Sunday, January 29, 2012

Savage Swordsmen: Zorro (Part One)

Before I get started building Zorro as a Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion character, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the existence of a perfectly functional Savage Zorro build possible with just a Novice Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition character.  It hits all the high points of the character in a few broad strokes and would be perfect for a normal, adventuring party-type game where there were multiple players (or at least, where the Zorro had a few henchmen along on his adventure).

The reason I don't feel that a character like this is acceptable as the solo star of a one-player game is for two reasons:
  1. The dice probabilities of Savage Worlds are totally crazy.  It is completely possible for a single Savage Worlds low-level goon to kill a highly-experienced character with a single attack if the dice explode in his favor.  This is fine if you want to fudge the dice, but I've really gotten bored with that over my approximately twenty years of game mastering.  This is also one of the reasons why the use of NPC allies is central to the tenets of Savage Worlds as written (a similarity to old school D&D that I would love to blog about someday).
  2. It still leaves the character short on skills for unusual situations -- and unusual situations are what fuel the most exciting adventures (plus, he's just flat-out missing climbing and after watching a whole DVD's worth of Disney Zorro episodes last weekend, I can assure you that Zorro does a lot of wall-climbing).

For the purposes of these Savage Swordsmen experiments, I'm going to restrict myself to just the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and the Savage Worlds Super Powers CompanionPirates of the Spanish Main has a number of colorful swashbuckling edges that would be perfect for a Zorro, but I want to draw the line somewhere on what sources I'll use.  For this Zorro, we'll be using the original -- Don Diego Vega -- as described in Johnston McCulley's original novel The Mark of Zorro (AKA The Curse of Capistrano) with occasional interpolations from later sources (specifically Disney's Zorro TV series, Isabel Allende's novel, and Matt Wagner's Dynamite Comics series -- in all of which the name was changed to de la Vega).

Let's go in the order laid out for character creation:

1).  Race --  Human.

2).  Traits -- The average solo hero has to be at least average in everything, so we divide our five points evenly across all five attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, and Vigor d6.

3).  Skills -- Since purchasing skills above their linked attribute costs extra points, it makes no sense at this stage to raise any of Zorro's skills above d6.  The only argument I have with Bazin's list is the lack of Climbing, so his starting skill list is therefore Climbing (Str) - d4, Fighting (Ag) - d6, Notice (Sm) - d6, Riding (Ag) - d6, Taunt (Sm) - d6, Streetwise (Sm) - d6, (Sm) Stealth (Ag) - d6, and Persuasion (Sp) - d6.

4).  Derived Statistics -- Are obviously going to change, so let's just skip that.

5).  Edges & Hindrances -- Zorro's mute companion Bernardo is a actually a post-Mark of Zorro addition to the canon, so I'm ambivalent on adding him to our Zorro's build.  Sidekick is a Legendary Edge, so Dependent (Major Hindrance, Super Powers Companion) would have to substitute, as it gives you a Novice rank companion NPC -- who frequently needs rescuing.  (That almost sounds more like Lolita Pulido.)  I think I'd rather go with Code of Honor, as McCulley's Zorro is fiercely proud of his caballero blood.  Zorro is obviously also Heroic, so he's stuck with two Major Hindrances and only gets the full points from one of them.  Quirk is also obvious, though it should be noted that Zorro likes to sign his work after completing the job, not at the start of a fight.  The "z"-shaped scars he leaves behind often win him more enemies, so it really is a hindrance.

His free edge for being human is obviously Arcane Background (Super Powers) [Super Powers Companion version], while the two edges purchased by his hindrances are Noble (duh) and Power Points.  This gives him fifteen power points to spend toward attributes, skills, and edges using the super powers Super Attribute, Super Edge, and Super Skill.

Unfortunately, I've run out of time for today so I'll have to get into the distribution of those points -- and how they really separate a standard Novice character from a Novice super hero -- at a later time.  Dammit.

Oh well...


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grant Morrisons Batman for Savage Worlds

All Attributes: d12+2
All Skills: d12+2
Edges: All

Edit: What do you know? You can't put apostrophes in the title line (at least when using the iOS Blogger app).

