Monday, October 20, 2008

Savage Waffles

Brace yourselves - I'm gonna waffle on my Savage Worlds position a little more. In this post I'm gonna criticize it all over again, and then talk about little nuggets I really admire. I have yet to make up my mind fully on the game, and will no doubt be getting my $10 worth (and then some) before I settle on a position.

The damage issue remains the stickler. On further reflection (and after hearing counter-arguments from the rest of the Thursday group), I'm forced to conclude that you do, indeed, add up your damage dice. How'd I miss/misinterpret it? I'd pretty much skipped the Gear chapter, reading the Character Creation chapter and the Rules chapters first. I figured the equipment section of a non-genre-specific game wasn't vital to understanding the way the system worked, since half that equipment wouldn't be available in any given one-shot. Whoops!

The answer was there amidst the Gear. That chapter explains how damage codes for weapons work. It's still not crystal clear, but it'd be hard to interpret a Str + d6 +2 Katana to do anything other than 4-14 damage in the hands of a character with d6 Strength. Likewise, most rifles do 2d8 damage - compare that to a Bazooka, which does 4d8. Clearly, they intend the dice to be added together - if you were only using the single largest die, the bazooka would roll 3d12 or even 2d20, not the same size dice as all those conventional sidearms. If you were using just the highest die, PCs would laugh off LAW rockets, .50 cal MGs, and artillery. As much as I hate the delay as someone counts up the damage total from 2d8+1 and a d6 raise where 2 of the 3 dice exploded, I must admit that's preferable to PCs soaking Panzershreks.

The more serious offense is the book's complete lack of a clear example that would render it unambiguous. The damage and healing section is pages 74-78, but the muddied evidence of how it works is buried on pages 42 and 53. None of the three "examples" in the damage / healing section involves any actual dice rolls - it says Buck "does just enough damage to get a shaken result" instead of something more useful like "Buck rolls a 2 and 4, doing 6 damage, which is just enough to get a shaken result against the foe's Toughness of 6". This detailed example is not omitted for lack of space, since the 5-page section in question has two large pictures and a quarter column of (wasted) blank space. It's just sloppy, the sort of thing that should have been caught by blind playtesting and fixed in editing.

Oh well, I've seen worse - if this were Scion, the rule wouldn't just be vague, it'd be implied to function differently in every chapter it got mentioned in, with some instances being undeniably contradictory to each other. Savage Worlds dodged that bullet, but I'd still rather see Pinnacle set the bar just a tad higher than it did.

Here's a few other things I'm griping about today:
  • Edge Summary: The chart is a pain to read. There should have been three lists - one organized alphabetically, and a second organized by Rank requirement, and a third by category/type. As it stands, you search by the name of the Edge, not by what it does, nor by whether or not it's available to you. Until you're really familiar with the options, that organization scheme is not so useful.
  • Chart blindness: For that matter, all the charts in the book could use lined or colored backgrounds to demark entries - it's easy to wander a line up or down the Edge chart by mistake, and the same goes for the Hindrance Summary and the various Weapon charts.
  • Social Stuff: The Tests of Will mechanic (see below) is pretty sweet, but ultimately leaves you unable to Intimidate someone into fleeing. I'm happiest with games that allow you to play a character smarter and/or more charismatic than you (the player) are, and Savage Worlds comes really close but ultimately fails. In the end, it seems they were worried that social power would wreck too many plotlines. I think that's a shame, since they could have made social powers really strong against Extras but not Wild Cards without too much effort. It's the sort of thing I could see myself crafting a houserule for, possibly stealing some ideas from 7th Sea's awesome Repartee system.
  • Allies: I like that the PCs get to play thier own henchmen. However, I think it's dumb that you can't get Edges to accumulate a sidekick or followers until you've reached Legendary Rank (which means you've played at least 27 sessions). Even worse is that those henchmen are very vulnerable and go away if they die. This seems like it might not have been playtested as thoroughly as it should have been. On a related note, the game deals well with mass combat, and claims to deal well with allies. The truth of the matter is, assigning a squad of 10 allied soldiers to accompany the PCs would bog the game down nightmarishly. Brute squads, were are you when we need you?
  • First Strike (and the like): This power seems just a bit buff for it's meagre requirements. I guess that's supposed to be mitigated by the GM moving his villains carefully, but it's hard to say how often that will happen as planned. Most disturbing is the fact that many of the bonus-action Edges (of which there are 9 in the book) have similar requirements, so a combat-focused PC might stack several of them. Combining Two-Fisted, Frenzy and Improved First Strike on one PC would allow for a sick number of attacks each round, but at least it's not a combo you can start with as a Novice character.

