Low on time to prep our group’s regular Pathfinder game this week I decided to run an intro game of Savage Worlds. I asked my wife “What should you guys fight tonight?” She listed off several things that were inherently unfightable before finally jokingly suggesting “Pandas!”. I suddenly recalled seeing this image of an armoured red panda recently and my Zodiac campaign setting was born!
Little did I know that vengeful blade-fisted tigers, panda whirlwinds of death (not in the way you’d think, either) and spirititual resource wars were soon to rear their awesome heads!
In the half hour before my group arrived I came up with the setting and adventure. I had already started prepping a fantasy game for them, so had goblins and dogs for them to fight. I changed the goblins to “panlins” – cute little humanoid red pandas – and the dogs to giant ferret mounts. I added in a giant panda for the end battle (using the stats for ‘bear, large’ but with lower strength, so as not to annihilate the PCs). Finally, I grabbed a few more photos and bits of art from online and I was done with the monsters.
Seeing as the pandas were the enemies, who would the PCs be? I looked up the Chinese zodiac – yes, I know pandas aren’t on there – and found tigers to be a suitable PC race. I used the Raksashan stats from the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion to emulate humanoid tigers but made their racial enemy be the pandas.
I decided there would be a rivalry between the Amoi (Tiger) Clan and the Ailuro (Panda) Clan – those names are derived from the scientific names for pandas and tigers, by the way. I needed instant action, so I decided that Ailuro raiders had trespassed onto Amoi land and were stealing some resource. I considered what resources the pandas and tigers would both want and quickly ended up deciding “spirits”. I decided that the Ailuro pandas were stealing “jinn” – small, fish-like ghostly spirits – from the Amoi Spirit Well. That was a good enough plot for an intro night, so I was done.
In play, we had characters with names like Cookie and Tony – who insisted that everything was grrrreat! It was fun, and we started as the tigers were heading down the road to the Spirit Well – sent by their clanmistress to stop the raiders. On the way, they encountered two armoured panlins on ferret mounts. Fighting ensued and one of the PCs, Hale, managed to capture and break one of the ferrets – so now the tigerman was riding a giant ferret. Awesome? Yes.
Moving on, they arrived at the Spirit Well and saw a dozen smaller and unarmoured panlins guarding the well and forming a bucket line to a ferret-drawn caravan. Tigers split up, with two taking out the ferrets and two taking the main mob of panlins. This was a great chance to show how smooth the rules of Savage World work and the players all seemed to enjoy it and pick up the basic rules with ease.
Just when things were looking a little grim, the giant panda burst out of the caravan! It got in a meagre hit, then missed a few times before Cookie rolled like crazy and killed it in one shot with an arrow up the nose and through the brain. After that, the tigers cleared up the other panlins – one of which packed a punch as it shot off a surprise spell.
Using minatures on the floor, when the panlins died I whisked them away up onto my desk. Everyone laughed at this and I quickly decided that when panlins die they turn into little whirlwinds of spirit and are whisked away. However, the giant panda stayed and Cookie wore it as a coat after the battle. It didn’t take much play before we realised that the PCs – the hulking beclawed warriors – were probably the bad guys – not the big eyed fuzzy little panlins. In my head, I thought that maybe the tigers had stolen the land and jinn that were rightfully the pandas’ and the little guys were just trying to get them back.
Anyway, it was a fun little adventure and we all enjoyed ourselves. Despite – or perhaps because of – the silly and somewhat light-hearted nature of the setting, I quickly grew strangely attached to it. I felt – and still do feel – like it has some potential. It’s not something we’d want to play in every night, but for a younger skewed game or just something a little whimsical, I think Zodiac has merit. One idea my wife came up with was that the pandas aren’t on the zodiac anymore, because the tigers wiped them out.
I’m not sure if anything will come of Zodiac, but I am fond of it. It was also very liberating to not really care about the integrity or “sense” of the world and just make stuff up as we went along – like the dead panlins turning into whirlwinds. I think that every GM should occassionally run a one-shot in a quickly made setting and just have some fun with it. It’s refreshing, stretches your improv muscles and your creativity. And who knows, you might even really like the new setting you and your players come up with together.