Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia -- Strider

Strider has been published! If you're a Steamscapes: Asia backer, you should have an e-mail waiting for you with a link to download the PDF.

This is my first time writing a long-form adventure, but I think I did a pretty good job. (I certainly hope I've picked up something after 25 years of gaming.)  I'd love to hear your feedback, though, so please feel free to comment here or on Google+. Send me an e-mail if you like!

Steamscapes head honcho Eric Simon tells me he's pretty pleased with the whole thing.  I'm happy to hear that, given that I kinda tweaked things more in the wacky, weird direction mind brain goes...  

Eric kindly calls it a mini-campiagn, but I'd say it's more just an old TSR-style adventure. In either case, it's 27 pages of NPCs, new equipment, plots, and random encounter tables that should hopefully add up to a month's worth of gaming sessions.

It's a cross-country quest and a murder mystery rolled into one.  There's a robot geisha, a steam-powered mecha, and chanbara-style wandering swordsmen to be found within.  There's gratuitous Seven Samurai and Godzilla Easter eggs. Some of the weirdest figures in Meiji Japan make appearances -- including Saitō effin' Hajime.

As part of the whole sales pitch, I promised that I would also convert it to Deadlands and other Savage Worlds steampunk settings.  That will probably just take the form of blog entries providing converted NPC stats and (minor) setting tweaks.  I really need a break after busting my butt to get this written over the last three weeks, so expect those to start in December. In the meantime, if you're the publisher or writer of a Savage Worlds steampunk setting, please consider the cross-promotional benefits of providing me with a copy of your setting book. :)  The only ones I've actually got are Deadlands Reloaded and Gaslight 1st Edition.

Eric says he plans on publishing it commercially after the backers have had a chance to enjoy it for a bit. We're happy to take any feedback you want to give on it to make it better. I implore you to leave comments!  How will I ever learn otherwise?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deadline accomplished!

No, it doesn't actually have anything to do with Strider Hiryu.

Okay, it took a little longer than I wanted it to, but I got sick and it couldn't be helped.

Strider -- the adventure module I promised backers of Steamscapes: Asia -- is finished. I just e-mailed it to Eric Simon, so that gives him a week to get it formatted. I certainly hope he's not trying to do anything too fancy with it...

This now means that I have to start working on completing the Japan section of the book, but I should be able to work at a more relaxed pace. Which will be good for my health... And the blog... And The King is Dead.


(And, yeah, module.  It's like 11,000 words.)

Monday, November 17, 2014


A Savage Worlds Setting Sketch
Yesterday on Google+, I wished that somebody else would write a Super Powers Companion-compatible science-fantasy sword and sorcery setting in the vein of Blackstar, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Crystar the Crystal Warrior, etc. Response was enthusiastic and – of course – my stupid brain immediately began churning out ideas.

Anyway, here’s some notes toward an SFS&S setting…


World of Wonders
A wondrous world
 Worlds have risen and worlds have died many times since the Cosmos was born. Now – one the far reaches of the Cosmos – a new world is in its birth pangs. Eden3 has been seeded by far-traveled, long-lost civilizations and now its barbarous inhabitants struggle to master the strange wonders their forebears left behind.
Though the orbiting supercomputer DeusMAX and its cadre of ARC-Angels were set in place to defend Eden3 from extraplanetary interference, a serpent has still come to this wondrous garden…

Probes from the Blight, a malevolent techno-organic empire, have breached DeusMAX’s defenses above the eastern continent of Sylvania, where they convert land and people into drones…
Blighted lands
Emissaries from the Blight – representing themselves as humanoid ambassadors of a foreign power, rather than the soulless constructs of an evil machine – have sown discord in the other lands of Eden3.
 They have sown the seeds of civil war amongst the Siliconoids of the Ringing Mountains…

