Outcasts, Part 2: The Exodus

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You can do a lot with a supers setting featuring aliens, as described in the last article, but the real inspiration for these series was an episode of Supergirl from this season
(MILD SUPERGIRL SEASON 2 SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT FORWARD)
where Cadmus attempts to round up most of the Earthbound aliens, cram them on an old spaceship, and send them so far away that they’ll have a hard time getting back to Earth. I watched the episode kind of hoping they’d succeed, because watching our heroes try to shepherd a bunch of aliens through the galaxy while they searched for a way home seemed like a good time.

So this post describes a ship-based campaign organization for something in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate: Atlantis, and such. A bunch of disparate aliens have been forcibly placed on a ship that’s designed less as a means of travel and more as a means of getting rid of them, jumped to an unfamiliar side of the galaxy, and left with as much difficulty as possible to get home. There’s a diverse set of competencies in the ship, if you can balance the social issues, traumas, and politics and get people to work together. Rather than just drop people off at the first inhabitable world, you could try to get everyone to stick together, accrue resources by space exploration, slowly repair the ship, and figure out what you actually want to do rather than being unwanted refugees forever.

And the central campaign organization mechanic is making sure that the ship you’re on has a lot of potential, but needs a lot of work and customization to become a home instead of a prison. There are a lot of granular and obvious steps that can be made to improve it, so adventures can often hang on getting the resources to perform a particular upgrade.

This is based on the starship rules from the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion, though I’ve made a few changes in assumptions (primarily in how the engines and life support work; I’m also not 100% sure the math is perfect for the starship rules, but it’s close).

Ship Overview

Initially, the ship is a Huge cargo cruiser that was somehow salvaged and retrofitted by [the Conspiracy]. It has (cramped) quarters and life support for approximately 1,000 individuals. It can maintain basic life support and in-system travel more or less indefinitely, but expends fuel for travel between systems using the FTL/jump drive (and begins the campaign mostly depleted after jaunting across the galaxy). As part of life support, it includes a hydroponics and recycling system that can maintain minimal rations needs for an extended period, but which will be gradually depleted if not supplemented with additional resources (and which are not the most attractive foodstuffs). Rightly afraid of the ship being controlled by alien computers that the outcasts might understand better than [the Conspiracy]’s programmers, as much as possible of its original systems were ripped out and replaced with kitbashed Earth computers and control systems that are heavily locked down and provide the minimum inputs necessary to pilot the ship. The ship has no weapons, and a very small number of short-range landing shuttles

Quarters

  • Cramped quarters for 1,000 individuals (~60 of them required to act as crew; the rest are part of a passenger superstructure designed for maximum residence and lacking the typical passenger structure amenities)
  • Survivalist furnishings (cots, hammocks, surplus sleeping bags and pillows, suitcases)

Current furnishings and arrangements provide -# morale. Allocating more space and providing better furnishings can provide a morale bonus to individuals with enhanced accommodations.

Unallocated Space

  • Much of the ship’s non-quarter space is empty cargo area and completely unfurnished smaller bays
  • [The Conspiracy] clearly intended to build these out to fit even more exiles, but did not finish the construction (and balked at crowding in refugees; these areas are not currently fitted to be safe during FTL)

Vital capabilities could be installed as rooms in these spaces, or it could be easily fitted to haul cargo. It is a mild difficulty to fit it for safe quarter space, either increasing the maximum crew capacity or increasing morale by giving residents more personal space. The ship can take ~40 mods worth of improvements, per the Science Fiction Companion.

Life Support

  • Basic air and water recycling; most areas of the ship smell bad, and the water retains faint bad tastes
  • The system is currently at 90% efficiency, and has a 100 day reserve for 1000 residents (essentially 1 day of reserve are lost for every 10 days); damage to the ship could threaten these reserves
  • Basic artificial gravity provides a relatively stable 0.8g

Current life support provides a -# morale. Improving the filtering systems can provide a general morale bonus. Taking on more reserve water and air can provide insurance against leakage and catastrophe. Storing more than 100 days of reserve would require additional tanks to be installed.

Nourishment

  • The ship has an extremely basic galley (capable of heating food and boiling water) suitable to serve the residents with some difficulty
  • The ship’s recycling and hydroponics systems generate 500 hominid-days of basic organic foodstuffs per day (mostly reclaimed nutrients processed by bacteria and algae into cardboard-tasting food pellets); with current number of residents, it can maintain indefinitely on half rations
  • The galley is stocked with 100,000 hominid-days of cheap canned goods and MREs; with current number of residents, supplemented by the recycling, this is enough for 200 total days on full rations

Current food options provide a -# morale. Improving the galley’s cooking capabilities (including by identifying skilled chefs), upgrading the recycling/hydroponics systems to provide tastier output, and taking on better nourishment can improve morale. Taking on more nourishment may be required to extend the mission without going on reduced rations.

Comforts

  • The ship has no alcohol, drugs, snacks, or other ingested comforts beyond what was smuggled in luggage
  • The ship has no comfortable furnishings
  • The ship has no entertainment options beyond what was smuggled in luggage

Current comfort options provide a -# morale. Improving these options can raise morale.

In-System Engines

  • The ship currently has basic fusion propulsion that is largely self-sustaining (with solar power when deep inside a solar system and magnetic ramscoop assist when traveling)
  • The ship has essentially no maneuverability for a crisis; depending on current relative velocity, it needs seconds or even minutes to evade dangers
  • The ship’s acceleration is limited to 1g (both due to output and the life support’s artificial gravity compensation)

Current engines could be improved to make the ship much better at reacting to danger quickly. The engines and artificial gravity would have to be improved to increase travel speed within a system (going any faster without improving the artificial gravity would result in an increasing sensation of the floor being slanted in the direction of travel).

You can use this website to calculate non-FTL travel times, or the formula that Total Time in Days = 4 × √(midpoint distance in AU/acceleration in gs).

