Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sweet Spots for the Time-Crunched Gamer: Savage Worlds

In this week's Sweet Spot's article, we take a look at Savage Worlds and how this "Fast, Furious, and Fun!" game system can be a Sweet Spot for the Time-Crunched Gamer.

This article originally appeared in The Dice of Life
As my life ran its course, and gaming gave way to real life, I attempted to find tools and systems requiring less time to run and prepare. I was a MapTool user at the time, running 3e games for my DnD group. Since the tool is game system agnostic there were players from other games on the site. One of them (M S Jackson to be specific) recommended Savage Worlds by Great White Games (also known as Pinnacle Entertainment Group). I decided to give the system a try.
Derek, one of my D&D crew, lived in California. He and I both had Friday mornings free so I downloaded Against the Orcs from Pinnacle's Web site. Well, we were VERY impressed at the speed of the first session. The scenario called for using the mass combat rules for the next battle, but I decided to see just how fast the system really was so I threw 250 orcs against a village to see what would happen.

It took us two sessions. The orcs penetrated the village wall but were eventually defeated. Derek and I talked for days about how fun and easy it was to run a really large battle in Savage Worlds. A video of the session is available below.

Next, we invited a few more players in and played a post-apocalyptic game where Earth had been blown to Hell by aliens. The group fought bandits, crystalline robots, zombies, cat-like aliens, and a T-Rex that ate their truck. We used Savage Worlds, everyone had a blast, but I think I had the best time of all. After years of bookkeeping, I finally found a system that you just play.
Savage Worlds is a generic role playing system descended from the original Deadlands Weird West RPG and The Great Rail Wars miniatures game. Its a universal system who's tag line is "Fast, Furious and Fun!" It doesn't have a rule for everything but rewards you with reduced preparation time, speedy combats, and easy character creation and advancement.
In the tradition of Savage Worlds, here is a Fast and Furious overview of the system.

Character Creation

  • Characters are classless.
  • Characters are created using a point-based allocation for Attributes (i.e. - Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength, Vigor), Skills (e.g. - Fighting, Shooting, Throwing, Notice, Piloting, etc.), and Edges which are parallel to D&D's feats and class features.
  • Characters may take Hindrances like Loyal, Mean, or Young to purchase additional Edges, Skills or improve Attributes and Skills.
  • Derived attributes, such as Parry and Toughness, are based on Attributes and Skills.
  • GM created NPCs ignore all of the rules and are simply given the Attributes, Skills, Edges and Hindrances desired for their purpose.


  • There are five varieties of Arcane Backgrounds -- Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Weird Science, Super Powers.
  • The choice of Arcane Background determines the starting power points, number of powers known, and the skill used for the Arcane skill roll associated with that backgroun.
  • The powers are the same regardless of background. A Bolt thrown by a magic user has the same power requirements, damage and range as a Bolt projected by a psionicist or called down by a priest.
  • Powers differ by their Trappings which, simply stated, is flare the player tacks onto the power. This is in lieu of having multiple versions of the same spell printed in the book. Thus a Nature Priest might cast an Entangle spell as vines and roots binding the target(s) while another might bring forth a giant spider web.

Roll Mechanics

  • All Trait Tests and Damage Rolls are open ended. If you max a roll, you roll again and add to the result. For example, if you have a d6 in Shooting and roll a 6, you roll that die again adding the result to the first 6. If the second die were a 6, it would be rolled again in the same manner, and so on. This is called Acing.
  • PC characters are Wildcards which gives them an additional Wild Die to roll for any trait test (i.e. - Skill or Attribute). The results of the Wild Die can be used in place of the normal trait roll. Wild dice can Ace.
  • If you are a Wildcard and get double one's (a 1 on your trait test and a 1 on your Wild Die) something really, really bad happens.


  • Fighting, Shooting and Throwing are the three combat skills. Regardless of weapon type or era, a character's shooting skill is good for a bow, a rifle and a starship's main cannon. There are no distinct weapon proficiencies.
  • Initiative is handled by dealing cards. High card goes first. A combatant who is dealt a Joker gets a +2 to all trait tests and damage rolls for that round.
  • Damage is simplified. If a damage roll equals or exceeds the targets toughness then the target is shaken. If the damage exceeds the toughness by 4 or more then the target gets a wound. Extras are incapacitated at 1 wound. Wildcards (PCs and special NPCs) can take four wounds before being knocked out of combat. Each wound, however, reduces all trait rolls by 1 so, as the wounds mount up, the character gets less and less effective.
  • Combat tends to end dramatically when a PC manages a huge amount of damage against the primary villain of the scenario.


  • bennies are used to reroll bad trait tests and soak up damage
  • Players get three bennies each session and are rewarded additional bennies for good role play, funny jokes or outstanding feats of bravery and stupidity (and somehow manage survive such actions).
  • Wildcard NPCs, such as the primary villain in a story and his trusted lackey, get two bennies each session.
  • GMs have a pool of bennies equal to the number of players X 2 to use for anything they damn well choose. Normally GMs use these to soak damage and reroll for the poor, easily mowed extras inhabiting his universe.
  • Bennies have the effect of self balancing a session.


  • You normally receive 2-3 experience points per session. Every 5 points allows your character to advance.
  • An advance can be adding a new skill, increasing an existing skill or attribute, or buying a new edge.
  • It takes about 1 minute to advance a character in Savage Worlds.
  • I've run fantasy, historical fantasy in the 1600's, hard sci-fi, modern, and pulp sci-fi campaigns, and the system handles each exceedingly well. I've even had players take there characters out of a fantasy campaign and plop them in a pulp sci-fi game and run fine.
One of the best things about Savage Worlds is the price. The rule book is $10, and it's really all your players will ever need to play the game.
Pinnacle Entertainment has a series of genre-based Toolkits available as PDFs. These titles, each of which includes advice and rules for Savage Worlds games based on these genres, are:
The game elements (i.e. - Edges, Powers, equipment, etc.) from those Toolkits are also being recompiled into single volume Companions with the first of these -- Fantasy Companion -- being released this July. Note that Fantasy Companion will also include material from Pinnacle's free Wizards & Warriors PDF.
Additionally, Pinnacle Entertainment and several other publishers produce complete setting books with rules tweaks and additions specific to that setting. Most include what is known as a plot point campaign which is a complete series of adventures and an underlying meta-plot so you can jump in and play almost immediately.
If you're still not sure about the game system, Pinnacle provides a free PDF Test Drive version of Savage Worlds with which you can whet your appetite.
So, No. 2 on my Gaming Sweet Spots for the Time-Crunched Gamer is Savage Worlds. R.P. Troll says check it out for yourselves, and let us know what you think.
Until next time, R. P. Troll
Update: Pinnacle Entertainment has added the Horror GM's Toolkit and the Horror Bestiary Toolkit to the catalog. Links to these two products have been added above.


  1. Just wanted to drop a note to say that I like your "Sweet Spots..." articles. I think there's a somewhat untapped "market" of gamers with families looking for articles like these (whether they realize it or not).

    I found your site looking for reviews on Savage Worlds as I'm thinking about picking up the Explorer's Edition. I think you may have given them a sale ;)

  2. Good to hear. You can do almost anything with Savage Worlds. I haven't found a genre yet that it can't handle.