Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Return to Alusia, part 4


One of the games I ran over the holiday continued a Savage Worlds adventure that I started at Christmas 2007. The adventure is set in the Frontiers of Alusia sometime during the later stages of my original Frontiers of Alusia DragonQuest campaign, but set away from the scenes and characters of that earlier series.


In December 2007 I was looking for an adventure to run for the kids at the family get-together at Christmas. I'd been looking at my notes from my old Frontiers of Alusia campaign and decided it would be neat to revisit Alusia since my brother, one of the players in my original Alusia campaign [1], would be in for Christmas and would probably be playing with the kids. Of course, instead of using DragonQuest or GURPS, the systems I'd used in the original campaign, I wanted to use Savage Worlds, especially since I was giving all the kids who were old enough copies of Savage Worlds: Explorer's Edition that Christmas. I decided to reuse The Tomb of Aghyar, an adventure I'd written for another group that had adventured for a short time in my version of The Frontiers of Alusia, and have my original group's characters feature prominently in the city's gossip but not actually appear in the adventure.

I took the map I drew for the original adventure, added some more rooms, worked up Savage Worlds stats for the opposition (borrowing from Noble Deceit for some thieves guild types), and printed out copies of the pre-generated characters from Against the Orcs and Noble Deceit for the players to choose from, and off we went. It went well, my brother was pleasantly surprised when he figured out what was happening, and everybody had fun being chased by the Thieves Guild, figuring out where the tomb was located, and finally venturing into the tomb itself. As is not uncommon when playing with the kids we didn't finish the adventure that evening, and so had to wait for the next time my brother and his family were in town to continue it. My nephew from out-of-state repeated mentioned how he was looking forward to playing “those games with dice” when he came back for the summer.


Fast forward to the summer 2008 visit. The night before we played I decided to remap the dungeon and redo the encounters to add a bit more zing. I was interested by D&D 4E's increased emphasis on encounters with more dynamic aspects, having followed some of the Internet discussions and read H1 – Keep on the Shadowfell, and wanted to see what I could do with Savage Worlds to make encounters be more dynamic.

Wizards of the Coast sells Dungeon Tiles, heavy cardboard [2] tiles with pretty dungeon and outdoor scenes marked off in 1 inch squares. They've also released similar tiles in the D&D Basic Game sets in the past.

There is a browser-based Javascript program called Dungeon Tiles Mapper that lets you design dungeons by dragging and dropping the pictures of the tiles from all those sets onto a grid. It lets you print off pictues of the dungeons you've created along with a list of the tiles needed to build it.

Anyway, I download the program and spend some time fiddling with it. It has some quirks and some outright bugs, but overall it is very useful. I was able to make a more interesting dungeon layout pretty easily. I then spent some time rethinking the encounters, looking for ways to make them more dynamic.

Actual Play, Part 1

The first room I changed the least. I already had an WC ooze and a fire trap, but I added a vicious bug swarm in a pile of skulls in one corner near the entrance. When they looted the pile of skulls they disturbed the swarm and after a couple of rounds where the two looters failed to stop the swarm and the swarm failed to damage the looters, everybody moved away to the other side of the room while one of them used fear to send the swarm scurrying. Of course, in the process they moved into the area of the ooze, which was actually dispersed under the dirt floor of the room. It oozed up through and around their legs, and they had to make Strength rolls to break free while the ooze got to try to completely envelope one of them and all had a chance of being damgaged by the acid ooze around their legs. They managed to break free, and one got off a lucky shot with their crossbow, acing their Shooting roll and then acing the damage roll so high I ruled that the shot hit the plum-sized brain of the creature and killed it outright. After that they searched the room, avoiding the depression left by the ooze erupting from the floor and the acidic liquid left by the dying ooze, and finally found a secret door out. Unfortunately, the rogue set off the trap on the door, a fire blast, and caught fire and fell back into the remains ooze, setting it on fire in turn. Now they had to hurry to rescue him and leave the room before the burning ooze rendered it unihabitable. They left through the new tunnel, which lead a few feet to a a shaft down to another short corridor that opened up into a larger room.

That's where we broke for lunch.

Actual Play, Part 2

After lunch we switched play to a different house (mine, just next door), and one of the younger players, M.A., wanted to play. I had a character sheet he could use [3], so on the spur of the moment I added a mystical column of light in the next room as a prison where the adventurers would find his new character.

That room was much larger, but I'd set it up with with a pool in the middle that took up much of the room, and around several of the walls were a number of alcoves. When I added the mystical column of light, I put it on a short circular pedestal on a square base in the middle of the pool. The PCs could easily jump (not even requiring a roll) from the six-inch tall lip around the pool to the base, but could only balance and move around the base with difficulty. An early experiment with poking the column of light with an unlit torch destroyed the torch and revealed that the rather-more-viscous-than-water liquid in the pool was very caustic. Cautious investigation by T.B.'s combat mage revealed the proper method of manually disabling the mystic column, and after some careful manipulations by T.A.'s rogue, M.A.'s new PC, a paladin of the Holy Light, was with the group.

While improvising a description of his cuirbouilli armor during the initial get-to-know-you conversation the serendipitous juxtaposition of my description of a design on his armor and a aced Smarts roll by L.B., who was playing a priestess of the Holy Light, inspired me to add to the new paladin's backstory that he was the last living paladin of the Holy Light, imprisoned here in agony for — his captors thought — all eternity as punishment by the pirates who destroyed the last stronghold of the order of the Paladins of the Holy Light, and who it was thought had killed last Paladin of the Holy Light. L.B.'s priestess informed the rest of the group of the paladin's identity and his importance, and several of the players immediately assumed the paladin would set about reforming the Order of the Paladins of the Holy Light. M.A. thought all this was neat. (He's 6, BTW.)

