Posts tagged RPG Reviews

Savage Worlds Deluxe

Review of Savage Worlds Deluxe, Part 2

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Welcome back! This is part two of my review of Savage Worlds Deluxe. You can read part one here.

New Subsystems

I said in my first review that Savage Worlds Deluxe was truly a deluxe version because it featured a number of supplemental rules. The biggest addition is a number of new subsystems. I’d like to go into a bit more detail about each of them:

Chases

Savage Worlds DeluxeActually, this is an old system, but it’s gotten a complete overhaul. Rather than tracking distances in a chase, each round players are dealt multiple cards that tell them the relative distance of how far away they are from their target and if ranged or melee attacks are possible. It’s a really abstract system that takes getting used to, but it’s fast and works well for chases in situations like a crowded city with lots of traffic, where the participants are dodging in and out of shops and climbing on rooftops.

I think that the chase rules in Explorer’s Edition did a lot better with a more traditional chases, like pursuing a rider on horseback on the open plains, and it would be somewhat unsatisfying to do such a chase with this new system. But there’s no reason that both can’t be used if you identify which is more appropriate for your situation. By the way, Pinnacle has released a PDF of the new chase rules for free here.

Dramatic Tasks

Dramatic Tasks are somewhat like the D&D 4e skill challenge system except that they’re all about trying to get so many successes before time runs out (typically 5 rounds or 5 attempts). For instance, if you’re trying to disarm a bomb, you might have to get five successes (raises count towards this) before five rounds are up or the timer reaches zero. There’s also some advice on making this task happen in the middle of combat for extra tension. Used alone, I’m not sure they’re really all that special, but done in the middle of combat, I think they’ve got a lot of potential.

Interludes

This is a system for when the characters have some downtime and are revealing a bit more about their lives. Each player gets a card and, depending on the suit, shares with the party about a tragedy, victory, love, or desire that they have. I let these be loosely interpreted, so drawing “love” would allow a character to, for instance, share about a cause they are passionate about. As a reward, players get a benny or an adventure card. It’s a nice way to tie in character backstories, although I think having only four options makes it a bit limiting. (Pinnacle has a full release of the text here).

Social Conflict

If you’ve ever wanted to have a courtroom debate or get the players to make a mob stand down, this system is for you. There are three rounds of conversation where characters are trying to rack up more successes on Persuasion rolls than the other team, with bonuses going to especially good points. There’s also extra rules if you’re trying to argue technical points, like legal matters. After these rounds are done, just look at a table describing the outcome based on the margin of victory. All in all, a decent subsystem that, if a bit simplistic, works well for what it tries to do.

Travel

For when you want to have something more interesting happen than “you walk for many days and nights,” there’s this new system. You can calculate how long the journey will take by land, air, or sea and each day you draw from the encounter table to see what happened that day. It’s a simple way to make things more interesting without bogging down the journey, but might need to be customized depending on the style of play. For instance, if you want a Lord of the Rings style journey, you could draw more frequently and customize the encounter table (e.g. as you’re traveling, you get intercepted by a group. Since you’re in Rohan, it’s a group of Rohirrim soldiers).

Some Final Thoughts

All in all, I think it’s a really good book and has some neat additions. It’s not an essential upgrade if you already have the Explorer’s Edition, especially since Pinnacle has released some of the new stuff for free online, but it’s really cool nonetheless.

Being a Savage Worlds fanboy, I preordered Savage Worlds Deluxe at Origins this year. Studio2Publishing had a deal where you could get a CD with the PDF right there at the con and then pick up the hard copy at GenCon or get it mailed to you. I did that and got it signed by Savage Worlds creator Shane Hensley and contributor Clint Black!

Signatures inside Savage Worlds Deluxe

My signed copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe

If you’re a diehard Savage Worlds fan too or you like having a hardbound book in a larger size, I’d recommend getting it. If you’re a GM and think you’ll use the new subsystems or one-sheets, I’d recommend getting it. If you’re a player, it’s really up to you. If you are really intrigued by the new Edges or Powers, you might be interested in it, although if you have at least one copy of the book at the table, you can get them easily enough. Aside from that, I guess it just depends on whether or not you like the larger, hardbound book.

