Procession of the Psychopomp

Game Summary for 2/22/09, a somewhat abbreviated due to the presence of Rock Band

The Party (Idariel 7, Twonkey, Josepi, and Stan McStan ) made its way back from the SludgeWorks, with their captured Zombot-ratipede corpse and a bunch of the Thaumivorous Ghost-Moths that they had discovered.  They boarded the platform and were being winched back up to level 1, when they noticed a bunch of commotion in the Web, with G-Nome couriers racing back and forth on their rocket-skates. This triggered their paranoia pretty badly, as they became convinced they were about to be ambushed, but they made it back to Barbis Boltbiter’s Adventure Emporium (No Adventure Too Dangerous! No Fee Too Big!)  safely. After collecting their fee for investigating the Zombot Infestation, they began discussing cashing in on the Moths with Barbis.  As a Dwarf of honor, he insisted that they would have to negotiate with the owner of the Sludge Works, Lord Shadrach (one of the few non-Elf, non-Dwarf Lords of Infrastructure).  Somewhat surprisingly, the party saw his point. Before they got too far, however, one of Barbis’ nephews burst in with the news that a huge black blimp had docked at the Zep (the zeppelin docks), bearing the Psychopomp of Anathem, and there was going to be a procession.

The Psychopomp of Anathem is the ruler of the city of Anathem, a city that New Ark City had been at war with up until recently (a few game sessions ago) where they practiced the forbidden arts of Necrotech.  Josepi announced that there was no way he would buy that there was no connection between the Zombots they’d been encountering and the situation with Anathem. The party decided to go check out the procession.

They used their connections to find a second floor window above an apothecary from which they could watch the procession route from the Zep to the Palace of Instrumentality, where the Lord of Infrastructure meet.  The parade route was packed with people, trying to get a glimpse of the mysterious Psychopomp.

First came the music, a Heavy Metal dirge. Then came the marching guards, seven-foot-tall cadaverous humanoids in tattered gray cloaks, indistinguishable save for the slight variations in the black patterns on their ivory masks, rifles over their shoulders.  Following them was the Psychopomps float, drawn by a pair of Zombie Mammoths.  Occupying the rear of the float was a steam calliope, from which the music wailed.  In the center of the float, supported on iron bars, was the Psychopomp itself…a grey metal sphere, 10 feet in diameter, bound in loops of darker metal. Nobody knows whether it is a machine intelligence, a sentient artifact, or is there something else, something organic, encased inside.

Kneeling around the Psychopomp were pairs of figures, one set each of the Precursor races, Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Orc, Dryad and Satyr…all attractive and richly dressed in elaborate robes and jewels, several wearing crowns, and all chained by their necks to the Psychopomp’s float.  Their eyelids have been sewed shut.

Behind the Psychopomp’s float, row after row of iron-collared human soldiers bearing spears.

Just then, as the party was discussing “Why aren’t we at war with these guys any more?” a small figure skidded from one of the cables that make up the web, and tumbled to the street in front of the stamping feet of the Zombie Mammoths. It was a G-Nome girl, with small goat-horns and little cupid wings, who had slipped as she was racing by….

Stan McStan started desperately slapping together a robot, knowing that there was no way he could finish in time.  Twonky contemplated jumping from the window, only to conclude that he would crush more people than rescuing the kid would save.  Idariel and Josepi stared helplessly.

The mammoth’s foot descended, then stopped in mid-air.  Kneeling beneath the foot, holding it up with one hand, was a figure completely swathed in bandages, wearing a red, hooded cloak.  The other mammoth, being just a zombie, obliviously tried to continue forward, and the float started to swerve.  The Corpse Guards turned, raising their enormous rifles. The figure scooped up the G-Nome girl and darted from beneath the foot, the mammoth stumbling then continuing onward.  Red-cloak deposited the girl at the side of the road, just at the edge of the crowd, as the Guard leveled their rifles.

By this point Stan had snapped together a hawkbot, and sent it winging towards the scene, with instructions to interpose itself between the riflemen and Red-cloak (and the crowd), international incident be damned.  Before the riflemen actually opened fire, there was a sonic boom, glass rattling and cracking in most of the nearby windows and the rifleman were knocked from their feet…the first row of riflemen’s weapons all snapped in half, and Red-cloak was gone.

Stan recalled his hawkbot before (he hoped) it could be observed by any of the Psychopomp’s minions. It was at this point that he noticed some wetness on his upper lip… his nose was bleeding. Nobody else suffered this (they all made their vigor rolls), and he shook his fist at the Psychopomp and muttered something about “Keep out of my head!”  Eventually, after a bunch of men in the livery of the Lords of Infrastructure showed up and had earnest discussions with the Psychopomp’s servants, the procession straightened itself out and made its way out of sight towards the Palace of Instrumentality.

The rest of the session was spent discussing what the Red-cloaked figure could possibly have been, whether they should try and find the G-nome girl, who they saw had been grabbed up by her mother, why the sudden peace with Anathem, and what the connection might be between the zombots and the Psychopomp.

