FG Con 9: Savage World of Solomon Kane event

Way, way back in the 70’s when I was a youth, I was introduced to Solomon Kane via comic books.  Eventually I found my way to the Robert E. Howard pulp classics and read them – and Solomon Kane took me to Conan.  So when I signed up for the Solomon Kane event at FG Con 9, I was more than curious to see how a puritanical adventure against evil and deviltry would play out inside the Savage Worlds RPG.

Jingo, one of the founders of the Society of Extraordinary Gamers, hosted a gaming session for myself and two other lucky gamers.  Everyone was fairly new to Savage Worlds and one hadn’t used Fantasy Grounds before, so we were a bit slow to get started but Jingo kept things smooth and orderly without getting frustrated.

Everyone was fairly new to Savage Worlds

My fellow gamers were also a bit less gamed jaded than myself, with one of the two being very new to RPG gaming, so I merely suggested solutions or actions and otherwise followed their leads.  I tried to push a little here and there, but generally wanted to just do my job.

After playing a supporting character the night before, I wanted more of a main-line role, and took a Swordsman/Duelist that I named Theo (Tay-o) who was an arrogant, jingoistic Frenchman that had a skill set that did indeed make him rather dangerous.  The other players took an English Captain with a range of leadership skills and an Italian Courtesan that carried a brace of daggers that she could toss with respectable accuracy.  We made for a rather odd group,  with little to no investigative or arcane knowledge but we could do pretty well in straight-up fight.

Theo's character sheet
Theo’s character sheet

We didn’t really get a straight-up fight!

I don’t want to ruin Jingo’s tournament module by saying much about the adventure specifically.  I will say that we didn’t really get a straight-up fight! Almost immediately it looked like we were going to go down under a wave of axe-wielding foes!  The good Captain had a knack for dramatic last-minute timing and played an adventure card that saved us from the immediate peril and we quickly retreated to a safe location.

Ghostly viking raiders?!
Ghostly viking raiders?!

The numerous raiders – whom were only visible in moonlight – and naturally they didn’t tend to stay in pools of soft moonlight, instead preferring to go indoors and attack the villagers.

The Captain’s moral compass wouldn’t let him ignore the cries of the villagers

We responded to the attack on the villagers even though my inner voice told me to do something else.  The Captain’s moral compass wouldn’t let him ignore the cries of the villagers and splitting a party of 3 is rarely going to have a good outcome.  So we rescued the threatened villagers and then followed the other route – which did indeed prove to be the solution.

What did I learn here about Savage Worlds?  Well, I sort of thought that ranged attackers have it fairly easy in terms of getting hits.  I was having a fairly rough time of it at first with melee with just a 6 parry – which negated me done to around a 40% hit rate and was watching ranged attacks hit on 4’s which is closer to a 60% hit rate.

I also learned that doing enough damage to punch through armor and the like can also complicate things.  My fighting combo – a rapier and a main guache – are fine for lightly armored opponents, but these guys were right on the edge between medium and hard difficulty and I stayed a bit on edge through out the session.

The session itself was very well managed by Jingo who was clearly an experienced and patient GM with many years of experience.  When something happened that wasn’t clear, he would take the time to explain it, and this happened with some frequency given our newness to Savage Worlds.  Since we had some fairly green players, he also made some more overt hints or suggestions and pulled at least one punch.  When he made a mistake (like once – when he moved 20 villagers individually instead of enmasse), he’d point it out which, for me, is a learning moment.

Savage Worlds can deliver combat that doesn’t bog down an entire evening

All in all, I came away having gained some more valuable Savage Worlds experience and I am still liking what I am seeing in the game system.  The upbeat tempo of the game is as good as I was hoping to see – only taking 15 minutes to resolve combat vs 90+ minutes in other systems is really, really appealing to me.  My games currently tend to be a battle night or an role playing night and I’d rather have a better balance and more regular rhythm between action and role play.  It looks like Savage Worlds can deliver combat that doesn’t bog down an entire evening which in turn is going really help in the pacing of gaming sessions.  I will be able to do things like start a combat 30 minutes before the the session should end – and be reasonably certain that the combat will conclude and not need to end the session with combat in progress (or stop early in order to avoid doing that).


