Category: Campaign Planning

Random Sci-fi adventure generator

TravellerArtASo my sci-fi Savage Worlds game is chugging along. Generally it’s a big sandbox game. The players are flying around in the Scalawag and seeing what trouble they can get into. I employ a sci-fi version of a job board. Each system they jump into they have a few options on employment opportunities. For my game I scooped up the idea of Traveller’s FTL travel. You jump so many parsecs and it takes about a week in this alternate space, regardless of the actual distance traveled. In effect is this age of sail feel for the game, allowing players to potentially run from the law or bounty hunters (and making pursuits after baddies all that more aggravating).

I also fell in love with an idea from Traveller Patrons books. Essentially when the PCs get a patron, after making the initial meet and accepting a job, the GM rolls a d6. While the typical results mean that opposition or the expected situation is what the patron described, there is a chance things could be far more difficult, or that the entire situation is not what it initially seems. I loved this concept as I’m certain I tend to telegraph any secret intentions from NPCs. Not to mention this sort of mirrors events in real life. Sometimes things are a lot easier than expected and sometimes well… sh%t happens and everything goes pear shaped.

A fan made supplement I’ve long gushed over, Savage Space, has a great adventure generator. But I wanted to tweak it some. I expanded the potential outcomes and settled on a series of 8 x 8 tables. As a GM you roll two different colored d8 to represent the rows and columns of the tables. In general an adventure framework is:

Players must [Do][Something] at [Location] against [Opposition].

So I have a series of tables for the Do, Opposition, Something, etc. As a twist, sometimes the players might have to go through some hoops to complete an adventure. Success or failure from previous adventures might impact future tasks, so I created another chart to mimic that. This would also potentially throw in complications to the adventure. To add some structure, certain types of adventures would utilize particular types of side missions, and additional charts I whipped up reflect that.

The end result you can find in my downloads section. This adventure generator isn’t perfect and sometimes you get some wacky combinations that need to be reworked some. However I’ve been surprised how flexible it is. It really has become a great way to spark adventure ideas and a helpful tool for creating a foundation for a potential mission. Hope folks find some use for it in their games.

Keeping campaigns organized with blogs and wikis

I’ve been fiddling around with my sci-fi Savage Worlds game getting everything together. Something I’ve been a stalwart supporter for over the years is using online tools as information repositories for current games. I tend to game pretty infrequently, just about every other week. So for long campaigns I need a place to keep track of major events that happen. Another plus is I don’t need to saddle my players with scribbling down the name of every major NPC they come across. The important stuff I can put on up the campaign site for reference later.

Additionally we have about 2-3 different settings going on. I sometimes get a little burnt out GMing a particular setting and like to have an occasional one shot game once in a while. It can be a challenge for my players to keep track of the types of worlds they are playing in. Sometimes they need something to jog their memory on who the major movers and shakers are for that campaign. In these cases having an online wiki or blog is great keeping everything together.

For a long while now I have been using Obsidian Portal for a few of my games. It’s a great tool but lately I’ve migrated towards having more simple sites. I’ve found I don’t usually need the complete functionality of a wiki. I can just keep a running page or two of major NPCs or locations. So currently I’ve been leaning towards using blogs instead.

For my Savage Worlds superhero game it’s been a great means to provide a quick reference for major criminal (and neutral) organizations. Also by adding posts and tagging them, my players can filter out a lot of stuff and skim through past posts looking for specific enemies or topics related to the campaign. I haven’t been keeping a running adventure log going for that, but it could be done.

With my sci-fi game I’ve found this especially helpful. Above all other settings I think players sometimes need a little more information on the game universe. Sci-fi encompasses so many styles and themes, it can be difficult to accurately get across to players the levels of technology or how proliferate alien species are. Having a site that they can navigate to get that information is helpful.

Mind you have to be realistic about how deep players will dig through your site. Some may enjoy it but expect many to be willing to skim through about a paragraph at most. So I try to keep things brief if possible, especially for adventure recaps.

One last point though on having a campaign blog or wiki, it’s public. While it’s a way to share your world and ideas with others, it’ll also show how messy your games run including all the lackluster ideas. Just roll with it. Because sometimes you’ll have people mine your stuff for adventure ideas to use in their own games (Hee… or learn about things to avoid if scouring my campaigns). Honestly that alone is a great reason to have your campaign material up on a wiki or blog.

