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Come to the Savage Side

Posted By Kurt "Telas" Schneider On July 28, 2009 @ 2:08 am In Reviews | 43 Comments

In the Suggestion Pot, BryanB wrote:  I was wondering if any of the gnomes have played Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition and what your thoughts about the system are. Also, what setting books have you used and which ones are your favorites?

Since I’m pretty much the Savage-in-Residence (“Call me SIR”), I’ll field this one…  But I have to thank the Savage Worlds Yahoo Group for their assistance in pointing out some of the many gems in this system.

Savage Worlds is my favorite game, and has been for well over a year now. I first played it as Deadlands:Reloaded in January 2007, and took a liking to it. Then I played a few ‘con games’ at Gen Con 2007, and completely fell in love with the system, primarily because of its versatility. In the games I played at Gen Con, Savage Worlds effortlessly handled a broad range of situations, from western horror to classic fantasy to modern-day pulp. I honestly don’t think there’s another system out there with versatility and intuitive simplicity of Savage Worlds.

Although ‘simple’ isn’t really the right word. In the “rules lite vs. rules heavy’” debate, Savage Worlds should properly be described as “rules elegant”.  There is crunch, but only where it needs to be, and it really doesn’t get in the way of the game. The core rules are incredibly versatile, and scale both up and down, depending on where you take them.

The Good

I could get into the rules here, but you’d be better off downloading the free Test Drive directly from Pinnacle.  While you’re at it, you might want the Combat Survival Guide and the Basic Character Sheet or the Training Wheels Character Sheet.

Instead, I’ll cover what I like best about the game.  In no particular order…

  • Cost. The Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition is $10. This 160 page book contains everything needed to play or run a game. I say again: Ten bucks covers everything you needed to play or run the game. You can’t beat that with a stick. As Savage Worlds is a universal rules system, there is little ‘fluff’ in the book, so you can either create your own world, use one of the many free conversions at Savage Heroes, or buy a campaign setting from one of the many Savage Worlds Licensees.
  • Campaign Settings. Pinnacle has taken an entirely different approach than the coastal wizards. The license to write material for Savage Worlds is free, but you have to meet some quality standards first. The result is a huge number of campaign settings, from Superheroes, to Weird War, to Classic High Fantasy, to Pulpy Sci-Fi, to Modern Horror, to whatever the hell this is. Most of these settings add to the core rules, such as how Necessary Evil provides the material to run a high-powered ‘supers’ game, or how Shaintar adds different races and systems of magic.
  • Plot Points. Many Savage Worlds campaign settings are written with the Plot Point approach. This provides the flexibility of an unscripted campaign with the driving backstory of a traditional campaign. The GM can take whichever path he or she (or the players) wants to.
  • Resources. If you want to ‘roll your own’, there’s plenty of assistance, from the excellent Toolkits to the Fantasy Companion to fan-sites such as Savagepedia and the e-zine Shark Bytes. And if that’s not enough, the forums at Pinnacle are friendly and eager to help. Heck, if you just want to jump from D&D to Savage Worlds, get the free Wizards & Warriors supplement, and game on…
  • System. Okay, enough with the links and licensees. My favorite part of the game has got to be the core system. It’s simple, flexible, makes sense, and gives the players quite a bit of room to maneuver in. For instance, my non-gamer wife grokked the system in under 20 minutes, and she’s never understood d20. But when I play D&D (any edition), I constantly find myself thinking “If this were Savage Worlds, I could do this.” 
  • Learning Curve. Speaking of novices, I find that Savage Worlds does a great job of allowing newbie players to explain what they want to do, and then to have someone fit it into the game lingo. There’s no “standard/move/minor” action, and you can easily step out from cover, fire a shot, and step back to cover, all in the same round (kinda like you can in say, reality).
  • Randomness. The mechanics in Savage Worlds can be wildly variable, so there is a very strong random element to the game. A lowly Goblin mook can conceivably ‘one shot’ Our Hero. There are ways around this (see below), but it is definitely one example of how random the game can be. This is definitely not for everyone, but I prefer some randomness in my games.
  • Bennies. Randomness is countered by the Benny. Bennies are like Action Points, except they allow you to reroll almost any roll in the game (talk about narrative control!). They allow characters to soak or recover from damage, and can be spent to activate certain Edges (like Feats). Depending on the group, additional Bennies can be earned for bringing food to the game, for excellent roleplay or creative approaches to problems, or for playing up to your Hindrances.
  • Hindrances. Have you noticed that most characters in theater and literature are defined by their weaknesses? I was originally a bit hesitant to embrace the idea, but Hindrances create tension and opportunity for adventure, provide the GM with plot hooks, and reward the player with more points to build a character, as well as opportunities to earn Bennies.
  • Speed. Savage Worlds’ tagline is “Fast! Furious! Fun!”, and the game definitely lives up to it. Combats are quick and exciting, and can turn on a dime. I’ve fought in battles with over 30 combatants in just over an hour. I’ve seen ‘five on five’ combats take under 20 minutes, complete with creative tactics. And Sean Patrick Fannon (and a half-dozen assistants) ran a thirty-plus player (and hundreds-plus NPC) epic session at Gen Con 2008 that actually wrote canon for his Shaintar setting.

