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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Savage Worlds] X-Com: rattling the characters  (Read 14151 times)
johnzo
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« on: May 03, 2004, 11:39:02 AM »

While the PTA people in Feng's front room have been http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10906">working through their feelings, the back room crew has been getting its hands dirty against Martian terrorists.

The aliens have been on Earth for nine months now, appearing suddenly in small groups, blowing stuff up, kidnapping people, disrupting communications, and in general working Earth up into a lather.  Conventional forces are useless against them; the aliens project some kind of "fear wave" that can turn hardened soldiers into gibbering toddlers.  Only X-Com, an elite UN force, can meet the terrorists head-on.  Hardened by the latest psychological techniques and equipped with the most advanced Japanese gear, X-Com troops are the best that Earth can put in the field.  And finally, they have a chance to strike back: a garbled ham radio message from the mining town of Sparta, Colorado says that a UFO has crashed into an old mine behind the town.  X-Com X-1--the first graduates of the X-Com training program--sortie to capture the UFO.

I'm the GM.  There's four PCs -- Feng's Captain Tom Hutchinson, rafial's Kem, a psionic rebelista from Paraguay, Dan's Greg Hull, a sniper, and Jon's Dr. Rachel Mann, who is an expert pan-doctoral scientist.  We also have four NPC's.  We're finished three sessions now, which I figure is a good time to stop for a retrospective.

I approached the game with a couple goals in mind.  I wanted to preserve the things that made the X-Com computer game fun--lots of fast, brutal combat against inhuman foes, plus some research and investigation, while adding elements of personal interaction and character and horror that the computer couldn't.  I also wanted to rattle the characters; I wanted to throw stuff at them just faster than they could assimilate, and force them to prioritize in a hurry.  I did not want the typical surgical RPG special op; I wanted to make them feel like they had just dropped into a kicked-over anthill.  I wanted them to be tired and angry and frustrated like only soldiers can.  And I wanted to do this without making the *players* tired, angry, or frustrated.

From my pov, it seems to be working.  There was this nice moment in the second session, after the smoke had cleared from the previous week's storming of the UFO, when the characters got five pieces of very bad news (1: something has escaped from the craft and slagged itself a tunnel into a nearby flooded mineshaft. 2: the UFO has fittings for six ALS's [autonomous levitating scouts; nasty plasma-blasting mini-UFO's] and only two have been accounted for, leaving four at large. 3: the guy they sniped on suspicion of being an alien clone was probably the real mayor of the town.  4: one of the at-large ALS's had blown up their chopper.  5. Hutch had sucked a lungful of some kind of alien pollen, and was now sneezing up a storm.)  All at once, the air just went out of them and they started mumbling about getting the hell out of town and calling in the nuclear missile strike that was waiting offstage.  I was a little nervous at that point. I was worried I'd broken them.

Then, when they started interacting more fully with the townsfolk, things got worse.  They accreted this comet-like tail of civilians, casualties, and clones that demanded their constant attention, and which threatened to overwhelm the game.  Between sessions 2 & 3, we talked about de-emphasizing the townie management, so I introduced the Deputy Mayor, an ex-army captain played by S. Epatha Merkerson.  The players reacted well to this no-nonsense ex-military black woman--Dr. Mann brought her in on the secret of the aliens.  With the stakes clearly identified, the DM took charge of the evacuation effort.  Now, at the end of Session III, the townies have been shipped off in schoolbusses and the team has been pointed to another alien infestation, down a brand-new mineshaft that was dug as a joint venture between the local mining concern and some mysterious partners.  Next week, it's going to be Dungeons & Martians.  The players are showing this lovely sense of fatigued apprehension that I'm really grooving on.  Dan's sniper *really* doesn't want to go down a hole.  Hutch is musing about it being a one-way trip.  Me, I can't wait for Thursday.

Savage Worlds has turned out to be a great engine for this game.  The one thing I was concerned about--that fights against big, tough boss-type opponents can stop dead as players repeatedly try to open-end their rolls high enough to overcome those opponents' Toughness--was not a factor, because I generally chose to throw hordes of little guys at them rather than one big foozle.  Maneuvering lots of little guys is more fun than maneuvering one big guy, anyway.  With that concern addressed, Savage is wonderful.  It's fast and smooth and produces satisfying results.  There's very little record-keeping for the GM to do during combat--most figures are either up, down, or shaken, and since the shaken status is easily indicated by putting tokens on the battlefield, I don't have to have to keep wound records behind my screens, just little cards with stats on 'em.  The fatality level is about right--one NPC seriously wounded and one dead after the opening assault, and several PC wounds were soaked with bennies.  And the players always seem to have that cool, hungry glint in their eyes during the post-levelup reach for the rulebook, so it's working from a gamist standpoint.

