Monday, September 28, 2015

Halloween Games and FG Con7

To celebrate Halloween this month I decided to run as many horror-themed games in October as possible.

It all starts with some Deadlands Reloaded Saturday October 3rd on Fantasy Grounds. It's free for everybody and there are still a few seats left.

It's also FG Con7 on October 16-18th and since we themed it Fright Night to celebrate Halloween I'll be running some more games there. I kick off the celebrations with some Savage Ghostbusters on Friday night followed by Beasts & Barbarians on Saturday. There are a few seats open for these also so come on in! Again, it's free (trying to kill the myth that you always have to pay money to play on Fantasy Grounds -- is it working? hehe). Check out the other events as well. There's some Pathfinder Society, Savage Worlds, D&D 5e, Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu and more.

There is room for more games as well. I really want to run Chickens in the Mist and tie it in with ETU. I should probably run some Trail of Cthulhu as well but I only have the Murderer of Thomas Fell and Ritual Pursuits ready.

I also plan on purchasing the Savage Tales of Horror this week and if I can find a tale short enough to accommodate a three or four hours time slot I'll probably run some of that as well.

And of course, with the new season of The Walking Dead starting this month I should probably dig out my War of the Dead game.

What are you running or playing this Halloween?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

10 free Halloween Savage Tales

My favorite holiday of the year is a little over a month away. My trick-or-treating days are behind me but I still enjoy decorating the house and watching horror films.

I also love to run Halloween or horror themed Savage Worlds one-shots. So much I wish Halloween lasted a whole month.

In case you’re feeling uninspired but still interested in running a Halloween-themed Savage Worlds game for your group here are ten free options. Some of them require more than just the core rules to play, some of them also include pre-generated characters and other props which is great.

This is  free One-Sheet written by Dave Blewer involves a Dark God Cult and takes place in a hospital. If you’d like to delve into madness this is a great option.
Penned by Savage Worlds rules guru Clint Black and John Goff the man who gave you Night Train, this Rippers adventure pits the player characters against demon worshippers.
Written by Shane Lacy Hensley, this free adventure for Deadlands Reloaded also requires the Horror Companion to play because the stats for the main villain are in there.
For years this was the adventure that came with the Test Drive Rules for FreeRpgDay before it was replaced by Triple Cross for the Lankhmar setting. Again, John Goff has written a solid and fun adventure. It comes with pre-generated characters, figure flats, handouts and the test drive rules. Very plug and play.
This fan made adventure by Chris Jackson takes place at a Halloween party in a friend’s house.
Scooby Doo anybody? +Brian Reeves  puts out a well written Halloween adventure that comes with pre-generated character sheets of the character we’ve come to love.
Another great offering from +Brian Reeves  featuring the characters from the Bram Stoker novel. It has setting rules, new powers and pre-generated characters.
Written by Sean Preston of Reality Blurs, this Agents of Oblivion mini-mission takes place during the Pumpkin Festival.
While it requires Zombacalypse from Silver Gryphon Games, this One-Sheet adventure by Kevin Rohan could be run without it. It’s an interesting twist to the zombie genre.
This Savage Tale for Beasts & Barbarians takes place during festivities where people dress up and wear masks (sounds like Halloween to me). Umberto Pignatelli definitely gets the sword & sorcery tropes but this dungeon crawl also follows some of the Lovecraft tales of horror tropes with some of the creatures the heroes will have to face. If your group prefers the Fantasy genre, you can’t go wrong with this. It could easily be adapted for another setting if you don’t have the Beasts & Barbarians book. But if you do, there are pre-generated characters available.

With all these options I might have to make Halloween last for the whole month of October.There are certainly more options out there. Maybe you’ve written something for Halloween that my google-fu failed to pick up. Why don’t you share it with us? What else would you recommend for this spooky holiday that is free?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Life after the Shaken bomb

Back in May Clint Black dropped a bomb on us:

"At the beginning of their action, a Shaken character makes a Spirit roll to recover. On a failure, he remains Shaken. On a success, the character removes their Shaken condition and may take their action normally."

For many Savages, it was literally the end of the world. Some took it well, others not so much. This simple change was dissected and analyzed. Every concern brought up was valid to me. Everybody experience Savage Worlds differently even though we all use the same book. To some it meant more power to the player characters, to others it meant a few edges and tactics like tricks, combat reflexes becoming less effective. My reaction to the change was mostly positive but with reserves.

Four months and about twenty game sessions later with two different steady groups, half a dozen one shots and between twenty and thirty different players I'm ready to share my experience and opinion.

