JourneymanGM

JourneymanGM

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When Companies Show Fans They Care

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I’m continually impressed by how involved Pinnacle Entertainment, creators of Savage Worlds and Deadlands, gets with their fans. On their online forums, most of the staffers post regularly and there are even two dedicated forums where fans can ask specific rules questions and within a day will get an official answer from a Pinnacle staffer. When I went to GenCon last summer, I went to the Pinnacle Entertainment booth and got the privilege to have a twenty minute conversation with Clint Black, creator of Necessary Evil (a Savage Worlds supervillain campaign I’ve been wanting to run, and he gave me some great tips on running it and talked about his inspiration behind it). I’m continually impressed by their commitment to the fans and I think it goes a long way to not only build public relations with them, but also to get in touch with what the fans, which is an invaluable resource.

Tonight, I decided for the first time to join The Back Room Chat, a weekly chatroom for fans to talk about Savage Worlds and its licensees. There were about 15 users logged in, and surprisingly three of them were Pinnacle staffers: the aforementioned Clint Black, his wife and writer Jodi Black, and Pinnacle Vice-President Joel Kinstle. They were there directly talking with the fans and, in Joel’s case, making terrible puns. I even mentioned Bookery in Fairborn, Ohio at one point, the world’s largest gaming store with buildings on two sides of the street. The Pinnacle staffers they started coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas on how to get from one side to another (including zeppelin rides). Clint even said that the two sides reminded him of West Side Story and said that next time I go there I should sing:

When you’re a Geek,
You’re a Geek all the way.
From your first d8 roll
To your dice rolling tray!

Cover of All for One Régime Diabolique

Quite possibly on my shopping list at Origins this year

Tonight was a special night on the chat room in that Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams of Triple Ace Games (who used to work at Pinnacle himself) was on to talk about what his company was doing, such as the upcoming supplements with All for One: Régime Diabolique, a supernatural Three Musketeers-style setting. Just for logging on into the chat, I got a free 25 page PDF from Triple Ace Games about how to use resource management in fantasy campaigns. And later on, they did a drawing for a $60 gift card voucher for their online store and a second drawing for free shipping! I didn’t win either, but I was still incredibly impressed. All this, just to say thank you for being a fan! How awesome is that?

Now I’m not saying that all RPG companies need to start giving away generous gift cards to their fans (although that would be very nice), but I have to say that I feel much more positively about both companies because their employees spend time personally talking with the fans. There are other companies whose products I really like, but I feel they’re rather out of touch with their fans, largely because they do a poor job of communication about their products (does that One Ring a bell?)

As an interesting aside, I’ve heard of many old school gamers fondly remembering Gary Gygax as a person who was fun to be around. Many of their stories are not about the early days of TSR as a company, but of being a player in a game GMed by him or of getting to have a conversation with him personally. Maybe Gary and the Pinnacle staffers know something that other RPG companies have forgotten: there is a tremendous value in having a personal relationship with the fans of your game.

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

Independence Day

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The Player's Guide of Deadlands Reloaded

Deadlands Reloaded!

Yesterday I GMed something that I wanted to run for a long time: the Deadlands Dime Novel scenario “Independence Day“. Deadlands is a Western setting in which the Civil War never ended, magic returned to the earth, and people started finding that some of the ghost stories told around the campfire just happened to be true. The turning point was on July 3rd, 1863 when the first signs of weirdness started appearing. The Battle of Gettysburg turned out quite differently as the dead of both sides rose up and started slaughtering their fellow soldiers, decimating both sides.

When Deadlands first came out with its “Classic” rules, Pinnacle tried an experiment by publishing “Dime Novels“, which consisted of a short story of the cowboy Ronan Lynch and some event he faced in the Weird West, then a 4-6 hour scenario in which the players can take the place of Ronan Lynch and run through the scenario in their own way. About six months ago, Pinnacle created notes on how to convert a number of Classic scenarios, including some Dime Novels, to Deadlands Reloaded (the current Savage Worlds version of the rules rules) and put them freely available on their downloads page. Recently, Pinnacle has started rereleasing these stories with new color artwork in a number of digital formats, but sadly they do not contain the original adventure in any form (fortunately, all Classic material is still available for purchase in PDF form so the original adventure can still be obtained).