FTL/Jump Engines

  • The ship currently has FTL engines capable of extremely long-range jumps
  • The engines must be given extremely complicated and specific data to plot a jump
  • The engines require a massive amount of high-energy exotic fuel (and start with enough for # light years of additional jumps)

Improving the navigation computer systems could make FTL travel somewhat more efficient and much less finicky. Improving the engine guts could improve fuel efficiency. The engines could be switched to a hybrid or full-electric system by replacing the fuel tanks with batteries and capacitors; this would drastically lower the jump capabilities at one time, and require the system to slowly recharge off of the in-system engines, but would lower the fuel costs.

Controls

  • The ship currently has legacy consoles for in-system maneuvering, with much of their digital assistance stripped
  • The ship’s FTL engines are currently plotted by kitbashed Earth computer systems

Improving the consoles and reattaching digital assistance systems would improve piloting checks and require fewer units of manpower to be on the bridge to drive the ship. Improving the computer systems would decrease time to plot an FTL jump and jump targeting precision.

Computers

  • The ship currently has non-VI Earth computers patched into most control systems
  • Most systems have their native controllers at the various interface points (Earth systems handle coordination, but the technicians left any systems in place that they were confident would not retain data on Earth’s location)
  • There are no entertainment systems
  • All computer interfaces are *nix command line or extremely rough GUI; no voice control
  • There are limited voice alerts and other alarms

Improving the computers would make it far easier to command ship systems and get useful feedback and warnings. Installing a competent virtual intelligence (VI) would reduce crew requirements for many tasks. Increased terminals and entertainment software would raise morale.

Sensors

  • The ship has extremely short-range radar, cameras, and radio transmission
  • Slow software rendering data from passive radio telescopes can build a basic map of the nearby system over time (but cannot resolve small or fast-moving threats until they are very close)

Improving the ship’s sensor suite (including integrated computers) would make it much faster to get an accurate map of the current system and identify threats and opportunities at a much greater range. It could also improve range and quality of communications.

Armaments

  • The ship currently has no weaponry
  • Unallocated space could be used to mount weapons

Adding weapons would make it possible to fight in the ship, or at least repel attackers. Computer systems supporting the weapons would be necessary as well.

Defenses

  • The ship has a large hull standard to a cargo ship of its size
  • It has extremely basic magnetic shielding (mostly designed to deflect micrometeorites and other space detritus)

Adding additional physical or energy defenses would provide enhanced protection from attackers and other dangers.

Exploration

  • The ship has three basic six-hominid shuttles that are able to reach a planet from low orbit; they have no armaments or defenses, and are not particularly fast to re-achieve orbit, especially under load, but they do recharge off of the ship’s engines
  • There is an extremely minimal repair bay with only the most basic of emergency tools and materials to handle a hull breach or other catastrophe
  • There are only a dozen EVA suits which are aging NASA castoffs

The ship has space for additional and/or better shuttles or other vehicles. Improving the repair bay would make the ship much safer and quicker to respond to damage. More and better EVA suits would be extremely helpful in a vacuum.

Savage Worlds Stat Block

Huge Starship: Size 16, Acc/TS 35/400, Climb 0, Toughness 44 (10), Crew 60, Cost $88M, Remaining Mods 38

Notes: Crew Reduction x4, FTL Drive, Superstructure (Passenger)

Weapons: None

Outcasts, Part 1: Alien Superheroes

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I’m a big fan of the Supergirl TV show, and I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that its particular licensing limitation* implies a world where most of the superpowers are possessed by alien refugees. What follows is a setting take on how to justify this, followed by some design musings. The next part adds on an additional option for this type of campaign.

* Most of the non-alien DC characters were already in use on other shows or otherwise not available to the TV shows.

In God’s Image

A strange truism of sapient life throughout the known universe is that it seems bound to very similar forms. Through countless channels on countless worlds, evolution eventually settles on a bipedal hominid form for its pinnacle. Many look nearly identical to humans with minor cosmetic variations, the vast majority of the remainder are superficially different but structurally the same, and only the smallest fraction are truly alien in form. Nearly all of them drink water, breathe oxygen, are comfortable in a single G of gravity, and can derive nourishment from the same kind of foods.

Many religions throughout inhabited space seek to explain this truism, and the cutting edge of xenoscience can only postulate some constants of physics and chemistry that cause life to converge in this way.

Perhaps stranger, mental acuity is similarly constrained. Few sapients are much smarter than humanity, and nearly all have understandable emotions and drives. This is also true of their machine creations. There is no such thing as a true general artificial intelligence that any sapient will admit, though many races have come up with quite sophisticated virtual intelligences that lack their own motives and creativity.

All these factors mean that cosmic society plateaus technologically and culturally. The development void between 21st century humans and any given alien species is much smaller than many scientists would expect, even for civilizations much older than those on Earth. Bright humans exposed to starfaring technology can often figure out how to work it, and even partially reverse engineer it: it turns out that very little technology is sufficiently advanced to become magic. While this technological wall is no doubt depressing to futurists, it means that humanity is poised to enter intergalactic society at far less of a deficit than might otherwise be expected.

Of course, scientific competence and cosmopolitan leanings are very different things. Exposure to the vast profusion of alien culture just waiting to embrace earthling neighbors may set off many of the worst isolationist tendencies of humanity…

Design

This uses Savage Worlds as a basis, but you could easily use your supers engine of choice (though the follow up post explains in more detail why I went with Savage Worlds).

  • Use the science fiction companion to build basic alien race traits (with humans keeping the free edge as their racial advantage).
  • Each race also gets a handful of power permissions from the super powers companion, and are built as supers (i.e., they don’t have to take the arcane background edge).
  • Characters receive a variable number of points to purchase these powers.

All characters, even the weakest NPCs, should typically get around 10 points for buying powers, to allow certain powers to be standard for the alien race (e.g., you can always assume Kryptonians can fly a little, and are stronger and tougher than humans, but they might not all be as powerful as Supergirl). Wild Cards and other important characters should receive more, at the power band you want for your game. They’re, for whatever reason, the exemplars of their race’s powers.

In general, unless you’re using an established setting, players can essentially make superheroes as they would for any other supers game, then reverse-justify their power picks to a race of which they’re an exemplar.

