Savage Worlds: Three Bad Things

Since I posted about three of my favorite specific rules in the Savage Worlds system, it’s only fair that I post about three things that I’m less enamored with.  I wouldn’t call them mistakes, but they’re things that I find don’t fit my gaming style very well.

  1. Order-Dependent Chargen
  2. Bennies
  3. Lack of Transparency in Probabilities

Order-Dependent Chargen

Because Attributes have an effect on the cost of Skills, and because Hindrances change the number of points you have available for either Skills or Attributes, it makes a difference what order you spend your points.  Moreover, the order laid out in the section on character generation makes it more likely you’ll have to go back and recalculate.  If you’re starting out with experienced characters, the problem is compounded because of the limits on how many advancements you’re allowed to spend on certain kinds of improvements per Rank, the minimum rank for certain Edges, and the fact that skill costs change when you’re paying with advancements instead of initial points.  Starting out with experienced characters isn’t necessarily that rare; in fact the rules recommend that if a PC dies you replace it with one with half the dead PC’s XP.

The correct order to generate a character with a minimum of back-and-forth is:

  • Decide on Race
  • Take Hindrances to see how many points you have to spend
  • Set your starting Attributes
  • Take your starting Edges. Make sure you take Background Edges now.
  • Buy up any skills that you need to meet the Edge requirements for starting Edges.
  • Spend your remaining initial skill points, spreading them across all the skills you want to take particularly for skills required by future Edges you want (the first d4 costs more after creation)
  • Spend the rest of your points from initial Hindrances (if any) on Skills
  • If it’s an experienced character, take all the Attribute level-ups you intend to (max 1 per rank)
  • If it’s an experienced character, take any Edges that you intend to that have Rank minimums
  • Spend the rest of your advances on Skills or Edges (technically you should actually be doing one advance at a time to make sure that you’re never spending an advance on something you don’t yet have the Rank or Attribute level for…bleah.  I’m insufficiently anal as a GM to require that.)

This doesn’t guarantee you won’t have to fiddle a bit, as you find out the character you envision is more expensive than you can afford, but I think should save you any realization that if only you’d put more into raising that stat, all those skills would have been cheaper, so that advance could have been spend on this Edge instead…Ultimately you probably want your initial Attributes as high as possible, and to take the one Attribute raise you’re allowed per Rank each Rank you advance.  For combat-capable melee characters I suspect that you want your Fighting as high as you can afford before you spend advances on Combat Edges.  Or at least, an extra die in Fighting is a +1 average to-hit and a +1 Parry while most Edges give you one or the other.

My ideal point-buy Char-Gen system would generate characters that are valid and optimal for that set of abilities no matter what order you spent the points in.  Differing Pre- and Post- creation rules and things that affect the price of other things screw that up.  Savage Worlds chargen isn’t as bad as some (GURPS in particular) in that regard, and there aren’t that many options, but it could be better.


Bennies are SW’s Plot Points…meta-game resources that you can spend to get a re-roll or automatically perform certain actions (getting rid of the Shaken condition, for instance).

“But Bennies are so integral to the whole system, how can you like SW and dislike Bennies?” I hear you cry. As a GM I’m fine with them, but as a player I don’t like having meta-game resources to track, because I seldom have any idea of how I’m supposed to think of them in-character and I tend to prefer games where I can think in-character as much as possible.  So what I tend to do is hoard them, and use them only at pre-defined points, e.g. if the character is about to die and spending a Plot Point would fix that, spend the Plot Point.  Or if the character would desperately want X to succeed, spend a Plot Point.  What I prefer to avoid is the meta-game thinking along the lines of well, I have 4 PP left, so I can probably spend 2 on this combat and still have enough for the battle if we manage to catch up to their boss…  And unfortunately, Bennies work a lot like that, since they don’t carry over from session to session and they can be used at almost anything the character attempts.

Still, they’re not as bad as they could be; since they can only be used for certain well-defined game-effects such as making a soak roll, removing the Shaken condition, or getting a reroll on some kinds of rolls they do lend themselves to a slightly more in-character way of thinking (along the lines of how desperate the character is to succeed) rather than having to keep considering whether I the player want to exert narrative control and, e.g. make the bad-guy’s horse throw a shoe so the party can catch up.  Moreover, there is a clearly optimal way of spending them on soak rolls (always spend as soon as you take 1 Wound, before you have penalties) which helps further reduce the meta-game.

I wouldn’t try to remove them, because I think that would seriously break the system, but if I had been the designer I’d have tried to build it without them.

Lack of Transparency in Probabilities

Quick, what’s the chance of succeeding on a d8 Trait Test for an Extra?  What if you’re a Wild Card?  What’s your chance of getting at least one Raise?

It’s not the end of the world, and it’s not nearly as bad as some dice-pool systems where your odds of botching went up as your character got “better”, but all else being equal I prefer systems where you can eyeball it and say a +1 is 10% more likely to succeed.  That’s not something you could ever hope to change about SW, and there’s this handy chart to help when you’re trying to figure out how much worse it would be to give a monster an 8 Toughness than a 7, but it definitely puts the dice mechanic on the short list of things I like Savage Worlds despite and not because of.  On the plus side, players definitely enjoy the “exploding” open-ended dice rolls, much as they enjoy rolling Crits in other systems.

5 thoughts on “Savage Worlds: Three Bad Things

  1. One counter-intuitive thing is that certain probabilities aren’t monotone. If it’s crucial to get at least a 10, and you don’t care beyond that you actually have a better probability with a d8 than a d10.
    With a d10, you have exactly 10% chance of getting a 10.
    With a d8, you have a 1/8 chance of rolling an 8, and then a 7/8 chance of rolling at least a 2, for a total of 7/64 (almost 1/9). It’s not a big difference, and only for certain numbers, but it is counter-intuitive.

  2. I love SW but am still trying to convince my gaming group. Personally, the character gen doesn’t bother me that much, it’s still pretty quick and simple. I love Bennies, easy to keep track of with tokens plus can be used as a carrot for good RP.
    And probabilities someone has gone ahead done all the math. Enjoy!

  3. And if you have a Wild Die the odds are

    vs TN 10:
    Wild Die = 1/6 * 3/6 = 1/12
    d8 and Wild Die ~18.3% (1 – 57/64 * 11/12)
    d10 and Wild Die ~17.5% (1 – 9/10 * 11/12)

    Not enough to worry about, but weird.

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