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Drawing villains from PC back stories

So you are sketching out a new campaign and drafting up a list of villains, trying to figure out their motivations and what drives them. Sometimes you will blank out on new ideas or potentially start recycling villains. To get around this consider looking over your character’s backgrounds and see if there is any synergy to incorporate their past with NPC villains you are making up.

For my weird west game I had a few general ideas of the villainous movers and shakers in the alternate 1870’s world I was crafting, including some evil organizations. As a first adventure, I set about the players being asked to deliver a holy artifact after being betrayed by a trail guide. However, I only had the barest of ideas though and needed to solidify a few main villains for the game. Tasked with this I scoured over the backgrounds of my players to get a few ideas for evil NPCs.

I fell in love with the 6th Gun comic and really dug the idea of a relentless group of undead soldiers. One of my players was a former soldier so I prodded him for a few more details. He saw himself from a long line of farmers that bred horses. His family and farm got wrapped up in the Civil War and he found himself fighting for more out of defending his home than for political reasons. At the conclusion of the war as it ground to a stalemate and eventual truce, he lost his family and land when it became territory for the other side. Losing everything he became a despondent snake oil salesman out west, more keen on drinking laudanum than selling his wares.

Sixth-Gun-concept-art02Getting that background, I asked for more from him. Of course he was a former cavalry officer, so I asked for more details on his commanding officer during the war. The only bit of solid information I requested would be that officer was someone the PC despised and thought sadistic. The result from him was Major Clancy ‘Buck’ Futter. A gross glutton with an enormous gut that nearly buckled any horse he rode. Joking aside with the nickname, this got my mind running with ideas.

I latched onto that key characteristic of a fat glutton and the idea of someone with a ravenous hunger surfaced. I envisioned the unit near the end of the war getting caught up in a siege. Cut off, surrounded by an enemy army with winter set in, Major Clancy Futter ordered the horses to be eaten. Starving still for weeks, some rumors in the fort fell about that wounded soldiers were quietly disappearing. When the enemy finally stormed the fort, the player had escaped believing his commanding officer was killed in the battle. All of this back information the player knew about.

What my player didn’t know was that Major Clancy Futter survived. Aching with hunger and fearful of starving to death, he was enticed into invoking a ritual of dark magic with some of his men following suit. Culminating this foul ritual by eating human flesh, he would transform and be undying. It was successful but he was cursed with the wendigo. Forever alive, he would be driven with a ravenous hunger that could only be sated for a short time by consuming human flesh. His cadre of men around him were also cursed with this affliction.

That villain stuck out for the campaign. One of the first clashes the group was at a church, the group inside surrounded by men on horseback. Unable to enter the hallowed ground they called for the PCs to throw out a holy artifact they wanted. My snake oil salesman player quipped something back. I then described some of the men parting and a gaunt fellow riding slowly forward. Despite its emaciated frame covered with a tattered uniform and cavalry officer hat adorning its head, it still had a grotesque paunch of a gut. The villain called out the PC by name, ‘Cyrus McClintock! That you in there? So you made it out of Fort Bean alive.‘ Trust me, jaws dropped at the table as players realized someone in the group had dealings with this creature before.

A small idea from a player back story cemented into a foundation of being a major villain for the game. It became a driving, relentless evil force, ever pursuing the PCs. Additionally it was taken from a player’s past and was a way of drawing that PC into the world, as they had a shared history with the villain. Instead of me having to fill in the story, that player could step up around the table at that moment describing how they knew the NPC, and its likely intent.

So I encourage looking over your players’ back stories and try to mine it for adventure ideas. People and events of note in their past can easily become the villains for a campaign. Asking details from players on a name, description, and mannerisms all can help give the NPCs a life of their own. Best of all the players become part of the world building process for the campaign and become greater invested in the setting. So don’t try and force yourself to think up everything, allow the players to help carry that creative load.

Savage Space – A fan made Savage Worlds sci-fi supplement

A while back I covered a Borderlands-inspired setting for Savage Worlds. I wanted to take some time and bring attention to another wonderful fan-made sci-fi supplement, Savage Space. Folks that follow my blog might recall that I considered running Traveller for one of my games. I ended up using Savage Worlds making my own conversion rules but much of the game I lifted stuff from Marcus “Chaosmeister” Burggraf’s amazing sci-fi companion.

