Monday, March 9, 2009

Two small hurdles with Deadlands

The second actual session (not counting character creation) of my Deadlands: Reloaded campaign is scheduled for this weekend. There's two snags, though:
  1. One of the players is out of town this weekend. Later in the campaign, that wouldn't be an issue - his character has the hindrance Ailin', so I could just say he's too sick to help. It's the second session, though, and in the first session we downplayed the illness, and the PC may not be intending to let the others know he's sick yet. The characters aren't established as fully as we'd like, and the backstory is still being fleshed out as we go - so that makes me a little nervous about playing without someone at this stage.
  2. Deadlands: Reloaded is a little more complicated than I like. Love the setting, but I'm not completely enamored with the mechanics, just yet. It's based on Savage Worlds, which is a game I like, but Savage Worlds occupies a niche just shy of the upper limit of the complexity I'm willing to put up with. If you were to get much more complicated than Savage Worlds, I'd probably say "no thank you". So, of course, Deadlands Reloaded is more complicated than vanilla Savage Worlds - the subsystems for magic and dueling are both much more fiddly than SW normally is, but they're also dripping with flavor and would be a shame to lose them. What I'm not sure of yet, is whether Reloaded is at, above, or just below the actual maximum complexity I'm willing to put up with. I need to decide whether to run it as-is, trim it down a little, or replace the system completely.
The obvious thought there is, I could solve both problems by delaying the session. If I waited till John got back in town to run session #2, I'd be buying myself the time to figure out what I wanted to do with the rules. Of course, taking a month off from a game comes with a certain danger of it's own, and I don't want to hamstring the campaign just as it's getting going. After all, I really like the setting and the characters we've seen so far.

Another option would be to try it again with the current rules-set and a notebook. This way I could get more feedback from the players on where to trim the rules fat. Problem with that is that the most vocal detractor (of the rules complexity) in our group is also the person who's out of town. He's also the only person without a spellcasting character. So, everyone else would be focused on streamlining parts of the rules that don't even apply to him. I'd hate to get feedback, make a bunch of changes, and then discover that we'd missed something vital to making it the sort of game he'll most enjoy.
When I started my last post, I nearly wrote "maybe I'll swap over Deadlands to F#" since it's super light and I need to do some serious playtesting for my friend that wrote F#.

But then I thought about that a bit more: I like F#, I'm excited to play/run F#, but I don't think it's a good match for the setting. With it's Western roots, and really nasty Supernatural villainy, the Deadlands setting needs a solid, semi-crunchy, tactical ruleset, where forgetting to take cover gets your hat (or head) shot off. While I house-ruled the potential for one-hit-kills right out of Savage Worlds, I still want a significant threat of death should the players decide to hunt Finnegan before they're ready. This is a game where characters can afford to be brave, but not brave and stupid.

F# is a lot more freeform - it gives players a lot of narrative freedom, coupled with very little chance of death. While I think that's a great match to my style of GMing, I don't think it's quite right for a game with the feel of "The Devil came to the Old West". I probably wouldn't be likely to run Wushu for Deadlands, either, for that matter. My ideal level of crunch is a little less than normal Savage Worlds, say 80% to 90% of SW's complexity, whereas Deadlands Reloaded runs about 115% of Savage Worlds, and F# is (to it's credit) only about 10-15% as crunchy as Savage Worlds.
If possible, I'd also like to keep to a system that uses playing cards and poker chips, since those mechanics are very flavorful. I'd also like the system to be at least semi-compatible with miniatures (since I bought some Lego injuns), and use the gamut of dice (since two of my players only had d6s and d10s before buying a 7-set expressly for this campaign).

Yeah, what I need is clearly Savage Worlds lite. I could probably create such a thing, if it's not out on the web already. However, I'm a little scared to do so.

I learned two things from running Scion:
  1. If the game system is more complicated than I want to run, I won't enjoy the game nearly as much. (On a related note, if I'm not enjoying the game, the quality of the campaign will suffer, and no one will enjoy it as much).
  2. Adding a bunch of spot-rules doesn't make a game less complicated, even if the individual rules you're adding are less complicated than the things they replace. (In other words, it's better to start over from the ground up then to apply more than a couple of simple patches.)
It's that second part that could foul up a Savage Worlds lite. A large number of houserules just mucks things up as you try to keep everything straight, and renders the published books almost dangerous to the players. I'll let you know if I find a solution.


r_b_bergstrom said...

Amusing anecdote:

I type "Savage Worlds Lite" into google, and start looking at the results.

The first page of links includes:

* People complaining that Savage Worlds is too lite a system for them.

* Someone proposed making a Savage Worlds character-building software. Half a dozen people replied to his post saying it'd be an unnecessary waste, since Savage Worlds is so fast and simple. "It'd be like putting a V8 engine in your lawnmower."

Maybe I should just stick to the rules as written, and hope my players get over the learning curve.

Hunty said...

I have no idea how it compares to Savage Worlds complexity-wise, but Yahoo just reminded me the other day (because they're shutting down the service where I was storing it) that I wrote a pretty crunchy system called "Post '89" to overwrite the terrible SLA Industries mechanics for a SLA-Industries-setting game that I ran about eight years ago. I remember it feeling a lot more "realistic" than anything else I'd played, which could fit with what you're aiming for in your Deadlands game. It's designed for a cyberpunky setting, but can easily be adapted to an old west setting (you'll probably want to modify the rules about using money to improve skills). It also doesn't have a magic system, but you're welcome to use it as a foundation and build a magic system on top of it (as I did for the SLA Industries game), or steal interesting bits from it, or just disregard it completely. :)

it's here if you're interested:

tonight's captcha is "domia", a utopia made of domes.

Hunty said...

also I agree that F# is probably not a good fit for a gritty game where it's thematically important to have your fate decided by a roll of the dice or a deal of the cards.

Actually, I was watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre last night and thinking "yeah, this probably wouldn't be a good fit with F#". :) And Sierra Madre actually seems fairly close to the tone of the Deadlands game you're running.