Thursday, December 1, 2011

Scavengers in the Urban Wasteland

In the campaign setting I'm proposing, the collapse is only a short time in the past (or still ongoing, depending on when your personal campaign begins), so scavenging through ruins for food and other basic supplies is a viable survival strategy.

A character can choose to dedicate a day to scavenging and make a Survival roll. This roll can only be made in an urban area. On a success, the character draws a card to determine what useful goods he has discovered. The GM then draws a second card to see if the hero has suffered a random encounter; on a clubs card, a random encounter occurs.

Suit Scavenged Goods
Clubs Medicine
Diamonds Components
Hearts Food
Spades Weapons or ammo
Joker Cache (see below)

Card Quantity
2 1 unit or broken archaic weapon
3-6 2 units or damaged archaic weapon
7-10 3 units or intact archaic weapon
J 5 units or broken firearm
Q 5 units or damaged firearm
K 5 units or intact firearm
A 10 units or intact firearm with full ammo
Joker Cache

Caches: A cache is a veritable goldmine of useful objects, food, and ammo. Such hoards hold 2d6+10 units of one resource, plus 1d6 of another; for weapons, the hoard contains 1d6 intact firearms and 2d6+10 units of ammo. Unfortunately, such caches tend to be swarmed, guarded, or both. For the second card after a Joker, any card is a random encounter except for another Joker. A two-Joker draw is an unguarded cache. Time to celebrate! If the second card is clubs, then the GM either doubles the numbers in a random encounter or takes two different random encounters and adds them together.

In the wilderness, a character can still use the Survival skill to find food for himself and his companions (as per the Survival skill description), but he must still draw a card to determine if he suffers an encounter.

Building Weapons: A character can build a new archaic weapon out of mechanical components. For an archaic weapon, the number of components needed is equal to half the maximum damage of the weapon. (So, a sword that does d8 damage requires 4 mechanical components to build.) Building a new firearm takes a similar number of mechanical components, plus half as many chemical components. (So, a firearm dealing 2d6 damage requires 6 mechanical components and 3 chemical components.) Building a new weapon requires twice as many hours as the weapon’s damage die. (So, 4d6 hours of work for a 2d6 damage firearm.)

Building Explosives: An explosive requires half as many chemical components as its damage dice, plus 1 mechanical component per die. (So, a Molotov cocktail inflicting 1d6 damage requires 3 chemical components and 1 mechanical component, while a 3d6 damage grenade requires 9 chemical components and 3 mechanical components.)

Generators: A survivor enclave’s greatest prize is often its electrical generator. Keeping it active is a daily chore, though. For every 10 survivors in an enclave, a generator requires 1 chemical component per day to keep it running. Keeping the generator in good working order also requires 1 electronic component and 1 mechanical component per week of operation. The generator will not work at all without chemical components. Each week without electrical or mechanical components requires a Repair check at –1 for each missing component type, and a cumulative –1 for each week of jury-rigged operation. A failed check results in an inoperative generator; it can be repaired with tools, a workshop, and 2d6 hours of work, as well as 2d6 electrical components and 2d6 mechanical components.

Tools and Workshops: Repairing an object requires tools, while building a new one requires tools and a workshop. Improvised tools impose a –2 penalty on Repair checks, which is cumulative with a –2 penalty for an improvised workshop.

Weapon Breakage

A common problem in the zombie apocalypse genre is that a hero’s weapons suffer damage with use and need to be repaired or replaced. In this campaign setting, if a hero rolls snake eyes (a critical failure) on an attack roll with a weapon, it becomes damaged (in addition to any other consequences); rolling a 1 on the skill die (regardless of the Wild Die) makes a damaged weapon broken. A damaged weapon suffers –2 on attack rolls with the weapon, while a broken weapon cannot be used effectively until repaired or replaced.

Fixing a damaged weapon requires a Repair roll and 1d6 hours of work, in addition to the components needed (see above). A raise on the Repair roll halves the number of needed components (minimum 1). Fixing a broken weapon doubles amount of time needed for the job and increases the number of necessary components by 1. A survivor can choose to break down a broken weapon for parts rather than repairing it. A successful Repair roll turns a broken weapon into 1 component of the appropriate type.

More to come!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Double Helping of BRAINS

Hey! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in the blogosphere. Now that I'm back from my short vacation, here are some more rules and things to get you through the zombie apocalypse.


Heroes in zombie apocalypse stories are largely motivated by the need to replenish their supplies and stay one step ahead of the walking dead. Because of this, heroes are required to keep careful track of food, medicine, repair parts, and ammunition; to keep the hassle to a minimum, all such consumables are broken into abstract units.

