Looking Towards 2010: Already starting my shopping list.

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Dec 222009

The end of the year is almost here and I’ve already started my gaming shopping list. So in no particular order, my definite buys for 2010.

Paizo’s Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide: More classes and feats and other stuff. Yeah they are coming out with a bunch more stuff but to be honest I only play Pathfinder so I’ll get some good mileage out of this.

For Savage Worlds, there’s the Horror Companion from Pinnacle. The Horror Tool kits were great and the Fantasy Companion was excellent. This little tome of forbidden knowledge is going to be so handy. Then Swords of Erisa (more Legends of Steel fun) from Evil DM Productions. Right now, there’s so many licensees that it’s really hard to keep track of all of them. So I’m sure there’s a couple more things that will pop up.

Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG: Set 2 (and probably Set 3) and Blood in Ferelden: Once again I have to admit that I’m a Dragon Age Origins addict (for the PC) so when Set 1 for the table top came out, I failed my will roll and bought it. The table top version is pretty neat. I’m reserving the arm twisting of my gaming group until Set 2 comes out and have a much better idea of how the game looks at slightly higher levels.

D&D Heroscape: I don’t play Heroscape but dang I do like using the terrain for Savage Worlds and other games plus a few more miniatures to add to the stockpile.

I know that there’s going to be a few more things that pop up on my radar before 2010 is over but at least it looks like there should be some really cool stuff coming out next year.

 Posted by at 4:57 pm
Dec 152009

I couldn’t resist Green Ronin’s pre-order deal for the dead tree version and get the PDF free offer. And I have to admit that I’m addicted to the video version of the game but this little review is about the table top version.
So what’s this whole Dragon Age thing about? The video game is by the fine folks at Bioware (who gave us such greats as Baldur’s Gate). It’s billed as a dark fantasy. Fereldan is not a happy go lucky place. It’s rife with racial, cultural and religious biases. Various human factions have battled for centuries and have their own problems. Elves are either living a nomadic life or are regulated to slums (called alienages) in the cities. Either way they are second class citizens at best. Dwarves live by a strict caste system. Mages are closely watched by the Templars just in case one of them goes astray. And the major bad guys, the Blight, that was the making of mortals. But the setting boils down to getting past all those things and some how managing to be a hero.
Green Ronin has done a good job at mixing an old school feel into the game. First, the game is being released in a series of sets. This is Set 1 and covers Levels 1 through 5. Subsequent sets will cover five level spreads up to Level 20. Kind of reminds you of the old D&D boxed sets. That was the idea. Intermixed with the release schedule will be various adventures. The sets will be spread out over a period of two years. That’s right one set per six months is the announced schedule. I’d really like to have the sets more quickly but I think that this may have to do with Bioware and their schedule for having two years worth of downloadable content for the video game. But I really wish that they were coming out much closer together. Heck, one a quarter would make me happy.
Character generation is pretty old school. Roll 3d6 (compare to chart) straight down and take like a man. OK, you can switch two ability scores. But this is not as bad as it sounds. Ability scores raise fairly quickly as you level so any bad rolls you started with will be taken care of after a couple of levels. But this does give a little concern. Like some old school games, there’s no cap on ability scores. The average for an ability score is 1 and your character can easily min-max and end up with some whomping high scores like 14 or so at higher levels. I might be wrong on this but with the character advancement as written in the first set this is real probability. So eventually some tasks will be difficult at early levels then incredibly easy at higher levels.
The table top game has pretty simple mechanics. Roll 3d6+a couple modifiers against a target number. Skills are replaced by Foci which grant a flat +2 bonus to your roll. Each class; Warrior, Mage, and Rogue, have their own little bonuses and abilities that come into play. And there the Talents which are similar to Edges in Savage Worlds or Feats in d20 that give you even more special tricks to use.
It’s supposed to be an introductory game but after reading through the first set, I’d like to think of it more as a rules medium game. It’s a little more crunchy than Savage Worlds but less than a d20 game. New gamers shouldn’t have that much problem with it and it looks to be a good gateway game for them. Plus there’s the good old sections on “What is an RPG?” and GMing tips for the newcomers. For some more experienced gamers somethings may be a little tough. I’ve ranted on this before about Savage Worlds and I’ll do it again here. It ain’t D&D. Combats in DA:O are going to be mobile and dynamic. There aren’t any attacks of opportunity, so you can run around the battle field. It’s easy for combatants to move each other around (more on that later). Disarming an opponent is pretty easy. You can get knocked on your ass. And, well, pretty much a whole of wild and crazy shit can happen during a battle.
Which leads me to the really neat parts of this game. First you have the Dragon Die. Before I mentioned that all your checks are on 3d6. One of those die is your Dragon Die. It’s just another d6 but a different color. It’s used several different ways in the game. In the case of a tie, whoever rolled higher on their Dragon Die wins. If a degree a success is needed then the higher the Dragon Die, the better. Now some folks have had a little problem with this. Mainly in the case that if you need to beat high target number then your doing to have to roll high on your Dragon Die. Yeah, true. But this use of it really isn’t a crunchy one, it’s more fluff/creative means for the GM or the player to throw in some description that really doesn’t have any game mechanic effect.
Finally, during combat the Dragon Die grants you Stunt Points. Now this is so cool. Here’s the basic mechanic. If you roll doubles and succeed then you get a number of Stunt Points equal to whatever you rolled on your Dragon Die. You spend these points on that round, you don’t save them up. The player or GM gets to do a little description of what happens and you move on. This is like it’s own little build your critical hit system. Fighter types can knock opponents back or down, they can do more damage, they can by pass armor. Spell casters can reduce the mana (Yeah, it uses a Mana point system for spells) cost of the spells, increase save TN’s and a few other tricks. This is the mechanic that makes the combats dynamic and more than just two sets of numbers banging it out toe to toe.
Do you really need this to play in the world of Dragon Age? No. There’s plenty of the fluff material online that you can easily convert it to your favorite system be it d20, GURPS, Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying or Savage Worlds (Yes, a Savage conversion has crossed my mind.) If you’re a fan of the video game and aren’t too sure about table top games then it’s a good buy. If you’re an experienced gamer and not slavishly loyal to one game system then its still a good buy as fantasy game that isn’t D&D. For me personally, I haven’t pitched it to my gaming group yet but it has gone my list of games that would be fun to play or run.

