Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rules-lite Savage Worlds: It works for us

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my Savage Worlds fantasy sandbox, Autumn Frontiers. We're about 14 sessions in, which averages out to about one session per month—not too bad, but a little less frequently than I would have liked. Oh well, we're all adults with busy lives, so I'm not gonna turn up my nose at 14 substantive sessions in a year. And did I mention that this is the longest-running game I've ever GMed?

Anyway, we're using Savage Worlds, and over the last year we've tinkered mightily with that system. Most of our modifications have been designed to speed up an already fast ruleset. That's one of my weaknesses as a GM—no system will ever be fast enough for me, because I live in mortal fear of boring my players with drawn-out, grinding combats. So anything that speeds things along is paramount at my table.

The first thing we did was eject the playing-card initiative system in favor of a single d6 roll per side (one for the players' party, one for the GM's monsters). This also necessitated tweaking all of the various edges that reference initiative or being dealth the Joker, etc. Spending a benny can still win the players initiative if they so choose, however. I know the playing-card initiative system is a hallmark of Savage Worlds, but to us it just introduced 52 extra fiddly bits to our already crowded tabletop. Out it went.

We've also ignored a lot of the combat maneuvers (disarm, called shot, etc) as well as most of the edges that don't show up on character sheets. When I stat out monsters, I prefer to express their threat in terms of hard numbers rather than edges (which, like feats, are difficult for me to remember during combat).

We kept the skill list, but we only use about 6 skills regularly, the rest being relegated to specific situations or characters.

Really, what's kept us most excited about Savage Worlds has been the innovative resolution mechanic: Target Number 4, which you can attempt on a variety of polyhedral dice based on your relevant skill. But you're always trying for a 4, mostly. And any dice that rolls its maximum explodes, allowing you to roll it again and add it to the previous number. This can result in some hideously high damage rolls, both for the players and the monsters they encounter, and that's kept things very interesting out in the wilderness. Anything that rolls dice to attack you can, conceivably, drop you with one attack. We love it!

In retrospect, the path we've charted with this game has a lot in common with UncleBear's "Old School Anything" concept—just strip out all the extemporaneous stuff from your game, look at what's left, and run a game with it.


Supah said...

As a player in the game, I agree that stripping the system down has been great. The only thing that still bugs me about the system is that the target number of 4 to succeed applies to ranged weapons (melee weapons have to beat an opponent's parry, which can be considerably higher). Now that we've started seeing more ranged weapons in the game, it's become pretty clear that focusing on ranged weapons would make for a much more effective fighter (not only would you hit 4 almost every time, but you'd have a pretty significant chance for a raise, which would give you extra damage).

If my awesome, flaming sword wielding paladin bites it, I'm making a character that can fight at range. (Bounty hunter, here I come!)

Anonymous said...

The game sounds great! I love the simplicity and fast paced feel of SW!

@ Supah- The only thing that I can say that adds to ranged target modifier is cover. When we first started playing SW, my player tended to forget that you can move before and after combat, they were all so used to DnD rules.

After figuring it out, they would run out, shoot something, then run back for cover giving them effective modifiers. Cover is SO much more important in SW than DnD.

DerelictMan said...

Wow, I would have ditched almost anything before getting rid of the cards. To me they are one of the main defining features of the game. In my SW experience, nothing gets the attention of the players at the table quite like the GM tossing cards at the players and folks waiting for that Joker to come up.

But if you are going for speed I imagine the single d6 per side would accomplish that quite well.

So in your init system, does anything replace the joker, or did you just remove any mechanic that depends on it?

Supah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick W. Rollens said...

Yep, we removed the Joker along with the cards. Instead, I allow the players to go in whatever order they wish when their "side" has initiative. This is almost as effective, because the players can spend a minute or two talking amongst themselves about how they want to proceed, so they can layer spells and buffs, etc.

I agree the cards are cool, but they don't "feel" thematic to our fantasy game.

@wrathofzombie: You are so right! Cover, darkness, concealment, long range...all that stuff adds to ranged combat. Truthfully, we've only just started fiddling with ranged fighting, as Supah noted, so I'll have to up my game to make sure we apply the appropriate modifiers. Target Number 4 only applies to a clear day with unimpeded lines of sight.

DerelictMan said...

I definitely see the advantages of group initiative as it concerns planning. My favorite D&D was Basic/Expert/Rules Cyclopedia and I played that for years. I've argued recently that combat in D&D 4e (a game I intensely dislike but yet still find myself playing from time to time) would be a lot more interesting with group initiative. My viewpoint was not popular amongst the 4e enthusiasts.

I still like the cards, but if you're going to replace that then my second favorite system would be yours. :-)

Patrick W. Rollens said...

The thing with individual initiative is that it really forces the players to act in a vacuum. They wait their turn, more or less oblivious to the actions and intentions of the rest of the group, until they get the chance to act. This phenomenon is exacerbated if the GM enforces the "no metagaming/no strategizing" when it's not your turn to act.

I'd prefer that my players feel like a team, so we use group initiative and they can use their turn to plan out the best course of attack (or retreat)!