Category Archives: Table Talk

GM Spotlight: Dylan Ramsey’s Towering Tales

The Pizza Party by Dylan Ramsey. All rights reserved.

While the Savage Eberron community is still a small one, it continues to slowly but surely grow. Since 2019, gamemaster Dylan Ramsey and the Pizza Party have been doing their part with an epic, evolving story that’s taken them all across Khorvaire and beyond, with Savage Worlds Adventure Edition helping them get there. Dylan is an accomplished GM, skilled storyteller, incredibly talented artist, and this past year he has twice lent his voice and acting chops to portray plain, simple tailor Deven Sar’kaas in the collaborative campaign hosted by Eberron creator Keith Baker for his Patreon supporters. I had a chat with Dylan about our mutual love of Savage Worlds, the adventures of the Pizza Party, and a slightly distressing coincidence of sorts involving an eel. Enjoy!

Dylan, which came first in your life, Eberron or Savage Worlds (and how did you get from one to the other)?

DR: Oh, Eberron, for sure! I’ve been an Eberron fan since I was in elementary school and remember carrying around that original campaign book just about everywhere. Granted, I never PLAYED a game in Eberron until after I discovered Savage Worlds (via the actual plays of Saving Throw Show). After my group finished up our last campaign in 2019, I was glad they decided to give a new system and a new world a shot with me for Towering Tales.

Excellent. It hooked you in pretty quick, then! So, why do you love Savage Worlds as a vehicle for Eberron so much?

DR: The mechanics really do it for me on a lot of levels. Edges and hindrances help get across that pulp-noir feel of Eberron (no hero is perfect), and are just a great foundation to build characters off of in general. You can really mix and match them and make just about any character you can imagine – and there are A LOT of characters you can imagine in a setting like Eberron. Bennies and exploding dice are also some of my favorite game mechanics ever. I love being able to reward players in a meaningful way and for the dice to be able to REALLY tell a story when they decide to keep on acing (or critically fail)!

You have been running and chronicling a Savage Eberron campaign called Towering Tales for over a year now. How would you describe Towering Tales in five sentences or less?

DR: Oh gosh, over TWO years at this point–where did the time go?! Towering Tales is an odyssey of love, war, and hijinks, all tying back to a conspiracy of nightmare spirits pulling the strings of the waking world to try and save their own from utter annihilation. Over the course of the campaign, the Pizza Party have encountered everything from pint-sized velociraptor luchadors and flumph-based vigilantes, to dancing leprechaun slavedrivers and a warforged detective who goes off on monologues at the drop of a hat. I love blending drama and silliness to really get players invested in the world, and it’s definitely worked out! So if that sounds like your cup of tal, get ready to laugh, cry, and lie awake at night wondering how in the world my players get away with some of these ideas.

What’s the hands-down best thing that’s ever happened in Towering Tales? I guess if you have to you can pick more than one moment. But it’s okay to say you have a favourite. I won’t tell your players, I swear.

DR: Dramatic: picture a runaway lightning rail emerging from the dead-gray mist of the Mournland. A warforged boxer named Crown is locked in combat with warforged fanatics atop the speeding car, electricity arcing all around them; while inside, Waxillium d’Cannith (whiskey-loving lawman and team dad) tries to defuse bombs rigged to explode when the train hits Vathirond station! I ask Wax’s player to make a Vigor roll. CRITICAL FAILURE! I read verbatim from the book: Wax WILL die by session’s end. His friend, the drow fashion designer Lana, swoops in to try and help him as he begins bleeding profusely from the toxin the Lord of Blades injected him with, but he asks her to give his final regards to their friends and pushes her off the train. Wax takes one last swig of whiskey and tells his dead wife that they’ll be together again soon as he derails the train at the last possible second and saves the city. A sobbing Lana is silhouetted against the explosion, vowing never to let this happen again.

Silly: probably that time they yanked an eel out of an undead fishman’s butt and then shoved a staff up there, which they promptly used to summon a couatl INSIDE the dude, causing the necromancer to explode in a burst of radiant energy! I guess you could say they rekt ‘im.

Okay, first of all, I’m just gonna point out that my very first TTRPG was Jason Statham’s Big Vacation, and one of the random complications you can roll for a scene is eels. So while I am kind of grossed out by this story, I also feel a strange connection to it. Anyways, last question: where can people find the full and continuing adventures of the Pizza Party? Shamelessly advertise yourself, my friend. I’m here for it.

DR: A scene with eels is such an oddly specific complication… But hey, here’s a handy-dandy link to the main session directory. That page includes links to every session recap, as well as to the player character pages, which list their edges, hindrances, advances, etc. We play pretty much every Friday, and I usually have new recaps done by Monday. I foresee things getting even more insane as we speed on towards session 100 and the fate that awaits the Pizza Party at the end of this road, so stay tuned. Whether you pick things up at session 1, 21, 65, or anywhere in between, I hope you all enjoy reading about whatever happens NEXT TIME ON TOWERING TALES!

