Fast? Furious? Fun? Fantastic!
I first picked up Pinnacle Entertainment’s Savage Worlds RPG with the old Explorer’s edition, which I read but didn’t play. Then grabbed the Deluxe Explorer’s Edition because I like updated material and more material collected in one book. That one I did run for a couple of sessions and would have to agree that it was fast and fun, and I suppose furious (fast, fun, and furious is the tagline, fyi), though all participants did keep their heads.
Both of these were easy purchases, even if I’d never really played them, because Pinnacle made the generous decision to charge $10 for the rules, and they came in a nice, portable, 6×9 paperback.
While the print versions of the latest update, the wildly successfully kickstarted “Adventure Edition” will not be quite so low-cost, the game has built up enough goodwill and popularity that I doubt it will be a problem. Besides, you can always do what I did and get the PDF for much less (also a very good decision.)
Since I only had the opportunity to play a little of the game in its earlier incarnations, I don’t have many preconceptions of how it plays, nor have I internalized the rules completely. In this case that’s great, because I won’t have to unlearn anything – and from what I’ve read, while this is mostly the same game, a few changes here and there are perfectly positioned to trip you up if you are too familiar with the previous edition.
So now on to adventure, in worlds most savage!
Savage Worlds is a toolkit roleplaying game with rules geared towards speed and simplicity, featuring heroic characters. The Adventure Edition, as the introduction states, is their attempt at accommodating all kinds of stories and playstyles, from heavy-RP sessions to mass battles with miniatures.
The game uses the traditional set of gaming dice, as well as a standard deck of cards for Initiative and some random tables.
Character creation is very accommodating. The game has no archetypes to choose from, though encourages developing a character concept first, but does provide a standard and non-standard set of premade species for characters to come from, in addition to thorough rules for creating your own races.
PCs are defined by Traits, a collective term for Attributes (Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength, Vigor) and Skills (an encompassing list of about 30) both of which function the same way. These are ranked by die type, which indicates the die to roll when attempting a task where the Trait is relevant. Each point spent in a Trait raises the die type, up to a maximum of d12. Higher advances turn into bonuses (1d12+1, 1d12+2, etc.)
Characters are further defined with Edges (special features that give situational advantages or even supernatural powers – this is how you create your spellcasters, psychics, artificers), and Hindrances (Major and Minor), which give extra points to spend elsewhere on the character and both help guide role play around the character and give them situational disadvantages. Once you’ve allocated these points, calculated some derived attributes, and purchased starting gear your character is done. It’s relatively quick and easy and your character can probably fit on an index card!
Over time your character will gain Advances, which can be spent on new Edges, skills, raising skills and attributes, or buying off Hindrances. Acquiring a certain number of Advances increases the Rank or your character, allowing you access to more powerful Edges and Powers. I like that gaining Advances is what allows you to rise in Rank, rather than the other way around, which tends to be the case in more traditional “level” systems. It feels more organic but also helps when you want to make more experienced characters at the start – the GM can allocate as many extra bonuses as they want, and all the characters still start at Novice (1st) Rank.
Traits are rolled against a Target Number of 4, and important characters (PCs, named Villains and Allies) also roll a d6, in addition to their Trait Die, and take the highest for their total. This is known as the Wild Die and characters that can use it are known as “Wild Cards”. Being a Wild Card also gives bonuses like additional Wounds, and other options. Non-Wild Cards are called “Extras” and are the type of threat that is taken out of combat in one hit.
Trait (and damage) rolls are open-ended (Aces), so if the maximum result is rolled, the die is rolled again and added together until it stops rolling maximum. For every 4 points over the Target Number you achieve a “raise”, which provides an additional effect or bonus damage, depending on the roll. There are Critical Failures, when a 1 is rolled on both dice, which result in failure and an additional bad effect. Opposed rolls are simply both actors effectively trying to roll higher than the other.
Circumstantial modifiers aren’t large, which makes sense when you have the lower range of results that come with a single die roll. In general, easy rolls are given a +2 bonus, difficult -2, and very difficult -4.
Players and GMs have a meta-currency known as “Bennies”, that allow rerolls, recoveries from damage or threatening status effects, to prevent wounds, or sometimes influence the narrative. Players gain them through clever play, fun role play, acting according to their Hindrances, but GMs have a limited pool as well, that starts equal to the number of players.
Combat starts with Initiative, where every Wild Card and groups of Extras are dealt a card from a standard playing deck (jokers included), and take their turn when their card is called (counted down from Ace to 2). Jokers can act whenever they want, at a +2 to all Trait and damage rolls. Characters can move and perform a regular action each round, of which there are a number of useful and encompassing options to cover what you would want to do in combat, and perform a reasonable number of Free Actions (talking, moving your Pace score, etc).
You attack by rolling your Fighting die (Melee), Shooting (Ranged) and comparing against a Target Number of your opponent’s Parry (a static melee defense), or 4 modified by range (when shooting). If the hit is successful you roll your attack’s damage dice (which can Ace) against the target’s Toughness. If the result is equal to or greater the target is Shaken, meaning they can only take Free Actions and roll their Spirit to recover being Shaken at the beginning of their turn (you can also spend a Bennie to remove the Shaken status). Every Raise on the damage roll causes a Wound (one is enough to Incapacitate an Extra). Each Wound a Wild Card has causes a cumulative -1 penalty to Pace and all Trait rolls. Wild Cards can take 3 Wounds before being Incapacitated. At this point they make a Vigor roll to see the immediate effect of their Incapacitation, which can include death or bleeding out.