I feel dirty using it, as it’s such a great space opera set of rules. I am a huge fan of settings that don’t go hog wild with edges and skills, and instead just add a dollop to the base rules. Savage Worlds is flexible that can fit a lot of genres. So settings that embrace that and amend what is necessary is appreciated.

You get a surprisingly thorough treatment of sci-fi rules with Savage Space. There are a few select knowledge skills. There is a replacement of climbing and swimming with an all encompassing athletics skill, which is something I’ve sort of adopted for my other games as well. Alien creation rules are missing primarily as much of this is covered in the regular rules with racial backgrounds. Cyberware however is something that is covered a bit more, primarily as it can be acquired as equipment of sorts replacing natural limbs with cybernetic ones.

I like the approach done with starships, making them have characteristics like characters. Ship to ship combat is covered more of a general outline in the rules. I think the author admitted these are a little limited in scope, but they provide a good basis for a system. You might need to work a bit more to fit it into your game however in practice (or lift rules from another setting or game). One tremendously useful part of the rules is an adventure generator, providing seeds for some classic space opera missions as well as some more scoundrel, mercenary-type tasks.

It’s not a complete sci-fi setting, as there are no rules for creating systems or planets. However that’s something that can be lifted easily from other game systems. The equipment section is rather complete having a lot of your typical gear and equipment that aspiring star travelers would have for their adventures. As expected there are a variety of weapons with differing technology levels, as well as more mundane and exotic technological gear.

It really is a wonderful set of rules for running a classic space opera game. It may not be a complete setting with a larger campaign detailed out for the universe, but it does have some great bits that can be lifted out and plopped into your own hacked sci-fi campaign. The setting background they provide is brief and paper thin. However the theme of the companion rules is for a generic space opera, so not having a detailed universe setting is expected. Savage Space is a great fan-made set of rules for Savage Worlds, check it out if wanting to run a sci-fi game.

Coventry – A fan-made Savage Worlds Setting

Continually I do see some discussion or a person pondering writing up a fan-made setting, when someone will aptly point out there are already some excellent ones available. As someone mentioned over in the G+ Savage Worlds community there seems to be a lack of reviews and/or awareness that these great fan-made settings are out in the wild. I could mention some great sites that culminate a lot of different fan-made Savage Worlds content. However I think it worthwhile to spend a little time highlighting some particularly good ones that folks have written up.

Borderlands is a popular video game and quite frequently I see in my blog and social feeds about some wanting to visit that as a setting, and continually I point to John Robey’s Coventry. It’s a fantastic job at taking a stab at the Borderlands setting all the while adding some more flavor to make it stand apart.

In a nutshell, Coventry is a planet rich in a resource commonly referred to as Indigo. It’s an immense power source that is exceedingly rare and seems to be abundant on the quarantined world of Coventry. The planet is spoils of a sprawling interstellar war where a terran corporation, Indicorp, took control of the planet. Control is a very loose word though, as their presence is maintained only as large ships and satellite bases in high orbit over the planet.

Coventry has become a prison planet. It is typically a one way trip. Players might be able to garner enough favor with Indicorp to gain a pardon, but most enter into a 25 year contract of indentured servitude. Not all the human residents maintain an allegiance with Indicorp, and there are a few independent settlements on the planet. Unfortunately, they are stuck there as any attempts to launch a craft are thwarted by the defense net of Indicorp in high orbit. It’s like a space version Escape from New York and I love it.

Add to that weirdness, humans were not the only races that settled on Coventry. Rakashan (cat-like predator species) and Avion (winged humanoid lizard beings) also were early colonists that ended up being stuck on Coventry due to the war. Most have adopted to life on the planet and have decent relations to humans provided they keep to their borders, but among each other things are rather strained (seems Rakashan find Avions rather delicious). Add to this eccentric mix the mysterious fungal Mi-Go. The Mi-Go are truly space-traveling aliens modeled after the Cthulhu mythos. They are otherworldly and have their own unknown purpose and agendas.

Players can select any of these races, along with sentient robots, and all are fleshed out rather well. To jump start the character generation process, there are several pre-made archetypes that model the Borderlands characters, as well as incorporate some of the new races.

