Category Archives: savage worlds

Three Things I’ve Learned from a Year of Playing 7th Sea (and how they can make your game better too!)

This article began as something of a retrospective on our first year of playing 7th Sea.  I’ve made no bones about the fact that, when we started, the game was way out of my comfort zone.  It forced me to re-examine a lot of my GM techniques and stare down a few things that had become bad habits.  But I feel its made me a stronger GM along the way, and the lessons I’ve learned aren’t merely applicable to 7th Sea, or even more Narrative RPGs.

So let’s talk about them, shall we?

Action sequences are obstacles to keep the heroes from reaching an Objective (in time).

I put this into the category of “Third Edition DnD Ruined Me as a GM“.  For a long time, a lot of us have been conditioned to think about Encounters and Action Scenes in terms of THE FIGHT.  But that’s really faulty thinking.  If you look at action scenes, chases, and combat encounters in movies or books, more often than not the fights that occur are an obstacle, a complication preventing the heroes from achieving their goal.

That’s right.  Action scenes are an obstacle. If you look way back, OD&D had this figured out when it talked about the ENCOUNTER.  Combat was just one potential result of an Encounter.  But the Encounter has long since given way to extensive and crunchy COMBAT sections in the rulebook.  And so we GMs started framing out encounters in terms of Combat.  Can the PCs win?  Will it result in a TPK?  How big a challenge does this represent.  This mode of thinking permeates a lot of online discussion for RPGs when it comes to encounter design, including 7th Sea.  How do I make Brutes a threat in 7th Sea?  How do I balance encounters in Savage Worlds?  But what if we’re missing the point?  Maybe we should be asking, how does this encounter keep the players from getting what they want?  How can we establish stakes in the conflict to make multiple solutions viable?

But what about the “climactic battle”?  That’s a staple of the genre, right?  Well, this cuts both ways.  Usually, in the climactic battle, its the Heroes who are standing in the way of the Villain’s Goal.  The script is flipped.  But that too makes for a better more engaging scene.  Sometimes the villain shouldn’t engage the heroes head on.  Sometimes there is a better way of circumnavigating the obstacle they pose.  What do the player do when that happens?  Does the villain have Plan B?

So the next time you are planning out an encounter for your game, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do the characters want in this scene?  Is it the treasure?  Is it to rescue the hostages?  Is it to stop the evil ritual?  If your answer is only to fight the goblins and earn XP, stop and start again.
  • How do the adversaries keep the characters from getting what they want?  Are reinforcements on their way? Do some of them branch off to kill the hostages?  Do they complete the ritual? If your answer is they fight to the last man, stop and start again. Is there a time limit? A deadline? How long can the characters afford to duke it out with the villains before consequences (and not just resource drain) start setting in.
  • What happens if the Heroes fail?  Do hostages die?  Is a demon lord unleashed?  If your answer is they die or run away, stop and start again.  And really, they don’t get the treasure is a pretty low bar.  You might want to consider making the prize something more interesting and dynamic in the context of the encounter/scene.
  • What do the adversaries want in this scene?  Do they fear the wrath of the Goblin King?  Are they stalling for time while another faction executes an even bolder, more dangerous plot?  Is it to complete the ritual to bring their dark god into this world?  If your answer is to fight the heroes or to protect the treasure, stop and start again.  It’s GOT to be more complicated than that.  Or maybe it isn’t?  Consider questions 2 and 3 in the context of the adversaries.

Dramatic Sequences work best with a Deadline and a THREAT.

I touched on this in a previous blog post.  Basically, in 7th Sea, if the only thing the players have to spend raises towards is accomplishing their goal, your scene isn’t going to be very dramatic or engaging.  But introduce an adversary whose efforts (and raises) they have to counter at the expense of their own resources, and suddenly its a whole new ballgame!  Introduce a deadline and suddenly the stakes become even higher.  Dramatic Sequences should be about mounting tension.  There are two ways to accomplish this.  The first is through DM fiat, constantly moving the goal post.  “Oops, sorry!  The secret message is not in this room where you were sure it would be.  Try again.”  That may be a big kick for you, but it’s probably going to get old really quick for your players.  But having for force actively working against the players?  A villain or a lackey who also has a goal in the scene (preferably something better than stop the heroes from discovering my sinister plan) makes the whole thing more engaging and puts the players’ agenda at risk without making you, the GM, the bad guy. (And they say players can’t fail in 7th Sea. Pish!)

This is easy enough to do in 7th Sea, but what about other game systems? One of the more recent developments I’ve seen in the last decade is an effort to bring more parity between combat and other activities in RPGs: both social and dramatic: Extended Rolls in Ubiquity, Dramatic Tasks in Savage World, Skill Challenges in DnD 4e, etc.  But one area where these fall flat (to me) is that they often pit the player against himself, or rather the dice.  Generally, they work like this: you have to roll X successes before Y failures, or score X successes in Y rolls.  That’s really manufactured drama.  Because now the character’s success doesn’t hinge on a good plan or a smart course of action (challenging the player) but instead the dice and any bonuses the character brings into play (challenging the character).  Is there a real difference between this and just asking for a single dice roll?  Not really.