That’s all for now, folks! Keep your eyes on this space later this week for more pre-campaign planning…and a very exciting announcement.

Anatomy of a Build: Character Creation in Savage Worlds

It’s finally time for that new campaign I’ve been talking up for weeks, which means it’s time for a fresh cast of characters. As we prepare to take to the high seas of the Lhazaar Principalities, I want to take a look at the single biggest aspect of Savage Worlds that vexed me the most as a new player: building a character.

My TTRPG experience prior to taking up Savage Worlds was largely one of what I like to call “plug and play” character creation. Powered by the Apocalypse uses “playbooks”, pre-built archetypes that the player selects a small set of abilities from but are otherwise clearly defined in terms of a characters build and purpose and even include guidance on how to roleplay each archetype. Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition provides players with more flexibility in the form of subclasses, feats, etc., but still holds to some hard and fast truths. All paladins can smite, all rogues get Sneak Attack, and all characters across all classes have the exact same set of skills, albeit with varying degrees of proficiency. Bards have access to different spells than wizards, wizards can swap out their prepared spells after a long rest, and if your table allows feats, that’s a whole other area to explore. But my point is that, at the end of the day, the bard can’t ever smite, the wizard can’t ever make a sneak attack, and the rogue is getting Uncanny Dodge at level 5 no matter what. Even with considerably more flexibility than the afore-mentioned Powered by the Apocalypse, 5e is still at its core built around archetypal character classes designed to stay in very particular lanes. And I have no problem with that; it’s a good and valid way to approach tabletop gaming that many players (this is an understatement) enjoy and have lots of fun with (I personally love a good game of Masks, in which I’ve been using the Delinquent’s playbook). But Savage Worlds has a different appeal.

Savage Worlds doesn’t so much ask the player what role they want to fill as it asks them who they want to be. With a point buy system that allows and encourages players to invest in a wide variety of skills, edges, and powers, everyone begins with a d4 (basic training) in five core skills, but from there the world is your oyster. If your dream is to play as a traveling storyteller who is adept at navigating the seedier parts of town and might not be the best fighter but knows how to control the flow of battle so that their companions can more effectively dispatch the bad guys, there is absolutely nothing baked into Savage Worlds that is stopping you from doing that and being supported by the mechanics while doing it. How you play your character depends heavily on how you choose to customize them.

With that in mind, there are certain guidelines for character creation that are encouraged by both the core rules and my GM. Let’s take them from the top!

Who do you think you are, anyways?

With so many choices in play, where does one start to figure out what their character is going to look like? The recommended answer is to first determine your race (human, elven, dwarf, etc.) and hindrances. You can take as many hindrances as you like, though you can only use up to four points worth of hindrances to trade for an attribute increase, more skill points, or an edge. Choosing hindrances early on will help you narrow down what skills and edges matter to your character, and when it comes to edges, there are quite a few that can actually compliment hindrances! A character who is Hesitant is required to draw two Action Cards and choose the lower of the two…but if she is also Calculating, she receives an advantage if her Action Card is five or less. Not only do that hindrance and that edge feed each other mechanically, they also tell a great story.

Next up is to determine how to distribute your attribute points. Your Agility, Smarts, Strength, Spirit, and Vigor all start at d4 and serve as a baseline for how costly it will be to increase their linked skills, and there are attribute prerequisites for many edges. With the Multiple Languages setting rule in play, the size of your Smarts die will also determine how many languages you can start the game with at no additional points cost.

Then comes choosing and increasing your skills. Every player character begins with a d4 in five core skills: Athletics, Common Knowledge, Notice, Persuasion, and Stealth. Depending on what setting your game is using, you could find yourself choosing from a pool of two dozen more skills — or more, or less, depending on the game world. While it’s possible to overdo it by spreading yourself too thin, I would suggest that Savage Worlds rewards diversifying your build as opposed to pumping points into maximizing a small number of skills. Core rules allocate twelve points for skills at character creation, with the possibility of an optional setting rule that allocates fifteen points to start, and the option of using hindrances to buy more.

Next come edges. Edges are special abilities that confer bonuses like improving skill checks, the ability to take actions that you wouldn’t normally be able to, penalty reductions, improved resistances, better outcomes from certain roleplaying scenarios, and more. As per the core rules, if you purchased points through hindrances (up to four points total), you can use those points to take up to two edges at character creation. Typically, that means that you can only take Novice edges, and will still need to meet any attribute or skill requirements as well (e.g. the Charismatic edge can be taken at Novice rank, but requires a d8 in Spirit). I say “typically” because my GM is partial to the setting rule Born a Hero, which waives the rank requirements for starting edges, opening up even more ways to tell your story from the beginning.

