Anyone who has played the Savage Worlds tabletop RPG knows it is a gorgeous product of D&D drunkenly meeting the Storyteller system and smooshing smooshies. It is designed to be more narrative, while keeping a very nicely scaling core mechanic.
Anyone who has played, knows about the pretty cool way initiative is handled. It uses a deck of 5-suite cards (though four can be used in a pinch - but you REALLY want that 5 suite if you can) to determine turn order.
Somewhat less known is the other things you can do with it. Here's an example with a walkthrough from my last game session of In Leviathan's shadow.
Start scene in media res with the 5 of them running for their lives from a horde of starving gremlins. (Imagine the scaly gremlins from the namesake film, only 4" tall and an appetite for electricity and electrical parts) The Android was out of the room and down the hall before I even asked what the party wanted to do. One of them threw a full powercell into their nest to buy them time to run like hell.
so there is where we start our interactive narrative.
Imagine - if you will - a series of twists, turns, and split-second decisions you would have to make if the devil himself was at your heels.
- Picking directions without being able to see what is coming
- Closed doors with moments to open
- Random obstacles/hazards
- Lucky breaks
In this case, the winding maze like corridors of a long derelict Dreadnought class ship. We begin at the bottom of the arrangement, which represents our opening gambit.
In Savage worlds-think, red suites are good, black suites are bad. The fifth suite - stars - is yellow or blue and represents a neutral outcome. Apologies for the sloppy photoshopping. I'm not an expert and it is enough for you to ken - which is good enough for me.
Round one we begin at the bottom with an inauspicious spade. I decide that means there is a deployed blast door. Not only that, but any checks made this turn suffer a -1 penalty. The android makes a repair check with a raise, so I declare that while unpowered, the manual hydraulic release is functional. He pulls it, and begins spreading the rusty doors apart.
So we started with the android because he was in the lead. Now we roll a pace check to see where everyone is in line. The fastest two can act, but the others are too far behind to do anything but scrabble. If the gremlins pace die comes up a 5-6, they overtake the rearmost player.
Of all people, the evil dwarf makes it there next. He puts his muscles to work assisting the Android - succeeding is spreading the panels 18" The next fastest is the ratling who runs through with a "buh-bye" and runs as far as he can go.
Round two is similarly bad. Neither dwarf or android is able to continue acting, but the Saurian and Cat-girl both manage to ninja their way through the gap. The bad thing? Indecision. The T-intersection the Ratling (deciding due to being in front) leads to two identical corridors as far as he can see. No forward progress this turn.
Round three begins with the Android and the Dwarf acting to open the door enough for the portly dwarf to pass through, then slam it shut behind. They succeed on their rolls and close the door. Bad thing? The horde of gremlins go silent, before flowing up the wall, then dismantling the ceiling vents in seconds!
Round 4 puts the Saurian at the lead, who decides to turn left - which he understands to be toward the outside of the ship. everyone else elects to Naruto-run as fast as they can as well.
Round 5 is a welcome bit of good news! Another Blast Door! This one is even powered! So they run through - and this is where I introduce the newest party member - a 7'10" Cyber-orc female with a Powered pneumatic driver for a left arm. I'll skip the backstory due to it being a little deep and there actually being a perfectly good reason for her being there - you know how it works :p
Round 6 - bad thing is a cyber-orc that is so big she blocks the corridor! She is also so stupid that she doesn't realize it until she get's literally chain-reaction PC-crashed into. It slows them all down, which, in turn, allows the gremlins to catch up. The door is opened and people start hustling inside...
Round 7 - A star. No bonuses OR penalties. So i throw in a plot twist instead. The door opens to a 30' across cylindrical shaft literally burned through the ship. The sides are covered in vines, bushes, and slagged metalcicles. Across the gaping chasm (that goes down a LONG way) they see another powered door with a small section of catwalk in front.
Round 8 - Bad thing is door malfunctions and cannot be closed. Everyone gets through, with the fearsome Orc guarding their rear by tearing one of the door panels off and using it like a swatter. A grappling hook is threaded and fired across to the other side. The Saurian, the Ratling, and the Raksha (walk into a bar...) make it across with finesse and aplomb. The android? Not so much. Left dangling by his hands over the gap, he discovers another skill he needs to brush up on. Finally, the Orc makes her move - sprinting her 400 pounds of mass across the catwalk and hurls herself through the air....making it halfway...and landing 5 decks below. Ouch. That's when she begins berserking and smashing stuff. Unfortunately, the android is in an even more awful spot as he is unable to climb up after she clips the rope on the way down, leaving him dangling on the wrong side of the chasm. Seeing a delicious snack hanging below them, the gremlin horde begins flowing down the chasm wall toward their meal.
Round 9 - Joker pulled. This effectively ends the encounter, as I allow the Ratling (who wins pace check) and the three on the right side of the chasm to devise a plan to rig a full power cell to explode like a grenade. With a +2 bonus to their roll, they succeed and throw it into the horde...the front of the horde...right above the android. While the gremlins are successfully repelled by the intense blast, the android is sent pinwheeling below like a burning angel falling from up on high...ouch.
The game progressed from there, but that was the main sequence we played. It took about 2 hours, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. This system works well because it is very nuanced, but also fairly random and allows a natural ebb-and-flow to the actions taken during an action-packed narrative.
This would work with any RPG game using a formal turn structure. The pace die is a standard D6, but can be modified by edges, feats, or size categories. You can allow standard initiative, but i personally enjoy the narrative effect of only a couple of people in a position to make anything regarding a decision, while the rest just try to keep up. The cards can be customized to be even MORE nuanced by setting a hierarchy of good (heart)/very good (diamond) - bad (club)/very bad (spade) modifications. A variant of this can be applied to build a random dungeon crawl, with diamonds being hallways, hearts being doors, Spades being traps, clubs being encounters, and stars being loot.
Shake your game up. You'll be glad you did.
In other news, ByteMe Games will be running a developers table at the Sacramento Gamers Expo. If you are in the area, stop by and check us out. It's a fun event full of video game and tabletop developers showing their wares. Stop by the square one booth too, I'll be giving spiels all day!