Review: Savage Worlds GM Screen

If you’re a GM then there’s a good chance you hide behind a GM screen on a regular basis. But let me ask you this, when was the last time you actually used it? I’m not talking about hiding notes and dice rolls behind it but the game specific rules and information it supplies. I expect for many GMs the answer is “don’t know” or “I used that little bit recently.” My answer tends towards the latter, I’ll maybe use one or two aspects of a GM screen (such as skill lists or called shot details) while ignoring the majority.

For example:

It was with this thinking that I recently picked up the Savage Worlds Customisable GM Screen by Pinnacle Entertainment (don’t worry, you can use it with more than just Savage Worlds). What makes it customisable? Each of the three panels has clear plastic pockets on both sides in which you can place information of your choosing.

Into each pocket can go pretty much any info you want available, for any system or adventure. My current plans for the GM panels are:
1) Rules / tables I always forget
2) PC info such as names, important stats, advantages / disadvantages
3) Session / campaign notes

Of course with front facing pockets there is also the option of presenting information to the players, which is especially useful when running new games. Knowing my usual players I’ll probably put a single page cheat sheet in the edge panels (so everybody at the table can see it) while the central panel will have character / player names so everybody remembers who’s who.

So in terms of the options made available the screen scores highly. Construction wise the screen also comes across well, the panels are are sturdy, made of that thick cardboard covered by plastic (think like a clipboard back) and the join between them appears strong. I’m a little unsure about how well the plastic pockets will hold up, as while they appear strong now I know from similar products that this is often a weak point. Only time will tell there. Unusually in my experience the panels are connected in a length wise format, which means the scene will take up slightly more space than the typical portrait screen.

My only real complaint is the size of the pockets, as they’re too small to fit an A4 piece of paper. I suspect this is a localisation problem, with the screen designed with the US letter sized paper, which is slightly shorter than A4. While I can work around the problem easily enough it is annoying as it would have required only a slight increase in panel size to make the screen compatible with A4.

Overall I think the customisable approach to the screen is exactly what I was looking for, the pockets give me flexibility on both sides without the cluttered try to fit everything on approach of most GM screens. Based on my limited (to date) use of the screen I’d certainly recommend it to other GMs, especially those running long campaigns where there is a build up of information both players and GM need to keep track of.

Oh and the screen hides my dice pretty well too.


Micro-Review: Never Unprepared

I picked up Never Unprepared after it was discussed on the Happy Jacks RPG podcast. It’s the third book from the Gnome Stew blog and is focused upon a topic which is rarely discussed in gaming, game prep.

The book covers everything from initial brainstorming right through to reviewing and recording the fully fleshed session notes. Each step is broken down further, providing suggestions for a GM on how to analyse and improve upon their own style of preparation. Reading the book it is clear that the author Phil Vecchione is drawing not only from his experience as a long time GM but from his career as a project manager, a role where proper preparation is of course key. As an added bonus the pdf version of the book also includes a plain text copy, making it easy to create an ebook version.

Overall I’d recommend this book to any GM who wants to think about how the way they plan and devise their games. The advice is suited to both new GMs wanting to form the best habits from the start and experienced GMs who wish to find the weaknesses in their established style. This goes double for the GM who has just experienced a shift in their life, such as finishing university or changing jobs and suddenly finds the need to find a new approach in light of changing priorities.

Never Unprepared is available in print and PDF from the Engine Publishing store.

The Plot Map

Adventures in DresNoir, as in TechNoir, are designed around the Transmission system. Transmissions define a set of plot nodes for a given city which can then be drawn into the plot as PCs lean on their connections for information. As the game progresses these nodes are linked together, allowing the GM to generate the plot on the fly until they have that ‘ah ha!’ moment and suddenly work out what is actually going on.

The final plot map for the first DresNoir playtest ended up looking like this:

Transmission map for DresNoir playtest

This map was generated from the Transmission I’d written especially from the game (which will probably be called “November Rain: A Glasgow City Transmission”). The starting nodes were Central Station (the main train station in Glasgow), a Trio of Daggers and an Abandoned School. Character creation drew in the connections of Sama (an unchosen Summer Court changling) and Sir Ronald (a White Council mage). From all of this came the opening scene: A triple murder on the sleeper train which had arrived from London. The victims, three esteemed members of the Invictus, a small Occult organisation, who had come to Glasgow for a meeting with Sir Ronald. Found clasped in each of their hands was an ornate dagger engraved with a coat of arms, a coat of arms also found on an abandoned schoolhouse where a young changling was currently living rough.

That was the opening, from there the plot developed considerably but that’s another post.

Two Sides One Epic

One of my favourite podcasts Happy Jacks RPG has been running a rather awesome contest recently. Two sides One epic is the challenge to write a full RPG adventure outline that takes up only 2 sides with the aim that all the submissions will be collected together and made available as both a pdf and dead tree book. Given I mostly GM and generally have a few ideas bouncing around my head I submitted two entries which I’m also making available here.

Carriers – A zombie survival adventure set on an isolated army base which is slowly being overrun. Download Carriers

Protocol: Morpheus – A cyberpunk themed murder investigation into a dead body with multiple identities, all of which are still alive. Download Protocol: Morpheus

DresNoir 05: Connection Favours

Each connection in a transmission comes can confer one or more types of favours to a PC. These are the suggested favours for using with DresNoir connections.