Edges are, in my opinion, the best argument for a practice my GM strongly encourages: planning your advances ahead of time, to the tune of ten advances or more. While this plan will almost certainly change over time as your role in the story evolves, having it in place will help ensure that are largely able to meet all the skill and attribute prerequisites in order to take the edges you want, when you want, and will also save you a lot of frustration and (if you’re anything like me) decision paralysis. Take it from someone who knows.

The last thing to do is purchase your starting gear. At my Savage Eberron table, everyone starts with 300 galifars (gold pieces) to use at their discretion. You can immediately spend as much or as little of those starting funds as you like, on whatever you like. What does it make sense for your character to have on their person when they join the party? What sort of eventualities are they prepared for? What matters to them? Answering those questions will help you decide how to spend — or hoard — your starting funds.

Introducing Daina ir’Lizani: Soldier, Sailor, Leader.

Daina at sea by Wade Johnson

So what does all this jargon look like in practice? Glad you asked! My new character, Daina ir’Lizani, is a human war deserter from the dead nation of Cyre who has found a new purpose as a champion for her fellow survivors, and now seeks to carve out a piece of land in the Lhazaar Principalities that the good people of Cyre can call their own. Pre-emptively elected as the future captain of the ship the party will inevitably commandeer, Daina is built for leading, commanding, and supporting Extras and Wild Cards alike in and out of battle. Her Code of Honor (major hindrance) compels her to keep her word, treat prisoners fairly, and behave according to her beliefs of what a gentlewoman should be. Her Vow (minor hindrance) is to her friends and her crew, to put their needs first and keep them safe and prosperous and seek to help them achieve their own goals and purposes. And because everyone has a “tell”, when Daina is concentrating or focusing on something, her Quirk (minor) leads her to idly play with the hilt of her tago knife — a ceremonial dagger used in the traditional Cyran courtship dance, a gift from her late husband, and a gesture that could be easily misinterpreted as a threat if whomever she’s speaking with does not recognize the knife’s innocent purpose. Here’s what all that looks like as a Novice:

First of all, you may have noticed that the base math for attribute points doesn’t line up here. As a human, Daina’s Adaptability gives her the choice of starting with a d6 in the attribute of her choice (as opposed to the standard d4), and she used two points from hindrances to get that second d8. So that’s how she is able to start with a d8 in two attributes.

The skills are business as usual, using the optional setting rule that allocates fifteen points instead of twelve. With five new skills in addition to the core set, plus the three additional language choices granted by Multiple Languages, this distribution takes into account the edges she wants to gain within the next two ranks and how to get there without feeling like she’s just treading water while getting set up. This particular assortment of skills also reflects her military background and experience as a sailor.

Next up are her starting edges:

Alright, this one’s gonna take some explaining.

First things first: a staple of my GMs games is everyone getting Hard to Kill as a free edge at character creation. Hard to Kill removes wound penalties from the Vigor roll needed to determine whether or not an incapacitated Wild Card lives or dies (and, if they live, how badly injured they’ll be as a result) and gives players a fighting chance against what is otherwise a very ugly death spiral.

For this campaign, we were each also given a free class, background, or professional edge. For Daina, that’s Savage Pathfinder’s Fighter edge…with a few changes. There’s been a lot of debate in the community about the balance of class edges, and this is one of several which my GM adjusted for our table. With that caveat, Martial Flexibility and Combat Training are both benefits of this customized version of Fighter (the original design only grants Martial Flexibility). Two Weapon-Fighting and Command round out the group thanks to the other benefit of Adaptablity (all humans receive a free edge at character creation), and my remaining hindrance points.

Finally, we have all the gear an itinerant sailor needs:

Daina’s starting inventory tells a story. The rapier with its +1 parry bonus seemed like a natural choice for an accomplished swordfighter. The grappling hook, rope, tinderbox, whetstone, and whistle are all handy things to have at sea, and the navigator’s tools give a +1 to Survival checks used to read maps and charts and determine a sense of direction. Since I will be making all those checks at an Untrained d4-2, navigator’s tools were an easy choice for this ship’s captain to have in her arsenal. The flute is a nod to the famous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light”, but without any training in Performance, I suspect that playing the flute will be something Daina enjoys but does very poorly.

You may have noticed a glaring lack of any sort of armour. That is a conscious decision on my part at the moment, with the campaign expectation that we’ll be spending a lot of time at sea. An armoured character falling overboard is probably going to have a really bad day, and to help support the story of it being rather impractical for a sailor to wear anything that could drown them, the setting rule Unarmored Hero is in play (+2 on soak rolls when not wearing any armour).

The lion’s share of my starting funds went towards Daina’s tago knife and locket. Both items with profound personal significance, the tago knife’s handle is quite ornate and the locket contains a minor illusion. You’ll be learning more about that locket as the campaign progresses.

Everyone has a story to tell.