Like the video game, guns and gear are significant part of the setting. There are a few options for weapons and included are various types of ammunition for each, allowing for a lot of fun tricking out of firearms. Another interesting bit of protective equipment are personal shields.

These shields add a die type to your toughness and each hit reduces the shield defense by one step. Every turn the shield will recharge up a step to it’s maximum defense die. So you’ve got this constant yo-yo defensive boon that ebbs and flows as players are hit. Given that the standard damage for most firearms are 2d8, the PCs need some sort of protection as the game can be rather lethal. It’s a very clever system that matches the Borderlands gameplay pretty well.

Another key part of the game is transmat technology. This is a type of teleporter technology with a wrinkle, an object can be stored as digital data and retrieved remotely. This has led to GotJFree tech. Basically players can have a unit that monitors their lifesigns and upon termination, can store the user’s biological data for a limited time until it is derezzed later. In effect it’s a limited type of immortality (provided the GotJFree unit isn’t vaporized along with its wearer). Different types of units allow for longer storage times, as well as automatic pattern data transmission to central locations. I love it. It’s like a respawn system.

Some people might be put off by the shields and derezz technology, trivializing the lethality of the game. I actually feel that is part of the charm of the setting. It encourages a lot of balls-out crazy behavior as aside from bennies, players have a lot of means to effectively get a do-over. And this works, as the world itself is supposed to be a bit mad. Indigo warps the wildlife, the landscape, and people that are around it too long tend to go a little bonkers.

Some more comments about the setting rules, they are presented in a colorful manner and are professionally done. There are well-written tables, a broad atlas of the world, along with an index of lingo and terminology. What I particularly like is there aren’t tons and tons of new rules, edges, and hindrances. It’s all done very sparingly but at the same time offers something new. Coventry offers a fresh setting, with a wonderful take on the Borderlands world. Give it a try and at the very least, give it a look. There is a lot of interesting ideas and material that can be mined for your own game.

Plot Crawl Campaign – Running my Cthulhu game with a pile of props

As I blogged about a while back, I am running a 1920s Cthulhu game on the side along with my regular Weird West campaign. I lifted an idea from the Secret Cabal Podcast which I found rather inspiring. Rather than your typical game where someone would initially approach the investigators to tackle a specific mission looking into the supernatural, instead it would be based on what the players wanted to look into. It’s a plot crawl campaign.

It’s much like your good old fashioned hex crawl game. While there isn’t a map of randomly generated content, it’s open ended to allow players to go where they will. Like a hex crawl game, a plot crawl has adventure seeds acting like a map of sorts with a few details laid out to grab the player’s interest. They make the choice where to go and what to look into. Sometimes more choices might branch out depending on what they investigate, but they can turn around and poke their heads into another ‘section of the map’ investigating some other adventure plot if they want to.

It’s designed to run very much as an episodic game. There really isn’t any over arching story. As things progress, you can have recurring villains, NPCs, and past events to weave back in as details if needed. It’s immensely flexible as you can tailor the game to deal with past events and players, building up a larger story, or just go for the ‘serial adventure of the week’ format instead. None of this has to be planned out either. You just think of 4 or 5 different adventure seeds and run with it. The details will be fleshed out as the game is played.

My players started the session being called together by a lawyer overseeing the estate of a recently deceased professor. All of them knew the person and had a relationship with him (be it a relative, colleague, etc.). They were each individually named in the will to be present for the opening of a trunk of the professor’s belongings. They were all led into a room, given a key to a small trunk, and left alone to go through the contents.

Inside the trunk they found different files, photographs, and other tidbits of strange information. I had made up a series of props in the manner of photographs, handwritten letters, and fake newspaper clippings. Each group of clues were given codes to match as a set (so all the clues for adventure G were together, while ones for adventure B were in another set, etc.). The players could rifle through the papers and pictures, and decide what they wanted to investigate.

For my first setting, I did kick things into high gear having the lawyer killed under exceedingly strange circumstances. This was followed up with the players being hunted by undead lackeys. All of it emphasizing that the strange did exist, and there were evil forces at play which knew the players had knowledge to secrets better left unknown.

