Greeting from the Extra-Steamy Jungles of Mad Adventure.
A wanderer through the occasional magical door, I move from world to world and when not running role-playing games for some and causing trouble for others, I make podcast columns and reviews of role-playing game material. My companions include legendary demi-lich Acererak and grandmother hag Baba Yaga and we waltz across time and space in Baba Yaga’s magic dancing hut. This is a typical life for a podcaster. By comparison, one of the guy’s behind Canon Puncture is a Sith Lord and another guy at the same show is a Jedi Knight, but I’m not going to tell you which is which because that would spoil their surprise.
This week I am reviewing Savage Worlds, Explorer Edition.
This is a theoretical review…
You mean it is only a review only in theory? Then what is it actually?
Allow me to introduce Acererak, legendary demi-lich and pain in the ass. When I can get a word in edge wise, I mean to say my actual exposure to Savage Worlds is fairly limited – I’ve only played it a few times. So, this review is me discussing the game more in theory, based on my reading of the text, than in fact based on lots of experience.
Oh, so you mean the review is you talking out of your ass? Well, it’s not like that has ever stopped you before.
One more out of you like that and I’m sticking you in the hatbox.
I’ll be good.
Or I’ll hit you again ‘cause that hallow sound I get when I thump you makes me smile.
Savage World, Explorer’s Edition is role playing game book which presents a generic RPG game engine and is published by the Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
Savage World’s is an excellent example of concision – it covers everything it needs in 160 pages, which makes it smaller than any single volume of the three books of D&D for the last three or four editions. Savage Worlds provides a two-page table of contents, letting you know where everything is and making up for a lack of an index.
The composition and layout of Savage Worlds is good. A map appears behind table of contents and it is distracting, but this design only appears at the table of contents and at few other places. Elsewhere the layout is suburb, sporting what appears to be Arial font or something similar, with an easy to read size presented in two clear columns. Ample white space and art means the pages appear bright and are easy on the eyes.
The book also sports a good selection of art, with at least a small piece appearing every few pages, presenting a range of styles and covering a range of subjects, from fantasy to science fiction to superheroes and so forth. About two dozen artists contributed to the book, including long time RPG artist Todd Lockwood and Cheyenne Wright, who does the coloring work for Phil Folio’s “Girl Genius” series.
The stated purpose of Savage Worlds, as a RPG system, is to provide a game that emphasizes speed of play and reduced preparation over realism or detail. In this, the game succeeds quite well.
The mechanic system grew out of the Great Rail Wars miniatures game, which itself uses a simplified version of game mechanics Shane Hensley developed for the Deadlands RPG. Savage Worlds received the Gamer's Choice Award in the Roleplaying Game category at Origins 2004. After a revision later that year, Pennacle released the main rulebook as a PDF format eBook in late 2004, with a print version following in early 2005. The same year, they began releasing rules expansions – such as for fantasy, superheroes, Cthulu horror and so forth – in the form of PDFs genre toolkit books.
This review is of the basic book and the basic engine and does not cover any of the expansions.
The expansion for my little pony is great and a must have for any true brony.
I’ll take your word for it.
Where was I?
Pinnacle Entertainment also licenses Savage World’s for the use of other publishers, similar to how Wizards of the Coast operates with 4E D&D. However, the Pinnacle Entertainment’s license is vastly easier to acquire and employ than the license employed by Wizards.
In terms of the book, chapter one covers character creation, chapter two provides rules for equipment, chapter three provides game rules, chapter four gives rules for magical abilities and other super powers while chapter six gives rules for special situations and chapter seven provides guidelines for running the game.
In terms of mechanics, character stats are dice, ranging from the d4 up to the d12. If you want your character to catch a baseball or dropped baby or something and the character’s agility is d8, then the player rolls a d8 and adds the appropriate modifiers to try to beat the target difficult. The basic difficulty is 4, though this can go up under certain circumstances, such as angry GM whim.
The game includes the exploding dice mechanic…
Which is false advertising
The dice don’t actually explode.
Acererak, they never actually meant the dice exploded, they just meant when you rolled the highest number any particular dice allows, you could roll that dice again and add the cumulative result.
I know that now. But I was so disappointed the first time I played through the game.
Right. Anyway, the game also provides elements called Edges and Hindrances, which is the Savage World version of GURPS Advantages and Drawbacks or the Merits and Flaws is the White Wolf Storyteller system. In other words, they are a set of additions that allow players to tailor a character to something very specific, to suit themselves and the game.
Despite the brevity of Savage World’s Explorer’s Edition, it feels complete – which is interesting again, compare it to 4E D&D, which is bloated by comparison and still managed to feel as though it is lacking in flexibility in comparison, if for no other reason than D&D’s narrow focus on sword and sorcerers while Savage Worlds is more adaptable.
I say that even though I am a fan of 4E D&D.
Initiative is determined by cards – the players draw from a standard deck of cards and their initiative is determined by which card they draw.
Because the player characters are heroes – or at least assumed to be heroes – they get an addition d6 to roll whenever they make a roll and they can keep whichever result is higher, the result of the stated dice for that roll or the result of the additional d6.
Combat is quick, usually resolved in a quarter of the game time required to deal with a similar combat sequence in D&D. However, a corollary is that damage in combat is often lethal – death comes easily to characters in this game.
The system is so rules light and flexible, it is easy to hack, that is to say it is easy to adjust and change both with careful modulation and on the fly during a game.
As others have observed, a potential flaw to the Savage World’s game is its tone or flavor – namely, it encourages a quick and high energy style of play, heavily lending itself to pulp adventures, gun blazing, comic book action and so forth. It does not appear to lend itself easily to more somber tones of something like the Call of Cthulhu or a slower paced game of plotting, scheming and the like.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – a specific focus can be a good thing, as it gives a game direction and focus. For example, I have issues with Dogs in the Vineyard, but its specific focus and purposes is not one of them. However, this focus is worth noting and does reduce Savage World’s potential usefulness, dropping it from a perfect 20.
In the end, I give Savage Worlds Explored Edition, a 15 on a d20 roll. It is quite good at what it does, though it does have a narrow, and thus limiting, focus. However, as a “generic” game system promoting fast play and high-energy play, it is good, just do not expect much in the way of depth or philosophizing of any kind.