Shields and Spears in Savage Worlds

I’ve finally decided to add some house rules to Savage Worlds.  Up until now I’ve been adding setting-specific stuff (various Edges, Races, and so forth), but I’ve been pretty careful not to override any of the core rules because I wanted to have a solid grasp on them before I tinkered.  One of the first pieces of advice the folks on the Savage Worlds forum give is resist the urge to tinker with stuff until you’ve played it enough to see how it works; there are a bunch of things that are slightly different in Savage Worlds than people are used to, and it’s not always clear to a new player how the pieces interact.

I think I’ve gotten beyond that now, and have a decent grasp of the system and philosophy, even if I can’t count myself as an expert, and there are a couple things that I don’t think Savage Worlds handles well even on its own terms.  Chief among these are its treatment of shields and spears.

In Savage Worlds, Shields grant +1-3 to the character’s Parry score (melee defense), but only to the front and right side of the character.  That’s intuitive enough, until you realize that it’s the only place in all the rules that facing matters.  In Savage Worlds there’s no bonus for attacking from behind or the side.  Even if you’re partially surrounded, while the attackers gain a Gang Up bonus (+1 for every attacker over 1, to a maximum of +4), no particular attacker has any extra advantage based on your facing.  In every other case, SW abstracts away facing.  It’s built on the assumption that combatants are naturally moving around, spinning, jockeying for position, even circling each other during combat and that turns are long enough (6 seconds) that there’s no one single way that you’re facing during the turn.  This is even mentioned explicitly in the rules that deal with firing into melee: you stand a chance of hitting a friendly character because even though they may be visibly just standing there in separate squares on the battle mat in the game-world they’re presumed to be moving around erratically.  Even bearing that in mind, it might be worth breaking the abstraction in cases where it’s really likely to matter, and to increase the tactical possibilities…except that every other weapon that grants a Parry bonus (such as Rapier or Spear) does so all around.  There’s no more reason that a fellow armed with a Rapier can defend himself better against attacks from the rear than someone with a Shield, but that’s how the rules have it.

So, first House Rule:

Shields apply their bonus regardless of facing, just like other weapons.  The Gang Up bonus is what represents being flanked or attacked in such a way that you cannot defend as effectively in all directions.

Spears in Savage Worlds are also a bit odd.  They are universally a Two-Handed weapon, that grants +1 Parry and Reach. Reach means they can attack foes up to 2 yards away (1″ game scale).  There’s nothing particularly wrong about that, but historically many if not most spears were 1-handed weapons used in conjunction with a shield.  I’m also not entirely sure why the +1 Parry, unless it’s just the extra length of the weapon making it harder to press home an attack.  Most settings, including pulp settings with primitive tribesmen, are going to need a 1-Handed version of a spear.  You could say that such a weapon has no extra Reach, while retaining the +1 Parry, but that doesn’t really match up with how they were regarded historically (and would ruin the Greek hoplite tactic of being able to have the second rank or even third rank of soldiers able to attack foes that close with the front of the phalanx). The Core Rules 2-Handed Spear is also capable of being thrown, which is silly.  Here’s a nice set of pictures of guys with spears and shields, including both one-handed and two-handed spears.

So, the second House Rule:

Spear (1-Handed) STR+d6  Weight 3  Cost 50  Reach 1  Range 3/6/12  ROF 1  Min STR d6

Spear (2-Handed) STR+d6 Weight 5 Cost 100 Reach 1, Parry +1, two hands, may not be thrown.

Sling Shield –   Weight 12  Cost 50  +2 Armor to ranged shots that hit, +1 Armor to non-ranged attacks if and only if fighting in phalanx (defenders to either side, attackers only on one side), can be slung from the shoulder so that it can be used in conjunction with 2-handed spears (as was the practice of Macedonian phalanx)

Finally, there’s the interaction of Reach weapons and Close Combat in Savage Worlds.  According to the rule “Withdrawing from Close Combat”, if you leave melee then adjacent characters get a free attack on you.  This is a pretty standard kind of “parting shot” rule to keep turn-based movement from having odd effects that allow a character to run up, attack, and run away while the defender just stands there helpless.  Unfortunately, while the rule is about “Withdrawing from Close Combat” technically the body of the rule refers to “leaving melee”–the rules lawyers have seized upon this to argue (successfully as far as the official interpretation) that if you have a Reach weapon and stop being adjacent you are still in melee and don’t attract a free attack.  But if you move more than the reach of your weapon away, then you have left melee, and even though you’re no longer adjacent, the opponent gets the free attack.  This results in people armed with spears, or worse, pikes, having more options about where they can move during a battle than anybody else.  This seems to run directly counter to spears and pikes in history and fiction, and promotes unusual tactics like having your double row of spear men close with the enemy (both rows getting their attacks in because of Reach) and then disengaging and stepping 2 yards back (nobody suffering a free attack, because the front row is still in Reach and the back row was never adjacent) so that if any of them have First Strike they get another set of attacks when the opponents close in again.  Clint, the official rules guy, says that yeah, they can do that, but they won’t be able to do it in battle twice, because who would close with them, so why worry?  Oh, I don’t know, maybe because the spear phalanx can serve as a screen for archers?

Anyway, before I start frothing about the kind of Talmudic pilpul that sometimes goes on around the Fast! Furious! Fun! rules of Savage Worlds, here’s my third house rule:

Withdrawing from Close Combat means withdrawing from Close Combat.  As soon as you are no longer adjacent to an unshaken opponent that you were fighting, the opponent gets a free attack even if you’re still within the reach of your own weapon.  You are counted as fighting an opponent (and not just dashing past) if either a) you make any kind of attack in passing so as to attract his attention, or b) the opponent is otherwise unengaged and not surprised.

