That Old Time Religion

“It’s our goal to rebuild an old approach to fantasy gaming; where imagination tends to replace rules, where rules are easily customized, and where there’s less “procedure” intruding on the fantasy. We’re supplying a toolkit for fantasy gaming, and what you do with it is up to you – there are no “official” answers, and no “official” procedures, and not even any “official” rules if you’re in the mood to tinker.” – Matthew Finch, Mythmere Games

This summer, I have been thinking a lot about the Old School Renaissance, as exemplified by the resurgence of interest in retroclones  – games which use the WotC Open Gaming Licence to recreate classic games such as Original D&D. This compensates me somewhat for not being able to play much at the moment.

There are, as ever, several views about what old school roleplaying actually means. Some say it’s nostalgia for the games of our childhood, pure and simple; some say it’s a step back from over-complex modern RPG rules; some say it’s a shift in focus from challenging the character to challenging the player. Zak S at Playing D&D With Porn Stars has a good explanation here.

For me, old school is about simplicity of rules and player creativity, and old school games have a mark by which they may be known: Can you fit a viable player character on a 3” x 5” index card?

Games where you can do this include Original D&D, Classic Traveller, Savage Worlds, and anything from Two Hour Wargames. All old school in my book, regardless of when they were published.

Once you step up to needing an A4 character sheet, it’s not old school any more. Just my $0.02.

SG-13: PX10-717

Home alone today, so here’s an experiment I’ve been meaning to try for a while: Savage Chain Reaction. The plan is to use the THW scenario and reaction system as a story engine, and the Savage Worlds rules for characters and combat.

The game took 15 minutes to set up, including making up the rules interfaces; about three hours to play; and 10 minutes to pack away again. It used 8 Jaffa, four SG-13 figures, three zombie figures, and 6 civilian primitives.

Mission

SG-13 has been despatched on another patrol into suspected Jaffa territory. Their objective is to search a primitive village for a known SGC sympathiser and extract him before the Jaffa can capture or kill him. They must search each building. Unknown to them, the dreaded Zombie Plague has struck PX10-717 and the undead are also in play.

Personnel

SG-13: SSgt Stoner, Pvts Davis, Evans, Fox. For these and the Jaffa, I’m using the Experienced Soldier template on p. 99 of the SW rulebook; if the experiment is a success, I may stat Stoner up properly later. Rep will count as half the figure’s Spirit die type, namely 3. SG-13 have kevlar vests and M-16s all round, and Stoner has an M203 under the rifle barrel. The Jaffa have chain mail (that being what their armour looks like on the TV show) and laser rifles, albeit single shot ones with no burst or autofire capabilities, and -2 to hit because they have no sights.

Contact: Deren. He uses the Soldier template. Also Rep 3 if it becomes important.

Zombies: Braaaiiiinnnns. These use the zombie stats as written on SW p. 157. Rep 2.

Rules

Characters and combat: SW. Activation, reaction tests, PEFs, NPC movement: CR3.0. Zombies: Stats from SW, placement, movement, Zed or No Zed test from ATZ. I have chosen to use the THW activation tests rather than the SW card draw system because I think it will work better in solo play. No doubt I’ll need more rules, but I’ll make those up as I go.

Map

The usual village from Cry Havoc! – one hex = 2″.

Setup

I set up three PEFs as per CR3.0. SG-13 advance onto the table at a walk. As there is one Star/Wild Card (Stoner) I roll 1d6+1 for zombies, and get 3. The placement rules (ATZ p. 30) show me that they appear at the top, right and left respectively. White dice by the PEFs (red pawns) show their Rep.

Start of Turn 1: “Sarge, this village looks kinda familiar…”

Turn 1

Activation: PEFs 3; zeds 2; SG-13 1. Everyone activates excepts PEF 2 and 3. PEF 1 rolls 3, 2 vs Rep 3, passes 1d6, and a roll of 5 determines it moves 8″ towards the nearest enemy. SG-13 still can’t see it, though. The zeds each move a normal move (4″ – I’m using SW Pace rather than CR or ATZ movement rates, except for PEFs) towards the nearest humans -  I decide this means one zed moves towards PEF 3, reasoning that it is either people or something making a noise attractive to zombies.

