Face it: we’re living in a Golden Age of RPG’s. There are systems to fit every genre, every group, and every personal preference; there are story-telling systems, rules-light systems, crunch-heavy systems, you name it, it’s probably available on Drive-Thru RPG.
But if you’re like me, you play with people who don’t have time to learn a new ruleset when they want to changes games. Sometimes you want to take a break from casting magic missile at kobolds and pilot a big, stompy robot on the battlefields of the 31st century (who am I kidding, we all want to pilot big stompy robots). But who wants to spend the $35 on books and hours of learning new mechanics?
I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters, you don’t have to! There is another way, a way that incorporates flexibility as its core tenet, a way with a motto of “Fast! Furious! Fun!” It’s called Savage Worlds, and it is ready to be your lifelong friend.
Savage Worlds was originally intended to emulate 1930’s pulp action/adventure plots, and is designed from the ground up to be fast, furious and fun. One very reasonably priced rulebook, clocking in at 191 pages for the softcover (that’s including the index and templates) and some dice, and you’re ready to play anything. New players can be up to speed in a matter of minutes.
I’m resisting the temptation to preach at length about the mechanics and crunchy bits, but here are four aspects of Savage Worlds that really stand out:
1. True Adaptability
I remember playing GURPS back in the day, and had a lot of fun with it. But changing settings generally meant buying a splat book and learning new mechanics specific to that setting. Savage Worlds bypasses all that by presenting truly generic rules for character creation and play, without sacrificing flavor. Skills are generic: the Shooting skill, for example, can apply to a crossbow in a fantasy campaign, an AK-47 in a Weird Wars campaign, or a laser rifle in a space opera. The mechanics don’t really change, just how they’re applied. Powers and abilities like spells, psionics or super-powers, are all mechanically generic: the bolt power covers a wizard’s magic missile, a cleric’s smite or a Cyclops-style eye-blast. The base mechanics are the same. What differentiates them is the Trappings aspect. There are two pages of rules on how to add trappings to powers to make them stand out. Add the cold trapping to bolt and you have an Iceman superpower, or a winter-druid’s spell. Add the necromantic trapping, and it becomes a blast of withering, undead energy. It’s totally customizable, and it’s simple to mix and match to capture the flavor of whatever genre you are playing.
One facet of Savage Worlds that is often overlooked is the simple sets of rules for minions and mass battles. In game terms, Wild Cards are player characters and named NPC’s. They have more abilities and are harder to take out. Extras are the rest of the world: civilians, henchmen, minions, hordes. They take a hit, they’re down. They don’t get to roll a Wild Die (I’ll get to that later. It’s awesome). They’re the fodder for your hero’s glory. And they’re streamlined so they don’t clog up the game-play. Say your heroes become leaders of the rebellion and set out to free the land of the tyrant king. Both sides square off for a pitched battle, thousands per side, armies and battalions and trebuchets.
In many systems, you’re stuck with four hours of dice-rolling, or breaking out a specially asbtracted rule-set for tactical combat. Not so in Savage Worlds: it’s as simple as sticking your sword into a kobold. You figure out some modifiers based on the situation (who’s fighting whom, weather, being outnumbered, yadda yadda). The battle is then fought out basically in rounds, with the player’s characters using any applicable skills to add further modifiers. Player characters make an active, marked difference in how the battle plays out. The best part? The rules for mass battles are two pages, not two chapters.
3. EXPLODING DICE!
Remember the Wild Die I referred to above? It is reserved for PC’s and named NPC’s, and it reflects their importance to the story. Simply put, if my gunslinger has a d8 in the Shooting skill and I want to shoot the zombie that just shambled into town from Boot Hill, I roll a d8 and a d6 as my ‘Wild Die’ and take whichever is better. But if one of them ‘aces’ (rolls its max, in this case an 8 or a 6), I can take it and roll it again, adding the extra roll to the original roll. If, by some crazy chance, the second roll aces, I do it again. It’s basically a ‘critical hit on steroids’ mechanic, and it makes for legendary fights. In Savage Worlds, there’s always a chance…never say die…David and Goliath and all that.
Of course, the downside is that if you roll snake eyes (1’s on both your normal die and your Wild Die), you incur a critical failure, and your GM gets to take out all his frustration on your poor character.
4. The People. Seriously.
Savage Worlds has an amazing community. The publisher’s website offers tons of free resources and their message boards are lively and helpful. Google has a thriving community of Savage Worlds fans on Google+ and Facebook is just as active. Savage Worlds makes great use of its licensing: you can make whatever you want, and, as long as you don’t charge for it and will slap the ‘Savage Worlds FAN!’ logo on the front, you can put it out to the world.
And, let me tell you, Savage Worlds fans are a creative and talented bunch. You can get fan-made Star Wars adaptations, BattleTech, Borderlands, you name it, and the quality of these labors of love often rivals professionally published material. The adaptable nature of the rules really encourages tweaking and tailoring the game to whatever you want, from existing fandoms and IPs to crazy original settings and everything in between.
Savage Worlds is a no-lose proposition. You can download quick-start rules from the publisher for free, and be playing in no time. Third party publishing is a strong market, with tons of creative material to explore, and the fan community is an inexhaustible source for ideas and materials. You literally have nothing to lose, and you might find yourself a convert to the fast, furious and fun world of Savage Worlds.
Jack Benner is the head bottle-washer and sole roustabout at Stick in the Mud Press http://stickinthemudgames.blogspot.com/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.