The last bit is to cover whether you can run past an entire line of foes without any consequences just because it’s your initiative.  There are those who maintain that as long as you didn’t make a Fighting roll against one of the foes, you weren’t technically in combat with them, so you can charge through without any problem.  There are times, particularly for Pulp adventure, where that even makes sense.  Certainly if they’re busy fighting someone else, they may not have attention to spare.  On the other hand, if you were fighting them, no matter how many other foes they are engaged with, they always have time and attention to spare to get a free attack.  That’s because it’s part of the abstraction that you’re not accounting for every blow, and even though it may not be their initiative they’re not standing there like logs while you do whatever you wish.  So in my opinion, running a gauntlet of armed opponents is not something you should attempt unless they’re distracted.  If you want a good chance of trying this, try tricking them first, or wait for them to be fighting somebody else.  And don’t try to tell me that by throwing something or shooting one of them with a pistol as you pass you’re not fighting them because it wasn’t a “Fighting” roll.

What’s Normal in Savage Worlds?

Since this is never explicitly spelled-out in the core rulebooks as far as I can see, it’s probably worth a post.  (I originally worked this out in a comment thread that I doubt anybody but Russell is reading by now…)

The default assumption in Savage Worlds is that typical Joe or Jane Citizen characters have a d6 in each Attribute, and a d6 in each skill that’s relevant to their profession and daily life.  Character generation gives you enough points for a d6 in every stat, and you shouldn’t put a d4 in one unless you intend that your character be wimpier than an average adult at it.  You shouldn’t start with a d4 in a Skill unless it’s something the character hasn’t had much practice at up until now.

In the SW:Explorer’s Edition rulebook, the evidence for this is slim, but it’s there:  the Youth Hindrance and the Elderly Hindrance both represent less-than-physically fit adult specimens, and neither drops any Attribute below a d4.  An 8 year-old girl has a Strength at minimum of a d4, as does a 90 year-old grandmother; they could be stronger… even a lot stronger, but they can’t be weaker by the core rules.  There are Hindrances that can give you an effective die-roll even worse (e.g. Anemic, which subtracts 2 from many Vigor rolls), but d4 is the rock-bottom for an Attribute.

The Toolkits add more direct evidence: the “Typical Citizens” entries in both the Science Fiction and Fantasy toolkits have a d6 in each Attribute.  The Pulp toolkit doesn’t have a citizen entry, but has a fair number of everyday sort of archetypes such as Snitches, Typical Mechanics, Nosy Reporters (as distinct from Plucky Reporters) and they all fit the pattern of at least a d6 in every Attribute, with only notably stupid characters such as Thugs having a d4 Smarts, or notably young characters such as Wise-Ass Kid having a d4 Strength and Vigor.  Even Professors are assumed to have a d6 Strength and Vigor.

The Toolkits also provide the only real evidence of the assumptions about what’s a typical Skill level.  The SW:Ex core has few examples of normal people, and orcs and cannibal islanders are just different enough that while they might represent typical opposition to the heroes they aren’t necessarily indicative of what the random soda-jerk, janitor, or dung-spattered peasant is capable of.  Basically, Citizens in the SF and Fantasy Toolkits have at least a d6 in every skill that’s relevant to their daily lives, and a d4 in either Fighting or Shooting depending on the typical weapon of their culture (and Guts, if the setting uses it).  What they don’t have is very many skills: Notice, some Knowledge Skill representing their trade, and either Driving or Stealth, plus the aforementioned combat and Guts, and that’s it.

While the point-buy system encourages PCs to dabble in a lot of skills (adding a new Skill at d4 after character creation is as expensive as raising two other skills by a die type), it seems pretty clear from the supplementary material in the Toolkits that having merely a d4 in a Skill isn’t intended to represent a competent practitioner.  A random NPC that you meet who has that skill as his trade will likely have a d6 in it.  Now, because PCs are Wild Cards, their chance of success on a d4 plus the Wild Die is significantly better than the random Extra’s chance of success on a d6 (62% vs. 50%), but my interpretation would be that represents something like raw talent or luck, not training.

Ad Vance: To a More Vancian Magic

The tomes which held Turjan’s sorcery lay on a long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. These were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan’s brain could know but four at a time.

Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violent Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.

Turjan closed the book, forcing the spell back into oblivion. He robed himself with a short blue cape, tucked a blade into his belt, fitted the amulet holding Laccodel’s Rune to his wrist. Then he sat down and from a journal he chose the spells he would take with him.  What dangers he might meet he could not know, so he selected three spells of general application: The Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.

