Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blocks & Bennies - A Savage Worlds/Minecraft Adventure

Crossing the Geek Generation Gap

Even though I like to think I’m a “cool dad”, up to date with all of the latest fads and crazes that my three children obsess over, there definitely a Geek Generation Gap (GGG for short) in our house.  I watch Carrie, Evie, and Cooper spend hours on their Kindles, scaring the snot out of themselves with Five Nights at Freddy’s and shake my head.

“Seriously, you’re playing Five Nights at Freddy’s again?” I’ll complain.  “Do you know how many ‘serious games’ we own that you could be playing?”  

“But we like it!” Carrie will laugh, as they all sit around tapping the screen, excitement burning behind their 11, 9, and 5 year old eyes.  Sure, I’d rather they be spending quality time doing something productive

 like finishing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (a true classic!) or attempting Kerbal Space Program (at least it’s educational!)  

But there is a tipping point for the Walls Family Geek Generation Gap.  A place in time and space where our two generations mingle briefly.  

Spent a lot of great time here, although the sub was hard to build


For those of you who don’t know about this creative, free-form, open-world computer game, I’ll fill you in.  Minecraft places players in the middle of vast, undiscovered lands, full of promise and opportunity.  Everything in the world is built block by block.  Water, dirt, gravel, stone, magma, it all comes in block form and can be manipulated in countless ways.  You can play the game in “Creative Mode” and just build anything you could possibly imagine (seriously, ANYTHING), or you can try “Survival Mode” and play out your Lost or Castaway fantasies...

 complete with zombies, archer skeletons, and small exploding green guys named “Creepers” hunting you down each night.  

I hear other parents talk about their kids’ fascination with Minecraft, their voices often tinged with bewilderment, confusion, and a complete lack of appreciation for the creative experience.  You’ll never hear that kind of tone from me, however.  In our household I was the first person to play Minecraft. 

That’s right, gamers!  I played Minecraft... but back before it was “hip!”  

In early 2011 (version 1.2.6 I believe), I found myself completely enthralled by Minecraft.  I would spend every night foraging, mining, and building in the hopes that I could survive one more day in a wilderness fraught with peril.  Keep in mind, this was back in the early days (Beta), where there wasn’t a “Creative Mode.”  

If I wasn’t playing by myself, I would join three players from my D&D 4th Edition online game and work on group projects together.  We built towers, rockets, castles, submarines, and all sorts of other creations for no other reason than just the simple pleasure of seeing a completed project.  The game was both relaxing and invigorating, and I played during a time in my life when I needed something that could spark a sense of wonder.  

The only image I have of my very first world

Eventually Carrie started playing Minecraft, soon followed by Evie, and finally Cooper.  Of course Minecraft is mainstream now.  You can find Minecraft toys at Target and Minecraft backpacks at Hot Topic.  Minecraft Legos exist, which definitely sets off my inner “Inception Bwah.”  All three of my children can spend hours watching YouTube tribute videos and music, and course the relentless onslaught of Minecraft actual play videos.

Although I’ll occasionally boot up Minecraft just to see what has changed, I haven’t put any serious time into a new world for about two years.  Every time I do go back to check out the game, it feels so alien and different from what I remember.

Isn’t This Supposed to be an RPG Post?

Ever interested in infusing my tabletop gaming with themes and concepts that can be found in electronic games, I recently began working on a new campaign for my kiddos.  I’ve been jotting down notes for a short series of “survival” type adventures, where characters are placed in precarious situations and must find a clever means of escape over the course of a single play session or two.  I focused on one adventure idea, which was a simple “stranded in the woods” concept, and thought about how much the story felt like Minecraft.  Given the popularity of Minecraft among children, especially those under thirteen, it would make for the perfect gateway to creative tabletop gaming if I could pilfer some concepts.

Or I could just recreate as much of the Minecraft experience as possible at the gaming table.  

Building Blocks & Bennies

The key factors to building this kind of tabletop experience would be:

  • Crafting a Visible World:  Not only would I need to provide maps for the players, I would want to create the map as the player characters explored the world.  Think of this as an “improvised hex-crawl,” where the GM comes up with the rest of the world on the fly.  We would start with one sheet of graph paper, some pencils, and a few crayons.  if the players moved off one sheet, a new “section’ would be added.  

