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What makes Savage Worlds cool?

I've just run a D&D4E campaign that has continued 3 years. I'm a bit tired of the system, and as it's the only other system I've run recently, I can't help but to compare Savage Worlds to it. I'm trying to get rid of the ballast of D&D (being able to just a basic attack or a specified power) and find all the coolness Savage Worlds has - but it may take time to adjust. And it will likely take time from the players too.

I've heard criticism of Savage worlds being too light, but it's combat has a way more finesse, details and tactical options you can first see. I'm trying to explore some of these hidden features in this post.

Changing the mindset

First, you have to think about the character itself, his personality and what he is, as he is a protagonist in a book or a movie - not the mechanics. When you have a clear idea of the character, you can start looking at the mechanics or ask your GM to create it using the description you give. You should create an interesting character, which includes hindrances that really come to play and cause your character troubles; this will earn you more bennies, which allows your character to shine when you want it to.

How to play it?

It's funny that one might actually have to learn to play again if changing a game system - I've noticed this in myself. A roleplaying game is more than it's mechanics, especially when it comes to Savage Worlds - and I don't mean that players need to keep acting dramatically, but rather to think of what they want to do when looking at the situation instead of browsing through their deck composed all of their special maneuvers in case there would be something suitable for the situation.

Savage Worlds excels in transforming described actions into mechanics. A lot of this is thanks to flexible core mechanics that allow actions in middle of movement, making special attacks being available to anyone and being able to take multiple actions by taking a -2 penalty to all trait rolls for those actions. The biggest limitation in multi-actions is that you can't do two same actions; you can't do two tests of wills, but you can do a test of wills (intimidate or taunt) and a trick (usually agility or smarts).

Examples of Savage Worlds mechanics in action

Changing your mindset for Savage Worlds combat!For example, if Thurak sees his companion getting badly wounded and is soon going down unless he does something. Thurak's player thinks for a second and then tells he's going to do an extra action, and first rushes to the first enemy and shield-bashes him. Depending on the outcome of the first move, he may then decide continue to the second enemy and attack him wildly, or attack the current opponent if the bash wasn't successful.

This is all in the basic rules and requires no special 'powers' - all you need to do is look at the situation and tell what you want to do, keeping your character's strengths in your mind. Depending on the character, instead of push, he could throw sand in the first opponent's eyes (agility trick), claiming to be his ally (smarts trick), intimidate or taunt him, or perhaps do something else, whatever the player invents.

More examples of Savage Worlds tactics

Here's some combat tricks you can do in combat in Savage Worlds:

Going defensive: As characters are assumed to keep their defenses up, going even more defensive prevents you from doing any attacks, which may cause this option to be easily overlooked. But it's an useful tool to win time, as you may go defensive and choose to engage an opponent, forcing to take an attack from you if he chooses to move out of melee. This is even better if you have counterstrike, you have even better change of triggering it with this option, or you could even choose to provoke a disengaging attack to trigger it. Or if you have First strike, you could move to a position where you block your opponents, go defensive and wait for an opponent to appear. 

Wait for it: Especially if you have high agility, wait for an opponent's turn. If he moves to attack your ally, move and attack him to gain gang-up bonuses. This is especially efficient against wizards or other characters with arcane background.

Aim for weakness: Opponent has a heavy body armor but lighter greaves. Attack his hand, you cause wounds easier, might make his hand unusable and even if the armor would still be too tough, you might disarm him. Similarly, I could see attacking feet requiring a Str check or falling prone, even if it's not mentioned in the rules.

Behind cover? Savage Worlds is logical. If the enemy is behind a rock, giving him cover worth 2 points, it doesn't give -2 penalty to attack his head, if his head isn't covered. It's still harder to hit the head (unless only head is exposed), but I'd say it's worth the risk. Or then just go for the weapon-arm for no additional penalty.

Being shot? When that annoying archer shoots you from the tree, you could of course go behind a rock, but another thing you can do is to attack the shooter's pal. He might give you cover and at least you make the shooter think if he wants to risk hitting his pal. 

Final words

This is shortly how SW combat works - you have a good amount of basic options, and descriptions what a character does translates well into these mechanics, whatever they choose to do. Edges give extra options that break or add to the the basic rules.

It needs a bit of getting used to go to free-form mentality, but in my opinion, it is far superior to strictly defined powers you need to be checking all the time. I also think that a system with well-defined mechanics is important to a game, especially if players enjoy combat - I'm not a fan of completely free-form mechanics.


Average: 3.4 (48 votes)


The only hesitation I've had

The only hesitation I've had about jumping into SW (as a fantasy campaign) is the lack of critters for the PCs to fight. There is a decent amount of material out there, especially the Fantasy Companion. Still, I'll have to whip up some interesting creatures myself and with much of the abilities related to basic characteristics, I fear a bit of 'sameness' might crawl into a high fantasy game with the monsters.

Still, I think SW is a phenomenal system. I've been hankering to get a game together for a more modern setting. Still, for a low magic setting (like Dark Sun) I'm certain SW would be a fantastic system to run for fantasy.

That's right - edges like

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

That's right Chuck - edges like Hard to Kill can ease a player's mind a lot! I'm myself guilty of putting too tough enemies against my players, especially when they all seem to ace with their d10 damages... But still so far the only PC killed in my Savage Cyberpunk campaign was killed by a munchkin PC :D

Geek Ken, my advise on this

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

Geek Ken, my advise on this would be to use the character personalities (flaws); Tie more adventures to these and make npc personalities to remember. What I think is bad in high fantasy is that you get tired of seeing all the fantastic monsters, something more personal and life-like may refresh the game. And what prevents you from giving personalities to your monsters too?

I don't see having to make your own monsters is bad though, at least players don't have a slightest idea of it's weaknesses first and it keeps them on the toes. I have a bunch of D&D miniatures that I don't find very D&D'ish, and I've put them aside to use them in my starting Beasts & Barbarians -campaign - and sometimes I also make characters inspired by miniatures!

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