Also it’s worth mentioning that Joel Kinstle, vice-president of Pinnacle, wrote the following on the Pinnacle forums:

Like the two Deadlands core books, you should expect an Explorer’s Edition-sized paperback coming out in about a year [from the August release date] (possibly sooner if all the SWEX evaporate really fast), and then those two core rulebooks will share the shelf and catalog space.

To the best of my knowledge, Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition has been evaporating pretty fast. So I wouldn’t be surprised if by Origins, or GenCon at the latest, we’ll see a new “Explorer’s Edition size” of the Deluxe Edition. I predict that it will be $10-15, but in order to convert the material from 160 big pages to 160 small pages, some things will have to be axed. No doubt that the full page setting ads will go away as well as the “Design Notes” sidebars. My guess is that it will have the rules changes, the new Edges, the new Powers, and either the Races or the new subsystems, but there will only be one one-sheet adventure instead of five.

Well, that’s my review! If you’ve got any questions, comments, or jokes, feel free to share it in the comments!

Savage Worlds Deluxe

Review of Savage Worlds Deluxe, Part 1

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Dear JourneymanGM!

I am confused about the new Deluxe edition, and want to know if I should or need to upgrade from my Explorer’s Edition. Would you be able to give us a blog post with the low down on what the changes are, less from a technical and more from a practical perspective? How does the game change from the player’s and/or GM’s perspective with the new rules? Or is there an excellent resource that already covers this?

Savage Worlds Deluxe

Surprisingly, the guy is scantily clad while the girl is dressed modestly.

Lindevi over at the RPG blog Triple Crit sent me this comment requesting that I write up a description of the new Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and how it differs from the Explorer’s Edition. I’m always willing to take requests for blog topics so I’ll happily oblige!

First off, I’ll make it clear that this isn’t so much an upgrade from the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition, but truly is a Deluxe Edition. There are some minor changes to the rules, but by and large, it consists of new content to supplement the rules you already have. You can still use settings and book supplements with either version and can mix them freely at the gaming trable. Also, Pinnacle, ever supportive of their fans, is releasing free PDF updates of a lot of the additional content and rules changes on their Downloads page, so you can still get all of the goodness without feeling like you’re being forced into ponying up the extra money.

But still, having all the cool stuff in one book with new art is great and there are a lot of clarifications and such that you won’t get from the PDFs. So here’s a big lowdown of the differences:

Format

The Explorer’s Edition is a paperback 6.5″ x 9″ book and costs a mere $10 (heck yeah!). The Deluxe Edition is a hardback 11″ x 8.8″ book that costs $30. The latter has a completely new layout. Whereas the Explorer’s Edition only had artwork previously seen in their other settings, Deluxe Edition also has some original artwork. My favorite is some great pictures of crusaders charging into battle. There’s also full page advertisements for some of their settings, including a great Deadlands picture of a red-eyed gunslinger at night.

Rules Changes

There’s a nice fan-made list of rules changes at this forum topic and Pinnacle has released the complete text of the updated rules for Damage and Healing for free. These streamline the rules and make them more fast, furious, and fun. I’d also like to point out that Leadership Edges are a whole lot more useful since they now work on other Wild Cards in the party. They’ve also officially axed the Guts skill, but have a note saying that it’s still used in horror settings and specifically mentions Deadlands as an example. All in all, I’m perfectly happy with the rules that are added, and while I was happy before them, I’m glad to have them now.

Clarifications and Notes

The extended combat example even has a picture.

Pinnacle decided that with a Deluxe Edition, they could afford to include more pages with more examples. There’s an extended, detailed description of combat to help people get used to how it works and clarify misunderstandings with Shaken and other situations. Also of great use is a number of “Design Notes” where the people at Pinnacle explain why certain mechanics work the way that they do. It’s a lot of interesting stuff that better explains the game, and if you want that, it may be reason enough to buy Savage Worlds Deluxe. I imagine it could also be very useful for a new player who is still trying to get used to the rules of Savage Worlds.