  • Crafting a Tangible World:  Minecraft is a game about creation, even the creation of typically natural landmarks, such as trees, hills, and ponds.  I would need a mechanic to allow players to have form limited control over the map itself.  

  • Survival Mode:  I don’t think a “creative mode” type of Minecraft game would translate well to a tabletop RPG, but “survival mode” is perfect.  Place several characters in the middle of nowhere with little to no equipment, and a few basic skills to make it through the first night.  After finding shelter the players would need to come up with ways to get water, forage for food, and perhaps develop a means to reconnect with civilization.  

Savage Minecraft

I decided that the best way to turn Minecraft into a tabletop role-playing experience was through the Savage Worlds system.  Some of you may be reading this blog post with very little (or perhaps no) tabletop roleplaying experience.  Savage Worlds is a generic role-playing game system that focuses on light gameplay while providing plenty of character options and customizations.  You can run fantasy games, science fiction, horror, or your very own Minecraft hack!  

I encourage you to check out the free Savage Worlds Test Drive rules and see if the game is for you.  You can also pick up the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition rules for $9.99, which is everything you would need to play this game.

Seriously, this is one of the BEST values in RPG's that you'll ever find!  

The skill-based mechanics in Savage Worlds are perfect for a campaign featuring crafting, creation, and exploration as core themes.  Experience and advancement allow players to adapt their characters to the conditions set before them, something that you commonly find in other tales of survival.  When you first watch Tom Hanks’ character in “Cast Away” he can barely catch a fish (no ranks in Throwing), but fast forward to the end of the movie and he easily has a d10 in Throwing.  


In Minecraft, creatures are called “Mobs.”  Some, like sheep, cows, and horses, are no threat at all, and can be used to help players.  Others, like skeletons, zombies, and spiders, are very, very dangerous, and unarmed or poorly armed players should consider running.  For our “Pilot Episode” of this experience I wanted to introduce four basic hostile mobs:  zombies, skeletons, spiders, and creepers.

Zombies:  Already featured in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules on page 165.

Skeletons:  As featured in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules on page 162, but with the following change.
  • Shooting: d6
  • Gear:  Bow (2d6 damage, range 12/24/48)

Spiders:  As featured in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules on page 163.

Creepers:  These green walking bombs are terrifying in the electronic version of Minecraft, and should be equally so in a tabletop game.
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d8 (Animal),  Spirit d10,  Strength d4,  Vigor d6
  • Skills:  Notice d8, Stealth d8
  • Pace:  6
  • Parry:  2
  • Toughness:  5(1)
  • Gear:  None
  • Special Abilities:
    • Armor +1:  Thick skin
    • Explosion:  3d6 Damage.  Medium Burst Template.  When a Creeper comes within 3” of a target it begins to hiss and immediately explodes.  Agility roll (-2 penalty) to avoid damage.  If the Creeper is unnoticed due to Stealth, the target  gets to roll an immediate Notice versus Stealth before the explosion.  If the target hears the hiss, they get to make an Agility check (-2 penalty) to dodge the explosion.     
    • Small

Setting Rules

For now I’m just adding one new rule:

Blaze a New Trail:  A player may spend a Benny just before a new section of the map (in the form of one sheet of graph paper) is revealed.  The player then announces one single landmark that is featured in the new section.  For instance, upon entering a forest, the player may spend a benny and state that a large tree, twice as high as the rest, is located somewhere on the new map.  So long as the landmark could exist in that specific biome, the Game Master may not veto the selection.  


I didn’t want a party of characters able to steamroll over the mobs in this game, so I thought I’d try something a little different: kids.  Everyone in this particular adventure is between the age of 8 and 12, and therefore has the “Young” hindrance.  This means that all of the characters start with just 3 points to advance their attributes and 10 skill points.  If these four were going to survive their time in Minecraft, they would need to outthink the mobs and avoid direct confrontation!

Since I built the characters as pre-gens, I also made sure that each one had some kind of specialty.  