Example Races

Kryptonian:

  • Kryptonians have the Gimmick hindrance (require regular access to sunlight from a yellow sun) and the Power Negation hindrance (Kryptonite). They gain six additional Power Points to buy super powers beyond what is standard for the campaign.
  • Kryptonians are incredibly strong, and can buy Super Attribute (Strength).
  • Kryptonians are incredibly hard to hurt, and can buy Toughness.
  • Kryptonians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Kryptonians can fly into space and survive for short periods, so may purchase the Resistance package required to survive in space and Doesn’t Breathe (with the minor Limitation of a finite duration).
  • Kryptonians can use heat vision and cold breath as expressions of Attack, Ranged.
  • Kryptonians have enhanced vision and hearing, and can buy Heightened Senses.

Green Martian:

  • Martians have the Weakness (Major) hindrance (Fire) and the Racial Enemy (White Martian) racial drawback. They gain +2 ranks of Strength and +1 Toughness.
  • Martians are psychic, and can buy Mind Reading and Telepathy.
  • Martians are shapeshifters, and can buy Chameleon.
  • Martians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Martians can alter their densities to pass through solid matter, and can buy Intangibility.

Human:

  • Humans gain a bonus Edge (per the normal Savage Worlds rules).
  • Humans are stubborn, and can buy Resistance (Mental). With the lack of psychics on the planet, few even realize they are so gifted. As a whole, Earth goes mostly unknown on the galactic stage because long-range psychic probes for sapience are so globally resisted.
  • Humans breed faster than most other races, and form strong groups, such that many humans functionally have the Minions power. Aliens are often overwhelmed by human numbers and tendency to coordinate.
  • Humans are sociable, resistant to fear, and quick to overcome hardship and shock. They can buy Super Attribute (Spirit).
  • Humans tend to have an outsized share of prodigies, and can buy Super Skill (any).

Design Note: Humans needed to be designed to account for their stats being the Savage Worlds baseline, so power choices were made around things that the majority of humans could plausibly have to some extent without it being strange/noticeable.

Savage Angels, Conversion Rules

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I’ve been running the No Soul Left Behind campaign for Better Angels for several months now. While the campaign is great and the setting of the core RPG is awesome, we couldn’t really wrap our heads around using the trait system effectively. I’ll probably get around to doing a system review one of these days, but the upshot is that the translation of abstract vices and virtues into concrete rolls to accomplish something never gelled, and my players finally asked me to convert to a system with a more traditional trait system.

I wound up choosing Savage Worlds, for a few reasons: it seems pretty resilient to hacking, I already have the Super Powers Companion for a game that never wound up happening, and it’s pretty easy to grok (plus one of the players already has a lot of Deadlands experience and was one of my review playtesters when I originally tried Savage Worlds).

My goal was to keep the central struggle of Better Angels, which is that the more powerful you become, the closer you are to getting dragged to hell. So the main change to Savage Worlds supers proper is the bolting on of a translation of Better Angels‘ vices and how they relate to powers, sinning, and damnation. This conversion also takes a lot of inspiration from Smallville, insofar as the vice you pick to roll is based on your agenda for the conflict.

The below assumes familiarity with Better Angels and Savage Worlds (and its Super Powers Companion).

Vices

Your wild die (a d6 in standard Savage Worlds) is replaced by a die for whatever vice is your primary motivation for the conflict/scene (e.g., if you have Greed d8, Espionage d10, and Breaking and Entering d6, you’d roll d8+d6 if you’re trying to break into a building to steal something but d10+d6 if you’re trying to break into a building to get information).

  • Greed: Your motivation in the conflict is to gain something for yourself (typically of permanent value): this is generally something that you feel will be useful to you, particularly in the long term (short-term gains may actually be another motivation). If no other value seems appropriate, Greed can also be used for crime- and economics-related challenges.
  • Espionage (with elements of Gluttony): Your motivation in the conflict is to sate your physical needs (anything that makes you feel good physically, including getting into a fight not because you’re angry, but just because you enjoy the thrill) or to discover something secret. If no other value seems appropriate, Espionage can also be used for academics- and perception-related challenges.
  • Cruelty (with elements of Wrath): Your motivation in the conflict is anger: you are pissed off in general and that’s driving your behavior or you specifically hate the opponent. If no other value seems appropriate, Cruelty can also be used for violence-related challenges.
  • Cowardice (with elements of Sloth): Your motivation in the conflict is to not be involved in the conflict: you have no other agenda beyond not submitting to the opponent’s agenda or not being bothered in the first place. If no other value seems appropriate, Cowardice can also be used for athletics-related challenges.
  • Corruption (with elements of Lust): Your motivation in the conflict is to sate your psychological needs: generally this is an urge to be loved or otherwise appreciated, but it may involve going after something that will make you feel good emotionally in the short term. If no other value seems appropriate, Corruption can also be used for seduction- and impression-related challenges.
  • Deceit (with elements of Envy): Your motivation in the conflict is to try to exceed the qualities of someone you feel is better then you, to spite someone who has something you don’t have, or to pull one over on a sucker. If no other value seems appropriate, Deceit can also be used for stealth- and deception-related challenges.
  • Pride (Special, See Below): Your motivation in the conflict is to prove your superiority over someone else and prove that you’re the better person (or villain); since this could theoretically apply to almost anything for prideful characters, any other appropriate value should be considered as motivation first before pure pride is the dominant value. If no other value seems appropriate, Pride can also be used for diplomacy- and leadership-related challenges.

Raising Vices

In any scene in which you used a vice (or a power keyed to a vice) and your demon is active, the rating of your vice can go up by one die step. You must have both used the vice and accomplished one of the following things (as argued by the Screwtape):

  • Greed: Stole something you didn’t need (double bump for something priceless you didn’t even want)
  • Espionage: Gloated in victory or consumed something bigger than your head (double bump for totally suborning someone with illicit knowledge or consuming something so big you shouldn’t be able to do so)
  • Cruelty: Killed or permanently maimed a person/lovable animal or destroyed something of real value (double bump for a massacre or mass property damage)
  • Cowardice: Humiliated someone or sat by idly while something awful happened that you could have easily stopped (double bump for killing someone with a death trap or permanently maiming someone through torture)
  • Corruption: Made someone your minion or seduced someone that should know better (double bump for getting lots of minions all at once or completely suborning a hero’s ally through your charm and wiles)
  • Deceit: Betrayed and mocked someone that trusted you or seriously hurt someone because you were jealous of them (double bump for killing an ally or ruining someone out of jealousy)
  • Pride: Claimed that you were invincible and proved to your enemies that you were right; also special:
    • Whenever a vice would be raised over d12, it resets to d8 and your Pride goes up by one die step. (If you get a double bump while at d12, your Pride goes up by one die step and your vice resets to d10.)
    • If your Pride would exceed d12, this begins the process of dragging you to hell (it goeth before a fall… needless to say, don’t claim you’re invincible unless you’re planning to job it and get beaten).

