Savage Worlds Deluxe

Interesting Rules I’ve Learned About Savage Worlds

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Savage Worlds DeluxeWhile working on Wild Card Creator, I’ve gotten to know the Savage Worlds rules much better than I ever had before. Having looked at the text for Edges, Hindrance, Races, and Powers, as well as the rules themselves in great detail has resulted in me getting a very detailed understanding of how the system works.

In fact, there have been a few times that looking at the rules in such detail has resulted in me asking some pretty interesting questions about the rules. Sometimes I can figure it out myself by reading the text more carefully, but sometimes the book just doesn’t say. One of the great things about Pinnacle is that Clint, one of their staffers, has a section on the Pinnacle forums where you can ask him a rules question about Savage Worlds and get an answer back from him, usually in about a day. Between all that, I’ve made some pretty interesting discoveries:

When Edges and Hindrances Collide

  • There is nothing preventing you from taking the Rich Edge and Poverty Hindrance at the same time. Although it seems contradictory at first, it actually works out. The Rich Edge triples your starting funds and the Poverty Edge halves your starting funds, so you start with 1.5x the starting funds. The Rich Edge gives you a yearly salary and the Poverty Hindrance makes you lose half your total funds every week. So you’ve got a spoiled brat who blows his money every time his parents give him some, which may be an interesting character.
  • The Fleet-Footed Edge says the character’s normal d6 running die becomes a d10. The Lame Hindrance says the character’s normal d6 running die becomes a d4. What happens if you have both? The official answer is that you turn them into die steps (i.e. Fleet-Footed gives you +2 die steps, Lame gives you –1 die step). My group already played this way anyway, but at least it’s official (and the way Wild Card Creator handles it).

Putting the Arcane in Arcane Background

  • The Power Surge Edge requires the character to have “arcane skill d10+”. Even though Arcane Background (Super Powers) and Deadlands‘ Arcane Background (Chi Mastery) don’t have a typical Arcane Skill, having any of their “power skills” at d10 qualifies for this.
  • You can have an Arcane Skill without having the corresponding Arcane Background. This is most obvious in Hell on Earth Reloaded and Deadlands Noir where they actually require you to have a d6 in your Arcane Skill before you can take the Arcane Background. This is actually specifically noted in the Deadlands Noir adventure “The Old Absinthe Blues” where they encourage them to make use of a character that has the Arcane Skill, but not the Arcane Background by having them use Cooperative Rolls to help out other spellcasters. And if you have the Weird Science skill, you can use it to operate a gadget that was made by someone with Arcane Background (Weird Science).

Game Rules You Didn’t Know About

  • There are actually rules for covering yourself over a grenade. Basically, the person takes double damage, but everybody else in the blast template takes damage minus the Toughness of the person who covered the grenade.
  • You can Crouch to make ranged attacks against you suffer a –1 penalty, in exchange for only moving half your Pace each round. It’s the only system I know of that makes use of this, despite the fact that any good soldier knows to do this.
  • You can dive for cover to avoid an Area of Effect weapon (like a grenade or the Blast power), which moves you to the edge of the blast template.

I’ve also discovered a bunch of inconsistencies that I’m having to deal with. For instance, some gear tables have Weight before Cost and others have Cost before Weight. Overall though, I’ve come to appreciate the Savage Worlds rules a bit more because of my work on it with Wild Card Creator.

Dice That Ace More Do NOT Roll Higher

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Every few months, I come across someone online or in real life who holds an opinion like this for Savage Worlds (although it could also apply to Cortex):

Lower dice are better because they ace more! I mean, a d4 has a 1 in 4 chance of rolling a 4, meaning that you get to roll it again and add 4. But a d6 only has a 1 in 6 chance of rolling it again and adding 6. In fact, you get diminishing returns the higher you go up.