Rather than ending this on the downer note, I'm going to talk about the bits of Savage Worlds that I really like...
  • Pace: Some games have movement systems that are so vague everyone pictures the fight differently. Other games avoid that by use of miniatures, but this usually results in all humans moving at the same pace, or predetermined speed per character that means if two PCs race the same one wins every single time. Savage Worlds neatly balances this - standard pace is the same, but running gets a nice random (yet measurable) boost, and you can make a character (without too much effort) who's faster or slower than average. It does all this elegantly, to boot.
  • Fatigue: The game scores more points by coming up with simple, interrelated systems for resource deprivation and environmental hazards. Staying up all night and not eating for days makes it that much harder to resist succumbing to freezing weather, as it rightly should, but without clunky complexity. Bravo!
  • You play your own Allies: The actual system for Allied NPCs isn't terribly innovative (in fact, I complained about it above), but I like that they go to such lengths to clearly spell out that players control their henchmen and followers in combat. I already do as much in most RPGs, but it's nice to see a published book specifically insist on this way of running things.
  • Mass Combat: The mass combat system isn't quite as colorful or detailed as the one in 7th Sea, but it's very playable and nicely abstracted. PCs are a major force on the battlefield, without having to play out hundreds of skirmishes.
  • Powers: The books only 160 pages, yet they manage to fit in the tools for an a very large number of genres and settings, including 5 different mix-and-match "magic" systems. There's a lot of overlap in those systems, but I'm fairly amused by the way they made each feel different.
  • Built For Success: The typical difficulty is 4, which even the weakest / least prepared PC will hit a good 20% of the time. When working in their specialty, the PC has a better than 50% of succeeding on the overwhelming majority of tasks. It's a feel-good experience, unlike many games where the average roll is a miss or failure.
  • Initiative: The reverse alphabetical order tie-breaker somehow rubs me wrong, but the rest of the card-based iniative system is beautiful. It keeps combat from getting too predictable, yet the cards serve as an easy reminder of who goes next. I especially like the bonus-effect of the Jokers, and how they provide unpredictable moments in the spotlight.
  • Tricks and Tests Of Will: These are likely to become my favorite parts of the combat system, though the game really desperately needs an Edge that removes the multiaction penalty for performing a Trick and an attack at the same time.
  • Hold, Standoff, and The Drop: Many RPGs can handle Held Actions, but few provide workable simulations of Standoffs and/or The Drop. In Savage Worlds, if the bad guy has The Drop on you, you play along if you know what's good for you. Pinnacle gets kudos for elegant mechanics to simulate all this.
Definitely getting the hang of the system, now.


jamused said...

As far as built for success, you're ignoring the Wild Die. Even with just a d4 in a skill or attribute and no bonuses, PCs (and other Wild Cards) will beat TN 4 about 62% of the time. The game really does reinforce that even Novice PCs are good at what they do.

jamused said...

Oh, yeah, I meant to mention that Two-Fisted and Frenzy stack, but it's not as powerful as all that: you get your choice of two attacks, one at -2 (for off-hand unless you also have Ambidextrous), or three attacks, two at -2 (for Frenzy) and one at -4 (for Frenzy and off-hand). Improved First Strike is a single attack against each foe that moves adjacent, you don't get to Frenzy and/or Two-Fisted attack could still be a bunch of attacks if the GM has them filing past you.

I think that one of the things I didn't grasp about SW at first, until I'd read a bunch of the Questions about Core Rules on the forum, is that most of the rules are meant to be parsed quite literally. So when First Strike says "you get a free Fighting attack against a single foe" it means exactly that: it must be Fighting (not Shooting or Throwing), it is one attack only, not a free Action (so no Two-Fisted), etc. I could have preferred a slightly less succinct stating of the rules, with more examples, but for what they manage to cram into a $10 booklet I can live with having to read carefully.

r_b_bergstrom said...

I agree with your comments here. Things aren't as bas as I initially thought, and I'm really starting to warm to this game.

r_b_bergstrom said...

"bad", not "bas"