Savage Worlds: Three Don’ts

Per Patrick’s request, here are three things that I think a Savage Worlds GM should avoid. (There’s also a good thread on the Savage Worlds Forum: What Every New Savage GM Should Know.)  The key to SW is the mantra Fast! Furious! Fun!  There’s lots and lots of places where you could add more detail and special cases to the rules and it would add something to the game–but the game is built around abstracting that stuff away to concentrate on moving play along.  The biggest meta-rule, and the one that they’ll volunteer right off in the forum, is don’t change the rules until you’ve played it enough to have a good sense of the consequences; the rules are tightly knit.  That doesn’t mean they’re right for your group, but it does mean that small changes might have big or numerous unforeseen effects.

But there’s more to F!F!F! than just don’t tinker until you know what the part does.  Here are three things to get you in the swing of F!F!F!

  1. Don’t Worry About NPCs Being Valid
  2. Don’t Make Monsters Extras Unless They Outnumber the Players
  3. Don’t Look Up Rules While Playing

Don’t Worry About NPCs Being Valid

NPCs and PCs are different.  The rules for character creation don’t apply to NPCs.  In particular, don’t worry about Rank restrictions, advancement limits, or any of that; just write down the stats, a few key skills and Edges and go.  In a similar vein, don’t worry too much about statting up the monsters.  At the level of abstraction of SW the difference between a Dire Wolf and a Giant Weasel is maybe a die type in STR and an Edge.  You don’t need a three-hundred page Monster Manual, you just need some creativity in special abilities (Edges) to give them flavor.  So maybe they’re both statted just like Wolves from the core book, but a Giant Weasel is always treated as Prone for figuring out cover from Missile and Thrown Weapons, and has the Improved Frenzy and First Strike Edges but not Go For The Throat, while a Dire Wolf has Size +1 and its Bite is STR+d8.

Don’t Make Monsters Extras Unless They Outnumber The Players

A single Wild Card can handle two or three Extras (unless the WC just has no combat capability at all).  A party of four or five adventurers will make mincemeat out of an equal or lesser number of Extras, unless those Extras have some really nasty special ability.   They’ll still defeat one or two roughly equal Wild Cards handily, but at least they’ll run the risk of being wounded.  It’s probably not a hard fight unless the Wild Card is significantly tougher than they are, there are roughly an equal number of Wild Cards enemies as party members, or they’re outnumbered 2-3 to one by Extras.  For a more detailed analysis of balancing a party against opponents, check out the thread I pointed to earlier.

Don’t Look Up Rules While Playing

It just slows things down too much.  Yes, that means the first couple of times you’ll make mistakes…and even longer for things that come up infrequently.  That’s OK, as long as you keep things moving and keep them fun.  Try to make a note of things that you’re unsure about, and look it up after the game.  It can help to run a couple of combats solo, or just you and a friend instead of the whole group, to get the hang of things…and when you’re doing that take as much time to look up the relevant rules as you want, or discuss their interpretation with your friend.  During the game, though, the emphasis should be on fast and furious action, not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.  You don’t have to fake knowing what you’re doing, btw; if you don’t know the rule off-hand just say so, and tell the players how you’ll handle it that session.

If later you found you botched something serious, so that e.g. you caused the death of a PC or something of similar dire import–retcon it.

6 thoughts on “Savage Worlds: Three Don’ts

  1. I’m of two minds about the NPCs being valid. I think for a system like HERO it’s an absolute must; I feel free to make the villains cost however much they cost to make it a good battle, but I feel like it would be cheating if I didn’t accurately account for their powers. On the other hand, it certainly makes things easier to GM if you adopt the SW attitude. I suppose for me it comes down to whether I’m looking at the system as defining the rules of the game-world, in which case it’s a problem if the NPCs don’t conform (e.g. if I let a 2nd Level NPC wizard in D&D cast Fireball at the party), or whether I look at it as a rough approximation of what’s possible.

  2. Absolutely, run several combats yourself or maybe with a friend outside the context of the game. My advice about making monsters Wild Cards came from running the same combat with the weasels as Extras and again with them as Wild Cards. SW combat seems simple–and it is in a lot of respects, particularly compared to things like 3e–but I think you need to run it a few times before it clicks. In particular you want a good handle on what kinds of dice to roll when, how the wild die works, and so forth. Until you do, you won’t be able to make the NPCs behave sensibly in terms of taking special actions (like going prone, seeking cover, going for aimed shots or wild attacks).

    Quicky version: Damage rolls are different. Damage is the only time you add the dice together, it’s the only roll against a variable target (Toughness), and it and soak are the only rolls where you care how many raises you get. Don’t divide by 4, because you don’t care about the remainder…just subtract the toughness and compare the result to 0, 4, 8, 12. That can be done mentally in a flash to see if it’s Shaken, 1 Wound, 2 Wounds, 3 Wounds, etc.

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