Friday, April 10, 2020

Online Gaming with Discord and Savage Bot

With everyone doing their best to stay safe and inside, it can be tough to get everyone together and keep those games running. There are a myriad of websites and programs that can act as virtual tabletops, and many people these days are turning to programs like Discord for staying in touch with their friends. Unfortunately, this is really the first time a lot of people have had to turn to the internet for gaming, and if you’re not good with computers this can feel like an almost insurmountable barrier.

Thankfully, I’ve put together this handy little guide that can help with making the transition a bit easier. I’ve been running online games for more than 6 years and at this point, my primary group has settled on one particular setup using a program for Discord called Savage Bot.

 Setting Things Up
First, you need to set up a Discord server. This process is pretty simple and is the same in both the desktop version and the downloaded client. If you're not confident in setting this stuff up on your own, though, feel free to join the Unofficial Savage Worlds Discord! We've got plenty of people willing to help, and we have Savage Bot installed already so you can give it a spin, or even run a game in one of our Game Rooms.
  1. At the bottom of your server list (at the left side of the window), click “Add a Server.” Click “Create Server” and give it whatever name you like.
  2. Invite your friends! Click on the “Create Invite” button next to whatever chat channel you like, then either invite your friends directly or send them a copy of the URL that is generated.
That's all! I won't give you a complete walkthrough of Discord as a program, but take a look at this video if you want more details on how to get the most out of the program.

Once you have a server, then you need to invite Savage Bot to come and join in! Click this link and it will take you to the Discord website and will ask you to choose which server you would like to add it to. Select the server you just made, hit Authorize, and Savage Bot will pop up in your server!

Don't worry, Savage Bot won't do anything until you issue him a command; we'll get into those next!

Using Savage Bot
Now that you have everything you need, you’re pretty much ready to go! Here’s a quick overview of how to make use of Savage Bot in your games.

Rolling Dice
First thing’s first: how do you get the dice rolling? Savage Bot was constructed from the ground up for use in Savage Worlds games, so most of the time you’ll only make use of a couple of simple commands, but the full list of commands is available at Savage Bot’s GitHub page. All commands for Savage Bot begin with an exclamation mark (!) and are typed into a chat channel just like you're messaging your buddies.

To make a Trait (attribute or skill) roll for a Wild Card—that’s pretty much any player character—simply type !sX, where X is the die type. This will roll the skill die, a d6 Wild Die, calculate any Aces, and give you the highest total. If you have a Healing d6 and wish to make a Healing roll, for example, you would just type !s6.

For rolls with multiple skill dice, such as firing a weapon with a high Rate of Fire, add the number of dice before the “s”—firing a RoF 3 machine gun with Shooting d8 would be !3s8, for example. If there are modifiers on your roll, just type it in after the die type (e.g. !3s8-2)

The number in parentheses after the first roll, 17 (4), is Savage Bot automatically counting the number of successes with the assumed target number of 4. If you’re dealing with modifiers and prefer not to type those in, you don’t worry about this number.
Rolling for Extras and making a damage roll both use the same command. Type in !dX!, where X is the die type. The second exclamation mark is very important, as it tells Savage Bot that these dice are open-ended and can Ace. If rolling for a d6 Extra, for example, you would type !d6!. This can be added together and augmented to handle damage as well—a 2d6+1 pistol would type in !2d6!+1, and a Strength d8 warrior Wild Attacking with his short sword would type !d8!+d6!+2.

Finally, here’s a little trick: Savage Bot will perform the same command multiple times if, right after the command !, you type in “Yx”, where Y is the number of times you want it to roll again. For example, a Charismatic character with d8 Persuasion will always roll Persuasion twice, so you can speed that roll up by typing in !2xs8. As another example, if a character with a machine gun (2d8 damage) lands three hits, you can type in !2x2d8! and the damage for both hits will be rolled at the same time.

I know that some people get a little turned around about when they should use “s” or “d” before their rolls, so here’s how I remember it:
  • For Wild Cards (and players), type "s" for "Savage."
  • For damage, use "d" and include another "!" for "Damage!" (This is the same command as for Extras—they tend to roll quite poorly, so you can also use "Dang it!")
Initiative Tracker
Now, rolling dice may not be as important to you—a lot of groups allow their players to roll their own physical dice and just trust each other to be honest about the results. Even if that’s the case, the other big benefit of using Savage Bot is the robust initiative tracker.

To begin a new fight, type !f. This shuffles the deck and resets the initiative tracker.

To deal initiative to new characters, type in !di [characterName]; you can add multiple characters at a time simply by typing their names. If a new character joins the fight, you can use the !di command at any time to add them to the Initiative Tracker, or the !drop command to remove an unwanted character.

Do not use spaces in your character names. The bot uses spaces to distinguish separate characters, so typing Jack Jones deals cards to two characters, while JackJones deals a card to one character.
Many characters in Savage Worlds have Edges like Level Headed that change how they draw cards. You can add this directly to a character—after the character’s name, type a space and add -l [Level Headed], -i [Improved Level Headed], -q [Quick], and/or -h [Hesitant]. If a character has both Quick and Level Headed, you can type in -ql to give her both.

If a character wants to spend a Benny for a new card, or has an Edge like Tactician that gives them extra cards, type !card [characterName] to provide that character another card!

At any point, you can type !init into the chat to refresh the initiative tracker, or display it again if it's getting buried under all the dice you're rolling!

Jack has Level Headed, Jones has Quick, Jill has Improved Level Headed, James has Hesitant, and Jackie has Quick and Level Headed!
This may seem like a lot, but don’t worry—you don’t have to do this every round! Once everyone’s taken their turns simply type !rd + to start the next round, shuffle the deck if a Joker was drawn, and deal everyone their initiative! If any characters or groups have been knocked out of the fight, you can type !rd + -[characterName] to remove the fallen foes automatically!