However at the end of the session I gave the players a task. They needed to continue going through the contents of the trunk and decide that night what they wanted to investigate as a group for the next session. All the clues were fragments of some story, location, or odd supernatural thing. I made it a point that there were more papers and files within the trunk (meaning I would add more to the trunk later), however there were 5 different sets of clues and props for them to go through at first.

This really worked well for the group. It was a task to have them decide on what to do next (expect at least 30 minutes or so at your table). However it really cemented the feeling of them investigating these clues of weird, strange events. That there was another layer of occult existence under the normal world around them, and they were slowly unearthing it. Best of all, I knew exactly what the next adventure would be and it was based on what the PCs wanted to investigate further.

It is a bit of a chore to create some convincing props. However I didn’t have to flesh out any adventures. I just needed some ideas of a location, possible NPCs, and some weird thing for the PCs to look into. So you don’t have to have six different adventures fully prepared at the beginning, just a few ideas presented as six different sets of clues. As the players pick what they want to look into, I can turn around and work on that adventure specifically. Since many of the details were rather vague, I could even use an adventure generator for assembling the next adventure if needed. It really is a surprisingly flexible way of providing adventure seeds where the players get to give input on where to go next.

Something like this can be adopted for other settings and I am really beginning to take a shine to it. Maybe it would be printed public notices posted around a fantasy city, or an infonet log players would look through in a sci-fi campaign. Either way, all I would have to do is sketch out a few ideas and let the players decide what they wanted to check out next at the end of the session. If you are struggling to think of ideas for your next campaign consider running a plot crawl, with props and leads for the players they can provide some inspiration for further game sessions.

Starting a Savage Worlds Cthulhu campaign

My weird west campaign is still chugging along. However I found myself dragging a bit with it. While I was gung ho at the onset, I found myself getting a little uninspired thinking up adventures. My players seem to be having a good time, but sometimes I’ve been struggling to keep up the enthusiasm for the setting. I’m convinced now I’ve been approaching it all wrong.

I wanted a spooky western. Yet I found keeping that suspense going has been a chore. There have been plenty of ‘Oh sh*t!’ moments my players have had. However maintaining that tension is just too hard to keep up. I simply don’t have the GM chops to run a longer horror-themed game.

I realized I didn’t need to though. I’ve recognized the player’s aren’t quite the investigator types with their characters. Running it as a Savage Worlds game, they are much more heroic. I needed to drop off emphasis of the supernatural and shoot for a western game with horror trappings instead. It’s a better fit now and I think I can keep a more even tone with the game.

It still leaves me with the adventure-planning burnout though. I certainly need to shake up the setting some and run something else. I took a poll of potential settings and decided to lump a 1930s Cthulhu game in with potential choices. Seems horror is popular as the group wanted to take a stab at a Lovecraft supernatural game.

It’s still horror, but I can certainly run it as a different type of game. The weird west campaign is one where the PCs run around as larger than life heroes, blowing holes in zombies with a trusty peacemaker. This other campaign the players will be wary investigators, needing to be prepared to flee, their mind cracked and sanity waning due to the terrifying knowledge of the Great Old Ones they encounter. More importantly, I can run this as episodic sessions. Just a short break from the weird west game that will let me recharge my GM batteries and craft some fun ideas when we all flip back to a western setting.

Savage Worlds is pretty flexible as genres go. However, I am super lazy and having some pre-made setting rules makes the task of running a new game much easier. I picked up Realms of Cthulhu and found the book a great purchase. It has a lot of options for different ranges of lethality and think the sanity system works pretty well. There are plenty of NPC templates and critters, not to mention a random adventure generator I can use in a pinch if needed.

I’m trying a different way of running this campaign, with a lot of story ideas up front leaving the PCs to decide what to check out. To pique their interest in potential story lines, I’m working on getting some props together. Likely that is something to warrant another post but I want to see it in action before talking about it.

As resources go, I’ve found a ton of wonderful online stuff including sites with lots of cool photos. Definitely looking forward to getting a creepy Cthulhu game going soon.

Savage Sun! – A Savage Worlds conversion for Dark Sun

A long while back my group was willing to jump back into a fantasy setting, but they wanted something very different from your typical Tolkien-esque world. So it was agreed to run a Dark Sun game using Savage Worlds. Unfortunately that meant I had to dig up some conversions of the setting for those rules.

