Lessons Learned from re-reading Savage Worlds

As rules-light systems go, Savage Worlds is about as light as I ever want to go. I picked this up on a whim, one day, having heard a great deal of hype about it, but never really got around to playing it with anyone. As a generic system, it already had an "in" with me, but coming from more rules-heavy systems, it had a tough row to hoe to make much progress.

Reading about +Wil Wheaton getting into a game of it last night, I pulled out my copy and gave it a brisk re-read, to see if my impressions had changed. There were some things that jumped out at me that I wanted to think about a bit more, so I came here to collect my thoughts.

Initiative with a Deck of Cards: At first, I was opposed to this. It felt gimmicky from the get-go, a replacement for a simple die roll that added no value to the game in my opinion. Knowing now that this is almost certainly a hold-over from the game's roots in Deadlands, I came to understand part of my reaction was that I wasn't seeing the mechanic in it's original setting. I always come at a game from a sci-fi or fantasy stance, and so was thrown off. Were I to run a fantasy game with SW, I would immediately substitute the minor arcana (plus Hanged Man and The Devil from the major arcana to stand in as jokers) for the standard deck of cards. It keeps the mechanic from brining an anachronistic history along with it, and keeps to the right genre.

I'm less concerned with using alternate mechanics in games after this little epiphany, and can see adapting similar types of systems to any game I might play. With a small enough group, a sci-fi game could use a mechanic like this for initiative with tokens depicting the nine planets (long live Pluto!) and going in order from closest to the sun to farthest (ignoring the oddities of orbital mechanics and elliptical orbits, of course).

Abstract Damage: One of my biggest gripes about D&D is the way that Hit Points are used in that system, regardless of edition. As you get more powerful, you get more HP - it makes little sense unless you abstract HP to include so many external factors - fatigue, morale, etc - as to make them utterly unrealistic. I'm a fan of a more nuanced system, but I understand the desire to keep things abstract for speed of play as well. I must say, I appreciate the middle ground that SW provides.

Sure, in a very Car Wars like way, even our heroes can only suffer three wounds before they become incapacitated, but there are at least some Hinderances and Edges that can change how they effect a character, and I'm sure there are even some others, in other source material, that increase the number of wounds a character can endure. Add in the Injury system for those who are Incapacitated, and you get a little more level of nuance than you might have expected.

Them Funny Dice: I love the utility of games that only use 6-siders. They're easy to find, and the bell curve can be used in some very wonderful ways to replicate real life. But there's definitely a benefit to using all those odd dice you picked up when you were first getting into gaming - with them, you can generate ranges of numbers that start with one, and go higher than six. Far less reliance on "3d6+2, so my minimum result is a 5" which never made much sense.

The fact that even attributes are rated by their die type is a little unusual, and leads to some granularity issues (and the fact that there's a gap between the d12 and the d20) that are probably just as pernicious, but I like that at the very least this system makes use of the sorts of random number generators that most of us already have access to, and I look forward to the first game to have the balls to just say "use your smartphone app to generate a random number from 1 to the maximum effect listed in the table."

Comments

  1. I think the smarter system design is to step from 4 to 12 and stop there - five levels is enough most of the time. Personally I really don't want to rely on tech at the table; I do that in the rest of my life, and I like to keep RPGs strictly pencil and paper while I'm playing. (Happy to use GCA to maintain characters between times, mind...)

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    1. Or somebody could 3D print us up some d14s, d16s and d18s to fill the gap...

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    2. Indeed. They end up being fairly boring trapezohedra (like the d10), and telling the difference between them might be a challenge, but it's certainly doable. Colour coding, perhaps.

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  2. I have some d14s and d16s. They're sort of ugly, but work well enough. I do like the idea of a Savage Worlds/Cortex style system extending past d12. Never seen a d18 though.

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  3. The advantage to the flat bonuses after d12 is that the bonus is a modifier and applies to the wild die as well. They also guarantee a minimum result (e.g., d12+2 is a minimum of 3).

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    1. Yeah, the guaranteed minimum thing might be passable in skill checks, but I surely don't like it on damage rolls.

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    2. All systems have a guaranteed minimum on damage. Usually 1 :-)

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  4. I've played Savage Worlds a few times. It is fantastic for pulp, space-opera, high fantasy, etc. Not so great for Low Fantasy (which I love to run) or any style of game where you don't want combat and interactions to be anything but abstract. Mechanically, the system works smoothly and the initiative based on a deck of cards works surprisingly well, especially when you have 6+ players at a time (which seems to have been the case in all but of a couple of instances of my playing Savage Worlds).

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  5. Kristian, if you look at the rules, the modifier after d12, does not add to the d6 as well. If you have d12+1 fighting, you roll a d12 and a d6. You add +1 to the d12, not the d6. If there were any other types of modifiers though, for instance a +2 environmental bonus for positioning, the modifier would add to both.

    It is still useful to have the d6 by itself though, as it explodes more often. Running Juggernaught in a supers game I had given him a vigor of like d12+11 or something like that. I rolled a 3 for his d12 giving him a roll of 14. For his wild die though he rolled a 16, exploding twice and rolling a 4 the third time.

    When you have extreme high attributes and skills, the wild die does not come into play as much as luck is not as needed when you are naturally good or very skillful, but it still helps at times.

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