Savage West, Session 1: The Riverboat Poker Heist, Rio Grande Burning

This is part 3 of my Savage Worlds play report for the first session my friend Yan ran for us. Don’t miss part 1 and part 2.

Scene 3: The Rule of C4 to the rescue

So here was Jimmie Joe the Miracle Worker, stuck in jail shortly before the Riverboat and its 100 000$ stash moored off. Fortunately, his friends came to his rescue.

Judge Gloom and Jayne entered the Sheriff’s small office, one of those one room houses with a single jail cell you see in Lucky Luke albums.

Judge Gloom: I’m here to judge this man for the crime’s he’s been accused of.

Jayne: Yeah! He’s like a real judge and everything!

Sheriff: Hmmm, haven’t I seen you before?

(Group: Oh shit!)

Yan: PM’ roll to see if the info about your disbarment made it to this office.

The roll was missed.

Aside: While PM didn’t mention it here. He later commented about how his character’s performance and impact on the game world fell very much shorter than his expectation.  He wanted to be a walking, breathing fear machine but each of the scenes he tried to make it come forward, it fell flat.

His “fear” wasn’t backed by anything more than his background story and we all had trouble finding a meaningful way of working that fear in the story.  His 2 “edges” were fighting-related and I sense that “The Fear” felt too encompassing as a feat to Yan to be resolved with social skills vs established authority figures.

They since worked out an acceptable compromise.

Wouldn’t it be cool if that game’s GM told us a bit more about that in the comments? Hint Hint…

Sheriff: Judge Gloom… Judge Gloom, I recall seeing a letter from the…

PM: I open my bible and mention “And so He said “Let there be Light everlasting for” and I mumble something in badly mangled Mandarin and I take out my Derringer hidden in it.

Phil: What the Fu…

Maze: I draw my gun too!

Phil: Guys!!! I move to grab the cell’s blanket, it’s the only “weapon” I have!

Alex: Dynamite Chang heard the Judge’s signal and whistles the “Get the Chang out of There” code…

Phil: Ahhhh!  Jimmie Joe moves at the opposite side of the Cell!

So much for an orderly rescue.

Chang blew off one of the Jail’s walls with dynamite, Gloom got shot in the face by the quick-drawing Sheriff, Jayne effectively killed the sheriff with one shot.  One of the two deputy missed his shot at Jayne and then got blown up by a dynamite stick thrown by Chang. The other deputy surrendered when I pressed the cold steel of Chang’s Shotgun on the back of his neck.

The fight was done in two rounds. Fast and Furious indeed.

Jimmie Joe spent the next hour trying to save Judge Gloom from death, blowing a few Bennies in the effort (and letting the Sheriff die), lightly berating his friends from needlessly killing people (and spending such precious Dynamite).

The party got on board just in time.

Yan: Wait a minute, what do you do with all your stuff.  Horses, cart?

Phil: Hmmm… Ah yes, we leave them with Jessica.

Yan: Jessica…?

Phil (Fast talking his GM): Awww man, it’s too long a story… Let’s just say that we used to have something her and I, now we don’t…. Things are… complicated.  It’s probably going to be hell getting our stuff back… And I might have forgotten to mention it to my friends but trust me on this.

Yan (Very amused at all those free story hooks): Okay, Sure.

Aside: Yan called this a “Circles check without any stats” making a reference to Burning Wheel mechanic allowing players to create NPCs on the fly. He said it was one of the highlights of the game for him, like being handed a paid in advance NPC in exchange for saying Yes to a low stakes question.

I just love doing things like this.  🙂

Scene 4: Fire in the Hole!

Once on board the ship, we each took our position.  Jayne started playing… and the ultimate irony is that he started winning (Maze’s PC actually has a decent Gambling skill, second only to Chang’s).  Judge was keeping an eye on the ballroom where the tournament was held.  I scouted the ship for the possible location of the stash.  I found a cabin on the boat’s 2nd floor guarded by 2 thugs.

Jimmie Joe: Bingo! I’m going to inform Chang.

Chang: I start a fire in the engine room furthest from the room.