Savage Bot can be used to track Bennies using “tokens”. !give [characterName] # grants characters a number of tokens, while !take [characterName] # removes a token from the target character.

The initiative tracker can even be used to track a character’s “state,” making it easy to handle if a character is Shaken, Distracted, Entangled, and so forth. Use the command !st [characterName] [status]; the available status options are: Shaken (sha), Stunned (stn), Entangled (ent), Bound (bnd), Distracted (dis), and Vulnerable (vul).

To remove a state, type !st [characterName] -[status], or !st [characterName] clear
Other Tools
This is all you really need to run a Savage Worlds game using Discord. However, some GMs like to go a little above and beyond: here are some additional recommended tools.
  • FredBoat: FredBoat is a music bot you can add to a server to play music from YouTube, Spotify, and others. It’s a great way to add some atmosphere to your games. Keep in mind FredBoat always loads in the first time at maximum volume, so make sure you tell each of your players to lower FredBoat’s volume before you get him to play music. (Right-click on FredBoat in the user list on the right of the Discord client, then lower his User Volume—mine sits around 30–40%.)
  • This robust character creator can help newer Savage Worlds players create, track, and share their character as the campaign progresses. It has modules for most major Savage settings and can easily include custom content for your campaign.
  • Roll20: While I much prefer Savage Bot’s dice rolling and initiative capabilities, if your group is itching for tactical battle maps, Roll20 can handle this perfectly! (In my opinion, if you are using Roll20, it may be better to track Bennies there instead.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bastion—Nature Lover

Yup, this is the first thing to do now that I'm back.

Now that Savage Worlds Adventure Edition is out in full-force, I'm gonna start pushing out some more character builds—back to the basics, right?

And, of course, it's a supers character: so let's get to it.

Name: SST Laboratories Siege Automaton E54, "Bastion"
Race: Omnic
Rank: Seasoned (4 Advances)
Power Level: Street Fighter with Super Karma (35 PP)
Attributes: Agility d6; Smarts d4; Spirit d8; Strength d8; Vigor d10
Pace 6; Parry 4; Toughness 12 (4)
Hindrances: Cannot Speak, Clueless, Loyal, Outsider (Minor), Pacifist (Major)
Edges: Brawler, Common Bond, Fast Healer, The Best There Is (ranged attack)
Skills: Athletics d6, Common Knowledge d4, Electronics d4, Fighting d4, Notice d8, Persuasion d4, Shooting d10, Stealth d4
Super Powers:
  • Armor +4 (2): Advance polymer casing.
  • Construct (8): +2 to recover from being Shaken; doesn't breathe; immune to disease and poison; ignores one level of Wound penalties.
  • Doesn't Eat (1): Nearly-infinite power source.
  • Interface (2): Close-range access tool.
  • Regeneration (8): Level 5, rolls to heal every round. Limitation (–2, action to use). (Self-repair protocols.)

Modes (Switchable)
  • Attack, Ranged (14): Range 24/48/96, Damage 2d8, RoF 3, AP 2, Lethal. Limitation (–1, 35 rounds per reload), Switchable. (Recon Mode SMG.)
  • Attack, Ranged (10): Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d8, RoF 5, AP 2, Heavy Weapon, Lethal. Limitation (–2, cannot move), Limitation (–2, constantly Vulnerable), Limitation (–1, 300 rounds per reload), Limitation (–1, Min RoF 3). (Sentry Mode Gatling Cannon.)
  • Attack, Ranged (10): Range 12/24/48, Damage 3d10, RoF 1, AP 10, MBT, Heavy Weapon, Lethal. Limitation (–2, 10 rounds per mission), Limitation (–1, MBT always on), Limitation (–1, takes a level of Fatigue every 5 consecutive rounds in Tank Mode). (Tank Mode Cannon.)
I've actually been brainstorming this particular build for a good long while. Bastion is a super cool character with a really interesting setup: tons of combat potential, but an unwillingness to actually use any of that power. It's actually a character concept I've always wanted to play.

So, how did I figure what he should actually have? Well, Regeneration is a pretty direct translation of his self-repair ability, and Fast Healer helps to reinforce that—even a heavily damaged, 3 Wound Bastion would only need to make an unmodified Vigor roll to heal himself. His Brawler is mostly due to his robotic structure—solid metal hits hard, and I definitely didn't have enough Power Points to give Bastion a melee attack power.

What held me up on completing this build for a long time is how to manage his weapons. I could not for the life of me figure out how to balance Bastion's mobile recon mode with his high RoF sentry mode, and why a Bastion wouldn't want to constantly use his tank mode. However, this is where Adventure Edition comes to the rescue: the Limitations on the sentry mode cannon are numerous, as Bastion can't move and is always Vulnerable—appropriate, since he's a pretty large target—and his cannon has a minimum Rate of Fire of 3, just like the core rules minigun. I also increased the recon gun's range slightly since the weapon is more accurate than the gatling cannon. With all of that in place, as well as a Limitation due to the need to occasionally Reload his weapons allows his two main modes to both be viable choices (appropriate, since ammo expenditure is pretty ).

His tank mode suffers a few similar limitations. The damage is only 3d10 instead of 4d10 (the actual damage of most World War II tank cannons), but has a low ammo count and suffers the same limitation as the new Berserk Edge: every 5 rounds in the mode, Bastion takes a level of Fatigue. Between that and his ammo limitation, Bastions will generally stay in one of their other modes.

Note that I use a slightly different, more balanced cost for ranged attacks. The damage dice increase to d8 by changing the cost of the power from 2/Level to 3/Level, and the damage dice increase to d10 for an additional 1 PP (up-front, not per-level). So a 2d8 attack is 3 points and a 3d10 attack is 7 points.