FG Con 9 – Fire in the Darkness event

Last night I was able to game well past my bed time in a Savage World’s Shaintar adventure hosted by Stephen Dragonspawn called “Fire in the Darkness.”  It was my first experience with a live Savage Worlds game and, while the gods of RNGiness did make it a little weird, it was a long enough session for me to get a really good first look – along with very good GM explanations – at the core ruleset.  Beyond these goals, I also had a good time and enjoyed Stephen’s adventure a great deal.

I know that Stephen is running this again, so I will not post any spoilers.  Please don’t misinterpret this as a casual disregard for the nuances of the adventure – it was nicely done and plenty of fun – and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else.

I mentioned the gods of RNG and they reared their multiplicative heads early and often.  On the second round of combat – what was perhaps 10 minutes into the game – a gargoyle hit the party’s Orc Druid with an outrageously lethal amount of damage.  The druid played an adventure card which negated all combat damage thus far and walked away without a scratch, and dryly commented that he had never had to play an adventure card so early.  I looked at my adventure cards and nary a one would have saved me, so RNG cut both directions here – which as pretty cool.

My character Robar's first attack was effective!
My character Robar’s first attack was effective!

As the night went on, we had the good fortune of drawing a lot of Jokers during combat, so we had a fairly strong (a bit short of outrageous) influx of bennys.  Because we knew the timeline (4 hour game session), we were able to be fairly free with how and when we spent them, so we moved along fairly quickly.

By the end of the evening, I certainly had noticed how quick and deadly combat encounters were compared to D&D 5e.  Ganging up bonuses combined with well-timed uses of bennys illustrated the effectiveness of team-play.  The Wild Die helps give combat the proper sense of the chaotic unpredictability of battle – and maybe happy rush of adrenaline or happiness or fear that one should have when something unexpectedly good or bad happens.

When the Wild Die went off and a combatant was cut down with a mighty blow, Stephen urged the players to describe the blow.  I thought this a little strange at first, but came to recognize that he was prompted for some role playing and doing it at a good time, when the player was flush with a bit of excitement or elation.  There is often a discussion about what happened after a crit in D&D with the players expanding the narrative details, so asking for an explanation from the player is rather clever.  I may have to steal that :).

Party making the final push
Party making the final push

All in all, my first impressions of Savage Worlds are very good indeed and I am starting to get excited about the prospect of running a campaign with the ruleset.  Thank you, Stephen, for an excellent introduction to Savage Worlds!

I have another adventure, this time in the puritan’s world of Solomon Kane, in a few minutes.  So anticipate another FG Con 9 session report…



Unexpected Twists – Plot Branches

From time to time over the course of a campaign, players will embark in a new course well away from the story arc that you’ve planned.  It is a product of role play and it is a large part of why role playing games are successful – they are adaptive and designed to work as guidelines rather than rules.  Being able to leave the rails and to go boldly in a new direction is exactly why role playing games are the preferred game of many.

The players are starting to discern that a malignant force might be sowing the seeds of chaos

Last night’s session was one such night, where the players decided to look much, much harder into one of the mysteries that they’d caught hints of earlier but had not acted upon.  The town that they are based out of is plagued by all manners of woes, with recent years being times of great turmoil and strife.  Having recently ascended to 5th level and having put an end to some of the woes, the players are starting to discern that a malignant force might be sowing the seeds of chaos.

So rather than going the direction that they’d been nudged, they decided to look harder at their employers – the Council of Six, the ruling council of town.  I’d already started thinking about a series of events and adventures for the church in town that had over the last three years lost more than half of its parishioners.  So, adlibbing like mad, they spoke with a council member – a priestess – and at her bequest began looking into why her flock had become increasingly disloyal.

The sigil of Cyric
The dark sun sigil of Cyric

The night became one primarily of role play and plot examination, with the players clearly seeing that the church of Cyric had been tempting, forcing, luring away the happy-go-lucky followers of Sune in great numbers and that the conversion had been transpiring for several years.  It was starting to look as though the town might be like a rotten apple, bright and shiny on the outside but rotten with worms within.