The Dying Earth, Jack Vance (c) 1950

In RPGs people generally refer to “Vancian” magic to mean the “fire and forget” aspect of spells that Gygax and Arneson copied from The Dying Earth (as well as the notion that one spell = one effect, rather than, say, a range of similarly themed ones).  Each time you want to cast a spell, you have to “memorize” it anew.  It’s a bizarre notion, and one of the first things that subsequent systems tended to toss overboard.  Even if you want to limit the number of times per day somebody can cast a spell, doing it by making you forget how to cast it afterward is regarded as somewhere between strange and stupid.  Even later editions of D&D replaced “memorization” with “preparation.”  What’s often overlooked is that the idea of having to struggle to hold a spell in your mind and having it vanish once its been unleashed is meant to be bizarre, and to make the magic of the Dying Earth seem weird and other-worldly.  These weren’t super-powers, or psionic abilities that other pulp characters might have acquired…spells in the Dying Earth operated by rules that had nothing to do with physics, even science fiction physics.

Another complaint often leveled at “Vancian” D&D magic is that it’s too “prosaic”, or “not magical enough.”  You have your list of familiar special abilities, the number of times a day you can call on them, rules for their exact effects and chance of resisting them, etc.  I actually think that’s largely true, but the problem is not that D&D magic draws on Vance for inspiration, but that it doesn’t draw on Vance enough.  In the process of creating D&D Gygax and Arneson made spells too “war-gamey”…spells in D&D are in a lot of ways just another type of ammo you can equip your troops with, tracked just as if it were arrows, flasks of oil, or Greek fire.  What was lost, in my opinion, was some or all of the real weirdness of the magic of the Dying Earth.  I think that if you wanted some house rules to put the bizarreness back into magic, instead of looking at real world or fairy-tale magic, you could go back to the tales of the Dying Earth and start over from there.

1. First of all, spells are much rarer in the Dying Earth.  Turjan is one of the more powerful and famous sorcerers of the (admittedly decadent and less magically potent) age, and he can master only four spells at once.  In the second chapter, Mazirian the Magician, who managed to capture and hold Turjan prisoner, was capable of five.  So step one is to cut back on the number of spells.  I would suggest limiting a Magic User to 1 + their Int Bonus (however calculated for the edition).  Moreover, though there were once thousands of spells, only 100 are now extant, and a magician such as Mazirian, who has made it his life’s work to aquire them, has about 70 of them.

2. Spells in the Dying Earth are potent.  The Excellent Prismatic Spray was a death sentence: multicolored lines of fire streak in from every direction, transfixing the target and killing it…. Phandaal’s Gyrator spell can lift the target off the ground, holding it and spinning it as the magician wishes, and can be sped up until the victim just flies apart. If you didn’t have a counter to the spells (such as the amulet with Lacondel’s Rune that Turjan possesses), you have no hope of escaping or surviving.  The Call of the Violent Cloud can transport you in moments (albeit uncomfortable moments) all the way across the world, etc.  It may be that there are lesser spells that the magicians of the Dying Earth seldom bother with, but the ones they’re actually shown using are powerful indeed.  So steps two and three are to eliminate the notion of a saving throw against spells (though you probably want to keep it for things like magic from wands or traps), and to get rid of spells castable by level.  If you have a spell and you’re not at your limit, you can force that spell into your mind.

3. It doesn’t seem to be possible in Vance to use two “slots” on the same spell.  If the Excellent Prismatic Spray is the only offensive spell you have access to, you’ll have to round out the spells you memorize for your adventure with others that might be useful.

4. Memorized spells still take time to cast, enough time that, for instance, a character verbally threatened by somebody who knows the Excellent Prismatic Spray can successfully counter-threaten to push a handy button and drop the caster in a pit faster than the spell could be completed.  Pretty much all editions of D&D can handle this, as long as you assume that casting spells isn’t instant.

5. It is possible to screw up casting the spell, with bad results.  If you accidentally transpose a pair of “pervulsions”, the effect of the spell can be reversed, or go off on you instead of your intended target.  Professional magicians such as Turjan, Mazirian, and Ioucounu don’t seem to worry about this much, but it happened to Cugel the Clever twice in succession. If you want to retain the idea of spell levels, you could require a roll for attempting to cast a spell greater than your current level, with penalties for just how far beyond your current abilities it is.  The roll is made when you actually attempt to cast the spell, not when it’s first memorized.  Or you could only apply a rule for checking for spell failure if a non-magician attempts a magic spell, similar to the classic D&D rules for thieves attempting to use magic scrolls.

6. Spells are something that can only be acquired through adventure, or from a mentor.  There are no generally accessible libraries, or magic shops that will sell you a book or scroll of them, and while magicians can share their spells with their colleagues, they guard them jealously from their rivals.

7. Spells are strange.  The Call to the Violent Cloud doesn’t just whisk the caster to his destination, it summons a strange and malevolent (or at least indifferent) being to accomplish the task, that must be addressed carefully according to ritual:

All was quiet; then came a whisper of movement swelling to the roar of great winds. A wisp of white appeared and waxed to a pillar of boiling black smoke.  A voice deep and harsh issued from the turbulence.
“At your disturbing power is this instrument come: whence will you go?”
“Four directions, then One,” said Turjan, “Alive must I be brought to Embelyon.”
The cloud whirled down; far up and away he was snatched, flung head over heels into incalculable distance.  Four directions was he thrust, then one, and at last a great blow hurled him from the cloud, sprawled him into Embelyon.

(Note, by the way, that Embelyon is either another planet, or perhaps another dimension entirely, not just a far-off place on the Earth.)