Digging around however I found quite a few treasures. There are some great SW conversions for Dark Sun. I opted to merge a lot of different sources into a single setting PDF. As part of this, I also wanted to tinker a bit with armor and weapons. A while back I posted on a wonderful idea for keeping track of encumbrance that I found on another blog. So I altered the weight of different weapons expressing them as inventory space slots to fit that encumbrance system.

My group had a lot of fun running around Athas. Sadly, some folks moved out of the country and others moved to another city, so we ended the campaign. Still it was enjoyable while it lasted and likely a setting I’ll revisit again.

EDIT: Doing some digging I managed to track down the person responsible for the bulk of the racial text and the individual that did the foundation to much of the conversion, Rich Ranallo. You can dig through Savage Heroes to find his original conversion.

The importance of maps

I’ve gone back and forth with maps. On one hand my free time is limited. Rarely I have the time (or skill) to hand draw an elaborate map for my game. While mining online resources is always an option, it does take some time and usually difficult to get a map that is precisely what would fit your game. So at times I’ve slipped into giving a locale or backdrop environment a narrative description. While it does cut down my game prep time, just describing something doesn’t seem to grasp my PC’s interest.

As one deficiency to using a narrative approach, I don’t spout a thesaurus-like vocabulary when I try to evoke a mental picture in everyone’s head. I just can’t seem to get that descriptive and it never seems to match that of a physical representation. Having a physical document, where everyone eagerly props their elbows up on the table to gaze over a printed page, just seems to capture their imagination more.

This works for me too, I just seem to sprout more ideas when I sketch out something. It even works just looking at maps. The Nentir Vale seems more alive when you have a map to gaze at. Even a sparse one like over at D&D Doodle gets your story gears churning. The paved road through the woods depicted there just oozes theme. Could there be bandits? And what of the Farmer’s stead nearby? Does he offer a reprieve from the elements? Or are travelers forced to camp near the waystone before the long trek through the forest? And what of the barren patch of hills to the north?

For my recent Savage Worlds weird west campaign I managed to snag a wonderful alternate history map of the US. The various political states got me thinking about different movers and shakers within this fictional Americas. How did Texas become an independent republic? How friendly would the Union be towards the British Possessions in what would be Canada today? Would the former colonies be close or would they have better relations with the relatively independent Dominion of Canada? All of the partitioned country boundaries of these Americas got me thinking of potential allies and villains for my PCs.

Maps do that. They spark the imagination of players and can certainly get your creative juices going as a DM. There’s a certain concrete feeling of having a physical document in your hand that cordons off potential wild thoughts into tactile plans for stories.

So when considering thinking up your next grand adventure or new campaign. Spend some time sketching or searching for a suitable map. You’d be surprised how many ideas you can get from an image of transecting lines and the stories that might spring from them.

Wild Dead West – Savage Worlds campaign

My roleplaying days have waned a bit over the past few months. We took a long break playing a lot of board games, including running a campaign session for Descent. Then some of my players had a sudden transition with their employment, so half the group up and moved to another city. Not to mention me taking some time to visit family on a long holiday, so it’s been a break for me running RPGs. While folks were interested in getting back into roleplaying, they decided to put our Dark Sun campaign on hold and try another genre.

During that time I’ve discovered the wonderful 6th Gun comic and immediately wanted to try a weird west setting. I realize Deadlands was always an option for a Savage Worlds game, but I really liked the setting a bit more in 6th Gun. There is the supernatural but it’s not quite as overwhelming as Deadlands seems to be. I wanted a bit of steampunk like the Wild Wild West, just nothing too gonzo like Deadlands has.

So I settled on the Wild Dead West, which has one foot firmly planted in the Deadlands setting but not quite following the official plot points of a full campaign. It’s certainly the weird west but recognizable without the twisted landscape. And while supernatural creatures are certainly responsible for strange stuff that goes bump in the night, humans are likely the most dangerous villains about. Folks seem excited about it. As a new campaign, I’m certainly excited. I’m also shooting for something more episodic, so if we decide to take a long break, it’ll be easier to pick up the campaign again if we take a break and try other games for a while. If anything, it’ll make for some fun blog posts. Hope folks enjoy some of the tall tales that will be coming up.

[On another note if you aren’t doing so, consider giving Obsidian Portal a whirl. It really is a wonderful campaign tool for your game.]