The Bad

I would be remiss if I didn’t cover what I consider to be the weak points of the system. Like most games, the weak points are usually handled by house rules or setting-specific approaches, but we are talking about the core rules here…

  • Incapacitation.  In the middle of an intense battle, when all the players are standing up and the energy level is like a craps table on a hot streak, you have to consult a chart to see what happens to your character. Ugh. I think I’d rather just die and get it over with.
  • “The War of the Bennies” NPCs have their own Bennies to attack and defend with. GMs also have a pool of Bennies to drive the story and make interesting things happen, which includes using them to supplement NPC Bennies. A GM can get aggressive and throw all of his GM Bennies against the PCs (basically, ‘supercharging’ an NPC or critter). The difference is subtle, but you’ll know it when you see it. This situation can get very frustrating for the players, although it mostly happens when a ‘confrontational’ GM starts running a Savage Worlds game. Mostly…
  • Really Tough Opponents. (Technical rules discussion follows.) When you have a d12 in an Ability or Skill (such as Vigor), your next jump is to a d12+1, etc. The ‘Hard to Kill’ Edge allows a character to ignore Wound penalties on Vigor rolls. Incapacitation is handled by rolling one’s Vigor; a Raise (8 or higher) means that you’re only Stunned. So when the entire party has finally Incapacitated a tough and dangerous critter like an Elder Dragon, but it keeps surviving by rolling an 8 or higher on its d12+3 Vigor (66.7% chance of success), it gets frustrating. Yes, the critter should be Hard to Kill, but it starts to feel like the “Hit Point Grind” as you go through the cycle of roll attack, roll damage, compare, roll Vigor, succeed, roll attack again, etc.
  • Shaken. The rules regarding damage, the Shaken condition, and the Soak roll are pretty simple, but they are not necessarily intuitive, and tend to be the most misinterpreted rules in the book. I’m not going to get into them here, but if you play Savage Worlds, re-read the sections or talk to someone familiar with the system until it’s crystal clear.
  • “The Healing Power of the Bullet” There is a potential situation in Savage Worlds where a character can actually end up better off after getting wounded. (Shaken – wounded – soak the wound – not shaken anymore). This is jarring to some people, but it makes sense if you see it as “Dang, that almost hit me; I’d better get my ass in gear and do something!”

The Ugly

Savage Worlds is an excellent and popular game, but it’s not the 800 lb gorilla that D&D is. Finding good players can be a difficult job in any system, much less one that’s not The Most Popular RPG In The World. And because Savage Worlds leaves quite a bit of interpretation and game control to the GM, it can be a bit more of a crapshoot when it comes to GM quality.

But perhaps because Savage Worlds isn’t The Most Popular, and perhaps because it is somewhat dependent on the GM, I’ve found that most Savage GMs and players are a cut above the average. (This is not to disparage any other gaming systems, but it is my experience.) If you get a chance to play in a Savage Worlds game, even a one-shot or a convention game, I strongly advise you to take it. 

Well, I guess that wasn’t so ugly after all, was it?

BryanB – I haven’t personally run any of the setting books, so I don’t have a necessarily valid opinion of them.  From what I have read, Necessary Evil is critical to utilizing Savage Worlds with a supers game, 50 Fathoms and Evernight are excellent “genre with a twist” interpretations, Slipstream really captures the 1930s pulp serial feel (like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon). Pirates of the Spanish Main looks like a blast, and is actually a self-contained rulebook as well (i.e. no need for the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition).

