Category: Savage Worlds

Life in Athas: Wages

As I ran my Savage Worlds Dark Sun game for a while, I really wanted to flesh out the world some. I opted to tinker with a lot of stuff including the notion of days, weeks, and months in a year. So I ended up changing quite a bit to fit what I wanted Athas to be.

One particular idea I enjoyed was that metal was rare and ceramic coins were used exclusively in city states. However if anyone follows my blog, they’ll realize I dumped keeping track of coins and stuck with abstract tallies of wealth being shares of treasure instead. It’s worked well for me, but I still needed some general yardstick of the value of currency for players.

If they found a haul of coins, how much would hirelings cost? If they needed to hire caravan guards or craftsmen to build something, what would be a fair price? So I decided to whip up some background information on typical wages in Athas.


Wages in Dark Sun

Wages in Athas are loosely based on the piece standard (or silver standard for free folk outside the city states). For a 10 day week’s labor, a wage of one piece or one silver is earned. Most of that wage will go towards housing, meals, and water, allowing a laborer to have 2 or 3 bits (2-3 copper) pocket money for additional goods. While not earning a wage, slaves also would cost their owners approximately one piece per week.

Free citizens and craftsmen earn 2 to 10 pieces a week. Even though most laborers have wages twice that of a lowly slave, they still need to live somewhat frugally. Nonetheless they can eventually acquire some extra pieces each month, allowing for some luxuries. Most bodyguards and thugs will also take a wage of 5 pieces a week, while professional soldiers commonly get wages of 8 to 10 pieces per week. Although it might be expected these are low wages for such dangerous work, life is brutal and hard in Athas. Most able bodied warriors are willing to take a low wage if it avoids the alternative of toiling away as a day laborer (or even worse as a slave).

The more upper echelons of society ‘earn’ wages of 20 to 50 pieces weekly. This varies from wealthier merchants and low ranking nobles, up to more powerful merchant house leaders and highborn nobles. At this income, it is expected that even the most modest noble houses will have have at least 2 to 3 servants. However, commonly most of the upper society requires an income of roughly 15 pieces a week to keep up with household expenses. While they live quite comfortably, they likely do not have an exceedingly opulent lifestyle. The truly extravagant nobles would spend three to four times that amount weekly and be typical of a great lord or high ranking Templar.

Although Athas generally accepts a wage of one piece per week, this is commonly used as a yardstick for determining a fair wage for free citizens. Labor is cheap in Athas and most foremen will strive a hard bargain for that uncommon laborer being paid wages. Instead they will be offered 7 to 8 bits a week, as much as it would cost to have a slave to do the work instead.

In Tyr, this disparity in views on what is a fair wage has been coming to a head. As Tyr has thrown off the mantle of slavery, many of the newly freed citizens are calling for a two piece wage. This 2 pieces movement is exceedingly popular among the poor and low status populace. They feel this is a wage enjoyed by free citizens in the past and should be applied to all.

Many trade leaders and crafts guild leaders are countering with making one piece a true wage standard in Tyr, ensuring that all laborers and unskilled workers get this wage each week. The more shrewd merchants and nobles hope that this is popular enough among the third of Athas laborers now getting 7 or 8 bits per week, that they will agree with this compromise. Currently the 2 piece movement leaders and various head merchants and nobles are in fierce negotiations on what the wage standard in Tyr should be. Eventually, the rebellion King Tithian will have to make some official decree on the matter.

Running the Game: a DM tutorial series

I’ve got a player eager to take the helm running a D&D game periodically. I’m super excited to see them flip to the other side of the screen and be a DM. They freely admitted struggling some with thinking up an appropriate way to kick off the game, and the decision to dabble in making up their own world or run something pre-made. They also wanted to know if I had any advice. So I pointed them over to Running the Game, a YouTube series about being a DM.

It’s done by Matthew Colville, a writer that also works in the video game industry. The videos he creates run between 15 to 30 minutes and commonly cover a specific RPG topic. Some address a specific issue most DMs will face at the table or when planning out their session. He also has a series that covers his own game more in detail and the problems he occasionally has when playing.

