Savage Worlds – Sell me on it?

I’m curious as to what people think of Savage Worlds.

It’s one of the systems that seem to have been adopted somewhat broadly, and people say good things about it. I downloaded the 16-page Test Drive v6 and read through it.

I definitely have opinions. But . . . I’ve never played, and you can’t usually fully judge a system without playing it.

So, when I asked about it, some things that came up were:

  • It rewards co-operative tactical play, and strongly encourages inter-party assistance 
  • It plays fast and encourages having side-kicks, etc. 
  • Well supported both by third party license and the company. 
  • Fairly simple but colorful (lots of advantages/skills/powers) while also supporting tactical play. 
  • Multi-genre, albeit in the form of numerous ad-on sourcebooks rather than unified concept. There are plentiful and interesting sourcebooks and world books. 
  • Decent production values in most cases 

I’d be very interested in actual play anecdotes, pro/con style feedback that’s constructive and well informed. If you think it sucks, fine – but please tell me why, and tell me where you ran into issues in actual play (or if it’s a mechanics issue that can be underpinned with math, that’s OK too).

The Responses
Most people respond on Google+ instead of commenting on the blog; no problems there. But I wanted to collect these in one place, as well. They’ll get long, so I’ll put a “below the fold” break in there for readability’s sake.
I’ve never GM’ed it, but I’ve played it a few times under a very good GM expert in the system, and the games were excellent because we had a very good GM who was expert in the system. The system mostly stayed out of the way except in combats, which (despite the exclamatory claims) weren’t notably fast (slower than most systems we were used to at the time), and were conspicuously fiddly, with cards and stuff yanking us pretty hard out of character perspective compared to what we were used to with other games. Overall: A good, but basically unremarkable, multigenre rulekit with some fiddly bits.