I’d like to dispel once and for all that this belief is wrong! While the probabilities of acing (also called “exploding”) more are indeed higher on lower dice, the truth of the fact is that, if you calculate the odds, you still have a better chance of rolling higher on higher dice, despite the fact that they ace less. And although there are certain TNs that are easier to reach on lower dice in some instance, when you consider that you get the same result when you consider the “Raise Bracket” (that is, the TN and the 3 TNs above it, all of which result in the same thing), there is no difference.

Average Die Rolls for Normal Dice

First, let’s start off by calculating the average die rolls for normal, non-acing dice. We can do this by simply adding up all the numbers on each of the sides, then dividing by the number of sides. The average die roll for normal dice is as follows:

  • d4 – 2.5
  • d6 – 3.5
  • d8 – 4.5
  • d10 – 5.5
  • d12 – 6.5

Some people, when seeing these numbers, are surprised to find that the averages are actually .5 higher than they expect. Many people take the mental shortcut of taking the number of sides and dividing by 2, thus “averaging” the high and low values and hopefully arriving at the middle. It’s close, but it’s not the right answer. I say all of this because I think it’s a simple instance of how our minds take mental shortcuts to figure out complex odds, such as what a die will roll.

Average Die Rolls for Normal Dice

Calculating the average die roll of an acing die is a bit more difficult because, as the definition says, it is open ended. But there are lesser and lesser odds of getting higher and higher numbers, to the point where the chances of getting an extraordinarily high number are so miniscule that it doesn’t have any meaningful bearing on the average die rolls.

This article provides all the math to show how to get the value of an exploding die. With that in mind, we discover that the odds of exploding dice are as follows:

  • d4 – 4.17
  • d6 – 4.9 (.73 higher)
  • d8 – 5.78 (.88 higher)
  • d10 – 6.11 (.97 higher)
  • d12 – 7.09 (.98 higher)

Note that even though higher dice ace less, the average value of each die is still higher than the value of the die below it and the rate of change increases the higher you go. So rather than having diminishing returns the higher you go because you ace less, you have increased returns because the number of sides increases despite acing less.

I’ll add the disclaimer that if you are trying to reach certain target numbers, there are very rare instances where a die one step lower has about a 1% greater chance of reaching that target than the higher die (I tried to disprove that, but ultimately wound up finding that such rare instances did exist). Still, it’s a 1% chance in rare instances, and overall, higher dice are still better because, on average, they roll higher.

Using Time in Games

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Happy New Year! I hope that the holidays went over well for you and that you’re all looking forward to 2013.

This change in the new year has made me think about the passage of time in roleplaying games. In most games I’ve played, it’s generally not come up. In Dungeons & Dragons, for instance, quests may take many days to complete, but we generally don’t keep track of how many they are and don’t conceptualize larger units of time, like weeks, months, or years. Part of this of course is that in most fantasy settings, they aren’t going to be using the same names for days of the week or months and it doesn’t matter whether the year is 349 or 5192. So in order for time to be used in a roleplaying game, it must be meaninfully measured.

The simplest way to do this is to just use the Gregorian Calendar, since that’s what we use today. Some settings have used the Gregorian Calendar, but gave different names to the days of the weeks and the months. The Elder Scrolls calendar did this, as does the calendar in Low Life (although the latter changes the names out of parody). Part of the reason for this is that a different calendar with different numbers of days to the months doesn’t really add much to the game. (However, there have been a lot of efforts of calendar reform in real life to make it simpler and more logical. But aside from changing the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, none have been successful. I think the world should switch to the International Fixed Calendar, by the way).

Virtually all civilizations have, at the very least, measured the progression of time by seasons. The progression of time has to result in something changing, such as the weather. How many games have you played where your adventuring party started out in hot summer and ended in frigid winter? If you’re like most groups, not. This is partly a result of the trope that It’s Always Spring because it’s simpler to not factor in weather. But I think it’s a lot of fun to include it. Having the weather be rainy or snowy when it’s not because of Chekov’s Gun makes the world seem more alive, and the likelihood of such weather changing over time in long campaigns can add a lot of depth to the game.

