What’s Normal in Savage Worlds?

Since this is never explicitly spelled-out in the core rulebooks as far as I can see, it’s probably worth a post.  (I originally worked this out in a comment thread that I doubt anybody but Russell is reading by now…)

The default assumption in Savage Worlds is that typical Joe or Jane Citizen characters have a d6 in each Attribute, and a d6 in each skill that’s relevant to their profession and daily life.  Character generation gives you enough points for a d6 in every stat, and you shouldn’t put a d4 in one unless you intend that your character be wimpier than an average adult at it.  You shouldn’t start with a d4 in a Skill unless it’s something the character hasn’t had much practice at up until now.

In the SW:Explorer’s Edition rulebook, the evidence for this is slim, but it’s there:  the Youth Hindrance and the Elderly Hindrance both represent less-than-physically fit adult specimens, and neither drops any Attribute below a d4.  An 8 year-old girl has a Strength at minimum of a d4, as does a 90 year-old grandmother; they could be stronger… even a lot stronger, but they can’t be weaker by the core rules.  There are Hindrances that can give you an effective die-roll even worse (e.g. Anemic, which subtracts 2 from many Vigor rolls), but d4 is the rock-bottom for an Attribute.

The Toolkits add more direct evidence: the “Typical Citizens” entries in both the Science Fiction and Fantasy toolkits have a d6 in each Attribute.  The Pulp toolkit doesn’t have a citizen entry, but has a fair number of everyday sort of archetypes such as Snitches, Typical Mechanics, Nosy Reporters (as distinct from Plucky Reporters) and they all fit the pattern of at least a d6 in every Attribute, with only notably stupid characters such as Thugs having a d4 Smarts, or notably young characters such as Wise-Ass Kid having a d4 Strength and Vigor.  Even Professors are assumed to have a d6 Strength and Vigor.

The Toolkits also provide the only real evidence of the assumptions about what’s a typical Skill level.  The SW:Ex core has few examples of normal people, and orcs and cannibal islanders are just different enough that while they might represent typical opposition to the heroes they aren’t necessarily indicative of what the random soda-jerk, janitor, or dung-spattered peasant is capable of.  Basically, Citizens in the SF and Fantasy Toolkits have at least a d6 in every skill that’s relevant to their daily lives, and a d4 in either Fighting or Shooting depending on the typical weapon of their culture (and Guts, if the setting uses it).  What they don’t have is very many skills: Notice, some Knowledge Skill representing their trade, and either Driving or Stealth, plus the aforementioned combat and Guts, and that’s it.

While the point-buy system encourages PCs to dabble in a lot of skills (adding a new Skill at d4 after character creation is as expensive as raising two other skills by a die type), it seems pretty clear from the supplementary material in the Toolkits that having merely a d4 in a Skill isn’t intended to represent a competent practitioner.  A random NPC that you meet who has that skill as his trade will likely have a d6 in it.  Now, because PCs are Wild Cards, their chance of success on a d4 plus the Wild Die is significantly better than the random Extra’s chance of success on a d6 (62% vs. 50%), but my interpretation would be that represents something like raw talent or luck, not training.

9 thoughts on “What’s Normal in Savage Worlds?

  1. I’ve probably been trying to make characters that are stretched too thin. I’ve been going for two edges apiece, and seven or eight skills, where maybe the intention is to replace one edge with a stat boost, and have four or five skills at higher levels. Is there a chapter of sample characters in the core rule book, or another source of canonical characters on-line?

  2. Unfortunately, all the pregens I can find on the site are seasoned, like these. SW:EX, because of its compactness, lacks any pregen examples. Various people have posted their own pregens on the Savagepedia, but it’s not like those are canonical.

    It does seem like the canonical pregens have about 10 Skills, 3 Edges, and a couple of stats at d8 (or one stat at d10) by the time they are Seasoned (have 5 advances). Since only one of those advances can be devoted to increasing an Attribute, I think you’re probably right that it’s more or less expected that instead of two Edges, you start with 1 (or 0) Edges and 1 (or 2) Attributes at d8, then fill in the extra Edges through advances.

  3. I’m not sure why, but I was under the impression also that d6 represented the ‘typical’ person.

    Having everything below average being a d4 is a bit of lumping I could do without, but it functions from a pure game PoV as one typically doesn’t play such characters nor does one encounter them as opponent. Everyone else may as well from a mechanics PoV be undefined.

    Savage Worlds impresses me as a very game focus design in some ways. Making that sort of decision fits.

  4. I think that’s exactly right. SW is full of stuff like the Common Knowledge system that’s along the lines of “if it doesn’t make a game difference (or makes one only infrequently), don’t sweat it.”

    It’s not my natural inclination when designing a system, but as I use it and start to get the hang of it, there’s something liberating about saying “Yes, there obviously is a distinction you can make between the strength of an 8-year old and the strength of a grandmother, and as soon as that comes up in game, I’ll make an ad hoc ruling and move on.”

  5. Interesting notions about SW core rules. I hadn’t really given it much thought. It is something to keep in mind the next time I make some pregen characters. Thank you for the food for thought

  6. Thank you for posting this. I agree with your conclusion, and I hadn’t thought about it myself before reading this. I’ll be running a Deadlands Reloaded game in the near future, and without this post, I think I might have made my NPCs more buff than they should be. Thanks again for heading that off at the pass.

  7. Actually, the d6 being average for an adult is spelled out right in SWEX; page 6 in the paragraph right under Traits.

    “Attributes and skills are ranked by die types, from a d4 to a d12, with d6 being the average for adult humans.”

    As a player, I actually prefer having only a few character concept core skills start at d6 and have the rest start at d4. The reason? Simple, it’s less costly to advance a skill than buy a new one. I can advance to skills lower than their linked attribute for the same cost as buying a new skill at d4.

  8. Ha! I totally missed that.

    I understand the logic of buying them lower to start totally, but Russell rolled a bunch of characters to help me test out combat, and then wondered why he…wasn’t so good.

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