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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Savage Worlds Gambling tweak

Sure, the gambling rules in Savage Worlds work, and they work pretty well, but there isn't an elimination factor except for actually tracking money, and when you run out, you're out.  I set out to abstractly simulate a Texas Hold 'em style elimination tournament, and I think these rules would work for most any poker game, and maybe even other gambling types. I haven't really run its paces for other games like blackjack or Pai Gow.  I had a specific scenario I wanted to play out; the gambling rules didn't quite cut it.  These rules are  inspired by the chase rules and the dramatic task rules and with the use of the cards.  I had posted this on the Pinnacle forums at one point, but I've made some changes since then.


I used this in a game where only one PC had gambling or was interested in gambling, and I had set up a situation where he was in a game to attain a particular item.  Using the idea of players running NPCs, I created some other NPC gamblers and had all the players gambling, but with NPCs - and extras at that.  I merely facilitated and everyone got to play.  This was a huge success because in a lot of roleplaying situations, only one character cares about gambling (typically, maybe you'll have a cheating duo), and if he wants to ply his trade, everyone else is bored, or the GM has him make a few rolls for the night of gambling, and everyone moves on.  Every player gets in on the fun.  The gambling character was trying to win a specific item by winning the tournament.  What was interesting was the fact that all the players wanted the PC to win, but played their NPC true to form rather than manipulating them to let the PC win.

On to the rules, already, jeez!!


  • Each round simulates a few hands of poker, not a specific number of hands or even time period.
  • Each round is resolved with a SINGLE card, determined like Savage Worlds initiative rules.  Except for the Joker - see below.  If you are holding the Ace of Spades, you know you are going to win. The point of getting additional cards is to get more chances to win.
  • When a Joker is dealt out, it is immediately revealed and 2 cards replace it.  It does not give the gambler any bonuses to rolls.  It also causes a reshuffle of the deck.
  • Obtain more cards by rolling gambling checks and vs. rolls with Persuasion and / or Intimidation.  If no one opts to roll against you for Persuasion and / or Intimidation, the Target Number (TN) is 4.
  • Clubs are complications; if you do not win, you are out. If you are knocked out, the player who won that round gets your chips. This simulates an ‘all in’ move.
Anything in italics are my comments, views and / or opinions based on playing this out a few times.

Detailed Breakdown:

First off, deal everyone playing a card.  Players should look at it, but keep it hidden. This card is critical... If you have a high card like an Ace or a King, you may not want to cheat.
  • Decide if you're going to cheat or not cheat; this is open knowledge to the players. This is Out Of Character Knowledge; players may not react to it.  Using two colors of hidden stones may be a good idea - one red and one green, everyone puts one in their hand - red indicates cheating - and reveals at the same time.  This may reduce the "ah, hell, if everyone else is cheating, I might as well" behavior.
  • Each player rolls on the gambling skill.  A success and each raise earns another card.  If you roll a 1 on your skill die and you are cheating, you are caught.  Best situation is that you will be kicked out of the game forfeiting all monies; worst situation, well, we'll leave that up to your GM.
  • Persuade and / or Intimidate. One character (per skill) can choose to use their people skills to gain an advantage.  Initiate either one of these skills with a roll at -2 (everyone expects some table talk.) Roll the intended skill; then anyone can choose to counter you with an opposed check. If you hit with a raise (4 over the highest other player), you get another card; no additional cards are dealt for extra raises. Or if no one chooses to counter you and you get a standard success (TN 4), you get a card. A maximum of 2 additional cards (1 for persuasion, 1 for intimidate) can be dealt out per round. If a character doesn’t have the skills to counter the roll, then Persuasion is countered with Smarts -2, and Intimidation uses Spirit -2. This simulates Table Talk, Chip Stacks, Lucky Hands, etc.
  • Reveal cards.  Highest card wins. Ties are broken in reverse alpha order (SHDC). Ace of Spades is the highest card, 2 of Clubs is the lowest. Winner receives a chip.  Clubs are complications; if you do not win, you are eliminated. When you are knocked out, the player who knocks you out gets your chips. This simulates an ‘all in’ move.

Additional card rules:

  • Jokers are immediately shown face up; that player gets 2 additional cards: 1 as a bonus, 1 to replace the Joker.
  • Play a predetermined number of rounds or number of chips. The most chips after the number of rounds, or the first to a number of chips, will show the winner. (5 rounds or 3 chips is my suggestion.) If it is an elimination tournament, play until one player is left with chips after a minimum number of rounds (again, 5 is recommended). This could mean that if at the end of 5 rounds of an elimination tournament, one player has 5 chips, he would win. Or if only two players had chips, and one chances with a high club, the other player eliminates them and wins the tournament. Players with no chips can be assumed to have been eliminated through standard chip erosion. 
You can use the standard SW gambling payout using this system, although it's a little cumbersome for that. First have everyone agree on the stakes, depending on your monetary system, you could use as the "win", $10, 6 gold coins, 40 credits, etc. The lowest card pays the highest card the difference times the stake. The next lowest pays the second highest the difference times the stake, and so on. If there’s an odd man left in the middle, he breaks even. This simulates a per-hand case.