And amidst the Thunder-Tamers of the southern continent of Primordia...
They have awakened an ancient evil in the northern lands of Feralia…
And uncovered hidden magic on the western continent of Millennia...
DeusMAX has responded by alerting the world’s natives through signs and portents, sending ARC-Angels as its messengers, and awakening heroes.
The fate of Eden3 is in the balance. Will you champion Good or Evil?
Design Notes
No Ersatz Good Guys
A pet peeve I have with a lot of settings inspired by unlicensed properties is that they stick in NPCs that take all the good parts. In every damned superhero setting, there’s always some NPC who’s already Superman, who’s already Batman, who’s already Wonder Woman. Cartoon Action Hour has its own pseudo-Masters of the Universe setting, but then ruins it by inserting its own version of He-Man.  Screw that. The players of the campaign should get to take those roles (if they want them). It might be helpful to include some character builds as examples, but they’ll be really, really generic examples like “World’s Strongest Man” or “Felinoid Noble.”
Bad guys, on the other hand, are fair game. I’m already thinking “Nekronomikus” for the Skeletor knock-off.
Race Build Packages
I figure a good way to help save time on building characters would be to put together some “races” as packages of powers. I can’t remember how many points Four-Color Heroes get, but I’d say take about a third of those to go to standardized races – Siliconoids, Felinoids, Weaponeers, etc. – and then the rest can be customized for individual characters. This might mean breaking some of the power-buying rules, but who really cares? I don’t.
(“Weaponeers” is my half-formed thought as to how to characterize She-Ra, He-Man, Blackstar, Thundarr, and most of their human friends. Most of them seem to have some kind of gimmick related to a weapon or piece of armor – like all of the above’s swords or Fisto’s big honkin’ glove – hence “Weaponeers.”)
Savage, Not Silly
As much as Eden3 may be inspired by a bunch of goofy toys, this wouldn’t be a saccharine-sweet setting. In this world, the heroes get to actually hit people with their magical swords and mighty fists. There would be peril and death and competent villains. You could – I suppose – run it as a kid-friendly setting, but that’s not how I would run it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gentleman Thief
Gentleman Thief

The gentleman thief (also “lady thief” or “phantom thief”) is a cunning and charismatic cat burglar. He is as adept in social settings as he is in picking locks and scaling heights. The gentleman thief is generally averse to physical violence, and prefers to use his cunning to confound his foes. Gentleman thieves usually work alone or with small bands of allies, but have been known to become leaders of criminal syndicates.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d4, Investigation d4, Lockpicking d6, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Stealth d8, Streetwise d4, Taunt d4, +2 skill points
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: One Major (Arrogant, Code of Honor, Curious, or Overconfident) and two Minor (Cautious, Death Wish, Greedy, Loyal, Pacifist, Quirk, Vengeful, or Wanted)  
Edges: Thief and either Noble (for genuinely aristocratic gentlemen thieves) or Attractive (for those who are merely social climbers)
Gear: formal clothes ($200), lockpicks ($200), $1100 (if Noble) or $100 (if Attractive). Suggested items include a backpack, camera, crowbar, flashlight or lantern, grappling hook, lantern, handcuffs, and rope.

Suggested Advances:
·         Acrobat
·         Alertness
·         Block/Improved Block
·         Charismatic
·         Combat Reflexes
·         Connections
·         Danger Sense
·         Elan
·         Extraction/Improved Extraction
·         Fleet-Footed
·         Followers
·         Improvisational Fighter
·         Investigator
·         Jack-of-All-Trades
·         Level Headed/Improved Level Headed
·         Luck/Great Luck
·         Martial Artist
·         McGyver
·         Quick
·         Quick Draw
·         Scavenger
·         Sidekick
·         Strong Willed

Example Characters:
·         Arsène Lupin
·         A. J. Raffles
·         Selina Kyle AKA “Catwoman” (Batman (1966 TV series) and Batman: The Animated Series; the character is not necessarily a lady thief in all incarnations)
·         Sir Charles Lytton AKA “The Phantom” (The Pink Panther (1963) and The Return of the Pink Panther)
·         Carmen Sandiego
·         Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Entrapment)

AKA “Nabeshima Toyoko,” “Princess of Hizen”

Legendary Wild Card (80 XP)
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d10, Fighting d8, Investigation d6, Lockpicking d10, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d10, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant, Greedy [Minor], Quirk [Maneater]
Edges: Attractive, Danger Sense, Improved Extraction, Improvisational Fighter, Level Headed, Martial Artist, Strong Willed, Thief
Gear: beautiful formal kimono with various pieces of equipment hidden in garments and ornaments (lockpick hairpins, obi is 100’ silk rope, smoke bomb netsuke, weighted sleeves act as improvised truncheons, etc.)

In the upheavals of the Meiji Restoration, one woman has risen from poverty to triumph. The former guttersnipe who now calls herself “Nabeshima Toyoko” or “the Princess of Hizen” frequents the grand hotels and embassies of the newly-christened Tokyo in her self-claimed guise as a woman of wealth and power. There she steals from Japanese ministers and foreign dignitaries alike, adding to her wealth while embarking on a grand scheme to be the queen of Japan’s underworld.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Edo Era Samurai

The following are stock NPC archetypes for a Savage Worlds chanbara setting. They represent typical samurai that might be encountered in the tense, uneasy “peace” of the Tokugawa Shogunate rather than the martial valor of the Sengoku era.  