 Posted by at 9:09 pm
Dec 122009

This doesn’t directly connect with table top RPG’s but it does harken back to the dark old days of D&D teaches Satanism,BADD and the moral outrage around gaming (table top and video). Here’s the neat little quote, “I accept that 98%, 99% of gamers will tell the difference between fantasy and reality, but the 1% to 2% could go on to be motivated by these games to commit horrible acts of violence. You don’t need to be playing a game in which you impale, decapitate and dismember people.”
Now where does this come from? Not from some third world country whose government is referred to in the news as a regime. Nope, our good friends from down under in Australia. You know a modern industrialized and free country and from the Attorney General Michael Atkinson. This refers to the Alien Vs Predator video game. Down in Australia, they too have a rating system. But in this they can they refused to give the game a rating and thus virtually banning it for sale. The developers have refused to cave. Bravo to them. Now I’m not saying that there isn’t content that is unsuitable for children. There is and their exposure to it should be controlled (primarily by the parents). But such a statement as Mr. Atkinson’s is ridiculous.
If we take that assumption that if 1to 2% of any group partaking in an activity are mentally unstable then we should ban such an activity just in case. So would have banning the Beatles kept Charles Manson in line? Would banning pet ownership kept David Berkowitz from murdering people? Maybe we should make sure that there aren’t any books that just might inspire someone sometime to do something horrible. Should religion be banned to prevent a list of atrocities too long to even name here from happening just because a few individuals go off the deep end?
Yes, I may get flamed for comparing a video game to religion. But it boils down to this, the mentally unstable are just that mentally unstable. If not a video game then maybe a book, a picture, a piece of music or who knows what else might trigger them. Should we just ban things just in case? You can’t shield society from the misinterpretations of a deranged mind. It’s that simple. If you banned all forms of artistic expression, what kind of society would you have left?
I’m not saying that there isn’t worthless crap out there. You know there is. And if you’re reading this then you’ve probably been around the Internet a few times and seem quite a few things without any artistic or cultural value. But responsible adults should have the right to chose their entertainment as long as no one (and nothing gets hurt in process). No matter what your preferred form of entertainment is, I’m sure that in today’s world you can find someone out there who is offended by it. If you’re any kind of artist then out there somewhere is someone who will misinterpret your work. Banning works doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t prevent or cure mental illness. It just covers it up until the next round of the blame game begins.

