So over the weekend I read more about the Savage Worlds system and finally play tested it a bit. I ran a couple of battles as GM with a friend playing two characters. No role-playing, and the encounter setups were not particularly complicated – they were just gun battles in an environment that had a little bit of cover, but not exciting beyond that. My main goal was to get a feel for the battle system and to determine if I still wanted to run the system (I was planning on running a convention game and perhaps a couple of one-shots in the fall).
This isn’t an extensive review, but I wanted to point out some things I really liked about the system and the things that didn’t really do it for me. I would love to hear from others who have played Savage Worlds about their opinions on it – especially if you have run it in longer campaigns.
Likes: Battles were relatively fast paced. The first took an hour; that was including the time it took to look up the rules when we got stuck. The second was shorter than that. The battles were not only fast because they didn’t take a long time to run, but also they felt quick. Turns did not take 5 minutes to deliberate what the best course of action would be; it felt more organic and ‘what would be the best thing to do at this moment?’ type actions. Now, these encounters were simple gun fights, so it’s possible with more complicated ones this will not be the case, but I did like the feel of the encounters.
I really enjoyed the use of playing cards to determine the order of initiative. It was nice to have a physical reminder of the order, but what I liked even more than that, was the fact that the order changed every round. I’ve never been in a game where the order of the initiative changed, but it felt more exciting. I liked it because it felt like meta-gaming would be less useful to the players (what I mean is out-of-character knowledge will be less likely to give the players an advantage) and even though we were on a map and moving characters around, it felt more like role-playing a battle than a miniatures game.
I also liked the shooting and fighting mechanics. I felt like the characters were hitting/missing the enemies at a good rate and the enemies did the same to the characters. Calculating to-hits was really easy – even though they were much more situational than something like 4th ed. (ex. there are three kinds of cover instead of two; firing two guns gives a penalty, but firing one semi-automatic gun twice in a turn gives a bonus, etc.) I also really liked the fact that pistols could be shot at melee range, but had a higher target number, and anything bigger couldn’t be used at melee range at all – but they could be used as clubs. I don’t know – I thought it gave it a nice bit of flavor.
The wild die – I liked the fact that in addition to your skill die, every character considered a ‘Wild Card’ (basically, PC’s and special NPC’s) could roll an extra d6 and use that result instead of his skill die. Because both can Ace (basically, if you roll the max number on the die, you get to reroll that die and add the new result to the previous result. And because Aces stack, a lucky set of rolls could really add up), it’s possible for the d6 Wild Die to do better than your d10 skill. I think it adds a bit of luck to the game – your character may not have any training in shooting, but the mechanics allow a character to get that one lucky shot.
Neutral: Shooting and fighting are really the only ‘combat’ mechanics. My friend created a Boxer-type of character, so he wanted to make his hand-to-hand combat as high as possible. However, the only melee combat skill is Fighting – so when my friend maxed that skill out, not only was the character the best hand-to-hand fighter ever, but he was also the best sword/axe/hammer/spear fighter ever. It’s the same with range fighting: shooting is the ranged combat stat. So shooting with guns is governed by the same skill as shooting with crossbows, slingshots and even magic (well, some magic – there are different skills that magic can be governed by). It didn’t bother me; however, I know that my friend was a little annoyed by it.
The other thing we noticed was that battles were very ‘swingy’ (his term). A lucky roll from a minor enemy can potentially incapacitate and kill a PC with one well-placed shot. On the other hand, it’s also possible for a complete standoff to occur, with no side taking damage and then all of a sudden, ‘BLAM!’ A PC could down 2 or 3 enemies in a round. It does make the system potentially deadly and the style of battle is not to every ones’ taste, so I could see how the ‘swingy-ness’ could be a positive or a negative. I need more testing to decide if I like it or not.
Dislikes: I am not very found of how damage works in the system. For Wild Cards, they can have up to 3 wounds and on the 4th wound, they become incapacitated (which can lead to permanent injuries or death). I’m not upset with the number of wounds (although it does seem too easy to gain a lot of them in one round, without being able to do much about it. And because they cause penalties to ALL of your subsequent rolls, they really affect your character) – I’m more upset with the Shaken condition.
When a character is hit, and if the amount of damage rolled is greater than their toughness, they become Shaken (if already Shaken, they get a wound). The only thing the character can do when Shaken is to move half his pace. When it’s the Shaken character’s turn, he can try to remove the Shaken condition with a Die roll (he does get a Wild Die as well). If he passes, he overcomes the Shaken condition, but that’s all he can do. If he passes with a raise (+4 over the target) he overcomes the Shaken condition and can act normally. On paper it doesn’t seem too bad – however, in practice it’s kind of frustrating. We were running into situations were all one side could do for a round is take cover and try to recover from Shaken – it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the cinematic feel of the system.
I’m also not a huge fan of how they do the healing. Healing attempts can be done within the first hour of the character getting the wound. The healing role is pretty difficult, because whatever wound penalties the hurt character has, the healer has to take them as well (and if the hurt character is trying to heal himself, the penalties are counted twice: once for the wound penalty and once for trying to heal the wound). I can understand the reasoning behind that and I think it’s doable; what I dislike is that after that ‘Golden hour’, no more healing attempts can be made on the character. Instead, the character has to heal naturally, which means every 5 days of game time they can make a Vigor roll and see if they recover any of their wounds (they can get worse if they roll bad). Logically, the healing does make sense and does line up with real-life. However, I think it’s a little too realistic for my taste. Like the Shaken condition, it doesn’t really feel cinematic. When I run the system, I might allow a heal check per game day; I think that could be a compromise between the slow natural healing and just allowing characters to heal all at once.
Conclusion: I’m not sure if this is going to be a good system to run for a convention game. If everyone at the table knew how to play the system, then it would be a possibility, but Savage Worlds has more rules than I originally though when I first read through it. And the rules, although they make sense to me, are detailed and very specific. I’m not confident that I could run an interesting game (with different kinds of encounters and situations) and to teach the system at the same time – or at least not within the 4 or 5 hours a con-game usually runs.
I still want to try run the a game for my group of players. Even with the flaws I see in the system (there are more than I listed, but the ones above are the ones that really popped out to me) I still like it. Perhaps it’s because this system is the first time I’ve encountered something that is more based on GM rulings, rather than based on hard, set rules, but it feels very different from what I’ve played in before. I also am really fond of the Pulp based setting; I’m not sure I would be so in love with it if the system was based in another setting.
My friend commented that I could try using hit points instead of the wounds based system if it was really bothering me – I could readjust the Shaken and healing mechanics as well. I don’t know; I don’t like messing with systems until I’ve played them a lot, so I will probably just play it as is (for now).
Has anyone else played Savage Worlds? If you have, how has it worked for you and your group? Have you run into any of the issues I did? I still really want to run a pulpy SPANC-type game for Madicon, but I don’t know if this system is right for it. Suggestions?