Bob and Lucy are gambling PCs in a tournament; the GM has either specific opponents (could be extras or wild cards) or generic ones. Depending on the situation, the other gamblers could just be straight up d6 average people, or each one could have customized gambling, Persuasion and / or Intimidation skills. I would recommend not giving an NPC both Persuasion and Intimidation. The game is going to be a 3 round minimum elimination tournament. The NPCs in play are Chuck and Penny, both with a Gambling of d8, Chuck with Intimidation of d6 and Penny with Persuasion at d8. Bob has Gambling at d10 with Intimidation at d6, and Lucy Gambling at d4 and Persuasion at d6 (+4 for both attractive edges).

Example of play:

Deal cards:
Bob Red Joker Lucy 10S Chuck 4D Penny 8H - Bob immediately shows the Joker and he gets 2 replacement cards: 10C and 2C.
Bob has received only club cards, so he's going to cheat. Lucy is not going to chance it. Chuck has a low card, so he's going to cheat. Penny also decides to cheat.
Gambling rolls:
Bob (+2 for cheating) rolls a 4 and a 3 on his wild die, with a +2, so 6 is his best result. This earns him one more card - 5D. Lucy rolls a 6 and a 10 with both her skill and wild die acing. The 10 earns her 2 cards; 7S and 4C.Chuck (+2 for cheating) rolls a 5, plus two is 7, earning one card: KC. Penny (+2 for cheating) rolls a 2, for a total of 4 which earns one card, an AH.
Persuasion / Intimidation phase:
Bob still doesn't like his cards, and decides to Intimidate (-2 for initiating it) and rolls a best result of a 0. Lucy doesn't roll. Chuck rolls a 3. Penny doesn't roll. Because of Bob's total of 0, and Chuck's roll of 3, no one earns a card for Intimidation because there is no 4 or greater difference.
Lucy decides to Talk Up the table with Persuasion (-2 for initiating) and gets a best result of 6. Bob doesn't roll. Chuck doesn't roll. Penny decides to try to outsmart Lucy and rolls a 15! This earns Penny a card for Persuasion: 3D.
Card Choices
Bob decides the 10C isn't good enough to win and a Club would eliminate him, so he opts to show the 5D. Lucy 10S. Chuck thinks the KC is good enough to win, so he takes a chance with it. Penny shows the AH.
Bob goes on to the next round. Lucy also goes on to the next round. Chuck is eliminated due to the King of Clubs; he made a tough choice and is out. Penny wins the round and a chip.

This abstractly shows several hands of poker where at the end of the round of gambling, Penny is obviously doing well, Chuck played poorly (and was out pretty early in the night), whereas Bob and Lucy are playing competently holding their own.

Hellfrost mini-campaign

Hellfrost Mini-Campaign - To Karad Kahn

More reports from my monthly game at Red Castle Games.  After a few one-shots, I decided to start a mini-campaign for the HellFrost setting from Triple Ace Games.

Inspiration / Rune Magic

What inspired me originally was when I was looking through the Player's Guide when I first got the Hellfrost books.  I was reading, to learn and plan some possible character concepts, when I ran across Rune Magic.  I had already planned to make an Elementalist and when re-reading the magic section, I took another look at Rune Magic.  I decided that to make a Magic User who relied purely on Rune Magic would spin into advancement tedium as each Rune requires its own skill to advance.

Additionally, each Rune only provides 3 specific spells, and some of them (Boost/Lower Trait) are very limited to the Rune type.  So I tucked that into the back of my mind and focused instead on my Elementalist for our pending game.  Afterwards, I would look at Rune Magic, Frost Dwarves and explore some more ideas.

Eventually, I went back to read up the Rune Magic again. I thought it would be pretty neat to make a party of all Frost Dwarves, each with their own Rune to cast magic. (If you pair the Rune with your Profession, you get a boon to your skill set with some points put into the magic of the Rune.)  I made 8 Dwarves, each with a unique Rune that was coupled with his skill set.  For example, I gave the leader the Communication Rune, the archer the Arrow Rune, the Thief the Stealth Rune, Fighters got the Cut Rune and the Battle Runes, etc.  I did 2 non-Rune Magic users: a Skald (Hellfrost's Bard) and a Cleric.  Even though there was a Healing Rune, I wanted a full Cleric.

