Why I Play Savage Worlds

Hi, your friendly neighborhood Savage DM Freewolf here (AKA Phillip). Yes, I have been playing RPGs long enough that I still call myself a DM, not a GM. So being the Eberron Campaign Setting nut that I am, I of course started listening to the Manifest Zone podcast when it got started up. Of all the things that I listened to, there was something about the way that Kristian and Scott talked about this system called Savage Worlds that really struck a chord in me.

You see, while I was immensely happy not to have to map top math calculations to determine bonuses to hit or AC or whatever, and I was grateful that 5E really launched me back into the hobby after a long hiatus, there really was a lot about 5E that I really had trouble with as a DM. I have been a DM long enough (and I have grown personally enough) that I don’t DM just to DM. I DM because I am having fun. 

What is the most fun for me in a TTRPG is the collective story that we tell together. I am not the storyteller at a table, we are the storytellers. I was starting to have trouble with how the 5E system would limit our thinking in how we would tell the story, particularly in combat and with the lack of ways to handle complex abstract encounters. But the whole, the first swing at a sack of hit points was no different than every other swing at a sack of hit points, was kind of wearing on me. Not to mention I often played with some creative thinking players, and the best I could say was “ok you have advantage.” That just didn’t seem to capture some of the creative thinking my players dished out. And don’t get me started on the extreme difficulty in creating challenging encounters that don’t involve a hoard of mooks, for higher level players.

So I guess I was hungry for something a bit different when I was listening to Kristian and Scott on the original episodes of Manifest Zone. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have a problem with Kickstarter, when Pinnacle Entertainment had their next version of Savage Worlds (Savage Worlds Adventure Edition or SWADE) up on Kickstarter. After my four year campaign ended, I began looking at the next adventure in Eberron, being run with Savage Worlds. I can say that I have not, and can’t see myself, looking back.

Savage Worlds is a system that really allows a table to tell a great narrative, cinematic story at the table. Combat is not really bogged down with a bunch of difficult or complex mechanics, yet it has more options. I just love that in SW, I can have a mook throw a platter of food at one of the players and it can actually have a combat effect. These kinds of actions are known as Tests. Extending that, you can create a character that is useless at fighting, but can honestly be a real contributor to combat through Support Actions to others and Tests. In fact the more that I have played SW the more that I have seen, fighting big baddies in SW is far more of an exercise in teamwork than it ever was in 5E.

Eberron is a setting that is meant to be very pulpy with lots of noir. The players are epic heroes that can do epic things. SW have dice that “ace,” known in other ways as “exploding”. I have a d6 in a skill and roll a 6, I get to keep rolling ’til I don’t get a 6. This is all the time. I have seen players one shot the big baddies with a dagger and they weren’t the rogue with sneak attack. Epic times. 

SW also has some really cool mechanics to handle those other more complex and abstract situations. There are Dramatic Tasks that are akin to the Skill Challenges from 4E. Instead of handling a situation in a turn by turn type way, you abstract the idea out rolling a series of skills to collect tokens. The more dangerous or complex a dramatic task is, the more tokens you need. But overall it is handled narratively, with the dice assisting the story. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy running for freedom after stealing the idol, that is a dramatic task. In our very own Seekers of the Ashen Crown, the party had to distract a crowded market square with patrolling guards. This was done as a dramatic task, that the players found epic and fun.

There are Social Conflicts, which allow a more nuanced and complex way to influence a large group or judge or something similar. These are like dramatic tasks but the mechanics are slightly different. The goal is to gain success tokens over three rounds by making a good argument for your particular case or cause.

Hands down one of my favorites is the chase mechanics in SW. I was constantly frustrated with how any kind of chase in 5E generally amounted to who had the highest movement and the best athletics checks. Now with some mechanics that support it, we can tell an awesomely narrative chase scene like the chase scene from Casino Royale. No kidding, I have now run those kinds of chases at my tables.

There are also Quick Encounters, which allow me as the DM to run an encounter, but do it narratively with one roll to resolve everything. I mean have you as a DM or player found your game bogged down in constant encounters, not because they furthered the story, but because they were needed to whittle down the resources of the party so an encounter down the line could actually be challenging? Yea I don’t have to do that anymore in SW. 

I think this is a good place to leave my thoughts for now. In future articles, I’ll get more into the weeds of specific game mechanics in SW or conversions to Eberron. But overall I am in love with Savage Worlds because it is a lightweight system that allows me and the players at my table to tell a fantastic story. The kind of story that we turn around and end up telling each other over and over again for years to come. Isn’t that the best part of TTRPG’s?