Repenting

In order to lower a vice, you must forego a wild die for the whole scene (rather than using a vice-based wild die), succeed on at least one test where the outcome matters, and accomplish something opposed to the vice you want to lower:

  • Greed: Help someone with no expected gain or give away something of high value to yourself
  • Espionage: Learn something new and important through above-board means or deny yourself something physical you really want but you know is bad for you
  • Cruelty: Demonstrate mercy when it would be much safer and more expedient not to or protect someone at actual risk to yourself
  • Cowardice: Lose a conflict that costs you substantially (rather than running away) or go out of your way to accomplish something the right way when there was a much easier way to do it wrong
  • Corruption: Admit that you did something wrong and work to make up for it or deny yourself something emotional you really want but you know is bad for you
  • Deceit: Tell a truth that is injurious to you or your interests or help out someone you hate at cost to yourself because you know your hatred is irrational

In order to lower Pride by one step:

  • You must lower a vice below d4 (it resets to d8).
  • You must simultaneously humiliate yourself in a lasting way that will have huge consequences for your reputation.
  • If Pride would go below d4, instead reduce another vice by one step (the dominant vice still resets to d8).
  • If all of your vices are d4, you can attempt Exorcism.

Skills

The normal Savage Worlds skills are replaced with:

  • Pretending to Be What You Ain’t (Acting/Deception)*
  • Playing Sports and Shit (Athletics)
  • Hacking, Cracking, and Social Media (Computers)
  • Grand Theft Auto (Driving/Piloting/Boating)
  • The Old Ultraviolence (Fighting)
  • Taking Slugs Out of Your Buddy (Healing)
  • Scaring the Hell out of Someone (Intimidation)*
  • Digging up Dirt, Looking for Clues (Investigation/Tracking)
  • That Shit You Learned in School (Knowledge)**
  • Breaking and Entering (Lockpicking/Security)
  • Good Looking Out (Notice)
  • Getting People to Do What You Want (Persuasion)*
  • Making Shit and Fixing It (Repair/Crafts)
  • Downrange Violence (Shooting/Throwing)
  • Lurking, Prowling, and Generally Skulking (Stealth)
  • Being Down With the Street (Streetwise/Gambling)*
  • Camping and Outdoorsy Shit (Survival/Riding)
  • Being a Mean Girl (Taunt)*

* Uses Charisma bonus
** Not required to be bought as individual skills (unlike normal Savage Worlds)

Powers and Aspects

Powers and Aspects are rebuilt using the rules from the Super Powers Companion as a guideline. In general:

  • Powers scale in effect pegged to the associated vice die (roughly equal to the value of the die; e.g., at a d6, it’s got 6 power points worth of effect, and at d12 it’s got 12 points worth of effect).
  • Aspects scale in effect pegged the higher of the two associated vice dice (roughly equal to twice the value of the die; e.g., Darkness-Shrouded was Devious, so it’s now pegged to Corruption + Deceit, and if your Deceit is d10, it’s got 20 points worth of effect).
  • I’ll give you little summary blocks to show where the power is at at each rating.

For how they work:

  • You can always use powers, but if you use them your demon is active and raising the associated vice is on the table for the scene (even if you didn’t roll that sin’s die at all).
  • To turn on an aspect, roll the dice for the two vices associated with the aspect:
    • If the demon is activating it, on a failure it doesn’t turn on (and you step down the higher of the two vices), on a success it turns on (and you step down the higher of the two vices), and on a raise it turns on (without having to step down the value of the vice).
    • If the mortal is activating it, on a failure it doesn’t turn on (and you step up the lower of the two vices), on a success it turns on (and you step up the lower of the two vices), and on a raise it turns on (without having to step up the value of the vice).

Example Power, That Hideous Strength (Cruelty):

  • d4: Super Strength (p. 43) +2
  • d6: Super Strength (p. 43) +2, Attack, Melee (p. 22) rank 1
  • d8: Super Strength (p. 43) +3, Attack, Melee (p. 22) rank 1
  • d10: Super Strength (p. 43) +3, Attack, Melee (p. 22) rank 1 (Stackable upgrade)
  • d12: Super Strength (p. 43) +4, Attack, Melee (p. 22) rank 1 (Stackable upgrade)

(For example, if your Cruelty is currently rated d8, you have the Super Strength power from page 43 of the SPC at +3 steps, and the Attack, Melee power from page 22 at the first rank.)

Other Demonic Abilities

  • Sinful Perfection: Step down the vice the player is rolling before the roll is made, but add +4 to the roll’s result.
  • Demonic Endurance: Death is not usually on the table for a hellbinder when Incapacitated. If there’s an easy way for you to escape, when Incapacitated you escape (possibly in a no-body, no-kill kind of way). If your opponents have you in a situation where that’s impossible, they’ll find themselves compelled to arrest/capture you rather than killing you. You’re only in danger of dying past Incapacitated when dark magic is on the table in the hands of someone at the end of her rope (i.e., usually, only other hellbinders can actually kill you, or a mortal that’s been pushed way too far).
  • Devilish Creativity: Use the system in the book and replace the virtue costs with Resource units. You can break one big money unit from crimes into 4 Resources. You also accumulate 1 Resource each per scenario to represent your legitimate income. When you want to make a device/improve the lair, spend Resources equal to the book’s costs (in Generosity and Knowledge) and step up a meaningfully related Vice by one. Boom, you have the device.

Advantages

Secrets and surprises from Better Angels work as special-use Bennies: you can expend them to reroll a test for which they’re specifically relevant.