8. Because magic is so limited in applicability, albeit powerful when applied, Vancian magic users are capable of fighting with a sword or by wrestling if they have to.  They’re no Conans, but they get by.  I’d keep the hit point and armor restrictions, but lift the ban on using swords and other one-handed weapons.

9. It’s never explicitly spelled out, but it seems that there is no particular limit on memorizing a new spell once one has been cast…neither casting the spells nor memorizing them is particularly taxing.  In their lairs, where they have all their spell books and time to memorize and cast at their leisure, magicians seem limited only by the relatively small (minutes perhaps?) amount of time it takes to memorize a spell.  It does seem that is it extremely difficult to create copies of existing spells.  While the magicians do eventually acquire them, and even teach them to each other if on friendly terms, it seems to be an unthinkable risk to carry an extra copy about in case of need.  They select the spells they venture forth with carefully, and husband them wisely if they can, but they never ever are seen to have a spare or even to have contemplated the possibility.

You can find spell name generators for Dying Earth-style spells here and here, as well as some additional discussion of Vancian magic, but while the name of the spell is an important part of its flavor, the thing you really want to concentrate on is that the effects be potent and memorable. With all due respect to one of my favorite bloggers, Dr Rotwang of I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow, simply attaching Vancian names to existing D&D spells isn’t good enough. D&D spells are constructed with a war-gamer’s notion of balance, both against the abilities of other classes and the toughness of opponents. A Vancian version of Sleep, for instance, ought to at least cause the target to sleep forever, preserved and unchanging, until countered (much as the Spell of the Forlorn Encystment sinks the target deep within the Earth to remain alive and trapped, but unaging and undying, until the spell is broken, bringing them alive and blinking, with their clothes rotted to dust, to the surface once more). The spells in the Dying Earth are limited by whether there is a spell applicable to the situation (and whether you’ve memorized it), but where they do apply their effects tend to be absolute. Knocking out 2d8 hit dice of creatures until they waken naturally or are awakened by force is just weaksauce.

So, if you make all those changes to D&D magic, will Magic Users still be a playable class?  I think so.  At low levels, a spell like Sleep is an encounter-ender against a lot of foes anyway, just as at mid-levels Fireball can be.  What tends to happen in D&D is the number of truly potent spells (relative to the scope of the adventure) that a wizard can use during a single day remains fairly constant, while the scale of enemies ramps up…  what a truly Vancian system would tend to do is just get rid of all the minor spells that the wizard ends up with (often more than he’ll ever cast in a single day), and eliminate the process of “trading up” from Magic Missile to Fireball to Meteor Swarm (or whatever).  The problem, if there is one, would be that a beginning mage armed with the Excellent Prismatic Spray or something similar would be a threat against an ogre, or perhaps a dragon or other big nasty, possibly even including a much higher level character.  To the extent that this is a genuine problem, and not just blind allegiance to the leveling treadmill concept in D&D where everything scales up in power as the PCs do, you could certainly solve it by restricting the spells available to the PC magic users until they reached a level where you thought a single-target instant-kill spell was appropriate, or by giving special opponents abilities and items such as Laccondel’s Rune to counter it.  Personally, if I were to try this, I would try very hard to just live with it, and design my adventures so as not to assume that 1st level characters are ants compared to high level characters and monsters, and that under the right circumstances even the powerful can be threatened by the lowly.

What about Vancian magic in non-D&D systems?  I think most of the same principles apply, though the mechanics might differ slightly.  In Savage Worlds, getting a new spell “slot” might be an edge, with the limit that you can’t take the Edge more than once per Rank, while individual spells would be acquired by adventuring.  The Arcane Background would probably grant 1 slot and the knowledge of 3 initial spells and casting the spells wouldn’t require Power Points or a casting roll.  In some ways, adding this kind of magic is easy in almost any system (except perhaps ones like HERO, that expect exact cost-accounting for every aspect of every power), since the rules on how many times you can cast a spell are perfectly clear and the effects of each and every spell are sui generis.  As long as the GM is prepared to deal with the consequences of allowing a certain power in the game, there’s really no limit or constraints on what a spell might do.

Encounter Savage!

  • Update: previous link is dead, so you can get it from here:

    • The complete Encounter Savage! is now available as a FREE PDF! This supplement provides rules for adapting the groundbreaking Encounter Critical for use with Savage Worlds! It’s fully illustrated by the man someone might have once called “the modern day Erol Otus”, Xose Lucero! It’s approved by the keeper of the EC flame, S. John Ross! It’s got a Savage Worlds Fan License!

Plus, I appear in the credits!  What more reason could you want to check it out?!!

Actually, one additional reason to check it out might be that Encounter Critical is one of the inspirations for my Elves & Espers setting.

Tw-0n (key->green): an Elves & Espers Character

Concept: A Hazmat Transport & Disposal Droid

Agility d4
Smarts d4
Spirit d6
Strength d6
Vigor d10

Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 7, Charisma -1

Edges: AB: Super, Power Points +5 (x2), Take the Hit (+2 to Soak rolls)
Hindrances: Distinctive Appearance (Waste Disposal Droid), Clueless (-2 to Common Knowledge), Quirk: No Sense of Time
Powers: Ageless(1), Absorption (Magic 4, transference +?), Absorption(Fire/Heat 4), Armor +4 (4), Attack: Wrench (Melee, Heavy Weapon) (4)

Doug’s write-up:

Twonky Green- Hazardous Materials Transport and Disposal droid.

