Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Just Insert Imagination's Plug & Play Adventure Format

It has been a privilege for me to write for +Just Insert Imagination  in the Plug & Play format that was first introduced in Fuhgeddaboudit!, and later with Size Matters, White Noise, Aliens vs Rednecks and recently Ashen Thorns.
This blog aims to explain how and why this format came to be, and what constitute a Plug & Play adventure.
Back in March 2016 we released a system agnostic GM aid named Vamonos Pizza. It would be the first in a series of products called Snap Sites. These were designed to be maps, props, a cast of characters and story ideas tied to one location that a GM could use to run a scene or a whole session. Back in college I studied literature and learned about theater. One act is one location with characters. During the entr'acte, the crew would change the set and the action took place in another location. The more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of what happens during a role-playing game session when the GM pauses the game to change the map on the table or draw the new location on the mat. It's also how I tend to build my scenes: interesting location, dramatic characters and sparks to make the whole thing come alive. This is essentially what Snap Sites are. But enough of this, this blog is about Plug & Play. Let's get on with it.
The decision to lay out the information on three landscape US letter panels (that can be inserted into a GM screen) is also common to each Snap Site product and would end up being the foundation to Fuhgeddaboudit! that would be released later that month.
When I first started getting into Savage Worlds one of the first thing I did was to download and read every free product I could find. One of the gems out there is the Wizards & Warriors bundle. It comes with a 5 pages PDF containing expanded rules on running a medieval-fantasy game in Savage Worlds. Keep in mind that this was before the Fantasy Companion. Same mechanics are now part of the Fantasy Companion. You also found pregens, a One Sheet named Tomb of Terrors, tiles for the mini dungeon, rat swarm templates and treasure cards. It was an amazing value for a totally free product. With the test drive rules and this bundle you can try out Savage Worlds with your friends, and use it for a pick up game or convention game with little to no prep. Pinnacle has since made a few such bundles like the Moscow Connection, The Wild Hunt for Free RPG Day with a new Test Drive rules version and more recently with the latest Test Drive rules version that includes a Lankhmar adventure and pregens.
As far as I know the only other publisher to do something like that is Triple Ace Games. No other Savage Worlds Licensee has taken full advantage of this format on a regular basis.
Something else I really like are the savage tales in the Savage Worlds Deluxe and Savage Tales of Horror. Right from the start are Setting Rules for the adventure. Without leaning on a fully fledged setting the rules instantly make you feel like you are part of one, though at a much smaller scale. I felt I could take that concept a bit further.
Part of what makes a setting to me is what the GM brings to the table for the player characters to interact with. The other part are obviously the characters. In a short format such as Plug & Play where you want to limit the bulk of the material to three or four pages there isn't room for many character options. And,because this is meant as a one-off, you want to just sit down and play. Pregenerated characters are a no-brainer. As a designer, you have the opportunity to make the characters a part of the setting. You want the players to get a good feel of the setting through these characters.
Every time I write a Plug & Play adventure or work with someone who's writing one I like to follow these guidelines.


This excludes pregens or handouts. 2000-3000 words.
  • Fuhgeddaboudit!: 2,300 words
  • Size Matters: 3,045 words
  • White Noise: 2,100 words
  • Aliens vs Rednecks: 2,400 words
  • Ashen Thorns: 3,200 words
This is mainly a layout restriction. Ideally, you want everything to fit on three landscape pages so that you can insert them in your GM screen or lay them flat on the table in front of you without taking too much of table real estate. Also, for digital GMs, landscape is much easier to read on a monitor.