Character Conversion

  • Make characters normally for Savage Worlds. You don’t have to take an arcane background to get your powers (as per SPC). Edges that don’t make sense may be off the table (most of the supernatural ones, anything that makes you rich, etc.).
  • Award Savage Worlds XP based on how far you are into the campaign.
  • Convert your current Generosity to spare Resources, and your various vice ratings to the new vice rating (1 dot is a d4 up to 5 dots is a d12; if you’ve zeroed out a vice, it’s at an X and no powers associated with it function).

Savage Star Wars Notes

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It looks like I’ll be running the Alternate Clone Wars game I outlined earlier this year, which requires finalizing the game system. I’ve chosen to go with Savage Worlds. I’ve looked into work others have done online, particularly this one, but I found them overly thorough for the pulpier game I want to run, and I would have had to change rules to fit my personal conception of the setting and desires anyway. However, I did find that the official Science Fiction Companion covers just about everything needed (with some minor hacks). So all the information below assumes you’re using the Savage Worlds Deluxe Core and Science Fiction Companion, and may not make a lot of sense if you don’t have those as a basis.

Setting Rules

For Star Wars, I suggest the following setting rules (from page 94 of the core book):

  • Heroes Never Die
  • High Adventure
  • Joker’s Wild
  • Multiple Languages

For Multiple Languages, I suggest charging the player for all languages out of the free ones (e.g., an alien with Smarts d4 spends the two languages on Basic and the cultural language of the race; essentially, you really only get bonus languages for higher than minimum Smarts). See also the Monolingual hindrance and Languages focus of Knowledge, below.

Races

The race-building options in the core and sci-fi companion books should be adequate to build pretty much any alien race your player desires. As examples:

  • Human: Gains the usual bonus Edge
  • Wookie: Strength Increase (2), Size +1 (1), Reach (1), Cannot Speak (-1), Hindrance: Outsider (-1)
  • Droid: As per the construct race, but see Droid Mods, below, and droids cannot be Force Sensitive nor can they be affected by mind-altering Force abilities

Most characters are assumed to be insensitive to the Force. They cannot buy the Force skill, but they get to use their full Spirit die to defend against any Force abilities that allow such a defense. For 0 points, any non-droid character can instead add the following racial option:

Force Sensitive (0):

  • Bonus Edge: Arcane Background (The Force)
  • Hindrance: You are more open to the Force than others. You may only use your Force skill die to defend against attacks that insensitives could use their full Spirit die against. You may find yourself targeted by effects and enemies that are drawn to Force users.

Edges and Hindrances

Most Edges and Hindrances from the core book are probably appropriate, except for those reliant on Arcane Backgrounds other than The Force. You may wish to allow Champion, Holy Warrior, and Wizard based on Arcane Background (The Force) and the Force skill, instead of their existing background and skill.

From the sci-fi companion, most of the new Edges and Hindrances seem designed for harder science fiction; Star Wars never seems to care enough about gravity and atmosphere to justify traits that affect interacting with them. Of the additions in that book, I’d only suggest using Low Tech/High Tech and Outsider as Hindrances and Cyber Tolerant, Cyborg, and Rocket Jock as Edges (you could also allow Geared Up, but it seems like a much worse long-term investment than the core Rich edge).

The following are additional for Star Wars:

Edges

Arcane Background (The Force)

Arcane Skill: Force (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10

Starting Powers: Special (see Force Powers, below)

Sensitive: The character sometimes receives visions and intuitions with a raw Spirit Roll

Jedi

Requirements: Arcane Background (The Force), Force d4+

You gain a lightsaber that does not count against your starting funds. Attackers must defeat your Parry score when firing blasters (instead of the normal base ranged difficulty) if you are using a lightsaber. You gain any allies and enemies of the Jedi order.

Additional Force Trick

Requirements: Force d8+, must be trained personally by the inventor of the trick

You gain an additional Force Trick (see Force Powers, below).

Additional Mods

Requirements: Droid

Gain an additional two points of Mods (see Droid Mods, below). This edge can be taken multiple times to gain further mods.

Hindrances

Monolingual (Minor)

You only speak Basic. You gain no additional languages for the Multiple Languages setting rule, and cannot buy the Languages focus of Knowledge until you have bought off this Hindrance.

Skills

Uncommon Skills

There are several skills that are unlikely to be used often in Star Wars (particularly in my conception of the alternate Clone Wars). Players should likely not take them at all, and should pay half cost for them if they do purchase them:

  • Boating (Agility)
  • Driving (Agility)
  • Lockpicking (Agility) (use Knowledge (Computers) instead)

Suggested Knowledge Focuses

The following are suggested focuses for the Knowledge skill:

  • Battle
  • Computers
  • Electronics
  • History
  • Language*
  • Planets
  • Science

* While using the Multiple Languages setting rule, this is taken as a single skill instead of one per language. Gain additional fluent languages equal to the die size, and roll the skill to interpret languages in which you are not fluent.

Etiquette (Smarts)

This skill works very similarly to Streetwise, but for the complicated politics of high society and Republic bureaucracy.

Force (Spirit)

Roll this skill to activate your Force powers and to defend against such attacks. At d8+, you originate your own Force Trick (see below).

Force Powers

For simplicity, I’ve chosen to frame all Force powers as modifications of existing powers in the core rulebook. They have the same costs and statistics unless otherwise noted. As a global change, any power that uses the caster’s Spirit or Smarts to set a variable (such as range) instead uses the caster’s Force skill die. Force powers do not generally have specific trappings (though their activation may be obvious to nearby Force sensitives).