Twonky was a magical residue transport droid deep in the heart of the New Ark City power generation station.  Unfortunately, during the time when Gax was first starting to lose his grip on the city, minor mistakes were beginning to be made, but the aura of infallibility was still being maintained.  One of those mistakes was a change of classification of TW-0N(Key-Green)from automaton to living creature when its transport permit was being renewed at the Department of Moving Vehicles. Normally, this wouldn’t have caused much fuss, except that living creatures aren’t allowed to work inside the power generation area due to the extreme toxicity of the environment, and Twonky was flagged for immediate removal. Repeated visits to the Department of Moving Vehicles to demonstrate his non-living status failed to change their minds, since, as non-security droids, they were forbidden from injuring a living being, which, of course, included changing status from living to not living. The one upside is that living being status has kept him from being “upgraded” and having his idiosyncrasies, errors, bit shifts and buffer overruns put back to normal.

This situation left Twonky without a real purpose.  He was unable to find work in the living being world. Who would hire something that was bathed in ultra-magic for centuries?  So after wandering the arcology for days, months, or years being bored and occasionally making off with full garbage cans, he ended up in the remains of the Broken Spire.  While not nearly as magically charged as his previous job, at least the nice glow reminded him of home.  So he decided that he would make the cleanup of the Broken Spire his new purpose.

It’s been centuries since Twonky started.  The decay of the Spire itself isn’t helping any, but there are a few patches of the Spire that are now almost clean. It’s possibly that he may even finish a whole disk before the tower collapses.

Hey. It’s a job.

I see Twonky as being somewhat irritating to most living beings. Not intentionally, but Twonky tends to take the _long_ view of things.  Time has less meaning to him.  He’s been around thousands of years already. He doesn’t sleep, so there’s no concept of “tomorrow.”  He’s in the middle of his multi-millennia day, and when he eventually turns of, that’s it.


Twonky was generated with Necessary Evil super-powers, which is not generally an option for Elves & Espers characters (except for Trooper’s powered armor).  Doug tried not to be abusive, but the actual stats may be subject to change if it appears to be too much.  Mostly the NE versions of things are helpful for perma powers like Twonky’s Absorbtion…the core version of Super Powers have short durations that make things like immunity to radiation impossible except for brief periods.  I’ll probably be discussing this with Doug some more, but I didn’t want to hold up the game, particularly over something that wasn’t likely to come up during the session.  One thing I’ll probably disallow outright is Twonky’s wrench counting as a Heavy Weapon.

Descent into the Fetid Depths

Session Summary for 1/4/2009 Elves & Espers campaign

This session we had a new addition to our gaming group: Andrew, Elyssa’s step-brother, and his girlfriend Sarah (who had never gamed before, but agreed to come along and watch).  Andrew took over playing Tank McSplatter, and Doug switched to a new character he’d come up with since we last played.

Last session our intrepid band of adventurers (Idariel 7, Elven Technomancer; Stan McStan, Dwarven Robomancer; Tank McSplatter, Hobbit Trooper; Bon Go, Human Enforcer; Josepi Vincenti, Human Roguechemist) managed to get paid for clearing the Pigsies out of Batwings & Things despite the subsequent destruction of the entire shop by a group of mercenaries apparently hired to burn the place, possibly to destroy any evidence of trafficking in Zombot dust, by the simple expedient of not mentioning the shop’s destruction when they went to pick up their pay.

This session they decided to take the contract from Barbis Boltbiter, their Adventure Broker, to investigate a possible sighting of Zombots in Poisonville, the sewage-disposal and heavy industrial chemical plant section of town…which is right down on the roof of the arcology below the spire, to keep it out of the way.  They figure that there’s no way the Zombot Dust they found (when it turned the dead Pigsies into Zombots) could be unrelated to possible Zombot activity elsewhere.  Also, the pay (4000 creds for a simple look-see) is nothing to sneeze at, despite the potentially highly unpleasant nature of the surroundings.

Determining that the best (free) way to get down to Poisonville was to take the elevator, they were winched over the side of the disk on an open platform cranked by an Ogre-M.A.G.E (Magically Augumented Genetically Engineered) and lowered into the greenish stinking fog that hung over Poisonville.  Arriving at the bottom after about twenty minutes of swaying and lurching, they found themselves standing in a landscape dominated by industrial-sized pipes, covered in blotchy rust and slime, surrounded by foul fetid greenish fog that made their eyes sting and noses water (Josepi had particular problems, having failed a Vigor roll, and fashioned a makeshift mask out of a handkerchief).  Shapeless things humped and slithered along in the shadows, and a ratipede (a mutant rat with a hundred legs) scuttled across the street as bold as you please in front of them.   The street was dotted with puddles of rainblow (sic) colored ooze.  The contract they had listed as their contact a Dwarf named Carvin Spiker, a supervisor at the SludgeWorks.  They found the plant, where gigantic transparent tubes blorped and gurgled disgusting brown and black sludge, and decided that Idariel and Josepi would go talk to Carvin while the rest of them hung around outside, so as not to spook him with an army of heavily-armed goons.

