first impressions from savage worlds

I want to do a spinoff of Tabletop that is a season-long RPG show, with the same group of players and one campaign. I’m trying out different systems to see what I enjoy the most and what would work for the show. Last night we played Savage Worlds, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t imagine another system that would let us get in 5 satisfying combats in one session, and the thrill of exploding dice was really great (except when we were trying to subdue some bad guys, aced three times, and ended up killing them. Oops.)

My friend Martin ran it for us, in a post-apocalyptic setting he’s been working on for a long time. It says a lot about the system, I think, that he could just drop something into it that he developed entirely on his own and Savage Worlds supported it without any weird hacking.

My general impression of the system is positive, though I think using a wild card die with a d4 skill for a trait test is a little broken. We didn’t run the math, but it seems like it turns a lot of those trait tests, which should be very difficult to make since you only hit a success one in four times, into a little better than a coin flip. We talked about making a house rule that a d4 skill doesn’t get a wild die, but I need to do more research on it before I commit to the change.

We felt that the allies were a little overpowered, though I think we were running them wrong (I had 5 grunts with me, and instead of rolling once for them, I rolled 5 times, which I think was a mistake). Again, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little tweaking to get better balance.

When I run Deadlands, I’m going to use a modified Zones system that John Rogers told me he lifted from Fate, which seems really great: an area is broken up into zones, and it costs one movement to go from one to another. If you’re in a zone with an enemy, you can melee, and you figure close/medium/long by counting zones between you and your target. Rogers told me that he puts each zone on an index card, and encourages his players to describe what each zone looks like (for example: in a nightclub, the stage is one zone, the tables another, then the bar, and the balcony. The players describe the area, so they’re building it in their imaginations and making it come to life). This lets you keep track of combat and gives a sense of spatial awareness without making it about minis on a map and counting squares, which I really don’t like. I don’t mind minis when I’m playing Warhammer, but otherwise, they just aren’t for me.

Overall, I liked it enough to play the system again, and I got enough of a handle on it as a player that I feel comfortable running it for my group next time we get together. I have an idea for a Deadlands campaign that should be pretty fun for everyone involved.

80 thoughts on “first impressions from savage worlds”

  1. d4s are hard to roll randomly (they don’t roll), how about rolling a d12 and dividing by 3 (and rounding up…)? that would remove roll bias and you can test whether its the system or the roll.

    1. Roman d4s are d12s with 1-4 in roman numerals three times, work great for rolling. I use them, along with regular d4s, which I find easier to roll in groups.

  2. Have you thought about trying Traveller 5th Edition? Marc Miller and his team have been working hard to produce this newest go-round.

  3. Savage Worlds is a great system – and a good one especially for multiple genres. It’s a really good catch-all. I would recommend the new 13th Age system for FRPG though – it’s enough like older versions of D&D that it’s familiar, but the system really focuses you more on your characters and stories – combat is just quick-dry icing on the cake. If you like the older-school D&D versions, I think you’d like it – and combat is nice and quick.

  4. Other settings scale the wild die – Realms of Cthulhu offers a variant wild die that grows as you become more experienced. A reasonable house rule would to limit the wild die to the size of the skill die, and perhaps eliminate the wild die from untrained skills.

  5. I’d caution against the d4 house rule. Yes, the Wild Die alters the odds in the Wild Cards’ favor, but it’s supposed to; Wild Cards are the larger than life people in the world, the heroes and the bad ass bad guys. We’ve been playing Savage Worlds for well over a year now, from fantasy and sci-fi to superheros (using a custom City of Heroes savaged-setting) and I haven’t felt that d4 skills hit too often, but that’s just my take on it.

    As for your allies (which I assume were Extras), they can be a bit overpowered, but since they ARE Extras, they don’t tend to survive as long. But they allow for fast and furious, larger than life fights in Savage Worlds that are just really, really hard to do in other systems. That said, do be careful about getting too carried away with having a lot of Extras; it can detract from the PCs as being the main focus of the story.

    Savage Worlds is, hands down, my favorite RPG system ever, and for good reason: I don’t have time or patience for the one-encounter per session most other systems do these days. We tend to pack a lot more in (RP, encounters, etc…) our sessions now, and that is awesome.

    1. Yeah, allies are best in small doses. Most of the time, I don’t bother with them, as dealing with all the extra rolls seems to slow things down too much. However, having an ally or two in the party that’s really good at taunting can be awesome. They ride as your wing-man, running their mouth at your opponents and distracting/shaking them, while the player characters go to town. It’s a beautiful combination, in settings where it fits with the atmosphere.

