KantCon 2018, Pt. 4 (Savage Worlds)

My previous sessions are discussed here.

When I pick sessions for a convention, I look for 1) a system I have never played, or 2) a system I like with an interesting hook for the session. If one of the players or GM is someone I know, all the better. In this case, Savage Worlds is my comfort food. A friend of mine turned me on to the system about 12 years ago and I have run campaigns in it ever since. It was a game changer for me, since it handled large combats smoothly and had some interesting takes on character creation, support characters contributing to combat, and an initiative system I fell in love with.

If you aren’t familiar with Savage Worlds, the core mechanic is a target number system with the dice corresponding to your skill or attribute (from as low as d4 up a step at a time to d12, d12+1, d12+2, etc.). As a “wild card” (or named character. Prominent NPCs or major monsters can also be wild cards), you have wound levels and access to a wild die, or a d6 you roll alongside every attribute or skill roll and take the higher. Dice explode, so re-roll any max value on a single die and keep adding it up. Target numbers are usually 4, with a “raise” that adds additional benefits every 4 over the target number.

Initiative is handled by dealing cards from a standard deck and resolving from the Ace of Spades down to the 2 of Clubs. Jokers provide special bonuses. Since everyone knows who’s acting next, it is easy to plan your turn. Additional goodies are a unified power system (so magic, cyberware, or superpowers are all resolved in very similar ways) and a comprehensive system of edges (like D&D feats) and flaws (like Storyteller system hindrances) that provide rules quirks and character depth. Character creation and advancement is classless, essentially level-based, with some rules variants doing a racial edge system if you like your sci-fantasy races standardized.

The session I played at the convention was set in the new Terracide setting, a gritty sci-fi thing where Earth’s colonies and offshoots are wrestling with the fact that a distant civilization targeted our homeworld, annihilating the Earth. No one we’ve met will take credit, so humanity is torn between making amends with our allies and lashing out against those that may have hurt us. Lots of metahuman variants are built in along with some reasonably alien aliens. No rubber ears and “like people but angry” species.

This session was set during a diplomatic situation with multiple factions looking to sway the planet to their side. I’ll be honest: the politics of the situation were way out of my depth given that I knew none of the factions previously and the councilors involved were all new NPCs, too. We opened on a riot brewing outside their planetary council hall that presaged a civil war. We tried to talk the riot down with limited success, but were immediately pushed back by separatist-aligned security forces. We fell back onto a maglev train after swiping some of their weapons and departed with a wounded councilor.

The rest of the session was our hacker getting more info and our train visiting locations for more skirmishes with the same security forces. Small social interactions broke up the shooting interludes, with us eventually swapping the train for a VTOL vehicle. We ran out of time to finish the session, but if we had collected all the loyalist councilors we felt we could prevent a civil war and keep the planet on our side.

A couple things kept me from really getting into it. The first was being a Captain with no social skills, so I couldn’t meaningfully contribute to quelling the riot, which felt odd from a character build around leadership edges. Then, once the security forces overtook our train station, we didn’t immediately fall back. A bunch of us had edges that made us martial artists (and we had all given up our weapons at customs) so we took the fight to the security team to get guns. Problem being, in a sci-fi setting where everyone wears armor, martial artists are badly nerfed. So we took a few wounds along with taking some guns, and all future combats were slightly more security forces and we had slightly better equipment after boosting our stuff from customs. It was essentially the same set piece fight three times. There were some enemy wild cards in the last go round, but we ended the session before that mattered a bunch.

If my write-up is very focused on combat, it’s because the session was. One or two of us got a roll between fights, depending on if it was talking or computer hacking. We alternated between our hacker asking the GM questions, and then fighting, and then the face/social character asking him questions, and then fighting. We had little agency over the situation. The rest of us were literally on rails the rest of the time. Each character had a full page of background and a character write-up we didn’t explore, and about eight pages of setting and adventure notes that were vaguely applied. There was some cool stuff in there, but it was all set dressing to the conflict on-planet and wasn’t addressed again, nor was there time to engage in conversation and explore those connections with the larger story within the session.

I don’t want to sound too negative here, because there was a lot of cool stuff going on here. Too much stuff, really, with the incipient riot, fist-fighting the armed guards, getting our weapons from lockup, discovering the conspiracy, fighting from the top of the train on our way to exposition #2, the plan to stop the Civil War, a helicopter ride to the third fight while dogfighting pursuing speeders on the way, and the lobby fight with enemy cyberninjas that got cut short. In under 4 hours. Too much too fast, with a lot of effort we couldn’t appreciate in character and world-building. With more varied combat, it’s honestly a campaign I could see myself enjoying, but the prelude to a campaign does not an effective convention session make.

Next up, my last rpg session of the con, in which we explored the nature of the Fermi Paradox and the impressively streamlined system of Dread!

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