When people ask me why Savage Worlds has become my preferred TTRPG system, I have one consistent answer: for me, it hits the sweet spot between the mechanics supporting the story and the story supporting the mechanics. I think this is particularly evident in how characters are created and built, the customization available to all characters, and the flexibility and diversity the system provides and encourages. It can take some doing to figure out exactly how to arrange the mechanics of it all in order to match your story, but it’s worth it in the end.

Interested in experimenting with building a Savage Worlds character? It’s easy to get started on savaged.us! The Savage Worlds Aventure Edition and Savage Pathfinder core books are available on peginc.com and DriveThruRpg. (Note: Savage Pathfinder includes the Adventure Edition core rules, so you do not need to purchase both books in order to get all the content.)

In the studio with Eberron: A Chronicle of Echoes

Though our plans for the next Session 0 continue to be foiled by Hurricane Ida, new Eberron content is always on the menu! I recently sat down with Rebecca and Steve, the creators and hosts of a wonderful podcast called Eberron: A Chronicle of Echoes and we took a deep dive into Steve’s weird relationship with pizza, the Jason Statham cinematic universe, and, or course, Savage Worlds.

Eberron: A Chronicle of Echoes began a little over a year ago as a response to the question “what if talk radio existed in Eberron?” In character as a pair of House Sivis gnomes named Sylas and Alufi, hosts Rebecca and Steve present and explore Eberron lore – with a few twists of their own – and more often than not with special guests from the Eberron community lending their own voices, insights, and good times. It’s a fantastic project that’s built on collaboration and community, and if I keep saying nice things about it, they might ask me back one day. 😉

Check out the full interview here! You can also find Eberron: A Chronicle of Echoes on Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple podcasts.

We’ve Come A Long, Long Way Together: A One-Year Retrospective of Life and Love in Savage Eberron

In which the Seekers of the Ashen Crown turn 1, and I reflect on how it started vs. how it’s going…and what comes next.

*Record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here.

Well, truth be told, so am I.

A year ago, I didn’t know a thing about Savage Worlds beyond hearing a few shout-outs on an popular Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. A year ago, I also didn’t have any real prospects for playing at an Eberron table using any system. I’d had some pretty negative experiences in my short time playing TTRPGs and, combined with a lifelong battle with anxiety, there were more than a few self-imposed barriers to entry for joining a new table and learning to trust a new party.

By that point, I’d been a casual poster on the official Eberron Discord for about eighteen months. And I’d been lurking that server’s LFG channel pretty hard, but none of the games being offered spoke to me in way that seemed worth making the effort to rise above my baggage for. Then, at the end of July, everything changed.

It was a post from someone I’d never even come across on the server before. He was advertising a system I’d never played, and he was looking to fill a seat at a table that was already together – all of which I’d normally find pretty darn intimidating. And I did find it intimidating, but what caught my attention above all the other LFG posts in the sea was the declaration that he wasn’t looking for players – he was looking for the right players, and he was going to take as much time as he needed to find them.

When you get to my stage in life, and you’re not the kind of player who just wants to roll dice and isn’t too concerned about who they roll those dice with, the idea of a GM wanting to curate a group that will mesh well together (as opposed to just looking to put butts in the seats) is incredibly appealing. So of course I stared at the post for a while, closed Discord, and did absolutely nothing about it, because change is scary and trusting new people is hard.

Two days later, I was still thinking about that post. It was constantly on my mind, along with a little voice whining “you should message that guy. Hey, I can’t help but notice that it’s 3p.m. and you haven’t messaged that guy yet. Have you thought about messaging that guy?” I was getting rather annoyed with that little voice, so I indulged it. I messaged the guy.

Truth be told, I wasn’t afraid that he wouldn’t write me back. If he didn’t, I could tell myself “oh well, I tried!” and happily fade back into mediocrity and not have to face my demons. But if he did write me back, well, then I’d have to put up or shut up. And that’s exactly what happened.

Long story short, he thought I was the right player. A few days later, I found myself on a video call being walked through character creation, and the week after that, it was game on.

Slowly but surely, I learned. Under my GM’s patient guidance, I learned how to make the most of my character, and how to tell the story I wanted to tell with him within Savage Worlds’ framework. Combat was a big hurdle to overcome, but he had my back for that too. I came to admire the elegant way this new-to-me system meshed mechanics with storytelling, and quickly fell head over heels with Savage Worlds as a means of exploring Eberron. The other players welcomed me into the group as an equal from day one, and not only took care of Jak, but took care of me. And while my year had its share of ups and downs, I never stopped looking forward to Tuesday night as the highlight of my week. These guys aren’t just people I roll dice with. I feel like I won the lottery, and the prize was four new brothers.