I’ve been wrestling with this a bit because I really like 7th Sea’s Dramatic Sequence model.  I want to find a way to model it in other games I play, without necessarily trying to shoe horn in 7th Sea’s Roll and Move mechanic.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  Give it a shot the next time you roll out an extended test.  Before the players get started, make a roll for the villain.  The result gives them a number of “Interrupts” (for lack of a better word) – usually only 1 or 2, maybe 3 depending on the game system.  Put this many tokens out on the table for the players to see.  Now proceed with the extended test.  During the test, the villain can spend these Interrupts to make things happen in the scene.  It might increase the difficulty of subsequent rolls, introduce a new threat (like being discovered, having equipment damaged, etc.), or something else to threaten the player’s goal.  The player can make an additional roll (or spend a Hero Point/Style Point/Bennie) to counter it, but it counts against their time and/or rolls.  This forces the player to make a decision on how to adapt to the changing scene, which puts the challenge back on the player, creating a more engaging moment.

Try it, and leave us a comment on how it worked out.

Player agency, even limited, makes the game more exciting for the GM.

This is probably going to get me in trouble with the OSR crowd, so let me start with a story.

Years ago, while I was running the Savage World of Solomon Kane, I had this great concept of the PCs exploring the Himalayas and discovering a passage to Tibet.  The problem was, I wanted to be engaged in the exploration with them.  I didn’t want to make it a simple hexcrawl, or even a travelogue.  I wanted all of us to be surprised, to make discoveries, but I struggled on how to do that.  I looked at dozens of options.  (Un)fortunately, the campaign went on hold before the players really got to that point.

But the problem remains.  How can I, the GM, share in the surprise and discovery in the game.  Or, as Vince Baker puts it in Apocalypse World, how do I play to find out what happens?

Increased player agency has provided that for me.  In several instances now, in my 7th Sea game, my players have flipped the script on me: turning a patron into a villain and back again, creating villains where there weren’t before, embellishing details and filling in the blank parts of the canvas.  Not only has this forced me to improve as an improvisational GM, but in a few instances the results have honestly surprised me!  And that is exciting.

And it isn’t just me.  It has surprised my players, too.  Some have taken to it like a fish to water.  Others poke at it with a stick, suspecting a trap.  But in every case I’ve inquired, my players have responded positively and enthusiastically.

Now let me stress I am not suggesting you open up your game, Fiasco-style, to a table full of co-GMs.  That would be detrimental to a lot of games and genres (horror, for instance).  Nor am I suggesting you go full on FATE or Dungeon World, scraping world building for a handful of preliminary questions.  The fact is, player agency can be as controlled as you like.  The easiest, most conservative approach is to allow a player to spend a Hero/Style/Bennie Point to “establish an unestablished fact about the scene.”  So if you state up front that the room is 10×10 feet, a player can’t spend a bennie to change that to 30×30 feet.  But they could spend one to establish that there is a slick puddle of filth in the room that they can use to trip up the monster they are fighting.  You can make this subject to GM veto, or attach a cost (ie. you have to spend a GM Bennie to counter the player’s bennie) if you want to be generous.

In terms of control, one of the tools I’ve introduced in my game (and will probably carry on to others) is what I’m calling an Investigative Sequence.  (Totally not my idea, I got it from watching John Wick on the last season of Starter Kit – I just put a nice picket fence around it is all.)  This would pretty much apply to a Notice, Investigation, or Research roll.  The gist is the player can use her successes to either ask me a question about the subject or state a fact about it (and don’t think for a moment that I don’t know the answers – I’m just giving the player a chance to give me better, more interesting ones).  By establishing this as its own thing (like a “Dramatic Task” or “Extended Test”), I’m also putting an artificial limit to the player’s agency.  During an Investigative Sequence, they have “permission” to mess with the plot, but not outside of it.

Now some of you may dismiss this as some Johnny-Come-Lately G/N/S BS.  Fair enough!  I probably would have said the same thing a year ago.  And for the record, I’m not a big fan of Dungeon World’s collaborative world building approach.  I enjoy world building.  I like well constructed campaign settings.  I have no interest in reconciling my vision of the World of Greyhawk with those of 6 other people (certainly not without firm editorial control).  I’m not interested in recycling some big analysis of Say Yes or Roll the Dice.  But I can attest that opening my GMing approach to increased player agency has added to my enjoyment of the overall experience and, as such, other GMs – especially grognards like myself who have been doing this one way for years – might find the same.

That’s a Wrap!

So there you have it: three things that I’ve discovered over the course of the year that I think has made me a better GM and my game more fun, for myself and my players.  Some of these things may be old hat to you – I’m sure I haven’t stumbled across anything some GMs haven’t been doing for ages.  But hey, if anything I’ve posed above sounds cool and exciting to you too, great!  Test some of these approaches out on your group and see how they respond.  Share your experience in the comments.





All Hallow’s Eve Fest II: The Ghoul


From the Journals of the Grey Pilgrim:

Many hardened Witch Hunters of the old world associate ghouls with the living dead.  The Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt, who among the Orders of Solomon range farthest across the world, know better.  While it is a name that has become associated with the ravenous walking dead, the word “ghoul” has ancient origins in the Holy Lands and the deserts of Arabia. 

