I bought 3 copies of the pocket-sized Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition at Gen Con last summer. It was a game I was told I might like given the limited time I could spend playing on Friday nights. I asked Yan if he’d like to GM a demo to our once-a-month Sunday geekout crew (PM, Maze, Ubisoft Alex and I) and he agreed.
The best way to describe Savage Worlds I heard was to say that it’s what would happen if D&D and GURPS created an offspring. It’s purported to be fast and furious. This is mostly achieved by a dead simple task resolution mechanic: all attributes (Strength, Agility, Vigor, etc) and skills are ranked in terms of polyhedral dice (D4, D6, D8, D10, D12). When you attempt a task (or try to hit a target), you pick the appropriate polyhedral and you try to roll a 4 or more. All dice are open ended (i.e. you keep rolling maximum results and add them together). As a PC, you also get a bonus D6 wild die for all rolls and you get to choose which of your normal or wild die rolls you keep for the task at hand.
Combat is done on battlemaps (squares or hexes, GM’s choice) and is indeed fast and swingy. There’s no Hit Points to worry about, just combat conditions likes “dazed” and “incapacitated” plus various wound levels that make your character progressively less effective. Mook NPC are even easier to deal with, going down after one solid hit or 2 minor ones.
Action and general character badassery are helped by the expenditure of Bennies. They are Savage Worlds Action Point and allow PCs to do things like re-roll failed checks, soak up damage or cancel a critical failure. Each player gets a few every sessions and can win more through play.
Finally, character generation is simple yet covers a very wide range of possibilities through the existence of setting specific Edges (advantages) and Hindrances (disadvantages). Each character buys attributes, skills and gears. Then, they pick two edges and one major (or two minor) hindrances and they are ready to go.
Thus after a bit of brainstorming, Yan offered to run a Far West game and we made PCs accordingly.
Gallery of Rogues:
Judge Gloom (PM) a roaming judge, delivering swift justice and harsh punishment on the frontier with his annotated books of Law and Bible (he crossed out the “wussy” parts and added his own when necessary). He stays ahead of the letters from the Chief Justice that revoked his licence by travelling fast with a band of misfits he barely tolerates.
Dynamite Chang (Alex): Chinese miner who discovered that it was way more lucrative to mine gold from safes than from mines, he joined a team of foreign devils who all think they are smarter than he is, but that’s all right, he’s the one who handles the group’s explosives.
Jayne (Maze): None-too bright, overconfident ex Hitman/Bounty Hunter of the fabled Pinkerton. Was forced out of the organization because he kept being convinced by his targets that not killing them was a better deal for him. He hopes that this McGraw guy gets it right this time, because his ex-bosses are NOT happy.
Jimmie Joe McGraw (Chatty): Grifter, Hustler and Miracle Max with limited judgment and too big a mouth for his own good. He drives his cart filled with snake oil, and medicinal elixirs while dreaming of striking the big one and retiring young. Currently on the run from the law and one particular enforcer of the nascent drug cartels of Mexico. Informal leader of this band.
Vision-Scaping an Adventure
After we setup and introduced our PCs, Yan asked us to work some way to for our group to make sense as a whole. It quickly became apparent to us that what we had was a hustling crew. Gloom was a perfect, if scary as hell straight man, Chang was the techie, Jayne was the muscle (thinking he was the brains) and my PC was to be the Brain and Face of the operation.
So when we had our crew, 4 faces eagerly turned toward our smiling GM…
Yan: So guys, tell me what trick you plan to pull…
Oh hell, it was going to be one of those… Yan had no prep done whatsoever. He was ready to go with whatever we wanted to do. This could have gone bad with a more passive group, but we were anything but that.
So we started brainstorming and got the following objective:
Our crew wants to steal the prize money of the Annual Rio Grande Riverboat Poker tournament.
We became a bit bogged down in the details of planning the heist before we even began to play, finding how to place some PCs on the boat but not others. As we discussed, I was doodling the river boat on the backs of my character sheet and then an idea struck me:
Chatty: Guys, the way I see the game is that it ends with the boat burning and sinking in the river while we swim away from it, our faces blackened from soot. We’re all holding on bags filled with cash and money bills are drifting downstream from us as we leave the scene.
Alex: And then we get a blackout, with “one month before” written on the screen.
From this clear image, all blocks fell into place. The game needed a casino river boat, the PCs needed ways to get on board and an exit strategy that would likely blow up in their faces. Yan had everything he needed to go, and we were all ready to start playing.
Aside: This approach of starting with the last seconds of the end scene of an adventure triggered a near epiphany, I need to explore further and make a post out of it soon.
Like all good heist stories, we needed a plan, even if it was going to blow up in our faces. So after some discussion, we agreed to the following:
- We’d track down a less known poker player who had raised the entry fee.
- We’d con the money off him.
- We’d use the fee to get Jayne, myself and Gloom on the boat, Jayne as player, we as entourage.
- Chang would sub for one of the immigrants working one of the boat’s furnace, ready to create trouble.
- Once on the boat, we’d find the place where the money was kept.
- We’d create a big diversion.
- We’d steal the money and leave the boat.
Flawless plan wouldn’t you say?
Not so much… see you in part 2.