They climbed the rickety, rusting stairs and entered the plant through a submarine-style hatch; there they found a catwalk high above the tanks and pipes of the works, and a tiny office with windows that might once have been transparent back when the sun was yellow.  But maybe not even then.  In the office, piled high with the bureaucratic detritus of ages, punctuated by the occasional out-of-date Miss Galaxy calendar or “sexy” dwarf pin-up, behind the desk they found an amorphous blob of flesh.  Could this actually be the Dwarf they were looking for?  It opened one rheumy eye and croaked, “Yah?”

They explained they were there to investigate the Zombot sighting, and after some grumbling, Carvin told them that while he filed the report, it was an employee who had actually spotted the Zombot…They asked to speak with him, and Carvin called over Tw-0N (key->green), or as he called him “Twonky”… an ancient robot, from a time back before aesthetics had been invented.  Twonky (Doug’s new character) was a fairly featureless grey, boxy humanoid, with various hazard stickers affixed to him, his call-letters stamped on his back, glowing faintly with magical radiation.  Idariel asked if they could borrow him for a while, and Carvin indicated that he would appreciate if they not only borrowed him, but managed to lose him.  The plant had been trying to decommission him for ages, but been thwarted by red-tape: Twonky had unfortunately at one point, back when Gax had just begun losing its grip, been mis-classified as human and the robot bureaucracy had been unable to correct the mistake since classifying a human being as a robot would have violated the First Law.

Twonky led the entire party towards Sludge Vat #7, where he had seen the potential Zombot.  The Zombot had been in the form of a Ratipede, but it shambled rather than scuttled, and had metal jaws and (organic) eyes protruding on metallic eye-stalks, so Twonky had steered clear and simply reported it as per plant procedures.  Climbing and descending metal ladders and crossing swaying catwalks over glowing green radioactive goo, they headed towards Vat #7.  At one point, they found themselves in the middle of a swarm of giant, glowing albino moths with ectoplasmic wings, that settled on their clothing and hair.  Idariel (with an amazingly good Arcane Knowledge roll) managed to identify them as a giant, mutant version of a rare thaumivorous (magic-eating) moth.  After a brief panic that the moths were after their goods, they decided that they were just feeding on the magical soot that was coating them from the fog that permeated Poisonville.  Idariel decided to gather a bunch of the moths in a handy sack, for further study, and after accomplishing this, they made the rest of the way to Vat #7 without incident.

There, they found places in the metallic wall where something had chewed new rat holes, annoying Twonky, who had cleaned the area just a few weeks ago.  Stan snapped together a mini robot with a camera, and sent it down the hole to take a look, telling it to sound an alarm and run away if anything started chewing on it.  It didn’t take long before they heard the whoop-whoop of the robot’s alarm, and it came scuttling back, trailing one damaged leg.  Idariel began scanning the hole with his Pentacorder, looking for what did it, while Stan replayed the robot’s memory; they both came to the same conclusion: the robot had been attacked by a Zombot Ratipede that was even now shambling through the tunnels in the wall towards them to feast on their flesh.  The video from the robot was technically all they needed to fulfill their contract (and this group was nothing if not technical about fulfilling their contracts), but they decided to fight the Zombot anyway, if only so it wouldn’t be following them.

As soon as the Zombot Ratipede poked its nose (and eyestalks) out of the hole, Tank opened fire with his Multi-Gun, and blew big gobbets of flesh off it, revealing the glistening tubes and wires that animated it.  It twitched and lay still.  Stan, as an expert on robots, recalled that Zombots would regenerate after “death” unless they were burned.  At this point, Idariel 7 had a brilliant idea.  They would unleash the thaumivorous moths on the corpse, and see if that would prevent it from regenerating.  Stan and Josepi were dubious that it wouldn’t just result in Zombot moths that would destroy the entire arcology, but Idariel was insistent that since the Zombot dust could only infect you through a wound and the moths weren’t wounded, there was nothing to worry about.  Besides, the party was overdue for unleashing a setting-destroying horror.

To everybody’s surprise but Idariel’s, the plan worked, and the Zombot Ratipede failed to revive.  Further scans of the area revealed no more Zombots (itself somewhat puzzling), but evidence that the other Ratipedes had been giving the infected one wide berth, and the party decided that some combination of the lack of any life-forms to infect besides the wary and swift Ratipedes and the presence of the thaumivorous moths in and about the area had contained the Zombot infestation.  At this point, Idariel realized that this might be the big score he had been looking for… the ticket back to getting the 100,000 creds he needed to reinstate his license.

They took the Zombot corpse with them, contained in a metal box along with some of the moths (with holes in the lid, of course), and hurried back to Carvin’s office to use the phone, both to tell Barbis about the Zombot they had found and potentially negotiate with him over the discovery of the mutant moths.  The conversation didn’t begin well, with Barbis having just found out from the very unhappy Grismerelda that the shop had burned to the ground–Idariel attempted to persuade him that it wasn’t any of their doing (true enough) even though they hadn’t somehow seen fit to mention the incident to Grismerelda when collecting their pay.  The conversation wasn’t going well, even with Idariel coming clean over exactly what had happened at the shop, including the Pigsie that reanimated as a Zombot, until he happened to mention his potentially lucrative discovery and willingness to cut Barbis in on the action.  “Cha-ching!”   They agreed to meet and talk in person, rather than over an unsecured line in somebody else’s office. Meanwhile, the rest of the party was engaging Carvin in conversation, attempting to keep him completely distracted once they realized that Idariel was discussing this potentially immensely valuable find in the presence of a third party, one moreover with interests and responsibilities to his employer that ran counter to the party’s scheme to make themselves rich with something found in that employer’s factory….this seemed to be successful, particularly once they got Carvin–secretly something of a civic booster–started on the topic of how Poisonville’s reputation for pollution and ill-health was really undeserved, why, look at him, he’d been working at the plant for hundreds of years now and he was still a fine figure of a Dwarf, if he said so himself…

And there we broke for the evening.

