I’ve been meaning to check out Savage Worlds for years. During my fairly extended (decade plus) break from active participation in the tabletop RPG hobby, I remained somewhat involved with the community, trying to keep an eye on the ups and downs of the industry. Consequently, I was aware of Savage Worlds, and I knew that several properties had been released that used it as a mechanic. I even reviewed one (Eldritch Skies). But I hadn’t actually read it.
I finally picked up a version of it, the Explorer’s Edition, which is apparently not the most up-to-date edition, but is one that many other products I have been somewhat interested in have used. While I knew that it was produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, the folks who made the Deadlands RPG that I’d enjoyed back in the 90s, I had not realized just how much of Savage Worlds came from the Deadlands rules. Turns out, most of it. This is both a plus and a minus.
On the plus side, I had a TON of fun playing Deadlands and I think that the system is really well suited for the setting. When everyone is on board, the system can really sing. You’re encouraged to push things, to step up the drama, to put your character into more and more danger because the rewards are so much greater. You can also end up with wonderfully over the top actions. I remember one scene where a werewolf jumped out of a second or third story window and my gunslinger jumped out after him, six-guns blazing as he fell to the road below. I remember a bit where our party stumbled across the big bad of the story and a lucky shot dumped so much damage into his face that we pretty much ended the problem in one roll of the dice. It was fun and weird and you never really knew how things would play out. Would you have the right cards, enough chips, a good roll? Would you be clever and lucky?
On the minus side, Deadlands, and I think by extension Savage Worlds, has a very, very steep learning curve. When I played in the 90s, we were all fairly experienced gamers with several different RPGs under our belt. Yet it took us weeks to get a real handle on the game mechanics, and we must have been playing for months before we all felt very comfortable. When we were all on board, as I said, the system really sang. But until that time, it was a bit clunky, took some work and some page flipping, and was generally not super intuitive. The other downside I see is that for Deadlands, the system felt very natural and part of the setting. Playing cards, dice and poker chips, because it’s the Wild West. Dice & poker feel like they belong. But will that translate to other settings that are totally unrelated? I don’t know. Sure, Savage Worlds does away with the poker chips and simply has some other token used in its place. But the playing cards…how much sense do they make in a Sword & Sorcery game? Or Space Opera? I don’t know. And dice in Space 1889? Dice aren’t used by gentlemen! I don’t know if that is a major concern or problem, but it’s something I thought about while reading these rules.
An odd thing, which may really come down to my tastes versus anything else, is the sort of default expectation that you’ll be using miniatures. Though there’s a bit of consideration given for folks who do theater of the mind, the default is clearly for folks who use miniatures for their combat. And that’s just never been me. One of the many things I don’t like about D&D is its tendency to push a lot of tactics into its combat. Not only am I not looking for a game that does that, but my memory of playing Deadlands was that the combat wasn’t so miniature-heavy in its assumptions. Again, I know that Savage Worlds came out of Deadlands, but that changes were made. It’s just that a much larger portion of this book is taken up with combat rules than I feel comfortable with. Heck, it’s got miniature combat templates in the back. I don’t expect to see that sort of thing outside of a Warhammer 40,000 rulebook.
So, I’m torn on this generally. I had a ton of fun playing the very, very similar Deadlands, but that was with a group of experienced players who were all on the same page. Do I think this system could work for other settings? Yes. Yes I do. But would it become my go-to system? No. It’s too crunchy for my tastes. Also, there are a lot of settings, including some I know have had Savage Worlds editions, that I don’t think it fits well at all. Another odd observation that probably comes mostly from living these last two years through a global pandemic where face-to-face meetings have been drastically curbed, I think this is a game made for face-to-face play. That’s for a lot of reasons. Maybe it would work OK on a virtual tabletop, but I don’t know. Anyway. It’s in my arsenal. But I don’t see myself taking this one off the shelf anytime soon, unless someone else is running it.
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