I mentioned on Twitter recently that I was starting up a Savage Worlds game, and I was blown away by the welcoming reaction from fans of the system. A few asked me to write up my thoughts on the system, along with an update regarding how the game goes, and as a servant of the people, I answered the call.

WHAT IS SAVAGE WORLDS?

A barbarian and an astronaut on the cover? Missed opportunity. Coulda just done the obvious: BARBARIAN ASTRONAUT.

For those that don’t know, Savage Worlds is a game system, like Dungeons and Dragons. The tagline for the system is “Fast! Furious! Fun!” and everything about the mechanics serves that purpose. Everything from character creation and game prep to combat and experience focuses on this idea. For instance, most any of the things you want to do in the game have a single die attached to them, ranging from d4 to d12. All you do is roll the die associated with your attempt and compare it to a number. Did you beat the number? You did the thing! Pretty straight forward.

The game’s depth opens up when you explore the customization options and combat tactics. Savage Worlds is smartly built on the idea that there doesn’t seem  to be much the system, but the more you choose to dig, the richer your options become. Even the type of game you run can be pretty varied. The system excels at short stories and one-shot adventures, but can handle longer running campaigns as well it seems. And the rules are written open enough that you can put nearly any type of world into it and watch it work fine.

INTRODUCING THE GAME

For those that don’t know, in addition to being a podcaster,  I’m a professional GM. I make part of my living running games for different groups. I was running a horror game using Hunter: The Vigil rules from White Wolf, but to be honest, the rules in the NWOD aren’t for me. After stumbling across Savage Worlds, I decided that this was the system I wanted to use for some of my games. I spoke with my players and everyone agreed to humor me. Once everyone had a copy of the book, I gave everyone two weeks to read up on the rules, get a feel for them, and write up their characters. I knew some of them wouldn’t be able to do tackle the system before our next game night, so I let them know they could wait and work with me if they’d like.

Come game night, no one had make a character yet, but luckily the system isn’t time consuming to break down. We didn’t have time to play that night, but everyone was able to convert their characters with little trouble. With characters settled, all that was left to do was play a test fight and then jump into the game. I gave my players another two weeks to brush up, familiarize, and come to the next game with questions and insights.

GAME NIGHT

Two weeks passed, and we got back together for our first Savage Worlds game. Out of five players, two had taken time to familiarize themselves with the rules. I wasn’t surprised, and I don’t think it’s usually fair for the GM to be upset when this happens. I believe part of your job as a GM is to know your players and what you can expect of them. If you’ve played with your group for any given amount of time, you should have a bead on what they are and are not going to do. So, if you ask them to do something you know they probably won’t, regardless of their given or actual reason, you’re only fooling yourself when they do what you knew they would.

Ahem. Ok. Pulling myself away from rant mode.

Our game takes place in the city of New Haven. The group was connected years ago by a mutual friend named David. Problem is, they forgot about him, along with the rest of the city. Slowly but surely the group has uncovered that David might have been the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last mysterious death that people conveniently forgot. As they come closer and closer to the truth they find themselves against not only a conspiracy, but a living darkness that lashes out and attempts to rip them out of their reality.

Honestly, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t mix with Stranger Things…

If I had to give it an elevator pitch, I’d say it was Stephen King’s It meets Stranger Things.

So to get things going, I put the group into a mock fight against each other, to let them get use to the feel of the game in a consequence-free fight. Immediately the former high school popular kid, Connor, threw a punch into the face of Miranda, the veterinarian. The battle quickly turned dirty and before long, Kenneth the librarian had driven his mom’s van into the group, nearly killing Connor. The battle ended with Hector, the newest member of the group, T-Boning Kenneth’s mom’s van in the middle of a warehouse.

We ran into our first issue when there was a disagreement on how damage was applied. Part of the group, myself included, believed that you had to roll damage, and your total had to beat the Toughness rating of the opponent to get anywhere. The rest of the group believed that the moment you hit an opponent, that’s one automatic success, regardless of what you roll for damage. In that regard, they believed Toughness was there to prevent raises, or critical hits as we call them in D&D.

Here’s the rule where they got confused, with an emphasis on what threw them off:

The damage of an attack is compared to the victim’s Toughness just like a Trait roll (though it isn’t one so you can’t spend a Benny on it). With a success, the victim is Shaken. For each raise over his Toughness he suffers a wound as well, as shown below:

They thought the success mentioned above was the attack, not the damage. We’ve since received clarification of the rule, thanks to @criticaleyerpg on Twitter, but it threw the game off for a minute. After that the game went on for the most part without a hitch. By the end of the night they had recovered an important book they didn’t know they needed, survived a shadowy attack in the van, and watched as the Chief of Police mysteriously remained unfazed by the darkness when he witnessed it face-first…

My brother, after Kenneth wrecked a minvan on his face.

WHAT DID THE GROUP THINK?

After a night of playing, the group seemed a bit split. Two of my players were either happy or better with what they saw of the system. Two players seemed to withhold judgment but overall appeared to like it. The fifth player wasn’t exactly thrilled with it.

Those who liked the game seemed happy with the straightforward nature of the game, while the two witholding judgement seemed to have more positive things to say than negative. Most of the group enjoyed the combat and took to using Bennies pretty fast. They also responded pretty well to the initiative system, enjoying the amount of tension it brought, since no one knows who’s going to go next from round to round.

Our last player didn’t warm up to the system. He really enjoyed the White Wolf system and didn’t see the need to change like I did. He was underwhelmed with skills and didn’t like that your ability scores didn’t directly factor into your skills. So when he had to roll a Notice check, he was unhappy to find out that since he didn’t take the skill, he didn’t have another stat to rely on instead.

In addition, he wasn’t a fan of the initiative system. If you don’t know, in Savage Worlds each player is dealt a card from a standard playing card deck. The GM calls out numbers, starting at Ace and counting down to Two, and when your card is called you get to act. The calling out of cards took him out of the game. He also felt that the system slowed the game down. Overall he wasn’t impressed.

SO WHAT DID I THINK?

I was very happy with our first game. Prepping for the game was a breeze and I felt that the system gave me a lot more time to focus on the story. A lot of times in other games I need to sit down and really punch through mechanics or, in the case of one game, completely creating antagonists without any real guidance. With Savage Worlds I felt like there was a good mix of crunch and flexibility.

Playing the game took a bit of adjustment because we’re so used to combining stats and rolling multiple dice. Remembering to only grab one die took a minute to get used to, but it played out very well. When it comes to combat, I think I loved it even more than my players did. The combat never seemed to give any breathing room, so none of my players drifted off into their phones. No one needed to ask me to recap the scene because they were much more invested in any given moment.

I’m hooked on Savage Worlds. The system is smooth, has room for creativity, has an engaging initiative system, and most importantly inspires me to explore the game more. I’m excited to start creating enemies but am relieved that I have a large number of monsters to rely on in as well. I’ll be using this system in my next game, which I’ll actually be livestreaming, so if you’re interested in more Pedro-based Savage Worlds stuff, you’re in luck!

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