Developing a setting based on a historical, large scale war requires that the gamemaster consider how the players will participate in major battles. Fortunately, Savage Worlds provides a great starter framework with the Mass Battle rules. However, in the world of Legion of Liberty, superhumans are more powerful on a battlefield than, say, even a Veteran wizard in a battle between 5000 orcs and 3000 human knights. The question was then how to capture the importance of the presence of superhumans on the battlefield within the framework of the Mass Battle rules.
Late 18th century land warfare included a lot of formation fighting, mainly because of the horrible inaccuracy of muskets. While rifles were available at this point in history, they were extremely slow to load. A skilled musketeer could fire 4-5 rounds per minute; a skilled rifleman was lucky to fire once every two minutes. As a result, massed formations of infantry blasting musket volleys were the order of the day. An infantry unit could also form a square to defend against a cavalry attack, or spread out to minimize the effect of artillery fire (although the two in combination could be lethal, as the defense against one made the infantry terribly vulnerable to the other).
Where rifles were beginning to see use was in skirmishing. A skirmish force would spread out in pairs ahead of the main infantry formation. Their role was primarily to eliminate enemy skirmishers, followed by direct attacks on enemy leadership. Killing officers and sergeants could eliminate unit discipline and cohesion, and without the discipline of the formation, infantry generally broke and ran when attacked in force.
Superhumans, then, could act somewhat like skirmishers. We envisioned superhumans working much the same way – their primary responsibility would be to eliminate enemy superhumans, and then to strike at the main body of the enemy in whatever way best suited their powers. With this structure in place, a super-versus-super battle could be occurring in the midst of a larger scale battle. The setting rule we created has this individual combat affecting the morale of each side – losing a superhuman is a major blow, and if one side is more successful in defeating the other’s superhumans, the conventional forces might break and run.
Dramatically, this works very well – the characters both have a major influence on the battle and get to duke it out with British superhumans in standard Savage Worlds combat. The result is a “best of both worlds” flavor that fits the setting and makes for fast, fun, and furious gaming.
Once we had the initial concept of superheroes in the American Revolution, the next major mechanical question was how to model the superpowers. Savage Worlds offers at least three obvious alternatives for superpowers between Deluxe and Adventure editions – Arcane Background: Superpowers from Deluxe, Arcane Background: Gifted from Adventure, and the Superpowers Companion. Of the three, the Superpowers Companion rules are completely different from the other two, and our take on that ruleset was that it didn’t really suit a lower-powered, historical superhero game. Many of the powers had technological or sorcerous trappings that didn’t fit the concept, and the basic structure assumes the heroes have all their powers on day one, versus the setting concept of young superhumans growing into their abilities during the revolution.
With the Superpowers Companion put aside, that left the two Arcane Backgrounds. The major difference between the two is the skill used to invoke the character’s power. In Gifted, a single skill, Focus, is used for all powers; in Superpowers, each power has an individual skill. For the young heroes of the Legion, the idea that each could have wildly varying skill in various powers seemed to fit better. Further, distributing skill points among several superpower skills serves to slow the progression of the character’s abilities, keeping them more on par with musket-wielding foes.
Once we set the basic framework of the Arcane Background, we added some benefits for superhuman ancestry – extra skill and ability points to reflect the overall superiority of superhumans. These extras allowed for superhumans to start with, for example, higher Strength than would normally be possible for a Novice character without compromising every other attribute. Removing the maximums on attributes also provided the characters with the chance to grow into truly stupendous heroes if they chose to invest in specific attributes.
Two other decisions affected the structure of the superhumans, both Setting Rules from the core book. Born a Hero allowed Novices to take powers and Edges not normally available at their rank, setting them apart from the Extras around them. No Power Points both sped up the game by eliminating power point bookkeeping and also minimized “power stacking” where superhumans could buff up several abilities at once. No Power Points also mitigated the effect of allowing Novices to take extremely high level powers – the penalty for actually using the powers would be so punishing that the power would only work occasionally unless the player invested heavily in skills and Edges to provide bonuses.