Adventure Content

  • A quote intended to capture the essence of this mini-setting. Using pop culture references is quite useful here since it's something most people can wrap their head around.
  • A reminder that all you need to play this adventure are the Savage Worlds Deluxe and what's included in this bundle. This is important. The core rules have so much potential, yet, most products require you to own another product or two to use a setting or adventure. This is also the perfect opportunity for YOU to show the audience what the core rules can do.
  • Setting Rules. If necessary, add two or three setting rules that can be explained in a short paragraph. If the adventure uses Setting Rules from the Savage Worlds Deluxe, list them here.
  • The Adventure. The premise needs to be simple. You don't have the space for a deep and complex background here. Fuhgeddaboudit! and Aliens vs Redneck are sandboxes, it starts out with a simple mission. The rest is all "what ifs". Size Matters and White Noise are location based scenarii. Ashen Thorns is a linear adventure with some choices leading to "traps". I prefer to write them more open because I believe the format has more replay value but it doesn't really matter what type of adventure it is.
  • Flavor. Things like custom Dramatic Interludes and a lexicon really help flesh out this "universe" the group will be creating.
  • Bestiary. Three to five personalities or creatures. You should point out to the core book and modify whenever you can. Stick to what is likely to be encountered.
  • Gear. If there are weapons, equipment or vehicles needed for the adventure, put them here.
  • Twists & Complications. Ashen Thorns and White Noise uses very few, if any. I prefer to use a lot of them. As a GM, I like to improvise. This is the kind of thing that end up in my notes when I prep a game. When things bog down, I need to make it more challenging, or stretch it out, I use these. Also, again, it gives the adventure more replay value.

Pregenerated characters

Not only will they save everybody time come game time, they serve as archetypes for the mini-setting the adventure is set in. By looking at these characters, the players should have a better idea of what they are getting into and the world their characters will be in. Also, you have the opportunity to make characters that will have a chance to shine during the adventure. 
Finally, this is where you can introduce new Edges or Hindrances and highlight the use of trappings. Aliens vs Rednecks is probably the best example for that since we went heavy on the trappings for two powers and introduced a new Racial Template. Aim for five or six pregenerated characters of a rank you believe is best suited for the adventure. I usually go for Seasoned rank whenever possible because I feel it's easier to flesh out a character concept, but the player (who may be new to Savage Worlds) isn't overwhelmed with character options. This is just a personal preference, not a hard rule.

Extras & Handouts

Anything the GM doesn't need to have in front of him and will be handed out to the players ends up here. In Fuhgeddaboudit! and White Noise for instance, there is an intrigue between the characters and the players are handed a card with information on it. Size Matters has cards illustrating the scale of every creature encountered compared to human size.


Most people don't have the skills, software or time to make maps, figure flats, table tents and character sheets. I don't. At this point, +Morne Schaap happens. The man is very talented and happens to be a professional graphic designer for a magazine in South Africa. Without him, Plug & Play adventures simply don't happen.
Usually the first thing he works on is the cover. As with any cover, it needs to capture what the adventure is about. This sets the tone for the rest of the props he'll design. It's also a panel you can slide in on the outside of your GM screen and potentially attract strays at conventions or your local game store.
Next, he usually works on the character sheet. The challenge here is to have a clear character sheet but at the same time contain enough trade dress to immerse the player holding the sheet into the setting. 
For Fuhgeddaboudit! Morne drew inspiration from Reservoir Dogs. In Aliens vs Redneck he went for a tabloid look.
Then he usually moves on to maps if necessary. White Noise has a radar-looking map; for Fuhgeddaboudit! he opted for pop art, Size Matters has the kind of emergency evacuation map you'd find at a hotel or in this case, laboratory; Ashen Thorns has maps as if drawn by the children the heroes are trying to rescue. You can relay a lot of information on a map. In Aliens vs Rednecks, adventure seeds are all over the map if you look closely.
Lastly, Morne will create figure flats, table tents and art needed to sell the theme or make the layout fit.
What more can I say? The guy nails it every time.
While this is happening, the manuscript is sent to our editor to make sure everything is kosher. When we're satisfied with it, it goes live. It's hard to accurately say how much time goes into this but there's easily 20-30 hours of labor that goes into creating a Plug & Play adventure.
So there you have it folks. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Encounter Difficulty