Now that I had a party, I needed them to do something. I started reading the Gazetteer about Dwarves and their cities and found an interesting snippet: The capital city of Karad Kahn has not been heard from since before the "Ice Rise" (515 years or so) - the event that ended the Blizzard War.  Also during the Blizzard War, another city, Karad Dahn, was found collapsed, with all the population under it.  To this day, there are a few hundred Dwarves posted there to keep out any would-be looters.  I figured that the party may be doing some of their own looting, calling it artifact retrieval or something, and one of my party found an interesting item: a book, the journal of the ruler of Karad Dahn from 500 years ago. Reading this journal, the Dwarf thinks that whatever happened here 500 years ago might have happened to Karad Kahn.  He gathers a few of his stout friends and travels to Karad Zor to do some research and maybe get some support for reclaiming Karad Kahn.

The Campaign

Starting off with 10XP Frost Dwarves, I got them on the road, into a traveling adventure, one that took them a little out of their way, but earned them some XP.  It was 'The Vermin Lord' adventure for which I had a beautifully hand drawn map (made by my own partner Meran niCuill). I had short-cut a bunch of adventure hooks and basically threw them into the adventure with rat swarms and a local food shortage.  They were hooked in the middle of the written adventure by a dead messenger whose message they felt responsible for delivery. This led them to a town overrun with rats and then into an abandoned temple there.  Inside, were two major bad guys, the Rat King and Gautrek, the Pestilence Lord. Walking into an ambush, they fought valiantly to overcome the odds. Gautrek ended up escaping.

With that experience under their belts, [XP!] the Frost Dwarves made Seasoned rank. A few random encounters later, they found themselves at Karad Zor, the Dwarven city located halfway from Karad Dahn to Karad Kahn.  Here they took advantage of the library, researched items from the journal, and read up on several Hellfrost beasts, hoping to gain an advantage in any fight they might have against these forces that the journal hinted at.  Other notes in the journal led them to believe that Karad Kahn and Karad Dahn were attacked in a similar manner - from underground.

As things were made clearer, the ground started shaking and a hole opened up with a massive Bore Worm breaching through the library of Karad Zor.  The heroes sprang into action, attempting to stop the initial force.  This was a pretty major battle which, again, the Dwarves managed to overcome.  After the battle, a few scouts were sent into the tunnels, only to return with news of an advancing underground army of Worms.  They had little time to prepare for a siege, but with some good ideas for planning, the battle began.

I used the Savage Worlds Mass Combat rules for this. The population of the Dwarven City was greatly outnumbered, but they had the home turf advantage.  I actually ran the rules incorrectly, but the outcome ended up with both armies being decimated, with the Dwarves managing to survive the slaughter, leaving mostly women and children in Karad Zor.  In the aftermath, because most Dwarves lived in Karad Zor, we calculated that this attack killed about 50% of the Dwarves on the continent, a very heavy price. A supplemental army was recalled from abroad, so the players chose to press the attack to try to retake Karad Kahn. I gave them a choice to go with another mass battle or to go a different route - attempt to get into Karad Kahn using the army as a distraction to face the Paladin of Thurm and the mighty Hellfrost Dragon that had taken over Karad Kahn.  They opted to go into the single combat with the Paladin and the Dragon.  With a few extras in there, the battle was actually pretty short, with the Dwarves taking minor damage, one incapacitated and a few wounds all around.


I originally planned the Dwarves to continue to Karad Kahn in an overland route, but since this was a monthly game, I had already spent 6 months getting to Karad Zor, and felt it was time to move on. I moved the battle to Karad Zor instead.  There would have been a lot of interesting in-game persuasion to get Karad Zor to put up an army to make a siege of Karad Kahn, and the overland travel would have been mostly short cut since a traveling army wouldn't really run into any random encounters.  I really wanted to end the campaign, but not just stop it cold with no ending.  After all is said and done, I am happy with the results.

Some observations on running a monthly game at a game store:

  • I get a lot of player variety. I get folks who only show up for one session to learn the system, some are curious about the big map I have laying on the table, and some repeats showing up almost every month.  A campaign doesn't fit this model as I am continually re-capping the previous sessions to players who have zero background in the plot.

  • Due to time constraints on players and having new players, I have to extend my adventures.  Adventures that I think will wrap up in one night, typically take two.  This is usually because of new players and generally the pace of the game is a slower than when playing with a set of knowledgeable  players.

  • On the plus side, I think I have introduced quite a few people to the Savage Worlds system and I know that several people have bought the rulebook and maybe a Companion or two.