SG-13 moves towards the most obviously visible moving “person”, which brings them in range for a Zed or No Zed test – I figure they count as first responders so they take the test and pause when within 6″. Stoner rolls 1, 4 vs Rep 3 and passes 1d6; as SG-13 are military they use the military reaction test table, and the zombie charges. They now take the being charged test; 2, 3 vs Rep 3 = pass 2d6. They recognise the danger; those that can will fire and melee normally.

Stoner and Davis, whose line of sight isn’t blocked by allies, open fire with their M-16s and for the first time I shift to the SW rules. As experienced soldiers, they have Shooting d8, and Stoner is a Wild Card so rolls an additional d6, which he can swap for any of the others if he wishes. Everyone is easily within short range, so we’re rolling against a 4; they will autofire for no good reason. Stoner rolls 3d8 and 1d6 getting 6, 6, 4, 4 – two hits, since he is at -2 for autofiring. Each hit with an M-16 inflicts 2d8 damage. The first shot causes 4 + 7 = 11 damage; since this is 4 more than the zombie’s Toughness of 7, it is Wounded, and as it is not a Wild Card, it is killed outright. No point rolling for the other shots, but I note that three shots were fired for purposes of attracting zombies. I reason that SG-13 would move up to the zombie and examine it (carefully), so now complete their move.

Finally, I roll for more zeds. 3, 3, and 3; as this is a rural area I need a 6 to draw a new zed, so none appear.

End of Turn 1: “Zombies!”

Turn 2

Activation: PEFs 4 (none of them activate), zombies 1 (activate and go first), SG-13 6 (doesn’t activate).

While SG-13 check out the fallen zombie, the remaining undead march towards the sound of the guns. I imagine that the sound of assault rifles is more interesting to a zombie than whatever PEF 3 is up to.

End of Turn 2: “Braaaiiiiiinnnnnssss…”

Turn 3

Activation: PEFs 1; zeds 2; SG-13 2. Doubles, so nobody moves.

Turn 4

Activation: PEFs 5, zeds 3, SG-13 2.

The zeds close in on SG-13. which stands to and opens fire. Evans kills the one to their rear, Fox the remaining one. Six shots for purposes of placing zeds, but again the team’s luck holds and none appear.

End of Turn 4: “Eat leaden death, undead scum!”

Turn 5

Activation: SG-13 3, zeds 4, PEFs 5.

SG-13 fast moves up the main drag. In SW this means each rolls 1d6 and adds it to the normal movement (6″). This means Stoner moves 9″, Davis 7″, Evans 12″ and Fox 8″.

End of Turn 5: “Move up!”

Turn 6

Activation: PEFs 1, SG-13 6.

PEF 1 rolls 3, 5 vs Rep 3, passes 1d6, and moves 8″ towards SG-13. This brings it into sight, so it is resolved. A roll of 4 on the PEF Composition Table (CR3.0 p. 24) reveals it is a false alarm, and it is removed from play.
PEFs 2 and 3 pass 0d6 so do not move.

Turn 7

Activation: PEFs 5, SG-13 2.

SG-13 fast-moves into Building 3 to check it out. I roll on the ATZ What’s Inside table; 2d6-3 (-2 for rural area, -1 for daytime) and get a 5; 1/2 d6 humans – I decide a lone human will be the guy we’re looking for, otherwise I’ll roll on the Discover: Who They Are table (ATZ p. 41), counting it as a rural area within the first year of the outbreak. There are two people present, Survivors; 2d6 rolls of 9 and 6 show they are both experienced, with Rep 4 and (as it turns out) bolt-action rifles. Since I’ve already decided this is a primitive planet, I replace those with bows.

I’ll use the Meet and Greet table to see what happens next; Stoner rolls 1d6 per Rep: 1, 3, 6 vs 3 (Note: Maybe I should use half the Persuasion skill die type for this test in future?) and passes 2d6. The locals roll 1, 3, 2, 6 vs 4 and pass 3d6, one more than us. Therefore, there is no fighting, we could barter for resources but they have nothing we want, and we part ways peaceably.

