Thursday, August 28, 2008

Savage Platypus

A week ago we played an interesting RPG at the Wayward Coffeehouse as part of the Emerald City Game Feast. It was basically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, but using the system from Savage Worlds.

About the setting and adventure: the setting was per the Mutants Down Under and After The Bomb supplements for TMNT&OS. PCs included a Platypus, an Echidna, an Emu, a Crocigator, and a Koala. I played a fair amount of TMNT in junior high, but setting it in post-apocalyptic Australia made it feel completely new and weird. Not just the drop bears and monotremes - there were giant insects everywhere, triceratops in UFOs, tattered remnant clusters of collapsed civilization, and zeppelin's o'er the outback. My wife and I both had fun. The adventure was short, but well tailored to new players at a cafe one-shot.

About the pregenerated character: It was completely broken, but I never noticed. In retrospect, he was clearly intended to turn invisible and attack from surprise via platypus poison - but since he had the pacifist flaw (limitation/hindrance/whatever-it's-called) I never used him that way. It wasn't until talking on the way home that the light bulb went on and I realized how sickly badass (and one-dimensional) he'd have been if he didn't have that pacifism holding him back. I wish I'd noticed it earlier, as the inner conflict could have been fun to roleplay.

About the Savage Worlds system: Man, do I ever want to like that system. It's pretty quick, and mostly math light. The system is streamlined so you rarely have to do math in the middle of the game. With the exception of damage, you roll multiple dice (of different types), but typically use only the highest single die. (Other than damage,) You only do math if your dice explode, and that's enough of an emotional high to justify the extra couple seconds.
There's a lot to love about Savage Worlds, but it has some flaws that were obvious from just a single session's play:
  • Judging from the character sheets we had, it's an easily abused system. The ambidexterity talent was insanely good - or perhaps just being misinterpreted. Certain power combos seemed degenerate. Balance doesn't seem to be it's strong suit. With an open-ended "buy anything" xp system, I imagine it's hard to anticipate what makes a good challenge for your group. The power level of the various PCs was pretty variable. I'm lookin' at you, Drop Bear.
  • It uses d4s with great frequency and regularity. Someday I'll blog about my hatred of the d4 - it's not just 'cause I've stepped on them.
  • Damage. The rest of the game involved simple rolls with almost no math. But, for reasons unexplained, damage involved tons of math. There was a target number to hit, and a different target number to hit and do extra damage. Instead of rolling 2 or 3 dice and keeping the highest, you rolled 3 or more dice and added them all together. Then that total was compared to some sort of soak stat. If you just barely hit it, they were staggered, but every X points you beat the roll buy, it did another wound. Then there was some way the victim could spend a drama die to reduce the wounds. (My apologies for not using the correct terminology in the last couple sentences, I played once, a week ago, without reading a rulebook. I retained concepts, but not specific details and terms.) Overall, it was probably no more complicated than Scion's damage system - but existing as it did on a really rules light elegant system, it was just this sad eyesore that was hard to ignore.
It makes me want to go buy a copy of Savage Worlds so I can learn for myself whether damage is really that fiddly or if we were using some odd house-rules.

Either way, even with the damage oddities, the system seemed far more sensible and slightly better balanced than the original TMNT system.

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