So, one good question might be why Bastion's weapons are powers instead of gear. This was primarily done to allow for the Switchable Modifier—so, Bastions actually have to completely switch "modes" to use the right weapons.

The last major point is to ask why Bastion is only a Street Fighter, 30 PP hero. The cheeky answer is that all the Overwatch heroes are only 30 PP heroes, but obviously that's not a clear answer since the obvious follow-up is "well why are Overwatch heroes all only 30 PP heroes." That's a fair question, since on the surface, the setting almost sounds like a Four Color-style supers game, but if you actually look at what these characters' powers are, it becomes a bit more clear. You've got:
  • An accurate cowboy with a .357 magnum revolver.
  • A kind-of-cyborg with shurikens and a "magic" sword.
  • A speedster (who might actually be a teleporter) that is slow enough to need a motorcycle to keep up with normal vehicles.
  • A pretty smart boi who is also a gorilla.
  • A good sniper with a grappling hook.
  • A huge guy with a really strong gauntlet punch. And that's it.
And so on—a few actual powers with a lot of fairly mundane gear. Even the most powerful of any of these, Doomfist's gauntlet, can be easily modeled at 15 Power Points, and there's nobody who's in the strength ballpark of above 10 tons (achievable with only 10 PP, some points in natural Strength, and the Brawny Edge)—Doomfist with the gauntlet is able to throw a car and no other character we've seen on the Overwatch roster matches him in that department. Even Mercy's incredible healing abilities can be handled with The Best There Is (healing) and 15 points. So... Street Fighter is actually the best Power Level to model most of the Overwatch cast.

And that's my Bastion build! Hopefully over this summer you'll start to see a lot more posts here for character builds and design stuff (and hopefully on the Savage MCU sister blog as well).

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Expanded Wealth and blog update

Yes, I'm still alive!

I've been very busy with university the last few months but I did manage to find a little bit of time to put together something I've been mulling over for a few months now.

The Wealth system in Savage Worlds is great, but there's a couple of break points that I experienced the first time I used it, notably Gambling, and I had a hard time figuring out how to balance cost modifiers for purchases and figuring out how much Rewards should be worth.

Well, I recently released my first ever Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild product to address exactly that: Expanded Wealth! It's great, I get to feel like a professional now! If you grab a copy, make sure you join up at our big ol' Savage Worlds Discord Server; I'm there pretty much all the time!

Anyways, this is more than just a shameless advertisement. I've had a number of products (that are still free!) cooking up over the last few months that I'm excited to get to a point that I can share with all of you fine folks (hint—there are laser swords), as well as updates to the Savage MCU branch of this whole project. After I started my last big update mission, SWADE finally released and a bunch of heroes are being converted over to that edition of the game as well as having their general power levels increased (generally through experience) pretty much across the board.

So, yes, updates are coming, don't you worry! This blog won't be dead until I am. In the meantime, happy gaming everyone!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Thoughts on Black: Suppressive Fire

EDIT: I have updated the original write-up of these rules to represent a slightly more refined version of my original implementation. My reasoning remains the same, so feel free to read the full mechanic or to skip down to the write up of the new mechanic itself.

A bit of a departure from my usual fare, there's been a lot of news coming in about the upcoming edition of Savage Worlds (now officially named Savage Worlds Adventure Edition), and almost all of it is really exciting. I'm getting to work on a big ol' mega post that should see the light of day before the end of the month about my thoughts on everything and all of the great new changes (along with a couple changes that sound good maybe but that I'm more on the fence about). For those curious and who haven't been keeping up with things lately, here's a really good video summary of the changes and a thread on the official forums discussing everything and getting more in-depth with some implications and ideas that come with the new changes.

Today, though, is something that I finally feel very proud of: my house rules for the new Suppressive Fire mechanics. Lots of props to forum user and Discord member SteelDraco, who discussed a lot of the ideas that made it into my final draft, particularly the implementation of the Distracted condition.

The Maneuver
Before we get into the game mechanics of this move, I want to touch on the point of actual suppressive fire in the real world. In the words of Wikipedia, "the purpose of suppression is to stop or prevent the enemy from observing, shooting, moving or carrying out other military tasks that interfere (or could interfere) with the activities of friendly forces... The primary intended effect of suppressive fire is psychological. Rather than directly trying to kill enemy soldiers, it makes the enemy soldiers feel unable to safely perform any actions other than seeking cover. Colloquially, this goal is expressed as 'it makes them keep their heads down' or 'it keeps them pinned down.' However, depending on factors including the type of ammunition and the target's protection, suppressive fire may cause casualties and/or damage to enemy equipment."

When looking at this, it's pretty clear that the point of suppressive fire is effectively to keep enemy morale down, making them too scared to act against allied forces. Therefore, when constructing a suppressive fire mechanic, you want to create a situation where the mechanic itself feels very effective at keeping enemies down, particularly by making it frightening to leave any cover you've situated yourself behind. That said, the goal of the mechanic should not be to wound enemies: merely to scare them through the possibility of being wounded. Typically this is used in lieu of actually attacking targets if they are behind cover, hidden away, or otherwise not in a good position to target.

The Problem
The option to use Suppressive Fire has been in the rules since Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition back in 2007, and its implementation hasn't really changed since, including in the Savage Worlds Deluxe edition that was released in 2011/2012. While a good addition—machine guns definitely need the ability to affect more than 3 or 4 targets at a time, and suppressive fire is a standard tool in military operations—the rule has almost no teeth in practice.

The way it works is by placing a template down and having the shooter make his roll with the usual penalties (auto-fire, range, etc.). On a failure, this template disappears and there is no effect, while on a success, targets under the template have to make Spirit rolls, adding any cover modifiers as bonuses to their roll. A failed Spirit roll means the target is Shaken, while a 1 on the Spirit die indicates that they are hit. This costs 5 times the weapon's RoF.