Obviously, I’ve left out quite a bit (such as the brilliant Mass Battle rules, the versatility that is Powers and Trappings, the fun-for-the-players-and-GMs Allies and Leadership rules, etc). Have I missed your favorite aspect? Do you have another opinion of Savage Worlds? Got a favorite campaign setting? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

About  Kurt "Telas" Schneider

Kurt Schneider played D&D in 1979 at summer camp, and was hooked. He lives with his wife, daughters, and dog in Austin TX, where he writes stuff, and tries to stay get fit. Look for his rants under the nom de web Telas or TelasTX. Quote: “A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."




43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "Come to the Savage Side"

#1 Comment By MountZionRyan On July 28, 2009 @ 6:42 am

Telas, one of the best things about Savage Worlds is the awesome online community at the Pinnacle forums. Many of the writers and developers are there and long time fans area always eager to offer newbies a help.
http://www.peginc.com/forum/

Savage Worlds is great for any number of genre’s but it does have a consistent “realism” level. Savage Worlds is set at what I call the “John McClane” position on the action/realism dial. This happens to be my default sweet-spot, but it is worth noting–in case you prefer a more fantastic or grittier game.

#2 Comment By assgoblin On July 28, 2009 @ 7:37 am

I own a whole pile of SW stuff but have never played. It’s hard enough to get 5 people in a room when you pass 30 so we end up playing more established games like Call of Cthulhu or heaven forbid, D&D.

I buy the campaign settings because they are some of the best ideas I’ve seen, regardless of system. My personal favorite is Necropolis. It’s like a cross between 40K and all of the White Wolf stuff(minus the angst).

That being said, the overall best Savage setting is Deadlands. It was the vehicle for the creation of Savage Worlds(if I recall correctly) and the Cortex system probably owes it a little as well. It has a rich and well developed background that is being added to constantly and has spawned a miniature game, a ccg and recently, a boardgame. This is the one I wish I could get the opportunity to play.

#3 Comment By Cole On July 28, 2009 @ 7:45 am

I am running a Savage Worlds game right now. We have had 2 sessions with it and the attitudes towards it have been mostly positive.

By far the two elements most liked by the players are the deck of cards for initiative and the bennies.

The hardest problem with it has been the learning curve. The players are starting to feel familiar with it, but combat still drags on for a bit.

#4 Comment By Zig On July 28, 2009 @ 8:39 am

Excellent overview. Now I want to break out the copy of the Explorer’s edition that I bought on a whim after hearing other good things about the system.

Not sure when I may get a chance to run it though unfortunately. I’m currently running a second edition D&D game for a circle of friends. Also playing in several 4th edition D&D games run by the Garden State Gaming Society and going hand-to-hand with those rules. Though it gets easier each game session.

Great to see there are so many online resources and settings out there as well. I definitely need to read that rule book.

#5 Comment By MountZionRyan On July 28, 2009 @ 8:43 am

I think there’s definitely a SW learning curve. Things look pretty simple, but Wounds take some getting used too. You probably bought too many skills when you made your first character. Getting used to the combat maneuvers, esp Tricks and Test of Wills, is hard…until you use them on the players!

Part of it is the paradigm you to SW from. I think many D&D players will be surprised by the paradigm shift. There’s no Challenge Rating in SW, no XP for killing monsters. Tactical retreat is a perfectly valid option.

D&D is a contest of HP attrition. Nickle and dime the monster to death. If you last longer you are pretty much guaranteed to win. Not so with Savage Worlds. One good blow can end a fight very quickly. Savage Worlds models combat by saying all those minor hits don’t really matter, it’s only the big ones that take down a foe. While there is an element of outlasting the Foe in regards to bennies, the paradigm is very different.

Also, here’s a good article on the History of Savage Worlds from Deadlands Classic through Great Rail Wars to Explorer’s Edition: (pdf) http://www.peginc.com/Downloads/SWEX/MakingofSW.pdf

#6 Comment By Scarecrow On July 28, 2009 @ 9:11 am

I love the idea of Savage Worlds (I’m slavering in anticipation of the Space:1889 campaign due in September) and there are a lot of good things to say about it. It is very versatile. It’s bennies system encourages creative play and risk-taking. It is a pretty simple, fast and fun system and – as gamey games go – it’s one of the best.