Over at +The Wild Die Podcast  we released a bonus episode in which we answered a question from +Pure Mongrel concerning encounter difficulty. This is a recurring question in the community. Savage Worlds Deluxe addresses that in the chapter Running the Game. This provides a baseline but as is the case with many Savage Worlds mechanics, this is more art than science. The nature of open-ended die rolls makes it difficult to balance the opposition against a group of player-characters without knowing all of the parameters. I started with Savage Worlds before Deluxe edition where Combat Ratings were introduced. I've never used those so I can't comment on their accuracy. All I can say is that after D&D 3.5, I have no desire to start playing accountant.
Throughout the years, I've had encounters where I thought the players would mop the floor but it ended being a drawn out affair. I've ran encounters where I thought it would be a climatic battle but my carefully "difficult" opposition was defeated in two rounds or less without the player-characters breaking a sweat. Over time, I've come to embrace that. After all, if I wanted predictable outcomes, why would I even bother rolling dice?
+Manuel Sambs suggestion to use the player-character's competence as a baseline for the opposition is great. The guys over at the Savage GM Podcast have tackled this topic many times over. +Richard Woolcock has blogged about it. These are all good advices. I will not expand on that.
With that said, one point from Bonus Episode - Good Vibrations I want to expand on here is the use of GM Bennies.
I have a confession to make. When it comes to GM Bennies, I cheat. Yes. One Benny per Wild Card character plus each GM Wild Card character has two Bennies? Pfff. Players earn Bennies during the course of a session. Along with the Wild Die, this is a distinct advantage player-characters have over the GM.
Your experience may vary. You may have nailed balance down to a science. For me, the best tool at my disposal to control how deadly an encounter is without making combat encounters last too long has been the way I use my Bennies. Again, there's no real science to this but allow me to share some guidelines.

  • If I want an encounter to be more difficult, I assign it a pool of GM Bennies, usually between 1-3.
  • For a final battle or climatic scene I refresh my pool of GM Bennies.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Flawed Characters - Jerry the Ninja Apprentice

"Jerry, is that you?"
After years of training, Jerry is quite versed in the art of Ninjutsu. He has mastered sabotage, espionage and assassination. Only one thing stands in the way of graduating to a full-fledged ninja: breathing. Indeed, Jerry has yet to master this art. He's a heavy breather.

Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d8, Fighting d8, Lockpicking d6, Notice d6, Repair d6, Stealth d8, Throwing d8, Weird Science d8
Charisma: -2; Pace: 8; Parry: 7; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Heroic, Outsider, Quirk (Heavy breather)
Edges: Acrobat, Arcane Background (Weird Science), Assassin, Brawler, Danger Sense, Dodge, Extraction, Fleet-Footed, Martial Artist, New Power, New Power, Quick, Thief
Powers: Bolt (Shuriken), obscure (smoke bomb), stun (flash bomb); Power Points: 10
Gear: Climbing gear, Katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), lockpicks, ninja suit  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Savage Warhammer

Back in October I had the pleasure of playing in +Bill Lear's Savage Warhammer convention game. Him and I had previously been discussing how to do Warhammer with Savage Worlds and this had me pretty excited. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition is one of the first RPGs I've played back in the late 80's/early 90's. The cover captured my imagination.
The game was without a doubt the most fun I had playing in a Savage Worlds game. This reignited my love for Warhammer and before too long I wanted it to be my next campaign. Bill was already running Paths of the Damned and he was gonna play in this campaign so I opted for Terror in Talabheim.

We're three sessions in right now plus the session zero and so far it's been a blast. It's mostly been a lot of role play. Only one small combat so far.
I've been playing Savage Worlds for over 8 years now but believe it or not this is my first foray into a homebrew campaign. I've done countless homebrew one-shots but all my campaigns had been from official or licensed settings until now.
Wanting to do as little work as possible on this, I decided to keep it lean and see what in my extensive library I could use.
The Fantasy Companion was a no-brainer. There I'd get an expanded armory for the players as well as a few edges and hindrances. For black powder weapons I lifted off a flintlock pistol, musket and blunderbuss from 50 Fathoms.
One player wanted to play a priestess of Shallya (healer) so I made herbalism from Hellfrost available to him to give a bit more depth to the healer role.
For the runesmith we put rune trappings to the Weird Science Arcane Background; the priestess uses the Miracles Arcane Background.
For the rest of character creation they followed the character creation rules from Deluxe. I told them if they wanted a piece of gear, edge, hindrance or power from another setting I'd take a look at it. What I wasn't going to do was to go through every page of the Warhammer corebook and sift through my extensive catalog of Savage Worlds material to build a comprehensive player's guide. I'd still be at it today and about to give up if I did that.
There is one thing I wanted to spend a little bit more time on before hand though and that was the Setting Rules.

