Jeff Reads Savage Worlds

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So I picked this up because I listen to the Game’s the Thing podcast, the hosts of which are all the time talking it up, and because I know Ken Hite has some kind of WWII-Ragnarok sourcebook for it coming out soon, or out already.  Plus the Explorer’s Edition of the ruleset is only ten bucks.

I’m reading it and I just had a thought, which I’m stopping reading it to write down and share with you.  I’m on page 18.  First, though, I will recap what I have read so far.

The book hits the ground running, paying brief lip service to the notion that this may be your first RPG (in that it tells you about the existence of polyhedral dice on page 4, which is the first page after the comprehensive-looking two-page table of contents) but throws around jargon like “GM” without worrying about holding your hand and explaining how Savage Worlds is like playing Cops and Robbers but with
more arithmetic.  The assertion is made that Savage Worlds is fast to run (like GMs crave) while providing significant mechanical heft (which players enjoy), which is certainly the kind of thing I’m looking for, and that the system works well with miniatures.  I already own a game with significant mechanical heft that plays fast
and works well with miniatures, but D&D 4th edition is not good for literally every game idea, and comes with its own set of assumptions, so I’m willing to allow there’s conceptual space for another game that makes these kinds of claims.

Page five is a full-page illustration of a masculine figure flying with a jetpack towards a flying aircraft-carrier-looking-thing.  It does not grab me, though I am mildly intrigued by the mysterious figure.  He’s seen from behind and the jetpack blocks all view of his head.  His hands are bare, and I can see he’s wearing a wedding ring, but in the wash of the jets I couldn’t judge his skin color.  I’m only 70% sure he’s even male, and that’s based mostly on his broad shoulders, which could be an artifact of the pose.  So, I dunno.  It’s an athletic figure, but it wouldn’t shock me if the figure spun around it it was Angela Bassett circa 1995.

Pages six and seven summarize character creation.  I’m a little thrown by the reference to going online to get a character sheet (there isn’t one in the book) — while I usually get my character sheets as PDFs I print these days, it wasn’t long ago that I was mostly photocopying sheets out of books; it’s a little jarring to see that’s no longer an option.  Character creation is described as a five-step process, although the first step (selecting a race, i.e. human or elven or alien) is likely to be a non-issue in at least some games.  Humans are the only race detailed, at least in this book, at least within the first eighteen pages: they get a free Edge, which it’s clear from context are advantages/merits/bennies.

Step two is assigning points to attributes.  Savage World has five attributes and an indeterminate number of skills.  The impression I’m under so far is that mechanically speaking, your characters are the sum of their attributes, skills, Edges, and Hindrances (Hindrances are the disadvantages/flaws/slaps).  The five attributes (agility, smarts, spirit, strength, and vigor; spirit is wisdom and mental fortitude
apparently) are rated by die size, d4 to d12.  Each starts at d4 and can be improved up to d12 at the cost of one point; a starting character has five such points to spend.  There’s an assertion, incidentally, that this is the process for creating a “novice”
character; other probably-more-badass character types presumably exist, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Step three is skills.  Pages 8 through 13 list skills.  There’s a total of 24 skills, which to my mind is brushing against the high end of “a pretty reasonable number” but by no means is excessive.  Each skill is tied to an attribute; skills cost 1 point (out of 15) to raise from zero (they’re rated by dice, same as attributes) unless the skill is being raised above the governing attribute, in which case the level costs 2 points.  Ten of the skills listed are Agility-governed, ten are Smarts-governed, and three are Spirit-governed, leaving one for Strength and none for Vigor.

Boating, Piloting, Riding, and Driving are all separate (Agility) skills, which strikes me as a little fine.  However, I note that the skill list is described as the skills available in “most Savage Settings,” which implies that I’m free to pare down the list, combine or add skills, without obviously messing up the game, which is  something I like in generic systems.  There’s also a “common knowledge” skill, which is equal to the Smarts attribute with a +2 modifier.