And then, on top of all that (which is more than enough already) I somehow stepped into the role of “content creator.” When I started posting my game tales on the Eberron server, it was just because I really like telling stories. I also like sharing things that pique my interest and make me happy. All the same, when Kristian Serrano messaged me in March asking if I’d be willing to turn my stories and behind-the-scenes/mechanics talk into a blog to make it accessible to a wider audience, I was skeptical. Kristian may be familiar to some of you as a former co-host of Manifest Zone, as well as the creator of the go-to conversion document for Savage Eberron, and at the time he reached out to me, he was also managing the Savage Worlds Media Network. My skepticism didn’t stem from anything to do with Kristian (who is well respected in the Eberron and Savage Worlds communities and is just an all-around nice guy), but from my own hang-ups. Surely no one would be interested in such a thing beyond the five people who read my recaps on Discord (can’t be more than five, right? Heck, that number’s probably high!). And besides which, if there was interest in such a thing, that would be even worse (see: anxiety)! But Kristian gently and firmly made his case that there was potential for my stories to encourage Eberron fans’ interest in Savage Worlds, and Savage Worlds fans’ interest in Eberron, and that there might be more people interested in my content than I thought. So I said sure, why not. Worst case scenario, I just end up shouting into the void, and it’s not hurting anybody.

Well…the void stared back. It stared back big-time. Within a week of launch, Tales from Savage Eberron had over 300 views, and it was ten more weeks before I saw a single day pass with no traffic at all. I’ve shared other creative endeavours online in the past (and present), but none of them have made nearly as big a splash as this one. The Eberron community is full of absolutely amazing content creators – podcasters, adventure and supplement authors, mapmakers, visual artists – and it is incredibly humbling to have been welcomed into their ranks.

While next week marks the penultimate session of Seekers of the Ashen Crown and the retirement (for now) of Jak and co., well, as our Dhakaani allies would say, the story stops but never ends. We’re losing one player, gaining another, and after a week to catch our breath, we’ll be rolling straight into a new campaign. There will continue to be plenty of stories to tell going forward as a new cast of characters faces the harsh realities of life on the high seas of Lhazaar together. As much as I am processing feelings of loss about the end of Seekers, I am incredibly excited about what the future holds.

In other words, this was a very long-winded way of saying thank you. Thank you for joining me on this journey, thank you to everyone who’s encouraged and promoted me along the way, and thank you to my amazing table.

Raat shi anaa. The story continues. Life in Savage Eberron is good.

Looking to start your own adventure in Savage Eberron? Here are a few resources to get you going:

You Seem Like a Decent Fellow – I Hate to Kill You! Cinematic Combat in SWADE

The dice tell their own story…but so do you.

As the Seekers of the Ashen Crown regroup after one of our most epic battles to date – and prepare to take down Lady Demise at last – I thought it might be nice to have a little chat about how to pick a fight in Savage Worlds…and do it in style.

First and foremost, combat in Savage Worlds likes to be cinematic and narrative, and that is going to be the focus of this article.  To make the most out of a combat encounter often means going above and beyond “I swing my sword at the enemy.”  Sure, you could swing that sword – but what if the enemy’s Toughness is 12, and your sword only does 1d6 damage?  You’d be gambling on getting a pretty big dice explosion…or, you could forgo an attack in order to set your fellow adventurers up for their own moment of glory by means of a Test.  Tests are non-lethal actions that, when successful, impose a penalty on your enemies to make them either Distracted (less able to hit you and your allies) or Vulnerable (more susceptible to your and your allies attacks) until the end of their next turn.  An opposed roll, a Test can be conducted with a fairly wide variety of skills.  While you can feint at an enemy with your sword to distract them – making a Fighting roll, just like you would on an attack – other actions like throwing sand in their eyes, delivering a scathing verbal blow to their morale, or yelling “hey, your shoe’s untied!” are equally useful.  In the party’s first meeting with the Emerald Claw, Jak took Lt. Sesko down a peg by spitting in his face, and this past session in the Traveler’s Rest, Kayde’s suggestion that Tik’s henchman wasn’t being paid enough for his trouble wound up being something the man took to heart, an epiphany which quite possibly saved Kayde’s life.

In a similar vein, Support fills in the gaps when a Test isn’t quite the help you’re looking for.  Let’s say my friend wants to catch a group of enemies in an environmental hazard like a sticky web or unstable ground.  In strictly mechanical terms, he wants to cast a utility spell, and the prize he’s chasing is a raise (or two) in order to increase his spell’s effectiveness.  This is an instance where Support actions shine.  I can use my turn to do something like bolster his confidence or point out a weak spot in the environment that he can exploit, rolling the associated Trait (as determined by the GM) to confer a modest bonus to his casting roll.  A +2 in Savage Worlds is nothing to sneeze at – it could very easily be what pushes his roll over the edge from failure to success, or from baseline effectiveness to something better. 

