Apr 01 2013

Savage Worlds: It Is What It Says On the Tin

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So I’ve got a few sessions of Savage Worlds under my belt, most notably using it for Ghostbusters, but also with two sessions’ worth of Coventry, and the time is coming for me to decide what I actually think of it– and more importantly, if I want to keep using it or not.

Savage Worlds does have a lot going for it. Because there’s no such thing as “balance,” GM prep is easy– I think up a thing, assign a few dice to it, and go. If I can’t decide what the value for a given Trait should be, I make it d6 and call it done. Because there’s no hit-point tracking and very little in the way of status effects, combat is always very fast. In a deliberate attempt to push the system’s limits (and see where they were), I came up with a couple of different scenarios that involved lots of NPCs on both sides, with the players controlling allies as the game recommends, and I have to say that the combat system worked like a well-oiled machine. The only times that wasn’t true were situations where I couldn’t remember the rules (or kept remembering them wrong).

On the other hand, for the same reason of there being no such thing as “balance,” it can be difficult to tweak a scenario for maximum enjoyment. Depending on how kind/cruel the dice are, and how well bennies get applied, any creature tougher than a goblin could potentially be a cakewalk or a TPK. In one instance, an NPC attacked a huge monster with a machine gun and all the NPC’s dice exploded, meaning she hit it with raises each time, rolling enormous amounts of damage. Even though the huge monster was a wildcard and had bennies of its own to spend, she still burned through ’em and killed the thing with one pull of the trigger.

In the same session, the PCs, by judicious use of bennies and a lot of crazy firepower, obliterated dozens of enemy forces, only to have one of their own number blown to a fine red spray by a machine gun fired from a helicopter. The game is just as it says on the tin: savage indeed.

This OMGdeadly nature of the game is not as big a deal in Ghostbusters— one of the campaign’s house rules is that if you get incapacitated, that just means your character is sent to the hospital in traction until the next session– but in a setting where character death is a real danger, it takes some getting used to. One of my players in particular loves to throw his character right into the middle of the biggest hornet’s nest he can find (which is why he went up against the helicopter with a machine gun), which is all well and good in a game like Pathfinder, where there’s probably a cleric around to pump him full of healing, but in Savage Worlds is an express ticket to Dirtnapville.

It also means that I have to come up with “more stuff” to put into any given scenario to keep the players from feeling like they haven’t had to work for their success. After handily chewing through two dozen guys, they’re not likely to find six guys a challenge, unless I crank up the skills of those six guys to 11 (which could tip the balance quickly into TPK). It’s very twitchy. Pathfinder and the like are pretty forgiving systems, with lots of wiggle room for players to get in over their head and back out again. Savage Worlds, not so much. Where PF says “fine, scratched, hurt, in danger, dead,” SW says “Fine, fine, dead.”

Another factor here is that the difficulty to shoot anyone is almost always 4. Difficulty to shoot a big, slow-moving goon? 4. Difficulty to shoot Spider-Man when he’s jumping all around? 4. There are modifiers for range and extreme size and so forth (and a few Edges at higher levels that give you some dodging bonuses), but any setting where most fighting is done with guns, you pretty much have to depend on cover to keep you alive. The problem, from a tabletop RPG standpoint, is that standing behind cover and plinking away at someone else behind cover, just isn’t much fun. Realistic? Probably. Is realistic always a good thing? Probably not.

All of this said… dayum, but prep is easy. I looooove that. So… tough call!

Players, what do you think?

-The Gneech

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3 responses to “Savage Worlds: It Is What It Says On the Tin”

  1. J Gregory says:

    ‘Twitchy’ is a good way to describe it, but I came to love the twitchiness pretty quickly. Now d20 feels a bit pedestrian…

    I hear what you’re saying about the Ranged Target Number, but I think that, regardless of system, it’s up to the GM to make the make the encounter representative of what he wants. You think Spidey should be harder to hit? Easy: -2 to hit Spidey. Justify this as a Monstrous Ability (maybe call it “Tough to Pin Down”) or just as a situational modifier. Either way, you won’t break the game.
    And there lies SW’s greatest strength IMO – it’s a very robust toolkit.

    • The Gneech says:

      re: The ranged TN, I was thinking more in terms of player survivability than monsters. It isn’t until the veteran tier (I think it is) that you can actually make yourself harder to hit against ranged attacks as an inherent ability. Until then, you can only pour on Toughness.