Copyright, Ownership, and Heirs

Recently on Facebook, there have been a few threads going around about the current and questionable Buck Rogers legal dispute. Now let me say up front that I’m not really interested in that dispute. I’m not a Buck Rogers fan, and only vaguely remember even the 1980s campy TV show. What I’m going to talk about instead is a comment I saw in one of those threads.

The comment talked about how the individual is against corporations owning I.P. and copyright being extendable near indefinitely, and how things should go quicker into Public Domain to enrich community creativity.

Allow me to start by saying, as someone who makes his living creating I.P., characters, and stories, quite bluntly: blow me.

Yes. I said to blow me.

I create and write full-time. Along the way I’ve had some duds, and I’ve had some I.P. that have taken off within their respective niche circles. Doing this full-time and for over two decades now, I can assure you that it isn’t easy. It’d be much easier, and at some times more lucrative, to take a job greeting people at the local Wal-Mart. So when us writers have something that captures fans and becomes successful enough to pay the bills (if not more), you are damned right that I.P. belongs to us and our descendants. Sonny Bono was one of my favorite people on Earth for what he did for copyright law.

As a writer, a lot of energy, work, and time, not to mention sacrificed time from my kids and family, went into creating that I.P.  Us writers work just as hard in our chosen occupation as you folks running the traditional jobs do. The difference is that we are not guaranteed a paycheck for our work. Many times we’ll make absolutely nothing for all that work. Nothing. Nada. Not one red cent.

And if you self-publish, you can not only not make a penny for all that work, but you can actually be in the financial hole just for the expense of publishing it. Which means we lost money for working.

So why should a successful work go into public domain? It was my sweat. My work. My struggle. Go out and create your own. Otherwise, license my work for your own financial gain.

What? You think creating a commercially viable, never mind successful, I.P. is easy? Just sit down and tap the ol’ keyboard? Okay then, you do it. I’ll wait.

Oh, you didn’t take the time to learn characterization, story formula, story structure? You didn’t spend years and years working and honing your ability to put all the pieces together to make a professional and successful story (read: I.P.)?

Well, those of us who made it (50 Shades of Gray aside) did do that. Over and over again. For years.

So, when I die and leave this great video game of life— no, you can’t have my stuff.

As far as a corporation owning the I.P., tread very carefully on that one before you sound like an idiot. First of all, any writer worth his salt would advise you to eventually incorporate yourself. It provides a legal wall between you and your personal assets, and any Tom or Dick out there that manages to file a successful suit against you over one or more of your works. Even the late, great Roger Zelazny incorporated himself as The Amber Corporation at the height of his career, and he was one of the first writers to give me that business advice.

At which point, the corporation might legally own the I.P.

Now, in the coming years, as my kids get more and more into being legal adults, I have every intent of putting them on the corporation as owners. When I die, that assures that they, my children, control all my I.P. creations, and can (hopefully) benefit from what I left them as their parent.

And why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I leave my I.P., my legacy of work, to my children? Why the hell should I allow it to just drop into public domain? My I.P. is no more a right to you, the strangers out there, than my money would be if I was a Millionaire, once I die.

And if my children decide to do the same for their children (my grandchildren), then so be it. I encourage it. And even give said advice in my Will.

And if you don’t think that’s fair— tough. Life isn’t fair. It’s my work, my sweat, my legacy. And it goes to my kids, who have every right to extend that copyright when the time comes. It doesn’t belong to you, and if I had my way, never would.

As with any writer, my characters and stories are a part of me. A literal, mental and emotional, part of me. They don’t just spring from some “Great Author Well” that we all share.

So to individuals like the one who made that comment on social media, go create your own stuff. Then work your ass off to make it financially viable. Then work your ass off to expand it into a commercial success. Then give it all away in public domain so anyone else can make their money off of it and potentially dilute your income from your hard work.

Me? Sorry, not going to happen. Not now, and not ever. If I wanted to do all the work so someone else (or a group of others) could make money off it, maybe even more money than I made, I’d be working a normal 40-hour a week job to make someone else and their family rich on my hard work. At least then I’d have a guaranteed paycheck for my work effort.

I worked for over twenty years, day in and day out, to hone my skills and get where I am today as a writer. And I’m still working hard to get even better, and be a better writer in years to come. My creations are not public domain. They are my creations, my work, and my legacy and inheritance to my children.

People like that aren’t looking to “enrich community creativity,” they’re looking to be lazy and potentially capitalize off of someone else. Why do I say that? Because anyone can create a retro-feel, man out of time, science fiction story with new characters, situations, themes, and elements. Something inspired by Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and the like. Writers, real writers, do that stuff all the time.

