt the larger Savage Worlds audience would enjoy it.) The increased professionalism of the final product is one of the elements slightly stretching out the completion date.

Hopefully, it will be available on May the Fourth -- which would be funny because of some vague Star Wars allusions in the latter part of the adventure. Wish us luck!