Ghouls are lesser spirits, related to the fey and the djinn that cross over from the Invisible World to prey and feed on humanity.  They are nocturnal shapeshifters who feed upon the corpses of the dead, but prefer fresh, living meat.  They strong and cunning foes, they are ambush hunters and avoid large bands of men, preferring to stalk isolated targets.  Some are known to assume alluring forms to draw travelers off caravans where they can be devoured unseen.  Others steal into the homes of sleeping victims.

There are many strains of ghouls throughout the East.  All share a common weakness: sunlight.  They cannot abide the pure light of the sun.  Dawn forces some ghouls into their subterranean lairs, or banishes others off into the Invisible World.  Daylight renders a ghoul helpless and causes it great pain and torment.


Alakai: This strain of ghoul haunts the battlefields of Hindoostan.  They appear nearly human, with coarse, shaggy hair.  Unlike other ghouls, they prefer blood over flesh and are commonly mistaken for vampires.  They are believed to be the spawn of a powerful Hindu entity called Yama.  Females are alternatively called picacu while males are called pey.

Gallu: One of the bolder stains of ghouls, some believe gallu to be a sort of daemon.  They share many of the characteristics of ghouls, however.  Unlike other ghouls, they are solitary hunters.  They might be encountered in wild, forlorn places, or in the dark twisting shadows of a city by night.  Dawn banishes them back to the Invisible World where they remain until night falls again. Its regeneration capabilities make a gallu a particularly dangerous foe.

Ghol: These evil spirits of Arabia haunt the silk road, battlefields, and gravesites.  They assume the form of alluring women to draw guards away from camp where they are set upon by the ravenous pack.  A pack of ghols in many ways operates like a pride of lions.  The pack is led by a single male, the qutrub, who protects the pack.  The female spirits do the hunting.

Rake: A more recent intriguing strain of ghoul has been reported from the French Louisiana territory of the new world.  Details of these ghouls are sketchy, but they appear to be solitary hunters.  They haunt the swamps and marshlands, preying on trappers and hunters who are unfortunate enough to wander into their territory.


There are no known organizations of ghouls, though some packs of ghol are rumored to be quite large.


Corpus (Body) Powers Corpus (Body) Prices
Carnivate Allergen (sunlight)
Mimicry Mask Obvious Appearance
Mortal Mask Obvious to the Touch
Mutability Reveal Nature
Regeneration Weak Spot (head)
Malus (Offensive) Powers Malus (Offensive) Prices
Create Spawn Avoidance
Sap Ability Nature’s Hate
Vicious Attack
Cursus (Movement) Powers Cursus (Movement) Prices
Burrow Impaired Travel (daytime)
Jumping Lair
Wall Crawling
Veneficum (Sorcerous) Powers Veneficum (Sorcerous) Prices
Debilitative Aura Blocked from the World (daytime)
Hexcraft Feeder
Impose Emption Fragile

Ghol (Lieutenant)

Fear Rating: 2
Hell’s Favor: 2
Pace: 3

Initiative: Reflexes 6d
Melee: Claws 8d (+6 damage), Bite 8d (+8 damage)
Ranged: None
Defenses: Avoidance 3; Discipline 2; Fortitude 2
Armor: None
Health Track: 5/5/5

Talents: Burst of Speed, Disorienting Attack, Fury

  • 10d: Stealth
  • 8d: Charm (Deceive), Empathy, Notice, Survival (Track)
  • 6d: Acrobatics, Endurance, Reflexes, Resolve

Fundamental Power/Price: Mutability/Allergen (sunlight)
Additional Powers/Prices:

  • Mimicry Mask (assume the form of anyone eaten in the past week)/Reveal Nature (daylight)
  • Impose Emotion/Feeder (human flesh and blood)
  • Hexcraft/Fragile
  • Vicious Attack/Nature’s Hate

Description: Ghols are most often encountered in the form of beautiful women who entice men from the safety of the camp into the wilds of the desert where the pack sets upon him like wild dogs.  They will also assume the form of a hyena, a hound, or an ostrich.
Dramatics: Ghol packs usually rely on one of their number to draw prey into the open where they can attack it as a group.  While Ghol hunting packs might number upwards of a dozen, the tribe itself might contain upwards of 100 members.  Fallen prey will be partially devoured on the spot and the remains taken back to the den for the qutrub to distribute amongst his favorites.

Ghol (Savage Worlds Version)

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d8, Fighting d8, Persuasion d8, Notice d8, Stealth d10, Tracking d12
Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 6
Edges: Attractive (Female form), Combat Reflexes, Dirty Fighter