  6. I’m rather partial to Pathfinder, Shadowrun and Cyberpunk as systems.

    On a side note, have you tried the card game Sentinels of the Multiverse?

  7. I’m glad you liked Savage World’s, Wil. nk you’ll find, after playing more sessions, that little things like d4 with a wild die won’t seem so broken.

    When you sWhen you start Deadlands, don’t forget to download my Deadlands screen inserts from Pinnacle’s site.
    forget your signed copy of Darwin’s World the next time you want some Savage Post-apocalyptic goodness.

    Game on!

  8. Long time lurker….

    A season long RPG would be A-W-E-S-O-M-E-O. The Dragon Age episodes made me want to play a real pencil and paper RPG again.

    Trying to talk the wife into going to the Paul and Storm show in Philly in the fall. It is an amazing venue next to University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s campus. (Right on Walnut Street there is a place called Tria that has great wine and Beer menus)

  9. Dungeon World. It’s a great system with lots of room for improvising, little load on the GM. It actually encourages the players to help build the world which I think fits the style of play seen on Tabletop. It’s also the only (AFAIK) open-sourced RPG shared on Github, so there wouldn’t even be any ownership issues.

  10. Well the analogy I use to describe how Wild Cards are different than usual people is like King Arthur in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail:
    First Peasant: “Who’s that there?”
    Second Peasant: “I don’t know… Must be a king.”
    First Peasant: “Why?”
    Second Peasant: “He hasn’t got $**t all over him. ”

    Wild Cards are simply luckier and more accomplished than usual people. It’s ultimately what differentiates a PC from an NPC and a Wild Card from a background player. With a modicum of knowledge/ability and their general luck/pluckiness Wild Cards can go far. The Wild Die along with the Wound Levels is what sets Wild Cards as being dramatic and somewhat cinematic denizens of the story. The Bennies are a means for the player to exercise some creative control over how the story develops and the GM’s Bennies are the means to affect fate for the story. The reason IMHO that they do this is to make it more immersive and dynamic then just being decided by dice … and it allows a GM a means to measure how much dramatic licence they may have had to apply to have the story they wanted told to unfold. As the GM if you limit yourself to just the Bennies you have (typically 1:player) then you know you’re not taking advantage (I.E. Choo! Choo!) and if you have to use more (effectively) to accomplish the story you wanted without riding the rails then so be it … but be careful it doesn’t become a habit … it can be a symptom that you need to re-balance your challenges.

    One last thought about the D4+Wild Die … part of the rationale is that Savage Worlds are supposed to be Fast! Furious! Fun! and having to spend a lot of your advances on every little skill seems redundant. That’s why fighting with fists, swords, grappling is all just Fighting. If they want to be competent they will have to spend some advances to pick up the skill. It just allows for a little fudging … “Don’t pet the sweaty stuff. … Don’t sweat the petty stuff.”

    Have fun and keep your powder dry!

  11. As “fast, fun and furious” Savage worlds proports itself to be I still find it more unnecessarily complex that it needs to be. As a player I’ll play it all day (as getting the opertunity to BE a player is rare for me) But if I’m going to run a game I’m generally going to run one of 2 games.

    FATE, I’ll run if I know my players (or I) will won’t a more mechanically crunchy system. But it’s still narrative enough to make it fun for me to run.

    Apocalypse World (or Dungeon World, or Monster Hearts, or Monster of the Week, or any other game or hack derived from Apocolypse World) Is my goto if the players are people that can really get into character and I know they’ll appreciate the far more abstract ruleset. It also allows me as a GM to worry less about stats, NPC HP, rolling (for the most part), and just let me focus on creating a good fantastical or apocalyptic world. Rules wise, the base concept is ; mechanically when a “Move” is triggered the player rolls 2d6 + , on a 10+ sucess without consequence, on a 7-9 success with consequence, 6 or less is a miss and the GM may make the character’s life hard (dealing damage, taking their stuff, etc. General GM fiat stuff)… And that’s it. When run properly the system will sing for you, but it does require a little disconnect from the normal RPG flow of play on everyone at the table”s part.

    1. I *love* PTA, and similar Indie RPGs. In fact, I’d love to do a special Tabletop Spotlight (a show I just made up right now) on some of my favourite IRPGs.

      For this particular show, though, I need a system that’s a little more traditional, and less Fiasco-like.