  • Shark – Can provide the PC with 10RP, which must be repaid at somepoint in the future.
  • Brew – Can sell the PC up to 3 potions, each at a 2RP discount.
  • Date – The connection can attend a function with the PC as their +1, gaining the PC access to events otherwise out of their reach.
  • Traverse – The connection knows the ins and the outs of the Nevernever, they can provide passage there and back again to a few relatively safe locations
  • Imbue – Skilled in the manipulation of magical energies this connection is capable of creating a single focus or charm item. The focus or charm tag is provided for free, any other tags must be applied and paid for as usual at the time of creation.
  • Bail – The connection has some influence with the police, or maybe they just have cash to spare. Either way they can get a PC bailed and out of custody, though they probably can’t get the charges dropped altogether.
  • Backup – Can provide physical assistance in the form of 2 henchmen level characters who will assist in one or two relevant scenes

DresNoir – 04: Objects & resources

Purchasing equipment in DresNoir follows the same basic system as described in the core TechNoir book, each PC begins with 10 Resource Points (RP) (replacing the Kreds of TechNoir) which they are free to spend on objects, adding tags as required. Of course this now being an urban fantasy setting the tags of each object need to reflect the world and genre, tags relating to the Interface are, quite obviously, out.

But what about items of a magical nature?

Glad you ask. Items strongly related to magic require their own special tags, specifically Charm, Focus or Potion. By having these tags present additional tags, which bestow unusual or magical properties may then be stacked onto the item. During play these tags may not be employed when it comes to using push dice, they merely provide the foundation onto which additional tags may be attached. Charm and Focus tags cost an 5RP in order to apply to an object. Potion tags cost 2RP to apply but are single use items.

Charm – Charm tags are applied to objects onto which have been imbued with medium to long term magical properties. An individual charm should have a single central function which is reflected by each magical tag. For example a compass with embedded with location / tracking spells may have tags of charm and locate in addition to the mundae tag of navigation, which give it a final value of 7RP (5 for the charm, 1 each for locate and navigation). Charmed objects may be utilised by any individual, regardless of their magic rating.

Focus – Where charm tags are applied to objects with a predetermined purpose Focus tags are applied to objects utilised in casting magic on the fly, providing a boost to the concentration and discipline of a practictioner. Subsequent tags then describe what the focus has been designed to boost. For example, an individual specialising in earth magic may have a pair of boots which are central to their spells by forming the link between them and the ground. They may then have tags of focus, earth, lift attached however as a focus item the lift tag could be employed in lifting people as opposed to rocks.

The focus tag, and those associated with it may only be emplyed by those with a magic rating of X or higher as they require a willful expenditure of magical energy. This however comes with its own highs and lows, or Boost and Feedback.

Boost – Magic is frequently fueled by strong emotions, be they positive or negative in form. Following a roll utilising an item with the focus tag a player may choose to boost the result by taking the lowest harm die and rerolling it as a temporary push die before retotalling their result. In order to do so the character must have an existing strong emotional adjective avaiable, which can be positive or negative. If the scene resolves around a connection then the relationship may be relevant. Good examples would be lust, angry, enraged, hopeful.

Boosting however comes at a cost, as immediately following the roll the character gains a new, negative adjective, regardless of whether the roll was successful or not. The first time a boost is utilised in a scene they gain Tired as a fleeting negative adjective. If they boost again it is upgraded to a sticky Exhausted adjective and the character gains a push die from the GM if available.

Feedback – Feedback is the expression used to describe when spells go completely out of control due to a character pushing themselves past their limit or being just plain unlucky. Mechanically feedback occurs when the hurt dice cancel out ALL of the action and push dice which have been rolled. If the GM has push dice available the the GM may choose to apply an immediate negative sticky adjective related to the action they just spectacularly failed at. If the no push dice are available, or the GM decides not to spend them then the character gains a fleeting negative adjective instead. A player may choose to boost a roll in which they have suffered feedback however they will then be subject to the negative effects of both, even if the new result is not a zero. If the boosted result is still zero the player suffers only a single instance of feedback, not two.

Potions – Potions are single use magical mixtures presented in the form of a drink. They typically have one or two, well defined effects in order to keep their resource cost down. While potent mixtures this is achieved by concentrating the magical effect into a shorter time frame. Characters must declare they are drinking the potion and for the remainder of the scene the character has access to the positive adjectives that were attached to the potion during its creation. Attaching an extended duration tag to a potion does exactly that, carrying the effects over to the next scene if appropriate. Potions may be consumed by any individual, regardless of their magic rating.

When used to apply negative adjectives potions function as before however for the scene the adjective manifests as negative hurt dice. In order to do so the target character must first be convinced (or forced) to drink the potion via an appropriate roll. On a success the target character recieves each of the adjectives associated with the potion. Push dice may not be spent to upgrade these adjectives from fleeting to sticky.

As always the trick to tags is finding the right level of specificity. A tag such as shield is probably too broad as it could be applied to pretty much any situation. Ballistic shield, fire shield, ice shield would be more appropriate tags and there is nothing to stop them being stacked upon one another, in this example in order to provide defences against a greater range of attacks. When it comes to magically infused items adding additional tags to existing items is labourious and resource heavy. Should a character wish to add additional magic related tags to an existing item the cost is equal to half the current value of the item, including those related to the mundane function of the item.

Rather than listing an extensive number of magical infused items I’m going to stat out just a few in order to provide examples, with the magical attributes denoted with an (m)


Tags: Navigation, charm (m), locate (m)
Cost: 7RP

Warded door
Tags: Reinforced, sturdy, charm (m), threshold (m), explosive runes (m)
Cost: 9RP


Earth Boots
Tags: Focus (m), earth (m), lift (m), sturdy
Cost: 8RP

Wizards staff
Tags: Focus (m), detect (m), throw (m), fire (m), rapid fire (m)
Cost: 9RP


Invisibility potion
Tags: Potion (m), visual concealment (m), silent movement (m)
Cost: 4RP

Love potion
Tags: Potion (m), lustful (m)
Cost: 3RP