That said, I do have some problems with the implementation.

When you get into it, it’s a bit of a mess (try figuring out automatic weapons). It also feels very uneven, like the writers were making it up as they went along. It’s almost like reading your mate’s homebrew that inelegantly cludges together disperate mechanics from all his favourite systems (primarily Star Wars D6 and WH40K). Some bits are crunchy, others not and no two mechanics are the same, often putting me in mind of CalvinBall.

The merits and flaws (or edges and hinderances) system is a tried and tested form of character creation and I like it a lot, but Savage worlds is woefully lacking in Hinderances in my opinion, and there are only a tiny number of hinderances that aren’t so extreme they fundamentally alter your character, so it’s difficult to build the character you have in your head and still be diverse.

As mentioned, the initiative system is done by drawing playing cards. Completely random. This means that a Ninja reacts no faster than a Mountain Troll. There are Edges that you can take to improve your initiative (such as taking two cards and using the highest), but considering how limited the Edges are for low level characters, it’s not enough. It’s a cute system and a neat gimmick but very broken in my opinion. It’s also a good example of the disperate nature I mentioned previously. Absolutely nothing else in the game uses playing cards. Just the initiative.

Also, something that has always bothered me about Savage Worlds is the fact that the publishers bang on and on about how “fast, furious and fun” it is, but it’s really no more “fast, furious or fun” than an awful lot of other systems.
One extraordinary thing I’ve heard said in it’s favour is this idea that you don’t need to waste valuable game or personal time statting out monsters and opponents. The claim you can do it “on the fly”. “Just think of a monster,” They say, “give it some stats and Edges and off you go.”
Er…excuse me, but isn’t that ‘statting it up’? Sure if you know the stats and Edges by heart then this is true – but then it’s also true of any other game system.

Overall I do like Savage Worlds, I just think it’s a bit messy and it leaves me wondering what it might be like polished up several editions down the line.

Crow

#7 Comment By Rafe On July 28, 2009 @ 9:20 am

Kurt (or anyone), how would you compare Savage Worlds to Burning Wheel? My gaming group is pretty open to all sorts of “lesser-known” (small-press, I guess) systems such as Dogs In the Vineyard, Burning Wheel, etc., and love the fluidity, narrative control and openness of options those systems encourage. How does SW compare in terms of those various systems, specifically BW, which my group really enjoys for a table-top fantasy RPG? In other words, how could I sell them on it as a change of pace from Burning Wheel?

#8 Comment By MountZionRyan On July 28, 2009 @ 9:23 am

It’s always good to hear from the ‘other’ side. I honestly disagree with your complaints. It’s funny, SW is one of those games that elicits powerful reactions both positive and negative.

#9 Comment By BryanB On July 28, 2009 @ 9:29 am

Thanks Telas!

I’ve been waiting for this article to show up. :)

I went ahead and bought the Explorer Edition. I figured that it was only ten bucks, so what did I have to lose? And I have enjoyed reading the book. There seem to be lots of fiddly little bits, yet they are far less crunchy than Star Wars Saga Edition, which is what I have primarily been running for almost two years.

When I first tried to grok Savage Worlds, with the Revised Edition, there weren’t very many published settings for it. That is certainly no longer the case. Explorer Edition reads a lot easier than the Revised did. The digest format is also a plus for me.

I bought Slipstream and it seems very cool. The Soloman Kane book looks incredible. I thumbed through it last weekend at the LGS. Like all systems, our group will have to try it out in actual play at some point. But it looks promising for when that time comes…

Thanks for the article!

#10 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 28, 2009 @ 9:33 am

Excellent replies, and we’re not even close to noon…

Keep simmering away, stir it occasionally, and I’ll be back this afternoon with some pointers and replies.

#11 Comment By greywulf On July 28, 2009 @ 10:04 am

Chalk me up as another recent convert to Savage Worlds. I’m very impressed with it so far and rate it as perfect for those times when you want to run a one-shot game or short-term campaign without worrying too much about the crunch. For those times I’m not running M&M or 4e D&D (or 3:16, or playin’ DBA……), it’s become my go-to game.