Now a big caveat with the advice is that what he will regularly state the tidbits he throws out are his opinions and how he likes to run his own games. Your mileage might vary with his advice, and he’ll freely admit his approach might not be for everyone. Another point is that much of the series is about running D&D. I think if you were a GM for other game systems a lot of his advice would still be great but you are going to get some chunks of content not quite applicable to a non-D&D game.

This last point touches on a few episodes. One is related to the Deck of Many things (which dragged some for me), and if not playing D&D or including that magic item in your campaign, much of the video will be not helpful. However you might pick up some interesting tips and ideas handling a similar powerful, legendary magical item in your own game. The concept of using a few props to spice up your game is great and I particularly like the idea of a little sleight of hand to make players think they have full agency (when in reality you are guiding events some).

Another ding with the video series is the speed that Matthew speaks. He talks fast. You might want to slow down the playback speed at little. I think especially if English wasn’t your mother tongue you’d have a hard time keeping up. I enjoy his rapid fire dialog and find it engaging and quippish, but keep in mind he speaks at a fair clip.

But these are quibbles. You’ll find his videos a great resource. I especially like that he also talks about things that fall flat at his table. We tend to just spout off the things that work in our sessions and not dwell on the times when things just didn’t work. I agree with his opinion that sharing stuff that failed can also serve as helpful advice.

In the end you have a fantastic introduction to being a DM. Seriously, for the uninitiated wanting to sit down and try their hand at running a game, this is a great series. The first four are especially solid tutorials for DMing your initial adventure. There really are some golden tips covered in them. It’s such a helpful and entertaining bunch of tutorials. I really can’t recommend it enough to new DMs, and if you’re a bit long in the tooth as a GM, give a few videos a watch. You’ll either be nodding your head in agreement or picking up a few good ideas for your own game.

Terrene – a Savage Worlds fantasy setting

For a long time I had Expeditions of Amazing Adventure going which was a series of posts on some manner of a location or culture that could serve as a springboard for an adventure. Primarily my inspiration was a picture and I’d whip up some fantasy locale and occasionally throw in some adventure hooks. It was all very general and my original focus was for 4E D&D.

That series of posts grew and eventually I had a ton of posts. So much so I compiled them into their own section. But it sort of lingered in my brain to do something more with it. I rolled around the idea of maybe compiling them together in a campaign setting.

For my 4E game I ended up making my own setting thrown onto a map from Warhammer. Mixing in the points of light setting along with tweaks I made (using the map as fodder for names), I ended up with Terrene. For well over a year, it was home to my players for our 4E campaign.

I stopped playing 4E and drifted over to Savage Worlds, but the thought of revisiting Terrene was still there. So I looked over at my expeditions blog posts and decided to write them up as part of a generic fantasy setting for the world of Terrene. Adding a sparse bit of rules and some twists to the SW Fantasy Companion, I ended up with a pretty open setting with a few key points:

Few new rules and edges – There are a smattering of new things in the setting. I pretty much wanted to keep it a vanilla setting easily sticking with the SWD and Fantasy Companion books. I have a new race, a new humanoid monster type, and sprinkled in a default skill choice for all of the races.

Portal gates – One quick means of getting around would be through portal gates that allowed instantaneous transportation, but at the same time it is unreliable. Maybe players will land at their intended destination, or maybe not. I think this helps facilitate grand adventures. If the players want to take off to the frigid north or steaming jungles, they have the means to do so and not get mired down in spending weeks or months on the road.

However the travel comes at a cost. Maybe you’ll end up where you want and maybe you’ll end up stuck deep underground in the middle of some lost city. I dig that and it can make for some fun adventures. The portal gates open doors for adventure, not close them off.

No one major power – The Empire exists but there are lots of other kingdoms. The Empire is not necessarily a force of good either. Many leaders, nobles, and lords have selfish interests. This allows for players to be heroes in the world, or be able to serve as mercenaries to the highest bidder if they wish.