The problem should be fairly clear to anyone that has tried to use this mechanic, but to lay it out, it's pretty borked. The goal of the mechanic is to "incentivize" enemies into keeping their heads down while your allies maneuver into a more favorable position, specifically by forcing them into cover (or to stay in cover they already occupy) and be more willing to stay down than to actually act.

The implementation of this rule only requires characters, at worst, to roll a 4 on their Spirit die to avoid any penalties whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes using Suppressive Fire on characters in cover completely pointless—an Extra with a d6 Spirit behind Medium Cover has an 83% chance of success (only failing if he rolls a 1), and is guaranteed instant success behind Heavy Cover. This becomes more pronounced against characters with higher Spirit (88% for a d8 Spirit Extra in Medium Cover) and Wild Cards (97% for a d6 Spirit character in the same).

Granted, this was initially implemented under the old Shaken rules, where you needed a raise to be able to act normally out of Shaken, but under the new rules that has been downgraded to only a success. A good change on its own, but one that completely invalidates Suppressive Fire as soon as most enemies act, even when it does work (which is only even remotely likely if characters are not in cover). In fact, characters that are more likely to even be using the kinds of weapons that allow for suppressive fire (Shooting d8+) would have a 25% chance to just hit an enemy in Medium Cover outright, even in Full Auto fire—and if their cover is thin, it might even be completely ignored by its AP! A character with Rock and Roll would have almost a 50% chance to hit the same enemies!

In any situation where Suppressive Fire should be useful, the rule as written is strictly worse than simply firing on one's enemies. A successful rule should be more likely to affect large numbers of enemies than trying to target them directly, and should be especially effective at forcing enemies to keep their heads down under threat of losing them, without necessarily being more reliable at killing an enemy in the open than simply shooting them. PEG's emphasis on the latter, "less reliable at killing" part of such a mission statement regrettably takes the teeth out of the maneuver when it should count the most.

The Fix(es)
There have been a ton of suggestions that have risen out of the community for fixing the Suppressive Fire mechanic in a way that grants it its teeth back, preferably making it even more useful for a character that is a particularly good shot.

One of the most common fixes is changing the active roll from being a Shooting roll with all the usual penalties to simply being a Shooting roll opposed by the Spirit of targets beneath the template (who may add their cover bonuses as usual). While this is a clean solution, it generally takes out the nuance of suppressing enemies at a farther range, or being in a position where the gunner can compensate for his autofire (using Edges or by stabilizing his shots with a bipod). Additionally, it does not allow for the clean implementation of the option to simply spray until the gun is completely empty, or using suppressive fire as a method of controlling battlefield movement (by, for example, firing down an alleyway continuously so that enemies can't run up the alley to kill you). This also still does not account for the fact that the point of suppressive fire is to keep enemies down and not firing back at your allies, since all it does is to Shake the enemy—which, as mentioned earlier, is not entirely difficult to bypass.

My proposed fix, with input from SteelDraco, makes this maneuver cleaner, allowing nuance in the conditions the attacker is under and allowing for the gunner to actually suppress an enemy force, keeping their heads down while your own troops maneuver to out of any kind of cover. This should even work on player characters, as being out in the open under suppressive fire feels far more lethal and terrifying. We have been testing a slight variant in my Weird Wars game, which has been extremely successful, and this newest variant actually fixes the few problems I had with the previous iteration. All that you need to know to understand this is that in the upcoming edition, the Distracted Condition inflicts a –2 penalty on a character's Trait rolls. Without further ado:

Suppressive Fire
This house rule is meant to replace the underwhelming Suppressive Fire mechanic from Savage Worlds Deluxe, implementing some of the new conditions from Savage Worlds Adventure Edition without causing it to be too overly complicated.

The attacker places a Medium Burst Template on the battlefield and makes a single Shooting roll, including standard modifiers for range, the full-auto penalty, and any other miscellaneous factors (but ignoring the target’s modifiers for being prone or in cover). This uses 5 times the weapon’s Rate of Fire in bullets (so a RoF 3 machine gun uses 15 bullets). If failed, the bullets simply spray without focused effect.

If successful, targets caught in the area must make a Spirit roll (at –2 if the attacker scored a raise), adding the Cover penalty they would receive against the attack as a bonus to the roll. Victims that roll a 1 on their Spirit die (regardless of Wild Die) are hit and suffer damage normally. Characters that do not score a raise are Distracted until the end of their next turn, and failure leaves the victim Shaken. Receiving a Shaken result while already Shaken does not cause a wound, as it results from psychological factors.

►Maintaining Suppression: If the attacker doesn’t take any other actions (including movement) in the round they begin this maneuver, he may maintain his suppressive fire, leaving the template in place until his next turn. This immediately ends if the shooter is Shaken, forced to move, or is otherwise interrupted.

Characters starting their turn or entering the template must make their Spirit roll as above (including the –2 penalty against a raise), but may only add the lowest Cover bonus they intend to use within the template to their Spirit roll (so a character planning to run through open ground within the suppression gets no bonus, even if he begins behind Heavy Cover—characters who wish to fire back without exposing themselves more than necessary may attempt to Fire Blind to retain a higher cover value, of course). This roll must be made before a character takes any actions. Running through multiple suppressed areas prompts multiple Spirit rolls, as necessary.

Example: Private Smith and his squad is caught in the open under Suppressive Fire, and the gunner is maintaining it for the round! He succeeds his Spirit roll, but at the beginning of his Turn must roll again since he begins within the template (at –2, since he is Distracted). Afterwards, he runs to a nearby building and then to a window (Medium Cover) to fire back at the enemy.