Judge: I try to accuse a player of cheating to create a commotion.

Jayne: Hey you guys, I’m totally winning this thing! Great plan!

(He was… but I wasn’t going to let 100 000$ go to chance huh?)

Jimmie Joe (Running back to the 2 thugs): Quick guys, you have to help us, the engine room just exploded!  We’re going to burn and sink unless we get all the strong guys to pitch in to contain the blaze! (Clatter, Clatter… success).

Yan: Okay, they follow you.

Chang went to the room under the one with the money and placed seven sticks of dynamite to collapse the ceiling.

BOOM! Ceiling falls, no one dies. A safe now rested in the debris…

Yan: How many sticks of dynamite do you have left?

Alex: Hmmm, none…

Phil: Arghhhh! Of course!  I go and grab the Tournament’s organizer in the ballroom’s chaos and subtly push him, at gun point, toward the room with the safe.

Jayne: Wait, I’m winning! What’s happening?

Jimmie Joe: Okay boss, give us the combination to this safe and you live!

Boss: But I don’t have it, the captain does!

Phil: Seriously Yan? Are you trying to get killed here?  I don’t believe the guy! He needs a good intimidate!

Turns out he was screwing with us.  The Boss opened the safe and we stuffed as much money as we could in bags and put jewels in our pockets.  When we all realized we didn’t know how to swim (as envisioned when we started the game), we commandeered a lifeboat at gunpoint (but let a pregnant women on board with us) and made it just as the boat was sinking.

PM: Phil, isin’t Jimmie Joe concerned about all those people who will die on the boa?

Phil: Nah, we have our money now, and they can always swin to the shore.

And thus, with money bills flying everywhere, we rowed to the shore with about 60 000$.

Jayne: Oh man, I was about to win, I had made it to the finals guys.

Jimmie Joe: We know you could Jayne, we know you could. It didn’t turn out like that though…


  1. Very cool game! If Yan has an inkling to do so I would recommend glancing through Deadlands Reloaded for SW. The setting is obviously western and it is darker. There are Edges in there that would give PM a more “fearful” tone to his character.

    I really like the hooks you came up with! Very bad ass.

    I love that Yan used the Circles from Burning Wheel. I really like that mechanic because it really does add depth and narrative control to the players. 🙂

    Great recap you guys!

  2. @Wrath: About the “circle check” actually there was no roll involved I just made reference to it being like the BW mechanic. But the NPC that Phil was handing me was so rich both in the story where it fitted perfectly and in the amount of strings I could use to pull twists. I’d be insane not to accept it. 😉

    @Phil: I’ll come back a little bit later to describes how we solve the expectation discrepancies that PM was experimenting.

  3. @Wrath: It truly was one of the most satisfying Role Playing experiences I’ve had in recent times. The game was fluid and the action and twists kept me heavily invested in the story for the whole length of the game (about 3-4 hours).

    Yeah, I’m sure that Jessica thing is going to come and bite us in the ass so bad soon enough. That and the pregnant woman Yan dropped on us at the end of the session. I’m willing to bet she’s a lot more than what she seems.

    Can’t wait to play again next month.

  4. @Phil Yep this was an already a lengthy article but the escape of the boat was the players getting thrown hurdles at every turn. The safe, the uncooperative official, the boat starting to collapse on itself, the last lifeboat being board and lastly the “Are you seriously going to force a pregnant women of the lifeboat?”. All that with me doing a count down of the time left before the boat sank after each action. The tension and the look on the players faces… Priceless… 😉

  5. Here’s the translated discussion I had about the discrepancies PM had about his expectations. to solve the issue:

    Yan: I’ve heard that you were not totally satisfied with the way your character turned out.

    PM: The thing is, I had imagined my character as more of a real judge that instilled fear in people.

    Yan: Oh! I had not latched on to this. I though of this as more of a background thing when you described your character. I would have built your character differently

    (Note here that since this was an introduction game I had asked the player to give me a character concept that I would flesh out for them as I made their PCs).