End of Turn 7: “We’ll be on our way, Ma’am. Sorry to have disturbed you.”

Turn 8

Activation: PEFs 1, civilians 5, SG-13 4. Both PEFs pass 0d6 so nobody does anything.

Turn 9

Activation: PEFs 4, civilians 6, SG-13 1.

SG-13 fast moves across the road to search building 5. By the same process as before I determine that they find two civilians, experienced Rep 4, with bows. Using the Meet and Greet table, we again leave peaceably.

End of Turn 9: “Sorry, wrong house!”

Turn 10

Activation: PEFs 4, SG-13 4, civilians 4. Only the civilians activate, and I use the NP Force Movement table (CR3.0 p. 26) to decide what they will do. They roll 3, 5 vs Rep 4, which means they pass 1d6 and will hold position in cover. Seems sensible, given that there are zombies, Jaffa and trigger-happy SGC members outside, and they only have bows and arrows.

Turns 11-13

Nobody activates, either due to doubles or nobody rolling less than their Rep.

Turn 14

Activation: PEFs 2, civilians 1, SG-13 5. The civvies again pass 1d6 and decide to stay where they are; I decide that if they do this a third time, it will be their action forever and I will remove them from the table.

Turn 15

Activation: PEFs 4, civilians 1, SG-13 1. The civilians hold in place again so I remove them for speed. SG-13 fast moves up on building 4; there is a PEF in the yard so Stoner darts across the opening to get line of sight on the PEF.

Rolling on the PEF composition table, I see it is a group of Stragglers numbering 8 Jaffa, though not led by the overall enemy commander. Oh dear.

The Jaffa (being inactive) take an In Sight test. They roll 2, 5 vs Rep 3 and pass 1d6, which means they snap fire which I decide gives them a further -2 to hit. Consequently they need an 8 on a d8 to hit. Two have line of sight on Stoner, and fire, rolling 4 and 8 respectively on their d8s. The 8 aces in Savage Worlds, so I roll it again; 8, so roll it again; 5. Total score 21, which is at least 4 more than needed to hit, granting an extra 1d6 damage. Laser rifles can inflict 1-3 d6, but I’ve never seen a player use anything less than 3d6 so the Jaffa won’t either. One of the damage dice aces twice as well, so Stoner is hit by 25 damage in all. He is wearing a kevlar vest, granting him +2 Toughness for a total of 8; the damage roll exceeds this by 17, so he is Shaken and suffers four wounds. Time to use one of his three bennies to soak damage. He makes a Vigour roll, choosing the best of 1d8 (8, aces so roll again, 8 aces so roll again, 2 = 18) and 1d6 (1) against a target number of 4. Success and each raise soaks one wound; the soak roll removes four wounds, and since he has none left, he is no longer Shaken either.

Another Jaffa can see Davis, but misses him. A third can see Evans but also misses.

Stoner takes a Received Fire test and passes 2d6 (as a Star, he can choose this result), so carries on and SG-13 return fire. I consider having Davis and Evans lob grenades into the courtyard, but since they have no Throwing skill and thus would roll on 1d4-2, the odds of success are not good. So we’ll go with three round bursts for them, giving +2 to hit and damage. Davis misses; Evans hits and Shakes a second. Stoner fires his M203 into the courtyard, hitting where the purple die is despite the Snapfire penalty of -2; everyone within a medium burst template (4″ diameter, which I will take as a two hex radius from the point of impact) takes 4d8 damage. None of them survive this brutal assault. I figure that has to be worth 12 zombie rolls, but we only get one more.

End of Turn 15: “Fire in the hole!”

Turn 16

Activation: Zombies 1, PEFs 4, SG-13 6. The lone zed takes advantage of the distraction to close in.

Learning from earlier adventures, however, I have Fox watching our rear, and as the zombie closes to contact he takes the Being Charged test. It seems unreasonable for Stoner to affect this die roll, as he is 6″ away, facing in a different direction, and pumping 40mm grenades into a squad of Jaffa; so Fox rolls 2, 3 vs 3, passes 2d6, and fires a three round burst at the zombie. He hits, inflicts 27 damage due to aces, and the zed drops. Fortunately, no more zeds are attracted.

