Getting More from Interludes in Savage Worlds

Interludes are a wonderful mechanic in Savage Worlds that allow players to get to know their own characters, reveal parts of their backstories, and have a hand in building lore in the setting.  They are also an excellent way to abstract out time during journeys in a meaningful way. While most of the tables that I have been at have used Interludes, my experience has been that the role-playing richness that is offered by Interludes is not often tapped into. 

It is commonly believed that the DM is the (main) storyteller at the table, but this is the furthest thing from reality. The DM only really tells the story of the environment, but it is the players who tell the story of the heroes — and the heroes are central to the story. This is why I always refer to playing TTRPGs as a game of collaborative storytelling. Interludes are a mechanic of storytelling that is completely driven by the players, with the DM playing a passive role if any at all. 

My experience with player Interludes is that most of the time the players approach it with a passive storytelling voice. The key to making the most of Interludes as a player is to step into an active storytelling voice and take on aspects of the role of DM. In this article, I’m going to explore two uses of Interludes: as a means of developing your character and as a way to make travel meaningful. Additionally I will point out how cinema uses moments of character development and storytelling, as examples of what Interludes might be like and the material they might cover.

When Interludes happen, the player draws a card from the Action Deck. The theme is based on the suit of the card. Each suit has three general options, Downtime, Backstory, and Trek. Downtime and Backstory are both ways for you to present backstory, hindrances, character arc and mechanical elements of your character. These are covered in the first section, while Treks are covered in the following section.

Interludes for Backstory Character Development

Let’s start by looking at an example. So player A draws a 4 of Clubs for an Interlude and picks Backstory (a tale of misfortune from your hero’s past, perhaps revealing something of his Hindrances or a dark secret). Most of my experiences witnessing Interludes  have gone something like this:

Player A: My character witnessed a murder when she was growing upon the streets. She didn’t know the person, but it happened in front of her while at the market. The murderer just grabbed the victim’s purse and walked away. No one said anything. It was then that she really realized that the world was harsh and there was no justice. She became determined to bring justice to those the law doesn’t care about. That is how she got her Heroic hindrance.

Notice how Player A is telling a story about their character? Talking about your character can only be done with a passive voice that can be hard for others to connect with in a way beyond “that is a cool story about your character.”  Interludes like this also tend to be very brief, only taking one to two minutes.

As a DM, I would totally celebrate this and give the player a benny for doing an Interlude. There is nothing wrong with an Interlude like this. This article is all about taking the game play at our table to the next level and improving our skills as storytellers. 

If you are looking to take both your experience and gameplay to the next level, step in a little to the role of the DM to tell your Interlude. This is your scene, you get to set the stage and paint the details. Tell the Interlude from your character’s perspective and voice instead of talking about them. This doesn’t mean that you need to do a bunch of voice acting, that is not something everyone can do or is comfortable doing. It means creating the scene and then speaking from the place of your character. This is coming at the Interlude from a much more active role.

You can even paint a wider picture to specifically allow, or create the space for, the other players to interact with your character in their Interlude. They will likely be asking questions that bring more depth and verisimilitude to your story. As a DM, I give my players permission and full encouragement to do some world building in this as they weave their tales.

So let’s take the example above and add these principles. To get an idea of what is possible.

Player A (Oarsen): At night, since we have arrived in Fairhaven, we would have gotten a room at the Gold Dragon Inn. As I come into the common room, if I was not so cross, I would have found the juggling act by the Phiarlan entertainer with balls turning into flaming gold dragons as they arc through the air, very impressive. (A little world building). Seeing Kahlia at the table I would join her, slamming my fist on the table and uncustomarily yelling at the changeling barkeep for an ale. When the barkeep comes over, I growl at him, causing him to change his face from mine as he hurries away. (A little world building here, setting the scene. Not the DM painting it.)

Player B (Kahlia): Why are you so cross?

Player A (Oarsen): I am pissed that Arrun got away.

Player B (Kahlia): We stopped him from kidnapping that orphan we found on the street. I’d say that was a victory.