The players are forcing the growth of a new plot branch.

Is there a lesson here, something to learn?  Having considered a number of plot hooks and continuations, it was easy enough to reach out to one of half formed, half cooked plots and allow the party push off in a “new” direction.  They are still working within the over-arcing plot, but the players are forcing the growth of a new plot branch.

More importantly, this is the direction that they want to go.  No longer trusting the direction of the suspect council, they want to examine things that had been otherwise ignored or kept hidden.  They’ve uncovered several new leads and now have an array of paths that they might take.

Keep your notes at hand and hold close your unimplemented or discarded ideas and plans as they might serve you well when the party sets off exploring an unexpected tangent or reopens a thread of thought only lightly touched upon.  In this case, I really only had three semi-considered sub-plots and the one I chose was perhaps the least developed of them (another actually had battle maps and encounters built, albeit for a lower level group).

Finally, if your plot has moving parts (and it should, if you can manage it), keep the timelines and background events moving.  The players ignoring or electing not to follow breadcrumbs might later have unintended or dire consequences.

The sigil of Cyric was made with the Mischief software that I discussed earlier in the month.  A handy tool for sketching!

Night Fight (part 2)

Being a continuation of my player overload mega-encounter…

The list of encounters for the third and final map was as shown:

Encounter Map Three (burned Inn and home)

2x Priest, Shadow Demon - Total XP: 2,000 Adjusted XP: 4,000 Deadly

Bugbear Chief, 3x Bugbear - Total XP: 1,300 Adjusted XP: 2,600 Deadly

6x Bugbear - Total XP: 1,200 Adjusted XP: 2,400 Hard

There is a garrison of 6 Bugbears on the road which can call out to both of the remaining groups.  The chief and his guards will charge to the aid of the group on the road – the group with the shadow demon will be far more stealthy and hence a bit slower to engage.  Or at least that was the script.

As it happened, it played out a bit oddly.  The players took a long rest while this group of bad guys worked on the hapless populace and managed to do the stuff that bad guys do.  By the time the party was ready to press on, the handful of locals were deceased or had fled.

The group of bugbears that they were descending upon were satiated and perhaps a bit sleepy and in the half-light of dawn the players practically blundered into them.  The players charged in and engaged in battle, managing to keep things relatively silent, cutting down the hornsman of the group quite early in the fight and I pushed the arrival of the other two groups back by a round.

 The group’s paladin was missing every time he swung his sword

After some early initial success, things took a bad turn for the players.  The group’s paladin was missing every time he swung his sword – he normally accounted for a great deal of the damage, but tonight he was merely doing a good job of not taking damage while keeping more than a few bugbears engaged.  He was basically a damage sponge and worked at keeping the opposing forces engaged.

TDwarven Warriorhe party’s Dwarven warrior was hitting, but his damage rolls were almost always in the lower quarter and he was receiving more damage than he was dealing.  The bard quickly realized that he wasn’t up to going toe-to-toe with bugbears and instead did a good job at keeping one bugbear or another at disadvantage, tossing the spare heal, and cleaning up weakened opponents.

The party was well and truly overloaded, facing a pair of DEADLY level groups

But the problem remained that the bugbears were not dying fast enough and this was a chained encounter – soon they were fighting two groups with a third group slated to arrive in 2 combat rounds.  Once the demon and his priestly controllers / healers arrived, the party was well and truly overloaded, facing a pair of DEADLY level groups at once as well as the battered remnants of the initial group of bugbears.

In truth, I considered further delaying the arrival of the outlying groups, but decided against it.  The party had managed to come almost untested to 4th level and they consisted of veteran players – I felt like they could probably handle it.  Probably.

The near-death experience seemed to serve as a wake-up call

Thus the fight degenerated into one of the more brutal, desperate melees that I’ve hosted.  The dwarf went down after a stunning 20+ point critical hit landed on the crown of his helm and the bard got him propped back up but still very near the edge of the grave.  The paladin laid hands upon himself and also caught a heal from the bard, but the near-death experience seemed to serve as a wake-up call because he started dealing damage again.  His run of ill luck was finally over, the streak broken by bardic inspiration.  It took the use of bardic inspiration to break the run of bad luck, and once broken, he would not miss again for the remainder of the encounter.