      1. Have you taken a look at BareBones Fantasy by DwD Studios? It’s an nice, rules light, percentage die based Fantasy RPG with an old school feel.

        http://dwdstudios.com/barebones

        It might be a good candidate for an intro to more traditional RPGs because even non-gamers can figure out percentage systems.

        Larry Moore (the creator) hangs out on Google+ and is very engaging.

      2. “In fact, I’d love to do a special Tabletop Spotlight (a show I just made up right now) on some of my favourite IRPGs.”

        And I, for one, would LOVE to see you do that! So exciting when random thoughts generate awesome creative ventures. Keep us informed if you go with this one, OK? :)

  12. More #Tabletop? A full RPG campaign? Awesome!

    To test your theory re: d4s, I wrote a simulation. A d4+wild die averages 5.3 with a 62.5% chance of success (with a standard target of 4). If you have just an exploding d4, the average is 3.33 and the chance of success is only 25%. So your intuition is right on.

  13. d4 and the Wild Die means a Wild Card is okay at the job, expecting to get a normal success (no raise) more often than not as long as there are no other penalties involved.

    Where the characters should have it really rough is with Unskilled rolls, where they have the innate -2 penalty to the roll. Meaning without some situational bonus, they have to ace just to succeed.

  14. Aoefel = Ratings. I’ve been dying since last Pax for more acquisitions inc, and I know there are plenty of other people who have as well. If this is at all possible, make this series Acquisitions Incorporated. You 4 together are the reason why my friends and I started playing d&d last October.

  15. Have played SW based campaigns off and on for ages. It’s definitely one of my favorite systems. Another one that I quite enjoy is the mechanics of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I really enjoy the way it combines dice mechanics and narativistic rules.

  16. Let me get this straight, first Wil found a way to make money by hosting board/dice games with really cool people most of us would pay big money for the chance to sit down with at a game, and now you are looking at a way of producing a show where you run a role playing campaign and get paid there also?

    Wil, do you know you have just reached demi-god status among gamer geeks everywhere?

    We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

  17. Thinking only of myself for a moment (I apologize), I’d like to throw out my ‘Dream Team’ for your RPG series:

    #1 Sam Witwer
    #2 Alison Haislip
    #3 Grace Helbig
    #4 Shane Nickerson
    #5 You

    DM: Kevin Smith or Joss Whedon (That was out of left field, but why not dream)

  18. My husband and I have been playing Deadlands for ~15 years and we have never quite managed to make the switch to Savage Worlds rules (we didn’t even try D20 for the five minutes they were pushing that). The streamlined nature of them is appealing, but we’ve created so many house rules for Deadlands Classic that switching is daunting.

  19. i know this is off topic, sort of, and apologize in advance, but…

    Will there be more extended editions of Tabletop? The three already available are really excellent, and I would love to see more of them, particularly Settlers of Catan and Munchkin.

    1. We were not prepared for the overwhelmingly positive response to the extended episodes, so we didn’t produce that many of them. We’re looking into doing more, though, because of the demand.

      1. I have watched the Small World Ext Ep and about half of the Castle Panic Ext Ep. To my surprise, I found them very entertaining. I daresay the edited episodes work best for newcomers to the game and to gaming in general. Theyr’e short, summarise the rules and gameplay and give you a taste for how it plays within a group. The extended episodes are great for people who have maybe played one or two games, or have looked into the rules and want to see a full game. Because they’re not chopped up, you do get a better feel for the flow of the game and how it builds up – the Small World ext ep was excellent and really gave you a bit more insight into WHY people were taking certain paths in the game. I would love to see more extended episodes.

        Wil, congrats on a brilliant couple of episodes to kick off season two – The Resistance in particular was amazing, and I think probably the best episode yet. Because of the length and because practically everything you say while playing it IS part of the game, I would guess that there’d be barely any need to edit for length. Just point cameras and go.

  20. I highly recommend the Fate system for its ability to get players really invested in the story of the game (because they get a lot of narrative power). My group plays The Dresden Files RPG and we love it.

  21. I’m not going to lie, I am partial to 4e DnD myself, and was just musing with my girlfriend about Wizards/Chris Perkins doing something similar to all the podcasts/liveplays he’s done (AQI and otherwise), but with this edition having been brought behind the farm already, I know this is unlikely. That being said, I was looking through a copy of the corebook for “Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island” at my FLGS the other day, and it looks like great fun, and has my recommendation.