Elves & Espers: CybOrcs

CybOrcs are a cybernetically enhanced Orcs, linked together into a hive-mind.  They are the enemies of all other races, but most particularly the Elves; other races will be enslaved or eaten to sustain the organic parts of CybOrcs…Elves are converted into CybOrcs.  CybOrcs can no longer reproduce sexually, so capture and conversion of Elves is their highest priority.  CybOrcs are nomadic, living and traveling on gigantic self-propelled towns/gun-platforms (sometimes called Ogres).  The towns move slowly, barely at a walking pace, but where they pass nothing living remains.  The towns can never stop moving…once they do it is impossible for them to start again and the CybOrc organism will quickly exhaust its local supply of food and minerals and die… so it is sometimes possible to flee while the CybOrcs pass and return to try and rebuild from the wreckage.  The CybOrcs and Ogre form a single entity: what one knows, they all know.  CybOrcs scout and raiding parties range well in advance of the Ogre, finding prey and making sure the terrain is passable for the Ogre’s huge body and gigantic treads.   CybOrcs seldom speak, having little to say to other races, and when they do it is mostly to croak in a deadly monotone “Resistance is futile if it is less than 1 Ohm”, “Prepare to be incorporated”, or “Your biological and technical diversity will be ground to make our bread.”  Despite this, it is sometimes possible to bargain or negotiate with the CybOrcs if you can do so from a position of strength.  Unfortunately, since a direct hit by a nuke will only inconvenience a CybOrc/Ogre village, gaining an undeniable position of strength can be hard to achieve.  CybOrcs are ruthlessly utilitarian, however, and will never pursue prey out of vindictiveness, so they can often be turned aside or eluded if some richer prize presents itself.  When calculating benefit, capturing Elves is almost always top priority.


Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Strength d8, Spirit d6, Vigor d8

Skills: Shooting d6, Fighting d6, Throwing d4, Notice d6, Intimidation d8, Stealth d4

Pace:Parry: 5 Toughness: 11

Gear: Infantry Battlesuit (+4), Blaster 2d8+1, ROF3, 24/48/96, -2 Acc, Chainsaw Arm 2d6+4 (no botch on a 1)

Special Abilities: Size (+1), Hive-Mind (what one is aware of all are aware of), Fearless (immune to magical effects and intimidation)

The above is a typical CybOrc drone, though the weaponry carried often varies.  Other varieties are less often encountered, but include Heavy Weapons units (with full powered armor), Esper units (with AB: Psionics), etc.

Note that the Hive-Mind aspect can work as a disadvantage, in that if an Esper manages to influence one CybOrc, they are all influenced.  Physical damage from Esper powers is divided across all the CybOrcs bodies, which makes it pretty much impossible to actually harm them that way, but subtler Esper powers such as Puppet will work on them all at once.  There is a danger, however, for every turn the Esper remains in contact with the CybOrc hive-mind there is a chance that the Esper’s mind will be overwhelmed and incorporated into the CybOrc collection: roll a straight Spirit vs. Spirit contest.  The CybOrc hive-mind is treated as a Wild Card when Esper powers are involved even if all of its drones are Extras, so it gets a Wild Die.  If the CybOrcs ever win the contest, the Esper becomes one of them and her mind is lost forever.  CybOrcs cannot directly be forced to commit suicide via Puppetry, but can be tricked into actions that will spell their destruction, such as walking into lava.

Elves & Espers: Klangons

Klangons are a race of bumpy-headed cyborg warriors, fierce and proud.  Klangons are the name given to them by other races, for the way they borg themselves until they clang when they walk.  Their own name for themselves translates to “The People” (or literally, The Non-Wusses).


Tough – +1 Toughness
– +2 Armor (negated by AP weapons)
Warrior – Klangons start with a d6 in Fighting
Death Wish – For Klangons, today is always a good day to die.  Klangons seek to die in glorious battle, and while they won’t start unwinnable fights for no reason at all, if given a reason to fight overwhelming odds are considered yet another reason in favor of engaging in combat.
Arrogant – Klangons know they’re better than everybody else, and see no reason to keep it secret.

Situational Ethics

Session Summary for 12/7/08: Elves & Espers

When a typical Rambling Bumblers session starts up, there’s often quite a bit of dithering, and we try to find our feet in the scenario, and try to recapture exactly what it was that we were going to do next, which, after a break, doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. I used to think that was only natural, since often months or even years can pass between sessions of a particular campaign. As it turns out, even if we only have a week in between sessions, there’s still dithering.

Continue reading “Situational Ethics”