Friday, January 30, 2015

New Group

Tonight's the first night of a new campaign with a new group. There are three players (not counting me, who will be GMing), only one of which has previous RPG experience. It will be a fantasy campaign set on eastern edge of my campaign world, between the Dreadwood and the Firelands. For the rules, I chose Savage Worlds, though I wonder if old (basic) D&D would have been an easier introduction.

I love introducing new people to the hobby, but it always makes me nervous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Savage Traveller

The reason that my blog is called "Vagabond GM" is because I constantly move from game system to game system in search of the mythical "perfect game."

I have to give my players a metaphorical hat tip for never complaining about making that journey with me. For instance, the Wednesday night space game started with original LBB Traveller. It was fun, but a little too "old school" for them, so we migrated to GURPS. GURPS is a great system, but I feel there are too many skills and too many rules for my current style of play. I thought it would be a great idea to migrate the game again, this time to Savage Worlds. This way we'd be using the same rule-set for both campaigns. My players didn't complain once.

The characters converted pretty easily, and I invented stats for a blaster gun. I still need to work on some armor, but that's another story.

One of the things that became apparent, though, was that Savage World's skill set isn't really genre appropriate, at least not for my "Commonwealth of Man" campaign. Sometimes one size does not fit all, and skills designed for a "wild west" setting don't necessarily make sense in a space opera campaign. Rather than scrap the game, I decided to revamp the skills. My goal, though, was to touch as little as possible but to still make it feel right in my gaming world.

td;dr Version

the rest of this blog post can be summed up in this simple table. If you have better things to than to read my blathering (and, really, who doesn't?), you can read this table and go on with your life.

AgilitySmartsSpiritStrengthVigor
DrivingAstrogationIntimidationAthletics
FightingGunneryPersuasion
PilotingHackingStreetwise
ShootingInvestigation
StealthMedic
ThrowingRepair
Notice
Survival
Taunt
Tracking

Untouched Skills

The first thing I did was identified those skills that worked well in the setting with little or no modification. Those were:

Driving
This is used for grav cars and tanks and stuff. I might even be tempted to include small shuttle craft as driving.
Repair
I wanted to rename this as "Engineering", but I found that renaming skills that didn't change caused more confusion than it was worth.
Fighting
Healing
I wanted to rename this as "Medic".
Intimidation
Investigation
Persuasion
Piloting
Stealth
Survival
Taunt
Throwing
Tracking
I was mightily tempted to combine this with Survival as one skill.

Modified Skills

The next group of skills were those that worked well in the setting, but needed some changes. Those were:

Lock-Picking
In vanilla Savage Worlds, the lock-picking skill is a twitch skill that covers both picking locks and disarming traps. In other words, it bypasses security systems. In my campaign it's still useful to bypass security systems, but in the high tech future, this is a Smarts skill, not Agility. I also rolled in the security systems of computers. To reflect this, I changed the name of the skill to Hacking.
Shooting
The only change I made to shooting was to de-link small arms and starship weapons, as these skills have nothing to do with each other. Shooting now covers only the small arms. There is a new skill ("Gunnery") for the ship-based weapon systems.
Streetwise
I moved this to Spirit, because it "feels" right there. I also moved Gambling under this skill. I wanted to rename it as "Carousing" to match the old Traveller skill.

Deleted Skills

The next thing was to drop skills that I didn't see as having a general usage in the campaign. I defined "general usage" as "has this skill come up since the beginning of the campaign"? While these skills are "de-listed", they can be taken as a Knowledge type skill if a player really wants to fit some character concept. The dropped skills are:

  • Climbing (but see "Athletics", below)
  • Gambling (use Streetwise/Carousing)
  • Swimming (but see "Athletics", below)
  • Riding

New Skills

Lastly, there were a few skills that were so significant that I felt they needed to be added:

Astrogation
Astrogation is an "old skill" in my campaign. Most ships have navi-comps. But if you're going outside the established trade routes, you need this skill.
Athletics
This is a generic skill that covers the old skills of Climbing and Swimming, as well as other physical tests like jumping and running.
Gunnery
In my campaign, starships fight at distances that are measured in light-seconds. That means you're trying to hit something that you last saw three seconds and guessing where it will be three seconds from now. This requires zero-agility, but a whole lot of smarts.

Does anyone else have any custom Savage Worlds skill listing? I'd be especially interested in hearing about ones for a fantasy campaign.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Problem With Too Much Color

Like every other world-building GM, I like to add color to my campaign. But this is something that needs to be held in check, because there's a point where the color interferes with the play of the game. If you've ever read World of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or any source book for the Traveller universe, you probably know what I mean.