Players still perform tricks but they are more selective. Before the change to the Shaken rule, if an enemy was Shaken many players would then shift their attention onto another threat whereas now they work as a team. If an enemy is Shaken, the next friendly actors in the initiative order will concentrate on taken him/her/it out because now they don't have that round when they know the bad guy is no longer Shaken but will not be able to act. I believe that any game mechanic that encourages players to work as a team is a good thing. This facilitates the bonding process. This also creates an atmosphere of urgency and players pay more attention to the initiative order instead of just waiting for their turn to roll dice.  
Combat reflexes is more important and useful than ever because unless of a critical failure or being wounded actors in a fight will "Unshake" and be ready to act. Yes, you could get rid of the Shaken condition and act before (still can) by spending a benny but what I see now is players spending more bennies on re-rolls.

I've also noticed the combats have gotten even faster and I've had less bookkeeping to do.

These are my impressions. But what about the players? Honestly, none of them has said a word about it. Not one complaint, not really any positive reactions. It's as if it hasn't made a difference...

I guess it wasn't that big a deal after all.

What about you? What's your experience with the Shaken rule change?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Top 5 campaigns I'd like to run next

Besides all the one-shot games I run over the weekend and for online RPG conventions I run two campaigns. 

Every other Tuesday morning we play the Savage World of Solomon Kane. This started over the summer and after five sessions we just passed the introduction to the Path of Kane plot point campaign. I've been using mostly my own tales and we're having fun with the episode/comic book format where every story is one game session or two long at the most.

On Friday evenings it's Beasts & Barbarians. What started out as a series of one-shots a year ago has become a very steady campaign driven by character story arcs. The players are comfortable with their characters, the group has gelled well and our games are filled with laughter and cheers. We've just completed what I call season one so we're on a hiatus until the beginning of November where we'll play season two set in Jalizar, city of thieves, flower of the north. The group is mostly comprised of Heroic rank characters and, despite running Savage Worlds for many years, I've rarely had to challenge groups above Seasoned. This should be interesting.

But as you know, a GM's heart is often one step ahead when it comes to planning or at least day-dreaming a campaign and I'm no different.

Here are the campaigns I'd like to run in the near future in no particular order.

1. The Dracula Dossier: Super spies vs Dracula for Night's Black Agents. A giant sandbox, collaborative campaign with gorgeous handouts that looks totally epic. This would be very challenging for me. I would need to prepare for this like I've never prepared before. As a GM always willing to improve, I'd love to be part of this.

2. Apocalypse World: I've wanted to run a successful post-apocalyptic campaign for a while. The prep sessions using Fate Core were a very interesting and engaging experience but the actual play didn't go so well mainly because of everybody inexperience with the Fate engine. I'm still contemplating sticking to Savage Worlds and using material from Deadlands Hell on Earth Reloaded, Broken Earth and World of the Dead but since I really want to try out a Powered by the Apocalypse game, the one that started it all sound like something my Beasts & Barbarians group would rock to no end because we thrive on bouncing ideas off of each other.

3. Achtung! Cthulhu: The Mythos, Nazis, Indiana Jones, World War II, 'nuff said!

4. Primeval Thule: I don't even have the D&D 5e books from the Kickstarter yet. I have very little experience with 5e but I like the system as far as class-based systems go. The Forgotten Realms don't inspire me at all. Every time I hear elven ranger, dwarven cleric or wizard I throw up in my mouth a little bit. Primeval Thule on the other hand is a sword & sorcery setting of Conan vs Cthulhu. It feels fresh and exciting to me. And if you can't tell yet, I love sword & sorcery and horror genre campaigns. This seems like a good match for me.

5. Savage Barsoom: Like I said, I love the sword & sorcery tropes, this just takes them to Mars. Space 1889 looks great but I'm not really into the whole Victorian thing, I loved Princess of Mars, it really moved me and I think this could be a very engaging campaign. With the Mars books from Adamant Entertainment, ship rules from 50 Fathoms and Pirates of the Spanish Main, the Science Fiction Companion and a bit of elbow grease I think I could get this airship up an flying.

What do you think? If you could play in my next campaign, which one would you prefer and why? If you've played in one or more of those already, what was it like?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Noir Knights Review

The Skinny
Noir Knights is a Savage Suzerain setting part of the continuum. That means you can hop from one setting to another with the same characters. This setting is designed for Heroic rank characters in mind and requires both the Savage Worlds core rules and the Savage Suzerain setting book to play.

Savage Mojo calls Noir Knights it’s American Grit setting. Back in 2010, it joined the Daring Tales of Adventure series from Triple Ace Games and Thrilling Tales from Adamant Entertainment as 1930’s pulp options for Savage Worlds players. Deadlands Noir came much later. It has since gone through an update in 2014 to bring it inline with the “continuum”, minor edits and a brand new cover. If you don’t know much about Savage Suzerain this review will not go in depth to explain what it is so I encourage you to do your own research. I will only say that it is a line of Savage Worlds products primarily geared toward higher tiered play with character creation options that caters to that. It offers groups to jump from one setting to another without having to change characters. Caladon Falls, Set Rising, Dogs of Hades and Shanghai Vampocalypse are among the settings you can choose from. Each one has a Plot Point Campaign and character options.