    A law enforcing capability is well worth an edge and so is the fear aspect. Or we leave your character as is but make it that petty criminals and commoners fear you and won’t dare question your authority if you make an intimidation check.

    The moment you’ll be faced with the real authority in place well… lets just say it won’t be that easy. Are you comfortable with this interpretation?

    PM: Yes. I get it.

    So we have here a reputation that works only on low key elements of the story which can be used for all kinds of interesting things without giving an overly strong advantages to the player and helps bring the character to life as the PM wanted.

    I might ask PM to forfeit is next edge for it on the level up if I feel its overpowering but with the intimidation check required I feel it’s pretty much within the range of the skill’s usual use…

    We’ll see how it turns out.

  6. @Yan: I suggest you should go ahead and switch an Edge that gives him a straight +2 to Intimidate check against all non-wild cards NPCs. It’s a crisper, better defined Edge. Then, you can call for penalties from-2 onwards for stronger extras that represent intermediate authority figures.

  7. @Phil Seems like a good one.

    I just realized now that probably the main reason the scene where PM “invoked his fear” fell short is that (and I’ll again borrow from BW) the intent was not stated only the means. I did not know what he wanted to accomplish with the action and you came in with a clearly stated intent/action which divert my attention to you making the scene incomplete for PM. Clearly stating what you intend to accomplish is something an experienced player will do as he state his action. We tend to forget that PM is still a newbie to RPG while you and I have played for the better part of our lives…

  8. Savage Worlds is one of those systems that I really do enjoy playing. It can be generic and swift. However there is enough crunch for the more logical/math orientated players and simple enough for those who can do without it.

    I wish I had more gaming time to play all that I want to.. sigh..

  9. The problem with a precise concept is that it’s not always borne out in play. It’s better to set the foundation for such a character and let play create the reality. Going into a game with specific expectations (especially as they relate to social and martial things — best swordsman, expert killer, dashing nobleman, fear-inspiring sorcerer) almost always end up with the player disappointed, in my experience.

    Hopefully your Edge work-around sorts that out. 🙂 Great game, guys!

  10. @Rafe: Good point. The more precise is your character concept the more you’re setting yourself for that kind of situation. Obviously I’m not saying that a blank slate his good as you’ll fall in the opposite problem of having a tasteless character that has no goal.

    Like most things in life, there is a balance to aim for, where you want to define the general concept of the character, where he come from, and then let play shape the rest for you as the group synergy gets on.

    Still we had tremendous fun in this session and laugh our asses off. In and all one of the best sessions I had the privilege of GMing.

  11. This is my copyrighted advice for character concepts:

    “Make it awesome but with room for improvement. The ‘awesome’ gets them into the game and the “room for improvement” gives them a reason to play it.”

    When I read the Judge Gloom concept, it sounded far too baked and done, like a retired character rather than one just made. I’m not criticizing the player, by the way. I freakin’ loved the concept — it’s the one I immediately had a “hells yeah!” reaction to when I read over the characters in Part 1. We all fall prey to the “fully realized” kind of character concept once in a while; at least I know I have. The key is to either realize you’ve done that or have someone else point it out. Best way trigger is to ask yourself “Is there room for lots of growth here?”

    Awesome game, guys. Makin’ me jealous of my lack of gaming recently.

  12. While it was no big deal, here’s what I see happened with my dear Judge George Loomis a.k.a. Judge Gloom, disbarred.

    When I sent the character concept to Yan, he picked up on his dual revolvers, aptly named Law & Order as the main mechanic for the character and gave me edges for that. In my mind the guns were mostly fluff.

    What I saw as the main mechanic was the (crooked) lawman aspect, and Yan picked it up as the fluff. That lead me to initiate the gunfight in the jailhouse quite by accident. What I expected from that scene was to come in and convince the marshall to let me preside over one of my dreaded court cases and it would go like this.

    Speaking to Chatty’s character

    “Now son, do you know who I am? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical. I’m the one who will decide your fate and I do things a little differently than my colleagues. So take my bible (a personalize item of my character) and open it to the bookmark. See what’s there? That’s your future.” (The bible contains a derringer)

    Now.. do you swear to tell the truth?”


