Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Of 7th Sea and Savage Worlds

I loved the 7th Sea RPG. I use past tense, because eventually Igrewfrustrated with it. I love the setting - present tense - it's sorichand flavorful. I hated, and hate, certain mechanics. Not all ofthem. Ilove the concept of drama dice. The hubris idea is alsoincredible. Butcertain other bits fall apart on playing.

The twobiggestproblems with 7th Sea's mechanics are # of actions per playerper turn,and the damage system. A starting group could easily have onecharacterwho acts once per turn, and another PC who acts 5 times perturn. Ifyour buddy is acting twice as often as you, you tend to getbored orenvious or both. If he's making 5 times as many attacks, itgets out ofhand damn quick. The damage system's problem was of one ofcomplexity.Everything else was one die roll, with anall-or-nothingwinner-takes-all motif that meant once you'd counted tothe difficultynumber, you could stop counting. Damage, however,required a variety ofmodifiers, then a roll, then the victim rolls, andyou either subtractand do math and record the math and maybe add thatmath to other math,or you erase what math you'd already done to recorda different type ofnumber. It was a sore thumb demanding attention. Combined, theseproblems magnified each other, as the character who acts5 times perturn might launch 5 attacks, get lucky, and need 5cumulative damageresults and the cascade of math that follows. Whenthat's all finallydone, the GM must wake up the other players. I'mserious. Gilbert fellasleep between combat rounds all the time thanksto my three morepoints of panache.

I've been playing a fairamount of SavageWorlds lately. It seems to be the most popular systemfor Emerald CityGame Feasting. I can't say that I like the SavageWorlds system,though. At first, I thought it was just my distaste ofd4s, especiallywhen they occur in mixed dice pools. Trying to put myfinger on it viaemail to a friend today, I realized what the problemreally was. SavageWorlds has 7th Seas problems.

It doesn't havethem to the sameextent. I'm pretty sure you can't get more than 2attacks per turn(maybe 3 if you're Two-Fisted and have First Strike,not sure if theystack), at least not easily. But, while most characterswill only haveone action per turn, some will get too. It's cheap enoughthat anystarting character can have it, but expensive enough mostwon't. If youtake the two-attack option, you're dedicating yourcharacter to combat.More importantly, it's enough of your resourcesthat the charactercan't really do anything but combat. Which meansyou're bored outsideof combat, so you provoke fights, at which pointthe other players getbored. With fights come damage rolls, which areclunky and burdenedwith more math than anything in the system. Mindyou, the extremesaren't as bad. 2 (maybe 3?) attacks instead of 5, andnot as muchdamage-related record keeping as 7th Sea.

But SavageWorlds islacking something else 7th Sea has: that beautiful, richenvironment.The generic nature of Savage Worlds is in some ways andadvantage, butit's also in some ways unfullfilling. I'm left with theanalysis that'sit's like 7th Sea, with minor improvements in the areasI disliked, butat the cost of completely missing the parts I love.

Update:Iacknowledge that a valid counter-argument could be raised as "butwithSavage Worlds you get to design your own flavorful setting" oreven"what the heck's stopping you from converting 7th Sea's awesomesettingto SW's somewhat less annoying mechanics."

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