Player A (Oarsen): That orphan has a name. Arrun got away which just means he will do it again. There is no justice for the street rats. No one to protect them. They are vulnerable and without means to both get off the streets and find real protection. It’s not right.

Player B (Kahlia): I don’t understand. We stopped five of his goons, were able to call over the city watch to take them away. We earned our coin, what more is there to do. What is really bothering you?

Player A (Oarsen): The city watch will likely be bought off and release his goons. We need to stand up for those kids. I remember growing up on the streets down in Callestan. There was this street vendor who sold daily produce, outside the Imp and the Boar. Everyday I would watch him feed street urchins with food from his cart, he would even make them laugh by making copper crowns vanish only to pull them from the oddest places. One day the Boromar clan goons take him around a corner and beat him senseless. I never saw him again. There was never any city watch in the area to do anything about it, Khber’s arm pit, no one on the streets did anything to stop it. They just walked on by, even leaving the body where it lay. Bleeding out.  I don’t think he ever recovered. Some of those kids on the streets starved after that. If we don’t put an end to people like that, not just stop them, but end them, then no one will help those poor kids. That is the way things work in this world, and I refuse to stand by and watch it happen. So yea foiling his plans today isn’t enough, Arrun’s ability to prey on the weak needs to be broken. If we don’t do it, no one will. I won’t stand by and watch that.

Do you feel the difference between the two kinds of Interludes? Can you see a more active and engaged way that this scene is presented? This kind of Interlude should be brief, but not as brief as an Interlude done in a passive voice. Aim for something in the range of three to six minutes, maybe up to ten with lots of engagement from other characters.

An example of this from Savage Tales of Eberron is the flashback story between Rus and Daina in Episode 10 of Mourners of Lhazaar. This Interlude starts with Elly (playing Daina) sharing a story of an experience she had as a soldier years before the events of the campaign. She details historical units, unit members, battles from the Last War, and a bunch of other good lore stuff. Kevin (playing Rus) comes into it later talking about how he was one of the hippogriff riders that helped save House Deneith troops that Daina was a part of, allowing both him and Elly to reveal parts of their backstory in a meaningful way, participate in worldbuilding, and make a stronger connection between their characters.

One of the important things I want to call out is how to paint to create the scene. In backstory Interludes, what is important is the story trying to be told, not the scene generally. Focus on the story within the scene you are creating. If you are talking around a campfire, jump into that scene like you have been there for a bit, you don’t need to set up how you and your party got topped for the night, made camp and cooked (unless that is the place the story is going to be told). Focus on the moment the story is going to be happening, not every detail of the scene that is leading up to that moment. In the example given above there are only a few sentences spoken to how the party got to the scene it did. Do not worry about taking player agency here. You are not saying what another player says or does, you are only talking about a moment you are together. Just name that moment where you find each other.

Interludes for Travel

Travel Interludes are an excellent way to handwave travel in TTRPG’s while simultaneously giving that travel a meaningful place in the overall narrative of the story. When doing an Interlude for Travel you take on the active role here primarily by fully stepping into the role of DM. You get to narrate a section or encounter that your party has in their journey. You don’t need to come up with an encounter that will need a bunch of die rolls, rather an encounter that your party had along the way. While you can lay these Interlude scenes out in an interactive way with the whole party or a group of NPCs, this kind of Interlude works well in a narrative fashion as long as you own your temporary role as DM. Use this as an opportunity to give life to the journey, your party, and the world that you are playing in.

In The Voyage Home from Seekers of the Ashen Crown, Michael shared an Interlude about traveling by boat across the Hilt on their way to Sharn. He narrated a moment about spotting a school of rainbow fish, which the ship’s captain told him had a powerful psychedelic effect when eaten.  This is a really cool piece of world building about some sea life giving further life to the setting. This was an Interlude about something the party met along the way (Hearts— Trek)..