  • Bite: Str+d6
  • Claws: Str+d4; targets wounded must make a Vigor roll or suffer a level of fatigue as well.
  • Confusion: Anyone who speaks with a ghol must make a Spirit roll.  If the roll fails, the target becomes mildly confused and more susceptible to suggestion.  The ghol gains a +2 bonus to Persuasion rolls against the target thereafter.
  • Pounce: A ghol can leap once per round for 1d6”, vertical or horizontal, and often pounce on their prey to best bring their mass and claws to bear. If it leaps onto prey, it receives a +4 to its attack and damage. Its Parry is reduced by –2 until its next action when performing the maneuver.
  • Shapechange: A Ghol may shapechange into the form of a beautiful woman, a hyena, a hound, or an ostrich.  They may assume the exact form of any target eaten within the last 48 hours.  In animal form, they receive the Pace score of that creature.
  • Spirit: A ghol is not a true living creature.  Even if slain, it will return to life the following sundown, restored to full strength.  The only way to prevent this is by decapitating the creature and burning the remains.
  • Vulnerability (Sunlight): Ghols are powerless when exposed to full daylight.  They suffer 2d6 damage each round so exposed.
  • Weakness (Feeding): A ghol must feed upon flesh, living or dead, to survive.  If forced to go more than a day without eating, it must make a successful Vigor roll or have its Vigor score lowered by one die type.  If the creature’s vigor is reduced to 0, it goes into a state of torpor and will not move or respond until it has been fed.  This weakness does not kill the ghol, simply incapacitates it.

Other All Hallow’s Eve Fest (2015) Articles:

All Hallows Eve-Fest: The Boogeyman of the Alps

The Böögg

From the journals of the Grey Pilgrim:

A strain of boogeymen, the böögg haunts the desolate climes and isolated mountain villages of the Alpine mountains.  These fiends have been encountered as far east as the Carpathians.  They are dormant most of the year, only creeping from its hidden lair after the first winter snowfalls.  Indeed, the böögg itself may well me a monstrous manifestation of winter itself, a horrid Jack Frost.  The böögg haunts the wintery mountains by night, preying on those who cross its path.  They are ambush hunters, always striking by surprise.  They are capable of burrowing through the heavy snows and dragging unsuspecting victims to a frozen death.  Many of their victims are not seen again until the spring thaw.  All the victims share a common trait: a grimace of abject terror, punctuated by death.

Accurate descriptions of the böögg are hard to come by, for the fear they exude makes rational thought in their presence impossible for most victims. All böögg wear a wooden mask, the likeness of which is different for each creature.  I have been told the revelation of a böögg’s face is enough to strike men dead with terror.  I am suspicious of these claims myself.

Böögg (Villain)

Fear Rating: 5
Hell’s Favor: 3
Pace: 3

Initiative: Reflexes 6d
Melee: Claws 8d (+6 damage)
Ranged: None
Defenses: Avoidance 3; Discipline 3; Fortitude 4
Armor: None
Health Track: 7/7/7

Talents: Grand Fury, Iron Grip, Sneaky, Spiteful Comeback

  • 10d Survival (Track)
  • 8d: Command (Intimidate), Endurance, Resolve, Stealth, Survival (Tracking)
  • 6d: Athletics (Climb), Notice, Reflexes

Fundamental Power/Price: Debilitative Aura (Intense Cold) / Mystical Limitation (Only those who fail their Fear roll are affected by this aura)

Additional Powers/Prices:

  • Elemental Form (Ice) / Vulnerability (Fire)
  • Frightening Call (Remove Mask) / Feeder
  • Burrow (through snow and ice) / Lair (these creatures must return to their lair at dawn)
  • Withering Touch (cold) / Nature’s Hate

Story Ability: Dramatic Appearance / Only active after dark

Description: Böögg are very tall, between 7 and 8 feet in height, with long, gangly limbs.  They walk with a hunch and rarely rise to their full height.  They dress in rags.  All böögg wear a wooden mask, the likeness of which is different for each creature.  Beneath this mask, the böögg’s horrid features are concealed behind a bare expanse of thinly stretched flesh, giving only an impression of the creature’s true face.

Dramatics: Most of the böögg’s powers revolve around cold and fear.  It’s Frightening Call power is unusual in that it takes the form of the creature removing its mask.  The sight of the böögg’s face requires a second Fear roll from all within the same Area.  Even if the previous fear roll succeeded, failure on the second roll will make the target vulnerable to the böögg’s Debilitative Aura.


Böögg (Wild Card)

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d12, Toughness d10
Skills: Climbing d8, Fighting d10, Guts d8, Intimidate d8, Notice d8, Stealth d10, Tracking d8
Pace: 6, Parry: 7; Toughness: 7
Special Abilities:

  • Aura of Cold: All targets within a Large Burst Template centered on the böögg must make a Vigor roll each round or suffer a level of Fatigue.
  • Burrow: The böögg can move its Pace through snow and ice.
  • Fear (–4): The böögg exudes an aura of fear.  All in its presence must make a Guts roll at –4.
  • Icy Claws: Str+d8
  • Lair: The böögg must return to its lair at dawn.  For every hour it is delayed, it suffers d8 damage.
  • Mask: The sight of the böögg’s true face can strike a man dead with fear.  It may remove its mask to force all in its presence to make a second fear roll.  Those who fail also suffer d8 damage.
  • Vulnerability (Fire): Böögg’s suffer an additional d6 of damage from Fire based attacks.

Other All Hallow’s Eve Fest (2015) Articles:

Witch Hunter to Savage Worlds Conversion Continued

A few months back I posted a quick conversion guide to translate Savage Worlds critters to the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World game and vice versa.  I thought it worked pretty well, assuming the GM was willing to eyeball the Edges:Talents translations.  But then a SW fan called Cinncinatus dropped a bombshell on me in the comments section:

What about True Faith and Damnation?