  22. It was nice of you to pretend you liked roleplaying with minis the first couple of times I ran Dragon Age for you. :)

    Savage Worlds is a fun game. I did a Day After Ragnarok mini-campaign a few years ago I called Suppurating Kansas.

  23. Oh man! Wil, if you could somehow get the license to be even associated with the name, it’d be awesome to see you run (or play) continuing sessions of Star Wars RPG. There’s a new version due out this year by Fantasy Flight Games. I enjoyed running the Beginner Game boxed set they released recently.

  24. First rule of SW – don’t change the core mechanics unless you really know what you are doing.

    Having d4 skill with a wild die is the way to go. It is not too easy for a complicated task, because complicated tasks have -1, -2 or even -4 penalty. The target number is 4, but it can have +-2 bonus/penalty for the dice roll when it is easy or difficult.

    Playing SW without minis is a bit challenge. I am not sure if the zones make it better, but the movement can be taken more abstract way. While I really like to play without minis, to visualize it all in my head and also it is better for show – no need to make a perfect miniature scene like you had in the dnd game. Anyway, what is neat with minis for SW is that the GM does not have to count anything … all the pieces are on the board (ok – standing, shaken – lies down, dead – off the table). And it helps to coordinate attacks when there are many mooks around. But SW is not more complicated without minis than any other game.

    Looking forward for this show!
    GL, HF :)

  25. Don’t bother about the Wild Die with untrained or d4 skills. The basic idea is heroes sometimes succeed by chance when all else fails or they lack the training. They can solve easy things nicely, but when it comes to harder tasks with additional penalties, it’s usually required to burn a few Bennies for rerolls. And every used Benny is a Benny you can’t spend on Soak rolls! And what if a d4-6 + Wild Die roll comes up a 30? Simply have fun a let the player describe how his charater felt at the moment of such a great success.

    I don’t really take the idea of these “Zones”. Seems to much of a hassle for me, but I’ll check your show to see how it works!

  26. Y’know, speaking of TV series around running RPGs, I’ve always said I’d pay money for a series like “Hell’s Kitchen” where an experienced GM tries to ‘fix’ problem players.

  27. I can’t wait to see this show become a reality. Actual Plays are a great way for curious folks to learn a new system. You mentioned lifting the FATE zones system late in the post, and I’d like to put my vote in for the FATE system itself. It has a great balance of traditional tabletop RPG style with a few of the best elements from Fiasco thrown in. You might even be able to get Fred Hicks to run the game himself, much as Chris Pramas did with Dragon Age.

  28. I for one would love to see you do a spin off for tabletop RPGs as I think it would help to de-mystify the hobby for the masses. I personally think tabletop gaming is enjoying the green shoots of a resurgence just now and its right that a show such as yours is getting interest from viewers and long may it continue.

    As for what system to use I think it comes down to getting a system that is easy to use and easy to get across the basic concepts of to a viewer, especially a viewer with no previous knowledge or experience of RPGs. This would mean that many games that are quite successful would have to be put on the sideline, such as D&D 3.5 and 4e, World Of Darkness and Pathfinder to name a few.

    So what would I recommend? I think Savage Worlds is a good solid and simple rule set with a great many campaign settings both official and fan made (there is a fan-made Star Wars conversion for Savage Worlds that is very good). I would also say Dragon Age is a superb game for beginners and the mechanics are very easy to pick up. I would also say there is an argument for a retro-clone such as Dark Dungeons or Barbarians Of Lemuria. Traveller is also a very simple system to pick up as well.

    Those are my thoughts and I do hope you get the chance to bring this project to fruition as I’d certainly watch it :)

  29. If you do decide to run a season-long RPG series… I hope you set it up and select players who will stay much more “in-world” than what we saw with Dragon Age and Hardwick’s joke “Fonz” character– as well as what we get with Brian Posehn’s ‘Nerd Poker’ D&D podcast. While I’m all for the occasional one-off pop culture reference that might appear (and I love running gags within a campaign world itself)… I’ve listen to enough podcasts of people gaming to know that when most of the game is players talking casually out of game and are only speaking in-game and in the game world like a quarter of the time… they get really old, really fast.

    I would love it if the game was run and played much more like a long-form improv performance, where upwards of 80% of the time is spent with players talking about what’s happening in-world or speaking actually in-character… and the out-of-game joking around, the casual talk, and explaining how the rules work kept to a minimum (or edited out). When it comes to listening to this stuff, the story and the characters are the most compelling part and should be what we mostly hear. Otherwise, you’re basically listen to a regular old podcast with people sitting around shooting the sh*t… and there are hundreds of those we can already listen to.

