Monday, December 8, 2014

The 12 Games of X-Mas 1: "A Savage in my World Tree"

So while trying to get my writing legs back under me a friend of mine suggested to do twelve short reviews for systems we already play.  I'm hoping these will roll out at least some what smoothly as there's no research and I can still be mostly lazy.  Some of these games will be known and even one or two that have already been suggested for our "12 Games in 12 Months" series.  Anyways, with that all out of the way let's move onto the first game on the list... SAVAGE WORLDS.

Seeing as I have an entire column dedicated to Savage Worlds it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of the system.  Its easily the fastest system I've ever ran and once I got the basics down I was able to pull entire campaigns off with no more prep that a 3X5 card. That being said it still has its flaws and I fully understand the players of mine that prefer we run something else.  For those unfamiliar with Savage Worlds it is a genre neutral system, meaning that the core rules do not fit into one specific game world.  I've run several of these kinds of systems, but personally this is the one I find needing the least tweaking from genre to genre.  To help this out Pinnacle Entertainment (the company that puts out the core rules) has also released several "Companion" books for more specific genres (Fantasy, Horror, and Sci-Fi to date).  Now I will definitely say that if you are looking to primarily runs one of those types of games the companions are completely worth it, however with trying to judge a system on what a possible player will most like have at their disposal I am not going to go any further into these supplements other than mentioning that they exists.  I firmly believe that if a system is well made it should be playable without me getting half way into a campaign and realizing I need another trip to the store because Rule 82-B subsection 36 is in Book J Part 3 of the XYZ series.

The Good:
Now on to some specifics starting with the reasons this has become my go to system.

  • Stacking the Deck
    • One of the first things you will notice picking up this book is that the rules will require you to dig out a deck of cards, and no this isn't a trading card game. I'm talking just a good old fashioned poker deck.  Just browsing through the rules most will think they are only used for initiative and I've seen several people look for alternate options for this as to prevent needing a whole new item for something that any other game can handle with dice. I will say first and for most, if you are not using the cards for initiative then you are missing out and its a system I've even started hack into my other games.  The mechanic basically boils down to on each turn everyone gets a card and initiative goes in order of highest to lowest.  It seems simple and definitely something that a roll of the dice could handle, however cards are faster to re-deal every round (yes initiative resets EVERY round) and players seem to have a much easier time remembering a card that can stay right in front of them over a dice roll that, depending on the players at the table, could have been rolls almost a half hour ago.  There's also the fact that a player that receives a Joker basically gets Savage Worlds equivalent of scoring a Crit, but for their entire turn.  Giving them a bonus to everything the can do and choosing when they get to go, which can include right in the middle of another creatures turn.
  • Chase Scenes
    • So with understanding at least a bit as to why cards make for better initiative than dice we're still stuck with that fact that while initiative is used often, it isn't enough to warrant an entire item at the table for it.  That's where Chases and Dramatic Tasks come in. Both of these use the deck of cards while at the same time truly extenuate what makes Savage Worlds different from most other table top games.  Chases are jsut what they sound like.  If you are chasing a thief down side allies, trying to outrun a car full of gun wielding Nazis, or even having a daring dog fight in bi planes, then the chase runs kick in.  Now I'm not a rule book and its not my job to teach you how to play so I'll break it down simply to: You each use your skill, that determines how many cards you get, pick a card and that determines if you can acts and how hard the action will be to pull off this turn.  Sure its not the most crunchy or hyper realistic way to handle chases, but once you run a couple you realize that it still fairly represents that a character can do and above all is fast. 
  • Montage!
    •  Dramatic Tasks are a unique beast to Savage Worlds all together.  Basically any time you want to do a montage or time slows down when a player needs to know which wire to cut to defuse the bomb is a dramatic task.  In this case that cards are more used as a timer, with a chance of something going horribly wrong at any moment.  I would love to go into more detail, but like I said not my job.

The Bad:
So, we've talked about cards and action and speed all great things, but like I said not everyone loves this system and I can understand if it's not your kind of thing.