Turn 17-24

No-one activates. Must give SG-13 higher activation rolls somehow, this is silly. For further study. Meanwhile, Stoner reloads the M203.

Turn 25

Activation: PEFs 6, SG-13 1.

With the ringing in their ears finally subsiding, SG-13 fast move into building 4. It’s empty.

Turn 26

Activation: PEFs 1, SG-13 2.

SG-13 goes first, as the highest scoring activated side, and fast moves towards building 2 to search that. Inside it are three humans; an ex-military Rep 5 and a Rep 2 liability, both with BA pistols which I decide shall become swords for primitives such as they. The Meet and Greet table determines that, as ever, the civilians pass 1d6 more than SG-13, so stay put. Ah well, could be worse, they could have started swinging.

Meanwhile, the remaining PEF passes 1d6 and moves 8″ towards Our Heroes. After moving 6″ it is in line of sight, and is resolved. It turns out to be a group of 6 Jaffa stragglers, led by the enemy commander (whom I shall differentiate by making him a Wild Card).

As SG-13 is inactive, they take an In Sight test. 2, 2 vs rep 3 = pass 2d6 and they open fire with three round bursts, except for Stoner who does not have line of sight. Evans Shakes the leader, Davis misses, Fox kills his. The leader spends a benny to recover from Shaken to avoid the “death spiral” which usually happens once you’re shaken – now he has two left (he started with two for being the bad guys and an extra one for facing one PC), the same as Stoner.

The Jaffa take a Received Fire test and as a result Duck Back, each moving to the closest cover within 6″, except for one who can’t see any such cover so drops prone. One dives into building 1, and I resolve the contents, but find it empty. SG-13′s contact didn’t make it to the rendezvous for some reason, possibly zombie-related. However, they don’t know that yet so will have to search building 1 anyway.
Nine shots were fired, and three zombies appear.

End of Turn 26: “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Stoner.”

Turn 27

Activation: Jaffa 2, zeds 3, SG-13 6. Only the Jaffa activate, so I use the NP Force Movement Table to decide their actions. They pass 0d6 and halt in place.

Turn 28

Activation: Zeds 4, SG-13 5, Jaffa 2. The Jaffa pass 1d6 on the NP Force Movement table, and since they outnumber SG-13, they move to open fire from cover. This triggers an In Sight test for SG-13, as three poke their heads round corners and shoot, while the remaining two decide to blast the zombie they can see.

SG-13 pass 1d6 and snap fire three round bursts; one Jaffa is Shaken, the leader is Shaken and Wounded, and a third is killed outright. The leader spends a benny on soaking the wound, doesn’t like the result so spends another one to roll again, still doesn’t like the result but is now out of bennies.

None of the Jaffa who popped up is in a fit state to shoot. The other two take a Leader Lost test, rolling 1, 1 vs Rep 3 and pass 2d6. They carry on as normal, so shoot the zombie, killing it. The shots do not attract more zombies.

Turn 29

Activation: Zeds 5, SG-13 6, Jaffa 1. The Jaffa leader makes a successful Spirit roll to recover from Shaken, but his Shaken follower is not so lucky, and he himself spends the whole turn on it. The other two Jaffa roll on the NP Force Movement table and pass 2d6, but they no longer outnumber SG-13 so seek cover from which to open fire. As one does so he triggers an In Sight test for SG-13, which opens fire, killing him instantly and forcing the others to take a Man Down test. They pass 0d6 so are forced to retire away from SG-13 to the next nearest cover within 12″. I see I have forgotten the civilians, but I can’t see them getting involved so remove them from the table.

End of Turn 29: “Jaffa! RUN AWAY!”

Turn 30

Activation: Nobody activates.

Turn 31

Activation: Zeds 2, SG-13 3, Jaffa 6.