There is also some room to play off other powers, be in wars, or take part in espionage if players want. Competing regions means there’s some room for players to have some fun working for different kingdoms, or potentially carve out their own fiefdom.

Long history and fallen cultures – The Pomdarians that are somewhat of a mystery. They are this ancient race of lizard folk that had an immense empire and then overnight they disappeared. What happened to them? There was the entire continent of Alondarra that sank to the bottom of the ocean. What became of them? Over thousands of years many races reached epochs and declined, leaving a wake of ruins and treasure to be found. That makes for some interesting stuff to base adventures on.

So you can find Terrene and a basic map in the downloads section. Admittedly a lot of the the location names are awful. I hobbled myself originally sticking with some goofy alliteration for the expedition posts, but they are serviceable (and certain folks will be changing them). However I hope folks find some useful stuff here for their games.Willingham-Centaur


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.

Dropping Swimming and Climbing skills (or how I learned to love Athletics)

TravellerArtCQuite a while back I talked about some of the fan made settings I liked. One was a great classic space opera ruleset called, Savage Space. There were some really cool ideas in that one, and I latched onto it and used Savage Space to port over to a some other conversions I whipped up.

Savage Worlds doesn’t get saddled down with a lot of different skills. However occasionally you get a few that sort of overlap, or mushroom into a ton of different options that just don’t really amount to much practical differentiation in actual play. The Investigation and Streetwise skill come to mind. Yes there is a difference in how the skills are applied and how they are supposed to work in specific situations. However I can see some players making an argument that either could be applicable to particular challenges.

One that certainly stood out to me was the swimming and climbing skills. A ways back I was working on a Traveller hack using Savage Worlds and ran into this skill problem with swimming and climbing. Traveller uses Athletics as a catch all skill for tests of physical activity. You were never penalized for not having it, and could always test against strength, dexterity, or endurance if needed. But a good way to show you had all round physical prowess were skill levels in Athletics.

While digging through Savage Space, I saw the writer picked up on the same vibe. Climbing and swimming were not skills in that setting. Instead a uniform skill called Athletics was used. I loved it. As RAW, if most characters wanted some decent representation of physical ability they would need to spend 4 points, both to raise swimming and climbing to d6. That is a chunk of points and nearly a third taken up for something that would likely be used in limited situations. There should be other (and better) options.

I’m running another sci-if game and certainly wanted to revisit this again. So I latched onto the idea of an athletics skill. A skill that could represent the overall physical ability of a character. The pickle was would I tie it to strength or agility? So I decided to use both. The skill below has sort of become my go-to skill to cover a lot of physical tests:

Athletics (Agility or Strength, see below)
Points used to raise this skill are either based on Agility or Strength, whichever die type is higher for the wild card. This skill replaces Climbing and Swimming from the Savage Worlds rule book. This skill is also applicable for tests of physical ability. It represents the overall fitness of the character and how well they might complete some physical tasks. If a character was a professional athlete they would likely have at least a d8 for this skill.

Savage Worlds setting: The 6th Gun

The_Sixth_Gun_RPGA long time back I was running a weird west game that was a lot of fun. I dig Deadlands but wanted to work on my own setting, an alternate history of sorts that dabbled in the supernatural. There were zombies and werewolves out west, just not quite dominating the setting like what you’d see in Deadlands.

I latched onto the 6th Gun comic as a theme and think it’s fitting that it got scooped up officially for a Savage Worlds treatment. Deadlands is solid, but there is so much material out there, it might be a little overwhelming trying to get into the world. The 6th Gun setting just seems to be an easier launching pad for a campaign and something a bit more ‘grounded’ of a setting.

The setting book takes that spirit to heart. There is a smattering of edges and hindrances. As rules go it highlights a few magical systems as either shamanism, sorcery, or voodoo with a few additional spell powers. There aren’t full fledged archetypes, rather a nice selection of character themes for players to mine for ideas.