Roger Zelazny did it. Neil Gaiman does it. George R.R. Martin does it. Jonathan Maberry does it. And the list goes on.

But they create, develop, write, and market, something new, inspired by that something (or multiple somethings) that they loved. Which means that Buck Rogers has already enriched community creativity, and public domain is not required.

So, do your own work, and stop complaining because you won’t or can’t. No creator is required to put their stuff in public domain for you.

Rant over. I’m outta here.

Happily Scared

I originally wrote a version of this piece for the Savage Insider eMagazine back in 2011, and it was published in the January 2012 issue. Given some of my upcoming horror fiction in 2017, I thought I would share this article again (with a few update-changes). It discusses why we horror fans like to be scared.


My childhood was twisted.

Really, there’s no other way to put it.

I grew-up in a house where horror movies were part of the normal entertainment routine. My parents had a vast collection, and we kids watched it all with them. Movies like Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, The Exorcist, The Manitou, A Nightmare on Elm Street, It’s Alive, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, and many others. Not to say that was all they owned, as they were also science fiction and special effects buffs (with my father trained in special effects), but horror films played a huge role.

The fright fest, however, did not end when the credits rolled. Nope, not in my family.

My father loved to scare us kids, and we never knew when it was coming. There was a night when I was about 10 years old or so, and it was time to go to bed. I walked into my room and was about to climb into bed, when suddenly my door slammed and a figure standing behind it yelled: “Booooyyyyyy!” just like the Tall Man.

A few seconds later, there came a resounding CRACK! as my near super-human leap of fear sent me crashing onto the bed, splintering one of the wooden beams in the box-spring mattress.

Looking back, well— at least that little stunt cost the old man money for a new mattress in the end. Served him right.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, however, as the saying goes. When my eldest son was roughly 11 years old, I got him just as good as my father had gotten me.

It was late at night on a weekend, and we had let him and his best friend (who was staying the night) watch The Ring on DVD. One of the special features on the disc is that you could view the video that the characters all saw within the movie, which then started the downward spiral where you’d have a dead girl hunting you down— a dead girl who can step out of the freaking television to get you!

Anyway, we had two separate phone lines in the house at the time. I had an idea. I was about to become my father.

While they were watching the special feature with Anna Lunsford (who was in on it) I feigned going to bed. I went to another floor of the house and picked up the other phone line. Using that star-whatever code you can put in to block the number of the incoming call on the ID, I called the line in the living room. When the machine picked up, mere seconds after they’d finished watching the bonus video, I disguised my voice and told them that they had seven days.

As predicted, they freaked out. By the time the gag was done, they were panicked that she was coming. I got them good, and my son looks back on the event with fond humor (and mild cursing in my direction). As do I with my father.

But why is that? Why is it so many of us flock to horror films? Whether it is the gore of something like Friday the 13th, or the current generation Hostel or Saw franchises— what is it that appeals to us, which drives us to voluntarily go out and get scared?

Keep in mind that I am not a psychologist. My own take on it is colored both by my personal experiences and the writings of professionals in the field. While horror films are not for everyone (my ex-wife will never watch them), for the movie-goer that helps make the things into block-busters, one point is for sure: people like us love to be scared!

The pulse quickens.

The heart rate increases.

The adrenaline pumps.

Humans by their very nature are adrenaline junkies in one form or another. For some, the thrill is in jumping out of airplanes (and hoping the parachute opens–no thank you), or bungee jumping (you can keep that one, too), or car racing, or any of a wide variety of activities. For others, though they might not realize it, it’s horror films. The brain is still unable to actually differentiate between what is on the screen and what is real. Sure, we are telling ourselves it’s just a movie and, consciously and intellectually, we know this as a fact. In the deeper recesses of our brain, it’s a different story. As far as that part of us is concerned, there is absolutely no difference between watching a machete-wielding murderer chase a hapless victim through the woods, and actually being chased by one. So, the brain reacts, and the body reacts. And it’s that accelerated biological function, brought about by a deep and internal sense of danger, that mixes with our conscious mind and brings us the enjoyment of the film.

That’s what the experts claim, anyway. So, I’m going to take a look at it from some personal and family experiences and see if it holds up.

My eldest son and his best friend had recently watched Buried (Ryan Reynolds) on DVD. Both of them are claustrophobic. They watched the film in a darkened, spacious room and knew going into it that not only was it not real, but that it contained one of their favorite actors.

During the film, both of them began to react. Even though they knew the fiction of it, and that Ryan Reynolds would be appearing in the next film on his plate, their heart rates increased, they started sweating at certain points, and their anxiety levels rose. Several times, they had to pause the movie, leave the room, and step outside of the house entirely.