Additions

There aren’t any new Skills or Hindrances, but there are about twenty new Edges. Most of them are designed for melee characters and martial artists, making them a more interesting character type. There are a few new general purpose Edges, my favorite of which is Liquid Courage (down 8 oz of alcohol and get a bonus to Vigor plus ignore one wound level).

It’s worth noting that there’s also an Edge called Elan which is a bit overpowered because it adds +2 to all benny rolls, including Soak rolls. It was clarified on the Pinnacle forums that this also applied to the initial Soak roll. In order to make it a bit more balanced, I just houserule that the +2 bonus only applies if you reroll your initial Soak roll.

Ten new races are now available in addition to Human, ranging from Android to Elves and Atlanteans to Saurians. Each have their own racial benefits and drawbacks. In addition, there’s rules for creating your own races by picking and choosing from a large list of benefits and drawbacks. If you’re playing a fantasy or sci-fi game, these are invaluable.

This awesome picture was in SWEX, but sadly didn't make it into SWDX

We’ve also got two pages of “Archetypes,” which are partially-made 0 XP characters of a certain profession. So you want to make a Rogue, but don’t have time to stat it? Take the “Rogue” archetype, give him some Hindrances, buy some gear, and you’re good to go. This also works great for a GM who suddenly needs stats for that NPC the players decided to kill.

Arcane Backgrounds will be happy to know that there are new powers like Blind, Confusion, Disguise, Intangibility, Mind Reading, and Summon Ally. There’s also rules for adding specific elemental effects to your magical powers. For instance, you get mechanical benefits if you use the Cold/Ice trapping with attacking and buffing powers. They also tweaked the powers to make them more balanced (namely Bolt because now you can do multiple bolts OR extra damage, but not both). All in all, I think some good additions were made.

Also included is a new section on setting rules, describing different optional rules and what settings you might want to apply them to. For instance, there’s a rule called “Heroes Never Die,” which works well for a Pulp game and “Gritty Damage” that works well for a more lethal game. As a GM, I like making sure that the rules fit the setting of the game that I want to run and I think it’s a great idea to provide rules that you would use sometimes, but not all of the time.

To Be Continued…

There’s a lot to talk about, so stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this review! I’ll be giving a detailed description of each of the new subsystems included, provide a review of the five new one-sheet adventures, and give my final thoughts on what value the book as a whole adds for a GM, Player, and Savage fanboy.

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the wild

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild

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The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the wildThis semester, I’ve been playing in a weekly campaign in Middle Earth using The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild, a new role-playing game from Cubicle 7. It’s set in the northern parts of Middle Earth after the events of The Hobbit and allows you to play Dwarves, Wood Elves, Men from the Mirkwood areas, and Hobbits. Cubicle 7 is planning to release future sets that move the timeline closer to the War of the Ring while also moving geographically closer to Mordor.

The game comes in a box set containing two books (one for “adventurers” and one for “loremasters”), two maps of the region, and a set of six d6s and one modified d12. The d12 has the numbers 1-10 and an “Eye of Sauron” symbol for a critical failure as well as a “Gandalf Rune” for a critical success (a normal d12 can be used too with an 11 being the Eye and a 12 being the Rune). The basic mechanic is to roll a number of dice equal to your skill level and roll the modified d12 along with it, adding up the total and trying to reach a target number.

Both books are in beautiful full color with a lot of original art that generally matches the style and appearance from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies (as opposed to some of the illustrations in the books printed prior to the movies’ release). It really does a good job of capturing the feel of Middle Earth and helping to get everyone excited about playing in the setting.

Character stats are derived from three aspects: their race, their background (i.e. their race-specific upbringing and reason for adventuring), and their calling (i.e. their profession as an adventurer). Each race has six backgrounds and there are a total of six callings, although it wouldn’t be that hard to create your own. One of the players in our group created a custom calling that they called a “Shadowhunter.” My character was a Hobbit named Drogo Brownlock who was a Bucklander and felt called to be a Treasure Hunter. I kind of saw him as a burglar like Bilbo, but he was actually good at his job.