You do get a pretty comprehensive list of equipment, gear, and weapons. Along with this is a small section of magical artifacts, a bestiary, and a roster of NPCs which are in both flavors of villains or allies. Mind you the allies might be a loose term for some of them, and might offer more complications than assistance to the players.

The book provides a brief description of some key locations, along with the town of Brimstone. Brimstone is a locale that offers a good start to a longer campaign. There are a lot of fleshed out town locations along with suggested adventure seeds and thumbnail sketches of key NPCs. It gives a good staging area for GMs that are looking to quickly get a game running.

Being a western setting with a bit of a supernatural twist means that it’s not saddled down with too much world information. There is a brief background of the campaign setting which revolves mainly around the presence of six magical pistols that grant the wielders powers. True to the setting name, each of the 6 guns and their effects are provided in detail.

There is an involved synopsis of the comic series at the beginning of the book. This provides a fair look into the world of the 6th gun. It might not give the most coherent means of a campaign background but it does provide a GM with a bunch of ideas on the types of adventures players would likely have in the setting, especially if the 6 guns are part of the main plot. Another plus is that it provides some more insight to how particular NPC characters might act (if lifted from the comic series as inspiration).

A decent adventure generator is included in the book. Along with this are five more fleshed out adventure offerings. They are presented as a series of encounters and trials for players to tackle along with brief descriptions of NPCs, villains, and locations.

As new rules go there are fortunately very few. They all seem to embrace pushing the game into epic tales of adventure quickly. Players can freely pick edges and aren’t limited to ones based on the current level of character advancement. Critical failures can’t be rerolled by spending a benny, giving the GM opportunities to really muck up a situation. Lastly whenever a Joker is drawn, all players get a bennie. This allows for even more boons of fortune and encourages players to take risks.

The Good – The setting offers a framework for running a supernatural western that matches well with the deluxe rules. There is a fair amount of creatures, NPCs, magical items, and lists of gear and weapons to allow a GM to run a game. The material is presented well and the layout and art of the book promotes the spooky western theme nicely (much of it taken from the excellent comic series).

The Bad – The setting is a bit light on background. While westerns are staples of adventures, the supernatural setting might offer some difficulty getting the right tone. The setting obviously can center around obtaining the 6 guns, but there really isn’t a structured plot point campaign to cover that. In that sense the book seems more a toolset than a fully fleshed out campaign setting. Rewarding the 6 guns might also be an issue. Not all of them are equal in power and as they can have such a central role to the setting, giving players one (or some) might ramp up the power curve of the game too much.

The Verdict – The 6th Gun campaign setting isn’t a bad book. I certainly feel that if you were looking for a western with an occult twist, this is a better choice over Deadlands. Fortunately the setting isn’t encumbered with tons of new rules and options for players.

I think what best sums it up is that overall the book provides tools for running a supernatural western. A GM has the option to delve into the mythology of the 6 guns deeply, or keep them peripheral to the game. At first glance the setting has a lot more going for it to provide for one shot or shorter campaign games. Long, epic campaigns might need more work, especially if seeking out the 6 guns won’t be a key part of the story. Regardless, if wanting a western that’s slightly off kilter with ghosts and supernatural creatures, the 6th Gun setting delivers.

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.


Sci-fi starship combat variant for Savage Worlds

TravellerDOne thing I latched onto planning out my sci-fi campaign game was using ships as characters. I tinkered a lot with the sci-fi companion rules and they still floundered some with me. I just couldn’t really see making starships a larger part of the game and making it work. If I approached making them characters I could make combat and other aspects of travel more engaging, even if it was being abstract over the traditional vehicle rules.

So I really dug the idea of using ships as characters and I scooped up Savage Space, a fan made space opera conversion. Although the spaceship combat rules were pretty solid, I didn’t quite want to go the route of a battle mat and miniature ships along with using actual ranges to work out combat. I liked the idea instead of using the chase rules from SWD. There were some additional tweaks I wanted to implement however.

