|Dolmon Varg the Human/Wolf Splicer Hybrid leaps over a rusted hulk to dispatch a bounty hunter in power armor and packing a laser rifle in the streets of Denev Ar, the ruins of Denver, CO. (click for larger view)|
The adventures of Phoenix Road have continued at our Sunday afternoon gaming meet up for a few months now with only two missed sessions and it has been quite a fun game as well as a great learning experience and a re-charging.
I have been learning the Savage Worlds system and still really love it for the most part, though I am not in love with the combat system. It is a little hard to manage when calculating wounds where any sizeable number of PC combatants is involved. Still, it is very playable and there are some really good other things in the system for quick, cinematic resolutions.
I love the car chase system, which we got to use this weekend as the PC's piloted a pre-war armored scout car through the rubble and tried to burn tread when a giant psionic komodo lizard leaped up on top of an overturned schoolbus and tried to make them lunch. Two characters were riding on top and had to make agility checks even as the driver made driving skill checks--at penalty due to the rubble piles-as the creature bounded after them.
The GM basically surveys all factors related to the chase and declares a number of rounds that the chase would take to resolve. Initiatives for attack and counter attack are drawn by card suite while the driver is assumed to be trying to ditch. A failed driving check results in a roll on a table of possible driving mishaps, ranging from a simple slide or shift to flips or rollovers.
I realized the scout car would be able to leave the dragon in the dust in a simple test of speed but also took into account that the party had been at a slow cruise when the thing appeared above them on the bus and that the streets were very cluttered with debris. So I ruled that it would take two rounds to ditch the beast as they gunned it and tried to negotiate the debris and gain enough speed to leave it behind, giving the creature enough time to have a chance at getting at the top riders. They drew for initiative as a group (one card) this time because they were all in or on the car and I drew for the beastie.
The chase ended in one round, however, because while the driver made a good driving check, our David Bowie Android character, Andy the Androgynous Android who was created by a Vampire billionaire with a liking for Ziggy Stardust, failed his agility check and toppled off into the dragon's path. His friends would not leave him so they hit the brakes and decided to slug it out.
Anyway, I like this simplicity and flexibility--as a GM you just kind of picture it in your head like a movie and go from there. A very kind system in that respect, Savage Worlds!
BTW, the encounter just described is not the one pictured. You would laugh to hard at the mini we used for the komodo which was a childs rubber finger puppet of a goofy looking dragon--I seriously need to get some minis. The pictures here are from their journey from Bronco stadium to meet an NPC they've heard about but enroute they met up with some militia men from a warlord's settlement where they had been forced to double cross the chieftain since he was somewhat a cross between the original human Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars out-take and Gary Oldman's character in the Book of Eli--a greedy and manipulative corpulent fellow named only The Gooch. The Gooch had been thrilled to find tech on the characters and hear about "a magic cave"--the Stasis Vault--where other goodies could be found.
The Gooch even had the PC's solve a couple problems in Boar's Town for him, and he thought it was a promising relationship--but when he sent a militia party with them to breach the Vault, well, they couldn't let that happen so after misleading the Boar's Town militants in the snowy woods they rigged a diversion (The Tale of the Planted Renunciate Holy Symbol which I shall have to tell later) and initiated a firefight and sword fest that ended in bloody snow and mostly dead militants.
They had a brief sojourn in Utah but after hitting Denev Ar, they ran into the Gooch's men, now with a sizeable price upon their heads. And to top it all off, someone--an alien faction called the Jennerak, is now supplying the Gooch with pretty toys like lasers and power armor... so the battle shown had to go down to deter their capture and they now have it in for the Gooch, too.
I have tried to make Phoenix Road a true sandbox campaign--it doesn't get much more Sandbox than taking a map of the US and indeed the world and saying, go wherever you want. In Fallout fashion, I gave one of the Vault survivors a central role in the High Plot but peppered my world with numerous NPC's and factions that left so many hooks and directions that some players found little direction or purpose for their characters after creating their initial backgrounds and finding little way to connect with those elements.
In my effort to make the world seem real and big and filled with numerous possibilities I let it get quite away. There is an alien faction, warring vampire clans, a crazed religious cult, secret government projects, a vast A.I. with dubious aims and too much tech at it's disposal to let anyone feel truly safe, a monkey cult that worships the Statue of Liberty, scheming warlords and chieftains--a veritable orgy of late night B Movie horror, sci fi and Mad Max films, Fallout, After the Bomb, and Alas, Babylon and Kamandi comics!