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Today is the birthday of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, Kull of Atlantis, and many other immortal characters. He was, with J. R. R. Tolkien and Fritz Leiber, one of the three fantasy writers who most inspired the creation of the original fantasy role-playing game. He was also a fellow Texan.

He said that his poem "Cimmeria" was inspired by a winter visit to Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country. Since I'm composing this on my phone, I'll just provide a link ( and a photo. I have no doubt this is the view Howard had in mind when he composed his poem.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How I Became a "Wino."

I remember my first foray into wine. I followed in the footsteps of past, present, and future young writers and artists, drinking red wine because, well, it was cool. And like so many of the others, I knew nothing about what I was drinking. Sure I had heard some of the names before; I also went through a make-up craze, and there are so many red nail polishes and lipsticks bearing the names of red grapes. But names are never enough, and so I drank not so good and bad wine, drank it even though I really didn’t like it. And so I stopped drinking it before I got to know it. But, as I have learned, wine matures to its peak of flavor; a lesson that also applied to me.

During graduate school, my drinking slowly decreased to near nothingness. There just wasn’t any money, so we opted for other pleasures; at this time Sean and I began to cultivate our sweet tooth as we explored chocolate. Chocolate was cheaper, even the good stuff, and it was something we could do. I started making chocolate treats at this time, a hobby that I still enjoy. And the best thing: it is a love that pairs well with wine, so a definitive win there. With chocolate our main focus, we just didn’t need alcohol. However, that would quickly change.

When I finished graduate school and we moved back to where our families lived, we found ourselves spending more time with our families, especially for weekend meals. Well, in steps Sean’s grandmother. At dinner, she always had a glass of wine, a habit that had been on the increase due to some of her friends. On her Friday night outings with her friends, she had drinking buddies, but that was not so with family. Sean’s grandfather rarely drank – and drank hard liquor; Sean’s brother was similar (he had a taste for expensive whiskey). Sean’s mom would try to drink with her mother, but she had developed the typical “wine headache” from reds – what Sean’s grandmother drank a lot of. So that left Sean and I. Well, we let her take the lead, and she proved to have some useful insight. Before long, we found what we liked.

And by accident, we found a cheap treasure of a wine, Becker Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon Iconoclast. Well, we got hooked. This wine was one we could drink anytime, both Sean and I. It had just enough fruit to excite my picky, highly sensitive palate; it played into Sean’s taste for dark, robust flavors; and it was a nice dry wine, which we both enjoyed. We were started down a long road after that – Highway 290 to be exact. A short time later, my father – who I generally disagree with when it comes to wine – suggested a visit up to Fredericksburg. When he said that, antique shops and old ladies came to mind. Boy was I wrong; when we got there, I found a playground for foodies, boutique shoppers, and winos. And so, we took our first trip to Becker.

At Becker, we were introduced to more wines, wonderful wines. Before long, Sean developed a love for Becker’s Claret – a Regency favorite. I feel in love with Malbec; it is my favorite varietal, and I have come to appreciate the depth of it through the array of Malbec’s coming from Argentina. This love was furthered by the ease of acquiring these two gems; HEB carried them both at reasonable prices. A new habit was born, and thanks to a little know how, we had a new habit. And of course, our local grocery store (for non-Texas readers, HEB is a local, large grocery change) fed our habit within our budget.

Now several years later, we are winos. We visit the same stretch of Highway 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City (named for the President and his birthplace) several times a year. We are wine club members at three wineries. As always, Becker got us started, but we followed a year later with Pedernales Cellars and William Chris Winery. We go and have picnics at the wineries, sipping wine and listening to the music – that is when the weather allows. We visit for special events. And boy do they have a lot; as I am writing, I am missing Port and Pairings, an event where delicious food gets paired with the wineries’ ports. Next month will be the Wine Lover’s Trail, with special events, chocolate, and live music waiting to greet us. It will also be pick-up time again – we will have to pick up the first wine club shipment of 2012. Now that I am old enough and wise enough, I can actually make smart choices and thoroughly enjoy myself.