Another contributor to cinematic combat is the Multi-Action, a mechanic which allows you to, as the name might suggest, take more than one action per round.  Declared and defined at the start of your turn, a regular Multi-Action consists of two actions at the cost of a -2 penalty to each roll, or three actions at a -4.  With multiple combat edges available that negate the standard -2 penalty, it can be an incredibly useful tool.  Jak could, in theory, Test and attack an enemy on the same turn – and while he doesn’t have any edges that specifically negate the Multi-Action penalty, he does have Killer Instinct (which grants him a free reroll on Tests) and Frenzy (which adds an extra die to his melee attacks).  With those edges working in tandem, the chances of succeeding on both his Test and attack aren’t half bad, not to mention cool as heck if he can pull it off.

As I’ve already discussed in this space, bennies can go a long way towards cinema and narration in a combat encounter.  While they’re good for straightforward rerolls on attack and damage, they can also be spent to alter the flow of battle as we saw in Graywall, when Ivello traded a bennie for some scaffolding that he was able to pull down onto the heads of the guards pursuing him.  The only limits are your imagination – and the GM’s discretion.  I suspect most GMs (including mine) wouldn’t allow you to casually negate an encounter for one measly bennie, but I also suspect that most GMs in these scenarios will be happy to encourage player creativity and reasonable degrees of the Rule of Cool. After all, there was absolutely no guarantee in the example above that Ivello would succeed at making use of that scaffolding – but allowing him the possibility of doing something awesome and game-changing was very much in line with the Savage Worlds philosophy of “fast, furious, fun.”

That being said, there is one circumstance I can think of in which a combat encounter can be significantly altered in the players favour by a single resource: the play of a well-timed Adventure Card.  From keeping Kayde’s brain safely inside his head to enlisting the help of a giant owl to facilitating Tik’s capture, Adventure Cards add a fantastic layer of twists and turns to even the most pedestrian, seemingly hopeless, or already completely gonzo combat encounters.  And it’s always worth it for the look on the GMs face.

So, there you have it: a small taste of the stories you can tell once initiative is drawn.  As much as the dice determine the outcome, us players have an incredible amount of agency and choice when it comes to resolving combat.  It can be a lot to remember in the heat of battle (and, full disclosure, I am often the first one to forget), but when the narrative and actions line up, it’s incredibly satisfying.  Looking back at this campaign’s most memorable encounters, they all share a common thread: the clever and/or timely use of one or more of the mechanics I’ve explored here.  Picking a fight in Savage Worlds can be dangerous and unpredictable.  The good news is, it can also be a whole lot of fun.

Table Talk: All About the Bennies

One more tool in the storytelling box.

Something I’ve mentioned quite a few times now in the Behind the Scenes portion of my weekly recaps is the use of bennies.  What I haven’t explained is what they are, what they’re good for, and how they keep the story and action flowing.  In this article, I take a look at just one more mechanic that makes Savage Worlds great.

Bennies (short for “benefits”) are, esoterically speaking, intended to represent a PC’s luck.  Taking the physical form of tokens such as large glass beads or poker chips, three bennies are awarded to each player at the start of a session, with the promise of more to be earned over the course of play.  There’s little sense in hoarding bennies; they should flow freely, and they don’t carry over between sessions anyways.  Bennies can be spent at any time to:

  • Reroll any trait roll that was not a critical failure.  You can choose which result you want between a bennie reroll and your original roll (sometimes, the bennie roll comes out lower!), but if that bennie earns you a crit fail, you’re stuck with it.  With my party’s luck, where other players might declare they are using a bennie to fish for a raise, we regularly joke that we’re using it to fish for snake eyes.
  • Fight stronger and harder.  In combat, you can spend bennies to reroll damage, recover from being Shaken, soak wounds, change your initiative order, or regain power points (D&D players: think spell slots), though our table is currently using a variant setting rule that eliminates power points, so that last use is moot for us.  
  • Allow the players to influence the story.  At the GM’s discretion, you can trade a bennie for something to happen in a particular scene, in or out of combat. At our table, the first time I saw one used in this way was fairly early on in the campaign when our old friend Lady Demise ejected Lestok – while on fire – from a third-story window.  He survived the trip (and the fire), and then offered the GM a bennie to add a trellis to the side of the building so that he could easily climb back into the fray.  More recently, Aruget spent a bennie to buy more time during the changing of the guard for his and Jak’s jailbreak, and in our last session Ivello exchanged one for a scaffolding that he promptly brought down on his opponents heads, controlling the flow of the fight and allowing him and Lestok to make a quick getaway.  Of course, declaring you want to spend a bennie in this way does not bind the GM into agreeing to it – they absolutely have the right to refuse if your request is too ridiculous or overpowered.  But at a table where everyone understands the limits of the story being told, chances are good that if you want a chandelier to materialize so that you can use it to swing across the room to safety, you’re getting that chandelier.