Well, I have to admit I’d never really considered it.  Solomon Kane really doesn’t use that sort of mechanic.  And True Faith and Damnation are pretty wrapped up in Witch Hunter’s version of the benny economy.  There really isn’t a clean translation.  And since Savaging another game system is more about keeping to the spirit than the letter, I didn’t really give it a second thought.

But since Cinncinatus asked, I’ll try and give it a shot!

Now to do this, I have to give a quick run down of how True Faith and Damnation work.  Anyone familiar with the old d6 Star Wars game can probably gloss over this section.

In Witch Hunter, damnation is a slippery slope and faith provides protection from some of the nightmarish abilities the servants of the Adversary can dish out.  Characters begin each session with a small pool of hero points they can tap into, like bennies, to do cool things like roll extra dice, ignore wound penalties, even use Talents they don’t have.  But here’s the deal, you can do the same thing with Damnation.  Every point of damnation the character has can ALSO be used for the exact same purpose as hero points.  The difference?  The GM awards hero points.  The player can tap into Damnation any time he or she wants.

Now True Faith does more than just indicate how many Hero Points a character starts each session with.  It is an attribute that is rolled against to resist a lot of nasty demonic powers (think Saving Throw).  Likewise, those same monsters can use a hero’s damnation to amplify some of their powers, making them even nastier.

So the way I see it, there are two ways one could handle True Faith and Damnation in your Savage Worlds game.  One is quick and dirty.  The other requires more book keeping.

The Quick and Dirty Method

You’ll need a second set of bennies of a different color.  I recommend red or black beads or counting stones.  Put these in a bowl in the center of the table.  This is hereafter known as the Damnation Pool.

Play the game as normal, but be a stingier with the flow of bennies in your game.  Any time during play, a player can draw a benny (or two, or three) from the Damnation Pool.  Damnation stones can be used to soak damage as normal, make rerolls, or add +1d6 to any roll (yes, just like Red Fate Chips from Deadlands).  When Damnation is used, the GM add’s it to his benny pool and can use it later for any one of those things.  Players cannot share Damnation via the Common Bond Edge.

Joker Rule: For those of you who award bennies when the Joker comes up in Initiative.  Whenever a Joker comes up in play, check the color.  Red Joker?  Everyone gets a benny as normal.  Black Joker? Everyone gets a Damnation stone.  They don’t have to spend it.  But it’s there.  Tempting them.

The Book Keeping Method

This one requires a bit more work.  I have not play tested it, but it shouldn’t break the game.

Characters gain two new Derived Attributes: True Faith and Damnation.  True Faith begins at 1, Damnation at 0.  You’re True Faith score may never be higher than your Damnation.  The maximum score either of these can be is 5.

As with the previous method, the players begin with a standard number of bennies.  A Damnation pool of stones should be set out.  Players are awarded a Damnation stone for each point of Damnation they possess at the beginning of play.

True Faith works like Grit in Deadlands.  You add it to all Fear rolls.  In addition, you may add it to your dice rolls whenever a villain (or critter) uses a magical power on you.  However, each point of Damnation you possess cancels out 1 point of True Faith.  So a character with a True Faith of 2 and a Damnation of 1 would only gain a +1 bonus against evil magical effects.

Activating Sins: At any time during the game, the GM can “activate” a player’s Major Hindrance.  When they do this, the player has two choices.  They may act appropriately and receive a damnation stone, or spend a benny to ignore the whole thing.

Wait!  But don’t players usually get a Benny for playing up their Hindrance?

Yes. But there are times when those Hindrances are just damn inconvenient.  This is when the GM should be activating it.  Yes, it taxes the benny economy, but why not since the players have a nearly unlimited supply of Damnatio…err…bennies to draw from whenever they please?

Spending Damnation: The player may spend awarded Damnation stones, or stones drawn from the Damnation pool, at any time as described above.  The GM takes the spent damnation and add it to his own benny pool.

Does drawing Damnation stones from the Pool add to your Damnation score?

No.  But spending ANY Damnation stones in play, for whatever reason, immediately makes it impossible for you to buy off Damnation at the end of the game session.  So it kind of balances out.  In long term play, anyway.

So how drastically should I cut back on the bennies I hand out?

That is completely up to you.  If you want a grittier game, hand out fewer bennies and direct your whining players to the Damnation pool for instant gratification.  The more bennies you had out in play, the less temptation the Damnation pool will offer.

Corruption: Once your Damnation is higher than your True Faith +1 point, your character begins showing signs of corruption.  If you are a magi and have undergone the tests, your hands begin to bleed.  Otherwise, your GM will award cosmetic effects to suit the level of your corruption.  These could be obvious (boils, sores, paled skin, etc) or behavioral (a desire for raw flesh).  The character’s corruption should be associated with his or her Hindrances where applicable.

Buying off Damnation: At the end of a game session, a player may attempt to buy off a point of damnation.  They can only do this if they have at least one benny left and have spent no damnation stones this session.  The player spends a benny and rolls a d6.  On a result of 5 or 6, the damnation point is removed.  The player may spend multiple bennies on this, but no more than his or her True Faith score.