The biggest and best Savage surprise, though, flows from the suggestion that the players run the NPCs during fights.  With the players moving them around, the NPCs really stepped out during the first battle.  They weren't just the chopper pilot and the flamethrower chick and the South African commando and the medic and the Arab with the wakizashi; they were Shakey and Nat Rome and Sperling and Pak and Hassan.  There wasn't any of that clumsy "what's that NPC's name again?" stuff going on.  It felt really right, especially when the PC's had to carry the wounded NPCs away from battle, and tend to the bodies of the dead ones.

The one dissatisfaction I'm having with my own part in the game so far is that I'm having a tough time actor-moding the Sparta townspeople.  The Spartans are facing a couple paradigm shifts; they've got aliens crashed in their backyards, chrome frisbees blowing the crap out their town, and mysterious gasmasked soldiers are strutting around giving orders to the Mayor.  I can't actor-mode raw fear and panic without worrying that I'm sounding hysterical and stupid, so I think my NPC's are coming off a little detached and cool--so much so that one of the players took it as a sign that *everyone* in town had been brain-altered to some degree.  I wish I'd thought to play off that reaction.  I could've gotten some creepy mileage out of that.

But aside from that, I'm having a great time.
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http://www.johnzo.com : where the carnival goes to die
John Harper
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flip you for real


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« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2004, 03:18:51 PM »

I'm loving this game. I play Captain Tom "Htuch" Hutchinson, the de facto "leader" of the X-Com unit.

This is the sort of game that appeals to my favorite Creative Agenda: a strong Sim game that focuses on Situation -- and that situaiton is a tactical one. So, my *character* is essentially making gamist-style decisions, to maximize his resources and outmaneuver his opponents. But for me as a player, it's about getting inside this military man's head and dealing with the situation at hand through his eyes. Victory conditions, overcoming challenges, even Step On Up -- that stuff matters to *Hutch*. I'm firmly in Sim/Actor mode.

Savage Worlds is basically a gamist little reward system. You overcome challenges and you get more effectiveness. The cool thing is that there's no incoherence for me because that's exactly what my character wants. He wants to do his best and become a better soldier as a result of his trials. So, bam! I play Hutch in the "what my guy would do" mode, without any thought to metagame, and the metagame reward system functions just fine because of the Situation that Johnzo developed for us to engage in.

That was a long way of saying: Savage Worlds is a perfect fit for the CA in this case. At least, it is for me and I think the other players probably agree. We're definitely drifting it, though. SW is certainly not very Sim facilitating as written.

I have more to say about all the cool stuff that has happened so far, but I'll save that for another post.
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rafial
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« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2004, 03:55:49 PM »

I'd like to extend the notion of playing in "my guy" mode, and how that has worked out.  I'm playing Kem (that's Kemina Esperanza González de Ayala Casteñeda to you), who is the token "bad attitude" character that every cinematic squad of soliders must have.  Her back story is that she was originally a rebel militia fighter from Paraguay, who was pulled out of prision in an international sweep for combat capable types with high psychic potential.

As a result, when the squad started picking off townspeople in a fit of alien clone induced paranoia, Kem's sympathies lay very much with the populace, and not with her squaddies.  This lead to an incident in the second session where Kem attempted to clock Dr. Mann in the head with the butt of her M-16, after Dr. Mann tazered yet another local who suddenly showed up offering to help.  (Dr. Mann is very fond of her tazer).

Now I'm sure we've all been witness to games degenerating into PvP sniping on the basis of rampant "my-guy" play, but this this case, the result turned out quite well I thought.  Kem blew her "to-hit" roll, and Dr. Mann's player interpreted that outcome as her dodging out of the way at the last minute in an untidy sprawl.  So we had a nice scene of Kem standing over Mann, screaming insults at her in Spanish, establishing the rising tension within the unit, and John as Hutch got to reestablish order with a few choice acerbic comments, providing more character establishing fodder for him.

Now what averted dysfunction here, other than the fact that I play with a really great group?  Well, I think in part it was because my Forge honed instincts told me it is more fun to have an audience than to play "surprise the group", so I had previously mentioned Kem's growing dislike for the unit's actions, as OC table talk.