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

“Independence Day” was the second of these Dime Novels and takes place over July 2nd to July 4th, 1876 in Dodge City, Kansas. Supporters of the Union who live in Dodge are getting ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their Independence. The Confederate supporters are happy for any excuse to break out into a fight. Kansas is a disputed territory and doesn’t really care either way, but Dodge has figured that if enough people want to celebrate, they’ll bring money  and that’s good all around. Still, the town is going to need to hire some extra security for the festivities and the scenario starts with the players getting deputized by Wyatt Earp himself.

The players are given a small section of town to patrol and in the first part of the scenario they get to freely roam around and meet the people. The scenario has detailed information about people who are supposed to come up in the story and has brief details on others in the town. For instance, there’s a small section about the First Bank of Dodge City and it briefly describes the name and personality of the woman who runs it, despite the fact that she really has nothing to do with the story. I think this is a bit of a double-edge sword. On the plus side, it provides a feeling that this is an actual town with all kinds of interesting people, unlike the stereotypical scenario where there are about three named people in the town. The scenario did a good job of making it clear who was important and who wasn’t, but I think there were a few too many that were deemed important and I think I’d cut a few or merge them with others if I ran this again.

All in all, I was pleased with the scenario and the way that the posse handled it. The scenario didn’t have much combat, but there was a great deal of investigation, tracking down a series of mysterious killings by “The Butcher”. If I were to run the scenario again, say at a convention, I think I would add a fight early on in the scenario (maybe before they get deputized) to mix things up a bit. Also, I used the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck which was fun, but it threw in a few monkey wrenches that I wasn’t prepared for and I’m not sure I’d use it again for a one-shot like this.

One of the big issues I’ve always had with Savage Worlds was the way that invulnerabilities are handled. In Deadlands especially, there are some creatures or people who are invulnerable to all attacks except for a certain weakness, usually with the story of their past giving clues (thus knowledge is power). The Butcher had one of those invulnerabilities, which was supposed to mean that he could not take any wounds. Bullets and such wouldn’t even slow him down. I tried changing it instead so that he got a free soak roll and regenerated one wound level each round (so a Terminator sort of situation could happen where he could be wounded for a time then recover). This also prevented the ridiculous situation of an extremely damaging attack (let’s say a nuke gets dropped right where he’s standing) and then he stands up next round, completely unharmed.

Bullets Bounce off Superman

Believable for the Man of Steel, not so much for The Butcher

But nothing ever works according to plan. One of the characters (James William Boyd) got a lucky shot off that did 25 damage and an Adventure card was played to make the attack do double damage. The Butcher failed his soak roll and took an epic 10 wounds! I declared him incapacitated planning for him to rise up again shortly. Unfortunately, that led to an awkward point in the scenario. The players weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do and once The Butcher rose up again, they tried riddling him with more bullets, which would have incapacitated him again had I not decided to just make them ineffectual. Eventually, they did figure out the weakness and exploit it, but I felt something was lost because of that situation. I’ll have to figure out some way to deal with this should a similar situation occur again.

All in all though the scenario ended on a good note (with the characters watching the fireworks and the British game hunter telling the Brooklyn Huckster “Happy Independence Day, ya damn yankee!”). There were a lot of fun moments and all in all, I think it’s a great scenario which would work well as an introduction to Deadlands. The PlatinumWarlock was one of my players and spoke pretty positively about the game in his blog, and noted that it was refreshing to play in a setting that he had only ever GMed. I found out what worked and what didn’t for me and learned a bit about how I would improve as a GM, which I guess is my main goal of being a Journeyman GM.

The Joy of Savage Worlds

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I should probably get this out pretty soon: I love all sorts of game systems, but there is one that I consistently turn back to: Savage Worlds. It’s certainly the game system that I’ve spent the most money on and I am constantly amazed by its simplicity and expandability.

Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition

One of my favorite game systems, for good reason

One of the great things about Savage Worlds is that it isn’t tied to one sort of genre. Instead, it can be used for anything, from Pulp to Sci-fi, Fantasy to Supers, Westerns to Cyberpunk. Generally it favors cinematic action and it tagline is that the system is “Fast! Furious! Fun!” Personally, I’ve run it with pulp, pirates, zombies, Stargate SG-1, Deadlands (a western/horror setting), and Necessary Evil (a supers setting). In fact, there are only a handful of settings that I think wouldn’t work for Savage Worlds (someday I’ll write about that).