Corporal Jameson was already inside the building with Heavy Cover when the Suppressive Fire began, so he succeeded his Spirit roll with a raise! On his turn, he wants to stand and fire back at the enemy, exposing himself to Medium Cover, and must make a Spirit roll with the +2 bonus from Medium Cover. He only gets a success, Distracting him and imposing a –2 to his Shooting roll. 

PFC Buddy was inside the building with Jameson and succeeded on his Spirit roll with a raise as well, but decides on his Turn that he wants to take a shot out the window and run out of the building so he can close his distance with the enemy gunner. He makes his Spirit roll with no bonus, since he intends to run out with no cover at all, before firing his weapon.

Finally, their corpsman, Private Jackson, must cross the building through the Suppressive Fire to get to a wounded ally. He keeps his head down, retaining his Heavy Cover, and makes his Spirit roll at +4 before getting to work on his friend.

In addition to this, one Edge in several settings that include weapons capable of suppression is the Grazing Fire Edge, which originally allowed the character's Suppressive Fire to hit his targets with a roll of 1 or 2 on the Spirit die, rather than just on a 1. However, this effect is somewhat underwhelming as it does not make the character more effective at Suppressive Fire and simply relies on lower rolls from the victims. I recommend changing the Edge to impose a –2 penalty on Spirit rolls when using Suppressive Fire, and a –4 if he achieves a raise, in addition to the written effect. Anyone under his machine gun is going to want to find some cover quickly!

While this may not be the best version of the rule possible, this is certainly the cleanest and most flexible I've seen it as, retaining its lethality and enforcing a kind of psychological warfare not just on the player characters, who will likely struggle to pull themselves up and actually fire back at the enemy, but on the players themselves, at least from our experiences in Weird War II. If anyone from PEG gets the chance to read this, I do hope they consider making a change like this to allow Suppressive Fire to gain back some of its bite and be as cool of an option as it should be!

If any of you guys have any comments or suggestions, leave them down below as usual! It's good to be back, and I should have a lot more of these coming in the near future.

Monday, August 21, 2017

On Arcane Background (Ritual Magic), and the Cold and Heat Trappings

Since we're talking about powers and magic anyways, I wanted to bring up a couple of small things that I'd noticed for the benefit of my good readers.

In the Fantasy Companion, one of the new Arcane Backgrounds is Ritual Magic: the idea is that a chracter is slower and less powerful than a full-blown wizard or sorcerer, but is far more safe and consistent in the use of his abilities. Unfortunately, the mechanics that back this up are that these casters have fewer power points, a lot more penalties, and are less likely to recieve backlash—overall, they're strictly worse than other casters.

I address this by adding a new mechanic: Ritual Preparation. Ritualists may concentrate for a full round (taking no movement or any other actions)—if a character is Shaken, wounded, or Fatigued during this time, he must make a Smarts roll to maintain his concentration. If he's successful in his concentration, the ritualist may add +2 to cast any power on his next Action. This change presents ritualists with 2 casting options every round: they can rush their casting to simply cast the power as usual, or they can exercise a smidge of patience to make their spell practically guaranteed to fire or increase their chances of getting a raise. This also makes a good ritualist more position-oriented, as their spells are more consistent and powerful (due to a higher raise chance and lower Backlash chance), but they are far less mobile then their counterparts.

If this isn't enough to make Ritual Magic viable, GMs might consider allowing the user to utilize one of the Ritual Casting options from the Horror Companion when casting his abilities, specifically the extended range, duration, or effect. If including the damage option, the GM may wish to halve the effect from +2d6/4d6 to +1d6/2d6.

The other thing I have recently discovered is a likely misprint in SWD, possibly due to rushed inclusion: the section on Trappings in Chapter 5 of Savage Worlds Deluxe was based on a similar section from the Fantasy Companion, but was formatted to be cleaner to read. In it, Cold/Ice and Fire/Heat both include options to Fatigue an enemy. However, the Cold/Ice Fatigue notes the downside of either halving range or doubling the PP cost, while the Fire/Heat Fatigue does not. This has led to some confusion as to why the Heat Fatigue Trapping is strictly better than the Cold Fatigue Trapping.

The short answer is that it isn't. The original wording from the Fantasy Companion states that the Fatigue caused by Fire/Heat functions identically to the Cold Trapping—this detail simply didn't translate into SWD. [This has been verified by the publishers to not be the case; the Vigor roll or suffering Fatigue apparently is a "free" Trapping, whereas the ability to suffer a –2 to the roll on a raise is the "expensive" part. Personally that feels backwards to me—a Vigor roll for Fatigue is a very powerful effect to get for free, at least comparable to an entire new power, but I don't want to spread misinformation.]

I know this post was short, but I wanted to mention it before I forgot. I may do an entire post on Trappings later on but for now I hope this helps someone somewhere out there.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Power Lists in Savage Worlds

Hoo, it's been a while. I'm hoping to start posting more of my general Savage Worlds design thoughts here alongside the usual character builds, but seeing as the builds business has been slow recently I figured this is as good a return to form as any. This recently came up on the Savage Worlds Discord Server as a question, but my response was abnormally large and I wanted to elaborate on some parts of the post. 

Spell lists are an... interesting concept in Savage Worlds. It's not at all acknowledged by Savage Worlds Deluxe and is only touched upon in the Fantasy Companion, but it is an integral part to most Savage Settings. Deadlands50 FathomsLankhmar, and Weird Wars RomeWeird War I, and Weird War II all have Power Lists for their various Arcane Backgrounds. So, should your setting include Power Lists for your Arcane Backgrounds?

Well, that's a complex question. Power Lists serve a variety of functions, and different game worlds need them (or don't) to fulfill different purposes. 