I've noticed other players doing this as well.  John has been doing a great job of keeping us posted on Hutch's internal struggle as a stolid, not too bright commander who relies on going by the book, who increasingly feels that the situation is slipping out from under him.  Doesn't help that he's carrying around a beacon that calls in a nuclear strike, that nobody else in the unit knows about...
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JamesSterrett
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« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2004, 04:26:19 PM »

Speaking as a big fan of the X-Com series - this sounds really cool.  Thanks for posting up about it!  :)  Can you provide more detail?
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johnzo
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« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2004, 04:50:44 PM »

Quote from: rafial
Doesn't help that he's carrying around a beacon that calls in a nuclear strike, that nobody else in the unit knows about...


John has told everyone that Hutch has the dial-a-bomb, but as rafial notes, this was presented as out-of-character knowledge.  It'll be interesting to see how that knowledge gets used by the other players.

Quote from: JamesSterrett
Can you provide more detail?


What are you looking for?  More in-play recaps?  My adaptation notes?  Something else?

zo.
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ZenDog
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Posts: 158


« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2004, 05:00:02 PM »

I really want to run savage X-Com (it has a definate end game, which is a good thing in a campaign).

I'd love to run it for players who haven't played the pc game.

Anyway sounds like a good game.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2004, 05:47:58 PM »

Quote from: johnzo
Quote from: JamesSterrett
Can you provide more detail?

What are you looking for?  More in-play recaps?  My adaptation notes?  Something else?


I'm not James, but I'm interested in how the system supported the way you play. Is all that in-game character tension bolstered by specific parts of the Savage Worlds system?
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johnzo
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2004, 12:22:55 AM »

Quote from: Zak Arntson
I'm not James, but I'm interested in how the system supported the way you play.

Mostly by being fast, furious, and fun.  X-Com is a combat-heavy game, and I think that in most other game systems, we'd still be playing that first UFO encounter from three weeks ago.

Quote from: Zak Arntson
Is all that in-game character tension bolstered by specific parts of the Savage Worlds system?

The Mayor situation comes to mind.  The players, expecting the worst, were waiting for his party in an ambush.  Savage is not a very forgiving system when it comes to damage -- at least, not for NPC's.  As soon as the Captain made the decision to take the Mayor down, the sniper hit him hard, and he died.  With a more forgiving system, like D&D, there might have been time for second thoughts before the Mayor's hit points wore down.  Not in Savage.  It gives the world a nice feeling of finality and stakes.

Aside from that, I think that most of the character tension is coming from the players and the situation.  Aside from a few reaction tables and some social skills, Savage concerns itself mostly with the bullet and blade--and there have been lots of problems lately in that game that can't be solved with either.
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http://www.johnzo.com : where the carnival goes to die
Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2004, 09:29:55 AM »

Hi Johnzo,

Nice post.  I'm envious.  Dunno if you've had the play experience to comment, but: how does Savage compare to the d6 system for fast, cinematic combat?

Best,

Blake
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johnzo
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« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2004, 10:11:24 AM »

Quote from: Blake Hutchins
Dunno if you've had the play experience to comment, but: how does Savage compare to the d6 system for fast, cinematic combat?


I played tons of d6 Star Wars back in the day, so I think I can answer this one.

Savage moves substantially faster than d6 and requires less paperwork.  Everyone in d6, from stormtroopers on up, gets the benefit of the wound system, so the GM is supposed to track wounds for all his NPCs.  A successful attack takes four nd6 rolls to resolve -- attack/defense and damage/resistance.  Also, in Star Wars everyone has to predeclare their actions before any actions are resolved, so there's usually a little bit of hemming and hawing over this from the players and GM, and these actions usually have to be written down somewhere.  

(I usually use a mook rule in my d6 games, and let any successful hit roll incapacitate a stormtrooper.  You don't often see wounded stormtroopers.  If my players ever fought battle droids, I might use the wound system, because battle droids seem to have this zombie-like ability to carry on through dismemberment.)

Star Wars characters are more capable than their Savage counterparts, especially at higher levels.  The multi-action penalty in Savage is substantial even for very experienced characters, and you can't use a single tool more than once in a round, so if you want to shoot twice, you'll have to have two guns.  There are no such restrictions on multi-actions in d6, and a moderately experienced PC group will usually have a big edge in the number of actions it can declare when fighting stormtroopers or battle droids or Hutt palace guards or whatever.

Star Wars characters also have a metagame edge, having both character points for mundane skill bumps and wound soaks and Force Points for  massive Jedi Death Blossoms.   Savage characters have bennies, which let you reroll skills or soak damage, but those can go very quickly in a hard-fought game, because Savage is less forgiving than Star Wars.  If you're out of bennies, and you're hit, you're in big trouble.  Savage has a nasty death spiral, especially at lower experience levels.