SG-13 fast moves towards the enemy, and building 1, which they still have to search. They dart across the enemy leader’s line of sight to do so, which I notice under SW does not cause any penalties to rolls to hit. Hmm. However, the enemy leader misses them. They take a Received Fire test and pass 1d6, and duck back into the nearest cover within 6″, which fortunately is building 1, where I want them to go anyway. They now know the building is vacant.

The zombies shamble closer, with the eternal patience of the undead. No more are attracted by the blasts of the staff weapon.

End of Turn 31: “Take cover!”

Turn 32

Activation: Zeds 3, SG-13 4, Jaffa 5. The zeds close up.

Turn 33

Activation: SG-13 2, Jaffa 5, zeds 6.

Stoner pumps another 40mm grenade where he thinks it will catch the enemy leader, succeeds, and Wounds him again (he now has two Wounds). Evans pokes his head around the corner of building 1 and triggers an In Sight test for the surviving Jaffa, who pass 0d6 and are unable to shoot. He is under no such handicap, and kills one with a three round burst, forcing another to take a Man Down test, whereupon he ducks back into cover, but since he is already in cover I leave him put. Meanwhile Davis moves through the building, catches sight of the Wounded enemy leader, and Wounds him a third time with a short burst. Evans has moved to the window but can’t see anything useful.

End of Turn 33: “Building clear – clear – clear!”

Turn 34

Activation: Everybody rolls a 2, so nobody goes.

Turn 35

Activation: Zeds 5, Jaffa 2, SG-13 6.

The Shaken Jaffa finally clambers to his feet, but it takes him all turn. Fortunately for him, everyone is looking the other way. The second Jaffa rolls on the NP Force Movement Table, passes 0d6, and halts in place. The Jaffa leader also staggers to his feet, taking all turn to recover from being Shaken. Due to wounds he is now rolling all SW dice at -3.

End of Turn 35: “Sir! He’s getting back up!”

Turn 36

Activation: Zeds 1, SG-13 4, Jaffa 5. The zeds close in again.

Turn 37

Activation: Jaffa 3, zeds 5, SG-13 6.

The Jaffa leader has a clear shot on Davis with his staff weapon, and takes it. Alas, even with his wild die, the -3 from his wounds makes him miss. Davis takes a received fire test, passes 0d6, and retires 12″ out of building 1 in search of cover. However, as he leaves, he takes an In Sight test for one of the other Jaffa, but passes 0d6 and cannot fire. The Jaffa shoots him as he runs past, killing him. Stoner takes a Man Down test (Evans and Fox are too far away), and as a Star chooses to pass 2d6, carrying on.

Meanwhile the third Jaffa shoots at Evans from cover, but misses. The staff weapon discharges interest another zombie, who turns up off towards the right table edge.

End of Turn 37: “Davis! NOOOOOOO!”

Turn 38

Activation: Zeds 3, SG-13 1, Jaffa 6.

The zeds close in, and are nearly close enough to be dangerous now.

Stoner turns in place and avenges Davis by killing his attacker. Evans pops his head around the corner again, the opposing Jaffa passes 1d6 on his In Sight test and snap fires, hitting Evans and killing him instantly. Stoner passes 2d6 on the Man Down test and carries on.

Fox moves cautiously through the building to where he last knew the enemy leader to be, but even so that foe gets an In Sight test, passes 2d6, fires, but misses due to his wounds. Fox takes a received fire test, passes 0d6, and retires, as did Davis before him.

End of Turn 38: “Run away!”

Turn 39

Activation: SG-13 2, Jaffa 5, zeds 6.

Stoner moves across to get line of site on the enemy leader, who passes 2d6 on the resulting In Sight test, but misses. Stoner passes 2d6 (by choice) on the received fire test and hits his opponent with a three round burst, Shaking him again. Fox falls back from the zeds and drops one with another burst. No more zombies are summoned.

Turn 40

Activation: Zombies 3, SG-13 2, Jaffa 4.

Stoner shoots the enemy leader again, Shaking him again. Since he hasn’t yet recovered from being Shaken before, this turns into another Wound, incapacitating him. Fox shoots the other zombie, killing it. No more zombies are generated.

End of Turn 40: “Is that all of ‘em?”

Turn 41

Activation: SG-13 3, Jaffa 4, zeds 4.