Seasons of course are periodic, as are many other units of time. Historically Ancient Rome had 8 day weeks with the eighth day being a market day where everything is closed, while our modern calendar has 7 day weeks because Jews and Christians worship every seventh day. I could see a setting changing the number of days in a week for reasons such as that. And of course, we mark one year as the number of days that pass before Earth is at the same position in relation to the sun. This of course adds the possibility of annual holidays. When was the last time you celebrated a birthday or holiday in your games? You’re missing out!

In many of my games lately I’ve tried to incorporate time and it’s either been a lot of fun! For starters, I mandate that all players must have birthdays. This is done by randomly rolling a d12 for the month and a d30 for the day (if the month has 31 days and they roll a 30, then they roll odds or evens). The only time I had a birthday come up was when I ran Daring Entertainment‘s War of the Dead campaign. In the middle of the zombie outbreak, the six year old girl they rescued realized that it was her birthday and she just turned seven! There was a lot of celebration by all, even with a couple they met using up the last of their flour and eggs to bake a cake, and it really helped raise morale for the characters after all the horror they had been through with the zombies. It was a fun diversion and the players loved it.

Over the summer, I ran a roleplaying game version of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, which unlike the later games had special things happen on certain holidays. For instance during our campaign, the Warrior’s Festival came up, and as a result the player characters could purchase weaponry and training for half price for that day only. One of the players agonized over whether or not to borrow money and buy a weapon at half price or pay for it later at a greater price. I think that the feeling of having the world be more alive was fun as well.

Finally in my current The Last Sons campaign, I’m going full tilt and keeping track of each day that passes. Certain developments in the plot point campaign happen on a certain day (e.g. the national elections) as well as certain holidays. How will the posse be spending Christmas? And the weather is going to change significantly as we get closer to winter. They don’t know about it yet, but there’s also going to be a time limit to the best result of the campaign. Sure you can dawdle around on the Weird West as much as they want, but if they’re not ready on that last day, they’ll miss their shot at making things a whole lot better.

Adding time to your roleplaying games adds a lot of little moments that make the game more enjoyable. It requires a bit more tracking on the GM’s side to pull it off, but I think that it’s worth it in the end.

The Sixth Age Begins, Shadowrun Fans Rejoice!

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The Mayan calendar flips over to a new cycle today, which is a special day in tabletop roleplaying games. Or rather, a particular roleplaying game: Shadowrun. Originally published in 1989, Shadowrun was built upon the following premise (from Wikipedia):

The end of the Mayan Long Count ushers in the “Sixth World”, with once-mythological beings (e.g. dragons) appearing and old forms of magic suddenly re-emerging. Large numbers of humans “Goblinize” into orks and trolls, while human children begin to be born as elves, dwarves, and even more exotic creatures.

In parallel with these magical developments, the setting’s early 21st century features technological and social developments associated with cyberpunk science fiction…When conflicts arise, corporations, governments, organized crime syndicates, and even wealthy individuals subcontract their dirty work to specialists, who then perform “shadowruns” or missions undertaken by deniable assets without identities or those that wish to remain unknown. The most skilled of these specialists, called shadowrunners, have earned a reputation for getting the job done. They have developed a knack for staying alive, and prospering, in the world of Shadowrun.

Since then, Shadowrun has had four tabletop RPG editions and several successful computer games. Note that the 1st Edition core rulebook incorrectly pegged the end of the Mayan Long Count as being in 2011, but later editions correctly cited it as December 21st, 2012.

Even though these developments of the 6th Age haven’t come true (at least, I haven’t heard any accounts of people “goblinizing”) it’s going to be a great year for Shadowrun! Both Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun Online are computer games that will be released in the coming months. And just today, Catalyst Games announced that they are creating a Shadowrun deck-builiding game, tactical minis game, and euro game, along with Shadowrun 5th Edition!

Shadowrun is a setting I’ve always loved, but haven’t gotten to play nearly as often as I’d like (although I’ve got a great story about about playing in a one-shot where we summoned as giant squid, gave him a gun, and commanded it to assassinate a dragon). I think this is my New Year’s Resolution: play more Shadowrun in the coming year! Now that’s a resolution I think I can keep!