At our table, bennies are most likely to be spent on the things we most want to see happen.  Kayde, feeling suspicious or paranoid, might go through his bennies trying to get a good Notice roll.  Ivello, the curious scholar, might burn all of his on a Common Knowledge check.  Lestok will gladly spend his bennies trying to bring whatever his most recent plan is to fruition while Aruget, ever the party’s protector, recently ran himself out while fishing for as many raises as he could get on healing Jak’s head trauma.  For myself, I have definitely followed this pattern in spending bennies on the outcomes that matter the most to Jak – the first time I ran myself out, I was trying to convince a very obstinate secretary to let Jak talk to his old captain at the Citadel. I also tend to be a more defensive player who likes to save them for soaking in combat-heavy sessions. Bennies, even when not explicitly used to influence the story, still do influence the story by changing the outcome of a roll or preventing a killing blow.

So, how exactly does one recover bennies now that we’ve spent them all making our deepest desires come true?  The hard and fast way of recovering bennies during combat is if someone draws a joker – that awards a bennie to every player in the initiative order. Outside of combat, there are a few different ways to recover bennies, with the responsibility for keeping them flowing falling largely on the GM. The guidelines state that they should be awarded at the GM’s discretion for things like good roleplaying, acts of heroism, and playing to your Hindrances (which is probably where most of mine come from).  At our table, we also receive one for answering the backstory question of the week.  A good one-liner or making the table break out in laughter is also a reliable source of bennies, and we’re not shy to point out when we think a fellow player deserves one.

Now, you may be thinking, “but Elly, I’m just not that quick on my feet.”  That’s okay, neither am I – Lestok is our resident wit.  I regularly think up witty comebacks and cool quips an hour after the session ends, but don’t have much difficulty earning bennies over the course of play through some of the other means described.  Knowing your character is, in my opinion, key to earning bennies, and I know Jak inside-out.  I’ll reiterate: bennies, even when spent in combat, are a storytelling device.  If you can be a part of your table’s story, you can be rewarded for it.  Tell a story, get a bennie, use that bennie to tell a story, and the cycle continues. 

One last note about bennies: they aren’t just for the players amusement.  The GM starts the session with a pool of bennies equal to the number of players, but to keep things fair, the only way for them to regain bennies is by drawing a joker in combat.  The GM can use their bennies for all the same things players can – rerolls, soaking, un-shaking.  There are few things that strike fear into my heart like when the GM rolls damage on a PC and then casually says “I’m going to bennie that” – it definitely keeps us on our toes.

As a player, I absolutely love bennies.  The story is always my favourite part of any TTRPG, so anything that helps me better tell or participate in that story is a winner.  I like being able to spend them, it feels great to get them, and I’m always fascinated by how my fellow players choose to use them.  They’re a fun, endlessly versatile mechanic that makes me feel powerful as a character and capable as a storyteller.  They’re a really cool way of making you feel like you can take your fate into your own hands, all while remaining at the mercy of the dice.  And as an integral part of Savage Worlds, they are just one more reason why I love this system.

Table Talk: Hindrances and You

In which I explore what they are, and why you want some.

In my last recap, I explained in Behind the Scenes that Jak has three Hindrances that made life particularly difficult for him and his friends during the events of that session. What I didn’t explain, for those of you less familiar with Savage Worlds, is what exactly a Hindrance is, and why they matter.

What is a Hindrance, anyways?

On the surface, a Hindrance is exactly what is sounds like: a flaw, a drawback, or something that makes life harder for the hero. In practice, they are largely roleplaying cues that help define and enrich your character. If you’re familiar with Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, it’s a similar mechanic to Flaws, with a few notable differences. For one thing, a Hindrance can be either physical (elderly, exceptionally large or small, missing an arm) or psychological (suspicious, curious, impulsive). For another thing, not all Hindrances are “bad.” A character with Code of Honor has sworn to act like a gentleman in all things – a noble goal that may make him well-liked by some, but might restrict his actions and behaviour in certain circumstances as he is always bound by his oath. A character who is Curious is not necessarily dangerously or foolishly curious, but they can be. A character whose Quirk is twirling the ends of her hair when she speaks might seem harmless, but perhaps you have flavoured that quirk as being a tell for when she is nervous, distracted, or lying. With a few dozen official Hindrances to choose from in the core rules, there’s something for everyone, and no shortage of stories to explore.

Who wants to be perfect?

Hindrances come in two flavours: Minor and Major. A Minor Hindrance is, typically speaking, purely for your own character enrichment. While the GM might give you a bennie for playing to it, it serves no larger function in the campaign. A Major Hindrance is meant to cause actual trouble for your hero over the course of the campaign, and affect or be present in the story in some way. Here are a few in-game examples:

My character, Jak, has a Quirk (Minor) and is also Shamed (Major). In a world where prejudice against changelings is entrenched, Jak cannot resist mischievously or threateningly revealing himself as a changeling at opportune (or inopportune) times, but for the most part, nothing of note has come of these antics. With Shamed being a Major Hindrance, however – well, that slowly started blowing up in his face in week 27, came to a head with him being discredited and arrested in week 32, and ended up with his friend being forced to punch him in the head for his own good at the end of our last session. A Major Hindrance (Secret) was also responsible for an assassin coming for Quentin/Ivello in week 25, and its inclusion in the campaign made for what perhaps remains our most exciting, Eberron-esque session yet.