Basic Powers

All Force sensitives can activate the following six powers:

  • Boost Trait (core page 110): This can be used on the caster only, and can only be used for Boost (not Lower). It cannot be used to boost the Spirit attribute or Force skill. It can only boost skills that the GM agrees are suitably athletic or intuition-based that relying on the Force for guidance would help. This power is essentially a catch-all for minor Force-user advantages, and a way to use up power points in combat other than Telekinesis.
  • Detect Arcana (core page 111): This can be used to Detect only, not Conceal (though adding in Conceal would be a good Force Trick).
  • Divination (core page 112): This requires a whole meditation period rather than just a minute. Answers are presented as a cryptic vision. Trying to learn something useful about an enemy or otherwise unwilling target may be opposed by that target’s Force defense (Spirit if insensitive, Force if sensitive).
  • Mind Reading (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense.
  • Puppet (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense (and may be hard-stopped if the target’s defense die is equal to or higher than the caster Force die, if you want to make the Mind Trick reliably ineffective against certain targets like in the films). It can only be used to convince the target of a fact, or compel them to take a simple series of actions, not to take combat control (as per the normal Puppet power).
  • Telekinesis (core page 118): The Telekinetic Weapon option can only be used for a single attack (i.e., saber throw) rather than an ongoing floating weapon. Damage of dropping/throwing objects is based on the caster’s Force instead of Spirit. To better reflect the movies, you might want to put the weight limits on an exponential scale rather than a linear one based on Force die size (such as die size squared, rounded down to the nearest 10 pounds, so the progression is d4 (10), d6 (30), d8 (60), d10 (100), d12 (140)); a raise still multiplies the allowed weight by five.

Force Trick

Once a Force Sensitive raises the Force skill to d8, he or she invents a unique Force Trick, and can train others in this trick if they take the Additional Force Trick edge. See the original post for more information on the logic behind this. In general, the player and GM should work together to come up with something that either expands an existing power’s capabilities, or adds a whole new power (likely based on unused Savage Worlds powers). Force Tricks that modify an existing power stack with one another; the caster can always choose to activate all relevant tricks.

Recovering Power Points

Force sensitives can recover power points in two ways:

  • Light Side: After a protracted meditation, recover all power points to full. The length of this meditation is whatever makes sense to the GM, and may require a Force roll to tune out distractions. As per the original post linked above, dabbling with the dark side should extend the time required to benefit from meditation. Jedi can, rarely, achieve this level of calm during conflict; if the GM and player agree that it makes sense due to roleplaying, the player can take an action to make a Force roll and recover two power points on success plus two per raise.
  • Dark Side: The character may choose to channel strong emotions into power, including anger, fear, and pain. Doing this is considered using the dark side, and affects time to meditate. The character may do this reflexively on any round he or she attempts to remove Shaken, and by taking an action otherwise. Wound penalties are flipped and become wound bonuses to this roll. The character rolls Force and regains one power point, plus one per raise. The GM may adjust the difficulty higher or lower based on interpreting how strong the emotion seems to be (stronger emotions have lower difficulties).

Gear

Lots of the gear in the sci-fi companion makes sense for Star Wars. Use your judgement as to what fits and what doesn’t. In general, the pricing for most items seems relatively close to the pricing in other Star Wars sources like Edge of the Empire, such that you can take the Savage Worlds dollar values and use them as credits. One specific exception is starship prices: Star Wars tends to think of them as costing tens or hundreds of thousands, while Savage Worlds prices them at millions or billions. The Savage Worlds prices are probably more realistic: a starship includes lots of expensive components, such that it should probably cost more than 100 times the cost of a blaster. On the other hand, starships in Star Wars aren’t really starships, they’re boats that haul the player characters between adventures. It makes sense to price them more like cargo trucks or luxury cars, so a player team can reasonably own and maintain one.

I would suggest coming up with a consistent monetary theory that makes everyone happy, and sticking with it. This is easier if you just give the players a ship, rather than making them purchase one, and include enough economics to drive interesting play (e.g., very little for traditional pulp heroics, more if your PCs are smugglers trying to save up enough money to get out from under a crime lord’s sluglike thumb). If you’re going to be more loose with available funds, pay careful attention to the prices of some of the items in the sci-fi companion, as they may be game breaking if they’re too affordable. In particular, if you use the basic robot rules you could purchase some pretty nasty combat droids for your party with only a few hundred thousand credits (see Droid Mods, below).

The following are my suggestions for specific Star Wars combat gear:

  • Lightsaber: Treat this as a Katana with the Energy Weapon template. It does Str+d12 damage, has AP 6, and its AP should probably counter the Parry of someone with a physical melee weapon (e.g., against someone with Parry 4 and a physical weapon, attack against Parry 0, break the weapon, and deal damage at AP 2 against any remaining armor on the target). The Savage Worlds pricing places it at 1,500, but you might increase that for the ability to chop through weapons, and just flat out make them only available with the Jedi edge during A New Hope era games.
  • Lightbayonet: A useful addition to Clone Wars era games where lightsabers are more common, treat this as a module that allows a blaster rifle to emit a short lightsaber from its barrel in order to defend against lightsaber-wielders cutting up your firing line. It takes an action to switch the weapon from bayonet mode to blaster mode. While in bayonet mode, it’s a melee weapon that does Str+d8 damage, AP 4, Reach 1, requires two hands, and can parry lightsabers (that’s applying the Energy Weapon template to the Bayonet stats; it may be too good with those stats, and might need to be reduced accordingly). Savage Worlds pricing places it at 525.
  • Blasters: A New Hope era blasters should use the Particle Accelerators (Blasters) stats on page 21 of the sci-fi companion. For Clone Wars era blasters, if you’re using my suggestion that they should be much more primitive, I would start out with drastically lowered range (or slightly lowered range and an inherent inaccuracy penalty), reduce the damage by a die size or two, and drastically lower the shots per clip.
  • Ion Weapons: These can probably just be statted as blasters that deal electricity damage, and have a die size lower damage. This means they’ll be less effective than a blaster against organic targets, and more effective against droids (since they take +4 damage from electricity).

Droid Mods

If you’re allowing droids as characters, I think the rules in the sci-fi companion (and the Savage Star Wars PDF linked at the top of the post) that link robot options to purchases and maintenance costs are very risky. It means the GM has to be very careful handing out monetary rewards to make sure that the party’s droids aren’t much better or worse than the other party members. So I’d instead suggest just handling droid modifications as customizable racial features. Each mod has a cost comparable to racial mod costs, and you can take them until you get your droid set up the way that makes sense to you and the GM.