See, if the experts are right, the deeper portions of their brain were unable to tell the difference between Ryan Reynolds being trapped in the coffin/box, and the two of them being trapped themselves. As a result, they reacted to the predicament of the main character on a very personal level. This actually crossed a line between enjoying the sensation of being scared, and not being able to withstand the feeling. Although they finished the film after several breaks, they refused to ever watch it again.

The same is true on a more limited level. Ever watch someone in a horror film get sliced a certain way and cringe, not from the gore that is about to happen, but from the simulated pain you can almost feel?

For me, drowning is a huge thing. I don’t like water coming down over my head and face, and have to be careful in the shower in how I do it. I’ve freaked out at water parks when riding down the tunnels on a round tube, getting spun around or going down backward, and having water poured on me from one of the falls without knowing it was coming. There was a scene in a Saw film where the character’s head was encased in a water-filled glass box. He had to use a pen to give himself a tracheotomy to survive. I had a lot of trouble with that scene, as a part of me felt like it was about to drown. My pulse quickened, my anxiety levels rose.

Looks like the theory holds.

Studies have shown that horror films, by the very attributes mentioned above, can also play a part in the whole dating ritual we all dance through. According to those studies, women find men that can handle a horror film more attractive, while men find women that cringe and jump (the Damsel in Distress syndrome) more attractive. I don’t know how true that particular theory is, so I’ll leave that to you to individually decide. Horror films rarely scare Anna, and I find her attractive just fine.

Horror films are also more popular in the younger audience than the older one, according to studies. The idea behind those studies is the old “Rite of Passage” that humans used to implement in tribal times, although that has pretty much disappeared in modern society. Accordingly, we still have a programmed need to go through the ritual from childhood to adulthood, at least in the male population. While back in other times, such rites typically involved danger, fortitude, and bravery, the study says that in the modern day the horror film has taken that burden.

Young men flock to them to be scared, to go through the emotional responses, and to be able to walk away and brag that they saw horror movie X and weren’t all that frightened. Deep down, experiencing the responses as described earlier takes the place of the time-honored rites, and provides a sense of moving forward overall. The “Rite of Passage” study further claims that as the reason older men don’t view as much horror as they used to because they have moved past that Rite of Passage time in life, and just don’t receive the same satisfaction.

Again, does that theory hold water? I don’t know. I’m 43 years old, though, and while I watch horror movies with Anna, or view them when in need of research or inspiration, I honestly don’t flock to them the way I used to. There are a lot of horror films in the past couple of years I have yet to see.

Stephen King once said that the key to good horror is to take the fears of the present day and exaggerate them. Make the reader/audience feel an increased level of anxiety due to the everyday connection they emotionally and mentally create to the material. He claimed that when preying on present fears, the connection was automatic and beyond the scope of the audience to control.

I’d say that theory holds a degree of truth, even if I went no further than some of the elements King uses in his works of a particular era. But let’s look at some other popular themes and when they popped up in horror in recent decades. Keep in mind, this is going to be a brief look, and I encourage any horror fan out there to take a deeper look on your own, colored by your own perceptions and opinions of the world and horror.

A caution parents have even today on checking their child’s Halloween candy was an even more prominent concern in the 1970s, when cases of people tampering with the candy they were giving out was in the headlines. Halloween took on a new visage— one of fear and predatory practices over the fun of dressing up and getting free sugar. John Carpenter preyed on that extremely well in his film Halloween, which not only contained a scene of a child at the hospital thanks to a razor blade in his candy, but also Michael Myers being the psychotic predator dressed in a mask, mixing in almost flawlessly with the rituals of the night. It hit the viewers on a deeper level, and provided that emotional and mental connection with what was already happening to transform the very nature of the holiday. And it was a commercial success.

In the 1980s, the fear of serial killers was still a very prominent thing, especially with media coverage spilling over from the 1970s. It was the perfect time for not only Thomas Harris to pen both Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, but for Hollywood to begin production on the film version of Silence of the Lambs that would be released in 1991. People flocked to the film, not only for the cast and the superb acting, but also for the fact that it preyed upon very real fears of the times. The person that moved in next door could be a serial killer, and your family the next victim. The person you met at the bar for a night of fun could be your last experience. Silence of the Lambs was another commercial success.

How many films preyed on the fears of a nuclear holocaust in the 1980s?

