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ETU - Starting a New Campaign and looking for advice!

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  • ETU - Starting a New Campaign and looking for advice!

    Hi Guys!

    I recently decided that I'm going to run East Texas University, and specifically the Degrees of Horror Storyline for a collection of my friends! It's going to be my first time running Savage World, and I'm a little nervous, so I'd appreciate any kind of advice that anyone could offer about things to watch out for, or to be aware of up front? Any help anyone can offer would be great!

    Thank you,

  • #2
    Great! Have fun!

    The Wildcards on the Saving Throw Show Channel (Twitch and YouTube) are playing that as well, if you have the time it might be fun to watch and get some ideas. I think Quick Encounters and Dramatic Tasks are great for ETU.

    General advice regarding running Savage Worlds:

    1. Use the Wound Cap setting rule
    2. Let the Bennies flow
    3. Don't save your GM Bennies for Soaking, use them to increase the drama


    • #3
      Welcome! Both to Savage Worlds and to this forum.

      As a GM, you need some basic familiarity with the rules, a system for handling unexpected rules questions (look it up, designate a "rules researcher" to do the looking, make a table ruling and deal later, etc.), and a willingness to be incorrect and admit it later.

      ETU is a modern horror setting, based in a realistic modern university. Running away from scary things is normal and expected, while deadly violence is shocking and unusual. Those points can be difficult for any experienced game to remember, so best to make that clear up front and repeatedly through the session.

      With new players (and GMs) I like to start with my "Essential Game Mechanics of Savage Worlds" spiel:
      • Players make two kinds of rolls, Trait rolls (attributes and skills) and Damage rolls. Both rolls can Ace (if you roll the highest value on the die, pick it up and roll again, adding it together; this is open-ended, allowing a 23 on 1d6).
      • Traits are measured as a die type (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12). You roll the die type of the trait and a Wild Die (d6), that represents your character's heroic luck. Take the highest of the two dice and use that for your result.
      • Damage dice are determined by your weapon, and are added together.
      • The Target Number for almost everything is 4. The exceptions are Fighting (you try to hit their Parry) and Damage (versus Toughness). Everything else is a TN 4. This means that a +1 is a big bonus, and +2 is amazing.
      • For every full 4 you beat the TN by, you achieve a "Raise". Raises are good, providing extra damage, greater success, faster success, inflicting more wounds, or whatever.
      • Acing dice and the generally low Target Numbers mean that anything that is allowed to roll can roll the best possible result. That includes "one hit kills" for damage rolls. It also means that any roll can have the worst possible result. So, consider if you want dice to start rolling.
      • Last are Bennies - how much Fate loves you and how you can manipulate those disobedient dice. Bennies have a lot of uses, but the most common is to reroll any Trait roll (not damage). Spend the chip, reroll the whole thing, and take the best of the two results. You can spend as many chips as you want (and have) on rerolling a given roll.
      • We'll cover the rest as we need to.
      Good luck, and feel free to ask if you have more specific questions.

      Edit: One piece of GM specific advice about Bennies.
      Bennies exist to do cool things, not to take away the cool things other people did. Sometimes, a bad guy using a benny for a Soak roll to survive a bunch of wounds is a cool thing, but more often it's taking away the cool big hit the player character just did; pay attention to which is which and avoid the latter.
      Last edited by ValhallaGH; 08-15-2019, 08:47 PM.
      I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


      • Akerbakk
        Akerbakk commented
        Editing a comment
        I'm stealing this spiel for my tables.

    • #4
      Hi Ben, welcome to Savage Worlds! I too recently purchased ETU and Degrees of Horror (DoH) to run in the future. I have been running Savage Worlds for about four years now, and love it. Here are my thoughts after having read through the adventure this past week:

      1. First off, if you are running using the new SWADE rules (which I highly recommend, because so much has been streamlined in the new version) make sure you download the free update. Minor changes, but changes to note for sure.

      2. DoH counts on you as GM establishing meaningful relationships between your PCs and NPCs for the plot points to have real impact. Take notes on your important NPCs ahead of time, track them narratively (what might they be up to, what do they study, etc) and try to link your players to them in as many ways as organically possible. When I run, I plan to have a spreadsheet or running list of important NPCs so I can insert them in-game when appropriate.