The ranger had found himself fighting almost alone against the priests and their enslaved demon minion.  But as fortune would have it, the demon was ineffective, only getting in one good strike in almost half-a-dozen attacks.  As planned, the demon was returned to his plane of existence once the last of the two priests was slain and the ranger stayed fairly well focused on the priests, largely because they stayed at range while the demon closed to melee range.  This was a happy coincidence for the players.

The battle lasted about 2 hours of game time was near thing for the players and they knew it, acknowledging that it was by far the hardest fight they’d had.  At the end of it, they got a little bit more of the plot advanced, picked up a squire-to-be in the form of the newly orphaned boy that they had at the very least been avenged, and the party advanced on to the glories and growing power of the 5th level.

So what is the take away here, what is the lesson?  Every now and again it might not hurt to exceed the recommended limits on encounter numbers, especially with the foot-troops of the evil empire.  Goblins, orcs, bugbears and such do not have dangerous powers that could make an encounter unpredictable.  For instance, overloading a party with poisonous opponents that potentially can do massive damage is not recommended.

Assuming the players come through it, they’ll probably have vivid memories of the battle and, justly so, feel a bit proud for having had both the skill and the will to overcome superior numbers.


Night Fight

I had a couple of strange turns of events in the meta-game of the weekly campaign that I am DMing.  One of my players could not play this week due to work obligations and I had a plot branch that was centered around him going to a town, back to home base as it were.  We also had added a new player and most of my encounters were a bit off as a result.

So, I tossed my prepared materials and decided to wing it with an outdoor mega-encounter.  A chance encounter with a lad riding for help that would pit the players against a small goblinoid army.

The heavily themed encounter list appears as:

Encounter Map One (woods and pasture)
6 x Orc, Orog - Total XP: 1,050 Adjusted XP: 2,625 Deadly
Orc Eye of Gruumsh, Orog, 3x Orc -Total XP: 1,200 Adjusted XP: 2,400 Hard

Encounter Map Two (wooded roadway ambush)
Goblin Boss, 5x Hobgoblin, 4x Goblin - Total XP: 900 Adjusted XP: 2,250 Hard
12x Goblin, Goblin Boss - Total XP: 800 Adjusted XP: 2,400 Hard
2x Bugbear, 2x Hobgoblin, 6x Goblin - Total XP: 900 Adjusted XP: 2,250 Hard

The gaming group  pushed through the encounters which were chained together one after another after another on each map.  They got no breaks and pushed on hard, trying to save the lad’s family.  I chained the encounters so there was almost no rest and to create a sense of urgency to get the groups down quickly before the next one arrived.

It was night fight, so they could hear the enemies drawing near, but had no sense of the composition or numbers of enemies.  Instead of the players assaulting the monsters, the monsters were ambushing or attacking them and it made for some wild fighting.

The warlock was down to shocking grasp and was all but dry-humping armored opponents

By the end of the second battle map, they were spent, almost every spell fired off, hit points low.  They had to take a long rest or be at risk of not surviving the next map.  The warlock was down to shocking grasp and was all but dry-humping armored opponents, for pities sake!

Anyhow, the players had really nuked the first couple of encounters and frankly wasted a few spells.  I think that by the time the evening of adventure was drawing to a close, that the casters might be a bit more hesitant to commit the big stuff in future fights, but we’ll see.

Good mages knew when to toss darts or daggers and when to unleash the big spells.

As a guy that played OD&D and AD&D 1e and then pulled a Rip Van Winkle until D&D 5e, it seems like spell casters have much more spells to cast these days.   Way, way back in the day when I actually had hair on the top of my head, the timing of a fireball, for instance, was critical.  Good mages knew when to toss darts or daggers and when to unleash the big spells.  Maybe those days are long past, and perhaps good mages today know what the right spell is to cast.  Regardless, there has been a major shift in active magic casting.

Next week the players will advance on to the third and final map of the encounter chain.  After a long rest will the boy’s mother and grandpa still be among the living?  Will they survive what might be a lethal encounter with the forces of evil?