  • Put In What You Get Out
    • First part of that would be the fact that while, yes it is easy for a GM to run this game, that is because a good bit of the micro managing is put on the players.  As GM I don't need to memorize a thousand different spells because you make them up based on the core "powers" (aka the mechanical side of any spell) that the book provides.  Now personally I would put this again the the pro section of this article, however, if you don't have a clear idea of what you want your character to be or a GM willing to take the time to really flesh out what makes your character special then the system isn't going to do it for you.  
  • Different Horse of the Same Color
    • The skills list is short and simple which makes it a breeze to know what you need to roll, but that does mean most players with have incredibly similar skills, its up to them to make how they pull those skills off interesting.  Same goes for "Edges" which are basically like Feats in D&D and Pathfinder.  There are a few that in you have a group that likes to optimize just about everyone will take and it's once again up to the players to make two characters with the same stuff feel different.  IF you are a palyer looking for the book to hand you their idea of a character that you just step into without needing to think about it, then this probably will be an awkward fit.
  • Explosions Around
    • Another thing some people love while others hate is what most gamers would call the "Swing".  Savage Worlds uses "open ended dice" meaning if you roll the highest number on your dice you get to roll it again and add it.  As long as you keep rolling maximum you keep rolling and adding.  This means that will be times when the fighter in platemail without an ounce of training in stealth is harder to find than the thief.  Granted this is when the GM is expected to be as on the ball about the story as the players are about their characters and make judgement calls to either explain how this could happen or why even though the dice are high you can only do so well given a situation.  This almost means that more so than any other system I've played players need to have restraint on when to actually roll dice.  A group walks into a room and everyone rolls to see what's hidden.  Sure you're players got an impossible 112, but if the GM didn't ask for that roll because nothing's hidden then everyone come off feeling cheated.  This also makes for some weird math issues of the fact that some of the higher dice are actually worse statistically than the ones below them and are only taken as prerequisites for Edges or to simply have the highest skill.

Final Thoughts:
Now I will say I only scratched the surface of the unique things about this system, not even mentioning the Bennies/Hero Points mechanic, or any of the truly interesting pre-made settings out there for it.  I figure if this was enough to get you interested you can find out about those on your own and if you aren't yet than it really doesn't matter.  All in all I think this system's great, I have a couple players who disagree with me (Though one of them decided to run a home brewed game and couldn't think of a better system to use) and I have one player that I turned into a total convert.  Thing is I can say this system isn't for everyone, but honestly no system is.  The only other piece of advice I can give on the subject is that, while it CAN pull it off, don't shoot for too close to realism.  In my experience this game runs best if you think in terms of movie or TV logic.  In worlds where shooting a gas cap blows up a car, a week of fixing up a house is done in a musical montage, and ten seconds takes 5 minutes when you need to defuse a bomb.

Most games fall on a spectrum of all numbers and crunch to as few rolls as possible and all group story telling,  Savage Worlds falls as close to the middle as I've seen.  Don't expect hundreds of tiny mechanics to fiddle and tweak and game, but don't underestimate what is there either.  It has a lot more depth than most give it credit for.


  1. Speaking as the lab rat thats not a fan.... I will admit that its a great system for online play, its simplicity lends itself well to short fast sesions.

  2. I've got a weird sort of Love/Hate relationship to this game.
    On the one hand, it works great for what it is good at.
    On the other hand you have to have the cards and the bennies to make the game go, and any time you are deploying extra bits it is just that much more complicated. I also do not like how it is possible to make an incredible hit and then to roll insignificant damage, or barely hit and roll devastating damage.

    Still, all of the games I am currently playing or running are Savage Worlds games, so it must be doing something right.

  3. Although I've only run a handful of Savage Worlds sessions, I have fallen in love with this system. Prep time for mechanics/stats/etc is very low, so GMs who are hard-pressed for time can spend what they have on crafting an awesome story.

    I also love getting to skip all the extra math that comes with having to subtract hit points with every damage roll and (even worse) keep up with which monster has how many remaining. My group is split between Savage Worlds and Pathfinder, but I'll take Savage Worlds any day.

  4. Just to clarify, this part is slightly inaccurate...

    "This also makes for some weird math issues of the fact that some of the higher dice are actually worse statistically than the ones below them and are only taken as prerequisites for Edges or to simply have the highest skill."

    Higher dice are never statistically worse than lower dice *when looking at the system as a whole.* There will be one specific TN (which in none of the cases is the standard TN of 4) where the odds will be almost exactly the same except the lower die will have a fractional edge at best. But then that's why the system uses two TNs for success, the normal success and extraordinary success with a raise. The higher die will always have significantly better odds at the other TN since it's always better at *every* other TN except that one.

    On top of that for players as Wild Cards (the only ones for whom Edge requirements matter), a higher die type always lowers the odds of a critical failure.

    So there's really never any statistical reason where a d6 for example is better than a d8 overall. For a 25.85% chance of hitting a standard success instead of a 24.65% chance if the modifier is *exactly* -4, the character is much less capable in every single other way, including getting a raise on that same roll where the d6 has a 5.48% chance compared to the d8's 10.37%.

    Again just wanted to clear that up to avoid any future confusion. Thanks for putting us in the pear tree! Mmm, tasty pears. :-)

  5. Yes, as Clint said above, ALL of the math anomalies can be summed up as follows:
    If the Target Number is the same as the die type, there is a slightly better probability of rolling that exact number with a die type one lower (e.g. you can roll exactly a 6 a little bit better with a d4 than a d6)