Going Generic: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition!

In case you missed the intro to this series, check out the post, Going Generic, before commencing! Done? Good. This is the first of the actual reviews of the Generic games, and will look at things like the history of the game, its strengths and challenges, and the system shock that may occur coming over from D&D. At the end will be a simple scoring on a scale of 1 to 5, and an aggregate score. Time to crack on with the first entry to this series, the popular Savage Worlds game by Pinnacle Entertainment Group! 

History

The core book, a pack of cards, and the official Savage Worlds Dice and Poker Chips

Savage Worlds’ core was extracted from Deadlands: the Great Rail Wars, a miniature wargame expansion/development for the successful Deadlands RPG. Simplified and streamlined, its Deadlands roots are still seen in the combination of dice, playing cards, and poker chips used to play. The first edition of Savage Worlds appeared at Origins 2003, followed by a pdf version in 2004 and finally a print version in 2005. Since then, there’s been three new editions, with the current one being Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWADE). Aside from its own library of materials to support player and GM creativity, both Paizo’s Pathfinder and Palladium Books’ Rifts games have been officially converted to the Savage Worlds system. Given the wild differences between those games, it’s a strong indicator of the strength of the Savage Worlds game system that it handled both. 

What You Need to Play

Savage Worlds is straightforward; like most generic RPGs, it has a single core book that contains everything you need to play. In addition to that book, you will need a conventional set of RPG dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20), a standard deck of playing cards, and poker chips or something similar to act as tokens. The core book is available at the time of this writing for $9.99 USD in pdf format, or $39.99 USD for the pdf and a hardback full colour physical copy. There are also a number of free updates, errata, adventures, in-game handouts, bookmarks, and more through the official website.  

Strengths of Play

The design ethos behind Savage Worlds was to speed up play and reduce requirements for GM prep, and it was largely successful. The game has a moderate but approachable learning curve, and is well supported by a large and active community with lots of help videos. The game thrives in the cinematic range of action; and legitimately spans the range of play from fantasy to science fiction. Materials from previous editions, such as Deluxe Explorer’s Edition (SWD), are still usable, and free conversion guide pdf is available from the Pinnacle Entertainment Group (PEG) website. The game can also handle both theatre of the mind and abstracted tabletop minis for action scenes like combat or chases.

For GMs, the load is moderate. The game itself takes a fair amount of the heavy lifting on its own, but the GM is still working. The biggest factor in this is whether the GM is running a homebrew world or a premade one. Reasonably though, it’s not a heavier amount of work than for a conventional game like D&D. 

One last note in this category is that SWADE seems to have a higher learning curve for players from other systems than ones new to it all. Largely, in my opinion as a person in the “coming from other systems” boat, because we need to unlearn a lot of things because of how different SWADE is to many other games. 

Challenges of Play

Getting into Savage Worlds is easy, but it has a number of rules that can feel like they’re “advanced” and that take some getting used to. Savage Worlds also struggles with some types of horror and contemporary gaming. In games where the tension comes from the players being disadvantaged or otherwise less capable, the rules of the game can overturn that. Basically, the characters aren’t normal people or “extras” in the game, and neither are their enemies. This can be overcome, but it’s not really how the game is built to give its best performance. Also, the game mechanics prefer to work with minis or markers on a grid over the theatre of the mind (there are blast and cone templates in the back of the book).  

Can I Write My Own Stuff for Release

Yes, with limits. Savage Worlds doesn’t offer an OGL type licence or an open Creative Commons licence. PEG offers several licences for fan produced content that’s free to the public, a DM Guild style creative space called the Savage Worlds Adventurer’s Guild (SWAG), and a program called Aces for people who want to publish their own materials for commercial sale. PEG has had a strong quality and content control for some time, and believe it or not, its current licence regime is a huge step forward. Also, unlike the DM Guild for D&D, content submitted into SWAG remains the property of the creator and new settings are welcome. 

Cautions

The core SWADE book itself is fairly light in terms of things like problematic language or themes. It conflates some cultural traits with biological ones in its example player races section. Fortunately, as a generic system, it’s easy to excise these elements from the game. As a GM or player, you have a lot more mechanics supported creative agency with the game than in a more conventional themed game.

The biggest issues come from some of the premade settings, or “genres” as PEG calls them. PEG has collected the IP for a number of settings that are in of themselves problematic or that lend themselves very easily to problematic themes. These include Space 1889 (extreme colonialism, Aliens as POC), and Flash Gordon (Orientalism). 

System Shock

Coming into Savage Worlds from D&D will be a moderate to severe shock. Its mechanics are only very tangentially related to those of D&D, and its playstyle, pace, and world building are very different. The grid combat with minis will be comforting, but that’s about it on the surface of it. However, another cushion is that SWADE can run D&D style adventures and heroic fantasy quite easily, providing a familiar vibe to help a group get used to more customized characters and the game’s mechanics. 

Why Play Savage Worlds

Foremost, SWADE is a mature product. With almost over 18 years of development at this point, it’s a game that’s ironed out a lot of its kinks. Accepting the assumed cinematic level of action, the game is remarkably flexible. It has a large number of settings, and an extremely active community. The game can effectively run both heroic fantasy like Pathfinder, and gonzo ridiculous games like Rifts. As a generic game, Savage Worlds offers a lot with a fairly approachable system and proven track record. 

Must Have Supplement

Every game has a “must have” supplemental book, and for SWADE, it’s the Savage Worlds World Builder and Game Master’s Guide. This book serves two purposes, the first is as a guide to building your own worlds for the Savage World system. The second is as a primer for writing your own material for release into the wild under one of their licence programmes. Useful to both dedicated home creatives and ones looking to break into the larger scene. 

Scoring Matrix

So how well does Savage Worlds Adventure hold up? The metrics are ranked S, A, B, C, D, E; with S rank being the best to achieve, and E rank the worst. Each metric has a descriptor to help interpret the result. The metrics used are Cost (base cost to enter the game), Difficulty ( how challenging are the rules and mechanics, and what’s the learning curve), GM Effort (how much lifting does the average GM need to do before a game), Community (how large and active is it, and its content), Flexibility (the game’s ability to handle different genres), and Publishing (how easy is it to create and release your own material for profit).

MetricRankDescriptor
COST A Bargain
DIFFICULTY C Moderate
GM EFFORT C Moderate
COMMUNITY A Good/Large
FLEXIBILITY A Good /Covers Many Genres
PUBLISHING C Mixed/Somewhat Challenging
Savage World Adventure Edition Feature Ranking

Aggregate Ranking: At an aggregate of RANK B, Savage Worlds is a solid game with a reasonable entry cost, good play characteristics, and well established support. Its only real weak point is its multi-level licensing system, but unless you plan to publish, that’s not a consideration to lose sleep over. 

Copyright Notice: Savage Worlds and the Savage Worlds logo are © Pinnacle Entertainment Group, used here for review purposes.