If you like the idea of the Secret Avengers and love conspiracy theories, Titan Effect (by Knight Errant Media) might be the Savage setting for you! Titan Effect is a modern-era covert operations setting with superpowered agents throwing down for control of the future of humanity. I backed the Kickstarter and received the final setting PDF recently, so let's dive in:
The PDF is 140 pages at 7"x10" (graphic novel format). It begins with a grayscale comic that sets the scene of Afghani fighters with AK-47s trying and failing to fight off werebeasts. From there, the book provides a solid overview of the world, including the presence of psychic powers and bio-engineered super soldiers, as well as the various covert factions contending behind the scenes for power. PCs by default are members of SPEAR, an independent covert ops agency that fights to prevent chaos and preserve peace. Rival agencies include the Olympians, a sinister cabal of eugenicists and their corporate/military arm, ARES Corporation; The Directorate, a group of Russian psychics trying to restore the Soviet Union; TYPHON, a post-human terror group; and the Order of the Holy Mystery, a secret and ancient branch of the Roman Catholic Church.
Character creation is fairly standard for Savage Worlds, but does require use of the Super Powers companion. One thing I would have liked to have seen was an option to play a non-powered character - this could be similar to the MARS backgrounds in Savage RIFTS where non-supers start with more experience to compensate. PCs have certain mandatory skills from basic training, and the setting provides several new Hindrances and Edges. One of my favorite of the latter is CQB (for Close Quarters Battle), which allows use of submachineguns, assault rifles, and shotguns in close combat. This Edge fits thematically with the idea of special ops teams breaching enemy strongholds and moving in fast and hard a la the SAS or Delta Force. In the Skills section, Titan Effect uses the Athletics and Thievery skill combination from the Pinnacle Flash Gordon setting.
The setting also provides some new Powers for use with the Super Powers Companion rules, as well as a revised method for equipment selection based on the characters' seniority in SPEAR. The latter is an excellent method for representing a combination of a powerful sponsoring organization and realistic resource constraints. Multiple new weapons are provided in the gear section, maybe more than are strictly necessary, as many differ only in small ways from each other; however, the Tom-Clancey-esque flavor of the setting probably attracts players who would care about the minutia of firearms. Some nice espionage gear and modern armor rounds out the gear section.
Titan Effect uses several setting rules from both the Core Book and the Super Powers companion; making the companion mandatory isn't an issue for me, but may be for some players. The Setting Rules also include some basic rules for hacking and demolitions, as well as a "Psychic Surge" rule allowing characters to trade Fatigue for improvements to their superpowers. Certain powers that don't fit the theme of the setting (like Super Sorcery) are banned, and the remainder are grouped into four families - characters can only take powers from one family (or two with an Edge).
In the GM section, the book includes a more detailed alternate history of the world and a breakdown of the structure and personnel of SPEAR. Each rival organization also gets a lengthy background section, including details of how they relate to the others. This section taps into a LOT of conspiracy theories, so if you know who the Trilateral Commission, Opus Dei, and the Bilderburg group are, you'll have fun with this alternative take on them. The GM section also includes optional rules for things like psychic dampers that have the potential to be game-breaking, and therefore should definitely be used in moderation and for maximum effect.
A lengthy part of the GM section covers the various steps of a SPEAR mission, from briefing through kitting out to debriefing afterwards. Along with this description comes a really nice mission generator and a set of story hooks that should allow any GM with a modicum of experience to put together an adventure in short order.
The "Watch List" provides a bestiary of opponents both mundane and superhuman, with most of the key players in the various factions detailed out with statistics. One thing that I would like to have seen was more "middle manager" level characters in the rival groups, since those characters are more appropriate opponents for less-experienced PCs. The description of the key characters in the Watch List is excellent.
One thing that unfortunately didn't make the Kickstarter cut for Titan Effect is a Plot Point campaign, although there are certainly plenty of hooks that could form the basis for a long term story. Overall, I can definitely see the appeal of Titan Effect, and hope that Knight Errant comes out with more supporting material over the next few years.
In addition to the character building rules, the book provides a gazetteer for Star City, a metropolis created by a "space god" in the 1950s off the shore of Connecticut. Star City provides the setting for many (but not all) of the Savage Tales and Plot Point Campaign adventures.
The campaign itself has a nice mix of different types of adventures, as well as a thru-line plot about building up to a massive rebellion and some fun twists and turns along the way. A "mission generator" provides the ability to create adventures on the fly or to link to the various Savage Tales provided.
The idea of playing supervillains has definite appeal for many players; however, there's a set of moral quandaries provided in the course of the campaign that seems intended to push the villains towards redemption. I could easily see this going sideways, with players sticking to their villainous origins throughout - if half the table turns good and the other half remains evil, running the campaign from there could be a major challenge.
