Sunday, April 15, 2018

Savage Worlds...and Why I Keep Coming Back

Started a new Savage Worlds campaign last night. This one, to the surprise and apprehension of many, is an adaptation of Greg Stafford's classic RPG King Arthur Pendragon.

Yep, I went there. Been hard at work on an adaptation that captures the cooler elements of Pendragon while still providing the same mechanics and gameplay my group has known and loved for years.

But, y'know, why?

Why adapt King Arthur Pendragon?

I mean, Savage Worlds is one of my two favorite in-print game systems (with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition) and one of my three favorite games of all time (with 5e and Marvel SAGA), but still...

Why go back to Savage Worlds again, for a medieval fantasy game, with domain management at that? It's not like Savage Worlds can do that. Savage Worlds is for crazy pulp action and tactical skirmishes, not political intrigue and knights being driven by their personal values.

We'll get back to that in a minute.

What is it about Savage Worlds that just works for me? I mean, Savage Worlds Characters Are All The Same. Everyone knows this.

But in all seriousness, that's the reason why: My Savage Worlds games have never felt the same. Since we started playing Savage Worlds in...2008, I think...I have ran:

  • Necessary Evil - which I have detailed exhaustively on my blog. Still, to this day, the single greatest campaign I have ever ran, due to the way all the elements just "clicked" and the player buy-in. The major emotional campaign climaxes were amazing.
  • Deadlands Reloaded - Multiple times. Including my own adventure that was published in Savage Tales of Horror. This has included multiple one shots and a homecrafted campaign called "The Devil's Own".
  • The Savage World of Solomon Kane - Which I run for one of my players one on one, but the easy and flexibility of Savage Worlds allows him to control his entire entourage of heroes.
  • East Texas University - Which is as far from a pulp action minis skirmish game as I could imagine. I always summarize my ETU campaign as "80's horror sex comedy".
  • Streets of Bedlam - One of my favorite Savage Settings and a Sin City homage.
  • A Homebrewed Fantasy Game - Meant to be a campaign, turned out to be a one shot, very loosely based off of elements from The Noble Dead book series.
  • Savage Pendragon - And my most recent endeavour, the aforementioned adaptation of the Pendragon RPG.
They all use the same core Attributes and very similar skill lists, and the same base mechanics...but the characters and campaigns have all felt dramatically different. The horror of Deadlands Reloaded permeates every scenario, even if the events of the adventure are not overtly supernatural. The tone of ETU is lighter, but the danger is stronger in some ways, due to the fact that the heroes don't have the same capabilities to fight back that they do in Deadlands Reloaded. The powers system used in Necessary Evil helps make PCs feel completely different than setting that uses the standard powers system. Solomon Kane and Deadlands Reloaded could be distant cousins, except the horrors of Solomon Kane don't have nearly the oppressive hold they do in Deadlands (but the arcane tools available to Deadlands characters aren't as readily available in Solomon Kane, either). Streets of Bedlam eschews the supernatural on both the player and setting side of things, and the Archetype character creation rules (one of my favorite things anyone has ever created for Savage Worlds) ensure that your characters fit a grimy, crapsack world of grey and gray morality. My most disappointing experience was my fantasy one shot, but that was done almost entirely using the core Savage Worlds rules alone, and when I had significantly less experience with the system.

So that's why I keep coming back to Savage Worlds. My players know the mechanics, I know them almost like the back of my hand, we find them fun and - unless you're just stuck on Savage Worlds only doing things "one way", a sentiment that I, personally, hate. The Savage Worlds system is like a well-done plot point campaign: It's a really, really solid skeleton that you have to hang the rest of the meat on. They get you 85% of the way, you gotta just pull it the rest of the way. That's where Setting Rules come in.

East Texas University mechanically supports your characters having Majors and Minors, and Academics play a huge role in the game. Hell, advancement can be affected by your performance on exams, and you have to put thought into your extracurricular activities and the potential bonuses and penalties they provide.

Deadlands uses Fear Levels to drive home the pervasive nature of the horror, then gives the heroes Grit to counteract the effects of it, hardening them against the Fear as they get stronger. The fickle nature of the Fate Chip draws potentially provide extra firepower that's not present with standard bennies.

Streets of Bedlam provides a bloodier approach to combat that ensures major fights never end in "one hit kills", instead making sure that someone seriously pounds on their opponent to put them away, along with descriptive damage like eyes popping out of their sockets, teeth being busted out and so on.

Solomon Kane ditches Power Points and dials magic down to a more ritualized effect, trimming away most of the overtly offensive abilities. It also adds Righteous Rage, an effect that can randomly provide a temporary boost to your trait rolls when a benny is spent.

Necessary Evil, being a supers game, dials the lethality WAY down and ditches the entire Savage Worlds Powers System in favor of a more flexible and robust powers system meant to emulate superheroes and villains.

And four of those five are published by Pinnacle Entertainment, creators of Savage Worlds, so it's not just third party publishers "not getting it" or something...and that's just the settings I've ran, not getting into the variety I've *read*, many of which have their own rules tweaks, whether extensive or subtle. This isn't even mentioning the four genre companions (Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi and Supers) Pinnacle has released to help you tweak your games to the desired feel.

So that's why, after ten years of running this game, I go back to Savage Worlds: It's a mechanical base my players know, a play style that my group loves, and it's easy to mechanically tweak in order to get a different feel with each setting.

And that's the mindset I took into adapting Savage Pendragon...