SG-13 now moves to recover its fallen and escape through the Stargate. Picking up one body causes Fox to trigger an In Sight test for the lone surviving Jaffa, who passes 0d6 and cannot fire.

Turn  42

Activation: SG-13 5, zeds 2, Jaffa 3.

The Jaffa rolls on the NP Force Movement table and passes 1d6, so he’s not going anywhere. He is however the nearest fresh meat to the remaining zombie, which moves up on him. SG-13 moves off down the main street, carrying the bodies of Davis and Evans.

Turn 43-54

SG-13 jog back off the table. Behind them, they can hear the discharge of a staff weapon, followed by screams, as the remaining zombie charges the Jaffa, he misses it with his staff weapon, and a savage melee ensues, which the Jaffa eventually wins, though there is no way for them to know that. While all this is going on, the Jaffa leader bleeds out and expires.

Lessons Learned

Firstly, this works well enough for my needs, and I can see a future for solo THW/SW hybrid games. It took a long time by THW standards, but then there were a lot of missed activations, and SW combat is more complex than THW.

Secondly, the forces need higher Reps. While using half the Spirit die type as a figure’s Rep is elegant, it doesn’t work well – elite troops should be moving more often than they did. In future I shall allocate Rep as per THW, which would have meant that as elite troops, the Jaffa and SG-13 were both Rep 5, and the zombies were Rep 4.

Thirdly, maybe I should try this again using the SW card draw system, since that never results in a turn where nobody activates.

Pokemon

Is it just me, or is there something ethically disturbing about Pokemon?

Consider this: You’re a happy-go-lucky Squirtle, squirtling away in the woods, when some nutjob with a magic gun zaps you. You are now shrunken to minute size and confined inside a small spherical prison. Your only contact with the outside world is when your captor temporarily releases you to fight some other poor monster to the death for his glory and amusement, but as soon as you win (or lose) you’re back in the ball again.

Strangely, you now seem to fawn on the vile teenager who took you prisoner. Stockholm Syndrome? Charm spell? Geas?

Enslaving wildlife and forcing it to fight in gladiatorial combat is not Politically Correct, I fear.

Consider the Pokeball now as a magic item.

  • Is the Big Bad going to use it on the party tank, turning him on them whenever they interfere with his schemes?
  • Is the party going to capture their foes in it? (Come to that, what’s in there now, and how does it feel about that?)
  • Is the party wizard going to keep another PC in there? You know the one, because of his job/family/illness he can only turn up every fifth session or so. Slap his character in a Pokeball, explains everything.

Baseline Tekumel: Monsters

It occurred to me that maybe I’m going about this reskinning the wrong way round. The Dnelu, for instance, behaves much like a giant trapdoor spider. So instead of replacing it with a D&D 4e Deathjump Spider, or a Savage Worlds Giant Spider, maybe I treat its appearance as a trapping, describe it as a Dnelu, and use the stats for the relevant spider. It’d be interesting to see how long it takes the players to figure it out; reading through the original EPT rulebook again, it looks like a lot of them are renamed Original D&D monsters, so there is precedent of a sort.

The other aspect of this is that in listing the EPT monsters for conversion, I noticed a number of them are functionally identical. The Dnelu, for instance, in game terms is not that different from a Zrne, except that the Zrne has a couple more hit dice. Same statblock for both, then.

That finally leads me to the conclusion that I can use much simpler encounter tables, based on the food chain pyramids from 2300AD which require only a 1d10 roll. Almost all areas on Tekumel are teeming with life, and so use all 10 slots on the tables; in addition there will be two types of point producers (e.g. trees) and three types of area producers (e.g. grasses, including the Food of the Ssu on Tekumel).

