The Savage Worlds RPG bills itself as “Fast, Furious, Fun” and mostly fulfills this promise. But when you (okay, when I) start tinkering with new systems for the game, it’s easy to get caught up in clever mechanical ideas that work but aren’t sufficiently fast, furious, or fun in actual play.
I ran into this when I ran my Ghost Punchers RPG at Tacticon earlier this year. Specifically, the idea that ghosts’ powers are fueled by Essence, which they gain by draining life force from humans, failed the “3F” test. It was just too much bookkeeping. At one point, I had a dozen ghosts on the table; there was no way I was going to track Essence for each of them. So I ended up ignoring Essence altogether.
RPG design pro-tip: No matter how elegant a rule looks on paper, if you end up ignoring it in actual play, that sucker needs work.
Now, I still really like how Essence works in the storyworld of Ghost Punchers. But as an aspect of the RPG, it needs to be simpler and more abstract. The main way I’m doing that is by getting rid of ghosts’ Essence pool.
Ghosts in the game now either have an Essence or they don’t. This is easy to track at the table via tokens, the same way as we track whether or not a character is Shaken. If a ghost has an Essence, it has a token. When it spends the Essence, it loses the token.
This changes ghost abilities a little bit:
- Spiritual: As creatures of spirit, ghosts can pass through solid objects and can’t be harmed by physical attacks. However, this means they can’t affect physical objects (or people) unless they make a Spirit roll or spend 1 Essence to do so. When a ghost spends an Essence to cross over to the physical world, it remains physical until it chooses to cross back on its turn. Ghost are also invisible unless they allow themselves to be seen.
- Essence Burn: When making a trait roll, a ghost may spend a point of Essence to roll an additional 1d6. (This is similar to, but not the same as, a Wild Die.)*
- Essence Drain: By winning an opposed Spirit roll against a human in melee range, a ghost gains a point of Essence and the victim takes a point of Fatigue. A ghost that has a point of Essence can’t gain another point, but can still use this ability to inflict points of Fatigue.
(* No, this hasn’t actually changed. But restricting ghosts to one Essence makes it play differently than it did before.)
Of course, if I want a big boss ghost to have a pool of Essence, I still can. I just give it the ability “Essence Pool” which says it starts play with X amount of Essence and can drain up to its pool.
It’s a small change, but should make the game play faster. We’ll see just how much faster when I run it next month at the Thanksgaming charity event.