I've been watching Altered Carbon lately, and that show reminded me a lot of my Eclipse Phase campaign in Savage Worlds. As a result, I thought I'd offer up the adaptation I did for anyone who is interested. The rules adaptation definitely depends on having the Eclipse Phase core rulebook, but it's been thoroughly Savaged here.
The No Power Point Rules in Savage Worlds are pretty clear for the most part - your casting roll suffers a penalty equal to the cost of the power in power points divided by 2, rounded down. So a 3 point power has a -1 penalty, as an example. My question, which I've had to rule on as recently as Sunday, is about "full auto" bolt.
Bolt costs 1 power point per missile, and you can cast up to 3. So, the question is, if you cast three bolts, is that one casting at 3 power points or three castings at one? My take on this follows the logic of the full-auto firing power. When you roll for your three bolts, you roll three of your arcane skill die plus one Wild Die. I interpret that to mean that casting 3 bolts is a single action, which means it costs 3 and therefore would have a -1 penalty to each roll (plus any other penalties for range, lighting, etc.). Anyone disagree?
In yesterday’s post, I talked about the content of the Savage World of Flash Gordon as it relates to the actual setting. Today, I’m talking about core rule changes.
One of the major shifts is in the skills list. Climbing, Swimming, and Throwing have been combined into one skill, Athletics, which is Agility-based; Lockpicking is generalized to Thievery; and a specific list of Knowledge specialties is provided. A new skill, Performance, is added and linked to Spirit. In general, I like these changes (despite some echoes of that other system), with the possible exception that they make Strength even less important as a stat, since the Athletics skill is no longer linked to it.
A second significant change is the addition of four new states to the game - Distracted, which gives a -2 on trait rolls; Vulnerable, which gives a +2 on actions and attacks against the target; Entangled, which confers Distracted and also prevents movement; and Bound, which is Entangled plus Vulnerable and incapable of any physical action other than attempting to break free. These states play into the next major changes, which involve grappling, tricks, and tests of wills.
The Grappling rules are modified mostly to take the new states into account. Instead of an opposed Fighting roll, grappling is an opposed Athletics roll (unless you’re a Martial Artist, in which case you can substitute fighting). Success means you’ve Entangled your foe, a raise means he’s Bound. If you’ve already Entangled a foe, another success also means he’s Bound. Escaping a grapple is an opposed Strength roll (not Agility, which helps offset the loss of Strength as much of a factor in skills), and an opposed Strength roll can also be used for damage. Martial Artist is a big win here, since it can be used not only in place of Athletics but also in place of Strength on any of these rolls. I think these rules make Grappling a little more interesting without drifting into the realm of sub-turns and general rules insanity.
Tests of Wills and Tricks are also changed to take advantage of the new states. Tests of Will now involve opposed tests of Smarts, Spirit, or any linked skill, while tricks involve Strength, Agility, or any linked skill. A successful Test of Will Distracts the foe, while a raise gets you a roll on a new “Creative Combat” table, which can Shake your opponent, heal your character, give you a benny, or even add a free turn! Tricks work similarly, except that the opposed tests are based on Agility and Strength, and the foe becomes Vulnerable on a success. The Creative Combat table comes into play on a raise here as well. This is probably my favorite rule change; I think it makes Tricks and Tests of Wills much more attractive as combat options, and it also somewhat mitigates the effect of the previously-revised Shaken rules (more on those in an earlier post), since Shaken is not automatically the result of a raise on one of these actions.
One last minor change - the Aim action can now be used to shoot a weapon at Extreme range (4x long range) at a -8 penalty, or -6 with a scope. Snipers rejoice!
Overall, these core rule changes look solid, and I expect to see most or all of them in the next edition. I’ll be interested to hear from Flash players and GMs how they work out in practice.