Setting Rules


Careers give your characters a place in the Old World. They also offer guidance when creating and advancing your character as to what kind of Skills, Edges and Hindrances they should have.
In other words, they fill the role of Archetypes in Savage Worlds.
You select one Basic Career at character creation and another one upon reaching Seasoned Rank. When you reach Veteran, Heroic and Legendary you can also select from the Advanced Careers list.
Your career(s) will also give you bonuses to Common Knowledge test or various benefits. There is no set list of the actual benefits. Some will be covered under your Edges while others will be awarded as requested. Consider this a "on the spot" ruling. This is because I'm lazy and an exhaustive list will take a lot of time (which I don't have) and because I doubt every possible situation would end up being covered.
Here I had all careers from the Warhammer corebook listed with a random table (thanks Bill). Players didn't opt for very quirky careers for this unlike the one-shot I played in where we had a cook, chimney sweeper, barber/surgeon (me), apprentice wizard and ex-convict.
The guys went for a runesmith, engineer, marine, priestess of Shallya, Mercenary and a squire.


Citizens of the Old World are by default illiterate. To compensate for this, every character starts with 1 extra skill point. Ideally this extra point should be spent on a Knowledge skill that pertains to the character's career but the decision is ultimately up to the player. Indicate this on your character sheet by writing down "Illiterate" under the Hindrance section of your character sheet.
Note: This doesn't count as your standard allotted number of Hindrances for the purpose of Bonus points.

If your character concept demands that you be literate (a scribe for instance), you can read/write any language you know but lose the extra skill point.
If a character chooses a literate career later on when reaching a new rank, he/she becomes literate but doesn't lose the skill point.
This is straight out of Beasts & Barbarians. Upon further reflection on this, it was probably unnecessary.

Savage Worlds Deluxe

The following Setting Rules from Savage Worlds Deluxe will be used.
  • Blood & Guts (Warhammer is deadly)
  • Critical Failures (because things should go wrong in Warhammer and no Benny should be able to save your sorry ass when that happens)
  • Gritty Damage (you should be hurting, 'nuff said)
  • Joker's Wild (because I used it in all my Savage Worlds games now and Ranald should smile upon you from time to time)


Straight out of the Horror Companion. Simple, no fuss.

Fate Points

In Savage Warhammer, Bennies are called Fate Points. I won't hold it against you if you call them Bennies though.
They work just as regular Bennies but with one added benefit. Before making an Incapacitation roll, the player can spend a Fate Point to get an automatic Success. However, the survival is at a cost determined by the GM.
[Insert evil GM cackle here]

Corruption & Mutations

Corruption measures the influence Chaos has on your character. You can gain Corruption by coming into contact with warping substances, reading Forbidden Lore and Critical Failures on your Spellcasting rolls. You can have a number of Corruption points up to your Spirit die type until you start to suffer mutations.Mutations 
are the result of Chaos' influence on your mind, body and soul. You gain Mutations when your Corruption score is higher than your Spirit die and when you suffer an Injury from a foul instrument of Chaos.Mutations are determined at random using the Mutation Deck from 
Just Insert Imagination .
Mutation Trapping
A mutation trapping can be applied to any power that causes damage, and, in the case of Savage Warhammer, represents chaos magic and warpstone. Anyone suffering an injury from the power or damage must draw a card from the Mutation Deck instead of rolling on the Injury Table, applying the Minor Disadvantage as if it were a temporary or permanent injury, depending on their Vigor roll. If they already have the Minor Disadvantage, they must upgrade it to the Major Disadvantage.
The character essentially gains the Mutant (Minor or Major) Hindrance and while the Wound may be healed, the Mutation remains. This in turn makes it possible for the player-character to pick up the Mutation Mastery Edge. See new Hindrances and Edges for more information on this.
I was inspired by the Codex Infernus to determine the Corruption threshold but used the Mutation mechanics from the Mutation Deck as to what happens when you come into contact with chaos, warp stone, damage inflicted by chaos monsters and going over the threshold basically. Honestly, I believe this has put the fear of Chaos in the players and may not have to use these rules at all. Okay, the campaign is just getting started... I believe there will be a few mutants in the group before too long. :D

And that's it folk. So far I don't feel like I overlooked anything. Everybody is having fun. We're discovering those new characters through NPC interactions and the first flashback scene we played was a hit. I plan on running another one in our next game Sunday. As players warm up and get a better feel for their new character we will be running some Dramatic Interludes.