Monday, September 29, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Qalesh

Not exactly a nice place to go skiing...Planet Qalesh!



 This one explains the difference between a spacesuit and a pressure suit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

GM Wednesday - Shaken Effect

Let's talk "Shaken". There are people out there who are playing Savage Worlds and believe that Shaken means "Stunned". This is a mistake.

Stunned is usually interpreted as the character loses the ability to act as a result of loss of physical or mental faculty.

Shaken does not mean that you have to stand there dumb-founded with drool coming out of the corner of your mouth. You can still take free actions when Shaken. You can still dive for cover.

Here's some examples of what Shaken can mean.


  • The enemy unloads the full magazine of a Machine Gun in your direction. Your sense of self preservation is prohibiting you from poking your head out to return fire.
  • The boxer who is being pounded by savage blows from his opponent finds that he can only curl up defensively against the ropes until the referee calls for the fighters to separate.
  • You get clocked upside the head and are dazed for a moment.
  • You are a victim of a Taunt so withering that your brain locks up for a moment as it is overwhelmed with rage or shame.
  • You see something so horrific that your brain decides that running away is smarter than getting within it's reach.
  • You are attacked by a man wielding "poo on a stick". It's not scary, but you can't override your revulsion to counter attack.

Shaken is the name of the mechanic used to simulate all of these responses because mechanically they can all be handled with the same rule, and because the cure for each of these conditions is for your "chutzpah" to override your brain's fear or shock and get you back into the action. Thus a Spirit roll breaks you free.


Stun-Lock

There has been accusations that the Shaken mechanic can keep a player out of the fight by keeping them perennially Shaken. I experienced this as well when I was a novice GM. There are ways to mitigate this.

1) Spirit is not a dump stat. There are no dump stats in Savage Worlds.
2) Combat Reflexes is an edge that grants you +2 to your Spirit roll to get out of being Shaken. Leadership Command grants a +1 to all of your allies within a certain range.
3) A player can roll Spirit, and if he fails he can then immediately spend a Benny to remove the Shaken status and act that round. You don't have to choose to spend the Benny before you roll. You can always spend that Benny, even if you fail the roll.
4) As GM, you should not be stingy with awarding Bennies. I'll talk about Bennies more in my next post, but suffice to say that they shouldn't feel the urge to hoard them for soak rolls.

That said, I have had player succeed on his Spirit roll but have to wait for the next round to get unshaken. In the meantime they get shaken again by the enemy's attack. Yes it can be frustrating and there are a couple of house rules you might like if you are having this problem with your group.

a) Character's can take actions, except at a -4 penalty while Shaken. It's a harsh penalty but some people like the idea of having an outside chance as opposed to no chance at all.

or

b) Have a Success on a Spirit roll remove the Shaken status so that characters can act immediately instead of requiring a Raise.

Despite the outcries of "Stun-lock", I find the Shaken mechanic a valuable rule set. It allows suppressive fire to work, the heroes to keep a very tough enemy on the ropes while they formulate a plan, and it gives the creative loudmouth a way to contribute in combat. Remember that before you decide to remove the Shaken mechanic as a fix.

Speaking of system fixes, I give Savage Worlds props. I tinker with every system I get my hands on because they do stuff that just didn't make sense or could be done better. Savage Worlds really didn't look like it made sense when I first read through the book, but every change I made to the system I ended up reverting because the way it was written in the rules just worked better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Last Parsec KS has gone live!

I'd be surprised that anyone is reading my blog that isn't reading the Pinnacle website, but I'll spread the word anyways. Mostly because...awesome!

The KS apparently got funded in the first hour, but those stretch goals are still available. Go and show your support (while getting stuff)!

The Last Parsec Kickstarter




Monday, September 22, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Ashara

Welcome to the Nightmare World of Ashara. I hope you've notified your next of kin.




I was inspired to make Ashara first as a hunting preserve, but then it occurred to me that any habitable planet would be exploited in no time, unless it was a planet that chewed-you-up and spit-you-out like Klendathu (ala Starship Troopers), or Australia.

So here you are, a beautiful world on the outside and a meat-grinder on the inside.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Updated Planet Sonti PDF

I just realized that I forgot to add the Wild Card star next to Chitter and Saski. That has been corrected and the new PDF is available for Planet Sonti.

GM Wednesday - Behind the Screen

Aaaaaah the ever versatile GM's Screen. Serving the triple function of hiding your rolls, hiding your notes, and giving you quick access to the charts and tables you'll need to run your game. I've used them as far back as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (where they were a godsend because of THAC0). In time I've bought a few, made more than a few, and even bought the most excellent Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen.