Look at the Saw films. When stripped down, they show us how much any of us fail to truly live and care about those around us. We encounter people all the time, but how many of us actually see them or care to? How many of us treat others only as background material, walk-on extras in the movie of our lives— there and gone, and discarded for those on the next set piece? When was the last time we stopped to help someone broken down on the side of the highway? How often did we just look, think poor sucker, and press the gas to get to whatever unimportant event we were on our way toward? The last time we heard of someone suffering and gave the mechanical I’m sorry, how many actually meant those words? More than likely, a vast majority felt nothing and simply gave it as an automatic motion, a bit of expected behavior and nothing more.

Sounds cynical concerning my fellow humans, but when you stop to think about it— really turn it over and examine it— it’s truer than we would care to admit.

That is exactly what Jigsaw battles against in the last days of his life, as the cancer eats away at his brain. Those of us that simply go through the motions of being alive, of being human, but take that fantastic gift for granted. If we were to truly and deeply examine ourselves, we’d no doubt find that we are all worthy of being his victims for a variety of reasons. It’s an unpleasant thought, really, to realize that we are no better than the victims in the film that we shake our heads at and tell ourselves they deserve what they are getting from him.

Good horror should make us examine ourselves, whether we realize it or not. It should, not only through all of the factors already mentioned, strip us down and bring us screaming naked before the mirror. It should challenge our preconceived notions of being decent people— remove the masks we’ve come to wear and show us our true visage.

Let’s also take The Mist as an example. In that story, we have a catastrophe beyond our control invade the lives of the main characters. A strange mist rolls into a New England town and brings within it horrors generally unseen— the thing that rips you apart deep within the fog, the tentacle that reaches through the door to drag you to your death, creatures of unknown origin and ability. What’s worse, the story examines the very basic notions of human behavior. Trapped within the supermarket, it takes no time at all for personalities and religious beliefs to clash, causing a localized rift between the survivors that mirrors one of the greater problems we all face. People grow intolerant of each other fairly quickly, and form their own sub-groups to simply escape and survive, rule the masses, or bring into existence some other agenda. Naturally, too, the cause of the entire series of events was the federal government and its desire to harness dangerous technology without the proper wisdom or precautions.

In quick succession, Stephen King hits home on many prevalent fears concerning our government and us. As predicted, we form an immediate connection to it and are drawn in.

The list goes on, and can fill another article entirely. But it does seem to reinforce the notion of preying upon present-day fears increases the connection to horror stories. Something that, according to a host of television specials, articles, and interviews, holds true for the resurgence of the zombie apocalypse genre.

Like the generations that lived under the new fears of atomic and nuclear catastrophes that launched their own brand of horror films and literature, we live under our own fears of both biological weapons and terrorism. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the American psyche on a deep level, as no longer was the enemy— which could remain unseen and mingle with society until the moment came to strike— simply a member of a foreign nation’s culture. They were now the bogeymen living next door, working at local businesses, or whose children attended school with our own. Suddenly, far too many Americans began seeing danger wherever members of a certain nationality existed. They were everywhere and nowhere. Even worse, they could, in many cases, through carefully constructed international networks, access many of the same weapons our own government could use— including biological weapons.

Add to this the popular opinion that the federal government is bloated, lazy, inept, and no longer able to properly serve or protect its citizens, and you have the mixture for a time of fear unlike any that has come along in almost 70 years.

Whether the above is true to any degree that could harm us is irrelevant to this piece. What matters is that the fear is there. According to many sources, and many authors of zombie fiction, that fear has been the driving catalyst in a resurgence. I tend to agree.

More so than Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or even Jigsaw, the zombies represent the sum total of society’s present fears and concerns, all wrapped in a neat, decomposing package.

The outbreak of a zombie apocalypse (taking Romero’s return probe from Venus aside) is typically some sort of biological weapon gone wrong, or an unknown biological source. It strikes with impunity either in a certain geographical area (as in City of the Dead, by Brian Keene) or worldwide as is more typical.

Next, the first stages of the outbreak typically involve an unknown quantity of what is going on, or how it is spread. That lack of knowledge in how the infection leads to a rapid spread of the problem as hospitals become overburdened, and then walking graveyards. Meanwhile, the military and government are pretty much toppled in short form as the infection strikes within their very walls and ranks, all but eliminating the citizen’s main form of protection and salvation.

From there, the common elements and technological crutches that we have become so reliant upon fall, leaving the pockets of survivors scrounging for a living not only against millions of infected zombies, but also with a realization that many of them do not even possess the basic survival skills for a world without ready-made meals and store-bought goods.

The survivors now come to the realization that they lack even the most basic ability to feed and provide for themselves, never mind their loved ones and children. Starvation and illness become serious threats of death, not to mention the other survivors in a similar position that will kill another person for their supplies. Economic and social classes break down, and the law of the land is what you can do whatever is necessary to stay alive.

