Excuse the clichÃ© of telling you about my campaign, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do here. Except that this is about the techniques used to run the game, and not the clever divine dynamic or the really cool twists on the basic fantasy races.
My last campaign was traditional D&D v3.5, which I ran almost entirely from a laptop, learning enough to write not one but two articles on laptops at the gaming table. This time around, the presence of wife and child means that priorities have changed; hours of prep and research are no longer an option.
So I chose a system that is fun, but has low prep requirements: Savage Worlds. While this is written from my experience as a Savage, many of these techniques can easily be carried over into other systems.
The campaign is still managed by computer; nothing else can handle the volume of data that a campaign world will generate. For what it’s worth, a Google Group handles the public side of the campaign world, and Microsoft’s OneNote handles the GM’s side. I should be using a ‘one stop shop’ like Obsidian Portal, but Google was where it started, and my players probably wouldn’t like to switch horses mid-stream.
Reminders and pre-session notes are made on an index card or two, and a half-sized legal pad stands at the ready for notes during the session.
Savage Worlds has a fairly simple character sheet; most NPCs and critters can fit onto an index card. I made simple character sheets for blank 3×5 cards, and fill them in. Once the cards are used, they get filed in a card holder, ready for their next engagement.
Next, miniatures are segregated by encounter and stashed in spare dice bags, so the players won’t know what’s next. I try to prep more encounters than are expected, just in case the players take that wrong turn at Albuquerque.
Savage Worlds can be a very prop-heavy game, with markers for Bennies, Power Points, Wounds, and the all-frustrating Shaken condition. Bennies are full-size green ‘clay’ poker chips. Wounds and Shaken are stackable 1” plastic poker chips (red and white, respectively). Power Points are glass beads.
Savage Worlds has two types of area effects: cone and circle. The cone is a simple paper template until something cooler shows up. The various sizes of circle are macrame rings. They work great and are available in almost any size.
In gameplay, the 3×5 character sheets are brought out for their encounter. Bennies and initiative cards are placed on the proper character sheet. Shaken and Wound chips are stacked underneath the mini’s base, so everyone can see the situation.
Since the end of my last campaign, I’ve taken to using larger dice and rolling in the open. Because Savage Worlds is a game of wildly variable die rolls, this works out beautifully, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Here’s a picture of my setup, taken at the beginning of an encounter. You can see just about everything noted above:
XP in Savage Worlds is usually 2-3 points per session. I borrowed this system from a friend and GM. (Thanks Flynn!)
- 1 XP for showing up at the game.
- 1 XP for ending a chapter or campaign arc (about every 3-4 sessions).
- 1 XP for answering the “Questions Three” — Name three things learned in tonight’s session, whether about the rules, the setting, or other characters.
Everyone’s always answered the “Questions Three”. It’s more of an encouragement to take notes and to be engaged in the campaign than it is a challenge.
After the session (sometimes almost a week after), I write a “Wrap-Up” email, covering XP totals, answering any questions brought up, and providing a brief synopsis of the session’s adventure. This not only acts as a reminder of what happened, but it also allows me to emphasize or clarify certain aspects or events. If your players completely overlooked your Big Hint, here’s a good chance to drop it again.
As a final note, I love my Tact-Tiles too much to take the plunge, but we’ve considered using a gridless battlemap for the campaign. If we did, a bunch of mini tape measures would magically appear at the table.
Comments? Questions? Sound off in the comments and let us know!
I’ve been running a fantasy Savage game.
I’m modifying the Witchfire Trilogy by Privateer Press, so I don’t have as much prep to do, I just have to get the encounters organized. I made myself a template in open office to print out a bunch of stats on one page. I colored them and made them kind of look like 4e stat blocks.
I’m also using little shaken/wound arrows that I found on savagepedia. I really like the look of them.
I am a big big fan of your XP method, and I’m going to start using it.
Where are you finding the jumbo Koplow dice in bulk? I’ve found singles and sets of 7 but that’s it.
Savage Worlds has always appealed to me as a parent with limited time for prep but I’m having a hard time getting a game going as most of the people I play with are looking for something a little more “crunchy.”
