Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sean's Piratical Appendix N

Black Vulmea, over at Really Bad Eggs, smartly encouraged the use of a campaign-specific Appendix N to inform the players about the intended tone of a campaign.  Therefore, I present my Appendix N for my "Pirates of the Spanish Main" campaign:

"Brotherhood of the Wolf"
"Captain Blood"
"Le Chevalier D'Eon" (available on Netflix!)
"Pirates of the Caribbean" film series (especially "Curse of the Black Pearl" and "On Stranger Tides")
"Solomon Kane"

Black Vulmea's Vengeance by Robert E. Howard (1976 Berkley paperback containing REH's pirate tales)
Captain Blood: His Odyssey by Raphael Sabatini
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard

Lots of monsters, not a little magic, tons of swordplay, and plenty of piracy.

Strange Times

I'm watching "The Mark of Zorro" (1940) and no other film adaptation of Zorro has so captured the fact that Zorro's adventures are contemporary with the reign of Napoleon and Pride and Prejudice.  Which, of course, means Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel are also contemporaries.  Has anybody done a team-up between the two of them?

The early 1800s were a weird time.  They were so modern in some ways, so medieval in others.  It's an age ripe for role-playing.

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Savage Solo: Love and Savagery

Robin and I left our (for all intents and purposes) hometown of San Antonio eleven years ago so Robin could go to graduate school.  We only moved an hour up the highway to a small college town called San Marcos -- a town so small I had to get a job in Austin (another hour north) -- but it made a huge impact on our lives.  We're both pretty shy, and neither of us has ever been good at making friends, so we were very much on our own.  We got lonely very quickly.

I had given up RPGs a few years earlier because I had poorly-realized ambitions of being a writer and I knew full well that the creativity and hard work that I should put into writing stories went instead into world-building as a GM.  Unfortunately, becoming a professional writer means getting things finished and I never, ever had the dedication needed to seclude myself for hours every day to write, write, write.  Especially not when my soul-mate needed me.

Reluctantly, I agreed to run an RPG just for her.  It seemed weird and awkward to be running a game for just one person -- what if she fails a critical roll?  how do I balance combat with a single PC? -- but we persevered...

And it became our way of life.

There were, probably, more constructive, more healthy, more normal ways to fight our isolation, but this is what worked for us -- and you can only be yourself so you have to find the things that work for you.  We average more hours every week gaming than we do watching TV, which means we spend more time actively involved in each other's lives than most couples.  We're a couple who share hobbies, who talk with each other, who are still together after thirteen years of economic woes and sundry troubles.  No small part of that is due to sitting on the couch together, night after night, making up shared stories about make-believe worlds and reliving the romance of courtship and dating again and again.    

We've fallen in love again as star-crossed hsien and hengeyokai, as Celts, as schoolgirls and vampires, as spirit warrior grunge rockers, as Victorian-era monster killers, as Regency-era ladies and rakes, and (frequently) as pirates.  Robin's PCs have renewed the Roman Republic and taught Elaith Craulnober that he could love again.  We've loved and lost in our intimate stories so that we could stay together in real life.

It's hard to articulate our version of solo or one-on-one gaming, but that's part of the reason for starting this blog so I'll try to muddle through as best I can. 

Why I Wine

Everything Robin said about my grandmother and the rest is true, but there's more to my side of the story just as there's more she hasn't shared yet (heck, she hasn't shared any of her RPG thoughts yet and she's been gaming longer than me). 

A big part of my embracing the cult of the grape has to do with the very simple, stark fact that I have celiac disease and therefore just can't drink beer.  Like most Irish-Americans, I enjoyed a good pint or two (or three or four) of Guinness, but I began to notice a few years ago that -- in addition to suffering from a horrible, mucus-filled cough anytime I ate anything wheat-based -- I was really ill the morning after a beer-based bender and it wasn't because of hangovers.  I could have stopped drinking, but what would be the fun in that?   

Another reason for becoming a wino is because I finally discovered something in Texas that I could be proud of again.  I'm not a native Texan, but I've lived here for twenty-eight of my thirty-eight years and I'm not likely to move soon.  Almost all of both of our families live in this state, so we're stuck here until we win a lottery that allows me to move everyone to Canada so I can play D&D with Ed Greenwood.  It's rough sometimes; we have some great reasons to be proud of Texas' independent spirit, and we have some reasons to do a double-facepalm.   Going up I-10 to 290 gets me out into the rugged Texas hills, into a majestic landscape that makes me happy I no longer live in Kansas. 

And I like the taste.  I really, really like the taste.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Setting Rule: Too Many Cooks

Ever wonder why the hordes of foes who battle Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee always attack one at a time?  Maybe they know an ancient Chinese secret --

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

With this Savage Setting Rule, everything you thought you knew about the Gang Up Bonus is wrong.  Multiple foes attacking a single target hinder each other; the bonus usually gained from ganging up is applied as a penalty instead.  Two Jedi battling a Sith suffer a -1 penalty to their rolls; a swarm of Norman knights cornering Errol Flynn find themselves suffering a -4 penalty to their rolls.

Recommended for solo hero games and settings that emphasize honorable duels and individual heroism -- chanbara, pulp action (or why would every Savage Worlds pulp setting include an Edge that negates the Gang Up Bonus?), wuxia, etc.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Savage Swordsmen: Zorro (Part Three)

What do Zorro and Bruce Campbell have in common?

Jack of All Trades.

It's what I want out of a solo hero, isn't it?  I want a solo hero to be able to know a little bit about anything, and the Wild Die means a Wild Card with Jack of All Trades effectively has a d6 in any skills used through that Edge, so why not simply give it to Zorro?  I already gave him a d10 in Smarts, didn't I?