      3. Savage Worlds at its core is for pulpy, FFF gameplay, where it is assumed that the players are somewhat experienced and combat capable. ETU starts players at the weaker end of this spectrum. Don't overwhelm the PCs too much at the beginning. They're college freshmen. Teenagers. Check out for little ideas of crappy days to throw at your students.

      4. Furthermore, I recommend to not go over-the-top with the weirdness at first. Personally, I think the first adventure in DoH may put in too much, too soon. Lavish your players with the mundane and sublunary, then start sprinkling in the strange and horrific.

      5. Encourage Tests and Support at your table. Your players, not being combat monsters, will have to rely on buffs and debuffs to shake and throw status effects on baddies in order to be effective.

      6. Be opulent with handing out Bennies to keep players kicking. Benny economy will come to you as a GM, and many new SW GMs give out too few. Better to give out too many and have to back off a bit during a session than deal with a TPK towards the beginning of an intricate campaign like DoH.

      7. My final advice - check out Saving Throw on YouTube as they ran an excellent ETU mini-series last year. Here's the first episone of "Undeclared". The GM gets the tone just about right, and he shows off many cool features of SW.

      Best of luck, and hope your game goes swimmingly!


      • #5

        I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said.


        Degrees of Horror is written in a way that you can accidentally bang right through it. Try to avoid this. You'll want to allow for moments of "cooldown" between the weirdness. Let the students do normal stuff. This means inserting 2 or 3 adventures between each Plot Point.

        Also, keep in mind the setting is horror. You'll want to draw out the suspenseful and intriguing scenes... at times, you should make the players feel helpless. I've found that horror settings work best when played Theatre-of-the-Mind. Rather than break out the battle mat, simply narrate the action to the players. This can be tricky, so only do it if you think you can handle it. But it's well worth the extra effort.
        For example, the scene in the greenhouse at the end of Freshman year: vividly describe the verdant plantlife and the thick, stiffling air as the students creep inside. Call for a Notice roll to hear "dull, squishy sounds" coming from *over there*.

        Avoid drawing a map and placing the beast figurine down for everyone to see. That may be done once battle is engaged, but in the moments leading up to it, try to make your players feel the fear the students would be feeling. Really *sell* the atmosphere to them. Dim lighting really helps too. Try cheesy little jump-scares, like slapping the bottom of the table in the middle of describing a spooky scene (just make sure you don't spill someone's drink ).


        And lastly, as a general tip for a new Savage GM... Bennies, Bennies, Bennies!!! Get used to using them and encourage your players to use them. It's not an understatement that new GMs struggle with implementing them. It's something that needs to be learned, and the sooner the better.

        Teach by example. If your creature fails a roll, announce that it failed but you're spending a Benny to reroll. If it succeeds, it's a good reminder to the players of the power of Bennies. Soon enough, those chips will be sliding across the table left and right. And that's what you want!

        When players use Bennies, the game is much more fun and exciting... and nothing beats the look on their faces when you (the GM) hold up a Benny between your fingers. In your hands, Bennies can be dangerous... and in a horror setting, strive for danger.

        Cheers, mate. And Good Luck!
        Last edited by Deskepticon; 08-15-2019, 11:32 PM.


        • #6
          Hi there!

          I'm going to reply to each person's comment seperately for the most part, but I wanted to thank you all for being so welcoming and so helpful! I was pretty nervous, since it's an entirely new system for me, and I tend to prefer to play a system before I run it. But you've all made me feel a lot better about it, so thank you so much!

          In terms of Bennies, that is one of the things that I am a touch nervous about, as in other games like this I've watched players hoard these kinds of points, and they never seem to get used. I'm going to be taking all your advice and trying to help my players keep that economy running back and forth, reminding them that they can choose to use them after rolls, and leading by example with my own pool of Bennies.