 Posted by at 2:09 pm
Dec 082009

Good news for gamers. Bad news for my pocket book.
The next Savage Worlds Companion is out in PDF. You can pick up the PDF now for $14.99 or wait until the dead tree version gets off the slow boat from China (literally April 2010). I admit that I’m not much of a Supers RPG fan. Yeah, it’s fun but it just never hit the sweet spot for me. But then I’m sure that it’ll be handy for tons of different Savage Worlds campaigns.
Tomorrow Green Ronin releases the PDF of the first installment of the table top version of Dragon Age. I have really mixed feelings about this one. First, I love the stuff that Green Ronin has put out and I’ve been thoroughly engrossed by the PC game. The system looks interesting. But do I really need another rules lite fantasy game? It’s a hard call. This one comes in at $17.50.
Both these look to be good products. But the prices for the PDF’s are pretty close to the cost of the dead tree version. Based on the Fantasy Companion, the Supers Companion should retail for about $20. You do the math. For Dragon Age, the boxed set is going to go for $29.95. Right now for me, it’s decide whether to wait to get a physical book for a little more or get the PDF’s now and pretty close to the price of the physical product. I’m not really crazy at paying 60 to 70% of the cover price of the physical book for an electronic version.
NOTE: Green Ronin is now offering the PDF free if you pre-order a dead tree version. Now, that’s way cool! Thanks, Chris!

 Posted by at 6:47 pm
Dec 072009

Thanks to Garlick for asking this question. Normally I respond to folks but in this case I think the topic deserves a whole post.
The first thing GM’s should look at is the Economy of Bennies. How many you or don’t hand out helps determine the both the length and threat from a combat encounter. Also, how you spend GM Bennies can turn the tide of a battle quickly. Bennies are useful for both Soak rolls and re-rolling attacks (It takes the No Mercy Edge to re-roll damage.) This boils down to two things. When to hand out a Benny and when to spend a Benny.
When should a GM hand out a Benny? This is topic has been discussed multiple times on the PEG forums. What’s the tone of your game? For cinematic games, just make it easy. Find any excuse to hand out a Benny. Shuffling the Initiative Cards. Getting the GM munchies or a drink. Whatever. For more gritty and realistic style campaigns, make them work for it. Good role playing, unique uses of Skills or Powers. There’s no way I can give you a hard number of how many to hand out. Just look at it this way. In a cinematic game, Bennies should be like candy. In a gritty game, they are a precious resource.
So when should you spend Bennies? For GM’s, it’s pretty easy. Don’t be scared to spend them but don’t spend them to “beat” the players. Spend them to make encounters more dramatic and interesting. Maybe have your villains re-roll a Notice or Stealth check. You don’t necessarily have to use your Bennies for combat. Keep a few in reserve to help keep your Big Bad from being taken out in one round. And it doesn’t matter if you happen to have a few left over at the end of the session.
For players, this question is much more complex and difficult to answer. First, when not to spend Bennies. If that mook just happens to roll a horrendous amount of damage, it’s better to save your Bennies to keep from dying. Chances are you won’t Soak enough damage to make a any difference. Save your Bennies for when you have a good chance of success but just rolled poorly. That’s not to say don’t spend them on a Hail Mary plan. Just make sure that it’s the big fight when your back is against the wall and it’s all or nothing time.
For lethality itself, I’m not going to go over the rules as written or the gritty rules (available in Moscow Connection on Pinnacle’s download page. Also check out the Combat Survival Guide too.) too much. They pretty much stand as they are. New GM’s should hand out the Combat Survival Guide to new players and answer any questions that they may have. Also, GM’s should offer helpful suggestions for new players. Like I said in my last post, you may have to remind them that “This ain’t D&D”. Explain the folly of their action and explain the similar mechanic in Savage Worlds and how it works.
Finally, I’ll go over briefly Cinematic house rules I used for my Legends of Steel game. First, I never used the Incapacitation Chart. I figured Wound Penalties were enough and heck it was cinematic. Second, I house ruled some various Healing Edges that sped up the natural healing process (Basically, rolling once a day rather than once very five days). I also used the toughing it out rules from Winterweir. Basically, make a Vigor and Spirit roll to keep on going even though the character is Incapacitated.
As a Savage Worlds GM, you want to keep things Fast, Furious and Fun and not necessarily Fast, Furious and Fatal. The number one thing you can do is educate your players. Teach them the differences between Savage Worlds and other games. Encourage and reward players for thinking outside of the box. Know the player characters, learn their strengths and weaknesses. Balancing encounters for Savage Worlds is mostly gut instinct. Don’t be afraid to modify a monster or an encounter on the fly to make it either more or less of a threat to the party depending on how things are going. Use your Bennies to make the game more dramatic rather than beat the players. Remember, its a role playing game. It’s about action, story and drama. It’s not about winning. And don’t let the rules get in the way of a good story.

