Thursday, August 9, 2012

Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds is similar to Cortex, in that you assign polyhedrals as the values of your stats and skills. The SW is a general set of gaming rules which have been used in a great many settings: Space 1889, Pirate of the Spanish Main, Slipstream, The Savage World of Solomon Kane, Deadlands, and so on. Savage World settings embrace the term 'savage': They are challenging and interesting places to play in, but nobody would actually want to live in a Savage World setting. Life, in a SW game, is nasty, brutish, short and occasionally awesome.

I bought the Savage Worlds Deluxe book and Action deck that go with it, so this is a review of the generic form of the rules and not of any particular setting, although the core book references several of the already produced setting books and provides a couple of 'one page' adventures to get you started.

Character creation is quick: with four core Attributes, a couple of derived Stats and Skills. Skills are linked to specific Stats, and learning a skill up to the linked Attribute rank is easy; going beyond that is more difficult/expensive. You also get Edges which break the standard rules in one way or another, and Hindrances which limit or complicate your characters' life, but earn you back Edges or Attribute/Skill steps.

Character's earn 1 to 3 XP per game session, and you 'Advance' every 5xp earned. Each Advancement lets you do one of the following: Raise an attribute one step; gain a new Edge; learn a new Skill at d4; or increase one Skill one step (or two skills one step each if they are below their linked Attribute value). Every 5 levels earns you a 'rank' increase, from Novice, to experienced, elite and legendary status. Your rank determines what kinds of Edges you have access to. Creating experienced characters is pretty easy: start with a novice, then spend as many Advancements the GM lets you.

Unlike Cortex, you roll either your Stat or Skill dice. Heroes and major villains also get a 'wild' d6 to throw as well and can choose that result instead. The target number to beat is 4, or a derived stat of your target; each 4 points you roll over the TN is a Raise for additional effects. Dice can also 'ace' or explode on a max result and allow rolling additional dice. Fast and simple.

SW doesn't just use dice but also a deck of playing cards. These are used for initiative, in-between "interlude" scenes or just playing poker when the game slows down.

Savage Worlds also has a dramatic economy measured in Bennies. Spending a Benny allows you to re-roll a trait roll, or activate other effects.

SW focuses mostly on combat conflicts and strongly implies using miniatures and maps. However, I was surprised and delighted to discover a simple and effective social conflict mechanic hidden in the book. There's also the "Dramatic Task" system, as well as travel and mass battle systems.

I like the simple, streamlines aspect of Savage Worlds, plus that it's entirely open-ended for introducing your own Edges/Complications and Skills. I don't like that it's essentially a tabletop combat game with some roleplaying elements strewn in. Savage Worlds is clearly a game that tries to straddle the fence between combat-simulationism and storytelling.

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