Turrets vs Fixed Weapons – I altered the costs some of weapons and kept the idea of fixed arc weapons hitting harder, but were cheaper than turret weapons. Unlike the RAW (Rules As Written) chase rules, I’m allowing ships to return fire against other target craft. Yet they would be limited to turret weapons if the ship didn’t have advantage.

Speed matters – Ships announce their intended speed and it has an influence on ship initiative if substantially higher than the opposition. Some ship weapon systems like torpedoes would require a slower speed to lock in and would be subjected to snap-fire penalties otherwise.

Combat is chaotic – I liked the idea of drawing clubs introducing some type of complication with some ship systems possibly going offline. This allows the repair skills having some other purpose than out of combat checks for ‘healing’ ships. It could be mitigated some with drawing a lot of cards which ties into….

Piloting skill is important – The piloting skill matters. Aside from drawing cards for initiative, the higher the roll, the more cards that can be drawn, and the better chance a different card can be chosen if a club is drawn. Also there is a small change I have with the RAW chase rules, all ships draw 2 cards. If they fail their piloting check, they have to play the lowest card. So piloting has a lot of bearing in ship combat.

Inherent ship agility matters – Another small change I wanted was to have the agility of the ship have some function. I decided to make a basic check using the agility of the ship. Slow, lumbering craft with a low agility would be more difficult to gain advantage during a round compared to more nimble starships. So if failed, there would be a penalty to the Piloting check for that round.

Below are some more details on the ship combat rules I worked up. Another notable aspect is using a damage table for wounds received, but it’s covered pretty well in Savage Space. I also tweaked the range tables some from the rule book to allow for more attacks at medium range (and also allowing for lower range modifiers). Below are some high points of starship combat. Hope folks get some use of of this for their games.TravellerArtE

Starship Combat

Starship combat is a variant of the chase rules. Combats will typically be 5 rounds. At the end of the 5th round, and each round afterwards, the GM rolls a die. On an odd result the combat ends with either a ship slipping away, or the pursuing craft breaks off. On an even result the combat will continue at the GM’s discretion (ex. 3 fighters are pursuing a player ship. One fighter is destroyed and another is heavily damaged during the pursuit. A 6th round of combat should happen but the GM decides to break off the fighter attack, deeming the attackers have taken too many losses to likely keep up the pursuit).

For each round of combat initiative is determined by drawing various cards. Follow the sequence below to determine initiative order.

  1. Declare and record speed (For an ambushed ship current speed is equal to its acceleration).
  2. Each ship is dealt 2 cards.
  3. Determine Ship Agility Modifiers. Players make a trait test using the ship’s ability value. This can be modified due to ship wounds (or other applicable modifiers). On a failure the Ship Agility Modifier for this round is -1, on a success the modifier is +1.
  4. Players make a Piloting check applying any modifiers for wounds, shaken ship, etc. including the Ship Agility Modifier determined in the previous step. On a failure the ship must take the lowest of the 2 cards. On a success, the ship may take the highest. For each raise another card is taken and the ship may take the highest. Note that on a success, players may opt to take a lower card (especially if the higher card is a club).
  5. All ships act in initiative order. Ships which have a higher card compared to other ships are deemed to have the advantage for this round against those ships. If the selected initiative card is a club, some manner of complication happens to the ship during the round.

Additional Initiative Check Modifiers (All of these modifiers are cumulative to the Piloting trait check):

Speed – Apply a +2 modifier if the ship’s current speed is higher than the fastest opponent. This becomes a +4 if their speed is twice as fast.

Climb – If their climb is higher than their opponent, this confers a +2 bonus but only while in an atmosphere.

Terrain – Some conditions may incur a -2 penalty (like flying through a debris or asteroid field).

If the ship has advantage (their initiative is higher than an opponent), the may fire all weapons to bear on the target ship. Ships without advantage can fire on their attackers but only with non-fixed weapons and have a -2 penalty to Shooting in addition to any other penalties. The number on their initiative card indicates the range and any penalties due to distance are in parenthesis (see the Range Table).