Both are pretty low on color, mechanics-wise.  Neither has stunt mechanics like Feng Shui or Exalted do.  The onus for creative, stylish play is placed on the players, though neither game hinders stunt-y play with a tons of definitions about what can and can't be done, like D&D does.  The  basic mechanics of both games are simple and well-documented enough to allow the GM to quickly rule on whatever the players want to do, which is pretty much exactly how I like it.

(for example, last week, Rafial's character Kem went full-sprint across a parking lot, dove under a schoolbus, rolled, and came up firing on the other side.  Adjudicating that in Savage was a matter of getting out a ruler and measuring the movement on the tabletop and assessing a running penalty to the shooting roll.  It took me three seconds, and I'm hardly an experienced Savage GM.)

Both are excellent games, I think.

zo.
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JamesSterrett
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Posts: 118


« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2004, 03:46:14 PM »

Sorry - that was a rather vague question!

Two parts:  first, I'm curious about Savage Worlds, but I'm not finding much about it on the web - can you help my limp and failing Google-fu?  :)

Second, I'm curious about the specifics of how you're running an X-Com game.  How literally are the monsters lifted from the game, is the R&D/strategy angle going to come up, etc...?  Are you playing the tactical encounters as full-scale minis battles, or largely conceptually with some map support, or?


As a complete side note, my wife and I occasionally played X-Com 1 and X-Com 3 as a collaborative effort: she commanded the tactical squads, and I ran the strategic R&D/bases/money side of things.  This sometimes lead to interesting tensions, such as the following examples:

- I pointed to some alien gizmo on the screen and said, "Please don't blow that up.  It's really important for my research, and quite valuable to boot."  She replied, "Fuck that, somebody shot at me from there."  She threw a grenade into the room, the wondrous gizmo went up in smoke - and there turned out not to be an alien in there.  Grumpy scientists and sheepish soldiers resulted!  :)

- Cor got very attached to her squaddies (and was pretty good [much better than me!] at getting through missions with very low losses.)  I wound up feeling personally guilty about the slow progress of my R&D effort at times, because the resulting lack of high-tech gizmos meant she was taking escalating losses among her beloved troopers...!

Edit:  Cor recalls the latter as:

Cor:  "I'm taking heavy loses!  I need better weapons!"

James:  "Ok, make sure you *capture* that gizmo...."

:)
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rafial
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2004, 04:11:09 PM »

Quote from: JamesSterrett

Two parts:  first, I'm curious about Savage Worlds, but I'm not finding much about it on the web - can you help my limp and failing Google-fu?  :)


You can get the test drive rules and some sample adventures off Pinnacle's web site.

Other good sources of info are the Yahoo group, Savage Heros (currently down), and Dragonsfoot.

Quote

Are you playing the tactical encounters as full-scale minis battles, or largely conceptually with some map support, or?


Savage Worlds is a minis skirmish engine with an RPG built around it, so mini battles are exactly what we've done.  How they compare to the actual computer game, I can't comment on, not having played it myself, but I'm sure others can chime in on that subject.  All I can say is lightening guns are painful!
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JamesSterrett
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Posts: 118


« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2004, 06:16:14 PM »

Thanks, Rafial - I'll give those docos a read.
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Nev the Deranged
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Posts: 741

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2004, 08:28:10 PM »

As a huge X-Com fan, the idea that anybody is even playing something like this just makes my day. I used to write fanfics for X-Com way back when the first game came out. I made handles on my local BBSs (I'm dating myself here) for my X-Com squad members and hung around in chat rooms in-character, pretending I was sitting in a base in the arctic at a batcave-style mainframe computer.

I'm eager to hear more of your adventures!

Just out of curiosity, how much of the canonical stuff are you using, and from which games? Sounds like UFO Defense (1) to me, which is cool since the others never really caught my fancy. I recognized the cyberdisks in your descriptions.... man I hate those things. The only thing that's good about them is when you waste one it kills off everything else withing ten yards when it blows.

Hell, I still play the original X-Com to this day...

Anyway... keep up the good work and keep those field reports coming!
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ZenDog
Member

Posts: 158


« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2004, 09:35:28 PM »

James here is a link to the making of savage worlds which gives you a really good idea of what SW is albout.

http://www.peginc.com/ShootingBlind/MakingofSW.htm

Nev here is a PDF for Savaged X-com

Savaged X-Com
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