Ammunition: While it is important for heroes to keep track of their ammo, the process of holding on to it is abstracted for a Dead Reign campaign. Ammunition is found in “units”; one unit of ammo is equal to 10 small bullets, 5 medium bullets, or 1 large bullet, decided by the survivor when he receives the ammo unit. The GM can instead give specific kinds of ammunition to heroes, but when found as units, the player characters get to choose.

Components: Weapons and gear break down all the time, but under normal conditions a character could just go to the store and buy parts or even a new gadget. In the harsh landscape of the zombie apocalypse, such objects are few and far between. Repair components are needed for every use of the Repair skill, such as fixing a damaged or broken weapon, building a new weapon out of spare parts, or cobbling together a useful item. Components are divided up into mechanical components, electronic components, and chemical components. See the scavenging rules for more about what a survivor can do with various kinds of components.

Food: Each character consumes 1 unit of food per day to operate as normal. A survivor can go on short rations, requiring only half a unit of food each day. A character on short rations must make a Vigor roll each day. Failure means the character gains a Fatigue level. Not eating at all forces a character to make a Vigor roll at –2 for every 12 hours without food after the first day (see the core book rules on Hunger). Survival rolls made to find food and water require a card draw (see below, under Scavenging).

Medicine: Each use of the Healing skill requires 1 unit of medicine. Not using any medicine units imposes a –2 penalty on the Healing roll. A character that is undergoing natural healing also uses 1 unit of medicine each week while recovering. Not being given any medicine during this time imposes a –2 penalty on the natural healing roll. Being given 2 units of medicine counts as +1 medical attention, while 3 units counts as +2 medical attention.

Now I know what you're thinking. Units? Consumables? How do I get some of those? Well, in the next installment I'll give you the skinny on scavenging through the ruins of the post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Black Bottom Hollow

I'm taking another brief break from RPG work to promote my first novel, Black Bottom Hollow! It's being funded through Kickstarter. Stop by the site, take a look at the project, and maybe throw a couple of bucks my way. At the very least, I'd appreciate it if my few blog followers would spread the word through your own blogs, Facebook, and what have you. Thanks for any help you can give!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


To continue with the previous post's theme, here are some zombie stats! The common zombie is a little changed from the core rulebook one, and some of the others are based on the stats I did for my adventure "Playground of the Damned." A few you might recognize from some popular four-player zombie video games of late. Are there any more that you would like to see come your way?

Zombie, Common
Sometimes called “shamblers” or “walkers,” these are the most typical undead fiends encountered by survivors. They hunger for the flesh of the living, but they aren’t particularly quick. The greatest advantage possessed by the living over these relentless monsters is their base stupidity—common zombies are less intelligent than animals and are easily distracted.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d4 (A), Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d4, Shooting d4
Pace: 4; Parry: 4; Toughness: 7

Special Abilities:
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Slam: Str.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.

Variant—Smart Zombie: Even zombies that have retained some basic cognition aren’t very bright—but they’re bright enough to open doors, go around barricades, and use simple tools. A few even seem to be able to understand simple words, though not to speak. A smart zombie has Smarts d4 and Shooting d4.

Zombie, Quick
No one knows why some zombies reanimate with greater speed and agility than others. Such creatures are far more lethal than their slow cousins, especially considering that it is virtually impossible to tell them apart before they start running. They also demonstrate some greater amount of cunning, roughly equal to that of a smart dog.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6 (A), Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d4, Shooting d4
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 7

Special Abilities:
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Slam: Str.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.

Variant—Fast Zombie: Some zombies aren’t just quick—they’re downright fast. These zombies have a running die of d10 and discard initiative cards of 5 or lower.

Zombie, Child
Children succumbed to the zombie plague in droves in its early days when it was airborne, though few children survive an attack intact enough to rise again. Those that do are a source of terrible despair to survivors.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4 (A), Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d4
Pace: 4; Parry: 4; Toughness: 6

Special Abilities:
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Size –1: Child zombies are smaller than common zombies.
• Slam: Str.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.