It’s all too easy to slip into a mentality of thinking “hey, I could run this in Savage Worlds” all the time, because you can. I’m already considering using it for Harry Potter, Warhammer and the Elite Universe. Not all at the same time though. That would be silly.

Don’t be fooled when folks say you “need” other supplements – you don’t! Savage Worlds Explorer Edition really is all you need. The rest just provide icing on the cake. Unless you want to run a superhero game, that is; by the sounds of it Necessary Evil is pretty essential unless you’re playing a really low-powered campaign.

#12 Comment By MountZionRyan On July 28, 2009 @ 10:16 am

@Rafe – I can’t compare it directly to Burning Wheel, but I can comment on Sw as compared to Story-games/indie games, forgey games, dirty-hippy games. Whatever you want to call them.

Savage Worlds has very little in the way of fluidity, openess, narrative control options.

I would say SW is pretty squarely a Traditional RPG with a medium-light crunch.

#13 Comment By Scott Martin On July 28, 2009 @ 11:02 am

The die system swings sound similar to our experiences with Serenity so far. It was a little difficult to adjust my expectations to expect wider swings than a d20, but once that mental hurdle is passed it seems to work.

It does model the “but two episodes ago she leapt twice as high… what gives”, if you buy into a cinematic approach.

#14 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 28, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

@MountZionRyan – There is definitely a learning curve, and things are slow at first. Also, Savage Worlds is one of those games you should play as written before tweaking it.

@Rafe – Savage Worlds can easily be run with strong ‘narrative’ elements (Bennies can basically equal narrative control), but it is at heart a traditional RPG. Of all the games I’ve played, Savage Worlds gives the most latitude to the group in their interpretation of “how it’s supposed to be played”.

@greywulf – True, you don’t need more than what’s in the SWEX to play, but it is nice to have a few more Edges, Hindrances, and Powers. The Savagepedia has quite a few, though. And I’ve found that the Toolkits are indispensable if one fits your genre.

Some techniques for play:

Poker chips. Red ones are Wounds, Blue ones are Bennies, and White ones are Shaken. When anyone takes a Wound, put a chip on their init card or in front of them. When you’re Shaken, put the chip either under the mini, or on your Wound stack.

Use two decks of cards. Shuffle the idle deck in advance.

Cheat Sheets. Everyone gets a crib sheet with modifiers. I count modifiers with the old “fingers up/fingers down” method. (Up is bonuses, down is penalties.)

Index Cards. Since their stats are so few, NPCs easily fit on 3×5 index cards.

Dice. Everyone should have at least three of each dice size, with one d6 a completely different color for the Wild Die. Yes, this is an excellent excuse to add to your collection.

#15 Comment By Lee Hanna On July 28, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

I’m looking forward to learning this system. Once I heard about the Space:1889 campaign coming out, I downloaded the quickie rules, then rushed to my FLGS and bought the $10 Explorer’s book. Someday soon, I hope to play it!

I ran Serenity over a year ago, so I think I’m a little further up the learning curve, as far as some expectations.

Telas, any suggestions for a cheat sheet?

#16 Comment By MountZionRyan On July 28, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Play as written! This is the one consistent pieece of advice all of us Savage give to new players.

Here’s a Char sheet I made for my Deadlands Reloaded game. The back has a cheat sheet. Some of this info is Deadlands specific, but it demonstrates the kinds of things that a cheat sheet should have.
http://mountzionpress.com/raphael/RPG_files/CharacterSheetRyan.pdf
–List of maneuvers
–Raise “calculator”
–Combat Sumamry

#17 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 28, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

@Scarecrow – Congrats, you get your own reply. ;)

Seriously, you raised some good points. I don’t agree with all of them, but opinions are free. Without getting too deep into it, here are my takes on your points:

Autofire is pretty simple, although it’s not necessarily intuitive. My favorite part of Autofire is the Suppressive Fire rules.

In the games I’ve seen, many minor Hindrances are just variations of Habit or Quirk.

If your ninja is that fast, then he should have some initiative-modifying Edges, just as in any other game. I’m glad you mentioned how few Edges a character starts with. Unlike most RPGs, SW characters enter play ‘right off the farm’, but many GMs start their campaigns with two (or more) Advances.