Snapfire Penalty – Some weapon systems have the snapfire characteristic. If the ship’s current speed is equal to its acceleration, or the target is at short range, there is no penalty to fire. Otherwise the craft suffers a -2 penalty to Shooting.

Range Table

Card Range
2 Out of range, enemy is blocked, etc. No attack can be made this round.
3-7 Long Range (-4)
8-Jack Medium Range (-2)
Queen-Joker Short range (no penalty)

Damage Table

2d6 roll Wound Effect
2 Maimed Ship – Ship suffers severe scars and damage affecting its appearance.
3-4 Random Sub-system Offline
5-9 Internal Damage – A vital system inside the ship is damaged and needs repair.
10 Engine Damage – The engine’s FTL drive goes offline or its agility is reduced by one die type.
11-12 Cockpit Damage – Scanners, the ship AI, or some other sub-system goes offline.

Complications Table

2d6 Effect
2 Disaster: Piloting check at -4. If failed a major system fails at GM’s discretion such as the engine going offline, life support failure, hull breach, etc.
3-7 Major Complication: Ship Vigor check at -4. If failed ship has a system offline/component failure*.
8-Q Complication: Ship Vigor check at -2. If failed ship has system offline/component failure*.
A Distraction: The crew has their hands full. If attacking, a -2 penalty for Shooting this round.

* These complications are typically at the GM’s discretion. Alternately, cards can be drawn for various ship equipment and if a club is drawn the listed complication for that piece of equipment may occur.

Savage Worlds Career edge

I’ve been hammering away at a sci-fi Savage Worlds setting. A long while back I dabbled in a Traveller hack for SW but wanted to embrace the new Science Fiction Companion more. One thing I like about Traveller though was that character generation was sort of a mini-game. You chose to follow along different careers and rolled on tables to see if what skills you picked up. Sometimes something fortunate happened and other times there were these complications (or complete disasters for the player). However a lot of times it resulted in a character that was more fleshed out and a past history.

One particular hang up for starting a new campaign is getting all the players to on the same page with setting ‘world’. They might have different ideas on what are likely important skills, or worse, sort of overwhelmed with choices. On that front, having lots of archetypes available is helpful. My beef is that archetypes can be a little rigid or maybe too optimized. I wanted to offer some guidance in skills to pick up, but not push them into having particular edges or ability ranks like archetypes have.

Lastly as a sci-fi setting goes, you are going to have a slew of knowledge skills to pick up and can be a little overwhelming for character generation. I’ll freely admit I jumped into throwing in some more edges too which ramps up the complexity of the system some. But for some things I wanted to reward player investment into a background theme, rather than everyone able to be just as effective as that player wanting to specialize.

So I scooped up an idea from Traveller and created a Career edge. This would be an edge that could be chosen once at character creation. It’d allow them to pick up a chunk of basic skills and then possibly choose a few more skills and edges. Lastly, having a list of skills associated with a profession might offer the player some guidance on what other skills to invest in. The gist of this would be a list of 6 skills that players get choosing the edge. Along with these service skills they would choose one specialty branch in that profession allowing them to get a few more skills from its list. The catch is not only do players use an edge, but they also spend 5 skill points from the their total skill pool. Below is an example Marine career skill list:

Interstellar Marines: You received basic military training for the Interstellar Marines, responsible for operations related to assaults on ships and planetary invasions.
Service Skills: Athletics, Edge (Vacc Suit), Knowledge Skill(Military Science), Fighting, Shooting, Stealth

Support: You served as a quartermaster, engineer, or battlefield medic in the Marines.
Specialist Skills: Knowledge Skill(Ship Ops), Repair, Driving, Piloting, Healing, Shooting(Gunnery), Knowledge Skill(Demolitions)

Space Marines: You were trained to fight boarding actions and capture enemy vessels.
Specialist Skills: Edge (Power Armor), Edge (Gravitic Acclimation), Shooting(Gunnery), Fighting, Knowledge Skill(Ship Ops), Shooting