The primary beneficiary from Power Lists is your world. Examples from established settings include:
  • 50 Fathoms has Elemental Magic, with short spell lists for each element. For example, only earth mages can cause earthquakes, only air mages can fly, only water mages can heal, and fire mages have the highest variety of directly offensive magic options. This allows the single Arcane Background to have multiple different identities within it (creating inherent variety) with well defined roles. Furthermore, each identity has 13–19 different powers available to it, requiring a character to invest almost his entire career from Novice to Legendary just to master the spells of a single identity, allowing for enormous amounts of combinations for character distinction. Few fire mages are alike, at the end of the day, but all of them can be labelled and sought out in-setting.
  • Deadlands has several Arcane Backgrounds: hucksters, blessed, and weird scientists to name a few. Not only do all of these Backgrounds have wildly different core mechanics (setting them apart in play), but they have large varieties of powers for each type of caster. Some powers (like hunch) are even only available to a single Background. The enormous amount of powers allows for most casters to use a large portion of the book's powers, but predefined Trappings and a few spells unique to certain casters allow any character from each Background to feel wholly unique, powerful, and focused on their core concept.
  • Weird War I (minor spoilers ahead) has three Arcane Backgrounds: Magic, Miracles, and Psionics. In WWII, these only become available to specific individuals, but in the Great War these arts were only just being discovered. Psionics is primarily an offensive power, miracles (implied to be granted through Christianity) is more geared towards biblical powers such as healing and blind, and black magic is far more utilitarian. Powers such as growth/shrink, summon ally, and teleport are wholly unavailable in the setting. All of these reinforce the tone of both the horrors of war and those of the supernatural, while allowing each Background to be defined beyond the amount of starting Powers and the arcane skill's linked Attribute.
  • The Fantasy Companion includes (outdated) spell lists for different deities, as well as a set of predefined "Sins" for each. This will be further defined below, but it is worth mentioning here as much of my discussion is going to revolve around a more or less "generic" fantasy setting.
Power Lists grant an in-game and out-of-game distinction between different kinds of casters, allowing them their own unique identity not just in the setting, but across the character's gaming career as a whole. Someone playing as an air mage in 50 Fathoms will play very differently from Black Magic in Weird Wars, a huckster from Deadlands, or a wizard in a swords and sorcery game, both because of the powers available and the way that the world around the casters interact with them because of the capabilities that they're expected to have. For players choosing between Magic, Miracles, and Psionics, this provides a more interesting and engaging choice for players, helping to enter the mindset of "what does this Arcane Background say about my character?" rather than "I don't like Backlash so I'll take Miracles."

Power Lists, Miracles, and Worldbuilding
Speaking of Miracles, however, the concept of Power Lists is particularly integral to casters of a more religious bent. We will be referencing the way that Power Lists are implemented in the Fantasy Companion, since as a toolkit it's much easier to imagine scenarios within without knowing any specific setting. However, the design principles here ripple out to just about any setting.

Rather than Backlash, these casters suffer from Sins. That means that miracle-workers will almost never be hit in the face with their Sins in the middle of a battle, while other arcane casters normally can, significantly or entirely cutting back on the Arcane Backgrounds' detriment in combat. On top of that, the less restrictive the caster's Sins are, the less likely they are to come up at all

Let's assume that a hypothetical GM opted out of Power Lists for his campaign. As a player, if a character could take an Arcane Background and sacrifice one power up front to never have to deal with the consequences of rolling a 1 on their arcane skill die, why wouldn't they? This is especially bad if the GM doesn't define his Sins very well, or if they are defined but easy enough to avoid that they are effectively nonexistent.

Beyond simple "balance" reasons, though, this is another aspect of worldbuilding that is exceptionally important. The reason a god or pantheon exists, in any realistic culture or setting, is because they can offer something that no one else can: this is why individuals dedicate their entire lives to the study or praise of these deities. Let's take a simple example from the Fantasy Companion in the Goddess of Healing. Supposing the same hypothetical world as before, where every Power is available to normal magic users, why would a culture worship a Goddess who's entire goal is to heal people when men can go off and learn this power of their own accord, through magic? This can be expanded to apply to all the deities in a given world; conversely, why have magic if any god or goddess can grant all of the same abilities with less risk involved? And furthermore, in settings with a pantheon, why worship a particularly restrictive god/goddess when a less restrictive deity will grant the same capabilities?

Power Lists address all of these issues, granting a counterbalance to the benefits of Sins vs Backlash and providing a point of "balance" between the restrictiveness of different deities from both a mechanical and lore standpoint. This is likely why the Fantasy Companion opted to grant different spell lists to the distinct deities, and why wizards and sorcerers aren't able to take healing-oriented powers. While a side-effect of this is that it makes worlds feel a little bit more like traditional D&D fantasy, the overall effect produces consistency and unique pools of casters.

In addition, always remember that any powers available in your setting are available to both your players and your nonplayer characters, and make sure to construct your challenges and lore around that. If the divination and grave speak powers are available to any priest, wizard, or ritualist, then not only can the party sidestep most mysteries, but any powerful casters worth their salt should be able to sidestep them as well: the murder of a high-ranking official or ruler should only rarely remain unsolved, and if they are then they simply cannot be solved through the use of these powers. 

It is also always valid to limit the availability of certain powers to better fit the tone of your setting: for example, the above example of Weird Wars disallows several powers that grant the players too much to escape or overcome the horrors they face, ensuring that one character taking the summon ally power doesn't upturn the entire premise of the setting.

One complaint I have seen about the Power Lists for deities in the Fantasy Companion is that they are far too restrictive, only allowing a small handful of powers at most. This claim is partially valid, but there is an equally valid reason for that: the original publication of the Fantasy Companion does not include content that it introduced in any of its tables or lists anywhere in the book (check for yourself: not a single piece of weapon, armor, or power introduced in the Fantasy Companion is present in any Magic Item Tables, spell lists, or Bestiary Entries). 