I don't use them anymore, and here's why...

1) It created a barrier between me and my players. Not just a visual barrier but a social barrier. It sent the message that I am separate from them and not a part of the group. I think that on a subconscious level, removing that barrier also removed some of the player-gm adversarial perceptions.

2) It encouraged either fudging my dice rolls or the perception that I was fudging my dice rolls. Now I roll on the open table, with jumbo dice that my players can read from one end of the table to the other. I no longer need to announce that I have critted somebody. They can read and I privately relish the gasps and outcries. And of course their faces light up whenever I roll a fumble.

3) GM screens aren't always that helpful. I had a friend loan me the GM Screen for Star Wars Saga Edition and it was so crammed with tables and tiny type that I couldn't find anything. There reaches a point when the game system is simple enough that you don't need the reminders, or it is so complicated that a GM Screen just doesn't have the real-estate to print everything you need to look up. I am better off just printing retypes of the tables I feel I actually need into a chair-side booklet for quick browsing.

4) If all of my notes are on note cards, I just have to keep them face down for privacy. If my players intend to peak while I am having a bio-break, then a GM Screen isn't going to stop them either. At least my note cards will be so short and obtuse that the info will be useless to them.

BTW, when I am done with a particularly good adventure, I put all of the note cards and npc cards in a sandwich bag. Very easy storage!

More and more I'm hearing about GMs either coming out from behind the screen or at least making all of their rolls openly. Good! I say "Stop cowering behind your walls and face your players as God intended; with your dice on one side and a bottle of Dr. Pepper on the other!"

Game on!



Monday, September 15, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Sonti

It's time for a new Planetary One Sheet so leave the kids behind because Planet Sonti is the world where any seedy fantasy can happen, if the money is right. What happens on Sonti stays on Sonti. The local authorities guarantee it. Just make sure it doesn't happen to you.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GM Wednesday - Savage Big-Bads



When I played Savage Worlds, I often made the mistake of thinking of the Big Bad in D&D terms, i.e. there is one monster or villain and he is tough enough to take on the whole party.

Then one of my players gets a lucky roll and aces the damage and down goes my Big Bad before he's had a chance to do anything. Sooooo anti-climactic. This is a complaint I have heard from others around the net.

We don't need a rules change or increasing the Toughness of the creatures to the point where there is little to no chance of hurting the creature without Acing every die. What's needed is rethinking the entire Boss Challenge.

Extras As Hit Points

Your Big Bad is the evil Dr. Infamous, super-scientist and twisted madman but basically a squishy human. One good shot could drop him. Sure you could throw him into power armor but again, one lucky shot... and the players have him outnumbered with a lot of attacks versus Dr. Infamous's one or two attacks.

But Dr. Infamous would certainly have lab assistants, guards, robot prototypes, and/or pets that are "abominations of science!" You can guarantee a longer battle if the heroes must wade through Dr. Infamous's minions before they can get to him.

Also remember, he's a doctor. Doctors aren't usually on the front lines of combat (unless they are in a super-hero universe). No, that's why they make or hire minions. Dr.Infamous is more likely to throw his guards, pets, and mechanical behemoths at the heroes while the he makes his escape. Now it's not just a combat, it's a race to get past the Extras and catch Dr. infamous before he can slip away!

"Was That a Bullet of Dragon Slaying?"

"Why no, it was just a .22"

One of Savage Worlds strengths is that a good shot can drop a thug in one round as opposed to taking 4 rounds to whittle away at his Hit Points. It also means that a huge monster can be dropped with a lucky shot, or has its Toughness set so high that the heroes will just keep whiffing their damage rolls. After the first few whiffs, my players got tired of hitting but dealing no damage. In the meantime, the dragon is in perpetual Shaken status. It's frustrating and many times the players will keep attacking head on because that was how they did it in D&D. 

I have a different concept for dealing with Huge monsters. Let's mock up a new Dragon for example.

First I give it Heavy Armor. Your sword has no hope of penetrating that hide and neither does your .45 Colt service revolver. You don't expect to kill a person by flicking grains of sand at them, don't expect to bring down a dragon with a bullet. Go get yourself a Bazooka.

So how is a hero supposed to bring down a dragon without Heavy Weapons? First, its head has some weak spots that can lead to its brain, such as the eyes or the roof of its mouth. Those will both require Called Shots (which will bypass the dragon's armor) and you will still have to overcome its high Toughness. 

Sound unfair? Not really. It's what you would need to do with the Dragon "as-written" anyways. The difference is that I'm letting the players now that just shooting at its hide isn't going to help and they are going to have to focus their attacks on a vulnerable area as opposed to just hoping for a lucky shot. That way we bypass the elation of "I hit!" followed by the constant crash of "but I deal no damage..."