Raising True Faith: The player’s True Faith may be Raised as a Level Up option, but only once per Rank.  Again, a character’s True Faith may never be higher than his or her Damnation score.  If the character acquires Damnation during a session of play, and it is not successfully bought off at the end of the session, the point of True Faith is lost and may only be recovered through leveling up.  Face it folks, Damnation is easy.  Faith is hard!

Villains, Critters and Damnation: This is a tough one, but I think it fits and doesn’t require any big changes.  When facing a character with a higher Damnation than True Faith score, a Villain or Monstrous Wild Card (or Henchman, if you are using those rules from Solomon Kane) receive a SECOND wild die to roll.  They can swap any die with either wild die.

Jokers: Unlike the Quick and Dirty Method, Black Jokers do not award Damnation stones.


Welcome to the War against the Adversary! Are you a fan of Witch Hunter? Active on Google+? Then come join the conversation on the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World Google+ Community. It’s new, outnumbered and needs your support!


Just Add Water (Game Master Roundtable of Doom #7)

This month’s topic is courtesy of John Marvin at Dread Unicorn Games:

How do you scale encounters for a smaller or larger group than you had planned on. Or than the published adventure planned on? What works, and what does not? Do different systems affect how you scale? And what about fish? They have scales.

Well, some fish have scales.  Some don’t.  Catfish.  Loaches.  Sharks.  Sharkskin is actually composed of tiny teeth.  How cool is that?!

Well, he asked.

Ok, lets just get that last part of the question out of the way.  OF COURSE system matters!  Me telling you to adjust an opponent’s Health Track by a point or two, or make it a Threat 2 minion band isn’t going to do you one bit if you’re playing D&D or Savage Worlds, no more than you telling me to give my villain an extra “kicker” is going to help me if I’m not playing Hackmaster.

But there are some universal principles behind it all.

The Economy of Scale
The principle of scaling combat to larger and smaller groups is actually VERY simple: how many opportunities do you want for the PCs to get hurt/lose resources/suffer complications?  Complexity of the system really isn’t an obstacle in this matter.  Once you have a grasp on the “odds” in combat, scaling encounters to the group becomes rather elementary.  You just need to consider the dials the game system offers to do this.

For example, if a single bad guys have roughly a 25% chance to score hit each round, you can assume that it is going to hit the target at least once every four or five exchanges.  By that measure, if a player is facing off against four of these opponents, you can weigh odds that the PC will suffer damage at least once a round.  However, if a single bad guy gets multiple chances to hit each round (claw/claw/bite), even at 25%, the odds a PC is going to take damage each round goes up accordingly.

In the first instance, a single combatant with a single attack, scaling is a matter of increasing or decreasing the number of combatants.  In the second, adjusting the Health/Hit Points/Toughness (relative ability to stay in the fight) is probably the way to go.  And sometimes the best option is to give the single combatant a wider range of attacks (Two attacks a round, or a “zone” attack – like Sweep in SW, or Grand Fury or an Aura in Witch Hunter).

Consider the intent of the encounter.  Is it to make the players feel like badasses and get their juices pumping, or is it to make them sweat?  Going back to the previous discussion, will death be awesome or lame?

Feng Shui, 7th Sea, Witch Hunter and plenty of other games have mechanics to support throwing bucketloads of opponents against the PCs with minimal threat to their survival.  Savage Worlds is designed to make handling large scale skirmishes quick with minimal bookkeeping, but gang up bonuses and the threat of a lucky damage roll keep the players on their toes.  DnD, depending on the edition, can handle different levels of melee as well.

For dramatic encounters, adding combatants and dialing down Health/Hit Points/Toughness seems to work better.  As long as there is a reasonable chance for the players to take a few hits, I’d rather get it down fast and move along to the next encounter.  For smaller groups, you’ll want to reduce the number of combatants, but give them a small boost in Health/HP/Toughness.  This increase in staying power balances the reduced odds of a damaging attack.

Spellcasters and Leaders
When spell casting is a factor in combat, its a good strategy to keep additional combatants on hand to give them trouble.  For one thing, it forces the martial characters to devote more resources to protecting their artillery, thus turning their attention away from opposition leaders (more on them in a minute).  Also, since many damaging spells affect a zone or area, you want to balance out the spellcaster’s ability to take out multiple opponents in a single round (the same principle as giving combatants a “zone” of attack).

“Leaders” are adversaries that enhance the mob’s ability to stay engaged.  In D&D, this could be a morale bonus.  In SW, Leadership Edges.  Never let everything ride on a single “leader” in the group.  Even with a reduced number of players, its better to have two leaders (with reduced staying power) for a smaller mob.  If you have a larger group, same principle as above applies: its better to have 1 more with reduced health than 1 less with increased health.  Having multiple leaders forces the players to make choices.  It also prevents them from locking down any special capabilities they have.  The presence of multiple leaders can often be just as effective (sometimes more) of boosting the staying power of the rank and file through Health/HP/Toughness bumps.

Keep in mind, spell casters are NOT the same thing as leaders.