Pinnacle Entertainment Group calls Savage Worlds a “core system” rather than a universal system. The idea is that anybody running Savage Worlds will need a copy of the core rulebook. The current version is the Savage Worlds: Explorer’s Edition, although Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition should be coming out in the coming months, which has more explanations of the rules and a few minor changes.

The biggest strength is that combat works well and is fast. Initiative is done by dealing out playing cards each round and going from high to low. Combatants are generally divided into “Extras” (the generic mooks who are there to be cannon fodder) and “Wild Cards” (the people who are important enough to have a name). All the players are Wild Cards, as are the big villains, and they are more competent than the Extras. Combat also scales well for many combatants: I’ve had characters raid a Home Depot with 30 zombies without it bogging down badly.

A Jaffa Staff Weapon

SG-1 weapons like the Jaffa Staff Weapon were a cinch to add to Savage Worlds

Many officially published scenarios or settings add new setting rules, gear, Edges, or Hindrances to better express the setting, but additional material from one setting is usually not intended to be combined with another. Most of the time though, the core stuff is good enough. For the Stargate SG-1 conversion I wrote, I only added 2 new edges and 2 new races. The rest was already sufficiently covered in the rules. The only thing I really needed to do was create the gear, which took me about an hour to stat out all the weapons and gear from SG-1 and Atlantis!

One of the greatest things about Savage Worlds is that it not only covers standard combat, but also includes rules for magic, vehicles, chase scenes, and even mass battles. Rather than having a rule for everything, its intention is to create enough rules to provide a strong groundwork that is fairly realistic and relying on the GMs to handle the rest. The rules are streamlined to allow for quick and easy gameplay.

At the risk of sounding like a salesman, I’m going to point out that the best thing about Savage Worlds is probably its value: Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition is a mere $9.99! An entire system, able to cover most settings, and containing rules for combat, magic, vehicles, chases, and mass battles, all for less than a meal at Applebees! I’ll admit that the price was the thing that hooked me first. And at that price, why not give it a try?

Savage Worlds isn’t perfect (another blog post topic for another day), and I don’t think that it’s the “system to rule them all.” But it does what it plans to do very well. I use it a lot and plan to talk about my experiences with it frequently here on this blog.

And So it Begins…

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First off, I’d like to point out that coming up with what to write for the first entry in a blog is harder than it seems. If you do a Google search, you’ll find loads of articles about what to write on your first blog post. Who knew that it was so nerve-racking?

I’m a fairly new gamer and played my first tabletop role-playing game in the fall of 2008 with the Wittenberg University Role-playing Guild. It was a Dungeons & Dragons 4e scenario and I was pleased as punch with Paelias, my Level 1 Eladrin Warlord. I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed role-playing games and it wasn’t long before I took up the GM’s hat. Since then, I’ve played and GMed a number of systems. I have a lot of favorites now, mostly “cinematic” systems, but there are a lot that I enjoy running and playing.

Because I started gaming and GMing fairly recently, I don’t think that I’m anywhere close to being an expert. However, I don’t feel like I’m a newbie any more either. I’m somewhere in between. Fortunately, there’s a word for that: journeyman.

Webster defines journeyman as “a worker who has learned a trade…” and “an experienced, reliable worker, athlete or performer…” Usually they are distinguished as being experienced, but not a master in their work, which is right where I feel I am now: a Journeyman GM. Or if you prefer, you can think of me as a time-traveller, as in the Journeyman TV series or The Journeyman Project computer games (huge gold star to you if you played them!).

I plan to mostly write about GMing in role-playing games and my thoughts and experiences about it, as well as being on the player’s side (because that’s important to becoming a better GM too). Sometimes I may write about the role-playing game hobby in general or give reviews of certain products. I may even write something completely unrelated just because I feel like it (hey, it’s my blog after all).

I’ve learned a lot from other RPG blogs that I’ve read and I hope that in sharing my experience through my own blog, I’ll be able to help others in the same way. And I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot myself too. As Seneca put it, docendo discimus (we learn by teaching).

So all that said: here’s to the start of an interesting, educating, and amusing blog devoted to tabletop role-playing games!

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