Whether or not the following is a transcript of a real life gaming session, and whether or not I was the GM in question are mysteries than mankind may never know the answer to.

PLAYER
(intently making plans)
What time of year is it?

GM
(gleefully) 
It's the 19th of day of Fairy Song!
PLAYER
(out of immersion)
What the freak is that?
GM
(eyes wide with excitement)
Well, eons ago, when the first Elven queen was coronated, there was...
(Camera pans to the clock which speeds up to show the passage of 23 minutes as the GM's voice cross-fades with itself...)

GM
(triumphantly)
...and ever since then this month has always been known as Fairy Song!
Player
(nearly asleep on the table)
Dude! I just wanted to know if it was hot or cold outside!
(beat)
...AND I STILL DON'T KNOW!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dice Census

This weekend was a "end of summer" cleanup at my house. Gathered a few dice here and there that had gotten separated from the main "dice tribe". Last night I decided to count them all.

261 dice.

d6's were in the clear majority, no doubt from my years of playing GURPS.

There were also a surprising number of Fudge dice. They were colored, so I'm thinking that there's another packet somewhere with about 20 white dF. It could be that I gave those away years ago, however.

The d10 was also in abundance, perhaps due to the fact that each "set" comes with 2d10. I had also purchased some matching "d10 only" sets back when I was writing/playing Dekahedron.

The dice have clearly outgrown their current pouch, and I need a new storage technique. Maybe a box. Maybe a better solution would be to down-size, but what do you do with used dice?

What about you? How many dice do you have, and how do you store them?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Savage Worlds Play Aid to Resolve Incapaitation

A few months ago we switched the fantasy campaign over to the Savage Worlds rules set.  As with any RPG there's some things it does well, and other things that it doesn't do so well.  I'll probably do a full review of the system in a future post.

I'm a fan of flowcharts.  A good flowchart can replace several paragraphs, though they tend to take up more paper, making it understandable why more publishers don't include them. When I found Andrew Gronsky's Combat Flowchart, it made life a lot easier for me. While it's from an older edition, it still works. As a new player/GM its a lot quicker for me to just run down the flowchart for each player than it is to flip through the rulebook when I come across a lesser used part of the rules.

In our last session a PC became incapacitated. "Incapacitated" is the Savage Worlds' equivalent of AD&D's 0-hit points or Schrödinger's cat--the PC is neither alive nor dead, but rather exists in an indeterminate state. Establishing the state of Dr. Schrödinger's feline friend is easy: you merely open the box. Establishing the state of an incapacitated PC in Savage Worlds, on the other hand, requires a series of dice rolls.

You know where this is headed, don't you?


So I made a flowchart following the process to determine the poor PC's ultimate fate.  The image below will be hard to read on screen, so for your printing pleasure, I also made a PDF version.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Preparing for a Real Life Adventure

Following in the mode of the Tolkien stories, characters in fantasy campaigns often face long treks from one place to another. These are often long arduous journeys taken on foot. I have decided to embark on one such journey, known as the Camino de Santiago. Rather than fill this blog with all that off-topic stuff, I have started a new blog just for that.If you're interested, you can follow my preparations and my thoughts on that in my new blog, Camino Crawler.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Problem with Talking to Normals

Being a gamer, it should come as no surprise that I am a geek. I also have the good fortune of working with a fairly geeky crowd. As wonderful as this is, it can cause problems when I have to talk to "normal" people. I forget where I am and slip into my normal geeky ways, which the normal person has no way to cope with.

Just yesterday I had an appointment at the State Department to get a new passport. The lady there took my (original) birth certificate, and said that it would be mailed back to me with the new passport. The gamey/geeky idea hit me that documents have power. Instead of our normal world where documents reflect reality, I thought of an awesome fantasy scenario where the reality would reflect the documents! Thus the person who had the right document could control the universe by changing the document! (This probably isn't an original thought; indeed, if I recall correctly, the ending of The Never Ending Story is something like this).

So when she told me that she was keeping my birth certificate, I feigned a gasp and said "Oh, no! That means I haven't been born!"

The State Department lady was completely deadpan, and said "Of course you've been born. You just can't prove it for a few days."

Surely, I thought, no one can be this literal! She must be playing along! Encouraged by finding a government employee with such a keen wit, I followed with "Ah, well, if you want to make me younger, that would be awesome."

She gave me a blank look and replied, "That would be fraud."

That's when it occurred to me that she was neither playing along nor was she keen of wit. I smiled, and briefly thought of trying to explain the concept of documents controlling the world, but it seemed to me that the discussion would be lost on her. Instead I reassured her I wasn't looking for fraud, and I left.

It's hard to talk to normal people.