It’s worth noting that both Shamed and Secret started out at Minor Hindrances, but were transitioned to Major during the course of the campaign due to how Ivello’s player and I were acting them out. Players, don’t be afraid to talk to your GM if you find your Hindrance evolving over time! It’s more fun that way.

While it is mechanically beneficial to players to take Hindrances – you can exchange them for up to two Edges (5e players: think Feats) at character creation, as well as use the points gained from them (one per Minor, two per Major, up to four total) to increase your attribute dice size, buy or increase skills, or double your starting funds – it’s also tons of fun to explore a hero who’s not perfect. I have always been of the opinion that putting guidelines on creative endeavours can be a really good thing, and having these built-in cues for how to encourage and guide roleplaying definitely falls into that category. I can’t imagine how bland Jak’s life would be if he weren’t Shamed, Loyal, and Stubborn. I can’t picture Lestok without the endearingly insatiable Curiosity his player acts out like a pro, or how dull that airship ride would have been without Ivello’s assassin coming out of the woodwork. Hindrances help us learn more about our characters, give us a solid framework for interacting with the game world, and gosh darn it, they just make things more interesting.

Do you have a favourite Hindrance? A great in-game moment that came about because of one? Drop it in the comments!

Why Savage Worlds? A brief history of SWADE and me

In which I wax poetic about why Savage Eberron is my favourite Eberron. And what the heck is an Eberron, anyways?

If you’ve found your way here, that probably means that you know about Savage Worlds, you know about Eberron, or you have had the pleasure of combining the two already. But in case a piece of the puzzle is missing, consider this the Coles Notes version!

Eberron began life as the winner of a Dungeons & Dragons setting search contest hosted by Wizards of the Coast in the early 00s. Created by game designer Keith Baker, Eberron is a world where magic is wide, motivations are rarely cut and dried, and everyone from the kings and queens of the Five Nations to the lowliest beggar is feeling the effects of a recently ended, hundred-year war that tore the continent of Khorvaire apart. It prides itself on being a great setting for both pulp adventure and noir intrigue, two areas in which Savage Worlds (we’re playing the Adventure Edition, or SWADE for short) excels.

And what is Savage Worlds? It’s a setting-agnostic tabletop roleplaying system, and you can preview the rules for free here. Official Savage Worlds settings include supernatural-infused versions of the Old West and ancient Rome, sci-fi adventures, and strange goings-on in a college town. What does any of this have to do with Eberron, you ask? Well, it just kind of…does. Mechanics like the wild die, bennies, and exploding dice help heroes succeed at seemingly impossible tasks, narrowly cheat death, and even know things they’re not supposed to know. The GM makes you roll that common knowledge check at a -4, but you get a dice explosion? Turns out that rumour you once heard in a tavern while three sheets to the wind was true after all! Top that off with a system of graduated success – and failure – and you get some dice that have the potential to tell stories of heroes who beat the odds by the skin of their teeth…or get into more than they bargained for.

Anyways, like I said in my last post, I stumbled across Savage Worlds courtesy of an LFG on the official Eberron Discord. And while I was anxious about learning a new system at first, having been used to 5e – the freeform character creation was surprisingly hard to wrap my head around – I quickly fell in love with it, and wouldn’t have my Eberron any other way.

Early on in our first campaign together, I started writing detailed, cinematic recaps of our sessions. At first it was just for fun, then I started sharing them at the behest of one of my fellow players. But they garnered a little attention, enough for some people to start asking me when I’d share our adventures for more people to read. So here I am.

Our current campaign is a home conversion of the D&D 4e adventure Seekers of the Ashen Crown, converted to Savage Worlds and tailored to our party by our trusty GM. It starts in media res as I didn’t start my recaps until week three, but don’t worry, I’ll bring you up to speed. 🙂 In my next post, I’ll introduce the party, and from there, the adventure begins!

Nice to meet you!

Hey there! I’m Elly. Or, as some of you may know me in other spaces, TheLostSkeleton.

My love for all things tabletop began in July of 2018, when I found myself playing an impromptu game of Grant Howitt’s Jason Statham’s Big Vacation…and next thing I knew, I had a D&D character sheet in front of me, and my adventure began.

Fast forward to August 2020. I was browsing Discord when I saw an LFG post for something called “Savage Worlds”, and in my favourite setting: Eberron. Something in me clicked; that little voice in my head wouldn’t shut up until I messaged the DM, and Savage Worlds quickly became my favourite system for Eberron adventures. I fell into the role of my party’s unofficial official chronicler, and after posting tales of our adventures on Discord for several months, I was encouraged to branch out and spread the word. So sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy hearing about our adventures as much as I enjoy being a part of them.