The edition of Savage Worlds that was published at the time only included 30 spells; of those, deities only possessed roughly between 15 to 25 powers, giving miracle users a decent selection to work from while still limiting their spells to be in line with the severity of their Sins. I actually attempted to do a little bit of legwork here, providing both Deity Power Lists and Magic Item Tables that include the spells and abilities introduced in the Fantasy Companion.

As two examples, the Spell List originally granted by the Goddess of Healing only provided 16 spells. My new list includes all of the spells on the original list, along with ten more. Similarly, the God of the Sun provided 24 powers—5/6 of the entire power list at the time. I've granted him an additional 17 powers to remain proportional. I've listed all of my personal power list additions in a separate section below: let's keep the article moving.

Another thing that I have seen mentioned is that power lists can make different kinds of casters within the same Arcane Background feel less distinguished from one another: if all patrons of the Goddess of Healing can only choose from 16 different powers, there are going to be a lot of priests that begin play with *healing* and *boost/lower trait*, right?

I disagree with that notion. Aside from my own rules increasing this potential number of powers to 26 instead of 16—only going by the original Fantasy Companion printing—there are 78 possible starting combinations of powers, 120 with the "Born a Hero" Setting Rule (allowing the taking of the Seasoned Rank powers). With the new list, that increases to 153 combinations, or 325 with the new list. [Source: math]

I suppose a counter might be that as characters Advance and take more of the possible powers, they might begin to mold into the same subset of powers. That, also, is poppycock. Using the original Fantasy Companion lists, a character would need to spend 70 XP solely on acquiring new powers to have every possible spell available to him: no Power Points, no Holy Warrior or Champion or Rapid Recharge or Faith increases. Using my updated lists, a character that spent the same 70 XP on nothing but powers has over 5 million possible combinations of powers they might have taken, and would need 160 XP of nothing but spells to have every available power.

And these examples are only for characters who chose the Goddess of Healing, which is far and away the most "restricted" Deity available with regard to power choices. Sun priests have 120 possible starting combinations with the original list without Born a Hero, and have 253 with the new list—they would require a full 210 XP of Advances to completely fill out their powers list, and one with 70 XP of powers has 200 billion possible combinations—double the total number of humans to have ever lived ever. Remember also that none of these take into account Trappings that change the mechanics of powers, which further increases the potential variety significantly—you can have half a dozen characters with the bolt power alone, with different Trappings and mechanics for each one. [Further counterpoint might be that without powers list, the same 70 XP miracle-worker has a combination of up to 200 trillion powers, but honestly that's starting to leave the realm of conceivability and likely doesn't add much to the game.] 

Considering that all of this is before even considering different Edges, Skills, Attributes and Hindrances that make characters unique (along with their gear), really, variety isn't much of a problem with Spell Lists.

On the contrary, I would like to propose the idea that running a game without spell lists runs more of a risk of losing variety than running with. Remember that every distinguishing feature in an Arcane Background helps set it apart from every other feature, having major impacts on all groups and characters involved in taking the background. Every group of casters should feel unique through Backlash, powers, and Trappings, allowing all kinds of casters to feel unique. Casting this net too wide (without power lists) means that, when every character can take every power, no Arcane Background is going to have one of the three above distinguishing features. The difference between Magic and Psionics in SWD core is just the Backlash: starting powers and PP are identical. Instead of having "magic users" and "miracle workers" and "alchemists" and "psionicists," now you simply have "casters" with different kinds of backlash.

Cons to Power Lists
As with any kind of design decision, including or not including something can vastly change the tone and consistency of your game. While I've listed many of the benefits of Power Lists above, there are a couple of major cons that come with this stuff.

The primary drawback isn't really game related: making these lists takes time. Depending on how many Arcane Backgrounds/Deities inhabit your world, this kind of project can take hours to complete, and may people are too busy working or planning or family-ing to really manage something as minute as whether or not one of your players could maybe hypothetically take the slumber power if they wanted to.

The secondary drawback is one that I've heard a few times as well, though it's one that is a bit more wishy-washy in terms of whether or not it holds water: the concept of pre-defining what powers a character can take before the character is even conceived can limit player concepts. Personally, I don't believe that it does—the available power lists aren't particularly restrictive without reason, and many times the powers available to a certain background are only available by virtue of how that background functions within the setting: e.g. mages in 50 Fathoms having to choose what kind of Element they specialize in channeling, or Healing priests being disallowed from taking blast or burst (why would a Goddess of healing and peace grant her followers the ability to level buildings?).

Which is Best For You?
Different approaches work better for different tables. Some of the more common scenarios and situations will hopefully be listed here: 

I'm running an existing Pinnacle or third-party Savage Worlds Setting: If this includes Power Lists, then use them. I've outlined all of the above benefits of utilizing them, and the best part of existing content is that they've already done the legwork for you. It will benefit your world and your casters will have more interesting choices than what kind of Backlash they'd prefer in their Arcane Background.

I'm running an original homebrew campaign, or adapting an existing setting for the use at my table: Unless you're planning on running lots of people through your campaign, or you're expecting some really long-term stuff or for characters to come in and out very frequently, a pre-defined Spell List isn't super necessary. The function that Power Lists should serve is to make sure that characters stay within the capabilities of your world and the lore within, keeping consistency for everyone involved and giving players the ability to peruse what powers are available to them without constantly consulting the GM. If you still wish to create Power Lists, and you have the time to do so, feel free.

The alternative is simple as well: restrict players by concept. If your acolyte of the War God wants to take "Summon Ally," figure out why, and use your god-given GM veto powers if you can't see why the God would or could grant their follower that ability (summoning warrior angels is good; summoning shadow fiends probably not so much).

