What the Heck is Savage Worlds?
For the Uninitiated
Savage Worlds is a generic pen-and-paper roleplaying game system designed by Pinnacle Entertainment.
Being generic isn't a bad thing. This means that every rule, spell and weapon can be themed to fit whatever kind of adventure you care to run, whether you're creating an ambitious Matrix-like sci-fi world or something completely different, the system will accommodate you.
It's both lightweight and "crunchy," giving gaming satisfaction to a variety of people. From the dyed-in-the-wool wargamers to the D&D purists, Savage Worlds has something for everyone.
This is not meant to insult D&D or any other game system, but I will draw comparisons purely for the purposes of contrast.
The core rulebook.
Give your adventures Indiana Jones-styled adventures in which many Nazis are punched in the face.
The game system itself is designed to be Fast, Furious and Fun, according to the official tagline. It was made by a group of people who were tired of slogging through stat comparisons for every simple dice roll, so the game is made to resolve everything quickly. It's been described as a "pulp" game system designed for player and game master enjoyment.
- Time saver: The game master can set up a game with very little prep. This is particularly useful when you're pressed for time and you need to put a game on the table RIGHT NOW.
- The book: The sourcebook (Savage Worlds Deluxe) is only $10/£6 and contains everything you need to play.
- Free adventures: There are lots of one-sheet adventures made for GMs who need one. They can be easily modified to fit any theme if needed.
- Variety: There are dozens of campaign "settings" that are diverse and original. Want to play a pulpy Flash Gordon-esque space adventure? Fantasy with a twist? Men in Black?
- Community support: The Savage Worlds community has a well-earned reputation for being well-mannered and kind to newcomers. If anyone has a question about rules or custom conversions of other games, they'll give respectful, constructive feedback.
- Conversions: A great deal of time has been spent by Savage fans converting just about every other type of RPG, book or movie into a playable game within the system. Without ever buying a setting book, you could conceivably play for years.
- Dice rolling: Based on the psychological principal that people enjoy rolling several dice at once, Savage Worlds gives players two chances of success with each roll.
- Unique combat mechanics: The system does away with tracking hitpoints on players and monsters, instead using a unique three-hard-hits method of tracking who or what is dying.
- No endgame god-players: Other games (specifically D&D) allow players almost godlike powers in the higher levels. This can make it very difficult for GMs to prepare challenges for players aside from throwing ridiculous monsters at them to fight. This doesn't mean Savage Worlds heroes are weak, it just means they stay human when they're high levels.
While Savage Worlds has many things going for it, some people have been turned off by these things.
- Rules: The system minimizes much "rules lawyering" seen in other RPG systems, encouraging the GM to simply make a call and look up the rule later. This might bother players who prefer every judgement to be set in stone in the rulebook.
- Health and combat: When a GM is first learning the system, it can be difficult to understand exactly how damage works. Being unique also means there's nothing to compare it to.
- Damage to monsters: There will be times during a Savage Worlds game where a player will attack a monster and effectively do zero damage. Thematically, the monster is scraped or damaged in some minor way; mechanically, nothing happened. This might bother players who are used to systems that have health points.
- Budget: If you've gorged yourself on the fantastic art from the Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder books, you might be a little disappointed by the art in Savage Worlds. While it's respectable, the books are published by a company with a much, much smaller budget than Wizards of the Coast or Paizo. The result is art that is less consistent (but never entirely bad.)
- Unwillingness: The main reason people might dismiss Savage Worlds (or any other system) is because they don't want to use any system except the one they grew up with. Learning a new system is tedious. Teaching a new system to a group of players is annoying.
How to Get Your Group to Try It
Don't make your players play a similar game to the one you've been playing. If you play D&D, stay away from fantasy in Savage Worlds. It will draw criticism from players about how "this doesn't work the same way as it did in D&D." Instead, play something like Deadlands, a wild west setting with magic.
Play up the differences between systems as a bonus. You'll be surprised at how fast combat resolves compared even to D&D 4E. In fact, you could play an entire session of Savage Worlds without any combat at all.
Just play one session. See how things unfold and what expectations are challenged. If players can't do something the same way they could in another system, there's probably a way to do it in Savage Worlds.