Hiro - Tough Kid played by Cooper
  • Attributes:  Agility d4,  Smarts d4,  Spirit d6,  Strength d6,  Vigor d8
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  5,  Toughness:  7,  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Brawny
  • Hindrances:  Young
  • Skills:  Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Throwing d4, Swimming d4, Climbing d6, Notice d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Clothes, Sneakers, Bottle of Soda, Pack of Beef Jerky

Liz MacIntosh - Nerdy Kid played by Carrie
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d8,  Spirit d4,  Strength d4,  Vigor d4
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  2,  Toughness:  4,  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  McGyver 
  • Hindrances:  Young
  • Skills:  Repair d8, Knowledge: Science d8, Notice d8, Riding d6, Shooting d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Clothes, Sneakers, String 20’, Pen, Glasses

Russell - Scout Kid played by Mommy
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d6,  Spirit d8,  Strength d4,  Vigor d4
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  2,  Toughness:  4,  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Healer
  • Hindrances:  Young
  • Skills:  Boating d4, Shooting d4, Notice d6, Tracking d4, Swimming d4, Healing d6, Survival d6
  • Starting Equipment:  Clothes, Sneakers, Newspaper, Swiss Army Knife

McKenna - Fun Kid played by Evie
  • Attributes:  Agility d8,  Smarts d4,  Spirit d4,  Strength d6,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  2,  Toughness:  5,  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Luck
  • Hindrances:  Young
  • Skills:  Climbing d6, Throwing d8, Stealth d8, Taunt d4, Notice d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Clothes, Sneakers, Snorkel, Volleyball

Our Pilot Session

[Disclaimer:  Despite some of the pictures you've seen already on this post, none of my children were aware that we were playing Savage Worlds Minecraft.  All they knew was that we were playing a "survival" adventure.  It took them quite a while to figure it out.]

Day One

Four young children awaken on the shore of a strange, untouched land.  The children, all between the ages of ten and twelve, know only their names and that each has a specific set of skills.  But none know where they came from or how they came to this alien place.    

[Carrie sadly asked “We don’t remember our families?”]

The sun was high, and the air was warm and pleasant.  The beach stretched out to the east and west, and the four children were on a small peninsula that stretched into a sea to the south.  

Looking to the north, the four children noticed that a dense forest, full of birds and other wildlife, blocked much of their view of the north, however they could make out some mountains to the northeast.

[I used the "Steve" head from Minecraft Legos to represent the party on the map.  Sadly, this did not clue the kids into the true nature of this game.]

All of the children were quite hungry, and Russell decided that crab was on the menu.  Using his Swiss Army Knife, Russell set out to stab one of the crabs on the beach.  It wasn't too difficult for the skilled Scout Kid.  Without a fire, Russell ate the crab raw.  Although it tasted funny, he slurped down the small creature's insides and grinned.

[I required my wife Jennifer to make a Vigor check in order to eat the raw crab without getting sick.  She succeeded… with two raises!]

The children approached the forest but realized that very little light broke through the thick canopy.  If they were going to explore this area they would want some additional light.  Liz collected some dried sticks and considered using her newspaper as kindling.  Before the Nerdy Kid passed the flimsy paper to the scout she took a look at the head lines.  

"Eagles Win the Superbowl!"

Liz realized that it must be February, and perhaps they were somewhere on the southern hemisphere.  But then she looked at the date and her jaw dropped.  The newspaper was dated 2044!  

["No!  The Eagles finally won, but its, like, thirty years later!" Carrie cried.]

Once the fire was lit the party needed some kind of torch.  Grabbing larger branches, Russell took off his nasty, greasy socks and rolled them out at the end.  Setting the first torch on fire, Russell handed the flame to Hiro.  The Tough Kid turned towards the forest and stepped past the first tree trunks. 

[Cooper looked nervous as he considered this part of the adventure, and he turned to his mom and said "can we both hold the torch together?"  Awww!]

Liz told Hiro that they had to push through the forest to get to the nearby hill.  From there, perhaps they could survey the rest of the area.  Hiro stepped through the trees carefully, until McKenna whispered for everyone to stop.  The Fun Kid pointed to a nearby branch where a large, wildcat perched.  

Hiro wanted a pet!  He took his beef jerky and carefully approached the cat.  Holding out the jerky, Hiro beckoned for the cat to approach.  Once the small creature took the dried meat, Hiro named him "Mochi."  

[I allowed Cooper a Persuasion roll (unskilled) to become friends with the cat.  He failed the first two times, but dropped two bennies to pull off the attempt.]

