Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 5 Role-playing Games: Savage Worlds

For the third entry in this series (again, this goes in no particular order), we have Savage Worlds: a game I was, at first, hesitant to play.

Savage Worlds is an open-source Role-playing game (which means that it's a set of rules you can use with any setting) produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group and Studio 2. When this was first brought up as a game idea, our group had just finished playing Dark Heresy. This would've been when Dark Heresy was first released, and Savage Worlds (SW) would've been a huge departure from our safe haven of gaming that included only Dungeons & Dragons and the Warhammer/40K gaming system(s). I was hesitant not only because it was different (my gaming pioneer spirit was somewhat limited then), but because it seemed too simple. Now I know that's where its beauty lies.

We're three sessions into our SW gaming right now, and this game easily squeezes into my top 5 gaming list. Its simplicity does nothing to limit its entertainment or depth, and is indeed the only way that SW can integrate so many different genres and worlds under its banner.

Savage Worlds is a role-playing system that mixes roleplaying with miniatures gaming. If I'm permitted to blow your minds, I'll suggest that SW makes as entertaining a miniatures game as it does a role-playing game. The system uses all of the standard polyhedral dice save the d20 (we've seen enough of that one!), and uses them in conjunction with the French deck playing cards (something I generally hate) to resolve all uncertainties in the game.

All your vital statistics and skills are represented not by numbers but by dice. For instance my current character (a Duwamish marksman who went AWOL during the First World War) has the following attributes: agility (d8); smarts (d6); strength (d4); spirit (d6); and vigor (d8), while for skills he has a d10 in shooting, but only a d4 in fighting, and so on. 

When rolling to do something you roll the die that the skill uses (or if you're rolling a straight attribute roll, you would roll the die associated with the attribute), plus a d6. The extra d6 is something that player characters (PCs) get as well as some non-player characters (NPCs). If you get this extra d6 you're considered a Wild Card (even NPCs can be wild cards). Anyway, roll your skill/attribute die plus the d6 and choose the highest roll. If you roll the maximum allowed on a die (the number next to the "d") you get to roll again and add the value to that die roll so long as you keep rolling maxes. If the highest roll is greater than 4 (the Target Number (TN)), you succeed. If you beat the TN by another 4 you get a "raise" (get the poker terminology yet?) which is like a level of success in the Warhammer 40,000 RPG.

Damage is as simple as rolling the damage value of your weapon and applying it to the target's toughness and armor combination. If it beats it, he/she/it's stunned, if it beats it again he/she/it's wounded once. You get three wounds before you're incapacitated, and it's game over, rover. Each wound level (-1, -2, and -3) reduced every roll by that number. Oh! Before I forget, it's also important to know that most modifiers to rolls come in the -/+2 value. This will reduce or increase your roll not the TN, which remains always at 4. 

That easy. Now the poker terminology comes from the fact that this game is a modified version of the old Deadlands RPG which was done by this very same game company during the '90s. Deadlands is still around and is the flagship setting for SW (which is, itself, open-source and can be used for any setting you can dream of). Deadlands is the wild west gone mad: undead, native magic-users, crazy Victorian inventions, and a never-ending civil war that turns the western genre on its head. I'd love to run this game sometime.

Currently we're playing in a "pulp" setting: 1936 America. One character is a more hard-boiled Indiana Jones, another is a 1930s Iron Man, and the third just got back from a gaming break for the holidays and will be "rolling-up" a character tonight. We're playing adventures from the first Daring Tales of Adventure compendium, and having a blast. So far, there have been no rules disputes, and if there's any rules questions, the answers are easily found in the book.

Savage Worlds is meant to be used with miniatures (a standard in RPGing these days if you ask me), and breaks from the standard grid-mat trend and introduces inches and terrain (something that convinces me this would be great to play a miniatures game with). You can use a grid mat if you like (I prefer hexes), and we use an abstract tabletop (we use miniatures, and terrain but don't measure anything and just use the figures for visual aids), but the rules take into account tabletop features. 

Now while this game is fantastic, if you're looking for something deeper you might want to try Rolemaster, or its sci-fi sister Spacemaster. Savage Worlds is a light game, but my opinion on RPGs is that all rulesets are combat systems, and the role-playing and the depth are left to the Game Master and the group. If you want to figure out how much damage was done to an NPCs arm, and what kind of diabolical poison comes from crushed Ghan'ka root, you should probably find a translated version of Das Schwarze Auge (or learn German). Unless you want to reduce that detail to a -2 roll. 

Overall, Savage Worlds is a fantastic game system, and my brain is filled with ideas for using it to run everything from a RPG set in the Vor: the Maelstrom universe, a Deadlands game, or even using it instead of Mutant Chronicles. Yes, this game is firmly entrenched in my top 5 role-playing games.


1 comment:

MonteTheDog said...

I've recently discovered SavW myself and agree that the system is brilliant in its simplicity. Then once you play it, you discover how much depth is actually there.