          And I have seen the Saving Throw Wildcard show! I've been trying to carve time out of my day to watch it, but I think it'll be super helpful to see other people playing and making rulings, and then being able to go back and look at the book and work out why it worked a specific way and such. Plus, they just seem like a fun bunch of players!

          Again, thank you all so much! And now for more specific replies!


          In terms of the Wound Cap, I think that's a really great setting rule, and I'll almost definitely use it. I'm always concerned about outright killing a character on a roll, and I think that's a great way of making it so that I'm not dreading getting a big roll myself.


          I'm definitely going to try and press that on my players up front. I've played with other players (Who thankfully aren't in this group) that felt that because they were 'the main characters' that they could defeat everything. It didn't go well for them, when they played an entirely normal human and tried to fight a werewolf in hand to hand combat.

          My usual approach on rules is to make a quick ruling at the table, and then go and double check later. It's worked pretty well so far, but I know that looking at a new system, it's really important to be prepared.

          The Essential Game Mechanics Spiel is fantastic! Thank you so much, it's helpful both to me, and will be super helpful when I'm trying to explain things to players.

          And I appreicate the GM specific advice about Bennies too. I'm a little nervous about using them as a GM, but I think I've got to focus on using them for dramatically appropriate things, rather than what is mechanically the most beneficial at that moment.


          1. Thank you for pointing it out! I had a bit of a nervous part at first, because I wasn't sure what the difference between the rule sets were, and if I'd accidentally bought the wrong one. But it's really great that there's something laying it all out so that it works with both!

          2. I definitely agree. I've already started compiling a list of important characters, so that I can introduce them into the story a little earlier than the adventures they star in. Especially the adventure into the Burn. A spreadsheet sounds like a really great way of doing that!

          3-5. I was a little concerned, since the first player who made a character hasn't taken any combat skills, and most of the others seem to be playing artists and academics, rather than athletic people. So my thought was to start with mainly mundane situations, or things that can be solved with social situations, at least first. That way they have a few adventures to build up their skills before combat becomes a major worry.

          6-7. Thank you so much for the advice! I kind of replied already at the top, but it felt rude to not specifically respond to the last two points after talking about all the rest. xD


          I was definitely worried about rushing through it, so I think rather than hand out specific xp, I'm going to do advances based on how many sessions we play, rather than how many specific missions. I think that'll let me let players follow their own paths too without me having to suddenly stop the flow and tell them, "You have a major test and also that was 3 months worth of in-game stuff according to the rule book, so nothing else happens."

          I definitely need to focus on horror. I'm going to look into some mood music and such, and tend to run theatre of the mind anyway, so that's definitely on the table. I'll definitely be careful about drinks though, nothing will break the tension more than a two of three minutes break to mop it all up. xD


          Again thank you so much guys! This has been a really great help, and I'm really looking forward to this adventure!



          • #7
            Hi again!

            I don't know if anyone is still looking at this thread, but I had a more specific question about how to approach a situation. One of my players wants to play a student majoring in wildlife conservation, and was interested in taking the shooting skill, in relation to that. However, most guns seem to be illegal to possess on school grounds, and there'd be heavy social penalty to having them? (I'm English, so I'm not 100% sure if that's the same in East Texas?). I wanted to ask for advice if I should try and steer them away from that skill, or if there are things that use the shooting skill that exist and would make sense in the setting, that wouldn't cause a situation for them to own?

            Thanks for any advice,


            • #8
              The firearms laws in the U.S. are generally a lot more lax than in Europe. The firearms laws in Texas are generally a lot more lax than in the rest of the USA.

              It's actually legal for persons with Concealed Carry permits to concealed carry firearms on college campuses in Texas. Most schools don't allow carrying those weapons into classrooms, but the law stipulates that schools must allow concealed carry on campus. The cascading effects mean that schools have varying policies about storing weapons on campus, including in dormitories, but allow it to some extent.
              There aren't any heavy social penalties. The social impact of firearm possession is much the same as the social impact of wearing a political clothing item (t-shirt, hat, hoodie, etc.) - some folks will like you more, some folks will like you less, and a few folks will ignore it.

