Changing Horses Pt 2: Savage Worlds

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This past Wednesday the group kicked the tires on Savage Worlds as a possible contender as a new system for our D&D campaign. I was really in my heart of hearts looking more for a d20 based game so it wasn’t such a system shock, but I liked what I saw in SW and decided to give it a whirl.

Savage Worlds has a couple big things going for it. It is a very simple system mechanically – not a lot of feats and skills and powers and traits and all that to keep track of.  A handful of “Edges” and spells depending on the level of the game, but not an overwhelming number. It has good support for fantasy gaming right out of the box – the core book having rules for magic, miracles and psychic powers and a fairly solid Bestiary of typical fantasy-type critters – as well as a Fantasy Companion to beef that up. Perhaps most of all, it’s only $15 to pre-order the newest edition (coming out in a month or so) and you get a pdf of it straight away.

One of the things I love most about SW is that it is consistent. There is one mechanic that runs through pretty much everything in the game – you roll a die type based on how good you are at something (d4, d6, d8, d10 or d12) and an additional d6 because you are a player character and thus awesome. If you get the highest value possible on any die, you roll it again and add. You compare the highest result you got on either of your dice (including totaled up “exploded” dice) and compare it to either a static target value or to an opposed roll. And that’s it. There are a few more tweaks in there but that’s the core of the game and it’s super easy to understand. The  free quick-play version of the rules is only about 8 or so pages and gives you everything you need to know to play the game. Simple. Elegant.

I pre-made characters for my group, but left off the “Hindrances” (flaws) for the players to choose, as that would go a ways to personalizing the characters. I set up a pretty standard heist-type scenario with the characters as a thieving crew in a reasonably large urban setting.  They were approached in a tavern by a woman that wanted to hire their services to retrieve an item. Complications of course ensued, leading eventually to a nasty combat and retrieval of the item for their employer, but with a last minute twist of Shyamalanian proportions.

Due to having a rough week at work and my general sloth I did a minimal amount of prep work for the game. I printed out stats for a couple generic baddies and one Big Bad. I did some internet research and found a floorplan of a castle where the heist was to take place and I had a handful of story beats in my brain but nothing more.

My goal was to test out social situations, the equivalent of a skill challenge or two and some combat. I got all of these things in, but in retrospect I feel I rushed the session and would have been better off doing it as a 2-parter. I’d specifically set up the “fighter” of the group as being nasty with AoE attacks but since the hour was getting lat cut own the number of baddies they faced so she only ever ended up fighting one at a time, for example. Bad form, old chap.

In the final analysis the system lived up to expectations. The characters were very easy to make up, even though  was starting them at “seasoned” level and not purely from “level 1”. There were a few moments of not knowing exactly how this spell or that type of social challenge worked but I never felt like I was fighting the system or having to make arbitrary decisions because the system didn’t support the situation.  The combat went very quickly and there were some good improvisational uses of abilities that saved the day.  There were points where it seemed the “mooks” couldn’t possibly roll high enough to be a threat to the PCs but that may have just been me not calibrating them to a high enough level. Certainly the Big Bad, a werewolf, had no problem taking one of the PCs from fully healthy to death’s door in one attack. They’d have had a LOT of trouble with him had they not cleverly thrown him out a window and hundreds of feet down to the foot of a rocky cliff below. Poor doggie.

I feel that I’d definitely use Savage Worlds again, likely for any one-shot or pick up games or even for a fill-in if some night some players can’t make it. I think I could whip up characters and have a quick game going in no time at all (I’m looking at you, SotC). I don’t know that it is the right fit for my D&D game, especially as the characters are going to be in the equivalent of the Epic tier, being big movers and shakers in the cosmos and going up against gods and Elemental Princes of Evil and all that.  Savage Worlds looks like it would handle low to mid levels of power well but I don’t really see cosmic covered in there all that well.

Next time: Dark Sun by way of 13th Age!

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