Solo Adversaries
Single monsters against a group are tough.  You want it to be vulnerable enough that the players don’t feel they are beating their heads against a wall, but not so much that it isn’t a sustained threat.  Here, you really can’t dial the numbers up or down, so the you have to reinforce the beastie.

With solo adversaries, we really need to focus on their “range” of attack. How many PCs can the beastie target in a single round?  One? Two? Three? Everyone in melee range? Everyone in a zone or area?  If the beastie’s attack range is limited to one or two targets each round, you want to increase its staying power by adjusting Health/HP/Toughness.  You want it to stick around longer so it can spread the pain around.  If the beastie has a wide attack range (Sweep Edge for SW, Grand Fury or Aura damage for WH, Great Cleave or similar Feat for DnD), this takes care of itself.

Does the solo have a single devastating attack?  How often can the dragon use its breath weapon?  How often can that wvyern drop you from 60 feet?  How often can Oonga rend?  Take that into consideration as well.  If it’s every other round, that’s going to be a big factor.  If it takes 3-4 rounds to set it up, then not so much.  In the latter case, it may get a chance to do this once.  After that, you can bet the players, however many or few there are, will do everything in their power to lock that bad boy down so it can’t do it again.

And now…the nitty gritty system specific stuff!


  • For a single foe that needs to go toe to toe with multiple opponents, give it the Grand Fury Talent.
  • Durability (Corpus Power) is a good way to give a bad guy A LOT more staying power.
  • Likewise, the Rampage (Cursus) Power lets the villain ignore those pesky injury modifiers, which eliminates the death spiral effect.
  • Dial the adversary’s health track up or down accordingly.  Between 5 and 7 is usually average.  Dialing it down to 3 or 4 makes it a quick fight but with plenty of teeth.
  • Don’t discount minions.  They hit hard!  5 Threat 2 minions will roll 10 dice, plus any extra bonuses for attack and damage.  That’s a lot of potential damage when you factor in bonus successes to hit.  Remember, most characters will have a 3 Avoidance at best.
    • My rule of thumb with minions is they are most effective in bands of 3+ per PC.
    • Minions loose effectiveness exponentially, so reshuffle them as necessary to maximize their effectiveness.  Always try to keep them in groups of 3+ as long as possible.


  • A good rule of thumb for SW is usually 1-2 adversaries per PC.  This lets them us a gang up bonus, and spreads out the PC’s attack options (unless they have Sweep).
  • You can turn a wild card villain into a “henchman” (a setting rule in many savage settings): they roll a wild die, but are up, down or out like extras.  This is a good way of dialing them down for smaller groups or for faster combat without reducing their effectiveness.  That wild die makes a different!
  • Bumping an adversary’s Toughness over 9 will make it significantly harder to take down.  This applies to extras as well.  However, a Parry of 5 or less is going to increase the likelihood of bonus damage (+1d6) for the PC.  You can use the two together to make more dynamic fights for small groups.  This combination is going to be a bit less frustrating than high Parry (hard to hit)/low Toughness (easy to hurt) foes because the players roll more dice which means better odds of acing (which is fun!).

Curious what others have to say on this topic?

And while not technically part of the round table, no less weighty:

H+I Encounter Scaling (Bren/Gaston’s Hat)

Missed the Previous Topic?  Here’s a link!

Interested in adding your voice to this cacophony of thought?  It’s easy to join the chorus.

Watch Dolls (Savage Worlds Version)

A watchdoll usually appears as a child’s plaything, animated by a troubled and evil spirit inhabiting it.  They are a form of homunculus.  Usually these warped servants are crafted to look whimsical or festive, in direct mockery of all that is good or wholesome in the world. Most people who create such unholy beings take a sinister delight in the irony that one of their most trusted servants is a warped symbol of a child’s innocence.

— Grand Tome of Adversaries

With the Kickstarter for the Grand Tome of Adversaries entering into its final days, it may seem odd that I’m posting a Savage World conversion of one of the beasties included.  I did this conversion when I included a watch doll (or bunch of them, actually) in my Savage World of Solomon Kane campaign.  I’ve been preaching the utility of this book for games other than Witch Hunter for a number of posts, so I figure maybe its time to put my money where my mouth is.  And so, here’s is the Watch Doll for Savage Worlds.

Spectator [Wild Card]

Spectators are designed specifically to look like children’s toys. These creatures do not move fast, and are quite fragile. Spectators have the ability to control the will of others.

Attributes: Agility –, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d8
Skills: Intimidation d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d10
Charisma: +4
Parry: 2; Toughness: 4
Special Abilities:

  • Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; No additional damage from called shots; Immune to poison and disease.
  • Immobile: Spectator watchdolls cannot walk or run.
  • Puppet: A target must make an opposed Spirit roll against the spectator (who may add its Charisma bonus to its roll), or otherwise cede complete control of its will to the doll.  The victim will attack friends and even commit suicide, though such acts allow the victim another opposed Spirit roll to break the spell.
  • Regeneration (Fast): A wounded spectator doll makes a Vigor roll each round to heal any damage it has sustained–even after it has been “killed.”  Dismembered pieces will skitter across the floor to resocket themselves, though fragmented pieces will forever after bear “scars” of the incident.
  • Size –2: Spectator dolls stand 6 inches tall.
  • Small: Attackers suffer –2 to attack rolls against a spectator watchdoll, due to its size.
  • Telepathy: Spectators are capable of communicating with others via telepathy.
  • Unstoppable: Spectator watch dolls never suffer wound penalties.
  • Weakness (Mantra): In the presence of a holy mantra, the spectator may not use any of its special abilities.