As you pointed out, any character needs some kind of ‘statting out’, but the ‘seat of the pants stat out’ is just quicker in SW. A common technique in SW is to give NPCs d10s in core abilities/skills, d6s in everything else, and maybe a couple of Edges depending on their job.

Thanks again for the comments; keep ‘em flowing!

#18 Comment By HappyFunNorm On July 28, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

One of the things I like most about SW is that, because of the combat system, it allows low level PCs and henchman to adventure with, survive and even thrive along with higher level PCs. This is something that is very hard to do in other games.

#19 Comment By storybookknight On July 28, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

A bonus that you didn’t mention is the ease of homebrew. In addition to the wide variety of published adventures for the system, my group has taken to turning to Savage Worlds as a matter of course whenever we want to run a game that we don’t have a system for. Over the past couple of years we’ve run the following:

Cyberpunk 2020 (tagline: Get Your VCR’s Ready! Thirty years from now, in the world 2020….);

Gaslamp Ghostbusters, a game based on Victorian literature;

Ramparts and Revolutionaries, a fantasy-world Three Musketeers/French Revolution game;

Miskatonic University, a comedy game where players are cultists out to awaken the Old Ones.

Aside from creating games out of whole cloth, adding in new player options is exceptionally simple. Savage worlds is a perfect toolkit for GMs looking for a creative outlet for their more outre schemes.

#20 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 28, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

Great overview, Kurt — thank you! I own the Explorer’s Edition, and have played exactly one session of SW (at GenCon, and quite enjoyable). It sounds like I should give it a more serious try.

As a GM, what would I love about it?

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#22 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 29, 2009 @ 8:47 am

@Martin Ralya – You’ll appreciate that with one rules system, you can run anything. Tweaking the definition of “incapacitated” changes the game tremendously from ‘heroes-never-die pulp’ to ‘high risk of mortality’.

You’ll like the simple prep. You can focus on the NPCs as personalities, and not just collections of stats and abilities.

You’ll like the ease of running combat, especially with the poker chip options above. The less you have to track on paper/laptop, the more time you spend on the game.

You’ll like the simple mechanics, but the variety of options (Tricks, Test of Wills, etc).

You’ll like that all powers of a certain type (Blast/Bolt/Burst/etc) are mechanically identical, but differ in their Trappings (ice, fire, magic, bugs, electricity, necrotic, light, anything you can think of).

You’ll like that the game is a set of tools that are flexible enough to allow you to describe what you’re imagining, without having to figure out how to express it through classes, spells, feats, etc. Where most traditional games are kinda like building with large, predefined building blocks, Savage Worlds is more like building with clay. (If that makes any sense at all.)

#23 Comment By Lord Inar On July 29, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

@MountZionRyan – Great sheet, I plan on using it, but you forgot Test of Wills (the non-combatants best friend) in your Combat Maneuvers section.

#24 Comment By Lord Inar On July 29, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

As to the Shaken rules and the confusion above, this always helps me: “Each raise equals one wound. Period.”

#25 Comment By Scarecrow On July 30, 2009 @ 1:33 am

Well, in the face of such overwhelming love I can’t help feeling that maybe I’m just wrong! :)

That said, I didn’t come on over here to hate on Savage Worlds. I do think it’s a neat system. It has an awful lot going for it. I just think it feels a bit rough round the edges at the moment, like it’s a first-draught awaiting polish.

Crow

#26 Comment By walkerp On July 30, 2009 @ 10:55 am

Scarecrow, your analysis of Savage Worlds is not wrong. It really is a mash-up of a wide range of techniques and rules traditions. You’ve got wild dice, exploding dice, playing cards, traits and skills that use die types, bennies, a few charts. Things borrowed, stolen and hammered into place. It’s a frankenstein.

Some gamers prefer a more unified, rationalized system, à la GURPS or the One-Roll Engine. This is the evolution Dungeons and Dragons has been taken. A part of me prefers that as well. So I can understand how some people read the system and find it’s myriad, seemingly unrelated parts to be unappealing.

However, where I will disagree with your assessment, is where you say it’s “awaiting polish”. Yes, Savage Worlds is a frankenstein’s monster. But it’s not the monster you leave out on the ice flow in shame. This is like the 4th generation monster, where you’ve got it right and he’s your best lab assistant, with a bright future in London and an engagement to the town alderman’s daughter. All these disparate elements have been deliberately and carefully selected and then massaged into place to make a game that really sings at the table.

