Category Archives: Table Talk

Table Talk: 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 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.