We live in…Savage Worlds!

| Monday, 1 September 2014 | |
Product: Savage Worlds
Setting: Deadlands
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Inc. 

A Little History

We play the games that our friends play; its hard to play anything but MMORPG by yourself, after all. When I was living in Ohio, I was particularly fortunate that my friends had very open minds towards gaming, and while we all started out as a D&D group, we would frequently take breaks from our ongoing campaign to try out different game systems and settings. Among the games we played were Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu (d20 version), UGHS (a system developed by my friend Darryl Nichols who passed away before it could be completed) and Peryton's WHAPS—a shameless plug since the publishers are friends of mine.

One of these various systems stood out as particularly friendly to our genre of Steampunk: Savage Worlds and its Deadlands setting.

About the System

Pinnacle claims that their system is Fast! Furious! Fun! When compared with other RPGs, the rule system is wonderfully simplified. For any task at hand, your Hero simply rolls a "Trait" die and (in addition to) a so-called "Wild Die" to determine success or failure. The Trait Die is variable (d4 to d12) depending on how many build points the player has assigned for that task; the Wild Die is always a d6. In essence, this allows heroes to roll twice to overcome any obstacle.

At the other end, the game master sets a value for success, which is called the Target Number. The Target Number starts at 4, although circumstances may increase that Target Number to reflect certain conditions: shooting an enemy requires a 4, but if the enemy has armor, cover, or modifications, the Target Number may become 6, 8 or higher depending on the specific modification and how many modifications there are.

Savage Worlds (which is the name of the system) allows for "exploding dice," which means that if you roll a six on a d6, you may roll it again. Thus, if you roll a 6, 6, and a 4 with your d6, you would score 16. Hopefully that's enough!

The rule system also provides for a bit of temporary luck called "bennies." Bennies—short for benefits—are chips that are cashed in to alter a particular outcome. Used to reroll a critical failure, for instance, could be the difference between life and death. But each player has a finite number of bennies to use in a session.

Although this is an abbreviated description of how the game is played, it should offer a glimpse into the relative ease that this system provides to both the player and to the game master. Setting up encounters is equally easy and quick to develop.

To go into a bit more detail, the system also provides mechanisms for combat, skills, advancement, magic, and role playing. Its a very flexible system with examples in the core book for a swords and sorcery setting to a futuristic adventure in space.

About the Setting

Pinnacle offers several settings for their system, although the system, as mentioned above, allows for creativity and the building of your own game world with relative ease. In the context of this blog, several settings could be appropriate for your gaming genre and style: Rippers; Space 1889Solomon Kane; Deadlands, which is reviewed below.

Deadlands is far and away the most successful product in Pinnacle's lineup. Originally a game system unto itself (Deadlands Classic), it provided the working basis for the Savage Worlds system. Since then, it has been reworked as Deadlands Reloaded (the setting under review), Deadlands Noir (1930s pulp), Deadlands: Hell on Earth (a dystopian future), and a line of novels. Reaper Miniatures even has a line of miniatures corresponding to specific characters in the official line of adventures. Clearly, this is a successful franchise for Pinnacle!

Get to the point already!

Deadlands is a Western setting in which the supernatural has arisen, fantastic gizmos utilizing Ghost Rock technology are common, and the dead sometimes walk again. The world is on the verge of apocalypse shortly after the American Civil War (circa 1880), and the heroes, armed with gatling guns, strange elixirs, and powerful—but potentially dangerous—weapons created by mad scientists do battle with various horrors as the game master sees fit to throw at them.

Pros

  • As a game system, Savage Worlds lives up to its claim: Fast! Furious! Fun!
  • As a game system, Savage Worlds is a very flexible set of rules that allows for quick and easy design of encounters and adventures.
  • Deadlands can be a very scary and exciting setting.
  • There are too many splat books to count if you'd like to expand upon options for Deadlands. Personally, not only do I have the Players Handbook and the GM guide (Marshall's Handbook), but also several of the canned adventure paths and books on encounter ideas—which are easy to toss into any adventure that you're running.
  • Reaper Mini has official figures; personally, I use my imagination for figures.

Cons

The biggest complaint that I have of this—and most gaming systems—is that it should have a better index. Rules on resolving attacks and injuries are in two separate chapters, and when players are trying to learn the game, the back-and-forth method of finding which rule covers which situation can bog down an exciting fight.

Epilogue

I would really love some feedback from those of you who read this blog. My personal experience is with old-school RPGs such as D&D (starting with AD&D through 4.0 and Pathfinder). I approach my articles from that point of view, but I would love to hear from other points of view as well. What games do you regularly play? What games have you tried? Do you prefer RPGs or are you more of a wargamer?

In so doing, you'll expand my horizons so that I can provide better articles to you, the reader.

Thanks!

-Ken

Postscript

Images liberally pilfered from Internet Archive Book Images.

2 comments:

David Drage Says:
2 September 2014 at 14:49

That's an excellent review.

I don't play RPGs very often now, once or twice a year, if I am lucky, but I still consider my self to be a roleplayer.

I don't come from the "Old School" D&D background though. I have on played it once or twice. For years I played MERP/Rolemaster, and then moved on to Runequest and Call of Cthulhu (the original version 1st edition onwards). I can still GM Call of Cthulhu without referring to the rulebook...

I have looked at Savage Worlds a few times, I have been told that the Rippers rules are useful for tabletop skirmish. I have actually got the Solomon Kane book but haven't gotten around to reading it (what can I say, I am a Robert E Howard fan). So it is interesting to see how the mechanics work. It sound very good and I must really give it a try.

The Deadlands setting certainly seems to have a close connection with Steampunk and I am happy to include it under that umbrella. I may have to pick up one or two of the novels and see what they are like...

Ken Gross Says:
11 September 2014 at 14:18

I wouldn't mind trying some of the other settings as well. I just need to find people to play…

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