Teeming Food Chain Pyramid with Earth Examples

  1. 1d6-2 Gatherers (e.g. raccoon)
  2. 1d6 Intermittents (e.g. elephant)
  3. 2d6 Chasers (e.g. wolf)
  4. 1d6 Hunters (e.g. bear)
  5. One Pouncer (e.g. mountain lion)
  6. One Large Chaser (e.g. polar bear)
  7. 1d6 x 1d10 Grazers (e.g. antelope)
  8. One Killer (e.g. shark)
  9. One Large Pouncer (e.g. tiger)
  10. One Hijacker (e.g. T. Rex)

I imagine that in real life one would see antelope more frequently than tigers (although I don’t spend much time in the Big Room With The Blue Ceiling), but the creatures that leap on you roaring are inherently more interesting for players than the ones who run away from you; and Tekumel is deliberately set up as a world where the wilderness is full of hideous beasts hungry for your flesh.

Since the campaign will be based in Jakalla, the most useful encounters tables would be for plains or salt marshes. There’s more plains terrain, so that’s the one to start with, as it will be the most used. After a rummage through the Guardians Of Order Tekumel RPG, and the original EPT rules from 1975, I came up with the following list. You will note that I am unencumbered by considerations of what level the party might be; this is the Tsolyani wilderness, everyone knows it is brutally dangerous, and players are encouraged to remember that they can run, hide and scheme as well as fight.

Tekumel Plains Encounters

  1. 1d6-2 Gatherers: Jakkohl. Small fox-like creature, not really a Gatherer but it’ll do. D&D: Grey Wolf, but reduce level by one. SW: Dog, but with Size -2 and Toughness 3.
  2. 1d6 Intermittents: Chlen. Looks like a six-legged triceratops with three eyes. D&D: Macetail Behemoth. SW: Drake, but lose the Fear and Fiery Breath, and drop the Smarts to d4(A) – chlen are really stupid.
  3. 2d6 Chasers: Hyahyu’u. Big, six-legged wolf with uncanny tactical sense. D&D: Dire Wolf. SW: Dire Wolf.
  4. 1d6 Hunters: Zrne. D&D: Deathjump Spider. SW: Giant Spider, but without web capability.
  5. One Pouncer: Swarm of insects. D&D: Rot Scarab Swarm. SW: Swarm.
  6. One Large Chaser: Feshenga. A giant snake mounted on a centipede chassis. Poisonous bite. D&D: Deathrattle Viper with the speed cranked up to 10. SW: Constrictor Snake, but increase Pace to 10 and swap the Constrict feature in favour of Poison from the Venomous Snake. They’re right next to each other. Go on, you know you want to.
  7. 1d6 x 1d10 Grazers: Nraishu or Nyar. Six-legged deer. D&D: Riding Horse. SW: Riding Horse, but without the Size +2 (reducing its Toughness to 6).
  8. One Killer: Serudla. Picture a six-legged, wingless dragon with two arms at the base of its neck. D&D: Adult Black Dragon, but flightless. SW: Drake, but the breath weapon is actually acidic spittle rather than fire.
  9. One Large Pouncer: Teqeqmu. A flying jellyfish, full of noxious lighter-than-air vapours, armed with poison gas and poison tentacles. Explodes if the gas contacts fire. D&D: Grell, except that the poisonous bite is replaced with a blast of poison gas. SW: Air Elemental, except that it does not have the Elemental, Ethereal or Invulnerability properties, but its Push and Wind Blast attacks are also Poisoned, its Whirlwind attack represents grappling a foe with its tentacles, and it has Slow Regeneration.
  10. One Hijacker: Serudla. See (8) above. The Serudla gets two slots in the table, partly because it’s cool, partly because EPT has nothing suitable for slot 10, and partly because the original EPT encounter tables are crawling with them. I can always retcon it with something else later.

Savage Worlds Stock NPCs

“Less important NPCs, however, can be designed using a sort of shorthand. With this system, once the NPC’s career has been chosen, the referee merely decides whether the NPC is rated as Green, Experienced, Veteran or Elite. This ranking tells the referee what skill level the NPC has in Primary and Secondary skills related to his profession.”2300AD Director’s Guide, Game Designers’ Workshop, 1988.

I often need quick-and-dirty NPCs for Savage Worlds games, and this is what I use. It’s derived from the way that NPCs are handled in GDW’s 2300AD game.