New Background Edge
Requirements: Novice
While the samurai are often thought of as Japanese nobility, this isn’t quite true. The samurai of the Sengoku and Edo eras were a much larger, much more varied caste than European nobility. They ran the gamut from impoverished farmer samurai to the wealthy retainers of the shogun. They were united by a common background as the warriors or servants of their lords, but otherwise varied greatly.
            The defining aspect of the samurai was the exclusive right to own and wield the daishō – the matched pair of katana and wakizashi – and so any character with the Samurai Edge begins play with those weapons. As the only authorized wielders of swords, even the poorest samurai also had the right of life and death over peasants and so gains a +2 to Charisma to reflect the persuasive power of a sharp sword.
            [Game Masters enforcing historical gender roles in their campaign may wish to grant a naginata and tanto to female samurai rather than the daishō.]

Samurai, Typical
A Typical Samurai might be the retainer of a daimyo or a minor official in the shogunate. This samurai is going to be called on more often for her intellectual skills than for her fighting abilities, but she still trains regularly in case she’s deployed to quell a peasant rebellion or needs to defend her lord. Samurai acting as police or assassins will have a higher Fighting skill and additional combat edges.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Gambling d4, Intimidation d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Vow [Minor]
Edges: Connections (shogunate or local domain), Samurai, and one of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6); can access a full suit of armor in the unlikelihood of formal battle.

Samurai, Poor
A Poor Samurai will be a lesser retainer to the daimyo of a poor domain or one who that has lost political favor.  During the Tokugawa Shogunate, the daimyo were divided between the shinpan and fudai daimyo (relatives of the Tokugawa and early allies of the clan respectively) and the tozama daimyo who allied with the Tokugawa after the wars were over. The shogunate often tried to deliberately bankrupt these untrustworthy vassals, and the retainers of the tozama lords sometimes found themselves laboring as builders and farmers.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Gambling d6, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge d4 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d4, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d8
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Poverty
Edges: Combat Reflexes, Samurai, and one of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), normal clothes, wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6).

Samurai, Wealthy
A Wealthy Samurai might be a daimyo or an important official in the shogunate. This samurai is a political and social threat more than a physical one; this samurai is connected and can wield his or her retainers against the player characters or call in favors with his or her superiors.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Gambling d4, Intimidation d8, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Vengeful [Minor]
Edges: Followers, Command, Connections (shogunate or local domain), Rich or Filthy Rich, Samurai, Strong Willed
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6); can access a full suit of armor in the unlikelihood of formal battle.

Samurai, Ronin
            A ronin is a samurai without a master and therefore outside of the social order. Most desperately work to be accepted by a new clan, but some descend into banditry and lawlessness. These statistics represent the latter; ronin trying to go straight would be Typical or Poor Samurai with the Outsider Hindrance.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Intimidation d8, Knowledge (Battle) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8
Charisma: +0; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Outsider, Poverty
Edges: Samurai, Strong Willed and two of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Much Backstory is Enough?

I am not a fan of overly-detailed character backgrounds. Playing an RPG is not the same as writing a novel nor is it the same as acting for the stage or screen. Player characters need to be flexible and open enough that players can always find a way to justify their characters participating in the game at hand. “My character wouldn’t do that” is the stupidest, most selfish thing a roleplayer can say at the gaming table, and far too many gamers of my acquaintance use detailed character backgrounds as an excuse to be jerks to their fellow players (and those fellow players include the GM).

That said, when you’re writing an adventure (as opposed to a dungeon) or a setting for others to GM and play, you obviously need to provide some background on the NPCs. Action comes from motivation, and motivation comes from background. How much background do you need to include to provide motivation?

I’ve got three articles coming up in the next Savage Insider. One is an Auspicious Archetypes article in which I provide a build and new Edges for an archetype called “the Badass” – a charismatic fighter in the vein of John Shaft and James Bond.  The next is a character spotlight article focusing on a Zorro-like heroine called La Pantera and her associated cast of NPCs. The third is a detailed location, a pseudo-Chinese, pseudo-Silk Road city intended as a setting for wuxia adventures. 

While only the last article is technically about the setting, they’re really all kind of mini-settings. The Badass article contains a short Savage Tale – a ‘70s grindhouse adventure called “Frisco Freakout” – and the La Pantera article contains the aforementioned cast of characters and a few short adventure seeds.  The setting article, of course, contains a map and a breakdown of local factions and important NPCs.

The thing is, though, that none of these NPCs receives more than a single paragraph of description.

Do you really need any more than that?  For me, at least, it’s really, really easy to extrapolate characterization in Savage Worlds from a few lines of backstory and a character’s Hindrances and Edges.