Ground Assault: You specialized in planetary warfare, especially invasions and drop ship operations.
Specialist Skills: Edge (Power Armor), Shooting(Gunnery), Fighting, Knowledge Skill(Military Science), Shooting, Survival

Note that you don’t need all of these specialist skills. I’d still consider getting a list of 4-6 to offer players some choices. For the initial service skills though, you certainly want 5 or 6 skills, as players will be spending 5 skill points when they pick up the edge. They will still have at least 10 skill points to further choose skills. This might sound a lot but for a setting heavy on different knowledge skill choices, they will quickly burn through their points.

This can be very modular for different settings. It’s also likely an easier process than making up archetypes as you just have to think up skills and some edges that would likely apply to a profession or career. Say you were running a Victorian steampunk game and wanted to whip up a career edge list for someone that served in the imperial navy. A basic list of skills would likely include boating, some combat skills, along with some knowledge skills. If they were an officer you’d have some specialty skills and edges related to command. However you might also consider a Connections edge (throughout their career they might strike up a friendship with a nobility or a high ranking admiral).

If they were more a specialist in the imperial navy, maybe they were a medic, cook, or became familiar with the workings of steam engines. You don’t need to make every specialist path a huge list of skills, but could lump them into one list (like the example above for the Interstellar Marines). If you were just a deck crew hand, you’d likely have a lot of overlap with the service skills, but may also pick up some other skills related to a sailor’s life on an imperial steamship. Maybe you might have picked up gambling or streetwise aside from honing your fighting skills.

Once you start making up these lists, you find out how flexible they work and a lot easier than working up archetypes. One note however is that this edge allows players to pick up a ton of skills on the cheap. This tends to work better in settings where there are more skill options to dilute out their pool of skill points.

Another downside is that some double checking may be needed after character creation, especially with certain edge requirements. You might have that occasional player which picks up an edge but doesn’t have a high enough ability score (or training in a specific skill) according to the rules. So when making up these lists a GM has to watch out for those inconsistencies and be prepared to reign in a few edge choices when players are done. It’s a point I will concede to properly built archetypes, as they wouldn’t have this issue. Below is a summary of the Edge (Career).TravellerArtE

Career Edge:
This is a special professional edge that is available to characters during creation. This edge represents basic training and skills obtained during a career in one professional field after three to four years of service. This edge can be only taken once. Additionally, this edge will also immediately spend 5 skill points from the player’s total. The player must buy skills using this edge first, before spending any other skill points during character creation. After deciding what skills are obtained from the Career edge, players can spend their remaining skill points normally. Note that any edges obtained from the Career edge still are subject to trait requirements after all skill/attribute points are spent (i.e. a player must still have a Vigor of d6 to obtain the Attractive edge at the end of character creation).

To use the Career edge, the player will choose one career profession. They immediately spend 5 points from their skill point total. They then obtain all the skills and edges for service training in that career. In addition, they also gain skills and edges from specialist training. Players choose one specialty field for that career and gain more edges or skills in one of two ways:

A. Gain 2 different skills/edges from the chosen specialist training list. Chosen skills may be similar to ones gained in service training. If so they increase the trait by one die type (but restrictions for linked ability scores apply).

B. They gain one skill from the chosen specialist training list and can raise this beyond its linked ability score. If the skill is new they gain it at d6. If the skill is the same as one obtained from service training, it can be raised 2 die types (to a d8). Note this is regardless of the skill’s linked ability.

[EX: Fred has a poor Agility of d4 but is strong as an ox. He opts to enter the Marines and takes the Career edge. He gains all the skills and edges from the Marine service training list. He then chooses the Ground Assault specialist training and decides to pick Fighting and raise it (Option B). As he currently has Fighting d4 from service training, he can raise it two die types up to a d8. The increased cost in skill points due to having a d4 Agility does not apply. If it was not a skill on the service training list, he could have it at d6 (regardless of the linked ability score).