During all of this the PCs had dispersed around the room, and it was at this point that they finally noticed that the liquid in the pool had become very agitated, with waves as tall as a man, and suddenly it was flinging globs of acidic gloop at them. Several were hit, some were injured, and one had his precious chainmail damaged by the gloop. Luckily, they had the example of the earlier ooze's remains catching on fire and had plenty of oil, and proceeded to set the gloop pool ablaze, which quickly killed it, to my dismay. [4]

Just before the beginning of the glooping, B.B.'s fighter made a Notice roll and figured out that the dusty cobwebs in the alcoves at both ends of the room concealed leathery corpses. He wanted to start stabbing the corpse in each alcove before moving on to the next. Knowing that this would simply bring the corpses out to fight him as he moved toward the alcove I decided it would be better to charge a “Divine Inspiration” tax and take one of his Bennies and tell him it was a bad idea, so they didn't end up fighting the eighteen zombies at the same time as the Wild Card gloop.

However, as soon as they opened the door out of the room, the eighteen zombies came out to attack. Since B.B.'s fighter had noticed the corpses earlier and warned the others of the alcoves' contents I gave them a Notice role with a bonus, so they had a round to decide where they would be when the zombies actually attacked. Most lined up at the end of the room with the door out, but D.B.'s dwarven fighter moved back halfway through the room, planing to get a first shot at the ones coming from the other side with his crossbow, then switch to his axe.

It was M.A.'s paladin's turn to shine: he got the Joker for initiative early in the fight and proceeded to ace his Fighting roll and really ace his damage roll. I decided that the return of the Last Paladin of the Holy Light to the world and his almost immediate return to the fight against Darkness was such a momentous occasion that he had been inspired by the Holy Light and began to glow and his sword, swung for the first time in over 200 years, cut through the heads of the three nearest zombies even before they had completely left the alcoves. The paladin retained the glow and a small bonus through-out the rest of the fight. B.B. remarked that his fighter was inspired by this, and slightly later in the fight when he aced one of his rolls I ruled that he picked up a slight glow for the moment. At the end of the fight B.B. decided he wanted to become a Paladin of the Holy Light as well.

In the mean time, everybody else had been whacking at the zombies. D.B.'s dwarf was doing wonders with Sweep, keeping a significant number of the zombies from attacking the others from behind. T.A.'s rogue was stabbing away Two-fisted with his knives and both of the girls (who had independently and without me knowing at the beginning had picked two female clerics with Pacifist; I might have suggested one or the other take one of the other female pregens without Pacifist had I known) were quite happy to be taking out these unnatural creatures.

T.B.'s combat mage had been plagued with really bad rolls all night, and he was getting perturbed. I had actually missed pointing out a couple of bonuses he should have got that would have made one or two of his earlier attacks hit, so I gave him a small bonus on his last attack roll, which got him a hit with raise and with the extra d6 of damage he aced a couple of his damage dice and got to totally disintegrate the last zombie, which made up for the bad time he had earlier.

With the zombies truly dead and the gloop still blazing, it was time again for some quick looting and then out the door to the next encounter. Unfortunately, we had to end things there, to be resumed at Christmas 2008.


In hindsight, switching houses in the middle of the game was a bad thing for the game [5]: we lost a lot of time moving things and setting up again. On the other had, it did help get rid of distractions. I think in the future at this big family gatherings at the farm I'll just plan to have gaming set up at my house, and we can just migrate people there when it's time to play.

The Dungeon Tiles make nice looking dungeons, but are tedious to organize; finding the right tiles takes too much time unless you can do it before the game, and they are surprisingly bulky. I still haven't figured out if I've lost any of the tiles. I need to try some PDF tile sets to see if it's more convenient when I can just print out as many tiles as I want on cardstock, instead of having a limited number of much thicker tiles.

When playing with the kids, I tend to let really high aces do things that are just plain cool, like letting a damage roll that aced with enough raises to do a half-a-dozen wounds if the PC had been attacking a Wild Card to instead take out several side-by-side Extras, and/or add some cool special effects, like the glow and bonus for M.A.'s paladin, the much shorter glow for B.B's fighter, and T.B.'s combat mage's disintegration of the last zombie.

I also tend to be fairly lenient with bonuses if I realize I'd made a mistake in an earlier round that could have made an earlier attack a success, retconning those earlier misses into “you spent a couple rounds getting this attack set up right, and boy did you hit it this time!” It's not going to do me any good to not recognize my mistakes and hide behind the letter of rules and send a kid away from the table unhappy. All but one of the kids I play with regularly is 11 or younger, and we often don't get to play more than once month, if that. If I was playing with adults or older kids, or we played often enough that even the younger kids had the rules down perfectly I'd be stricter.

Savage Worlds doesn't have all of D&D 4e's mechanics for dynamics, such as special rules for shifting and pushing and pulling, and I didn't really do anything particular in these sessions to do that with Savage Worlds other than trying to have more terrain obstacles and have more than one opponent per room. Things seemed to be pretty dynamic in play. I think the things that Savage Worlds does have still let you do dynamic things easily, though with more recourse to GM judgement.

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