This is why you hear people say so often that you need to play it and you need to play it without any houserules for a while. Because then you will see why the game is so popular. It’s because once you’ve got all these various rules working together, the game is just tons of fun. The playing cards going around the table is often a thrilling moment. A multiple-exploding die can change an entire combat around (for better or for worse). Digging out that last, desperate bennie with a groan while the rest of the players are yelling at you to do it you cheap bastard! is a blast.

So I do recognize that it’s not for every style. But if you can accept its hodge-podge structure, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up having a good game.

#27 Comment By Lord Inar On July 30, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

“The playing cards going around the table is often a thrilling moment.”

This is so true! If I roll a 20 on initiative (in a d20 game) I feel like I’ve wasted a good roll.
Getting dealt that Joker right when you need it, now that’s a golden moment!
Likewise the horror of seeing the BBEG get dealt the Joker on the one round where it would hurt the most.

#28 Comment By Lord Inar On July 30, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

Also, I forgot, as a GM, I’m much more likely to allow “pushing the envelope” maneuvers when the character is acting on a Joker.

#29 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 30, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

@Scarecrow – Sorry if I gave the impression that you didn’t like the system! I addressed your points solo because you made a number of them, and I found myself saying “yeah, but..” to most of them.

The game definitely plays a bit differently than it reads. You’re not the first to point out that it’s kind of a kludge of borrowed mechanics. But then again, so is English, and it works pretty well. ;)

#30 Comment By Scarecrow On July 31, 2009 @ 2:33 am

No you didn’t. My last post wasn’t aimed at anyone specifically, least of all you. I genuinely mean that I feel like I’m the only dissenting voice in a crowd and maybe I should re-evaluate my position.

As for English working, well, that’s debateable :D

Crow

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#32 Comment By Virgil Vansant On August 18, 2009 @ 8:42 am

I just wanted to say you’ve talked me into it. I’ll be running a one-shot game next month for some friends coming into town, and I plan to use Savage Worlds for the first time.

#33 Comment By Scarecrow On August 18, 2009 @ 9:57 am

I have to say that after all my dissent, I ran The Eternal Nazi one-sheet for my group the other night and it was a total blast! There was general approval for the SW system. I’m definately being won over.

#34 Comment By MountZionRyan On August 18, 2009 @ 10:31 am

@Scarecrow – Mwahahahah. Our Savage Plan is working. Come fell the power of the Savage Side.

We played a Savage Stargate 2-nighter and had a blast.

#35 Comment By Scarecrow On August 18, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

One of my players was seriously unlucky with his dice rolls and was killed outright in a hail of MP40 fire. I granted him one last action and he used a Wild Attack in a suicide charge on his would-be killer. He was laughing so much he didn’t care that his character died. It’s amazing what a +2 will do to a player.

What can I say, inspite of all my whining, we had a LOT of fun and that’s what counts, really.

I am really REALLY looking forward to ‘Space:1889 Red Sands’. That setting is going to work so well with Savage Worlds. I’m also very tempted to pick up the new Wierd Wars aswell.

#36 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 18, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

I milk the giant cow in triumph!

#37 Pingback By Apathy Games » Blog Archive » Savage Mondays – November 23, 2009 On November 23, 2009 @ 10:26 am

[...] share someone else’s opinion. Kurt Schneider of Gnome Stew has a very good and easy to read review of Savage Worlds. Please check it [...]

#38 Pingback By Dude, You Gotta Try Savage Worlds! : Critical Hits On January 24, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

[...] Another great review of the SW, eloquently put by Telas [...]

#39 Pingback By Savage Worlds IN Review #9: Reinos de Cthulhu On February 16, 2010 @ 7:19 am

[...] em relação a ele. Eu não vou fazer uma review do sistema do Savage Worlds. Kurt fez isso aqui (em inglês). Leia-o se você não estiver familiarizado com Savage Worlds, necessário para jogar [...]

#40 Comment By Roxysteve On April 20, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

Just coming to SW so I can try out Realms of Cthulhu. I honestly don’t know why anyone would think the SW game system is easier to run than BRP-Cthulhu. The GM load is waaaay higher, with lots more to be remembered in-game (I’m getting on a bit now, and this “remembering” thing is getting problematical).