Once on the other side of the forest the party saw a rocky area flanked by a large pond.  Three of the children were still very hungry, so Russell wanted to fish.  Russell fashioned a hook out of the toothpick from the Swiss Army Knife.  Liz handed over her string and McKenna found a long branch to make a rod.  After baiting the hook with a big, fat worm Russell started fishing.  About an hour later he pulled a massive catfish from the pond.  The party returned to the fire and cooked the fish for a late lunch.  

[This scene took about fifteen minutes in the game.  The players knew they wanted to fish, and knew they had string, but couldn't figure out how to get a fish to bite the string and get caught.  I allowed the players to spend a Benny in order to get a clue, and all I said was "check the Swiss Army Knife."  When I revealed the toothpick they knew what to do.]

After eating, the party of kids returned to the hill.  At the hill's base was a large, spooky cave. The summit of the hill would certainly give the four children a good view of the surrounding area.  But it was also getting late in the afternoon.  So there was a choice to make:

  • Climb the hill
  • Enter the cave
  • Find shelter
The party chose to climb the hill first.  The entire party ascended to the first level of the hill, but found the climb very difficult.  Still unable to see past the trees, the group elected McKenna to climb to the top.  This was a piece of cake for the Fun Kid!  As she scaled the stoney hill, she looked out, and saw a vast and beautiful land to the north.  

McKenna could make out some hills to the northwest, as well as a small lake.  The young girl smiled when she saw what could be a small village to the north!  But before she could make out any more details, the sun passed below the horizon!

[This was our first use of the "Blaze a New Trail" setting rule.  I allowed Carrie to spend a benny to declare one important feature to the north.  She wanted a village, so I placed a small set of buildings to the northeast of the map.  You may notice that I used X,Y,Z coordinates on the maps.  The original map is 0,0,0 while the map to the north is 0,1,0.  Carrie asked what I was going to do with the "Z" coordinate.  "Underground!" I cheered.]  

Night One

McKenna grew nervous with the lack of light, and prepared to climb back down when she heard something behind her. 


Completely on instinct the young girl jumped and tumbled down the hill as a small, green creeper exploded in a concussive blast!

[This was when the kids finally realized what we were doing… and all three children were grinning ear to ear.  Actually Evie was starting to doze a bit during this part of the adventure, because it was almost 10pm.  But once she heard her sister and brother shout "Minecraft" I definitely had her attention.  Cooper actually started dancing!]

McKenna rolled out right in front of her three companions, and was about to tell them exactly what she saw when everyone heard a low moan.  

"Zombie!" Hiro called out.

Unarmed with any real weapons the party had to make due with their few items.  McKenna lobbed her trusty volleyball at the zombie's head, stunning it just long enough for Hiro to punch it in the face.  The force of the Tough Kid's strike crushed the zombie's skull.

[We had some incredible rolling at this point in the game, bolstered by the party's over abundance of Bennies.  Since everyone was "young" they got one Benny, and McKenna was Lucky so she got another.  Both Evie and Cooper's dice exploded on their actions.  I have to hand it to my kids, they kept their calm during this encounter.  Perhaps Jennifer and I are training them well.]

The quartet survived this brief encounter, but without shelter, and several hours left in the evening, could they survive the night?

To be continued…

Post Game Report

We had a really good time last night during the session, and all three children asked if we could play again the next night.  Perhaps we'll try for Sunday or Monday this week.  

Carrie and Evie both said that they would've played the game differently if they knew that they were in Minecraft.  Better resource management and an emphasis on building shelter would've been their first priority, not exploration, Carrie explained.

"We should've been punching trees," Carrie said.

Now that everyone is "in the know," when we play again I'll probably lean on Carrie for more useful details about Minecraft, since she is the resident expert.  When the zombie died, Carrie told us what the creature "dropped" - rotten flesh.  

We'll definitely have another session of Blocks & Bennies, and Carrie expressed interest in running the game for some of her friends, perhaps at the next Norwin Game Knights event.

As to where this blog series goes I leave that up to you, my dear readers.

Would you like to see more conversions and notes?  

How about expanded rules and concepts?

Let me know what you'd like us to include and perhaps this will be a longer running series of posts!

Stay safe, out there, and make sure not to mine at night!

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