Learning Curve

I have no idea how I put that photo in "Savage Worlds and the Single Player." I have the iPhone Blogger app and was trying to correct some spacing. Now that I've done it, I'm just going to leave it in there.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I love Savage Worlds. It has the mechanical simplicity of West End Games' Star Wars or Eden Studios’ Unisystem with the character customization of3rd Edition D&D. It is, by far, the most entertaining RPG I’ve ever run.

It is, however, not designed for single player play.

Single-player games have challenges quite different from those geared toward teams or adventuring parties. First of all, unless the player really, really enjoys making characters, then the GM is going to have to employ plot armor of some sort to keep the PC alive. Secondly,unless the GM really, really enjoys running the same kind of stories, then thePC is going to have to be multi-talented. The answer to both problems is to ensure the PC, from the beginning, is as skilled and tough as the average cinematic or literary hero.

Any skill-based system, even one with as limited a skill list as Savage Worlds has, is going to have issues modeling polymath heroes like Batman, Conan, and James Bond (but most level- and class-based systems have the same problem). Even a duo like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser poses difficulties. For an example, consider Zorro, an archetypal pulp hero in a low-technology setting.

As a solo hero, Zorro has to be prepared for almost any situation. There are 24 skills in SavageWorlds – Arcane (the skill roll made to use magic, psionics, or super powers), Boating, Climbing, Driving, Fighting, Gambling,Healing, Intimidation, Investigation (what Call of Cthulhu calls “Library Use;”the ability to get knowledge from books, newspapers, and the modern like), Knowledge(which is actually multiple skills), Lockpicking, Notice, Persuasion, Piloting,Repair, Riding, Shooting, Stealth, Streetwise (gathering information fromtalking to people), Survival, Swimming, Taunt, Throwing, and Tracking. Of these, three are superfluous to Zorro: Arcane (he isn’t even as much a superhero as Batman), Investigation (I’m sure there was at least one episode of the Disney series where Zorro solved a mystery by reviewing documents, but it was probably just one), andPiloting. Boating, Driving, Gambling, Healing,Knowledge, Repair, and Swimming seem debatable but all of them have potential uses when playing Zorro (heck, Allende specifically makes Zorro an expert gambler) and the remaining skills are all ones that Zorro has notable expertise in no matter which interpretation we speak of. That means Zorro needs at least average skill in 7 skills and above-average skill in 14.

A Savage Worlds player character Wild Card starts off with fifteen skill points and can, at most, get two additional skill points per advance.

One way to resolve this difficulty is to begin the PC off at an advanced rank (or level). Unfortunately, in Savage Worlds this would mean declining Edges (similar to D&D 3+’s Feats) in favor of skill points. (I said Savage Worlds was my favorite, not that it was perfect.) This doesn’t even take into account the problem of raising attributes! Thankfully,there is another solution.

Make the character a superhero.

The Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion offers three superpowers that enable a character to gain heroic skills and abilities without possessing actual super powers: Super Attribute, Super Edge, and SuperSkill. If all of the benefits from the Super Powers Edge were spent on skill points, then a starting Wild Card could begin play with over 65 skill points. With two skill points required to bring a skill to average, that would be 42 points spent on raising all of the skills to d6 and another 23 points left to advance individual signature skills to d8, d10, or d12.

In future posts, I will demonstrate this in full by building Zorro, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Conan, and Drizzt Do’Urden as “street legal” Savage Worlds supers in the Savage Swordsmen series.

This is a test...

This is only a test...

An Introduction from Sean

“Wine and Savages” is the shared blog of Robin and Sean, two thirtysomething child-free professionals living in South Texas.  Through it, we hope to share our love of wine (particularly the wines of the Texas Hill Country) and role-playing games (particularly Savage Worlds) with occasional asides into anime, books, comics, and manga.

I specifically intend to use this forum to share my insights into one-on-one roleplaying gleaned from a decade of gaming in which my wife has been my only player 90% of the time, play reports for my current Pirates of the Spanish Main group game, and a series of Savage Worlds conversions I’m currently calling Savage Swordsmen.   I’d love to achieve for Savage Worlds something as insightful and scholarly as Grognardia or Dreams in the Lich House provide for the D&D OSR, but I’m way too rusty at writing to promise anything like that yet.


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...