I have called it “B/X to GURPS AD&D” more than once. It has some really interesting design ideas that I like a great deal, but sacrifices a great deal of granularity for speed of character creation and play.
The use of playing cards, which was thematically awesome in Deadlands, feels off in almost every other genre (though a nice tarot themed deck might help with a fantasy game).
The community around the game is very active and very creative.
It serves best in a game of cinematic heroes doing awesome things right out of the gate rather than remotely a “start at level 1” style of play.
I’ve played it a lot and run it a lot. In fact, I gave up on GURPS for SW. Mostly, this is because of prep time. GURPS is wonderful at detailed world building, but I have kids now; no time to build anymore. I DO find SW faster in combats than GURPS. And the cards don’t seem to get in the way. It’s not my end-all, be-all system, but it is my go-to when I want to hit the ground running. Plus, the support is amazing, with creators being available to answer queries online and many, many choices of games to play (some amazing, some terrible, most at least okay). The community is also very friendly and the games tend to fun. I still reference GURPS books when I GM, I just use the ideas in SW nowadays.
It’s a point build system like GURPS but greatly simplified. It is light, loose, and great for pulp style adventures. You are meant to be bigger than life and do awesome things. The initiative system works great especially with large numbers. But if you want a lot of crunch, this is not the system for you. Every thing from skills to abilities are archetypical and as light as possible. But if you want to play a Firefly style game, Indiana Jones, high fantasy, works great for all of those. 
It’s not my go to system, nor likely will be, but it is a good system for what it wants to be. 
It is fast on the table, with huge swings in momentum, but assumes you are playing with miniatures. There is no good way I’ve come up with to play online or in the “Theater of the Mind”. Prep super easy! That is probably one of the biggest advantages. It is also a little quirky for players who cut their teeth on other games. Lots of small rules that have a large effect. The shaken rules always seem to stump new players. The dice mechanics are fun. I heard Shane was asked one time why they added the “wild die” and exploding die mechanics and his answer was simple; “players like to roll dice, and it is fun”.
Simple to teach generic system that’s pretty much good at anything. Great for con games and new gamers. 
Rules: You need a 4 or better. The better you are at something the bigger the die you roll.
I’m always amazed by how well it handles a variety of settings. I’ve seen ghostbusts, cthulhu, spys, Tron and Transformers and all worked just as well.
My personal experience: I had been hearing about it on and off for about a year, poked through the book at the local game store finally and it looked interesting. So I said “heck, it’s only $10, why not?”
It sat there for about 6mo untouched (time constraints, real life, what have you)
Finally picked it up a few (2, maybe 3) months ago, gave it a quick read through (maybe 2 hours tops). Unfortunately my group was already running a game and had 3 more games lined up, so their interest was basically non-existent.
Last month I decided to heck with my gaming group and asked my GF (who’s got only about a year of tabletop experience) if she was interested in running a small game to test out the system.
15 min later we had her character finished. Note, that this is with neither of us having any of the skills and whatnot memorized, so there was quite a bit of flipping back and forth in the book and we STILL had characters done that fast.
Then we dove into a game, we had a blast playing for about 90min and had a fulfilling and complete adventure that left both of us wanting to play more.
We played a 4-adventure fanatasy SW-introduction-campaign (that unfortunately is available in German only).
It is an expansion of the Socath-adventure (the old starter-adventure).
This campaign showcases all rules – from skill checks (first adventure) to combat (second) to chases and mass-combat (third) to a full dungeon adventure including a “boss fight” (last). Boss fights do not always “work well” in SW, though.
SW indeed plays fast and fun – we especially loved the initiative by drawing cards and the benny-concept (already integrated in other systems we play right now). “Exploding dice” (i.e. re-roll on max number and add the numbers up) also are a fun concept, if you are not used to it from other systems.
The mass combat rules blend seemlessly with the rest of the system, with the player characters actions really making a difference (if you want).
We’ve used SW as system for a setting we wanted to play, but where we didn’t like the original system.
We also will replace Shadowrun’s system with SW next time we play Shadowrun.
SW’s rules are actually quite “slim” – no huge number of rulebooks required (although there are some available, like the Fanatasy- and SciFi-companion).
There are also countless “savaged” settings to be found on the internet – Fallout(!), Shadowrun, you name it.
Eric Simon explains on his blog why he chose Savage Worlds as his core system

+Dave Sherohman 
It’s a good system.  It’s a fun system.  It’s just not a system for me.

Savage Worlds is designed primarily for pulp, action movies, etc. and it’s really good at that.  It’s not so good at gritty, low-powered gaming.  It’s difficult to strip away enough of the plot armor to give PCs a more-than-minimal chance of dying.  Because of exploding dice, there’s always a non-zero chance of death, but it remains minimal even when the PCs are outclassed.

It does extremely well with situations where the PCs are supposed to be blowing through mooks with minimal (but not zero) resistance, and even more so if the PCs have a squad of good-guy mooks beside them.  It can also do enemies that are nigh-untouchably tough who you have to set up just the right situation with all the advantages on your side, plus have some good luck (or enough bennies to spend on rerolls) to be able to beat them.  It has trouble with anything in between, though, because the margin between these two extremes is rather thin.  Because of this, standard advice for Savage Worlds is not to even try to do “one big boss”-type fights – someone will get a lucky roll and one-shot him, so give the important bad guys a bunch of mooks, too.

Most importantly, it’s an inexpensive game.  If you think there’s any chance you’ll like Savage Worlds, buy a copy (or I think there’s a free quickstart version you can download) and try it for yourself.  Even though I ended up deciding that it doesn’t do what I want from my RPGs, I’m glad I tried it and I had a lot of fun in the process of determining that.  (I ran SW for about a year before finally realizing that my differences with the system were too deep to easily houserule around them.)