Each droid starts off with one point of mods, and can gain two additional points for each time he or she purchases the Additional Mods edge. The following are the allowable mods from the sci-fi companion, with their mod cost in parenthesis (this may be different from the mod cost in the book, as it takes price into account, and any mod that normally grants more mod slots does not for these purposes):

  • Android (2)
  • Aquatic (1)
  • Armor (1)
  • Data Jack (1)
  • Flight (2)
  • Immobile (-1)
  • Magnetic Pads (1)
  • Pace (1)
  • Power Pack (1)
  • Sensor Suite (1)
  • Size Increase (2)
  • Size Reduction (-1) (also reduces Toughness by -1 as per the racial)
  • Stealth System (4)
  • Targeting System (1)
  • Trait Bonus (2)
  • Wall Walker (1)
  • Wheeled or Tracked (0)

The following are additional mod options (either taken from the other racial mods or invented for Star Wars):

  • Binary Communicator (-1): The droid can only speak in the binary language
  • Environmental Hardening (1): +4 to resist a single environmental effect (heat, cold, etc.)
  • Frail (-1): Flimsy construction imposes -1 Toughness
  • High-Speed Processing (3): Gain one extra non-movement action without a multi-action penalty
  • Integrated Equipment (*): Can have reasonable integrated weapons or tools; costs 1 mod slot per 500 cost of the items, and includes the purchase of the item
  • Noncombat (-2): The droid cannot buy the Fighting or Shooting skills
  • Restraining Bolt (0): The droid is disabled if it exceeds a designated range from the controller, or the controller is activated
  • Slow (-1): -1 Pace and d4 running die (cannot buy the Pace mod).
  • Specialized Appendages (-1): The droid has no generic manipulation appendages (like hands), and must use other mods (integrated equipment, data jack, etc.) to manipulate most physical items

Example droid configurations:

  • R2 Unit: Binary Communicator (-1), Data Jack (1), Frail (-1), Integrated Equipment (3; 1,500 credits worth of misc tools), Magnetic Pads (1), Noncombat (-2), Sensor Suite (1), Size Reduction (-1), Specialized Appendages (-1), Tracked (0), Trait Bonus (2; Repair)
  • Protocol Droid: Frail (-2), Integrated Equipment (4; Language Translator from sfc p. 15), Noncombat (-2), Slow (-1), Trait Bonus (2; Etiquette)

System Review: Savage Worlds, Conclusion

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And I Don’t Know What I’m in For

On inspection, it seems that Savage Worlds was first published in 2003, so it’s weird that I’m finally getting around to it now. Sadly, it came out too late for the “let’s convert these games to our own systems” phase my friends and I had in college, or it might have been really useful to us. Instead, it came out right in the middle of the “D20! All the time! For everything!” phase that I think a lot of groups went through a decade ago, and mine certainly did. So that’s my excuse for not really being aware of it earlier.

Overall, it’s a pretty slick little game engine that’s quickly crept up alongside Fate in my brain as an option for “I could just run [random game idea I just had] in…” As noted in the previous posts, I doubt I would actually run it without some significant alterations… but there are almost no games that I run without significant alterations. Savage Worlds has that special combination of modularity and simplicity, but with enough granularity to hook in a variety of ideas, that makes a good generic system. It’s tuned just enough toward high-action pulp that it makes itself obvious as a system for any game ideas within that spectrum without being so specific as to rule out particular concepts as too difficult to implement.

So, I’d heartily recommend the system to groups that aren’t afraid to seriously tinker with the rules. It does some things you might not be a fan of, but those things are pretty easy to replace with something more to your liking without breaking the whole thing. And if you suddenly find yourself struck by an idea for a campaign that you just need something lightweight, fast, and actiony to run, you’ll have another collection of tools to make that happen.

System Review: Savage Worlds, Part 3

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Skills Out of Combat

Let’s be honest here, as a game that’s both a pulp action game and a potential replacement for D&D, Savage Worlds has a lot of pagecount devoted to combat. It’s about a quarter of the explorer’s edition, by my count. And that’s just the stuff that’s directly about actions in combat and combat gear. Many of the spells and edges are combat-related as well, pushing the count further.

But out of 24 skills listed in the book (not counting magic skills), only three are directly related to combat. You also have the standard range of mobility skills like climb, drive, ride, and swim. You have stealth, notice, investigation, and knowledge. You even have a few social skills like intimidation, persuasion, and taunt. And since the game is skill-based, you can pretty easily make a character with lots of non-combat skills and not much for combat.

Around 15 of the skills each have at least one fully detailed use. For the mobility skills, it’s generally a direct link to the chase system (always appropriate to a pulp game). The social skills each have their own rules: persuasion hooks into a D&D-esque friendliness chart and intimidation and taunt have a Test of Wills system that can be used in or out of combat to applied effects to a target. Stealth, survival, guts, and even gambling all have dedicated subsystems.

That’s why it’s glaring that there are a small number of skills that seem to be completely up to GM fiat (or expect their use to be prescribed by a module). In particular, information gathering skills like investigation, knowledge, and notice don’t offer up any guidelines as to setting appropriate difficulties (at least in the Explorer’s Edition). Knowledge is a specific issue because it’s the only skill I’m aware of that players have to buy multiple times for specialties. Not that it’s hard to design a use for those skills in play, but it does require a level of player faith in the GM remembering to support them that isn’t present in the large majority of other skills. If they were going to the trouble of inventing some kind of modular but consistent system for most of the skills, I would have liked to see all of the skills have something like that.

In practice, the standard difficulty of 4 does make it pretty easy to run skills on the fly. Even a bare minimum skill of d4 results in well over a 50% chance of success without modifiers (counting, of course, the wild die). Middle tiers of skill are more likely to get a raise, and high tiers of skill are likely to get two. Anything beyond two raises is generally a fluke of exploding dice (as even max skill will have to Ace to get a 16 or better). So the GM pretty much just has to get an idea of failure/minimal success/moderate success/exceptional success in mind to have a meaningful roll. And that’s a pretty small spectrum for a margin-of-success-based engine.

Combat

A lot of this has already been covered in Harbinger’s player-side review, so allow me to sum up. Combat in Savage Worlds is a pretty interesting limited-wounds system that initially seems like White Wolf but is actually more like Mutants and Masterminds. Too much of a sum up? Allow me to go into more detail.

