Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cop-Out on page 173

Savage Worlds is a great system, and Deadlands is a great setting, and both are great games. In general, they're very well written. That said, the sidebar on page 173 of Deadlands Reloaded is an egregious cop-out. I'm gonna give 'em some hell here, because that sidebar really got under my skin. It's the most frustrating part of the Deadlands Reloaded rulebook.

The first three paragraphs of said sidebar explain how they won't make any efforts to indicate what rank of PC while find any particular monster / NPC appropriately challenging. The game has this nice ranking structure for characters, Novice/Seasoned/Veteran/Heroic/Legendary, which corresponds to how many XP advances you've had, and dictates what level of Powers and Edges you have access to. Sure, two Veteran characters are gonna be very different, but they'll both be serious badasses at whatever it is they chose to specialize in, and they certainly won't have a Parry of 2. So the framework is there to have given monsters a ballpark rating. They chose not to use it for the monster section.

They claim it's for mostly philosophical reasons. They say it's more realistic for the Weird West to be populated by variable threats that don't conveniently correspond to the experience level of the party. They thumb their noses at D&D's challenge ratings and balanced encounters. Sometimes the PCs will massacre the baddies, and sometimes the PCs better just turn tales and run.

On one level, I agree with this sand-box approach, as it leads to far greater verisimilitude - the world is unfair and some challenges have no easy solutions. On the other hand, it seems kinda out of place - since so much of Deadlands is about capturing the feel of Western movies (admittedly, flavored with some supernatural evil) and random encounters of variable power is antithetical to that genre. Nearly every damn Western I've ever seen escalates to a gloriously violent climax. The heroes do sometimes get left for dead in scene one, but that's always set up for a revenge tale that ends with a fairer (but still challenging) fight in the final reel. It's never "That random encounter nearly killed us, we'd better not go back for round two!" No Western hero would ever do that.

But, if they really meant to go full-blown-oldschool-sandbox-and-random-encounter mode, I could respect it. Instead, come paragraph four, the sidebar undoes itself:
"All that said, the GM should tweak encounters to fit the nature of his party. You'll have a good handle on what your party can manage after a few sessions, without the need for some sort of formula."
WTF? So, realism trumps balance, except really you should balance it after all, and we aren't gonna help. I suspect the truth is that laziness trumps realism and balance both.

Oh, sure, I'll get the hang of it, at the cost of my first few sessions being clumsy and poorly balanced. Great. If this preceeded a 4-page monster section, I'd understand that you could eyeball the easier encounters quickly, and something akin to Challenge Rating isn't necessary. But no, the antagonist section it heads up is 77 pages long. Sure, there's several things in there I can push off till later in the campaign by means o' knee jerk reaction to their stat line, but I really don't want to have to read 77 pages in order to start planning my first session.

Why not include a short list of, say, the 6 monsters most appropriate to Novice characters. That would have saved the new GM a lot of trouble, and been pretty damn easy to fit in the book. Off the top of my head, I can think of 3 or 4 paragraphs they could have taken out to shoehorn it in.


Lunatyk said...

It is a fairly contradictory statement... I guess they just didn't realise what they were saying...

On the other hand, I noticed that starting out with having the first threat be easy to kill and using that fight scene as means to learn how the system works so you can scale up after that point is in theme with narrative theory...

rbbergstrom said...

I agree with your point on narrative theory, but my real complaint is that I couldn't tell you what threat in the books would be "easy to kill".

Well, except for a couple a two-bit gunslingers, maybe. I could have used mundane human threats that I know the group can beat. The PCs are supposed to be chasing after a supernatural evil that corrupts all it touches, so going the mundane route would have been a bit of a let down, and not the note I wanted to start the campaign on.

I went with a Vampire for the first villain, and it worked. If they'd waited till nightfall, dithering and debating as players sometimes do, she would have creamed them.

Lunatyk said...

Yes, I understand that... it's why I don't use monsters as described in the book rather I just make the stats lower or higher than the players'... and add a few miscellaneous bits...