  30. I have limited exposure to Savage Worlds as a system, but I hear it’s easy to adapt. You might want to also look at Pathfinder (Maybe running a few early Pathfinder Society mods, year 0-2). A generic 4th Edition campaign might work, but that will take adaptation.

  31. Episode 1: Party wipe.

    uhhh… what do we do the rest of the season?

    On the note of things I’ve always dreamed about: How about a Tabletop episode of Car Wars Tabletop where you use Matchbox scale and use a camera placed above the game arena to generate a stop motion video of the fight?

  32. I have to n-th the recommendation for Dungeon World (and other Apocalypse World hacks). It’s an ideal blend of old school game-ness and new-school rules-lightness. The way conflict resolution system works fits your needs ideally.

    Just look at these character sheets. Just look at them:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3269630/dwdotcom/DungeonWorld_character_sheets.pdf

    You don’t even need to read a rulebook to start playing, if you’re a player. It’s a marvel of design.

  33. I cannot recommend Slipstream highly enough. The book alone is worth its weight in gold. By default it’s retro-science fiction, but all the material is there to run just about any space opera setting you want.

    Do yourself a favor and check it out.

  34. Really, really excited to watch a produced Savage Worlds campaign. It’s such a great and inherently entertaining system, I don’t think you’ll be able to do much better for your viewers. Its balance of simplified mechanics should translate very well to camera.

    The only systems I think would translate to being more entertaining would be either 7th Sea or Exalted. Those two worlds are just so COOL that people can get easily engaged without actually playing.

    It’s unfortunate but I can’t suggest with a good conscience my personal favorite games (outside of Savage Worlds) because I know they just wouldn’t be best for an audience. I feel a lot of ‘classic’ RPGs are like that.

  35. My group of friends and I have been trying out Blade Raiders for the last few game sessions and it’s a really fun system. It lends itself to a lot of roleplay because of how the skill system is set up. The only thing is that if you enjoy rolling a lot of different dice, this game doesn’t really offer that.

  36. Ive had a few thoughts on this but until today Id thought you’d never go for them. When I worked at a Gaming shop, we played the classic game Diplomacy, a turn per week. Players would drop their orders into a lockbox we had made from plywood and painted/decal’d (REMs Dead letter Office). The interesting part was that game was an entire week of scheming, plotting, intrigue, with the other players. Did I mention we decided anything was legal? Bribes, lying, etc. Add that to a game thats already about deception and it was a blast. The guy who ended up winning did so by picking the lock, replacing it with a different lock to which he had a spare key, and opening it up and re-writing players orders after they had dropped them off. “I sent my battleship to the meditteranean? Why did i do that?” One of the best gaming experiences of my life once he confessed after his win. Also, there are amazing games like Avalon Hills 1974 Kingmaker (the greatest boardgame ever) that cant be played in a single session, but also has TONS of diplomacy, deal-making, intrigue, etc – not just flipping cards and rolling dice but a huge amount of player to player interaction. Very similar to the current craze Game of Thrones since both are based on the same English histoty. It might work better as a weekly as opposed to monthly format. I also have a crude vision of you expanding this new venture into a full social media experience – be it kingmaker or Diplomacy, set up a website, forum, and twitter for each player’s character/Royal House so the audience could get involved during the monthly/weekly downtimes, either to discuss the last episode, offer advice, or be able to see your Players negotiating and dealing in front of the fans!

    In short it would be awesome to be able to watch or even participate/communicate with the Players during the week or month in between sessions, adding an entirely new aspect to the fans enjoyment. Interactive gaming. Not to mention possible t-shirts, pins, decals etc. “Property of Team Grisshgurfle!” (i just guessed at your characters name there)

  37. As an avid Savage Worlds fan, I’m thrilled to see you enjoyed the system so much. Although I play multiple systems, I find Savage Worlds the easiest to learn and teach, even to people who have never role-played in their lives. When thinking about getting into publishing my own setting, it was the system at the top of my list to get licensed for.

    Great to see folks who have a large audience giving systems besides D & D and Pathfinder some attention. For the record, I like and play both of those, too. I can only imagine what you running a segment for RPGs like you do for Tabletop will do for the lesser known systems and settings. That seems to have the same effect as Oprah’s book club!

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