So onto Noir Knights. Take your typical 1930’s Noir setting with gumshoe, gun moll and G men characters and inject a large dose of the supernatural and you get Noir Knights. The player characters are recruited as part of a task force for the SPA (Special Projects Administration), a precursor to the FBI. So in a way, think X-Files meet the Great Depression.

This book deals with themes of the Great Depression, famine, supernatural threat, industrialization and corruption. The Everglades, Dust Bowl and Washington D.C. are the default backdrops where most of the Plot Point Campaign takes place.

Besides the typical character archetypes of the genre you can create a ruizologist which is a weather controlling elementalist; a railworker who uses sigils to wander the railroads of America; or a taximancer, part voodoo practitioner part taxidermist who uses it’s artform to animate specially prepared vessels and pray to the loa spirits. You also get very fun new Edges, vehicles and powers.

The GM is full of behind-the-scenes information on the setting, some explaining real historical events. All that content is very clever and littered with many ideas a resourceful GM can draw on to run his own campaign.

Then comes the 12 Plot Point Campaign tales with 18 more Savage Tales, along with new NPCs and critters of Noir Knights. It’s hard to talk about this section without giving out any spoilers but I will say it is epic and varied. In one mission you’re at the carnival and in the next, in one of Henry Ford’s factories. Yes, it’s crazy like that!

The Good

The production value is top notch. It’s easy to read with it’s layout and nice to look at for it’s artwork. I mean, look at the cover! Savage Mojo never disappoints in that department. You wouldn’t expect any less for a product Aaron Acevedo designed.

The writing is also very good and easy to read. Stuart Gorman doesn’t waste any words in this 146 pages book, Every word is a new idea, a new painting in your head.

The new Edges are varied and fun and help illustrate the setting as it should be. The new Pulse Paths (arcane backgrounds in Suzerain) are wicked fun.

Not necessarily in this book but the fact this is well supported with many one sheets and pack of pre-generated characters really adds to the value of Noir Knights.

The Bad

Artefacts of D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder are still present in the form of secondary arcane backgrounds. You can’t help but think: “prestige classes? really?”. This is more of a knock on the whole Savage Suzerain line as every setting has it’s own set of Pulse Paths. This is however offset by the fact that when you pick a secondary Pulse Path you get two powers and a d4 in the related skill for free. Why not just offer new powers options and give guidelines for the Trappings instead?

Again, another knock on Suzerain in general, the rank requirements. Most groups want to start out as Novice characters and make their way up. I understand that this setting was written for larger than life characters but the plot point campaign is also a large investigation. Surely, an effort could have been made to scale a Novice to Legendary progression. Yes, you could start in Caladon Falls which is a Novice Rank plot point campaign but who wants to play through 30 sessions of another setting when it’s Noir Knights you want to play? This has been a barrier for me for a few years now. That and the “prestige classes for Savage Worlds” are keeping me from totally buying into the Suzerain continuum.

The Savage Suzerain corebook used to be a free pdf download. Not anymore. And if you prefer hardcopies this still meant you had to purchases the Savage Worlds core rules and Savage Suzerain books in order to play Noir Knights. But you can’t even get away from that by buying in digital format now anyway since like I said, even the pdf has to be purchased now. This may be manageable with Pinnacle Entertainment Group digital products since they tend to be $10 or less but Savage Mojo products are usually around $25 each. For print, you’re going to pay between $30 to $50 depending on your desired print quality. To their defense, they often run good sales so be on the lookout!


This is a solid Savage Worlds setting I’ve been meaning to play for a while. I think it’s a very niche product and it’s probably why it flies under everybody’s radar. A lot of it’s new Edges could be mined by creative GMs for other settings. Groups looking for something really different to play will be spoiled by this product.

Right now I’m still trying to find the right angle to approach Noir Knights. I either need to get over the mental hump of starting straight at Heroic and use the article I wrote for Savage Insider, V2I2, Taking Action entitled Character with History (shameless plug) or to start my group off as Novice and scale the opposition down.

If you're interested, Noir Knights is currently on sale on DTRPG as part of the Savage September sale.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ultima Forsan Review

The Skinny

Ultima Forsan is set during an alternate Renaissance suffering the aftermath of the Black Plague. All manners of undead creatures have practically decimated the world with small pockets of civilizations hiding behind walls. All economical resources have been diverted to warfare, to invent more efficient ways to combat the army of the dead. Think of it as Resident Evil meets Warhammer or –if such an amazing thing existed – Leonardo Da Vinci: Zombie Hunter. It uses Savage Worlds as it’s engine. No other book besides the Deluxe Core Rules are required to play.