Review of The GM’s Field Guide to Players

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this PDF in compensation for this review.

As much as we might not like to admit it, some GMs are better than others. There are a lot of factors that go into this, such as personal charisma and the ability to think on the fly, but there’s also a level of understanding of good principles of GMing. My favorite has been Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, which I consider to be the definitive guide to what makes a good gamemaster. One recent book (well, PDF book) I’ve discovered has a more specific focus: The GM’s Field Guide to Players.

The GM’s Field Guide to Players ($7, PDF) consists of 3 chapters spanning 54 pages. The table of contents and any references to other parts of the book are hyperlinked within the PDF, allowing for easy access. Everything is black and white, which is fine for an informative book. It’s designed to be systemless, but I think that many of the examples and problems are written with D&D in mind.

This picture was in the Power Gamer section. I have no clue why.

One of the first things I noticed as I was skimming through the book was that the art was rather disjointed and had little to do with the text. Some look like fantasy images out of a medieval manuscript, some are modernist art of people using various technology, and some are of animals. One that confused me especially was of white owls standing on books, circling a bunch of toadstools with a black owl on a book in the center of the ring. This was followed by a man and woman sitting on a rock. I’m afraid that ultimately this gave me a bad first impression of the PDF, as it made it seem like it didn’t have a clear focus.

Player Types and How to Use Them

The first chapter revolves around player types. It describes the differences between the Character Actor, the Combat Monger, the Mechanic, the Power Gamer, the Socialite, the Solver, and the Storyteller. I’ve seen most of these classifications before (sometimes by different names) and I wouldn’t say that any of these classifications are radically different compared to the other classification systems I’ve seen.

Each entry provides a description of the “class,” which I find really best describes the exemplar of a class. This is followed by a paragraph each on their “virtues” and “vices” at the gaming table (i.e. the ways they help and hinder a game) along with a list of ways they can be useful and “things to do and not do.” Several also include a list of “sub-classes” describing more niche types that fall into the category.

I found the descriptions themselves to be pretty helpful and informative, if somewhat meandering and over-general. The virtues and vices, which provide a fairly concise description of how you might expect one to play out at the table. I think that these sections would be pretty helpful for a new GM who has never seen these sorts of classifications before.

However, The “ways a ______ can be useful” offers advice that is probably a bit too idealistic and impractical for most games. For instance, it suggests the Mechanic be assigned to looking up die results and creating cheat sheets while the Storyteller should be used as a backup GM. Many of the class entries also suggest that they be used as mentors for other players. In practice though, I think that delegating duties to players is unlikely to work out as well as the author hopes because players tend not to have as much invested in the game as the GM.

The section on what to do and not to do with each type has a lot of great advice, but I think that in an effort to provide advice tailored to each class that some good gaming advice that would be useful to all players is instead presented specifically to a certain type of player, which means that a GM reading certain sections may miss some very useful advice. For instance, “describe combat vividly” rather than as mere die rolls is great advice that benefits all players. However, it’s buried in the suggestions for Combat Mongers. I would argue that players in general would benefit from this advice, but if you don’t have a Combat Monger in your group, then you’re not going to read the section that contains that advice.

I found the subtypes of the classes to be over-general. For instance, one of the Character Actor’s subtypes is “the Goth” who is described as always wanting to play “the dark, brooding loner.” They also apparently prefer playing World of Darkness, which implies that a great many players of that game would be of this type. I’ve never come across a player described like this and even if I did, I find it hard to believe that they would absolutely be a Character Actor (perhaps they might be a Storyteller or Socialite).

Field Guide to Players does briefly note that actual players may contain traits from multiple character types, but ultimately I feel that because it focuses so much on the exemplar of each character type that it’s difficult to separate out the individual traits that a given player might take from that category. For instance, I would consider myself something of a hybrid of a Storyteller, Solver, and Power Gamer, but the very absolute descriptions and specific suggestions given to each of those three makes it difficult for a new GM to find out how to best incorporate me as a player (not to mention that you’ll have to read 9 pages to figure me out, then repeat the process for any other players).