+Charles Saeger (from the comments section)
It plays fast and has loads of options. It’s kind of a rules-lite GURPS. It has a good selection of foes in the main book, which is something SJG should have heeded. I played in a fantasy game that had converted from Labyrinth Lord (B/X retroclone) and the characters all had sweet powers fast, with good characterization. I wouldn’t go for it as my main system (obviously GURPS) or anything really serious, but it would work great for things that are fast. Star Wars springs to mind as a good fit. You don’t have a lot of tactical options, unlike GURPS; it’s kinda like D&D here. Like D&D, no defense rolls. 

5 thoughts on “Savage Worlds – Sell me on it?

  1. It plays fast and has loads of options. It's kind of a rules-lite GURPS. It has a good selection of foes in the main book, which is something SJG should have heeded. I played in a fantasy game that had converted from Labyrinth Lord (B/X retroclone) and the characters all had sweet powers fast, with good characterization. I wouldn't go for it as my main system (obviously GURPS) or anything really serious, but it would work great for things that are fast. Star Wars springs to mind as a good fit. You don't have a lot of tactical options, unlike GURPS; it's kinda like D&D here. Like D&D, no defense rolls.

  2. Whether Savage Worlds is fun or not really depends on the GM. Not enough bennies given out and you suffer the Shaken/Unshake spiral that people complain about. The GM also needs to look to reward and encourage that cooperative play. I've seen games go both ways with "I attack, I attack, I attack" and a very cool game where the players acted like Seal Team Six.

    There are little rules that many get wrong. For instance, with the Shaken state, the player can wait until their turn, roll to unshake (Target 4, Raise means you can act as well), if fail or not didn't get the raise, you can spend a bennie, be unshaken and can act immediately. Again, the bennie economy in the game has to be embraced though.

    The result is that the game works best with pulpy style games, but I've run it as a gritty game with success. I liked the game so much, I ended up becoming a Savage Worlds Licensee. 🙂

  3. My face-to-face group has played SW a number of times now, with multiple genres (generic sci-fi, supers, Star Trek, zombies), and for the fast-and-loose cinematic settings, it really does work pretty well. I wouldn't compare it to GURPS at all—more like D6 system, to me.

    The lack of granularity and crunch, and the oft-times over-simplification, causes me to dislike it in large doses, and it's hard to take it "seriously." I have another beef with SW, though, in that our group played quite a lot of the original Deadlands (including a short run or two of Weird Wars and Hell on Earth), which had one of the most unique/interesting game-systems I know of, full of genre-appropriate flavor. They took that great system, and for SW, they watered it down, genericized it, and turned it into a D20 clone—a great deal of inspiration in their design clearly comes from D20, rather than reality, or even cinema. This makes it a huge disappointment to me.

    1. I should add that our SW experience has improved somewhat since the GM decided to ditch the combat maps—trying to take a loose/cinematic system like this and force it to use a map-grid makes it awkward.

  4. We played Savage Worlds thru many hours. "Evernight", "50 Fathoms" and then "Deadlands". A lot of Deadlands.

    It was mostly great fun. The major beef I had came from the bennies. Their ability to start, stop and rewrite scenes kept me at arm's length from total investment. Some intensely amazing moments of teamwork and dice rolling were popped like soap bubbles because the GM spent a blue benny.

    I have one experience that may or may not help compare systems. After a hiatus involving other games, the original GM returned to GURPS. He laboured mightily on converting our characters and our campaign from SW to GURPS (a number-crunching activity he thrives on). We rode again into the Weird West.

    When we left Deadlands:SW, we were ranked at "Legendary". And, by thunder, we felt legendary. The major bad guys now knew us to be a Force to deal with in their machinations. Continuing in Deadlands:GURPS, we were "murder hobos". It was as if we went from full Technicolor Vistascope (ie: "The Magnificent Seven") to some B&W film noir western. I can't speak for sure on how the other players felt, but I strongly suspect we were all very glad to see the campaign hit a finish point.

    Back when we played Savage Worlds, I would never have predicted I'd ever yearn to play the system again. But I did.

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