Another aspect of characters is their Wisdom and Valor stats. Each is used to resist the influence of evil, with Wisdom helping against corruption and Valor helping against fear. But they are also an indicator of how much the character has grown personally during the adventure. With each point of Wisdom, the character gains a special ability (similar to a D&D feat) to mark how they have learned special talents. Nothing special there.

Valor really impressed me. When you increase it, your character gains some sort of special or magical item, either as plunder or given as a gift. At first, that may sound a bit strange, but it fits well with the Tolkien theme. When Bilbo tried burgling from the fearsome stone trolls, he likely upped his Valor stat afterwards and consequently he found Sting in the plunder. The Fellowship visited Lothlorien and, because they increased their Valor stats after going through the Mines of Moria and faced all sorts of fear, they were given gifts from the Elves. It’s a mechanic that may be a bit strange at first, but it really does help fit with the theme and make those special items truly special.

Gameplay is divided into two phases, the Adventuring Phase and the Fellowship Phase. The Adventuring Phase is much like you would find in any fantasy role-playing game. You decide to go on a quest, you fight, you save the day. The Fellowship Phase represents an intermediate time where character development is taking place. This may be taking a journey to visit someone, making a return visit to your homeland, spending your treasure, or establishing a safe haven (a.k.a. freeloading off of Elrond’s house). Stat advancements are purchased during this time, so it also represents taking time to train skills or to receive gifts (like the aforementioned Elven gifts). Each player is required to share (preferably as a short story) what their character is doing during that time. All this is probably more suited for long term campaigns rather than one-shot adventures, but it really does support the storytelling and character development common in Tolkien’s works.

Combat is rather simple with characters either being in either a Forward, Open, Defensive, or Rearward battle stance. In the Forward stance, they are more likely to go first and have a lower target number to hit their enemy, but also have a lower target number to be hit. The remaining stances raise the target number to hit the enemy, but also raise the target number to be hit. Ranged attacks are only allowed from the Rearward stance, but a character can only be in a Rearward stance if two or more characters are in the close combat stances. Characters hit by normal attacks lose Endurance, which may cause them to be wearied or too tired to fight effectively. If a piercing blow is delivered, the hero is wounded (and if already wounded, they are dead). Although it may seem rather lethal, it encourages players to run if things are looking bad. Tolkien never felt the need to give much detail to battles (the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep is incredibly short) and this system enables these sorts of fights to take place quickly and easily while still maintaining the overall feel.

The biggest problem I have with The One Ring is that the books are poorly organized. For instance, our group were playing a premade scenario and were told to make a “Corruption Test.” It wasn’t listed in the index and we couldn’t find any reference to it in the chapter on Adventuring Mechanics. Turns out that it was buried in the chapter describing Character Advancement under the section about Wisdom (where you wouldn’t think to look if you don’t know the two are related). Similarly, it took us a long while to figure out how attacking and damage worked in combat because it was vaguely written and in a strange place in the book. It’s not impossible to find what you’re looking for and there isn’t anything missing, but it shouldn’t be this hard to figure it all out.

There’s also some weird quirks in the system. My Hobbit had the “Cooking” speciality meaning that I knew how to cook and didn’t need to make any die rolls for it. However it also says that the action of cooking is handled by the Craft skill, which I was untrained in. We joked that this meant Drogo could cook at leisure, but if he ever had time pressure or had to make it really good, he would panic and forget everything he knew.

Also since every roll includes the modified d12 and a Rune symbol is an automatic critical success, it means that one in every 12 times the character can accomplish whatever they try to do. It’s cinematic, but can get a little ridiculous at times. One of our players tried to jokingly cheat this by rolling his untrained Search skill and saying, “I’m looking around for the secret ruins that nobody has seen in a hundred years. Do I see them?” and rolled, hoping for an automatic success.

Although it does some things poorly, The One Ring does does a lot of things very well and includes a lot of unique mechanics that help evoke the feel of the Tolkien setting. I’m enjoying playing it and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a game system for playing in Middle Earth.

Why Essentials Has Made Me Excited About D&D Again

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Since I’ve talked a lot about Origins and Savage Worlds lately, I figured I would change it up a bit and talk about something else.

