Saturday, June 23, 2012

REPOST: Savage Worlds RPG review

SAVAGE WORLDS: review (repost from myspace)

"Fast. Furious. Fun!" That's the marketing tag line. Is it true?

I picked up Savage Worlds a few years back in hardcover copy. Designed by Shane Lacey Hensley and produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, it was a basic table top game engine that could be adapted to any Theme or genre the play group wanted to explore. It boasted a simple and easy action resolution system and an amazingly quick "Prep" time for game masters. There was no "core" setting for the rules system, and my initial sentiments was that it worked very much like the Serenity RPG I'd picked up a few months earlier. (That game uses the Cortex Rules, which I'll try to review at a later date.) PEG did, however, produce several "Settings" with which to run their game, each of them bound in a hard cover World Book with the occasional "Plot Point" adventure to include for your play group.

I initially picked up the book in order to run their new Deadlands: Reloaded setting with the most current system available. Deadlands was originally created by Shane Lacey Hensley as a stand alone system, later reproduced with a D20 conversion. This is an Old West meets HP Lovecraft game with a bit of Steam Punk thrown in for additional flavor. In other words, a setting I fell absolutely in love with and tried, time and again, to introduce to my gaming group. The original setting had already been out of print for almost a decade, but I was eagerly anticipating the release of the system for Savage Worlds and once again made the valiant effort to introduce both the setting and the system to my gaming group.

Rules are simple. Your character has the expected Attributes consistent with most games, offering a Die Rating on Strength, Smarts, Spirit, Agility, and Vigor. You next have abilities, all very broadly defined so that fine tuning doesn't get in the way of having some quick fun during action resolution. Characters roll a single Ability die for any action, from shooting to Stealth attempting to hit a target number of 4 in order to gain a success. Modifiers come into play, along with opposing stats and rolls. Wild Card characters (more on that later, but they include player characters) get to roll an additional D6 and keep the best result of the two die rolled. Rolling the highest result on a given Die results in "Acing", which allows the roller to re-roll the die and add that number to the aced number. (This process repeats until the die no longer "aces".)

Static traits are derived from dice values for associated Attributes, including Charisma, Toughness, and Parry. Additional "Edges" and "Hindrances" allow players to give their characters a spark of life beyond these simple die stats, providing bonuses and negatives to specific actions and static traits.

I mentioned "Wild Card" characters a little earlier. A few things seperate the Wild Cards from the rest of the characters in Savage Worlds. Anyone who doesn't have the Wild Card status is pretty much a "mook"... their the nameless horde of ninja, the goblin war band, or faceless minions of the evil mastermind. In order to keep action fast paced and cinematic, most Wild Cards of the appropriate experience are going to mow through these goofballs like they're Steven Seagal. They don't take wounds, they just go down the moment they get any real damage, and they're only rolling their one Ability Die to hit the players. But things take another twist when those goofs are led by that big bruiser with the skull cap, the one who stands out from the crowd. He's likely a Wild Card and he may be just as tough as your character, he takes multiple wounds to go down, he rolls an additional Wild Card Die just like you, and he might be able to provide leadership bonuses to all those mooks you were just mowing down a few scenes earlier. Wild Cards are normally the stock villains and their Right Hand Henchmen in the stories, though they can also be the big bad monster the PC's have been hearing rumors about.

The main complaint I've been hearing about the game is the next issue I plan to address. Combat Initiative is determined through the deal of a card from a standard deck, including both jokers. Turns are based on the value of the card, from Ace to Deuce and then suit. Jokers provide a bonus to all actions for the round. While some edges allow you to make changes to this Turn Based Initiative engine, many traditional gamers find it frustrating that their stats have no determination on the value of their initiative. A slow moving zombie could go before even the fastest drawing gunslinger in the Weird West. My personal feeling is that sometimes, even the fastest gun in the west might hesitate just a little more and it provides those slow moving zombies with just enough time to catch up and maul the hero. I like this method of Initiative, but the core system does provide a few alternatives if this isn't your bag of tea.

The game play is fast. Resolutions are quick and dramatic and characters aren't trying to look up the dynamics of one spell or action versus the benefits or hindrances of another. There are a number of tactics that can be used in order to provide bonuses or penalties to many actions and targets, so the game isn't simplified to the point of redundancy. As players get used to the mechanics, they find many "tricks" that provide flavor to the game and make for an exciting experience for everyone at the table. It's charm is in the simplicity of the game, but this is also where alot of criticism is also derived. If you like your games to be quick and cinematic, than this game is for you. If you like alot of realism, number crunching, and finely tuned optional actions than you might want to pick up something a little different.

The core game is currently available in a soft-cover "Explorer's Guide" and retails for $9.99. Additional Setting books usually retail for the standard game price of $30-$40 and include several themes. Deadlands:Reloaded was already mentioned but they also include (but are not limited to) a Flash Gordon-esque Space Pulp called Slipstream, a Pirates of the Spanish Main source book, the Swashbuckling Horror of "The Savage World of Solomon Kane", the super powers setting of "Necessary Evil", and the supremely bizarre "post-apoclyptic" setting of Low Life. Pinnacle usually provides a small twist on familiar settings in order to provide outrageous flavor to their games. Necessary Evil is a world where Superheroes were wiped out and the only hope against an alien invasion are Earth's mightiest villains. Low Life gives players the opportunity to play mutated Cockroaches, Amorpheous Slimes, and Evolved Snack Cakes. They cut a niche in the gaming market for a tidy profit in a time when people are really trying to pinch their pennies, so they don't waste the customers' time with the Thousandth book on Dragons and pitfall traps.

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