Obviously, Jack of All Trades is not a Combat Edge, and I can't swap it out for Noble without doing violence to the character concept, but I could easily give it to him as his first Advance.  This allows me to redistribute some of those skill points from earlier -- and put them all into Fighting.  The heck with it; let's go ahead and raise him to Seasoned.

His second Advance is obviously Beast Bond, so now Tornado won't be so vulnerable.  His third Novice Advance is Connections, to reflect his alliance with the missionaries (a recurring theme of the first novel).  His first Advance at Seasoned is obviously Power Points again.  One point goes into Super Skill for a raise to Riding and Stealth and the rest goes to Combat Edges.  I think Counterattack and Sweep fit him better than some I had considered earlier, equating to a good old-fashioned riposte and reflecting Zorro's ability to fight whole troops of guards.

Seasoned (20 Experience Points)
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d10, Strength d6, Spirit d6, Vigor d8.
Charisma: +2, Pace: 6, Parry: 9, Toughness: 6.
Skills: Boating d4, Climbing d4, Driving d4, Fighting d12, Intimidation d4, Lockpicking d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d12, Streetwise d6, Stealth d8, Swimming d4, Taunt d6, Throwing d4, and Tracking d4.
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Heroic, Quirk
Edges: Arcane Background (Super Powers), Counterattack, Extraction, Noble, Power Points, Steady Hands, Sweep.
Equipment: Rapier (+1 to Parry), flintlock pistol and shot, dagger, whip, black clothes (+1 on Stealth rolls made under cover of darkness), riding horse (Tornado).

Now that's a character who can go toe-to-toe with an NPC Archetype (like the Seasoned or Master Duelists from Pirates of the Spanish Main) right away.  And he got that way legally, just using Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and the Super Powers Companion.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Savage Swordsmen: Zorro (Part Two)

When we last left Zorro, he was basically no different from previous attempts to build him in Savage Worlds. He differentiated merely by being a fledgling superhero (a member of the Wold Newton family, perhaps?) who had yet to discover his latent talents.


I'd given him a d6 in all of his attributes, the following skills -- 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 -- and the Edges Arcane Background (Super Powers) [Super Powers Companion version] and Power Points. This gives him 15 Power Points to spend between Super Attribute, Super Edge, and Super Skill. Super Attribute grants one die in an attribute per point spent, Super Edge grants one Combat Edge (and only Combat Edges) per two points spent, and Super Skill grants two skills point per one power point spent.

I could spend all those power points on skills and give him an another thirty skill points, but I really should increase his attributes. McCulley's Zorro especially is a bit of a hothead, so leaving his Spirit at d6 is fine; he's not known for feats of extraordinary strength either, so even though I'd like to increase his Strength, I won't. Another five points in attributes then gives him d10s in Agility and Smarts (important for Tricks) and a d8 in Vigor (for resisting getting stabbed). He also needs some Combat Edges, so four points gives him Extraction ("Buenos noches, Commandante!") and Steady Hands (so he can fight from horseback without penalty). I'd like to give him Elan and First Strike, but those will have to wait. That leaves six points to pay toward Super Skill, which gives him another twelve skill points.

I mentioned in an earlier post that a solo hero has to have a variety of skills, so he gains Boating (picked up while he was sailing to and from Spain), Driving (for carriages and wagons), Gambling, Healing, Intimidation, Lockpicking, Repair, Swimming, Throwing, and Tracking at d4 each. This has eaten up ten of his skill points, so the remaining two go to raise Fighting and Riding to d8 each. Thank Hensley for Wild Dice!

Novice (no experience points)
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d10, Strength d6, Spirit d6, Vigor d8.
Charisma: +2, Pace: 6, Parry: 7, Toughness: 6.
Skills: Boating d4, Climbing d4, Driving d4, Fighting d8, Gambling d4, Healing d4, Intimidation d4, Lockpicking d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Repair d4, Riding d8, Streetwise d6, Stealth d6, Swimming d4, Taunt d6, Throwing d4, and Tracking d4.
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Heroic, Quirk
Edges: Arcane Background (Super Powers), Extraction, Noble, Power Points, Steady Hands
Equipment: Rapier (+1 to Parry), flintlock pistol and shot, dagger, whip, black clothes (shouldn't this give him a +1 on Stealth?), riding horse (Tornado).

Of course, at the beginning of The Mark of Zorro, he's already the infamous "Curse of Capistrano" and has been terrorizing el Camino Real for awhile...

Woo-hoo! Tablet!

Hooray!  We've got a tablet!  Hopefully that means posting here will increase.  At the very least, it means I'll be better able to make use of all my gaming PDFs.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Savage Backslapping - Edited

You know what the OD&D OSR has on us Savages?  A vibrant, communal blogosphere.

I know that Savage Worlds has a passionate fanbase and that the Pinnacle forums are super-busy, but there's something about the authorial voice of a blog that stirs my interest far more than forums do.  Maybe it's just that I've always been kind of a lone wolf, but whatever it is, I like blogs way more than forums.

Because of that, I'm making it my mission to support my fellow Savage Bloggers.  You've all been kind enough to give our clumsy, stunted blog over 300 pageviews in the few weeks since Robin and I started it, so I'm going to make sure I leave comments on every blog post that comes in over the Savage Bloggers Network.  I won't always manage it on the same day they're posted, but I'll try.

(Also, I'll get the SB Network and the component blogs added to my blogroll, I swear.)


EDITED TO ADD: Crap.  Don't mix blogging and absinthe.  By "vibrant, communal blogosphere" I meant "blogosphere where we constantly leave comments for each other and build our community."  Have you ever seen the comments Grognardia or Jeff's Game Blog get?  I did not mean to impugn the Savage Worlds blogosphere for a lack of creative vibrancy.  You guys are awesome and create awesome stuff.  We should just tell each other more often.

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...