Zombie, Tough
Sometimes called “thugs” or “heavies” by survivors, these zombies have experienced a dramatic increase in muscle density from the zombie plague. They experience a sudden upswing in body mass and often literally rip their clothes from the size increase. Just as slow as common zombies, they seem to have a far more vicious demeanor. Survivors have reported behavior from these creatures that might be considered vindictive or even vengeful.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4 (A), Spirit d4, Strength d10, Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d4
Pace: 4; Parry: 6; Toughness: 9

Special Abilities:
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Powerful Blows: A tough zombie’s attacks are so strong that a survivor is likely to be knocked off his feet by them. After being Shaken or Wounded by a tough zombie’s slam attack, a survivor must attempt a Strength check or be knocked prone.
• Size +1: Tough zombies are somewhat larger than common zombies, roughly on the upper end of human normal.
• Slam: Str.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.

Zombie, Belcher
These hideous monstrosities are so mutated and deformed that they barely look human anymore. Some are horribly bloated, while others have distended or entirely missing lower jaws. These adaptations serve to allow the zombie to project its stomach juices—a vile combination of decomposed tissue, strong acids, and flesh-eating bacteria—long distances at their prey. Survivors sometimes call these wretches “spitters” or “pukers.”

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6 (A), Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Shooting d6
Pace: 5; Parry: 5; Toughness: 8

Special Abilities:
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Slam: Str.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Vomit: Belchers have a special ability to project a stream of vomit at their targets. This stinking, caustic fluid clings to human flesh and burns like acid. This acts as a Shooting attack with a range of 5/10/15. On a successful hit, the vomit deals 2d6 damage. After using this attack, a belcher makes a Vigor check at the beginning of its turn; until it succeeds, it cannot use this attack again. A creature that suffers any damage from a vomit attack grants zombies a +2 to Notice checks made against him until he spends an hour cleaning off.
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.
Variant—Mighty Belcher: Some belchers put out truly copious amounts of vomit. Instead of a single-target Shooting attack, such variant belchers emit a Cone Template of vomit. Creatures in the cone must attempt an Agility roll to avoid the damage.

Variant—Exploding Belcher: A few rare belchers are so swollen with the vomit they hold that they literally burst like a tick upon being killed. These belchers gain a +2 bonus to Vigor checks made to recover their vomit ability, as well as +1 Toughness and –1 Pace from their obesity. When an exploding belcher is killed, anyone adjacent to it suffers 2d6 damage; anyone further away than that but within a Medium Burst Template can attempt an Agility roll to avoid the damage.

Zombie, Fury (Wild Card)
Resembling gaunt men or women dressed in the rags of their former clothes, these viciously clawed zombies are another form of horrible mutation brought on by the zombie plague. Unlike common zombies, who emit a low moan when attacking prey, these zombies actually shriek loudly enough to be heard nearly a mile off. Their sudden attack often catches survivors completely off-guard—to their sorrow. The one advantage survivors have against furies is that they’re not very attentive; they often totally ignore the living unless someone walks right on top of them.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6 (A), Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Stealth d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 8

Special Abilities:
• Claws: Str+d4. Furies do not bite on a raise, so they do not risk transmitting zombie plague.
• Fear: When a fury attacks, those witnessing the brutality of the attack must make Fear checks.
• Fearless: Zombies are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
• Frenzy: A fury can attack twice with its claws in one round.
• Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage (except to the head).
• Weakness (Head): Called shots to a zombie’s head are +2 damage.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse

As some of you might know, I'm a big fan of zombies. It's one of the reasons I enjoy Savage Worlds so much--how could I not like a game whose examples of play inevitably include zombies? I've been playing a lot of Dead Island lately, and celebrating the premiere of the new season of The Walking Dead.

Because of that, I went and picked up War of the Dead, a fairly good adventure path style campaign set from Daring Entertainment. While I would recommend the adventures for people interested in running a zombie campaign, I find the infection rules a little harsh. Yes, I agree that genre emulation calls for a fairly lethal zombie plague, but fun is a higher concern than genre emulation--and seeing at least one PC die every fight isn't all that fun.

Since a lot of video games now posit the idea of player characters as immune to the zombie plague, here's some setting rules and material for a Savage Worlds zombie campaign to back that up.

Setting Rule:
Zombie Plague

All zombies, unless otherwise noted, are infectious. The disease commonly called zombie plague is blood-borne, spread through direct blood contact with a zombie. Just getting splashed with a zombie’s blood isn’t enough to spread the disease to wild card characters (usually), but since a zombie’s saliva has been replaced by blood, getting bitten is a surefire way to catch this terrible plague.

Most zombies attack with a slam--simply bashing their prey with fists and flailing limbs. With a raise on a slam attack, the zombie does not get the usual damage bonus; instead, the zombie has bitten a hero rather than bashed him. With two raises, the zombie gets both the bite and the +1d6 damage for a raise. If a character suffers a Wound from a bite attack, the character must make a Vigor roll at –2. On a failed roll, the character has become Infected.