 Posted by at 1:44 pm
Nov 302009

It’s been a long time since I blogged about Savage Worlds. So I figured I’d start with some good advice to new GM’s and players. Basically, you need to rewire your brain. Savage Worlds is a great game and there’s more and more people turning to it as their game of choice. And few run into problems from the start. It’s OK.
The first thing is check the Pinnacle Forums. We’re helpful bunch over and there and if you have any rules questions, I don’t think that Clint Black ever sleeps, eats or has any contact with family or friends. He quickly clears up any rules questions and keeps the forums civilized place. Just go over there and read the forums. Go ahead and search for your favorite campaign setting, TV show, movie, book, anime etc. Some fan has probably already mentioned it, started Savaging it. If anything in the game just seems off to you, then search those forums again. You’ll probably find a civilized debate about the topic and learn a thing a two.
If you’re like me, the first thing you do with a new set of rules is start tweaking. Don’t do it. Yes, I was tempted. Oh, so tempted. But I resisted. It was worth it. The first rule of newbie Savage Worlds GM Club: Don’t mess with it until you’ve played it a couple of times. Savage Worlds is easy and has many mechanics that are familiar to most gamers. That lures a few people into making house rules off the bat before they seen the system in action. But give the system a chance to be itself before tweaking it. Yeah, I may sound like I’m being some sort of know-it-all. You’ve met plenty of them before on the Internet. If you don’t trust me about this one then go and peruse the forums or listen to the first episode of Smilin’ Jack’s Bar & Grill and hear it from the pro’s. Chances are that rules tweak you are thinking of, is probably either already there (just worded differently) or someone has already done something similar. Have I mentioned searching the forums?
Now there’s one system of the game that takes some extra getting used to. And that’s damage. It’s a big part of any RPG. Most people come from games that use Hit Points or something similar. Heck, on the surface Savage Worlds looks like your normal game with Wound Levels. People are used to getting whittled down during combat. Just a little hit here and a nick there. But not with Savage Worlds thanks to exploding dice. A lowly thug can take out your epic hero with one attack. GM’s and players need to understand that each attack has the potential to be deadly. The suspense is not driven the slow subtraction of hit points. It’s that potential that each time the dice are thrown your character may just become another dungeon fatality. This is something that both players and GM’s need to get used to. The odds are against the weakly wizard taking out the mega-dragon with his dull and rusty dagger. But it could happen.
It ain’t D&D. (I’ve thought of making a T-shirt that says “This ain’t D&D” for when I run Savage Worlds.) That’s not saying you can’t play a D&D style campaign. You can and it’s pretty easy with the Fantasy Companion, Shaintar and/or Hellfrost. Elves, Dwarves, Wizards, Fighters, Clerics and Rogues. Oh, my! Just don’t play it like it is D&D. If you do, there’s a chance the players will get bored and disappointed when they get TPK’d by a mob of orcs. Your Legendary Fighter may have the highest Toughness in the party but a gang of archers can still mow him down in a heart beat. He’s thinking like a D&D fighter. Arrows only do x damage. That’s the kind of thoughts that will get you killed. It’s not to say that you can’t do the normal dungeon crawl stuff. You can. Check the door for traps. Listen. Kick the door down. Kill the monsters. Take their stuff. Haggle with the local merchants. Wench at the local tavern. Whatever you little adventuring heart desires. Just remember. Savage Worlds isn’t about getting nickled and dimed to death. A solid hit is dangerous. Even a drunken asthmatic peasant can be dangerous. In Savage Worlds, the player characters can hack their way through a mob of mooks but look out a couple of extraordinary die rolls and the tide of the battle could quickly change.
The other thing players to learn is to let their imaginations run wild. They aren’t constrained the rigid class-level-feat restrictions. I remember an early adventure. I described the massive monster ripping an arrow out his chest and howling at the party. They dove for the books. I could see the wheels spinning in their heads. How could my character get that ability. It’s not a Feat or some magical ability. It’s easy. Spend a Benny, roll a Soak and describe what happens. The same goes for Tricks. The players need to let their imaginations go wild and be creative when using Tricks. As GM, don’t let them get away with “I’m doing a Trick!”
“OK, what?”
“An Agility Trick!”
“What are doing?”
“An Agility Trick.”
“Yes, I know but what exactly are doing? Describe it.”
OK, so you may let Savage newbies off the hook a time or two. But still.
Finally, it may sound like I’m bashing D&D. I’m not. I enjoy the game. I play it regularly. But let’s face it. D&D is the game that most people are familiar with. It’s what they know. You can’t play D&D like it’s Savage Worlds and vice versa. Each game has its strengths and weakness. Each has its own play style.

 Posted by at 1:08 pm