@steve – Cool. BTW, the link in the article is to the PDF of my 3×5 character sheet. I have to set minimal margins to get it to print.
@assgoblin – Make sure your potential players know that Savage Worlds is crunchier than it reads, if that makes sense. Moreso than any other game I’ve played, Savage Worlds needs to be played a few times to be really understood.
I generally pick up dice at Gen Con, and try to have a few differently-colored d6s. Luckily, d6s are pretty common at any size.
I like that layout. It’s a little less cluttered than my 3.5 setup, but it’s mostly the same, down to the 3×5 card bad guys. My beads were much more damage counters than all the things your chips are… but when I play 4e, beads take on a lot of roles.
In my last game (3rd as a Savage GM), I broke out an old set of poker chips– blue for bennies, red for wounds, and white for shaken. We handed these back and forth a lot, and it was agreed it was a good system. Instead of placing the chips under the minis, we stacked them on the character sheets.
For NPCs, we also started using the flagpoles done by Dungeon Life. They are magnetic, so they attach to some bases and to the pennants that can signal wounds and Shaken states.
@Lee Hanna – Most poker chips are too big, but these 1″ interlocking chips are PERFECT: http://www.greathallgames.com/index_achipsDrops.html scroll down to “Interlocking Chips – Medium”. Browse a bit; it’s a great game store.
I’ve gamed ‘chips on the sheet’ before, and can go either way, but my players prefer ‘chips under minis’.
To keep track of conditions and wounds, we use Alea Tools magnetic markers, and idea I pinched from 4E [which makes it all the more satisfying 🙂 ]. They look like poker chips, but stick to the bottom of the mini and to each other, so when you move the mini the stack moves with it. We’ve got red, white, yellow and orange – red is shaken, and white, yellow and orange are 1,2 and 3 wounds respectively. This way there are only ever two markers at most under a mini at any given time (too many and it starts to look silly as one mini towers over the others…). We tried using marker stones on char sheets, but found that they were easy to overlook and forget about, whilst you tend to look at the board while thinking about what to do, so you can’t help but see the mini markers.
Another thing we’ve been experimenting with is gridless combat – I (GM) draw the scene out on a whiteboard-laid-flat. To help with movement distances and ranges, we use a very expensive prop – lengths of bendable pipe-cleaner cut to size. This way if your character needs to move around something, you simply bend the pipe cleaner to suit his path, lay it down touching the mini base, then move the mini to the other end.
I want to pick up some of the hoops to use this weekend. What size are each of the templates, so I buy the right sized hoops?
@beldar1215 – 2″, 4″, and 6″ hoops, although for the 2″ hoop, I just use a 2×2 square or a 3×3 “plus” on the battlemat.
I really like the XP system you are using. I have been running SW for 4 sessions now, and have been arbitrarily awarding XP based on how much of what I expected the group to get done was accomplished, but this fits pretty well with what I was doing anyway (2xp for a ‘normal’ session, 3xp if they get through everything I hoped to, or if they have a big boss fight) but has 2 added bonuses – having a real formula (beyond “This is what I wanted to give you”) AND making my players think a bit!
I also like J Gregory’s gridless movement suggestion. I have had such fun moving from the grid hell of D&D 3.5 to SW where we can just measure the distances with a ruler (or pipe cleaner!). It also helps that a couple of my players were big into terrain modeling and have a store house of terrain that we can use (I just have to include a link to a picture of our first fight, just because I am so pleased with how well it works!). I am putting my best man on the case fashioning us some of these props!
We already have a store of pipe cleaners to work with, as we have been using them, fashioned into hoops, to track Shaken status (white hoop) and wounds (red hoops). We simply hang them on the minis. See this pic for an example of one of the PCS Shaken with 1 wound.
I like your XP system.
For folks who ARE still using their computer at the table (I have a 10″ screen on my laptop, so it’s not too intrusive), I reviewed some useful applications. There are premium versions if you have lots of cash, but there are also free versions, which is good since so much GMing software seems to be rather expensive.
Telas, ever consider submitting your 3×5 character sheet to savagepedia?
I like. A lot. I think I will start doing this.