The first two chapters talk about the world in it’s current geopolitical state, how things came to be how they are today, the nature of the plague and the various kingdoms that populate Europe, the Middle-East and Northern Africa. This is a rich setting well thought of. What I like about it is that you don’t have to be a historian, an anthropologist or geographer to play or run this. You now have kingdoms like the Sultanate of Granada, the Caliphate of Sicily and the Teutonic Federate Principalities. Each of those kingdoms are described and each has it’s own flavor, motivations, government and attitude. The New Kingdoms map is also gorgeous.

Next up are the character creation and gear chapters. You get to choose between two races: the Untainted and Tainted. The Tainted carry atrament in their blood but do not suffer it’s fatal fate. They are still contagious however. Atrament is the black ichor that spreads the plague and turns the living into the not so-living-anymore. They are more resistant to diseases and, if they are bitten or otherwise infected by the dead, they will not fall ill from the ordeal. They are still fated to turn upon their first death however. Also, most parts of the world don’t tolerate or trust them. And yes, their ghastly appearance gives it away.

There is a plethora of new edges and hindrances. The professional edges are especially interesting allowing the players to have characters like the deadcatcher, gravedigger, knight, plague doctor, monk or the red odalisque featured on the cover with the red robe and two scimitars.

The gear section has new weapons and gear to amputate and treat infected wounds as well as augmented armor and prosthesis (see amputation).

Following this great introduction comes the Setting Rules chapter. You have rules to scale the lethality of the setting from downright gruesome and extremely deadly (the default setting) down to two less lethal settings. Let’s put it this way, the default lethality setting (Triumph of Death) is so tough the GM is advised to hand out two extra Experience Points per session.

All manners of preventing infection, fighting the Dead, the behavior of the Horde during combat, dealing with amputations and last hours before you turn are covered here. They don’t change the core rules too much, just a few tweaks here and there and the addition of necessary rules.

Then, the new (and only) arcane backgrounds are explained. This setting uses the No Power Points setting rule. You can play an alchemist, inventor or witch. They each have different mechanics, power list and feel to them.

At this point, from page 114, it’s information for the GM. Relics and Marvels, the Secrets (behind-the-scenes look). A short four episodes long campaign called The Secret of Marco Polo. An adventure generator and the surprisingly well detailed bestiary. It even has optional rules for using Tarot Cards as the action deck.

Finally you get a map of Lucca, a fortified city and a character sheet.
The Good
This is a very rich setting that fills a hole in the Savage Worlds catalog, that of the gritty kind. Through clever setting rules, gear and character options it manages to make a lethal setting appealing and deep.

The introduction of augmented armor is very interesting. There is a wide selection of character options guaranteed to satisfy players as well as many different opponents or adventure types a GM can throw at the players.

The artwork is absolutely fantastic, offering a mix of stunning modern style pieces and artwork you’ll swear were taken from medieval books and drawn by monks.
The Bad
It’s been pointed out by others that the translation from Italian to English is sub par. I’m a non-native English speaker so those awkward sentence structures aren’t as apparent to me. However, the book is hard to read at times. Let’s face it, a rule book isn’t like a captivating novel so the text has to flow better than in this book.The text would breathe better with shorter sentences for instance.

The Alchemist arcane background seem over complicated to me. Two rolls to determine preparation and effects are one too many in my opinion. I can’t help but think it should have been designed like the Lotusmaster arcane background from Beasts & Barbarians. Both written by Italians and Umberto Pignatelli (author and designer of Beasts & Barbarians) is even in the thank you section. Did he fail to give a sound advice or did the Ultima Forsan authors decided not to listen? All joking aside, one roll to determine effects during preparation and mishaps on a roll of 1 on the arcane skill die, or critical failure would accomplish the same thing with less time, die rolls and things to keep track of.

Most of the interesting art pieces are full pages between chapters or sections. I’d like quarter page art of the new gear and bestiary creatures. What does the Last Hope look like? How creepy-looking is a Possessed compared to a Carrion?
If you want to play during a zombie apocalypse in a fantasy setting and want more than just shambling mindless zombies and a more polished and interesting metaplot Ultima Forsan is for you.
This is a macabre setting where life is cheap, where survival, instead of gold coins is an incomparable reward. It’s truly unique and comes from the minds of very creative folks who understand the Savage Worlds system and don’t try to throw the kitchen sink at you. A lot of the setting rules, edges, hindrances, gear and creatures can easily be used in other settings or mined for your own setting as well. They are that well designed, with flair.

I, for one, feel like I’ve been given a quality product and look forward to more offerings from GGStudio.

If you'd like to check it out you can find a free preview here, and the full setting book here.