“Leveling” in Savage Worlds

Mourners of Lhazaar is heading towards their first advancement and so I thought I would talk about advancing your characters.

The title of this article is a bit of a misnomer. In Savage Worlds you don’t level in the way that you might be used to in other d20 systems. You take Advancements, and each 4 advancements are organized into a Rank. You start in the Rank of Novice, then move to Seasoned, Veteran, Heroic, and finally Legendary. I kinda think that the names of the ranks really convey the types of adventures and tales that are engaged with by the characters. With Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, the whole system moved to just milestone advancements. So advancements happen when the GM feels it fits with the story. Which has already been my long standing method of leveling. I prefer the players chase the story, not XP.

But with each advance, you as the player can do one of the following with your character:

  • Bump one of your Attributes up one die type per Rank. An important distinction is that this can only happen once per Rank, not once per advancement. 
  • Bump two skills lower than their attached Attribute by one die type. For example; Athletics and Fighting are tied to Agility. I could bump a Fighting and Athletics from a d6 to a d8, if my Agility is a d8.
  • Bump one skill that is equal or higher than the attached Attribute by one die type. Using the above example, for my next advance I would only be able to bump my Fighting to a d10 since my Agility is still a d8.
  • Take a new Edge
  • Remove a Minor Hindrance, or change a Major Hindrance to a Minor one (if there is a Minor available.) You can also save up two advances to remove a Major Hindrance completely if there is no Minor version. Generally it is encouraged that this is done with a strong story component to make sense.

So I wanted to present this as a background to get to my main point. One of the best things about Savage Worlds characters is the sandbox of options for advancement. You can truly create whatever you want for a character. Any path is truly available for your character to take. This is one of the best strengths about Savage Worlds. I mean any path. You can have a master swordsman magic blasting wizard, or commander of the guard that is a great fighter but better at directing the group and allies tactically, or that tinkerer who is a parkour pickpocket on the side. The options are truly endless. 

There is no right or wrong in making you character. There are even multiple paths towards the same direction. I have made a barbarian type character that is a drunken dwarven berserker, one that is a shifting pugilist, to one that is a focused warforged juggernaut killing machine. These were all different takes on the classic berserker that looked nothing like each other, all taking different paths towards the same general goal.

This level of choice and openness, while amazing, creates a problem when advancing. The problem being, there are too many choices.

The main point I want to present is that planning the advancement of your character is hugely important. Whenever I create a character, I definitely start with the concept that I am looking to play for the campaign, then I hop into https://savaged.us/ and plan my character out to 14-16 advances. I don’t go fully up to 20 as not all campaigns go that length, and to leave room for new ideas based on how my character grows and interacts with the campaign. I have NEVER been able to create a character plan that has all the advances that I want to take. 

I have witnessed more than one player stay into a campaign with no plan of where they want to take their character. What happens is that the player generally picks advances that solve the most recent pain point in a campaign. Then towards the end of the campaign the player is not having as much fun as their character doesn’t really do anything well in the way they would have hoped. One of the other things that I have seen happens is that a player suddenly wants a particular edge to deal with a certain pain point, but they do not meet the requirements of the edge because they did not plan to be able to take it. Often when this happens, they will then even abandon trying to get that edge or path in the future through planning further advances. Overall this lack of planning reduces the enjoyment of the campaign by the player in question.

I never see a character plan as a hard path. I will often tweak the path, taking a different advancement as the character grows in personality and develops a role in the party. Or maybe the campaign takes a different direction than I anticipated, and I will tweak my path based on that. It is easier to make tweaks to an existing path than to wander down a path with no direction.

There is no right or wrong in what advance to take, or when (outside of requirements for a particular advance). While an attribute bump can only be taken once per rank, with a plan I find that some ranks I will skip the attribute bump because I find something else more important. You can not make these kinds of decisions on what is really important for your character arc, if you are just now picking the latest advancement.

My main goal in this article was to first explore the importance of having a vision for your character in Savage Worlds, and then explore how to help make sure that vision will play out in a satisfying way over the course of your campaign. I hope this helps you enjoy the Savage Worlds system even more by increasing the enjoyment you have playing your character.