We’ve had some talk about GURPS and about D&D 4e here recently so I thought I would take a moment and talk for a bit about Savage Worlds. Before I even start, this is an unabashed attempt to convince more people to play Savage Worlds. That said, I’m not going to shy away from what I see as being a couple of negative aspects of the game. Fair being fair and all. To that end, I’m going to break this down into four sections.
A description of the game system
Positive aspects of the game system
Negative aspects of the game system
Conclusions and suggestions
A Description of the Savage Worlds game system
Savage Worlds is a generic game system designed with a couple of fundamental precepts in mind. First, that it will be easy, fast and high energy to play. The second is that it is an open system with a focus on the cinematic rather than on the simulation of events. The Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition describes the game as, “A merger of the best ideas in roleplaying and miniatures battles!” There is a strong element of truth to that claim and it was certainly the intention of the designers. Combat is designed to be run with miniatures on a map of some kind. Which genre’s a game system excels at is somewhat subjective on the part of the gamer. I have with great success run pulp games and fantasy games. Game worlds exist for wild (ok weird) west games, pulp sci-fi, hard sci-fi, as well as several others. To my view, one is limited only by their imagination in terms of what sorts of games can be played using Savage Worlds.
Being a generic system it purportedly works for any genre of game. Because it shares with other generic systems the absence of character classes that one finds in the various incarnations of D&D this claim works out pretty well. Like all game systems it tends to lend itself towards certain types of stories and to not work quite so well for others.
The mechanics are very simple. Essentially the player rolls a die type for the relevant skill or attribute. Usually the target number is 4. Roll 4 or better and you probably succeed. There are two important things to remember for any die roll. Any roll that results in the maximum value for that die is an “ace” and causes the die to be rolled again. This can happen as many times as the die rolls an ace. This is also referred to as the die “exploding”. Secondly is the concept of a “raise.” A raise occurs any time the result of the die roll is 4 or more than the number needed for success and is cumulative. So if the target number is 4 and the player rolls a 13 that’s 9 higher than the required number or 2 raises. The exact effect varies, but uniformly means things go well for the player.
Two concepts distinguish Savage Worlds from other role playing games.
First is the concept of the wild card character. Player characters and some villains are wild cards meaning that they are blessed with certain advantages. Among these is the wild die. Any time a wild card character makes a skill or attribute check they roll an additional d6 and take whichever is better. A wild die can ace just like any other die. There is a downside to this. If the player rolls 1 on both their attribute die and the wild die, that is a critical failure. There are tables to help resolve a critical failure, but ultimately the result is up to the GM. (Remember Savage Worlds is a cinematic game) In addition to the wild die, wild card characters can suffer multiple wounds before being incapacitated.
The second concept is that of the “bennie”. All wild card characters start the game with 3 bennies. Consider a bennie to be an extra bit of good fortune smiling on the character. There is an exception but not something that we need be concerned with here. Bennies can be spent to save the character’s bacon by attempting to soak damage or to re-roll skill or attribute checks. Additional bennies are given out at the GM’s discretion for any reason whatsoever. The GM gets bennies too that he can spend on keeping the bad guys alive. (Author’s note: I find that in the best games, the bennies are flying.)
Positive aspects of the game system
Savage Worlds is EASY. It’s easy to learn, it’s easy to play. The game mechanics do not inhibit role playing, nor do they get in the way of game flow. Combat in particular is fast and very high energy and is wildly easy to learn to do.
Savage Worlds is cinematic. There’s an offsetting negative associated which I’ll go into in a moment. Savage Worlds lends itself to broad sweeping stories that race along at high speed. As such it benefits from lurid descriptions with lots of bold colorings.
Savage Worlds is fast paced. This bears saying twice. Both to learn and to run Savage Worlds just moves right along.
The price tag cannot be beat. The Explorer’s Edition of the core rule book is a digest sized quality paper back book with 161 pages at a cost of $9.99. Game settings tend to cost $19.99. In terms of bang for your buck value I’ve never seen its equal.
Savage Worlds is generic. As such it will work to run most any sort of game you care to run.
Savage Worlds does not have the concept of character classes. So, if you want a spell flinging sword wielding flintlock shooting dwarf, buy the skills and have fun.
Negative aspects of the game system.
Savage Worlds does not have rules to cover much in the way of special circumstances, and as such things like a head shot or a charge or similar may well need to be made up by the GM to cover the current circumstances.
Savage Worlds is NOT a simulation. This is the inverse of cinematic. Whether this is a positive or negative is a matter left to the GM and the players. It is certainly not as realistic or as mathematically accurate as GURPS or Hero.
Savage Worlds has a very pulp feel to it, and lends itself best to a pulp sort of game. Certainly one can play pretty much anything, but it is clearly at its best with a pulp style of game.
Savage Worlds is intrinsically pretty light hearted in terms of the mood of the game. As such in a truly gritty game, or a horror game may be more difficult to establish the atmosphere.
Conclusions and Suggestions
Savage Worlds is a great bang for the buck investment in gaming. It’s great for putting together a fun high energy game in a hurry and wonderful for bringing in players who aren’t familiar with the game system. If you want a flexible high energy game system it’s a great pick. If you want a mathematically accurate simulation it’s not the game for you.
Pinnacle Entertainment Group publishes a number of one page adventures that play really quickly and take very little in the way of setup to run and come with pre-generated characters.
I like to keep several copies of the Savage Worlds Test Drive available for the players as a quick reference for how to do most things in the game.
Pinnacle also provides great support and an active forum.