All in all, under the mask of cool zombies and interesting characters, we have our fears of an unknown enemy (whatever agent caused the outbreak), danger being the person next to you (infection), an ineffective government (militaries and governments fall quickly), and having to fend for ourselves in a world turned completely against us, with danger possibly lurking in the survivor camp just over the hill. A common cold becomes a major threat, and even the smallest cut or animal bite could become a very dangerous medical infection.

In a world of economic and governmental fears, of terrorism in your own backyard, and in an uncertain future that could undergo a paradigm shift, the zombie apocalypse genre does a fantastic job of bringing all of that together to both appeal and frighten us on deeper levels.

And we cling to it, hungry for that sensation, starving for the need to experience the emotional and mental connection through the relative safety of our television screen or eReader. Desiring the increased pulse and heightened anxiety brought about by the recesses of our mind as we attempt to face our fear and come to grips with it.

It’s the appeal of horror, and why fans of the genre are drawn to being happily scared— and why my son and I look back on our respective in-family horror gags with a particular fondness.

Even More Rules of the Apocalypse


Welcome back to the final content update for the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re now entering the last week of the Kickstarter project.

In the previous two updates I talked a little bit about crafting, community building, and handling vehicle MPG for those who want fuel to be a sought after resource in their campaigns. This week we’ll go a little into things like genetic mutations and cybernetics, which use the same rules between them, and a new feature for characters called Values.

First up: the genetic mutations and other character altering stuff.

We went through several iterations of rules on handling genetic mutations and cybernetics. Some were very abstract; some were super-crunchy (bring your own salsa). Neither worked for what we wanted. So I started looking to different sources on how such things might be handled, primarily via role-playing games I have in my PDF and physical library. I have a ton. Way too many, in fact. I should probably sell some of this stuff eventually, because when Anna and I buy a home in the next few years (we currently rent), I’m not looking forward to moving all this stuff. Especially stuff like RPGs that I honestly will never have the time to play again. I’m talking AD&D 2e, TORG, the Marvel Universe RPG (the system that used the stone resource allocation), even the original Elfquest RPG from Chaosium.

Eventually I came upon Cyberpunk 2020. I read through the sections I needed, and the proverbial lightbulb went off. At some point after that in design, I also started looking through various Savage Worlds products for the same themes. I’d already decided to translate what I wanted from the Cyberpunk 2020 system into Savage Worlds terms, but then I discovered it had already been done. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t say with authority that that’s where those designers got the idea from, but the similarities were suddenly no longer lost on me. I’d just never seen it before because I hadn’t cracked open Cyberpunk 2020 in almost 20 years. But I found similar systems for handling cybernetics in Interface Zero 2.0, the Science Fiction Companion, Rippers, and even in the gear catalogue for Deadlands Reloaded.

So taking in all the above, looking for common threads that were already prevalent in Savage Worlds, and adding in my own that I felt were needed, here’s the basic system I came up with.

If you’re familiar with various forms of cybernetic rules in Savage Worlds, you’ll see a common theme. Characters usually have a threshold, called Strain or something else, that governs the number of slots they have available for cybernetics. Going above that threshold causes Fatigue that cannot be recovered (except by removing the extra parts) and that can eventually lead to death. So, we already have that system spread between several different products by different publishers. Meaning: it’s likely a sub-system Savage Worlds fans are already very familiar with.

It also mimics the sub-systems of older games like Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun (Essence loss), and others.

Now, how you come about the Strain value varies. It might be a derived statistic from Vigor or Spirit, or something else.

I also wanted to use some sort of Psychosis rules, ala Cyberpunk 2020; and I also wanted to avoid a single “stat dump” mechanic to determine the thresholds.

So, here’s the basics of what I wrote.

Every character, PC or NPC, has a Strain (though I might change that term before it goes to layout) threshold equal to their Toughness. Edges that increase Toughness increase that threshold, and there are also specific Edges that can increase your Strain without increasing the damage mitigation of your Toughness. Meaning that you have a choice in creating your character, and wanting them to have a decent Strain doesn’t force you to also stat-dump into Vigor or take damage mitigating Toughness increasing Edges. You can be average in the damage mitigation and Vigor department, and still have a decent Strain.

Each genetic mutation or cybernetic, or what have you, uses a specific number of slots. Each slot costs 1-Strain. Go above that threshold, and you will take damage that can only be recovered by removing the extra slots, and take too much over the threshold and you’ll die. Of course some things like cybernetics are easy to remove, whereas genetic mutations are not.

This also mimics what we see in a lot of fiction where we have the super-cybered or seriously-mutated, hulking brute of a monster.

I also have another derived statistic besides Strain, and that is Empathy. The Empathy stat is determined by your Spirit. In addition to costing Strain, each slot used also reduces your Empathy. Once your Empathy reaches zero, you hit the point where further augmentation will affect your ability to interact with other living things. When your Empathy goes below zero, each further point of loss reduces your Charisma by -1, which means it affects your Persuasion and Streetwise rolls. Additionally, each point it drops below zero gives you a +1 bonus to Intimidate and Test of Wills rolls. You’ll also have to roll on a Psychosis chart to see what issues you’re going to take on.

Basically, the more you’re mutated, cybered, and so forth, the less and less human you’ll become on an emotional level, and the more chances for some serious mental and emotional issues to develop. Which, we felt, duplicated what we see in various novels, TV shows, and films.

Now, on to Values.

In an apocalypse setting, the most famous characters have things that are vitally important to them. It might be a child, a spouse, a photograph, a religious belief . . . the possibilities are endless. The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has an optional rule for characters called Values, and they represent those things about a character.

Players start with between 3 to 7 Value Points at character creation. What the player does is create one or more Values, which can be the notation of a simple item or even a phrase about something important to them, and assigns a numerical value to it from their point pool. The higher the numerical value, the more important it is to the character. During play, when one of the Values would directly inspire the character in some way, the player can use any number of the assigned points for that Value to gain a +1 to the roll per point spent. Points can also be spent to immediately recover from a Shaken condition instead of it costing a benny. Once a point is spent, it is checked off and is no longer available— so Values are not an unlimited resource.

Value points reset at the end of an adventure, not a gaming session. So use them wisely, and mainly during dramatic moments.

GMs can also use Values against the players. When the GM feels a Value would hinder a character’s action, he can opt to use the Value to cause the player a -2 or -4 to the roll. For each -2 the GM penalizes the roll, the player receives a benny. Alternatively, the player can deny the Value being used. To do this they have two options. As a free action (similar to getting rid of a Shaken result), they can make a Spirit roll with a modifier equal to the -2 or -4 the GM was trying to cause. On a success, they take only half the penalty to the Trait roll they were otherwise about to make (so -1 or -2) and still get a single benny. On a raise, they resist the penalty entirely. They can also simply spend a benny to deny the penalty entirely. The player only need spend one benny, regardless of the proposed penalty.

And that’s it for this update. It’s now entering the final week for funding, so feel free to check it out over at Kickstarter.

More Rules of the Apocalypse


Last week, I talked a little about the Basic Crafting system in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide for Savage Worlds. As I stated, though, there are also some advanced rules . . . well, rules options, really . . . for those who also want to use their resource hoarding in the process.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has rules for scavenging that utilize a combination of the dice and cards from the Action Deck. There are also rules for cargo spaces, be it the saddlebags on a motorcycle, the trunk or back seat of a car, or the backpack on your shoulders. The cargo space rules are optional rules for determining how much you can carry and store (should you have some sort of purchased storage capacity back at the town). A car trunk, for example, represents one cargo space. If you remove one of the seats from the vehicle, which also means one less passenger, you can get an additional cargo space. Meanwhile, an empty tractor-trailer can hold a whopping 100 cargo spaces.

What is a cargo space? It’s an abstract representation of storage capacity. Whenever you get salvage or other goods, they’ll have a cargo space range based on how much you get. That’s how much cargo space you’ll need to carry or store them.

Now for those who want a little extra chance in their crafting, there’s an optional (or Advanced) rule that lets you use that cargo space in the process. For every one full cargo space you have, draw a card from the Action Deck. The maximum number of cards you can draw is four, so even if you managed to eventually fill an entire tractor-trailer, you’re not drawing 100 cards. Pick one card (obviously, the best) and consult the chart to see what, if any, benefits or problems you might suffer. Such as getting a bonus or penalty to the crafting roll due to material quality (which you managed to have on hand in storage), not having what you need but it being available enough that you can trade for it, or even the resource not being available at all and it needing to be found at some point through scavenging.

So using the optional rules, you not only roll for the crafting attempt as outlined last week, but you also have to deal with a benefit or setback based on what you might or might not have stored in your cargo spaces.

Originally, we’d developed a system for cargo spaces that forced the players to keep a list of everything they traded, stole, or scavenged. That list then played into crafting, providing bonuses or penalties for quality, number of needed resources, and et cetera. After a lot of play testing, we came to a conclusion: that sub-system would work good in some role-playing games, but not in Savage Worlds. At least not in our opinion. And while that’s something I might eventually release as another optional rule in one of the smaller PDF support products, for the core toolkit book I wanted a system that kept it a little more abstract and, as I said about Savage Worlds in the previous entry, got out of the way during play instead of boggling down the game.

Okay, moving on.

Naturally the Apocalypse Campaign Guide contains write-ups for all sorts of vehicles. The vehicles also have two additional stats: the already mentioned cargo space capacity, and the vehicle’s MPG.

As with several rules in the toolkit, you don’t have to deal with MPG at your table. But the vehicle stats offer the option, and each stat block states not only the miles per gallon that the vehicle can get, but also how many miles it can typically get on a full tank, and even the average number of miles the vehicle can travel in a single day (assuming rest breaks). Add in full cargo spaces (more weight) or even tow a trailer, and that MPG can drop. There’s not much more to it than that, and the option is there for those post-apocalyptic fans out there that really want to deal with fuel consumption as a needed resource. This can be particularly useful in something like a Mad Max setting where vehicles and fuel are central to the story, or in any apocalypse where the GM wants to keep vehicles on a leash. Can’t get the fuel, can’t move the car. It also allows for an interesting choice balance in play. Yeah, the characters might want to take that tractor-trailer, but the gas mileage is going to suck (not to mention it needs diesel fuel), compared to that sedan or SUV.

You also aren’t stuck with the stock vehicles. Want to add armor to the sedan, or a heavy gun into the bed of the pick-up truck? No problem. That’s where the Modification rules come into play, which allow you to do just that sort of thing. The rules discuss bonuses and penalties to the roll, time, and any potential malfunctions that could occur later. Going back to the whole MPG thing, the modification chart also lists what, if any, drop in MPG the vehicle will suffer due to the extra weight. Not to mention any penalties to the Driving rolls due to all that extra weight.

So yes, you too can be Mad Max. Just don’t wreck the damned thing.

Communities are the final thing I’ll touch upon this week. Building a community is an easy, straight forward affair. Based on the size of the community you want; you’ll be granted a number of points with which to construct it. It might be a very small encampment, or an entire underground bunker like in the Wool novels. Using the points, you’ll purchase things like defense perimeter, location (even underground), manufacturing capabilities, medical facilities, types of housing available to your citizens, and so forth. There are also special Community Edges you can purchase for additional benefits, such as working electricity and water filtration systems.

Based on the size of your community, you’ll have to undertake abstract Upkeep Missions every so often. These are done using the community’s assigned dice, and receive an overall bonus or penalty to the roll based upon the types and qualities of different features your community has. Failure on the missions might result in a feature being reduced in quality, while a success or raise might result in some type of quality increase or expansion into a new resource type. Upkeep missions are the main way your community will dwindle or grow over time.

The size of the community will also bring with it some other benefits and drawbacks, such as what is expected of the player-characters as part of the upkeep, bonuses to certain types of rolls, or even penalties to rolls for lacking or low quality resources. So, you’re free to pick and choose any sized community you want to build, but remember nothing is truly free in the post-apocalypse.

You’ll see those rules tweaked throughout the toolkit book for different things as well, such as building your own starship freighter to a full-blown capital ship.

Next week in the final content update, I’ll talk briefly about genetic mutations, cybernetics, and that sort of stuff; as well as introduce you to a new character option: Values, and how they affect the game.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide is currently in its final 14 days over at Kickstarter. Feel free to check it out.


Apocalypse Campaign Guide: Basic Crafting


The next couple of blog entries are going to correlate with the Apocalypse Campaign Guide (Savage Worlds) currently running over at Kickstarter. I was asked in the comments if I could talk a little about how we handle crafting in the toolkit book. Given that Kickstarter Updates are a pain to work with when importing lengthy text and trying to format it, I decided to do them here and link them in the Updates over there. Unless a post is short and sweet, I never use a site’s built-in editor to compose, and always prefer to use WORD. Writers are, after all, creatures of extreme habit.

There was a lot of internal debate that went into how we could handle Basic Crafting in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide. After all, we’re huge fans (and long-time gamers) of the Savage Worlds system, ourselves, and one of the most appealing factors is that the rules really do a fine job of getting the heck out of the way at the table. We didn’t want to design something that was cumbersome, and defeated one of the core appeals of Savage Worlds. So it had to work, had to get out of the way in play, and had to be balanced.

At first we thought about some type of crafting point build system. After all, Savage Worlds kind of does something along those lines with the Arcane Backgrounds (Weird Science) Edge, which has been reskinned in a variety of settings. And yes, we have something similar in our toolkit book, but that isn’t the same as crafting in the vein that we wanted it. Those particular characters are a unique sort, and exactly how they accomplish their inventions, and in what forms, depends greatly on the genre of apocalyptic setting you’re running. A Steampunk Apocalypse’s inventors will be different than one in a space-faring setting, or a fantasy apocalypse, or even a modern day End of the World. So we define them separately.

