I heard of Savage Worlds (SW) a while back and the stars finally aligned when I had some time to sit down a download the quick start rules and read through them. The first thing I thought was “What the hell, this isn’t an Apocalypse World hack”. Yeah I thought SW was an AW reskin/hack. My mistake. It’s its own system and thing and has nothing to do with AW.
The Basic Mechanics
Instead of having a +2 or -1 to a stat or skill you now have a die (d4-d12). So one might have a Strength score of d10 and a Dex of d4. A d6 is considered average in this game. That’s not saying there aren’t any modifiers to your rolls, but the base die is determined by your attributes and skills. You’re looking for a target number of 4 to succeed, so bigger dice = better chance to get over that hump. SW also uses exploding successes, so if you roll a 6 on a d6 you get to keep that 6 and roll again and add that to the 6 you already rolled. If you beat the task by 4 or more you get what they call a raise. If you beat it by 8 you get two raises. If you are attempting a contested roll, like trying to stab someone with your sword, then both sides roll and the higher roll wins.
It’s a different way to run things. It’s nice to get my other dice out and rolling, since most games I play are either d20 or 2d6 games. I don’t think there is anything ground breaking here but it seems simple enough that players of any skill level should be able to grasp it.
The next thing they throw on is the Wild Die. This is rolled by all PC’s and any NPC’s that are important (ie not mooks or extras). The characters roll an extra d6 for everything they do. If the d6 is higher than their base die, they can use the wild die instead.
Ok so this adds a little “luck” the the heroes and villains. Nothing ground breaking but it could possibly pull someones butt out of a fire. I’m indifferent about it, but it does make the named characters more special compared to nameless NPCs.
The last bit they put in for basic mechanics are Bennies. Every PC gets 3. These allow rerolls for any trait (skill or ability) roll you make. These are use or lose at the end of session resource. Named NPCs get two of these as well.
This seems to really push successes with important characters, which to be fair is more fun than failing. I know my home games tend to run short (sessions are usually only two hours) so Bennies would be used for just about every roll in my games. I assume normal length games would not have this issue.
So overall the basics aren’t too bad. As a gamer that’s been doing this for 15+ years (I wrote 10+ at first then realized I’m old…) I had no problem wrapping my head around this. Newer gamers might have a little trouble with all the different dice being thrown around, but with a well organized character sheet they should be ok. Eventually. Maybe…
Base Mechanics tl;dr
Lots of different dice are used to play. Bigger dice are better than smaller. Named characters also roll a d6 in addition to whatever they normally roll.
This game does do Races with mechanical consequences, like D&D or DW, but the quick start rules don’t go into them at all. I’ll have to find an adventure or setting that gets into them.
Your attributes (STR, DEX, etc) and skills (Bluff, Fight, Basket Weaving, etc) all start off with a d4 and you improve them with a point buy. Each point increases the die size by one. A limit placed on the skills is that when a skill starts to go past the attribute it’s linked to, then the cost is doubled to increase the die on it.
Alright I understand that, but I’m wondering at this point, why we have attributes. Skills make sense, you want to do something, you roll that skill. Unless attributes are there as a catch all if there isn’t a certain skill that fits. The rules haven’t explained the usage of attributes yet, so I’m hoping it clarifies later.
There are a few traits that are determined via other stats (Parry, Toughness, Charisma) but after that you’re done with your stats for now.
Next the rules mention Edges and Hinderances but doesn’t go into any detail. They are listed towards the end so I’ll hit on that when we get there.
They do have a skill list that’s very comprehensive. As in it’s covering a lot of genres. I’m not a fan of RPGs that try to do everything. Take GURPS or FATE. At its core the idea sounds good. You only need one RPG to play any story or genre. The problem I’ve run into with those is that the GM and players need to house rule a setting, which while that’s not bad in and of itself, it bogs down the first session. As a preference I like my RPGs to do one thing well. Apocalypse World is amazing for post apocalyptic mayhem, but isn’t great for medieval fantasy. Dungeon World covers that instead. Now FATE or GURPS can do both of those genre’s, they need to be house ruled (or one gets a premade setting) to make the game work better.
I’m a lazy GM. I like my games to come ready to go, and not need me to mess with the rules to tweak it before we start playing.
There is also mention that a character’s movement speed is measured in inches, so I’m assuming that this plays like the Warhammer minis game, where you get out a ruler and measure movement that way. I’ve never played that type of game, so I can’t fairly comment on if that’s a fun way to play. Could be.
Your stats and skills are different dice sizes. Bigger dice=better. Some rolls are against a target number of 4, others are opposed.
Alright, so they hit us with initiative first. Makes sense. Get a deck of poker cards…yep normal poker cards. High card goes first and there is an order for the suits incase of a tie. I don’t like this idea. Init is now completely random. I’d prefer either to go with the fiction and let people go when it makes sense or do init like D&D where people can roll Speed or DEX and high roll goes first. I don’t see a benefit to the method described above. Also you could just use one suit of the deck and not have any ties.