              Bow hunting is very common in much of the United States, utilizes the Shooting skill, and doesn't raise as many security concerns as firearms; and while concealed carry isn't an option, and most law enforcement treat open carry of bows the same as open carry of firearms, it's an option that is still very effective and reasonably in theme.

              Aside: wildlife conservation is a decent reason to have Shooting, but unless the character is also an avid recreational hunter or competitive shooter there's little reason for that skill to be above d4.
              I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


              • #9
                I really appreciate the insight. There are a few things that are just... entirely outside of my frame of reference, and even popular culture doesn't clue me in. xD I hope you don't mind me asking, just so I understand.

                This is a follow up dumb question on my end, but I just want to check that I'm understanding it correctly, and not missing something. The ETU main book says that you need to be 21 to have a Concealed Carry License. Being 21 would likely make you a Junior in the school, rather than a freshman, right?


                • #10
                  Originally posted by Flashfreeze View Post
                  This is a follow up dumb question on my end, but I just want to check that I'm understanding it correctly, and not missing something. The ETU main book says that you need to be 21 to have a Concealed Carry License. Being 21 would likely make you a Junior in the school, rather than a freshman, right?
                  Not a dumb question.
                  Yes, a Texas Concealed Carry requires you to be 21, or 18 if you are military (active, vet, or reserves). This is typically Junior year for most students, though Freshmen come in all ages. If a player wants to be a 24 year old "late starter" going to college for the first time, I think that's technically allowed. Heck! They can probably be a 53 year old widowed boomer.

                  For older Freshmen, you may want to finagle things a bit for the character, though. First off, they'd be old enough to buy booze, which would make them instantly the guy everyone wants to be friends with. You can create social situations where random students pester him about buying them beer... always at the worst possible moment.
                  The guy would also be old enough to legally own a Concealed Carry permit, and may even have a gun (it IS Texas after all). These "soft bonuses" can be slightly offset by having the professors expect more from the old chap... a -1 to Midterms/Finals can represent that.

                  There's also the matter of the ROTC.
                  I searched the web but I had trouble finding a definitive answer on whether or not an ROTC cadet is considered military (for the purpose of firearm ownership). What I discovered is that after their second year the cadet must pledge service to the military, then they are issued a military ID and assigned a rank. Essentially, this means Junior year is "entry year" for legal firearm ownership for nearly all students, ROTC or not.

                  But if you want, you can probably have Freshman ROTC be treated as military and allow them the legal use of a gun. It's a fictional world, after all, and the rule-of-cool takes precedent. Ultimately, it's up to you.

                  Cheers, and Have Fun!
                  Last edited by Deskepticon; 08-21-2019, 07:25 AM. Reason: Fix typos


                  • #11
                    ValhallaGH covered the bases well regarding East Texas and firearms. Keep in mind just because the character has a shooting skill doesn't mean he needs to own a firearm. He could have easily grown up in a family that hunted, in which case he learned to shoot, but hasn't taken his gun to school. Having the skill just provides opportunity if the occasion arises where he gets his hands on a gun. When we played through DoH my character had a firearm stashed, but over the course of the whole Plot Point, he used it maybe three times and two of those he found out how ineffective lead can be against supernatural creatures.


                    • #12
                      I really appreciate everyone taking the time to explain it to me. I hadn't thought of the fact that older students could be starting for the first time, so thank you! And it's reassuring to think of it in the way PEGThomas pointed out, that just because the player has the skill doesn't necessarily mean they always have the trappings.

                      Thank you all so much!


                      • #13
                        Hey guys!

                        I'm back with another question that came up as I was reading some of the bits of the book. Under Research Adventures section, one of the options they can roll describes a book that describes a power of the Dean's Choice. I wanted to check, is this supposed to be like... a ritual that the party can then decipher and use, or something else entirely.

                        Sorry to keep shooting questions out at you all, just want to try and make sure I'm prepared for what might come up!


                        • #14
                          Yep, they find a ritual that details one way to cast a specific Power. Which power is Dean's choice, based upon what the Dean thinks will be the most fun for the campaign.
                          I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


                          • #15
                            Thank you so much for clearing that up!