Hindrances are penalties that players give their characters in order to earn points they can spend for additional cool stuff during character creation.  Many of these Hindrances are psychological – Bloodthirsty, Greedy, Heroic – and even the purely mechanical Hindrances – Blind, One Arm, Young – have implied backstory to them.

While Edges – the special abilities and powers you can buy with those points – are largely mechanical, the particular Edges chosen can really inform character too.  A Quick character redraws initiative cards of 5 or less; a Level Headed character, on the other hand, draws two initiative cards and uses the best. The former implies greater raw speed and the latter implies a greater ability to react to changing circumstances. 

For example, here’s an NPC from “Zhàndòu: City of Warriors:”

The most prominent caravanserai is the House of Xiang. It is a large complex close to the fortress, and contains a guǎn (training hall), living quarters, stables, and storage buildings. Master Xiang Kairan is not only a commercial power in the city, but also the wulin mengzhu – the acknowledged leader of the local martial artists. He is a master of the Tiger Fist style and teaches that to his employees. The Tigers of Xiang are widely acknowledged as the true force of order and justice in Zhàndòu City – riding out to fight the bandits when the garrison abandons caravans to their fate – but this has led to them becoming arrogant and boastful. Xiang Kairan is not a young man, and, while he increasingly turns his thoughts to the afterlife, his students are getting out of control. It may soon be time for a new wulin mengzhu.

Xiang Kairen

Wild Card

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8

Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d12, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8, Throwing d8

Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 6

Hindrances: Code of Honor, Bad Eyes, Hard of Hearing

Edges: Brawler, Bruiser, Charismatic, Command, Connections (jianghu), Fervor, Improved First Strike, Improved Frenzy, Improved Martial Artist, Rich

Gear: Rich but not ostentatious formal robes; the master of the Tiger Fist style prefers to fight unarmed, but will wield a ji or jian when fighting bandits.

That paragraph of backstory tells us that Master Xiang is a rich kung fu master and entrepreneur.  He’s basically head of the local adventurer’s guild, but he’s getting on in years.  His students are honorable but full of themselves, and tend to push others around.  That’s all I really need to run an NPC, but what more do his stats tell us?

·         Attributes: His Attributes are all d8; d6 is the human average, so we know Master Xiang is above-average in everything.  He’s faster, smarter, and stronger than your average Joe, but not superhuman.

·         Skills: D12 is the highest skill die available – but the true master of a skill can get up to a+2 bonus by taking extra Edges; Xiang is a great fighter, but not the best. Have his skills deteriorated in old age, or did he just never push himself to that extra level? As a GM, that’s the kind of ambiguity I like in an NPC to allow me to make the character my own.  That he’s better at Taunt than Persuasion indicates he’s not the most diplomatic of leaders, but his rank in Streetwise shows he knows the right people to get things from.

·         Hindrances: Code of Honor tells us he’s a man of his word, but – as the expanded information on the wuxia code of honor contains in the article explains – that also means he won’t turn the other cheek when insulted.  There’s an actual Hindrance called Elderly that imposes serious physical restrictions; since he doesn’t have it, that implies he’s not that old. His eyesight is going and he’s going to tend to shout and ask “What did you say?” a lot, but he’s still hale and hearty.

·         Edges: Brawler, Bruiser, and Improved Martial Artist all add raw damage to a character’s unarmed attacks; Improved First Strike says that he’ll try to hit you first rather than react to your maneuver, while Improved Frenzy means he’s gets extra attacks. In other words, his Tiger Fist style is about sheer power.  He’s only got a couple of Leadership Edges, so he’s never invested all that much energy in being a leader (no wonder his students are out of control).  His Connections are within the jianghu – the martial arts community – instead of civil authority or the military; between those Connections, his Charisma, and his Streetwise, he’s obviously pretty capable at getting things done despite his limited interest in leadership.     

Tough and charismatic with a vicious fighting style, it seems like there’s a couple of ways to interpret his personality.  One would be a Good Old Boy – a guy who knows everyone and keeps it homey and “real.”  Another would be as a Man’s Man – and aging Clint Eastwood of a martial artist, less a leader than just the toughest guy on the block.  Another would be the Angry Old Man – a former tough guy who’s losing his edge and is pretty pissed about it.  Even though I wrote this character, I swear that I have no definitive interpretation of how to play him.  As a GM, I prefer that flexibility, but I know that isn’t true for everyone.

Since I’m now writing professionally, is this enough for me to provide?  Do I need to give GMs multi-page backgrounds for important NPCs?  How much detail is enough?  I know that every circumstance will be unique – there’s some mysteries in the adventure I’m writing for Steamscapes: Asia, and I know I’ll have to provide more background than I usually do on some of the characters – but is it better to err on the side of verbosity or brevity?

How much backstory is enough?

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers...