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Saturday, 20 March 2021

A Fourth Savage Starter

It has been almost a decade since the previous edition of Savage Worlds was published, but following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Pinnacle Entertainment Group released an updated version, Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, or ‘SWADE’ in 2019. Originally published in 2003 and derived from Deadlands: the Great Rail Wars, the simplified skirmish rules for use with Deadlands, what Savage Worlds is, is a generic roleplaying game which promises to be ‘Fast! Furious! Fun!’. The RPG focuses on action orientated, cinematic style play, with the player characters able to take down mooks or Extras with ease, but always having a fight on their hands when they face any villains, either minor or major. The system is also designed to handle skirmishes between multiple opponents, so that the players can easily engage in small-scale wargaming as part of a campaign. It is capable of handling, and in its time, has handled a wide variety of genres and settings, including fantasy and pirates with 50 Fathoms, gritty fantasy with Lankhmar: City of Thieves, horror and the Wild West with Deadlands, ancient military horror with Weird Wars Rome, college and horror with East Texas University, pulp sci-fi with Flash Gordon, and more.

A character in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition is a known as a Wild Card because he brings in a degree of unpredictability to a situation. He is defined by his Attributes, Skills, Edges, and Hindrances (disadvantages), with both Attributes and Skills defined by die type—four, six, eight, ten, or the twelve-sided die. The bigger the die type, the better the Attribute or Skill. Edges include Attractive, Brawny, Gadgeteer, and Two-Fisted, whilst Hindrances include All-Thumbs, Clumsy, Heroic, or Mild-Mannered. Many of the Edges have requirements in terms of skills and attributes, experience or Power Level, or other Edges. Hindrances are either Major or Minor. To create a character, a player selects some Hindrances, which will give him points which he can spend to purchase Edges or improve attributes or skills. Choice of Race will give the character some beginning Edges, Hindrances, attributes and skills. Race is not an Edge in itself, but a package of Edges, Hindrances, and skill and attribute bonuses which can be selected during character creation. For example, a Saurian begins play with Armour +2 (scaly skin), a Bite natural weapon, Environmental Weakness to the cold, Keen Senses which gives him the Alertness Edge, and the Outsider (Minor) Hindrance which penalises his Persuasion skill. The average heroic Human of Savage Worlds, begins play with an extra Edge. A player has five points to raise his character’s attributes from their base of a four-sided die each and twelve points to raise his character’s skills.

Henry Brinded, Antiquarian
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigour d6
Skills: Academics d6, Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d4, Language (Latin) d6, Notice d6, Occult d8, Persuasion d4, Research d8, Spellcasting d6, Stealth d4
Charisma: 0
Pace: 6” Parry: 4 Toughness: 5 Bennies: 3
Power Points: 10
Hindrances: All-Thumbs (Minor), Bad Eyes (Major), Mild Mannered (Minor)
Edges: Arcane Background (Magic), Investigator, Strong-Willed
Powers: Arcane Protection, Detect Arcana, Speak Language

To do anything, a player rolls the die associated with his character’s Attribute or the Skill as well as an extra six-sided Wild Die because the heroes—and some villains—are Wild Cards and thus unique in the Savage Worlds setting. The highest result of either die is chosen by the player as his result, with the maximum result or Ace on either die allowing a player to reroll and add to the total. The base target for most rolls is four, but can be higher depending on the situation. Rolling Aces usually enables a player to roll higher than the target, with results of four higher than the target providing Raises that give extra benefits. Every Wild Card has one or more Bennies. These can be expended to reroll a trait, recover from shaken, soak rolls to prevent damage, draw a new action card and so gain a better place in the initiative order, to reroll damage, regain Power Points, and to influence the story. They are awarded for clever actions, good roleplaying, and acts of heroism, and so on, plus whenever a player character draws a Joker during combat. In which case, all Player Characters receive a Benny! The Game Master is encouraged to be generous with Bennies and the players to expend them to facilitate the action.
For example, there have been attacks in the city over the past few weeks and Henry Brinded suspects it might be some supernatural entity. He conducts some research based on the clues he has already discovered. The Game Master sets the target at four as it is a standard task. Henry’s player rolls two dice for the task—an eight-sided die for Henry’s Research skill and a six-sided die because Henry is a Wild Card. He will add two to the resulting roll because he has the Investigator Edge. Henry’s player rolls a one on the six-sided die and an eight on the eight-sided die. He selects the latter because it is higher and because it is an Ace, meaning that Henry’s player can roll again and add. The result of the second roll is a five, which Henry’s player adds to the first roll, as well as the bonus, for a total of fifteen. This is four, then eight higher than the target of four, so it grants a Raise or two. This means that Game Master will reveal a lot more information about the threat that Henry is hunting.
Combat uses the same mechanics with initiative being determined by an ordinary deck of cards. In general, Wild Card characters have the edge over their opponents, able to shrug off damage or soak it with the expenditure of Bennies before they start suffering Wounds. The combat rules in Savage Worlds cover not just man-to-man, man-to-Orc, or man-to-Xenomorph combat, but mass combat and vehicular combat too. The rules for mass combat lend themselves towards the use of miniatures, either actual miniatures or counters, and the book comes with effect templates that can be copied and used with them.

The treatment of Powers, whether they be Magic, Miracles, Psionics, or Weird Science, is kept very uniform in Savage Worlds. Each is fuelled by Power Points, each has an associated Arcane Background Edge and Skill, and each of the Powers can have an associated set of Trappings. So, for example, the common Bolt Power could have different Trappings depending upon its source, which means that a wizard’s fire Bolt spell could have the flammable Trapping, potentially causing materials to catch alight, whilst a Gadgeteer’s Bolt Power could be an Electro-Zapper that with the Electricity Trapping causes target’s to spasm. The one type of Power which Savage Worlds Adventure Edition does not do effectively, is superpowers. They do fall under the Arcane Background (Gifted) Edge, but would be very low powered in comparison to a proper superhero roleplaying game and do not stretch as far as a ‘Four Colour’ style of game.

There are changes and tweaks throughout Savage Worlds Adventure Edition. To begin with, every character has some beginning or basic skills—Athletics, Common Knowledge, Notice, Persuasion, and Stealth, but have fewer points to spend on skills during character creation. Climbing, Swimming, and Throwing have been folded in Athletics, Lockpicking into Thievery, Common Knowledge is a skill of its own, Knowledge been replaced by a range of skills—Academics, Battle, Electronics, Hacking, Language, Occult, and Science, Streetwise is an Edge rather than a skill, and so on. Elsewhere, for vehicles, Acceleration is now factored into Handling and Top Speed, and Top Speed has replaced the earlier Pace to better reflect real world vehicles rather than vehicles on the table. Other changes have been to the way in which stories are told using Savage Worlds.

The rules for Dramatic Tasks, Interludes, and Social Conflicts are retained from earlier editions. Dramatic Tasks handle nail-biting scenes such as diffusing a bomb, hacking a computer, casting a ritual, or even escaping a deathtrap, and involve the players making skill checks for their characters in order to collect enough ‘Task Tokens’ to overcome the Dramatic Task—the more involved the Dramatic Task, the more ‘Task Tokens’ required. Interludes involve either Downtime, Backstory, or a Trek, and give scope to a player to roleplay and explore more of his character during more quiet times in the narrative. Social Conflicts work a little like Dramatic Tasks and are again, designed to add tension to a social situation, such as a negotiation or arguing a case in court, and involve a player rolling his character’s Persuasion or Intimidation skill to accumulate Influence Tokens which are compared to table to determine the outcome. Added to these tools are mechanics for Networking and Quick Encounters. Networking covers social characters interacting with clients to get information and clues, whilst scholarly type characters are in the library, and require no more than a single Persuasion or Intimidation skill check to determine the outcome. Similarly, Quick Encounters also use a single skill check, but what skill is used depends on the nature of the encounter. A chase might require Common Knowledge, Driving, Repair, and Shooting, whilst a heist might make use of Hacking, Notice, Stealth, and Thievery. Quick Encounters are designed to cover situations where the Game Master is pressed for time or has not prepared a big encounter, or there is simply no need to play out a situation roll by roll. There is scope here for the Game Master and her players to develop and combine these scenes, so that they could be run as montages. Another narrative change is to Experience Points, which have been replaced with a simple advancement scheme based on campaign length.

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition also comes with mechanics rules for creating races for both Player Characters and NPCs, a list of spells along with the means for a player to colour and modify their magic, and a bestiary of thirty or so animals, beasts, and monsters. It is rounded out with solid advice for the Game Master, which is worth reading whether she is new to Savage Worlds or has run it before.

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition follows the format of the earlier Explorer Edition of Savage Worlds in coming as a smaller sized—though not digest-sized—book. It is a full colour hardback, illustrated throughout with plenty of artwork which showcases the potential ranges of genres the rules can cover, emphasises the action, and focuses on the Player Characters. The book is well written, it is easy to read, there are decent examples of play, and where there are changes from the previous editions of the rules, the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition makes it clear what they are. If perhaps there is a niggle to the book it is that the elements of the Player Characters, the advantages, disadvantages, and skills, known as Edges, Hindrances, and skills, are organised in an odd order in the book. Any other roleplaying game would do attributes, advantages, disadvantages, and skills, but not Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, in which the order is Hindrances, Traits—attributes and skills, and then Edges. This is a holdover from previous editions of the rules and it made no sense in those editions, just as it makes absolutely no sense in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.

Of course, like any new edition of a set of rules, it is primarily there to support new content, but one of the fantastic aspects of Savage Worlds Adventure Edition is that it is still compatible with earlier versions of the rules and thus with much of the support which was published for those rules, such as the 50 Fathoms or Sundered Skies campaigns. Plus, notes highlight the changes, making them easy for the Game Master to spot. There is also a shift in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition over previous editions, which is that as much as it supports mass battles, there is less of a military emphasis in the feel of the rules. Instead, the new rules emphasise the narrative flow of the game more in keeping with a contemporary style of play. Overall, Savage Worlds Adventure Edition is a slickly presented, well written new version of the action orientated, cinematic rules.

1 comment:

  1. > Any other roleplaying game would do attributes, advantages, disadvantages, and skills, but not Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, in which the order is Hindrances, Traits—attributes and skills, and then Edges. This is a holdover from previous editions of the rules and it made no sense in those editions, just as it makes absolutely no sense in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.

    That's actually one of the most intuitive changes in this editions.

    When you create a character first you pick what's interesting about her (usually, this is her Hindrances). Then you determine the general traits and skills, and finally you pick Edges (which have trait and skill requirements). Picking Advantages before Disadvantages all too often requires you to go back and redesign your character - that's why I don't play GURPS anymore.