EX: Bob also decides to tank his Agility at d4 to buff up his Vigor instead. He enters the Marines and becomes a Ground Assault specialist. He wants to use option A and pick up two skills/edges, eager to gain both Knowledge (Military Science) and Shooting. Unfortunately, he already has Shooting d4 due to service training. As it is an Agility linked skill (at d4), he cannot gain raise this skill to d6 through specialist training for the Career edge. Instead he can take Knowledge (Military Science) and some other skill or edge. If he chose to just focus on Shooting similar to Fred and used option B, then he could have a d8 in Shooting (but only obtain that one skill).

EX: Susan also decides to join the Marines but enters the service having a d6 in all ability scores. She also decides to become a Ground Assault specialist. Susan decides to put a point in both Shooting and Fighting for her specialist training. She had already obtained these skills through service training and currently has them at a d4 each. Since her Agility is d6, she can raise both of these skills up to d6 through specialist training.]

Savage Worlds sci-fi gear: Ablat armor

I’m busy getting things together for my sci-fi Savage Worlds campaign. So I’ve been tinkering with a lot of stuff. One thing that stood out for me was armor for energy weapons. There aren’t a lot of options in the companion book aside from reflective armor. I like the idea of reflective armor and that if can be worn over other types. I especially like how it’s rather frail and can deteriorate due to damage. But I wanted another option.

I can’t envision a universe where weapon systems would migrate to one standard type, as it’d be too easy to offer cheaper defensive systems. That’s one thing I love about the gear in Savage Worlds. Body armor is great for stopping bullets, but worthless against lasers. Conversely reflective armor can disperse laser weapons, but can’t stop a bullet. If you wanted absolute protection, you can combine the two wearing one over the other. The other route is one I don’t want to go which involves power armor (as that diverges into heavy armor only being damaged by heavy weapons).

This is serviceable, but I wanted to give my players more options. Digging out old books of Traveller you’ll find Ablat armor. This was cheap, easily replaceable armor that would disperse energy weapon damage and vaporize when hit by lasers (ablation of the protective material). So it’d offer some protection but get worn out when hit by energy weapons.

I liked the idea of being able to combine ablat armor with regular body armor. You could buy a cheap suit to go over (or under) the ballistic armor. However another option would be to incorporate ablat material onto the the body armor itself. This could be thin ceramic tiles or strips, or maybe a layer of material sprayed over the armor. It wouldn’t last though. Each combat would likely chip away at its effectiveness until the ablat armor had to be replaced. So with that I worked up the following:

Ablat Armor: +4 toughness vs energy damage, negates 2 AP from energy weapons, but offers no protection against ballistic or melee damage. Cost: $500

Ablat armor is thin strips (or small hexagon tiles) of dark, ceramic material that diffuses energy. It is prone to damage easily from ballistic or physical attacks, and portions vaporize with each hit from energy weapons. For every wound that a player receives, reduce the armor value by 2 permanently. Additionally the first time a player is hit in a combat, resolve the damage normally. If no wound is scored roll a die. On an even result, 2 points of armor are permanently removed, just like as if a wound was taken.

Ablat armor cannot be repaired. It can be worn over (or under) traditional armor types but is rather bulky. Ablat armor is usually combined with non-reflective armor as outer coat of energy protection. Usually it is attached in thin strips/hexagon pieces to the surface of existing armor, or sprayed on in a thick coat of ceramic particles with an adhesive compound. This process takes about 2-4 hours and can be done only on planets of average technology or higher. Partial repairs are not possible with ablat, instead an entirely new layer would have to be added. Ablat also does not alter how noticeable the target is except in some odd cases at the GM’s discretion (like an arctic world where the dark, ablat plating might stand out).
Certainly having ablat armor is something my players will dabble in. I’m also certain they’ll agonize some over the constant drain of cash reapplying damaged armor. However it’ll give them some options and potentially ease that urge to pick up combat power armor as soon as possible. Hope folks get some use out of this for their games.