I’ve been burnt out on Dungeons & Dragons for a long time. Like many gamers, it was my first role-playing game (my first campaign was a 4th Edition game that started in the Fall of 2008). But over time, I just got really burnt out on it for a number of reasons, which I may go into more detail at some point.

Heroes of the Fallen LandsBut during one of my Half Price Books runs, I was surprised to find Heroes of the Fallen Lands, a Dungeons & Dragons Essentials book that has character information for creating Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Wizards. For those who don’t know, Dungeons & Dragons Essentials is a repackaged, slightly simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons 4e. It’s also fully compatible with all the stuff published with regular Dungeons & Dragons 4e. Since the book was in good condition and half price, I joyfully picked it up. When I got home, I started reading it.

And you know what? I was actually excited about D&D again!

Why? Good question. First, I think a lot of it comes down to the psychological power of new packaging. I had grown to despise 4e in the form it was. Seeing something new, even if it had almost all the same rules as standard 4e, made it seem like it was a new product making a fresh start. I think that alone made me interested in trying it. I’ve even heard stories of people who scorned 4e when it came out but are happily embracing Essentials (much to the confusion of everybody who realizes they’re pretty much the same). All in all, new packaging seems to have been able to get rid of the preconceived notions people had. Good job, Wizards!

The first few pages succinctly explain what a role-playing game is and the most basic rules of D&D (even listing the “most important rule” and the other “two basic rules” that pretty much sum up how to play). I also liked how it said upfront how to do the most common combat maneuvers. For instance, Opportunity Attacks are described on Page 27, rather than being stuffed near the back of the book like in the original PHB. This whole section impressed me and I really felt a new player would be able to read it and get a good grasp on what this Dungeons & Dragons stuff was really about. Making it simple for newbies is a win in my book, even if I’m no longer a newbie.

Speaking of simplicity, I happened to like how at some levels the classes are just given a predetermined ability, making things much simpler and more consistent. At other levels, they are given a small list of powers to choose from. One of my big complaints about standard 4e was that there was so much splat (and the Character Builder was pretty much required if you wanted to use things beyond the PHB). Consequently, players tended to focus on their power cards and not on the story. This new system addressed that issue in a way I like and, at least during my cursory glance at the powers, there didn’t seem to be any must-haves or real stinkers. Perhaps someone who liked the crunch would be less happy with this, but to each their own.

In my mind, less is more, and this applies not only to powers, but also to gear. There are only three kinds of magic weapons: Magic, Defensive, and Vicious. Perhaps a tad limiting, but I happen to like the simple nature of it. And for what it’s worth, there are now 3 good magic items and 0 useless magic items. A very good ratio considering that in standard 4e the good stuff to useless stuff ratio was pretty poor.

The book as a whole was really well laid out. I think that a new player could read the book sequentially and not have to flip back at any point. Feats are organized by theme, like “Divine Devotion” and “Learning and Lore” which give a better idea of what a certain type of character might want to take. Essentials also takes great pains to ensure that you don’t miss any steps. Say you’re making a Rogue. There are large, 48 point headers saying what you get at each level. At Level 3 for instance, it says that you gain an extra use of your backstab ability and at Level 4, you gain the +1 Attribute bonus (which all classes get, but they want to make sure you don’t miss it). Simple, yet effective. Even the Character Sheet in the back of the book was much better laid out, and I truly felt I could fill it in by hand (having made nearly all of my previous 4e characters with the offline DDI Character Builder).

And at the end of the book, they have not only an index, but a glossary! So when you need to know what the “Deafened” status effect does (because really, who remembers?), you can look in the glossary and quickly find that a creature who is deafened takes a -10 penalty to Perception checks. I’m not sure it can get any simpler than that.

I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons Essentials yet and I’m sure that it still has many of the flaws I’m accustomed to with 4e. But I’m amazed that a new cover, a reduction of content, and a more intuitive layout has made me excited to play D&D 4e again. I guess it goes to show that maybe RPG companies should spend a little bit more time thinking about the presentation and organization of their book and get more player feedback from both veterans and newbies.

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.

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