Less Is More

Posted: 8 July 2011 in Irongrave

The annual gaming fest rolled around again last weekend, and I mutinied. I have all this fine Irongrave background worked out, and I just didn’t feel like explaining it.

So, here’s what I said…

  • I’m trying an experiment here. I want to see if I can use Savage Worlds to run an old-school fantasy game, like original D&D.
  • Make mediaeval characters using Savage Worlds. You can use either the Test Drive, or the rulebook. The only Arcane Backgrounds allowed are Magic and Miracles. If you can’t figure out how to build the character you want, talk to me.
  • You live in a city. There’s a big dungeon nearby, and you’ve decided to barge in there, kill the monsters and steal their treasure.

At college, my gamer friends and I ran entire campaigns that lasted for years of real-time based on no more background than that.

The portable gaming kit for the weekend was an A4 display book, containing:

  • Savage Worlds Test Drive V6 and Game Masters’ Screen V2.
  • Red Tide ruin inhabitants.
  • The London Underground map.
  • Crooked Staff Productions’ greyscale dungeon maps.
  • Notes on monsters, treasure, and NPCs.
  • PC character sheets.

I reduced all these to A5 size so I could fit four pages in each sleeve of the book. The only thing in there that isn’t homemade or a free download is the extract from Red Tide.

I knew I could rely on them to have figures, dice, cards, and a copy of the main rulebook, so I didn’t take any of those. The party wound up containing a half-orc tank fighter, a swordmaster, a paladin, and a hobbit assassin.

And we had a blast. They fought plague-ridden dwarves and kobolds of various colours on the 1st level, befriended the Order of the Minewatch, took tea with an outlaw gang, looted an evil temple on the 4th level, narrowly avoided being drugged, kidnapped and used as breeding stock by the amazon warriors on the 7th level, and escaped being slaughtered by a demon cult on the 10th level due to a couple of sound tactical decisions and the ridiculously high Toughness and Parry of the party tank, who planted himself in a doorway to stop the cult getting out.

(Why were beginning characters going so deep? One of them was Overconfident and had a Vow “Never retreat, never back down”, and they figured out how to work the lifts.)

Lessons Learned

Savage Worlds is, as it says on the tin, fast, furious fun. Everyone enjoyed it.

I’m really not comfortable running random megadungeons any more. I started the weekend wondering if SW was a good choice for that kind of game, but I think the real point is that over the last 30 years or so we’ve all changed; the games I’m happiest running are human-centric scenarios of intrigue, and the players have grown accustomed to having some sort of story arc in the background, even if they ignore it completely, which they often do.

The experiment was thus a success on several levels.

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