The first chapter takes 23 pages to cover all of the types. There’s a lot of great advice in it, but it could have been a lot more concise and less focused on describing the exemplar player types.

Dealing with Problem Players

The book’s second chapter begins with five steps for dealing with problem players, which mirrors a lot of general problem-solving steps used in team-building seminars and counseling (including a section about using “I feel” statements, although not described as such). For most game problems, I think such steps are overkill, but Field Guide for Players seems to want to tackle the big problems. After all, a list of “common” problems a GM might have to deal with include “antagonizing other players,” “cheating on die rolls,” “deliberately sabotaging the game”, and “telling other players what their characters do or feel.”

And that’s perhaps the biggest problem I have with this chapter. Like the proceeding one, it’s about extremes. If you have players like that at your table, there are bigger issues that need to be addressed (and as a GM, you probably ought to think about finding a different group of gamers, which surprisingly is never suggested). In fact, I think that the entire list of “the most common behavior problems” (of which the four I listed above are from), could be consolidated into the following, less-extreme categories:

  • The player is bored (e.g. not paying attention, doing other activities)
  • The player is not cooperating with other players (e.g. hogging the spotlight, stealing from the party)
  • The player is breaking the game rules or not playing in an acceptable way (e.g. cheating, metagaming)
  • Issues unrelated to the game itself are having consequences on the game (e.g. bringing personal issues, arriving late or not at all)

It seems to me like describing these types of problems, rather than addressing how to deal with the big problems, would have been more useful to many GMs who are unlikely to have the big problems arise. After all in my four years of GMing, the worst problem I’ve had is chronically late players, which is usually resolved when the player decides they are too busy to continue. In such cases, the five step model is probably overkill.

After listing situations where you would want to go straight to Step 5 and remove the player (you can probably guess figure that out easily enough), there’s a section on “Ideas for Avoiding Player Problems.” It starts off with advice about laying out the expectations for the game (which is great advice) and states that you may need to change the game to be more engaging to each of the players’ playstyles (also great advice). It then suggests that many problems come up because the player types aren’t jiving with the characters they are playing, which I think misses the mark (and why are they playing the character if they aren’t going to like it?).

The chapter follows up with several paragraphs describing an incentive system to discourage problems. For instance, it suggests giving your chronically late player a reward for being on time, which I think can be a bit overkill and doesn’t do much to address the root causes of the problem. It also recommends voting for an MVP, which in my experience works great for convention games in which prizes are awarded, but would just cause contention in a campaign (looks like Mark’s the MVP again).

Types of Problem Players

The final chapter talks about common types of problem players: the Aggressive PC, the Drama Queen, the Flaky Gamer, the Inattentive, the Munchkin, the Persistent Noob, the Rules Lawyer, and the Spotlight Hog. Like the first chapter, it spends 1-2 pages describing each type while giving suggestions about how to deal with them. Again, some of the suggestions are good: like listening to a Rules Lawyer briefly, then making a rules call and sticking with it for the remainder of the game. Others seem a bit childish, notably “pass around a talking stick” (which I’ve seen preschools do). It even recommends solving the Spotlight Hog problem by having a caller (having all players give their suggestions to one player, who then makes a final decision, who relays it to the GM), which I think is a terrible idea because it is unnecessarily complex and will probably kill any fun. All in all, these fourteen pages are a fairly mixed bag.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, for all this book’s faults, it has some good advice, such as the descriptions of the general player types and the suggestions on how to avoid problem players. Perhaps the biggest issue is that it seems excessively wordy and consequently some great gems get buried. Overall, I found The GM’s Field Guide to Players to be a mixed bag that is best for those with very difficult players at their gaming table. If your gaming group is average, there are better books for GM advice out there for about the same price (such as Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, a $7.99 PDF).

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