So, what did we think of Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition? Well, after one session, it received more thumbs up than 4e D&D did after it’s first game, which is a good sign. 4e has been more of a slow burner for my group – now, at last, they like it, but Savage Worlds has won their hearts (mostly) right from the start.
The best line I can think of which explains Savage Worlds is this: If Toon, Classic Marvel RPG, Rolemaster and Mutants & Masterminds had an orgy, Savage Worlds would be the result. [1. Not, of course, that this is How Orgies Work. Just so you know.]
Let me explain……..
Like my much loved Rolemaster, it uses an open-ended dice mechanism meaning if you roll the maximum on your dice (4 on a d4, 6 on a d6, etc) you add and roll again. This works like Rolemaster’s add and roll if you get 96-00 on a d100 where it’s possible (but rare) to get a ridiculously high result, and be rewarded for it in kind. There’s no opposite-but-equal roll low and deduct mechanic, but Bad Things Do Happen if you roll a 1 on both your Trait and Wild Dice, which is kinda similar. Add in that you’re using multiple different dice and Savage Worlds must have a success probability curve to make a math geek faint with joy. I like.
Talking of multiple dice, Savage Worlds uses dice rather than attributes to rate a given Trait or Attribute. A character might have Strength d8, for example, or Gambling d10. One of my players nailed it when he said this is like Classic Marvel RPG where having an Attribute of d4 is Poor, d6 is Typical, d8 = Good, d10 = Excellent, etc. That’s an excellent comparison, and immediately hooked the rest of the players into how the game hangs together.
So, Savage Worlds is like Rolemaster mixed with Classic Marvel. But wait, there’s there’s more.
Nerd definition of an rpg alert! : The job of any role-playing system is to encourage and help adjudicate the behaviour of imaginary characters. At one end of the scale there’s Toon, the ultimate cartoon RPG where characters can do literally anything – well, anything imaginable in a cartoon, anyway. It’s a system which downright encourages players to think off the wall, coming up with crazy-ass (and fun!) things to pull out of their quantum backpockets and routinely break physics in weird and wacky ways.
At the other end of the scale there’s Fourth Edition D&D where the majority of a character’s actions are quantified, tabulated and listed right on the character sheet. That’s not to say you can’t freeform and play imaginitively with 4e D&D (you can!), but that the wealth of pre-calculated Powers means it’s less likely that players (and GMs) will do it. After all, why swing from a chandelier when you can just teleport there instead?
Savage Worlds is much, much closer to Toon that it is to 4e D&D. The character sheet is minimal with very few secondary calculations and derived stats – just Pace, Parry, Charisma and Toughness. It’s a system where you’re encouraged to think creatively and use your skills and abilities in clever ways. For example, in the Library scene one of the players threw books at the vampire while another one tried to topple over the large bookcases. That’s the kind of great use of the environment you just don’t see in 4e D&D with it’s pre-printed battlemat crappery.
And still, Savage Worlds is like Mutants & Masterminds. It’s a generic one-book system which genuinely does provide all you need to game in a single tome. Whilst M&M is a generic system cunningly disguised as a Superhero RPG, SWEX proudly proclaims it’s status as a Pulp Action Hero game – but it’s much, much more than that. This is a system I could happily use as…. well, as anything I wouldn’t use Mutants & Masterminds for. I’ve described it as M&M Lite before – it’s less crunchy, but just as adaptable to any genre, and just as fun to play.
But it’s not without faults.
The encumbrance rules are the harshest I’ve seen in any rpg, to the point where they’re downright unusable. Equip an average (Strength d6) character with Leather Armour, a Longsword, Backpack, Crowbar, Bedroll and nothing else and he’s encumbered (at -1 to all Strength and Agility-based checks) already! And he’s not even using that Longsword to full effectiveness either – to do that he needs Strength d8. Switch the Longsword out for a Shortsword & Crossbow and he’s way over the first threshold. So much for a light thief in leather armour. I’m either going to ignore the encumbrance rules altogether, or ignore the weight of weapons and armour in the calculation. Either would be an improvement.
I’m sure there’s more faults, but that’s the most glaring one we’ve found so far. We’ve another session (and a whole new one-shot sandbox campaign setting!) planned for a few weeks’ time. I’ll tell you more about that one though, another time.