Excuse the cliché of telling you about my campaign, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do here. Except that this is about the techniques used to run the game, and not the clever divine dynamic or the really cool twists on the basic fantasy races.

My last campaign was traditional D&D v3.5, which I ran almost entirely from a laptop, learning enough to write not one but two articles on laptops at the gaming table. This time around, the presence of wife and child means that priorities have changed; hours of prep and research are no longer an option.

So I chose a system that is fun, but has low prep requirements: Savage Worlds. While this is written from my experience as a Savage, many of these techniques can easily be carried over into other systems. 

Prep

The campaign is still managed by computer; nothing else can handle the volume of data that a campaign world will generate. For what it’s worth, a Google Group handles the public side of the campaign world, and Microsoft’s OneNote handles the GM’s side. I should be using a ‘one stop shop’ like Obsidian Portal, but Google was where it started, and my players probably wouldn’t like to switch horses mid-stream.

Reminders and pre-session notes are made on an index card or two, and a half-sized legal pad stands at the ready for notes during the session.

Savage Worlds has a fairly simple character sheet; most NPCs and critters can fit onto an index card. I made simple character sheets for blank 3×5 cards, and fill them in. Once the cards are used, they get filed in a card holder, ready for their next engagement. 

Next, miniatures are segregated by encounter and stashed in spare dice bags, so the players won’t know what’s next. I try to prep more encounters than are expected, just in case the players take that wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Play

Savage Worlds can be a very prop-heavy game, with markers for Bennies, Power Points, Wounds, and the all-frustrating Shaken condition. Bennies are full-size green ‘clay’ poker chips. Wounds and Shaken are stackable 1” plastic poker chips (red and white, respectively). Power Points are glass beads.

Savage Worlds has two types of area effects: cone and circle. The cone is a simple paper template until something cooler shows up. The various sizes of circle are macrame rings. They work great and are available in almost any size.

In gameplay, the 3×5 character sheets are brought out for their encounter. Bennies and initiative cards are placed on the proper character sheet. Shaken and Wound chips are stacked underneath the mini’s base, so everyone can see the situation.

Since the end of my last campaign, I’ve taken to using larger dice and rolling in the open. Because Savage Worlds is a game of wildly variable die rolls, this works out beautifully, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Here’s a picture of my setup, taken at the beginning of an encounter. You can see just about everything noted above:

Aftermath

XP in Savage Worlds is usually 2-3 points per session. I borrowed this system from a friend and GM. (Thanks Flynn!)

  • 1 XP for showing up at the game.
  • 1 XP for ending a chapter or campaign arc (about every 3-4 sessions).
  • 1 XP for answering the “Questions Three” – Name three things learned in tonight’s session, whether about the rules, the setting, or other characters.

Everyone’s always answered the “Questions Three”. It’s more of an encouragement to take notes and to be engaged in the campaign than it is a challenge.

After the session (sometimes almost a week after), I write a “Wrap-Up” email, covering XP totals, answering any questions brought up, and providing a brief synopsis of the session’s adventure. This not only acts as a reminder of what happened, but it also allows me to emphasize or clarify certain aspects or events. If your players completely overlooked your Big Hint, here’s a good chance to drop it again.

As a final note, I love my Tact-Tiles too much to take the plunge, but we’ve considered using a gridless battlemap for the campaign. If we did, a bunch of mini tape measures would magically appear at the table.

Comments? Questions? Sound off in the comments and let us know!