I learned from my mistake. All these elements are fine to include in the campaign, and everyone has enjoyed them--especially learning that a Denver horse cult they heard about from an Estes Park Warlord turned out to be a tribe of deer skin clad natives who have turned Bronco Stadium into a fortress and are using the seats as garden terraces while venerating the bronco statue in front of the stadium. The monkey cult from New York, or, the Shattered Coast as it is known, had rosaries made from Lady Liberty figurines and actually succeeded in making a convert of my wife's character, a bear/human splicer hybrid! The players took it right out of my hands by asking them if there was a great metal plaque on the statue and after the simians acknowledged that there was, a player awed them by writing the words of the plaque in the dirt and explaining the meaning to them, which awed them in several respects. They left rosary neclaces with the party, begged them to come to the sacred island, and departed to share these revelations with their cult! I was thrilled at the encounter, I hadn't planned it that way at all, but it evoked one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, the Omega Glory!
But it was too much, to many, too fast--my players needed to feel some continuity in their background elements. So I have slowed it down and without pushing them anywhere, I am trying to solidify a few paths so they can get some things wrapped up or nearly wrapped up before starting new projects or goals.
So now, I'm trying to put all that on simmer and let them resolve some things. In the very first game, the Renunciation monks tried to flay the Splicer PC's but they escaped through a rescue by the Vault dwellers--but this left them thirsting for the blood of a Renunciate priest who got away but whose scent the Splicers know. But as will happen when a DM gets busy and other characters come on the scene, some slip through the cracks and are forgotten. It dawned on me though, that in this tale, that wicked priest really needs to die!
Well, it is nearly 12 sessions later, but that did not deter me--having entered the ruins of Denev Ar, they have heard a rumor that some strange presence is in the Cathedral ruins--and guess who that is going to be? Yep, this was, it turns out, the staging base from which the Renunciation warriors and priest first set out from to trouble the Estes Park region. Did I plan it that way from the beginning? Nope. But I know that they are going to relish finally getting their paws (literal paws, that is) on the fanatic who wanted to expurgate them as demons by way of the Ritual of Thirty Knives...
So it has been a blast for all, myself included. They get some great roleplaying going with the Edges and Hindrances built into the SW rules and sometimes you just let it go and have a good laugh. Most of the time, actually!
At present, they are actually doing a "dungeon-crawl" in some abandoned labs underground where Project Myrmidon was going on--the very genetic experiments that led to the hybrid races. This is pure Fallout here--they did battle with some flying Mega-Roaches at conclusion of last game and I am actually taking schematics of vaults from the Fallout video game guide and keying them like a dungeon. They have been sent by a pre-war scientist (a government vault stasis survivor) to retrieve a functioning reactor core which he intends to take to a distant installation where a mysterious A.I. is requesting repairs to its operating system so that it can rebuild the broken world...but they have their doubts.
That last bit about the A.I. is from the Savage Worlds Campaign Setting Broken Earth. I will be writing a review of this book soon- I love it. It has been an invaluable resource to me for Phoenix Road--even though the War is a fresh memory to people in the Broken Earth setting and my setting is 300 years after the 2027 War that ended civilization as we know it. It has tons of plot hooks, detailed adventures and encounters, stats for post apocalyptic world denizens such as robots, freaks, raiders, etc.--it is an entire campaign in a book and since the Savage World Core Rules can only offer a few specifically post apoc characters and monsters, it has saved me a ton of work. If I had this book before I began my homebrew, I probably would have run it as written with very few changes. As it is, I can still salvage a number of scenarios and characters from the book. Broken Earth is also published as a Pathfinder book, but no offense to anyone, I do not care for Pathfinder personally.
Anyway, I share these things with GM's and invite sandbox advice and hope ideas can be gleaned from eachother.
Quick note on the model, it is a quickie. Two coats of paint, a couple toy cars from the thrift store painted rust red and not attached so I can use them anywhere. My group is forgiving enough that I can probably get away with re-using the same city block as a generic street over again when the need arises. I do plan to epoxy it after getting realistic paint on it, hiding the foam edges by filling them in with paintable glue, and adding pine trees, brush and maybe snow.
Bring on the End of the world, we are ready!