Sunday 1 July 2012

A Return to the Savage World

After a year or more (I can't remember how long exactly) of only playing versions of old-school D&D, I played in a Savage Worlds game yesterday.

I had a SW period a while back, both running and playing in regular campaigns, and enjoyed it for a while, before the siren's call of old-school D&D lured me back to my roots. So it was very interesting to return to my once-regular gaming system, and to look at it with fresh eyes.

I guess I have a weird relationship with Savage Worlds now. On the one hand I basically really like the system. I find it clean and well designed, without being bland, complex enough for some nice character options, without the number crunching that comes with D&D 3, and it comes in a nice slim rulebook. I also really like the concept of a core system -- which can be expanded and tweaked for each campaign -- as opposed to generic / universal system -- which is supposed to cover everything out of the box.

However, playing the game again yesterday brought up two really major things I don't like about it:

1. The dice system. On paper I find the dice system in Savage Worlds really cool. Roll your trait die (a d4 to a d12) and a wild die (a d6). Take the highest then apply any situational modifiers. If you get 4 or more you succeed. Higher results in multiples of 4 (so a result of 8, 12, etc) are called "raises" and sometimes get you additional levels of success. All dice "explode", meaning that if you roll the highest number on the die then you roll again and add.

A nice system. The trouble I have with it is that it can take so bloody long to resolve a single action! There's lots of different die types involved, lots of adding, lots of re-rolling (which leads to more adding), lots of comparing (the wild die and the trait die can explode separately). This is, of course, especially problematic with players who are new to the system, but even for experienced Savage Worlders the fact is that it's just a slow and pretty fiddly resolution mechanic compared to what I'm now used to (to attack: roll a d20 and look up the result on a table*).

2. The use of miniatures. Of course the use of miniatures is theoretically optional in most roleplaying games, including Savage Worlds, but SW is one of the more mini-oriented games I've come across. There's a lot of talk of things like adjacent squares, blast radii (in squares), squares of movement rate, etc etc. It lends a skirmish / wargame feel to the game (which, if I remember correctly, is actually its origin). This is fine for certain sorts of game (I'd consider using Savage Worlds for an explicitly battle oriented game, for instance), but for general roleplaying I prefer to not use minis at all, and can't be bothered with all this counting out squares of movement, ranges, and so on.

The tagline of Savage Worlds is "Fast, Furious Fun!". I think this is very relative. Compared to basic (old-school) D&D, for example, it's not fast at all. Compared to more modern D&D 3 derived games, I guess it probably is fast. I'd say it's about the same as 1st edition AD&D played with individual initiative, segments, the full monty.

Once again I come away internally praising the glory of the sleek OD&D or B/X rules!

* I'm beginning to wonder whether a simple table lookup is actually faster than rolling a die and adding a modifier. You know, one of the main proposed benefits of the ascending AC system is that it doesn't require a table lookup. It does, however, replace that lookup with an addition or subtraction of the d20 result with the attack modifier. I'm not sure that's quicker.


  1. I find a lot of game systems I once admired or even "loved" do not meet my expectations now. I have never really liked Savage Worlds, but played a hell of a lot of D6 System (West End Games) in my time. I have had the chance to play D6 again a few times these past couple of years, and interestingly enough my feeling about D6 match your's with SW. I really like the free flowing way characters are created and advance, but counting the dice pools of six-sided dice is sometimes tedious, and slows things down. I find myself coming back to the games I started with (Holmes and soon after Moldvay Basic D&D) and admiring them for there simplicity and elegance. There are a few little warts of course, but base system is fast and solid. There are a ton of games out there, and lots of them try to be clever with their resolutions systems. I am afraid the end result is that most of them become twisted and bogged down in their desire to be clever, making what would otherwise be a great game too complicated.

    1. Yes there definitely seems to be an urge for game designers to come up with "clever", "elegant" or novel resolution mechanics, seemingly just for the sake of doing so! :)

    2. I stopped following the 'game design' forum on because of all the people who thought they had an idea for a role-playing game, but actually had an idea for a dice resolution mechanic.

    3. PS Shane, did you know about Mini Six (a simplified version of d6)? Link is here.

      Ialso made a small, simplified version of Mini Six, which uses larger dice rather than multiple dice. Link here.

  2. Yep. Savage Worlds looked really good to me, too, upon first reading, but after playing it I found that it was not 'fast and furious' at all, and not the game for me.

    I'm always a bit perplexed though when people make the claim that ascending armour class of WotC D&D is faster and more intuitive than descending AC. I've never actually had to look up a 'to hit' number on a table, and I find that subtracting the defender's AC from the Attacker's THAC0 is much faster and more streamlined than adding Base Attack Bonus plus all the endless modifiers to the die roll.

    1. Yeah it's only recently I've realised that SW is only "streamlined" in comparison to D&D 3 and friends!

      Re: to-hit tables... when I say a "table" what I mean is one with two rows: AC / d20 roll required. Like on the bottom of the basic / Labyrinth Lord character sheets. I find that totally convenient.

    2. I've been adding this table (sometimes with two rows, one for melee and one for ranged weapons) to all my players' character sheets whether they want it or not.

    3. I love that table! I was recently (heretically ;) considering using ascending armour class for a Swords & Wizardry one-shot I'll be running this weekend, but I much preferred the character sheet once I'd added the beloved to-hit table at the bottom :)

      That melee/ranged table sounds like a good idea, I might try that as well!

    4. The main idea with 3.x/d20 was making one (dice) mechanic to rule them all, which gave all the fighting and "not fighting" bits the same system (and be less arbitrary-looking), but that translates into more math for everything... and encourages power creep through bigger and bigger bonuses.

  3. Savage Worlds is definitely "Faster, funner, furiouser than GURPS or d20".

    I've was thinking about simplifying it, as I posted on my blog.


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