Category Archives: Random musings

To Savage or Not to Savage

Savage Worlds FanWhen you convert an existing campaign setting or game to the Savage Worlds rules you have “savaged” the setting. But there’s one important question: does it make sense to savage every setting?

Savage Worlds is currently a very popular system. There’s almost no day without a post about Savage Worlds on our own RPG Bloggers Network. There are currently over a dozen campaign settings available for SW and a lot of fan conversions are floating around on the internet. I recently even thought about running an Eberron campaign using the Savage Worlds rules.

But is this always the best way to go? No, I don’t think so. I like Savage Worlds because it really is “fast, furious, fun” as the creators claim it to be. You can run SW with almost no preparation, especially when you use a “plot point” campaign like Rippers or Slipstream. The rules are easy to learn and still allow you to use them in almost every genre. The killer argument is the price. I don’t think you can get any other multi-genre roleplaying game for just 10 bucks (aside from a few free ones of course).

SWEE CoverSo, why do I advise against using SW for everything? There are a few things you have to keep in mind, before you convert your favorite campaign setting to SW. Sometimes you can’t separate rules from the setting completely. One example is how magic works in the official D&D settings. For a long time we had Vancian magic where magic users had to memorize their spells for the day. When a spell was cast, the magic user had to rememorize it the next day to be able to cast again. This is part of the D&D rules but nevertheless it affected how magic works in the campaign worlds. If you use the Savage World rules, the magic system is vastly different. If you don’t mind that your version of the campaign differs in that respect, you’re fine. But if you want to bring the feel of Vancian magic back, you will have either to create your own magic system or stick to D&D. An in my opinion problems arise whenever you try to convert rules and not the setting.

A few days ago we had a talk on Twitter about playing a Fallout pen & paper game. My first idea was to use Savage Worlds. But there are a few things to consider first. A lot of the feel of the computer games comes from the SPECIAL system used. I have to admit that on a second thought a SW conversion might actually lose some of the games’ appeal. But on the other hand, the SW rules would probably work just fine in a post-apocalyptic setting. Tough call…

You also have to keep in mind that the SW combat rules don’t use hitpoints like a lot of other systems. When you are used to long drawn-out combats where the players slowly reduce their enemies hitpoints, you’ll be shocked when you realize that you won’t have that experience using SW combat. The whole combat dynamic of SW is different from most other roleplaying games I’ve played. This is of course not a bad thing per se, but if you prefer killing your dragons one hitpoint at a time, you should avoid using Savage Worlds.

So, when should you think about converting an existing setting to Savage Worlds? If you ask me, you can convert everything to SW as long as you can live with the fact that the rules will definitely have an impact on the feel of the world. Especially the combat and magic rules will probably have a big impact. If you don’t mind these changes, go ahead and give it a try. In most cases using the Savage Worlds Explorers Edition will suffice. If you are going to play in a fantasy setting, you might pick up the new Fantasy Companion or at least have a look at the free Wizards & Warriors supplement.

Converting settings to SW is less work than probably expected and could be great fun, but you have to accept the consequences. Especially when the setting you want to convert is tied to certain rules to make sense (like D&D’s Vancian magic), you will either have to create variant rules or just accept that some things work different, when “savaged”.

When in doubt, use RISUS

RISUS - The Anything RPG
RISUS - The Anything RPG by S. John Ross

During the creation of my one-page dungeon “The Horror of Leatherbury House” I thought about easy ways to provide stats for the different NPCs without using a specific set of rules. One idea that kept coming up was just using RISUS instead of going system-less.

As you all know, I didn’t include any game statistics in my final version of the dungeon (mostly because I ran out of space and the rules specifically said that the dungeon should be in a system-less format), but I still like the idea.