We needed something for folks who wanted to craft some everyday items or weapons, regardless of genre.

At first we thought about a new skill: Crafting, which would be broken down into subskills much like the Knowledge skill. After getting into that a bit, we realized the skill was unnecessary. Instead, have it rely on Knowledge (type) for crafting, but create a couple of Edges to enhance that and allow the character to receive a bonus for focusing on the crafting aspects of it.

We also dropped the point-build crafting concept, as that just boggled down play.

So we have it rely on the Knowledge (type) skills, and have Edges to enhance it. What we didn’t do was (again) get too cumbersome with needing specific Knowledge skills for each and every facet. For example, Knowledge (Gunsmith) allows you to spend time to craft a gun and bullets. You don’t have to have Knowledge (Chemistry) or a bunch of others to ply your craft. It’s assumed you know how to craft a gun and bullets. Remember, our goal was to keep the games Savage Worlds. There’s a sidebar to GMs talking about breaking different crafting needs down to specifically required Knowledge skills, but that’s something for you to decide at your table. As Pinnacle always says: It’s your game. For the book, though, we didn’t want to boggle things down. We wanted to keep with the FFF! template and that Savage Worlds emulates the tropes of fiction, instead of simulating reality.

To craft, you roll your appropriate Knowledge skill. Because even the best inventors are still victims to the whims of luck in the process— even when factories and full facilities were available, which you don’t have in a post-apocalyptic environment— the GM also draws a card from the Action Deck. This is similar to drawing a card for a Chase scene, and a Clubs can bring with it all sorts of complications (explained via charts, based on the card value of the Clubs). It might even indicate a lack of resources and a needed adventure to find and salvage stuff. Other suits can simply give you a negative penalty, no penalty, or a bonus.

Based on getting a success, and how many raises you also receive, you’ll be able to craft $X amount of goods. Meaning if you rolled enough to be able to craft $200 worth of goods, you can then go to the Gear charts in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide or Savage Worlds Deluxe (or something like Pinnacle’s Fantasy Companion or Science Fiction Companion, if you also own them), and choose up to $200 worth of stuff to craft. It might be a Glock 9mm (cost: $200), or a Derringer (cost: $150) and some extra bullets.

Specific settings would naturally have their own cost charts (such as World of the Dead did in 2013), but for the toolkit rules we have to be a bit more general in scope.

Of course, you’re unlikely to be just randomly crafting during the story. Instead you’re going to want to craft a particular item or set of items, so what your crafting item goal is will determine your needed number of success and raises.

Crafting takes time, as well. Take the total cost of the goods you want to craft. Every $10 worth (round down) equals one base day. You then add 1d6 to that. So, crafting a Glock pistol takes 20+1d6 days from start to finish.

That keeps things balanced in that player-characters can craft mundane items instead of hoping to salvage everything, but it’s going to take time— time that you are stuck at your workspace and not out adventuring and being heroic.

Obviously, that means you’re not going to be crafting vehicles and starships via this method, and some items are just simply too expensive and complex to craft in a post-apocalyptic world (unless you managed to Ace enough to roll phenomenally high). But that fits the genres. Sure, you can technically gather enough parts to build a car from scratch, but you’re unlikely to have the time or real tools to do so in such a setting.

However, for those who want to add armor and weapons to your favorite vehicle, be it a car or a starship, or increase the damage potential of a weapon a little bit (and risk a malfunction at some point), we do have Modification rules as well.

So that’s how we handled Basic Crafting, and we liked the way it felt in play. It allowed for things to be made, as long as the time is available and the rolls can be made, and didn’t unbalance the need to scavenging for stuff in a post-apocalyptic setting, since the player-characters should also be out-and-about in the world, taking part in the action and furthering the story.

Check back on Monday, August 8th for the next Apocalypse Campaign Guide installment. And feel free to share this blog post, and get even more folks interested in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re not far from funding it, and making it see the light of day.

Next installment I’ll talk about some more options, among them the Advanced Crafting Rules. Those rules are designed for the Savages out there who like more crunch in their Savage Worlds sessions. The advanced rules directly tie into the rules options for Resource Management, such as how many resources you’ve accumulated over time (mostly via trade and scavenging), how much you have carried at any particular time, how much you have in your storage shed or car trunk (which uses the Cargo Space rules), and so forth.

So, there’s also an Advanced ruleset that groups can choose to use if they like that sort of crunch, as your Resource Management and Cargo Space will directly play into what you have on-hand to put into Crafting.