How skills are used hasn’t yet been explained, but it looks like you roll whatever die defines your skill level, add or subtract any modifiers, and compare it to a target number (which might also be the results of a skill roll).  The “Taunt” skill, which is governed by Smarts, uses the phrase “opposed roll,” and refers forward to the Test of Wills mechanic, which I haven’t gotten to yet.  The opposing roll is the target’s Smarts attribute, which surprises me (based on the attribute descriptions, I’d expect it to be Spirit).  The Stealth skill description uses the term “standard success,” which implies that there’s a general target number table somewhere further ahead in the
book.

The Stealth rules, by the way, have an interesting wrinkle, which is that if you fail a stealth roll while sneaking up on dudes who are not actively looking to be snuck up on, you don’t automatically alert the dudes to your location and intent, you just put the dudes enough on the alert that they become dudes who are actively looking to be snuck up on.  Which means that, if I understand it correctly, you can be trying to sneak into a place, and fail a stealth roll, and the guards become sufficiently alerted that you can’t make it in, without them necessarily being able to find and catch you, which I find fairly clever and makes up for the bit where the book makes explicit the
amount of ground you can cover for each Stealth roll you can make (it’s one of those systems where you keep rolling Stealth until you fail, in other words, but there’s a two-tier level of failure, which looks, at least, like it would work much better in play).

Another thing I notice is that many of the skills have little tables of modifiers, which invariably trend towards +/- 2 and never go above +/- 4, which is nicely generalizable.

Okay, step four in character creation is Edges and Hindrances, and actually you can do it before step three if you want (and it may be mechanically advantageous to do so; you can take Hindrances that allow you to raise your attributes, which discounts the costs of skills in step three).  You can take two “minor” Hindrances and one “major” Hindrance, which give you points you can apply to Edges, attributes, skills, and starting money.   Humans get a free Edge (as mentioned previously).  The list of Hindrances begins on page 14 and it’s while reading them over that I had the epiphany that led me to start writing this.

Hindrances are your fairly standard flaws/disadvantages feature, but Savage Worlds, like GURPS, freely mixes Hindrances with mechanical teeth (such as Clueless, a minor Hindrance that gets you -2 to Common Knowledge rolls) with those that are purely quirky character traits (such as Cautious, a minor Hindrance that means your character doesn’t like to take risks).  There’s at least one Hindrance which seems like a very dubious disadvantage (Elderly; a major Hindrance which drops your Strength and Vigor by one die size each, to a minimum of d4, from which level they cannot be raised by any means, in exchange for which you get 5 skill points).

My girlfriend is a cunning rules lawyer (and actual lawyer) and I don’t doubt that basically any Savage Worlds character she ever made would suffer this disadvantage.  I suspect such a character would have a total of five points invested in Agility, Smarts, and Spirit, such that her Elderly penalty brought her down from d4 all the way to d4, and that she would somehow manage to find ways to spend her experience points despite the arduous penalty of not being able to spend them raising Strength or Vigor.  She would also make the most of the seven skill points she got from such a sacrifice.

As with skills, Savage Worlds asserts that different settings will feature different Hindrances, and this is just a sampling.  If I ever run this game, and so far I don’t see any deal-breaking reason against it, though I’m not yet sold on it as better than GURPS, BESM, FRED, nWoD, M&M, BRP, or any of the other generic systems out there with letters for names, if I ever run this game, I’ll toss all existing Hindrances and replace them with a system as follows:

1) Pick an activity that a PC could reasonably specialize in, like “driving” or “fighting” or “lying.”
2) Get a -2 to skill rolls relating to that activity.
3) You can take up to three such -2s.  Each counts as a minor Hindrance and is good for one point, to be spent in the same way as a point from a minor Hindrance.  You can apply two -2s to a single activity, giving you a -4 for it, but not all three to the same activity.

I have not read past page 18 and I am fully confident these rules are workable, balanced, and within the spirit of the Savage Worlds ruleset.  Which, really, is a vote in favor of Savage Worlds; the underlying assumptions are transparent enough that I can already see them.

NEXT: Jeff reads the rest of Chapter One and all of Chapter Two! Edges!  Gear!  Experience points!

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