I will allow as it probably knocks the sox offa D20 though. I’m currently running a Conan game and a D20 Delta green, and I need a DM shield full of “Memos to Self” just to keep it all straight.

And anyone, repeat, anyone trying to grapple anyone else immediately loses 500 XP due to GM ill-temper.

I’ll be trying SW:RoC myself soon, so perhaps I’ll have an epiphany and recant this post. We’ll see.

#41 Comment By Roxysteve On April 21, 2010 @ 10:46 am

This just in: My one week old and never used in-theater copy of SW:EE just hit fall and started dropping leaves. >:o(

Lucky for me I had seen a piccy on Gnome Stew of SW:EE with a spiral binding, and had been so impressed by that idea I had already researched getting Staples to do that done to my copy. So last night I dropped it off for a quick conversion.

Thank you Gnome Stew, for providing a neat solution to the p*ss-poor binding problem. :o)

#42 Comment By MountZionRyan On April 21, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

@Roxysteve – I guess this is too late for you, but there was a known binding problem with a small number of SWEX books. Shane & Co. know this and I believe have replaced copies for folks. (http://www.peginc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=21815)

Also, I strongly encourage anyone interested in Savage Worlds to check out the forum. All the Pinnacle folks are there as well as a number of very helpful fans. It’s one of the most friendly respectful RPG forums on the tubes.
http://www.peginc.com/forum/index.php

#43 Comment By Roxysteve On April 22, 2010 @ 8:42 am

@MountZionRyan – Thanks for responding, Ryan, and for the advice. I don’t think the SW:EX book was a poor example of the binding tech (though I could easily be wrong on this) so much as a problem when using “perfect bindings” on small publications.

The spiral binding, while bringing its own set of issues to the game table, is a really good idea in this case as it allows the book to lay flat on the table – as a picture in an article somewhere on GS shows – and only adds < $6 to the price of the thing. I'm seriously considering doing the same to my copy of "Fiasco!", which comes in the same format.

I'm also grateful for the pointer towards the forums, while at the same time standing by my original point that the rule book needs a serious edit for clarity. Things I'd spell out for the noob that aren't currently clear as a bell:

When something is rated as "X * some dice-based stat", you assume the dice rolled max to do the math (I wasted hours searching the entire damn book simply to find if that was, indeed, the case rather than, say, the "average" roll as defined by D20).

Skills start at no dice. The fact is alluded to, but not in the "buy skills" section. Cut out one of the pointless examples (and there *are* a couple which do nothing but restate the rule text in its entirety) and use the space to say "you have to buy the initial D4". Yes, once you have read the rules you know that, but when you are on page four for the first time and trying to get a feel for the game, you don't.

Rewrite the automatic fire rules so they work the same but make sense after one reading.

Two words: Index and Index. I know that strictly speaking that's only one word, but it's such an important one I felt I should say it twice. Sitting on a train its easy to figure out where stuff is by context. In the heat of a game and under pressure to get it right and do so quickly before the mood boils off it ain't. This morning's case in point: what the hell does "snapfire" mean when I see it in the weapon table?

One hint for would-be rules writers:
Don't use one phrase to mean two things and/or do two jobs. Chief offenders in SW: Rate of Fire (which refers to two related but separate mechanics of automatic weapon fire) and "Wild Cards" which does duty as both a character type and during the initiative draw – making it confusing when a skill or edge is listed with the prerequisite "Wild Card Only".

Another:
Don't call the same thing two different names. For example, if you mean "snapfire" to do duty as a warning to apply a snapfire penalty (once I find it in the rulebook sans index), don't write an entry that says "snapfire penalty" because some rules lawyer will see it days later and I'll have to wade through the effing book in-game to prove you just felt that since you had the space you should fill it with font.

I know most GMs will see these whines as stupidly anal, but all my players will all be SW noobs and will be in the same boat I was once I persuade them to buy the $10 (after tax) book and use it in-game. They occupy a wide range of "personality types" from stoner-disengaged to photographic-memory rules stickler. The stuff I mentioned will radically alter their perception of the ease of playing SW, from "easy and fast" to "steep learning curve for how much payoff?"


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