Melee attacks are a contested roll of the skills Fighting and Parry. Pretty standard stuff. Damage is based purely on the weapon wielded. This is not my favorite way of doing things. When I started playing Dungeon World I loved that your damage was based on your class instead of what you were wielding. First time someone hacked and slashed at my table it was the paladin using a barstool to stop a fight. He smoked the poor sod. One could house rule and allow a player to fluff his weapon to be something else while leaving stats the same, but once again this is just a personal preference. Players tend to be more creative in combat (especially a more tactical game like D&D) when the damage numbers aren’t tied to the weapons they wield, but to each his own.
Ranged attacks just roll against a target number of 4, but longer ranged attacks have a negative penalty. The rules only mention guns and rocket launchers so I’m not sure if bow and arrows would use different mechanics. There are a few nuances that make ranged attacks more complicated, but I’d say no more so than D&D.
As for damage, ranged weapons have a fixed damage number (probably to balance with the fixed target number) and melee attacks roll the PC’s Strength and the Weapons Damage Die. So a little more book keeping, but once again nothing more complicated than D&D.
Now something that’s popped up a few times is that Savage Worlds is suppose to be Fast! Furious! and Fun! Well this system itself looks like it would be fun, but I’m kinda not sold on the whole fast aspect. Granted it’s not bragging to be the fastest RPG on the market, it feels like from the read through that combat won’t be that fast. Granted like any system, practice will make the GM and players faster, but it doesn’t feel like this system lends itself to speedy play.
Now when you figure out your damage, it’s compared to the targets toughness. Tie or higher and you score a hit. If you beat it by 4 or more (a raise) you wound the target. Otherwise it’s shaken. Shaken characters try to save against being shaken via their Spirit attribute. If you get shaken while already shaken you take a wound. Three wounds are your at risk of being taken out.
Alright so combat is starting to sound a little more lethal than D&D, which I like, but there’s more to read through.
If you have any wounds you take -#of wounds to all of your rolls. This I like. You don’t go from perfectly fine to dead instantly like D&D or DW. If you take lethal damage you roll Vigor until either you get better, bleed out, or just fall unconscious.
There is also a bit about soaking damage. You can get a chance to soak damage if you spend a benny and roll well on Vigor. Now I’m wondering if one could spend a benny after they find out what their opponent rolled to hit to negate damage that way. The rules are unclear when benny’s can be spent (after results are tallied or before). I’d assume after in any case, but I’m not 100% sure.
Combat is about as complicated as D&D. The system boasts that it is fast, but I have my doubts. Lethal sure, but not fast. Minis are done like Warmachine/Warhammer.
Advancement, Magic, and Edges/Hinderances
Savage Worlds does 5 xp per advancement and xp is only handed out at the end of session. I don’t care for this way. Currently I just either tell players when they level or we go with Apocalypse World/Dungeon World where you get xp on rolling certain stats or failing a roll. An arbitrary 1-3 at the end of session seems kinda meh. I’d house rule the heck out of this and go with either a failed roll earns xp or give xp whenever something meaningful is accomplished in a story. End of session xp is just a “Thanks for showing up” reward in my book.
The rules go over Powers (magic, super powers, etc) pretty quick. My guess is that certain settings would have very specific spells and abilities. The universal mechanic is a power point system. You spend X power points to gain the desired affect. Power points are regained at 1 per hour. Nothing new here, but I feel this is an easy way to handle superhuman abilities across many genres. This makes me more confident that this system can handle many different genres, because when I read GURPS, it made my head hurt trying to figure out how all these different systems worked together. (That was a long time ago when I read GURPS so if things have changed in the past 10 years I’m not aware of that).
Finally there are Edges/Hinderances. The best way to describe these is that they act like feats from D&D. Edges modify certain skills or situations (e.g. Dodge- -1 to be hit by ranged attacks). Hinderances are the opposite. They restrict your character in some way, but to gain Edges one needs to take Hinderances. Now some Hinderances are mechanical, while a lot of them are purely for the fiction (e.g. Doubting Thomas- Doesn’t believe in the supernatural). The quick rules doesn’t go into these in any details so I’m not sure if there is more to it in the core book.
I like the idea of taking bad things to get good things. Makes your character more believable. More human. You can gain Edges via xp so you don’t need to take a lot of Hinderances, just a few at the start.
One last tl;dr
Savage Worlds boasts that it is Fast! Fun! and Furious! While I agree that it looks like it could be fun, with a good setting and knowledgable GM, the fast and furious part I question. Combat looks like it would take as long as say D&D or Pathfinder, but possibly be more lethal. Since I’m a Dungeon/Apocalypse World fanboy right now I don’t know if I would try this out compared to maybe an Apocalypse World hack if I had to choose between the two for a new game or one shot.
If you want to try something that reads a little less complicated than D&D but is more tactical than DW or AW, then Savage Worlds might scratch that itch.
One last note. This was me writing my thoughts as I read through the quick start rules. I haven’t played it, so I’d like to hear about your experiences of playing. Thanks for reading.