Second method, find some way to use the environment to deal Heavy damage to it, like dropping a castle tower on it, or leading it into the giant dwarven forges where you can dump molten gold on it.

The basic idea here is that the heroes should not even consider going toe-to-toe with this dragon. They should be running, hiding, and thinking about how to use teamwork and surprise to bring this thing down. Unless of course they have a magical blade of Titan Slaying (blade ignores all armor, including Heavy)... Ahhhhhhhhh? See what I did there?

A Beast of Many Parts

I like to use this concept for Giant Octopi, Kraken, even Star Cruisers. 

Example: The heroes have entered the temple of an elder god, too late to stop the summoning ritual. Now they have a mass of tentacles to contend with.

Well this is an elder god so I may not want my PCs to be able to actually slay it (that kind of knowledge will just make them cocky). But if I treat its tentacles as individual Wild Cards or Extras then not only do I get at least one attack on each hero, but I can have the heroes drive out the elder god once all of the tentacles are defeated/ severed.

"Wait, your Star Cruisers have Tentacles?" No, but I do subscribe to the idea that Star Cruisers are fortresses to be avoided (as described in Daring Tales of the Space Lanes by Triple Ace Games, check out the DTotSL Free PDF of the setting rules). If the heroes must engaged a Star Cruiser, then they can hardly expect to destroy it with their weak little weapons. It's just too massive. But what they can do is target specific systems, like the Star Cruisers port-forward laser batteries or the ships aft maneuvering thrusters. By taking out these systems, they whittle away at the cruisers effectiveness and maybe give themselves an opening to escape. So to me, a Star Cruiser is a conglomeration of Wild Cards or Extras and as each system is lost, the Star Cruiser becomes more crippled.

Look at the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. The Executor (Super Star Destroyer) wasn't taken out by one hit. It lost its forward Deflector Shields first when pilots took out one of the power plant towers. Then it lost control after an a-wing pilot kamikazed into the bridge. Then it crashed into the Death Star II which ultimately destroyed it.








Monday, September 8, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Pelligan

This is one I was working on a while ago. Since it is a planet of mystery, it doesn't have any specific adventure hooks but it does have rumors. You can decide for yourself what is really going on here. Here you go... Planet Pelligan!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9KyQbW1m3XjS3ZRbFp1ckpvQWs/edit?usp=sharing
 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sci-Fi Campaign Update

The campaign setting is finally starting to gel for me.

First up - Humans. I'm keeping the idea that humans are a species that has no homeworld. We should up in the empire on sub-light generation ships. What happened to Earth? Ask ten different humans and you'll get twelve different tales. The fact is that nobody remembers the truth anymore (but it could make for a cool plot point). So humans are considered shiftless gypsies by the empire at large (as opposed to being dominant or ubiquitous as they are in other settings).

Empire? Yup. I decided to make the setting one vast Empire, the Draghosian Empire. Is it an evil empire? Maybe. I leave that very open until I figure out what my players want to do in the setting. If they are just flying a Tramp Freighter, then their exposure to the Empire may just be strict laws and the occasional corrupt Governor. If they want to fight a rebellion, that's cool too. It won't be easy though, Draghosians are on top for a reason. I modified the Drake from the SWDEX to make the Draghosians. That's right, this empire is ruled by Dragonmen, and no you can't play one.

The Draghosians also feature into that book I wrote, so I'm doing a bit of recycling. And as a confession, they were inspired by one of the graphics in Slipstream. So the idea of a galactic Empire run by large Dragonmen appealed to me a lot. I don't remember which Savage Worlds Podcast mentioned it but one of the commentators said "In order to make a Savage Setting, you almost need to combine three genres", so I'm going with: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Western. Yes it's been done but I'm going to dial up the fantasy a bit in places.

Races - I'm using the ones available in the Sci-Fi Companion as well as any new template races I come up with.

Rules in Play - Critical Failure, Joker's Wild, and Multiple Languages.

Gear- On review, my Sci-Fi gear list may have been to powerful. I'm going the Sci-Fi companion with perhaps some additions from my list if anything is missing. I'll also probably add the Wrist Computer rules from DTotSL.

Spaceships- I'm torn between Sci Fi Companion and DTotSL as to which handles better/ easier. It will take more thought.

Plot Point Campaign - I don't have one yet but now that I have the beginnings of a setting I like, I plan to do multiple campaigns (maybe 4-5 Savage Tales long each). I will of course post them as I come up with them.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bonus Thursday - Rethinking My Aliens.