My only other concern is theoretical - some of the missions are extremely challenging, and I could easily see high character fatality rates and TPKs from many of them, although I have not playtested them to confirm this. If I'm right, some groups would be turned off by the need to generate new characters on a regular basis.
Overall, I like Necessary Evil's storyline and setting, but I'm not sure I'd run it with either of my groups - the challenge level in particular might be frustrating for my less-experienced table, and the more-experienced one would almost certainly be in PvP mode before the end of the campaign.
I just finished listening to the first episode of the Dungeon Master's Ludus, a Secret Cabal Gaming podcast. I've been listening to the Secret Cabal for some time now, and this is their first effort at a focused podcast on gamemastering (not just dungeon mastery, despite the title). The podcast features Jamie and Bender, two of the members of the Lords of the Dungeon, and the two who tag-team GM for that podcast.
The first episode was, appropriately enough, about starting a campaign for your group. Overall, I think it was a pretty thorough discussion, covering topics like top-down vs. bottom-up world building and establishing different types of story arcs (epic, episodic, etc.). One particularly useful tip that I use myself is the idea of a character template for the players, some set of constraints on the PCs that make them more likely to gel as a team. For example, in Children of the Apocalypse, all the PCs are recent graduates of the Greatschool of Peterborough, and as such in a period of obligated service to the Lord Protector. This lets me, as GM, issue them missions as orders to get the plot rolling, but also leaves them some freedom to explore after the initial couple of adventures.
A couple of items could have used inclusion in the podcast. The topic of system and genre really, in my mind, isn't separable from campaign design. Even with the exact same world and basic story, a Fate campaign is going to have a different flavor than a Savage Worlds or GURPS campaign. Similarly, some systems (like D&D) are genre specific. I think a discussion of the interaction between system, genre, and campaign design would be really interesting, and perhaps they'll pick that up on a later podcast.
Second, the concept of a Session 0 didn't really come up, although on several occasions they alluded to player participation in campaign building. A formal session 0 designed to build the characters and the world can make the players far more invested in the campaign, and I'd recommend it for just about any group.
Overall, I think the Ludus podcast was a good source of information, and certainly passed along some ideas I plan to implement in my own campaigns. I look forward to future episodes.
Saturday was my first chance to break out Rising Sun, the Kickstarted game of diplomacy and battle from CMON. We played a five-player game using the standard five clans, Lotus, Koi, Bonsai, Turtle, and Dragonfly (me), but did include the Kickstarter exclusive monsters. Both the Kaiju and the Phoenix from the Kickstarter came into play.
This is a game that will absolutely reward repeat play- there's a lot going on in each turn, and anticipating (or influencing) the other players' strategies is critical. In the first phase of each of the three seasons of the game, the players have the option of forming bipartite alliances, which provide significant benefits later in the game. With five players, we always had an "odd man out" alliance-wise, which left that person more flexibility but cost in terms of actions. In particular, the Koi clan never had the chance to build strongholds, and so, by default, could only place one or two figures each turn.
In the political phase, players choose a "mandate", basically one of five actions. This phase is where alliances matter most, because the ally of the player choosing the mandate also gets the bonus from that action. For example, choosing a "Train" mandate allows the player who chose it and the allied clan to purchase season cards (such as monsters or upgrades for shinto priests) at a discount of one coin, whereas everyone else has to purchase at cost.
At three points during the political phase, there is a kami turn, in which players who have invested some of their shinto in worshipping the gods can gain benefits, such as increased honor (the tiebreaker in the game), coin, or extra moves.
At the end of the political mandates, war happens in preselected provinces. Winning a battle in as many different provinces as possible provides a massive bonus to victory points at the end of the game. Battle resolution has an interesting bidding mechanic, where there are three possible actions before the battle occurs and one after, but only the high bidder gets to perform each action.
The first action is Seppuku, which kills all of the player's own forces in a province but awards massive honor and significant victory points. Next is Take Hostage, which allows the winner to take a hostage from the battlefield, removing that figure from play and also gaining victory points; third is Hire Ronin, which allows the use of any ronin resources acquired earlier to bolster force in the province. After the battle is resolved, the winner of the Imperial Poets bid gains victory points for each figure killed in the province, regardless of side.
The bidding options make combat really tricky and make coin resources really important. Several times a clever bid changed the course of a battle, and clever bidding ended up being decisive for the end-game win.
In sum, Rising Sun is a complex game with a lot of challenge and strategy, and a whole lot of fun. The components from the Kickstarter are magnificent, and I'm already looking forward to my next game.