    “Ok.. Let me start with this question. Did you do it?”

    “Uhm.. no?”

    “Not guilty”

    At which point I expected the Marshall to step in over this travesty. And the result might have been similar, but Jimmy Joe would have had a weapon in his hand. 🙂

    In my mind, the judge could almost always get himself into a position of authority that would stack the deck in our favor a little, but as soon as he would do his horrible job of using that authority things would explode as usual.

  13. I comeback to intent vs action I find this a good way to really give a context to an action. Here how you could have presented your case using intent/action approach.

    I wish to give my Deringer to Jimmy, so I’ll flunt my presumed authority to confuse the Sheriff and his deputy long enough to show my bible to Jimmy so he can pick it up.

    With this being said I would have respond differently. As it was, I “assumed” that your intent was to convince the Sheriff that you had legit authority in the situation, which I found was pushing it.

    This approach does not rely on your capacity to roleplay a convincing argument and that the GM guesses what it is you are trying to accomplish. We are no actor and the GM is not aware of the script you’ve imagined. 😉

  14. Oh I agree… no arguments from me. I blame my newbiehood.

  15. Yan, I can see you are a true BW disciple. The concept of intent has totally changed how I game, too.

  16. @Rafe: Can you believe he only played it once and read it and he’s already quoting from the book?

    @Yan: That’s a very important insight you brought. As much as my “inner dramatist” quails at the idea of giving you my script before starting a scene (pun not intended), sharing the intent of a character before rolling dice is possibly the easiest way of sharing narrative control of a game.

    @PM: !!! Man, I love that approach! I want a reshoot of the scene, I’ll pay for the extras! 🙂

    Awesome thread people.

  17. Oh, I believe it, Phil. BW changes most of the gamers I know with whom I’ve played, or to whom I introduced it. Not to exaggerate, but for me it was like taking the red pill: There’s no going back to gaming the way you used to once BW concepts sink in, and systems that depend on being able to just switch back lose their luster. It’s a double-edged sword, though.

    That’s not an argument for complexity, by the way; it’s an argument for RPGs that understand internal system/mechanics relationships and the necessary cyclical nature of reward->play->reward->play. For the most part, small-press games “get it;” larger, more mainstream publishers/systems generally don’t. Odd disconnect there, when you think about it.

    Just my opinion, anyway. 🙂

    So what’s next up for you guys? Heading back to a D&D campaign, or maybe Gamma World?

  18. @Rafe I’m a notorious game “hacker” in that I’ll take whatever I find useful from any game out there. Also for me any system his just a baseline that I can re-arrange to my own liking… I’ve never seen a RPG game that I did not change something in it when I was a GM.

    As for BW I have not even really played a game yet beside the one demo of the sword with Crane at PAX east 2010 and the one with Phil a few weeks ago. I’ve start ready it though, and I found the intent vs action concept as being universally useful in any RPG.

    As for D&D or gamma world lets just say that I would rather start watching golf on TV… 😉

  19. @Rafe: We’ve played Fiasco last Friday and will likely play it again before Christmas. I’ve got 1 more game on my “Must Play” list: Free Market. I played it with Luke and bought it at Gen Con.

    After that, our play group is going to be split over three seperate monthly groups. Some players will be in multiple groups, others not. While Yan has mentioned on more than one occasion that he’s moving on from D&D, it’s not impossible that I start a D&D Essential campaign with players who remain more comfortable with the classic game.

    Otherwise, I plan to play longer campaigns of BW, Mouse Guard and/or Savage Worlds

  20. From what I’ve heard about it anecdotally during 10-10-10, FreeMarket is nuts. I mean people were the most excited I’ve seen, and the anecdotes were ridiculously awesome. I definitely want to hear how that goes for you guys if you play it!

  21. Quoting @ChattyDM:

    […] sharing the intent of a character before rolling dice is possibly the easiest way of sharing narrative control of a game.

    Yes. This is one of the best play method I’ve seen for that. From what I’ve seen, it is really easy to implement in just about any RPG… especially for new players.