In another Interlude I remember, the player described how the party found a group of scavengers that they were passing on the road and shared some small time with. They had ventured into the Mournland, where the scavengers had horrible luck, losing half their party to a deadly living spell. As they traveled with the party, they offered up a map they had which led to some salvage in the remains of Metrol. They wanted nothing more to do with the Mournland, and bartered with the party to trade the map. This was an Interlude that was about how the group found something (Diamonds— Trek).

As a DM, this kind of Interlude is a gold mine. You have an adventure hook that was created by one of the players, so it is clearly an adventure hook that they are interested in. In my experience these are some of the best adventure hooks, as there is very little that you need to do to get the players interested in it.

Let us say for this Trek Interlude you draw a Clubs and need to detail out a hardship that the party has to overcome. Describe  how the party got caught in a blizzard on the road, wth the whole party on the verge of suffering frostbite before finding a cave to shelter in…which is occupied by a hibernating bear.  They accidentally disturb the bear, but are able to slay it with some difficulty. The party then uses the bear’s pelt to stave off the cold while they wait for the blizzard to pass. This is an excellent story that gives life to the journey in a way that doesn’t involve a bunch of meaningless rolls. It gives life to the struggles the party shares, and makes both the journey and the world as a whole seem much larger.

TV and Movie Scenes as Interludes

Another way to look at Interludes is through a cinematic eye. There are scenes in the movies and TV series that we watch that offer moments of character depth and development. They show us the character’s inner motives, the hidden reasons for their faults and what drives them to take the actions that they do.

Game of Thrones has some great examples of this such as the scene from Season 1 in which King Robert and Queen Cersei sit down over a glass of wine and have an honest conversation about the course their relationship took. This scene is key for presenting some humanity to Cersei. Imagine creating this scene with Cersi as your character and sitting down with the player playing Robert, actually playing it out as an Interlude instead of just talking about it. This scene could be seen as a scene of Robert telling the backstory of his greatest love (Hearts— Backstory)

Imagine playing out the scene of Jamie in the bath with Brienne from Season 3, finally sharing why he killed the Mad King. I see this as Jamie sharing the origin of how he acquired the Shamed (Major) hindrance (Clubs— Backstory). Again, paint the scene, place yourself in it, and have your character share the story.

These kinds of scenes for character development also happen in a private or personal way, with just the character on scene. Two scenes from The Expanse come to mind. Season 3 has a fantastic scene in which Alex contacts his family back on Mars. In a one-way conversation with his terminal, he opens up and finally reveals the truth of what has kept him away from them. If this is your character, paint the scene of being alone on the main deck of the ship and decide to send off a message to your family, narrating through the struggles you have in even hitting the record button. This could be an Interlude that is talking about what Alex wants or what his greatest love is (Diamonds— Backstory or Hearts— Backstory) In Season 2 Alex is scarred from the battle at Thoth Station, where he blames himself for not having prevented twenty-five members of a boarding pod from dying. Alex runs the simulation over and over again, determined to learn from his mistakes and never again be responsible for the end of someone else’s life. This is a skill practicing Interlude (Hearts— Downtime) that you can play out as an Interlude touching on how the death of others is now driving you to improve yourself.

One Final Note

One final note on Interludes: As Dungeon Master, I will reserve the right to jump in and tweak world lore if necessary. At times I may start voicing NPC’s that the player puts in to give some nice RP back and forth for the player to have fun with. Sometimes I add some flavor to the Interlude that will give clues or flavor for the campaign as a whole. Though I reserve the right to do this, I do it with caution and discernment. I don’t want to put a wet blanket on the player’s creative chops. I want to either just make slight tweaks or,most importantly, add to what the player is bringing to the table. Interludes are for players to shine in the driver’s seat of what happens, encourage them to shine.

With all this in mind, get active in your Interludes. Dive into the Interludes and use them as a tool to develop your character in a way that doesn’t happen with the encounters the DM presents. Develop the world you are playing in as an active storyteller with the DM. Make your journeys through the wilds more interesting. All this and more is in your hands with Interludes.