Stitch Runner

Stitch runners appearing to be made from cheap sackcloth. Their most dreaded ability are their terrible weaving power. It creates animated stitching that sprouts from the place where the target was touched. Its victims can see and feel stitching weaving its way through their skin until the target’s fingers or limbs have been sewn together.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Notice d6, Stealth d10
Pace: 6
Parry: 7; Toughness: 4
Special Abilities:

  • Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; No additional damage from called shots; Immune to poison and disease.
  • Fleet Footed: Stitch runners roll a d10 for a running die.
  • Improved Frenzy: Stitch runners may make two attack rolls each round at no penalty.
  • Malleable Body: A stitch runner watchdoll can squeeze its body through any space at least 1 inch in diameter.
  • Paralyzing Attack: Str+d4; Regardless of whether they suffer damage, victims of a stitch runner’s attack must make a Spirit roll at –2 or be paralyzed for 2d6 minutes, as mystical stitches run through the victim’s skin.
  • Quick: Stitch runners discard initiative draws of 5 or less for new card
  • Size –2: Stitch runner dolls stand 6 inches tall.
  • Small: Attackers suffer –2 to attack rolls against a stitch runner watchdoll, due to its size.
  • Stealthy: Eerily quiet; +2 to Stealth rolls
  • Weakness (Fire): Stitch runners suffer an extra +1d6 damage from fire-based attacks.
    Wall Walker: Stitch runners can move their full Pace along any vertical or horizontal surface.

The Grand Tome of Adversaries is in its final days and still short of its goals.  If the above interests you at all, please consider supporting it.

Witch Hunter to Savage Worlds Conversion Guide

With the Kickstarter campaign for the 2nd edition Grand Tome of Adversaries book in full swing, I can’t stress its value to fans of the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane.  Not that Savage Worlds doesn’t have enough critters to keep the players busy for a long while, the lore of Witch Hunter goes hand in glove with SWoSK.  What’s better, building NPCs and adversaries in SW is a snap.

But for a SW GM coming to WH hoping to use some of the material for his or her game, he or she may have some issues if they don’t have a copy of the core rulebook laying around.  And that can be a tall order when all you want to do is use a critter (maybe even one from this blog!) or an adventure scenario.  So to help grease the skids, here’s a handy conversion guide.  It’s mainly focused on converting monsters from one system to another.  It’s not comprehensive either, so SW GMs will still have to use their imaginations to finesse the material.  As always, converting to SW is about the spirit of the rules, not direct conversions.  So use common sense when you run into something that doesn’t make sense.

Ready?  Ok.

Witch Hunter Ability Level Savage Worlds Attribute Die
1 d4
2 d6
3 d8
4 d10
5 d12+
Witch Hunter Skill Dice Pool Savage Worlds Skill Die
1-2 d4
3-4 d6
5-6 d8
7-8 d10
9-10 d12+
Attribute/Ability Comparisons
Savage Worlds Attribute Witch Hunter Ability
Agility Agility
Smarts (Education+Reason+Intuition)/3
Spirit (Will+Resolve)/2
Strength Strength
Vigor (Toughness+Will)/2
Personality to Charisma Bonus
Personality (WH) Charisma (SW)
1-2 0
3 +1
4 +2
5 +4
Miscellaneous Traits
Witch Hunter Savage Worlds
Hell’s Favor Creature’s average Attribute score (use Ability to Attribute)
Threat Rating Minions’ average Attribute score (use Ability to Attribute)
Pace Double for SW Pace (3=6)
Armor Equal to SW Armor
Resolve Skill 7d+ Add either Level Headed or Quick Edge
Minion, Lieutenant Non-Wild Card
Attack Focus (weapon type) Add Trademark Weapon or comparable Edge
Skill Equivalencies
Savage Worlds Witch Hunter (Focus in Parenthesis)
Boating Boating
Climbing Athletics (Climb)
Driving Ride (Drive)
Fighting Melee or Unarmed
Gambling Gamble
Guts Resolve
Healing Heal
Intimidation Command (Intimidate)
Investigation Scholarship (Research)
Knowledge Scholarship (Trained Knowledge), Mysticism, Navigation, Speak Language
Lockpicking Craft (Disable)
Notice Notice
Persuasion Charm
Repair Craft
Riding Ride (Horsemanship)
Shooting Marksman or Ranged
Stealth Stealth
Survival Survival (Forage)
Swimming Athletics (Swim)
Taunt Charm
Throwing Ranged
Tracking Survival (Track)
Creature Size
Witch Hunter Savage Worlds
Tiny or less -2
Small -1
Medium 0 (Human-sized)
Long 2-4
Large 2-5
Huge-Gargantuan+ 6+
Welcome to the War against the Adversary! Are you a fan of Witch Hunter? Active on Google+? Then come join the conversation on the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World Google+ Community. It’s new, outnumbered and needs your support!