Saturday, May 23, 2009

Confessions of a First Time GM

There are probably some spoilers ahead—those that visit from the Savage Worlds Forum may want to skip the read if they plan on playing in a Zombie Run Game. You've been warned.

No matter how many times you've read through the Core Rulebook. No matter how many times you've gone through the campaign book. You're not prepared.

Tonight marks the first time that I have ever run a game. I invited seven people over and got three—I think that was just about right for tonight. I over prepared in some ways and under prepared in others.

I'm very glad that I decided to go with a campaign module rather than something home brew. It was very good to have the story and encounters already planned, because it was hard enough dealing with the rules. Rules that I thought I had down just were not making sense. At first they were having no problem hitting the zombies, but because of a quirk of the rules they could not put a zombie down. We ended up throwing the head shot rule out the window. Then it became possible to actually put a zombie down without rolling perfectly.

I've read the rules over and over and I thought I had them down pretty good, but I was surprised how many times we ended up reading through the rules for clarification.

I have one regret—and that is not letting them go off the rails and make it to the airport. Since that was fairly early in the game, I wasn't sure how to handle it. I now know what I should have done. Oh well—hindsight and all.

I also should have fudged the dice roll when they went scavenging in the small town. There's a 50% change when scavenging that you'll run into 3d6 zombies. I rolled 10—which took a while to resolve. I should have fudged it and only put out 5, a shorter fight and we cold have gotten to the mall.

Overall I think it was a pretty good evening. But I've hit the forums with my questions to figure out what we did wrong. The following is for those that played—you can read it too, but it might not be very interesting.

Okay, first thing I found was that because the zombies do not have a natural weapon listed. They are considered Unarmed Defenders. That means on every Fighting Roll against them you get a +2, this effectively reduces the head shot penalty in melee combat to a more manageable -2.

Next, grappling. What I missed in the Core Rulebook, is that when someone successfully grapples with a raise the opponent is shaken. (and in Zombie Run, the zombie gets to bite at this point)

And the other thing we overlooked was that standard damage can put a zombie into shaken status even if it cannot kill it. And once it's shaken there's only a 12.5% chance that it can attack on it's turn and a 50% chance it can attack on the next turn.

Strategies that could have helped the players:

Ganging up—adjacent attackers add +1 to fighting rolls up to +4. (so if 5 guys gang up on one, they each get +4 to their fighting roll [that would be enough to negate the -4 for called shot to the head]

Aiming—taking an action to aim gives +2 to the shooting roll in the following round.

So, Ideally the characters should group up and take on a zombie at a time, using a standard attack to shake the zombie and then another character calls the head-shot. This would give a gang up bonus to help negate the called shot penalty; that, and the +2 for unarmed defender make actually hitting the zombies possible without the rule modifications we introduced (i.e. we threw out the -4 head shot penalty and assumed everyone would be aiming for the head all the time).

Anyone shooting should stay out of reach of the zombies and then aim; they would be shooting less, but have a better chance at a kill shot.

I think I now understand why the module encourages the heavy use of allies. Initially, I thought keeping track of 9 characters, when only three were playing would be tough, but that's the beauty of Savage Worlds. It's crunchy and yet simple and it wasn't hard at all. Though after playing last night, I must admit—it's got more crunch than I thought.

For those I invited that were unable to make it, there's still room for more in the party—I'll let you know when the next chapter of Zombie Run takes place.


  1. Sorry I missed it. My other activity turned into an adventure all it's own. Oh the joys...

  2. You sure missed out! I expect to see you there next time. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was fun and I'm looking forward to our next chapter.

  3. Sorry I missed out. My other activity turned out to be a bust also.

  4. I can't wait to play! I'm glad you had fun while I was gone though.