Monday, August 17, 2009

Petrified PCs

I killed a character this weekend. I haven't done so in a while - at least not to a character that wasn't in a one-shot. Every so often we head down to Portland for the weekend to visit friends, and recently that's involved some D&D-esque gaming. We've been using Savage Worlds instead of D&D, but working to make it feel like an old school 1st Ed AD&D campaign. While starting Savage Worlds characters are pretty robust (especially compared to 1st-level D&D characters), I feel it's necessary to have PC death loom as a serious specter in a game that's mostly dungeon a romp. I play the monsters to their abilities and intelligence, never fudge the dice and rarely pull my punches. It's mostly balanced for the player's stats, but there's some sandbox elements and the players ran smack into them this Saturday.

Long story short, the PCs ended up in a significant battle. I'd statted it out, but didn't expect to actually have them encounter the big bad (a Medusa) until the next session - I was just dropping some foreshadowing. The players, bless their heroic little hearts, dove right in and chased after those hints. They found the back door escape route that the Medusa would have otherwise used if she were badly pressed, and cut straight to the big encounter. They traipsed in, using polished shields as mirrors, and making zero efforts at stealth or concealment.

Out pops the Medusa, her mate (based on the Maedar from an old issue of Dragon magazine) and two blind Grimlock bodyguards. They caught the PCs on a bit of narrow terrain in the old sandbox. The good news was that view to the Medusa was partially eclipsed by the guards. The bad news was that the PCs couldn't flee (or get to her) without taking opportunity hits. Things went south pretty quickly. First I thought it was going to be a TPK. Then I thought one PC would escape. Then that PC went back into the fight, and it looked like a TPK again. In the end, though, the big armored fighter held his ground and made every roll he needed to resist poison and petrification, so only one of the three PCs died. Not that there weren't ramifications for the other two, however - one PC ended up with a permanent -1 Charisma disfigurement - her facial muscles frozen in a horrified expression.

Instead of making up whole new rules for petrifying gaze, I just used the existing Terror / Fright Table rules, but suspended the "Becoming Jaded" portion. Everytime they attacked her, they'd have to make a Guts check. Averting your eyes could give you a bonus on the guts check, at the cost of the same penalty to your other actions and parry. Partial cover (on either end) also provided a bonus on the PCs rolls. It was simple and easy, amounting to just applying "trappings" to the guts check - if you died of a heart attack (a roll of 21+ on the Fright Chart) you'd turn to stone, the "Mark of Terror" result was a partial petrification, etc. It worked like a charm - constant danger, plenty of guts checks (which is an otherwise underutilized skill), drained several bennies, and yet was never actually lethal.

The actual kill ended up being when the Medusa got close enough to do poison bites - which I treated as a single mundane venomous snake attack but with +2 on the Fighting Roll to represent that there were a dozen snakes. A bad vigor roll took down the PCs healer. Let that be a warning to those who play Savage Worlds - the venomous snake entry is surprisingly potent.


Dyson Logos said...

Nice overview!

And thanks for the description of how you rules the petrification ability. Excellent work. I love that it works somewhat gradually, making it far more terrifying than a simple save or die ability.

rbbergstrom said...

Thanks for the nice comment. I was definitely pleased with how easily the Horror system could be mapped into a functional petrification system.