I'm running a one-shot or convention game, but not in an existing Setting: If you're here, chances are you're just using pre-gen characters, so Power Lists really don't matter—they exist so that players know what kinds of powers are appropriate for their Arcane Background, so unless players are choosing to build their own characters then Power Lists would be a waste of time (and even then, the above "restrict by concept" solution is a better fit anyways).

I am running or designing a Setting designed for other groups to play in: It is crucial that you include Power Lists in your setting, for all of the worldbuilding, aesthetic, design and balance purposes listed above. Not only does it keep consistency, but it means that anyone else coming along to pick up a copy of your setting will fall into the first category here, and it is your job to do the legwork for them to play in: that's why you're designing a setting for other people anyways. It keeps your world coherent, makes your casters memorable, and makes sure that everyone knows what your intent was behind "the God of the Harvest."

Hopefully this covers all the major bases. If Power Lists are available, or if you have the drive and time to make your own, I strongly recommend doing so.

BONUS: Expanded Fantasy Companion Power Lists
For those who would like to try a Fantasy Setting with Powers Lists but aren't fans of the lists presented in the Fantasy Companion due to how limited they are, here are expanded entries that should feel a lot more open for player choice. This section is gonna be pretty much useless without that Companion, so don't expect full lists for most of these (because of copyright stuff). 

Light/obscure may be taken as a single power, but if a Power List from the Fantasy Companion doesn't list both, their Trappings preclude the caster from using the unlisted effect.

Goddess of Healing
In addition to the original 16 powers available, add the following 10 powers: banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, divination, drain power points, legerdemain, slumber, succor, and summon ally.

God of Justice

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 15 powers: analyze foe, banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, confusion, divination, drain power points, intangibility, legerdemain, mind reading, slow, succor, summon ally, and warrior's gift.

God of Knowledge

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 14 powers: analyze foebanish, bless/curse, concentrateconfusion, darksight, divination, drain power points, farsight, legerdemain, mind reading, succor, summon ally, and wall walker.

God of Nature

In addition to the original 23 powers available, add the following 18 powers: banish, bless/curse, burstconcentrate, confusion, damage field, darksight, divination, drain power points, draining touchgrowth/shrink, havoc, intangibility, jet, pummel, succor, summon ally, and wall walker.

God of the Sea

In addition to the original 21 powers available, add the following 16 powers: banish, bless/curse, concentrate, confusion, darksight, divination, drain power points, draining touch, havoc, intangibility, legerdemain, pummel, slow, succor, summon ally, and warrior's gift.

God of the Sun

In addition to the original 24 powers available, add the following 17 powers: banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, confusion, damage field, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink, havoc, jet, legerdemain, pummel, succor, summon ally, warrior's gift.

God of Thieves

In addition to the original 20 powers available, add the following 17 powers: analyze foe, banish, blind, concentrate, confusion, darksight, disguise, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink (shrink only), intangibility, legerdemain, mind reading, slumber, succor, wall walker.

God of War

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 13 powers: bless/curse (Strength, Vigor, and combat skills only), blind, damage field, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink (growth only), havoc, jet, pummel, slow, summon ally, warrior's gift.

Arcane Background (Alchemy)

In addition to the original 18 powers available, add the following 18 powers: blind, concentrateconfusion, damage field, darksight, disguise, draining touchfarsight, growth/shrink, intangibility, legerdemain, puppetslow, slumber, succor, telekinesis, wall walker, warrior's gift.
> Additional Targets: For powers that grant the option to affect additional targets for additional Power Points, the GM may allow this to instead be additional potions from the same “batch.” This allows for a single Alchemy roll for multiple potions of these powers. Remember that this also affects the cost to maintain the power after it has been consumed as well. [This is per a suggestion on the now-defunct Savage Worlds forum; I'll link to the post if I can find it in the archives later.]

Arcane Background (Troubadour)

The Troubadour Edge in the Fantasy Companion always seemed odd to me. It almost tries to function as the Adept Edge by changing the nature of the Background, but the Troubadour Edge takes it an extra step further by requiring a different arcane skill and removing Sins in favor of Strain.
From the Edge itself:
"Despite using the rules for Arcane Background (Miracles), Troubadours typically don’t worship a specific deity for their power. They believe in the power of the arts, so their Arcane Skill is Perform (Spirit) instead of Faith."
Considering its requirements (Arcane Background (Miracles) and Perform d6+), this creates an odd scenario where to take the Edge at character creation, that requires two entire Edges for effectively a normal Arcane Background. Additionally, taking the Edge after character creation is almost worse, as the character is affected by Sins until he takes the Edge, and must still use a Faith die which becomes useless after the Edge is taken: either he cannot reliably cast spells until he takes Troubadour by neglecting Faith, or he invests in Faith but the Edge and now never has a use for the Faith die again.

Instead, I use Troubadours as their own Arcane Background, the rules for which I've listed below:

Arcane Skill: Perform (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10
Starting Powers: 2
Spell List: armor, banish, barrier, beast friend, bless/curse, blind, bolt, boost/lower trait, concentrate, confusion, deflection, detect/conceal arcana, disguise, dispel, drain power points, elemental protection, entangle, environmental protection, farsight, fear, havoc, healing, intangibility, invisibility, light/obscure, pummel, puppet, quickness, slow, slumber, speed, speak language, stun, succor, teleport, wall walker, warrior's gift.
Troubadors are traveling entertainers who bring news and amusement to people across the land. They use the same system for Strain (Backlash) and for "mundane" uses of the Perform skill as listed under the now-defunct Troubadour Edge in the Fantasy Companion (page 7). Their Power List contains 37 powers.


I hope you guys like this kind of "Insights and Ideas" content; I'm hoping to do more in the future. If you have any thoughts, comments, whatever, leave a comment, and feel free to join up in the Savage Worlds Discord channel; I'd love to see some new blood come in sometime!