Once a character becomes infected from a zombie bite, the rate of death and transformation depends on the seriousness of the wound. In Savage Worlds, this is indicated by the number of wounds the character received during the attack that made him Infected.

One Wound: If the character only received a single wound, the bite isn’t usually deep. The character begins to suffer from the infection after 2d10 days.

Two Wounds: When a character receives 2 wounds from a zombie’s bite, the injury is usually enough that the virus has entered the bloodstream directly. The character begins to suffer from the infection after 2d6 hours.

Three Wounds: If a character receives at least 3 wounds from a single bite, the depth of the wound pours infected blood into the character's body at a prodigious rate. The character begins to suffer from the infection after 1d6 minutes.

Once the infection begins to affect him, the hero gains a level of Fatigue as the fever starts. This Fatigue does not go away from the character resting. Every day, hour, or minute (depending on the severity above), the character must attempt a Vigor roll to avoid gaining a new level of Fatigue. When a character infected with zombie plague dies, he rises again as one of the undead in 1d6 minutes (unless the head is destroyed before then).

New Edges

Boom! Headshot! [Combat Edge]
Seasoned, Agility d8+, Fighting d8+ or Shooting d8+
When your character makes a called shot against a zombie’s head, you only suffer –2 to the roll rather than –4. When your character takes this Edge, it applies only to the combat skill used to qualify for it (Fighting or Shooting). If the character has (or later gains) d8+ in the other skill, it applies equally to that skill as well.

Immune Survivor [Background Edge]
Novice, Vigor d6+
For whatever reason, a few rare people are naturally immune to zombie plague. Your character has already gone through his first exposure to the dreaded disease and come out the other side unscathed. The hero suffers no special effect from a zombie’s bite (other than taking damage, of course).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Setting Rules

...and we're back again!

I want to take a minute to talk about Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition, which just came out at GenCon. It's a full-sized, hardcover update to the Explorer's Edition rules, and it's entirely worth the time of anyone who like SW. While I'm glad that the EE-sized digest book is coming back (and I'll probably pick up a couple of them for my table when they go back to that size), I'm equally glad that I went ahead and picked up the new "core" in this really posh version. Not just because it's pretty as all get out, but because the new stuff in it are things that are entirely useful to me right now, as a designer and as a GM.

The one that stands out to me the most at the moment is the idea of "setting rules." Most every Savage Worlds GM has had to do this at one time or another, and pretty much every iteration of the game has encouraged it. The innovation with SWDE is that it puts it on paper, which helps certain kinds of GMs think "outside the box" when it comes to setting design, as well as offers a number of very useful variants for different kinds of games. The Guts skill is now a setting rule, for example; the default rules have fear effects target Spirit, while settings that are more focused on horror and terror can use the Guts skill to represent adventurers "hardening their hearts" against fear.

When I ran the TORG setting using the Savage Worlds rules a few years back, I noticed how easily modified the core rules set was to allow extra things to be stuck on the framework, that wouldn't interfere with the core rules at all. Each Realm had its own "world laws" that defined how heroes and villains interacted there. The inclusion of "setting rules" as a default, defined part of the system makes running things like TORG even easier.

That got me to thinking about running cross-world type games, the sort that I've always enjoyed, like Rifts, TORG, and Suzerain. The idea of setting rules allows a GM to make a quick note about each world or dimension or realm or whatever, and use that to create a sense of verisimilitude--not "realism," but a feeling of reality. It's a clever rules shorthand to allow a GM to say "things are different here" without altering the basic way that characters interact with the rules.

For my Mario-inspired setting, "Heroes of the Mandragora Kingdom," one of the major setting rules involves the ability of characters to jump enormous distances. At the time, I was just making a joke about Mario's ability to jump five or six times his own height, but it occurred to me that it's also a good setting rule for any wuxia-inspired campaign, or for one that relies heavily on anime tropes.

Great Leaping [Setting Rule]
Maybe gravity is less in this setting, or maybe heroes are just really good at ignoring it. Whatever the reason, a Wild Card can jump 1” horizontally from a dead stop, or up to 2” with a running. A successful Strength roll grants an additional 1” of distance per success and raise.

When sitting down to run a campaign, I think a GM should always ask himself what rules modifications he can make to turn the rules into something that support the playstyle of the setting. Savage Worlds makes this particularly easy, and the setting rules concept codifies it in such a way that it becomes apparent.