Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Savage Solo: Why We Savage

Alright!  Here's a perfect chance for one of those "one blogger starts a topic and other bloggers continue it on their own blogs" things the OSR does so well and we Savages don't really do at all.

Tommy Brownell, over at The Most Unread Blog on the Internet Ever, extrapolated a model from Bioware computer RPGs that could be applied to solo gaming and asked what experience others have had running solo games.  I, as previously posted, have a ton of such experience.

My experience is a bit different from Tommy's in that my solo player is my wife.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who has realized gaming with a life partner/lover/spouse is a bit different from gaming with a casual friend.  First of all, by virtue of the fact that you have to live with this person, a spouse's characters automatically have plot armor.  Some might decry taking the risk out of gaming, but Robin is a very, very immersive player and no matter how many times I assure her that her character is going to be safe, she still gets worried when the odds are against her.  Besides, isn't this just genre emulation?  Do we ever really think Conan or James Bond are really going to get killed during one of their many adventures?  Savage Worlds has now effectively made this a canonical (if alternate) game rule with the "Heroes Never Die" Setting Rule introduced in the Deluxe Edition (and previously existing in Pirates of the Spanish Main), so I suspect Hensley and company have similar experiences.

Another difference (I suspect) is the prominence of romance.  I mentioned in my last post that one of the benefits of a decade of solo gaming has been keeping the romance alive in our relationship, and I meant it.  No matter how action-packed the setting (and most of them have been action settings, as Robin likes blowing off steam by rolling dice and smashing bad guys just as much as anyone does), there has been a strong element of love story.  Again, this isn't really foreign to most RPG genres.  "Batman Begins" (superhero), Casino Royale (espionage), Dracula (horror), "The Empire Strikes Back" (space opera), "Flash Gordon" (sword and planet), "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" (men's adventure/military), The Lord of the Rings (high fantasy), and even "Queen of the Black Coast" (sword and sorcery) all have prominent romance plots in them.  They don't all end happily, but the romance is still there.  It's one of the things that keeps genre fiction emotionally real even as it explores fantastical settings.

Romance means dialogue -- lots and lots of dialogue.  Two to three hour game sessions will go by with no dice rolling as Robin and I just speak in character the whole time.  I don't always enjoy this, but most of the time I do.  I have a great repertoire of character voices and can usually switch easily between them, so I enjoy utilizing a talent for which I have no other outlet.  I also enjoy the chance to delve deep into a character's persona, a joy usually reserved only for players and not GMs.  We started gaming again with friends a couple of years back, and sometimes having to just sit back and describe things to the players instead of getting into character myself bugs the hell out of me.

So why do we use Savage Worlds -- a game system that emphasizes using miniatures in combat and mass battles -- when we spend most of our time just talking?  Because Savage Worlds gives us the crunch we want when we want it, and stays out of the way when we don't need it.

Prior to Savage Worlds, our game systems of choice were the original Storyteller System and Cinematic Unisystem.  The old World of Darkness settings were very labor-intensive for the GM -- there were next to no simple NPC templates to use, so I was always building characters -- and the variable-cost experience point system meant that trying to boost a PC to a level where she could compete with the few pre-generated NPCs that did exist was a real chore.  There was a lot of hand-waving involved in those games.  Cinematic Unisystem (as per Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) is a very good, flexible system --but PCs really, really start to look alike after awhile and rolling one d10 gets boring.  The hit point and damage system is also surprisingly math-intensive for a game that's otherwise so intuitive.  I could, and should, go into more detail, but I'm  short on time.  Suffice it to say that Savage Worlds has an advantage over Storyteller in that it has a clear rank and advancement system that allows me to judge how NPCs should be constructed and the variety of Edges makes character customization more entertaining than Unisystem.

(About our time playing D&D 3.5, the less said the better.)

There are other systems we could be using, but Savage Worlds gives us both the shortcuts we need.  Savage Worlds means that when we want to have a talky, dialogue scene we can have it, and when we both want to skip to something more important Robin can roll Persuasion.  It means I can prep NPCs very easily and hand them over to Robin to make the rolls.  It means Robin can construct a dashing swordswoman who knows a variety of secret techniques and the game won't be unbalanced when I just decide some random courtier I've made up on the spot has a d10 in Fighting.  It means I can have mass battles, car chases, and tactical fights and Robin can have a simple, clean character sheet that just lets her roleplay.  Savage Worlds does the job we want.

2 comments:

  1. I do think that, if you take my "companion" approach to solo games, you don't have to worry as much about plot armor...and, even if the PC IS safe, just make sure that then NPCs are not necessarily safe, so there are still stakes.

    That said, your wife may have little interest in directing traffic for a whole group in combat, it's certainly not for everybody.

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  2. Robin started gaming with Basic D&D when she was ten (I didn't start until four years later with AD&D 2nd Ed when I was 16) and continued through high school with the original Vampire and Changeling. Even then, it was still awkward at first.

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