Bennies are useful here as they allow a “Soak” roll, which is a Vigor check to reduce the number of wounds suffered by that attack.
From previous readings and experiences it seems Combat can be a little swingy, since damage Aceing can result in devastating blows, but I like that, as it keeps players on their toes and avoids an HP-reducing slugfest (granted, trading for a whiff-fest). The situational rules reward teamwork, as ganging up gives bonuses to Fighting rolls and there are good Support rules for aiding other combatants.
As it should, Savage Worlds features a suitable number of situational and spot rules. I don’t want to go into detail on all of them, but I’ll highlight the ones I particularly like.
Adventure games should have action-adventure rules, so it’s no surprise there are chase rules. They read well, and use the Action deck to physically represent the space between participants, helping mark their respective distances through the challenge.
The Dramatic Tasks rules help you frame your bomb-disarming, computer hacking, cliff-scaling scenes. They operate on achieving a certain number of successes in a certain number of rounds. These are rules that can easily get bogged down in GM fiat, so while they’re not extremely detailed, they’re clear in what is necessary to succeed or fail.
There are Fear rules. Throughout the hobby, there’s sometimes been the attitude of “I’ll decide when my player is scared, thankyouverymuch!”, but I like having Fear rules. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to deeply roleplay the emotion, or it’s hard to express the sheer otherworldly terror of a dragon, demon, or undead being, and so it’s nice to have rules for when you need them.
Interludes also look fun. You can use these rules during moments when characters are catching their breath, or have some time to kill and to get to know each other. The player draws a card and, based on the suit, chooses how they spend this time. The player then tells a story, from their character’s point-of-view, revolving around their choice. This could be a narrative about the PC brooding or being angry and how they misbehave, it could reveal backstory about a lost love, or tell about a difficult obstacle the group overcame. Upon completion the player receives a Benny. It’s a nice way to flesh out events and characters where the players can directly contribute to the narrative.
To allow the game to emulate a variety of genres, there are a number of setting rules that change the core in dramatic ways. You can allow unarmored martial artists and barbarians to gain a bonus to Soak when not wearing armor, make damage more…damaging by rolling on the Critical Injury tables every time a Wound is taken, make skills more specific by including Specializations (which weaken the other uses of the skill), and many more.
I’m very happy there are Social Conflict rules. I like games where this can be measured mechanically, as it prevents only the talkative players from playing social characters, as well as stopping players from dumping points into non-Social traits then still dominating because they’re charming individuals. It’s only a page, but that’s true of many rules in the book and isn’t a bad thing – there’s a lot to be said for brevity and cutting to the chase.
I feel that how a toolkit game handles Powers is almost a deciding factor on its overall quality. Extensive lists are good, but modifiable effect-based powers are the best, in my opinion. They worked in Hero and Mutants & Masterminds, and as long as they’re not too clunky or time-consuming, are lots of fun to design. Savage Worlds uses effect-based powers to cover spells, miracles from otherworldly beings, innate abilities, and even created items that can be shared amongst the group.
If you want to create a powered character, you take an Arcane Background Edge that suits your concept (wizard, cleric, mad scientist, low-level superhero, godling). This edge gives you a Power Skill, a Trait you roll to activate your powers, a starting number of power slots, and a varying number of Power Points. Each power costs a certain number of Power Points to attempt, though this can be lowered if you limit the scope of the power at selection, and raised if you take certain add-ons to the Power (like Armor-Piercing). Powers are further distinguish by trappings. One wizard’s Bolt Spell could be a flaming spear and a mad scientist could have a gun that shoots lightning. Common sense is used regarding situational advantages for Trappings, with loose guidelines. That fire spear may do extra damage against ice-based targets, but less against fire-based, and the lightning gun could do increased damage against someone standing in water, but not if they’re properly grounded.
The list of power options seems very suitable, from combat effects to support to roleplay effects. While there’s a general list of modifiers, some effects have exclusive modifiers. Power choices are restricted by character rank.
The Bestiary doesn’t provide a ton of pre-made choices, but the chapter begins with a list of creature abilities (Aquatic, Breath Weapon, Undead, and so on), plus a table that helps GMs create their own foes. It’s not a bad thing that the pickings are slim as GMs should be expected to do some of the work with a rule set like this. The classic foes like orcs, vampires, zombies, various animals, robots, and so on, are present, and it doesn’t take much to tailor them to create new beasts. There may be some trial and error regarding how dangerous these creations are, but one can sort-of eyeball it based on the chassis they’ve built from. I do like that zombies are a little tougher, even if they count as Extras by default (some, like vampires and dragons, tend to be Wild Cards).
The production values for the book are great, well-layed out and with excellent art. By and large the art is very inclusive, depicting a wide variety of characters.
Savage Worlds Adventure Edition is a very comprehensive, very accessible, detailed but fast toolkit RPG suitable to run games in almost any setting/genre with just the core rulebook. You can build your own setting or easily convert your favorite to the system. It has a vast amount of additional material to expand your game, either with genre books, or third-party content, much of which is being updated to this edition. Even if you’re still waiting on a cool-looking setting to be updated, you have access to Pinnacle’s conversion notes, which should hold you over until everything’s officially done: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition Conversion.
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