Recently I picked up the Savage Worlds ruleset, mostly out of a desire for something rules-light to run on the occasional night when not all the players can make it. Savage Worlds is a “generic” role playing system, meaning it can be used for everything from fantasy role playing to contemporary military scenarios, to futuristic sci-fi. The game’s slogan is “Fast, Furious, Fun” and the game mechanics promote this approach to gaming. Not only is it simple, it’s cheap. The explorer’s edition is a softcover version that’s only ten bucks!
Originally based off of a table-top wargame system, savage rules does away with “hit points” and classes. Experience points are also abstracted, with the GM handing out either 1, 2, or 3 points per PC at the end of a session. Characters have 5 basic attributes: Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength and Vigor. Instead of the canonical 3-18 numeric values many systems use characters instead use a die to represent each stat, from d4 to d12. The reason for this is checks are simplified: to success you must roll 4 or better. Skills follow the same system, with skills being represented by die from d4 to d12 as the player progresses.
Wounds replace hit points with all characters having none, one, two or three wounds. Taking a wound beyond 4th means the character’s incapacitated. Incapacitated characters might have permanent damage to a limb and are “off the table” for the rest of the encounter. A player that takes damage starts as “shaken” meaning they have to succeed at a vigor check to take any actions beyond simple ones like moving. If they take damage while shaken, they take wounds. The quantity of wounds depends on how high the opponent rolled above the character’s Toughness rating. Every 4 points rolled above toughness is a wound. It’s a simple system that means player’s statuses can be represented by tokens, keeping the play fast and avoiding scribbling on character sheets during play.
Another mechanic of Savage Worlds are exploding “Ace” dice. When any character rolls the maximum value of a die they get to roll another one and add the values together and this mechanic is limitless. Theoretically there’s a 1 in infinity chance a player rolls infinity. This makes the game much more dangerous, contributing to the “furious” part of their slogan. There is a very small chance a weak minion could smoke an advanced player in a single round. It’s meant to keep people on their toes and the action fast.
Two more mechanics are “bennies” and “wild die”. Players start each session with 3 “bennies” which they can spend throughout the session to either “soak” some damage, re-roll a check, or discard a “shaken” condition. Players also get to use a “wild die” for all checks except damage. This is a d6 die that’s roll along with whatever their attribute/skill die and they get to take the higher of the two. If both roll ones it’s a “critical failure” meaning something crazy happens (as decided by the GM). This “wild die” explodes two on an “ace.” Only “Wild Cards” get bennies and wild die. PCs are Wild Cards, as well as important NPC bosses.
One thing I’ve noticed about Savage Worlds is there are many positive reviews of it on the net and 90% of those reviews include the words: “I haven’t played a session of it yet” (or something similar). Tonight I’m GM’ing my first session of Savage Worlds in the Low Life setting.
The elevator pitch of Low Life is “What if Jim Henson and Ralph Bakshi were to collaboratively produce and direct Mad Max?” It’s a crazy world where “hoomanity” was obliterated by every catastrophe in existance and after “The Big Wipe” what was left evolved into the filth that exists in Low Life. Playable races include walking talking cockroaches, short elves with inflatable noses, and angry twinkie bars. Yes, you can play a pastry, alive and kicking and ready to meet vengeance for all the years “Hoomanity” produced their kind for consumption from sterile, plastic wrapped boxes!
It’s an incredibly creative setting and tonight I’m throwing my players in a scary pit, getting them to learn a new system and play in a completely outrageous world. Due to the frequent poo jokes that are thrown around at our table I think they’ll get along just fine. And I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the system and the setting when we’re done!