Game Mastering Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds logo

As a GM, deciding to use a new game system is not something that you undertake lightly.  Beyond taking the time to learn the new ruleset, you also only have one chance to make a good first impression on your players – you are also ‘selling’ the system to other gamers.  As a result, your first game needs to run smoothly while hopefully showing enough of the positives of the game’s core rules to win over at least a second look.

Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards

So I prepared a one-shot Halloween game, converting a Savage Worlds adventure from an older 2003 title called ‘Last Rites of the Black Guard’ over to Fantasy Grounds.  Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards – so my confidence in running the adventure was as high.  I also spent 14 hours as a player in games hosted by other GMs and a goodly amount of time reading and re-reading rules, again building more confidence through knowledge.

To top it all off, I put my own spin on the adventure.  I constructed a team of pre-built player characters with crisp, well-defined roles. They were all part of a video production crew trying to film enough of the occult and creepy settings to get a TV deal.  They had electronic devices and gadgets to help them investigate any hauntings or dark happenings.  So they had an over-arching goal of selling their show to the networks and then a host of immediate goals for the client whose children were in occult danger.  They would have contracts and release paper-work, lighting and power considerations, and gobs of smaller details to worry about that would hopefully help invest them in the story.

Defining team roles worked really, really well

Last night I GMed my first Savage Worlds game and because I was exceedingly well prepared, it went very smoothly.  Defining team roles worked really, really well and it gave everyone some of the limelight.  Everyone contributed to the collective story and the rules quickly faded into background noise once everyone got familiar with how to make skill checks.  I drove the adventure where it needed to go by making it increasingly spooky and by adding enough tension at certain points to steer the players where they needed to go.

For instance, they ‘knew’ early on that the source of their problems was coming from an adjacent house, but they had been paid to help their client and she really needed them and her distress got them back to helping her kids.  They rightly believed that they were treating the symptoms, and it weighed heavily on them for a while, but they were soon getting clues about the nature of the haunting and started to see value in helping their client.  A seance allowed them to learn a great deal about the haunting and was TV gold!  It was nice, from a GMs perspective, to have a plot device that actually provided a logical reason to dig deeper even when you had an intuitive reason to skip to the end.  They are filming the story and they wanted a good record for their viewers.

A one-shot one-kill affair really stunned them

As far as the game system goes, there were only 2 combat encounters.  The first one was a one-shot one-kill affair that really stunned them.  They’ve been use to D&D 5e combat were opponents generally tend to get worn down gradually.  But here – BANG – and they killed a zombie creature with single shot!

The next combat came on the heels of the first and it was a lot different from D&D.  All but two of the players were hiding and dreading combat because they saw that it could be deadly.  And it was deadly – they stabbed and shot a pair of murderous attackers and the combat was over after 2 rounds.  Combat isn’t really that deadly for wild cards – but there is no reason to tell them.  It role plays better this way – and it is going to lend a sense of danger to future combats.

Everyone seemed happy with the adventure and with the game system.  Combat was exactly what I wanted – impactful to the plot, but not the key element of play.  I already have a good mental picture of how to layout the next two or three episodes – and I will be channeling my inner Carl Kolchak if we decide to proceed.


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…