Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tommy's Take on Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition

I have a confession to make: When Savage Worlds came along, I was angry and bitter because I was a die-hard fan of Deadlands Classic. I hated it. I hated the idea that my beloved Deadlands was being cast aside in favor of some stripped down, generic game system. I picked up the first iteration of the game, thumbed through it, tried to read it, could not get past how awful and Not-Deadlands it was, and wound up trading it off to someone.

A few years later, I kept seeing more and more messageboard posts about Savage Worlds and saw the announcement of Deadlands Reloaded. Against my better judgment, I was intrigued. While at a game store for a sale, I bit the bullet and bought Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition (for $10) and wound up getting a hold of the Deadlands conversion chart, and ran a couple of One Sheets for one of my big time Deadlands players.

We were HOOKED. Soon, I ordered Necessary Evil and we had a new ongoing campaign. So, warning up front: This is my 400th blog post and I couldn’t decide what to do, so I went with this…a review of my favorite RPG of all time, specifically of the Deluxe Explorer’s Edition version. This review is from the  perspective of someone who has ran multiple games of Savage Worlds across a number of settings, and became a fan because of the sheer amount of fun we have had.

You have been warned.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Explorer’s Edition of the Savage Worlds rules are only $9.99 in print or PDF, and all versions of the rules are more or less compatible. These aren’t massive changes, just tweaks and such.

The book is a pure rulebook, with no assumed setting, but that’s the nice part about the price point. Characters have five stats (Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength and Vigor) which are rated by die type (d4 through d12). Skills are rated the same way, and a handful of derived traits are calculated using either your attributes or skills (for instance, Vigor/2+2 = Toughness and Fighting/2+2 = Parry). Characters are further defined by Edges and Hindrances. Hindrances can provide mechanical effects (like All Thumbs providing a penalty to Repair rolls) or be purely role-playing Hindrances (like Big Mouth, which means you speak about the worst thing at the worst time). Taking Hindrances allows you to buy more Edges or boost Traits, while also helping you earn bennies in gameplay.

Edges are beneficial features about your character divided up into a wide range of categories, with things like Attractive, Common Bond (which allows you to share your bennies with your friends), First Strike (which lets you hit opponents that move close to you) and characters with powers (called Arcane Backgrounds).

Advancement is handled with ranks (Novice to Seasoned to Veteran to Heroic to Legendary), with characters taking an Advance each rank (like boosting a Trait or taking a new Edge). Each rank technically lasts for 20 experience points (with the average session awarding 2-3), though Legendary is open ended.

The system is a “roll vs target number” system (with the default being 4), and Wild Cards (major characters) gaining an additional d6 to roll with their trait (taking the higher, not adding them together. Initiative is handled via card draw (everyone gets a card, GM counts down from the high card until the last person goes). Jokers are an extra boon, allowing the heroes to act with a +2 bonus to their rolls.

Damage is simple: Every Wild Card has three Wounds. If you take damage equal to, or greater than, your Toughness, you are also Shaken, which limits your actions (although you can spend a benny to become Unshaken and act normally). Every Raise (4 points) over the Toughness and the target receives Wounds (that they can spend bennies to try to soak). Anything above three Wounds and the target is Incapacitated (and may die). Extras only get a single Wound and they are out.

Combat is assumed to use minis, though rules are provided to abstract combat if you prefer.

And that’s the core of the system. The Deluxe rules cover Mass Combat (when you don’t want to play it all out as skirmish level conflict), Chases (which is the most revised rule from version to version, I think), Dramatic Tasks (extended challenges that rely on more than one success), Social Combat and more.

The Powers cover a broad range, though they do tend towards combat heavy, which some folks have disapproved of. They are also fairly “generic” with powers like Bolt, Blast, Armor, Entangle and Smite, with the advice that you use Trappings (and names) to make the powers stand out more.

The Bestiary covers a wide range of enemies, from Orcs and Dragons to Zombies and Vampires to Mechs.

Though there is no assumed setting, there are a number of short adventures in the book, with an Angel-esque urban fantasy investigation, Vikings vs trolls, a gritty space encounter, a fairly standard fantasy adventure and a smash-mouth modern crime caper.

In addition, the book is peppered with optional rules, design notes and examples (many of which are geared towards answering common questions and misconceptions).

WHAT WORKS: The minis combat works much smoother than I could ever have dreamed. I used to hate minis until SW, and now I’m a convert. I love the middle ground between character customization and Too Much Work. The optional rules and third party support have made Savage Worlds incredibly versatile over the years.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: I don’t like Power Points. Easily my least favorite part of the system. Some of the selected art in the book is pixilated, marring an otherwise gorgeous book. The Powers have come a long way, but there are times where I find them lacking, even with Trappings. I much prefer the Dramatic Interludes Pinnacle released with Zombie Run over the Interludes that made it into these rules.

CONCLUSION: Savage Worlds is my favorite RPG ever and the best RPG purchase I have ever made. I have used it to run a supers game, two Deadlands campaigns, Solomon Kane (with a single support PC who was seamlessly controlling a party of NPCs), a one shot horror game and a homebrew fantasy game, and I don’t think I have ever not had a blast. Early on in my Necessary Evil game, we had a combat with 29 figures on the map, and it ran as smoothly as any combat I have ever ran…pretty sure that was the point where I fell in love with the game.

Even as a Deadlands fan I prefer the new, Savage Worlds-powered Reloaded version, because combat is faster and smoother, NPCs are quicker and easier to make and the additional material that has been released since Reloaded came out has restored a lot of the missing "flavor" that people complained about with the new version.
The best $20 I've ever spent on gaming.

I’ve bought the corebook twice (both the “regular” Explorer’s Edition and the Deluxe) and own a ton of books in print and PDF. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the best system for EVERYTHING, but it does a LOT of things really well (more than it gets credit for, in my opinion). And, in my view, the Deluxe Edition is just a fantastic version of the rules, as I always love more options. There is a reason I am a Savage Worlds fanboy: It’s because I enjoy it more than any other RPG I have ever played.