So, how does RISUS work? Let me quote from the rulebook:

Characters are defined by Clichés (sometimes several of them). Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do. The character classes” of the Neolithic Period of RPGs were Clichés: Fighter and Magic-User, Space Marine and Star Merchant. You can take Clichés like that, or choose a more contemporary one, such as Biker, Spy, Computer Nerd, Supermodel, or William Shatner (formerly an actor – now just a Cliché). Which Clichés are permitted are up to the GM.
Clichés are defined in terms of Dice (by which we mean the ordinary six-sided kind you can scavenge from your old Yahtzee set). This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a Fighter, Supermodel, or William Shatner (for instance) is challenged. See Game System,” below. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is a putz.

Characters are defined by Clichés (sometimes several of them). Clichés are a shorthand which describe what a character knows how to do. The “character classes” of the Neolithic Period of RPGs were Clichés: Fighter and Magic-User, Space Marine and Star Merchant. You can take Clichés like that, or choose a more contemporary one, such as Biker, Spy, Computer Nerd, Supermodel, or William Shatner (formerly an actor – now just a Cliché). Which Clichés are permitted are up to the GM.

Clichés are defined in terms of Dice (by which we mean the ordinary six-sided kind you can scavenge from your old Yahtzee set). This is the number of dice that you roll whenever your skill as a Fighter, Supermodel, or William Shatner (for instance) is challenged. See Game System,” below. Three dice is professional. Six dice is mastery. One die is a putz.

The cool thing is that you don’t even have to understand more than that about RISUS to understand what a RISUS character is about, when you read something like that: Grolfnar Vainsson the Viking; Viking (4), Womanizer (2), Gambler (3), Poet (1).

Don’t you think this could come in handy when creating an adventure or even a complete campaign, but you’re unsure what system you want to use? Now imagine, you want to use Grolfnar in your D&D campaign. Let’s look at the most defining cliché: Viking. There’s no Viking class, but Fighter or Barbarian may fit, so let’s use this. If you play 4th Edition D&D, Womanizer, Gambler and Poet won’t be reflected in the stats that much, but you should keep those clichés in the back of your head when you roleplay the character. In other systems, those Clichés may be represented by certain skills, edges, drawbacks, et cetera. In most cases you probably won’t need any detailed statistics (for example when you don’t intend the players to fight that NPC), so the Clichés serve as a reminder on how to play that character.

And there’s another advantage to using RISUS: your adventure or campaign can easily be played as a RISUS game. So, if you want to run an adventure you’ve written at a game convention for example, you don’t have to take your heavy D&D books with you. Just print out a copy of RISUS (which fits on three sheets of paper) and you’re done.

What do you think? Is using RISUS for your “system-less stuff” a good alternative?

“The hobby is far from being dead!”

This time, the quote is by me. If you ask me, all those doomsayers that think the pen & paper roleplaying hobby will vanish in a few years are wrong. At first, we have to see things in a perspective. RPGs were never a mainstream phenomenon like computer games are today. And the size of the market has been shrinking since the golden days of TSR but the hobby is still very much alive and well.

The hobby is held alive by dedicated people in the industry and by countless fans who continue to enjoy the game. And if you ask me, the current economical crisis may even help bring a few people back to the table. Pulling out your old D&D books and sitting down around a table with a couple of friends is much cheaper than buying that fancy new video game. And while the hobby will change (as it already has changed), I don’t believe it will ever be dead. Just like TV and the cinema did not kill the theater or books.

In my opinion, the hobby will move more to the digital realm, because it’s easier to “meet” people on the internet than to schedule a session in your own home. A lot of roleplayers already play using software like Fantasy Grounds II and Skype or participate in play-by-post games. Basically the game is still the same, but instead of meeting in real life, people play in “cyberspace”. That’s not the same thing as playing a MMO. And better technology will probably make it even easier to play roleplaying games over the ‘net without it turning into a game like “World of WarCraft“.

I still have a lot of hope in our hobby. Our own RPG Bloggers Network clearly shows that there are a lot of talented and dedicated people who still enjoy games like D&D, Savage Worlds and others. And especially when I read blog posts from parents who introduce their children and their friends to the hobby, I am sure, that pen & paper roleplaying games will not die! So, let’s stop conjuring up doomsday scenarios! Stop worrying and enjoy the game!