I've been perusing the Sci-Fi Companion again for my campaign and I realized I had made a couple of mistakes.

First, I assumed they provided races instead of Race Templates. It's one thing I was struggling with when it comes to the enormity of populating a universe - eventually you'll be making similar aliens.

And on that note, the Misorona that I made are somewhat similar (too similar except for their AB) to the Serrans in the book.

So I am going to focus on alien race templates and use those templates for whatever race falls into that category (with the exceptions of truly unique edges to that race). In fact I understand that is how High Space handles things but that's a setting I haven't purchased. With that said, there is one template I know they missed and I'll try to art it out for a Free Stuff Friday soon.

BTW My girlfriend as decided to start up a blog called Some Assembly Inspired (linked in my Fav Blogs, of course). She is chronicling the DIY stuff we are doing to the house. Last weekend was spent painting the master bedroom (me painting mostly). So if I miss updates, it's because she has cast Puppet on me or Bigby's Honey-Do List.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Murder Mysteries

So you want to throw a session at your players that makes them think rather than just bash everything in sight? Good luck, but I'll give you what advice I can.

Warning: Mysteries can be frustrating for your players. You want it to be complicated enough for them to think, but you don't want it so complicated they will get lost (which, depending on your group, can happen easier than you might think). 

Now Let's start with the setup...



Who gets murdered?
This is the first and biggest clue. Learning about the victim will get the players the list of suspects.

Now the next bit is what will determine where the heroes should focus their investigation. If you complicate both of these then your players are far less likely to solve the mystery. There are too many distractions at the table and they may also draw wrong conclusions (more on that later).

How?
Strangled, Shot? If you want the source of the mystery to be about the "how" then keep the why simple. Examples of complicated "Hows" are things like the body is found inside a locked room, has been shot, and there is no sign of either gun or bullet. Typically once the heroes have figured out how, then it becomes clear only one suspect had the opportunity to pull it off.

Why?
This is for you to know and for your players to figure out. This becomes a complicated affair when it is apparent that every suspect had a motive. However in most traditional murder mysteries, the real motive is the one that isn't apparent until after the heroes start digging.

Proof

In order to prove a suspect is guilty, you need to be be able to prove three things: Motive, Means, and Opportunity.

Motive - Did the suspect have a reason to murder the victim?
Means - Did the suspect have the knowledge and physical ability to commit the crime?
Opportunity - Was he able to commit the crime or does his alibi put him somewhere else at the time of the murder? Was he spotted in the area when the crime was committed?

If your players can accuse someone and can prove these things, then they have their criminal. 

The Suspects

Your going to want to create a list of suspects and a Motive for each. In fact, List out Motive, Means, and Opportunity on a 3x5 card for each suspect. Only one suspect should have all three. The others should have one element that exonerates them such as a verifiable alibi, new information that makes there motive moot, or something that makes it physically or mentally impossible for them to have committed the crime.

Clues


Keep it simple
Each clue should have meaning toward uncovering the culprit. Don't chain your clues in a specific order, where the heroes must find one which then gives them a clue to another, etc. If they miss a clue, then the chain is broken. Allow clues to be found and collected in any order.

Also, if the means to solving the mystery relies on the heroes finding all of the clues, then don't leave finding the clues down to a die roll. Die rolls fail. 

Treat every clue as a means to narrow down the list of suspects. Remember the game Clue? It's not a bad model for what you are trying to do. If each clue narrows down the list of suspects, then each clue will tell the heroes where to focus their investigation until they finally zero in on their target.

GM Mistakes...


You are only human, and odds are you have only a week or two to come up with your mystery unlike a novelist who can take years crafting their story. Nevertheless your players may draw completely different conclusions from the clues you have left because they are vague, or because some other stimulus is leading them to the wrong conclusion.

If they pick the wrong suspect, but can make a convincing argument for Motive, Means, and Opportunity based on the clues you left...consider letting them be right. Honestly if they have thought their way through this game you have a victory as a gm. Many Mystery adventures I have seen tend to fall apart because the GM has made the clues too obscure, and the GM gets the heroes back on track by having them walk in on the villain doing something nefarious, thus triggering a fight scene. Basically the GM had to hand the villain over top the players on a silver platter.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Planet Obsolam

So here I am rolling out a planet for use in your sci-fi adventures: Planet Obsolam, the Robot's Graveyard.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9KyQbW1m3XjNE0xSkE0UU5hS2s/edit?usp=sharing

Included with the planetary description are five adventure hooks, more fleshed out than the typical, generic Adventure Mondays list. I'm shooting for five hooks per planet.

Enjoy and Game On!