The idea is that NPCs have the same die type for any attribute or skill which is appropriate for their role in the scenario. (Use common sense here; a Seasoned soldier probably has Strength d8 and Fighting d8, but Knowledge: Archaeology d8 or Smarts d8 are unlikely.) What about the skills and attributes not appropriate to the NPC’s role? Well, they rarely come into play, so what they are doesn’t matter much, but if you need them, attributes default to d6 (normal human level) and skills to d4-2 (untrained).

NPCs are divided into four “experience classes”, matching the first four ranks for Player Characters:

  • Novice NPCs have d6 in relevant attributes and skills. Arcanists (mage, cleric, psion, whatever) have Bolt, Deflection and Healing. Fantasy fighters have leather armour and shortswords.
  • Seasoned NPCs have d8. Arcanists add Blast to their powers. Fantasy fighters upgrade to chainmail and longswords.
  • Veteran NPCs have d10. Fantasy fighters upgrade to plate armour and greatswords.
  • Heroic NPCs have d12.

Add a personality from p. 99 of the rulebook and you’re ready. Curiously, the NPC chances of success with those skill die types match very closely to the 2300AD NPC ratings of Green, Experienced, Veteran and Elite, respectively.

Usually, the bulk of the opposition are Novices, with bosses being Seasoned, and the Big Bad being either Veteran or Heroic. If I want to determine the level of the opposition randomly, I roll a d20: 01-10 Novice, 11-15 Seasoned, 16-19 Veteran, 20 Heroic.

In dungeons, the typical NPC party encountered consists of an arcanist and a group of fighters, usually three. Depending on what I feel like, I might determine their level randomly (as above), or I might say that you find Novice NPCs on the first level of the dungeon, Seasoned on the second, and so on.

Some people think this is a great idea, and some think it’s terrible. I don’t think my players have worked out what’s going on yet, and if or when they do, I don’t think it will be important to them.

The Domestic Cat Test

Long ago, when 1st Edition AD&D was young, and point-buy character generation was a gleam in game designer’s eyes, I played in a Chivalry & Sorcery campaign run by a good friend, called Keith.

Chivalry & Sorcery, like many roleplaying games of the time – not that there were that many – was a game where it was easy to generate a useless character by rolling dice. A number of the players objected to the characters they wound up with, and Keith had a fun answer that was a mini-game in itself.

“So, you don’t want to play that character because you think it’s useless, right?”

“That’s it. I want a decent character.”

“Then I’ll make you a deal. Your character shall fight a domestic cat, unarmed, in mortal combat. If the cat wins, your character dies and you can roll up another one. If your character wins, it’s good enough and you must play it.”

Most people went for it. Your C&S domestic cat was a mean creature. Nine attacks per turn. Dodged like crazy. I wouldn’t have taken it on willingly with a character I did think was good enough to play, not without armour, weapons, and other party members as backup.

Blessed thing won more than half the fights.

CSI: Shadipuur

In an annual ritual whose origins are lost in the mists of time (and, admittedly, a certain amount of alcohol), it is my wont to spend one weekend each summer in the company of some good friends from college. We drink beer and play D&D from Friday night until Sunday night (Monday morning, if feeling particularly rebellious). In 2010, that was last weekend.

The DM, Tony, has been running this game for over 30 years now, across two generations of gamers, using Original D&D. (That’s right, the little brown booklets in the white box. I have a set too, somewhere.) You may well imagine the depth of understanding he has developed in that time.

For more than three decades we have wandered across Middle Earth, where his campaign began in the mid-1970s, into the mysterious East, off Tolkien’s map and into lands Tony created himself. For the past five or six years in real time, and something less than two months in game time, we have been working for the rightful Queen of Shadipuur, whose usurped throne we returned to her when we first arrived. Since each new adventure has begun with a murder for some time, we now refer to ourselves as “CSI: Shadipuur – solving murders by committing them.” (That last is because resolution usually involves a certain amount of wet work, leading to the official motto on our badges, “In blood lies justice.”

Over the course of that time, I think Tony has made three minor modifications to the rules. Meanwhile, I have changed game systems and campaigns more times than I can count, and house-ruled them senseless, in search of the perfect game.

I often think Tony has already found it.