Initial attacks are made with a standard roll of an appropriate combat skill. Melee attacks are made against a difficulty of a fixed “Parry” number set by the target’s own melee combat skill and gear bonuses. Ranged attacks are made against the standard difficulty 4 with penalties for range and cover. This is a divide my players found a little odd, but does at least create a difference in scope between blades and guns that’s not present in a lot of systems (i.e., if you’re out in the open at range, you’re going to take some serious gun damage no matter how skilled you are). A success allows you to roll damage, and each raise gives you an extra d6 on the damage roll.

Damage is those success d6s plus either Strength+Weapon die for melee or a fixed pair of dice for ranged. This total is all added together, but it’s not applied as a total in a traditional sense. Instead, the sum of all the dice is applied to the target’s Toughness+Armor number as a regular skill check: you’re checking for success and raises. This is the first real oddness of the combat system, and harkens back to one of my issues with CthuluTech: the typical language for skill results is abandoned for damage in that you’re totaling all the dice rather than taking the highest. The result of this is that, especially since the dice all explode, damage rolls can be incredibly swingy. The same set of dice can pretty easily range from missing the threshold entirely to getting several raises. And each raise on the attack roll is going to, on average, result in at least one more raise on the damage roll (because the d6 averages 4; or better with aces). In my playtest, this resulted in a breakpoint around Toughness 10 where the target would spend several rounds not being damaged at all only to suffer several wounds in one hit from a lucky roll.

The next unusual thing about the system is how these successes translate. Minimal success with no raises applies the Shaken condition (which can also be applied by intimidate and taunt via Test of Wills and a few other effects). When a target is Shaken, it’s basically a stun. On the target’s action, he has to pass a Spirit roll to clear it, and without a raise or spending a benny, that was the target’s whole round. If the target of an attack would be Shaken but is already suffering that condition, he instead takes a wound. So, functionally, Shaken serves as an ablative health level: it’s easier to damage you when you’re caught off guard, but you can recover and get back to the fight none the worse for wear if you weren’t tagged again while Shaken.

Unfortunately, Shaken can also lead to a running stunlock where there are just enough attack successes and Spirit successes to keep lots of the combat from doing much else besides applying and then clearing Shaken (and, unless I missed a rule exception, when you do take a wound, the penalty also applies to clearing Shaken, making you stunned longer). The condition doesn’t actually make you any easier to hit or damage (except in that if you get a successful attack past Toughness, you’re guaranteed a wound), so there are cases where a target that can be hit and damaged around half the time basically just spends rounds and rounds locked down with the opponent hoping against hope for some aces on damage rolls. My playtest session ended on a fight that took a ridiculously long time because it featured high-defense enemies with low Spirit; the players couldn’t reliably damage them but could basically keep them locked down through a combination of spells and tests of will. The next time I run the game, I’m giving serious thought to changing Shaken from a stun to a defense penalty that still allows you to act.

However, on the whole, combat in the game is fast and interesting, particularly at defense totals that are within the sweet spot for the group. The damage system doesn’t require a ton of bookkeeping but still provides a meaningful gradation of threats. There are lots of interesting combat options (some of which might have made the last fight go faster if we’d remembered to use them), and the consequence of getting pushed to incapacitated are an interesting mix of simulation and heroism.

Ultimately, I have some reservations, but, just like with character creation, they’re issues that I’m inspired to tinker with rather than allow them to turn me off the system entirely.

Conclusion

Alternate Savage Worlds Attributes

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Based on my general uncertainty of the utility of attributes discussed in last week’s review, here is how I might replace attributes in a Savage Worlds game. This should have the side effect of making characters less likely to exceed expected balances at low rank.

Basics

  • Characters roll 1d6 (unless modified by an Edge) for most miscellaneous rolls formerly covered by attributes. This includes resisting tricks, recovering from Shaken, resisting disease and hunger, and any other attribute roll not mentioned below.
  • Characters roll 1d4 (unless modified by an Edge) for performing tricks and adding to melee weapon damage
  • Toughness for all characters is 4 unless modified by an Edge.
  • At Rank 1, characters cannot purchase skills higher than 1d8 (though they might still benefit from passive bonuses from Edges). At Rank 2 this cap increases to 1d10, 1d12 at Rank 3, 1d12+1 at Rank 4, and 1d12+2 at Rank 5.
  • When making a character, players gain 3 additional Edges (but, of course, no points to spend on attributes). They can be spent on existing Edges or the new Edges below.

New Edges

Each Edge below in the sequence requires the previous Edge as a prerequisite.

Strong: You add 1d6 to melee weapon damage (instead of 1d4) and add +1 to miscellaneous (1d6) tests involving physical might (which previously required a Strength roll).

Mighty: Your bonus from Strong increases to 1d8 and +2. Prereq: Rank 2.

Brutal: Your bonus from Mighty increases to 1d12 and +3. Prereq: Rank 3.

Unstoppable: Your bonus from Brutal increases to 1d12+2 and +4. Prereq: Rank 4.

Tricky: You roll 1d8 to perform and resist Tricks (instead of 1d4 and 1d6).

Clever: You roll 1d10 to perform and resist Tricks. Prereq: Rank 2.

Devious: You roll 1d12 to perform and resist Tricks. Prereq: Rank 3.

Adaptive: You roll 1d8 to recover from Shaken (instead of 1d6) and gain +1 to Guts checks.

Centered: You roll 1d10 to recover from Shaken and gain +2 to Guts checks. Prereq: Rank 2.

Unshakable: You roll 1d12 to recover from Shaken and gain +3 to Guts checks. Prereq: Rank 3.

Tough: Your toughness is 5 (instead of 4) and you add +1 to miscellaneous (1d6) tests involving physical health (which previously required a Vigor roll).

Indomitable: Your toughness is 6 and you add +2 to physical health tests. Prereq: Rank 2.

Invulnerable: Your toughness is 7 and you add +3 to physical health tests. Prereq: Rank 3.

Impervious: Your toughness is 8 and you add +4 to physical health tests. Prereq: Rank 4.

Immortal: Your toughness is 10 and you add +5 to physical health tests. Prereq: Rank 5.

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