Monday, July 19, 2010

Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds & Rippers

I have talked around Savage Worlds in the past, here and here in particular, but never about Savage Worlds directly.  Well, I'll change that now.

Savage Worlds is a multi-genre (I dont think Generic is the right word here) action RPG from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, the same people that gave us Deadlands. And the game itself is written by a very familiar name to Unisystem fans, Shane Hensley, who has given us Fistfull of Zombies for AFMBE and Army of Darkness for Cinematic Unisystem (among others of course). This seems to be a genre that works well for Shane since you can see similar DNA in Savage Worlds.

I had the chance a couple of Gen Cons ago to sit down and play some Savage Worlds. Its tagline of Fast! Furious! Fun! certainly held up in character creation, I was able to roll out my standard witch-like character very quickly.
One thing became very, very clear to us right away, well more than one thing, but I digress. The one thing that was clear that if you want to play a pulpy style game, then Savage Worlds could be the game you are looking for. But I don't play a lot of pulp, I play horror and magic. Is Savage Worlds the game for me?

Well.that depends. There are certainly some things about it like and things I don't like. One thing I do like is Rippers, a Gothic, steam punk Victorian Horror style monster hunter game for Savage Worlds; but I have a softspot for those. Ill detail Rippers and how it compares to Ghosts of Albion in a bit. When I detail my conversions, Ill indicate whether or not I am drawing from Rippers or some other source, otherwise assume I mean Savage Worlds core.

Ok. So what can Savage Worlds give me? Well for a crunch guy like me there is a lot to look at despite the streamlined system. Savage Worlds uses different die to represent different levels of ability for example like Deadlands. So a d4 is base level, d6 is a little better and so on up to d12 (no d20) and all are rolled against a target number, typically 4. The largest number on each die explodes (called an Ace in this game or the Rule of 10 in Unisystem), so you actually have a better chance of Acing when your die is lower than higher; 25% chance on a d4 vs say a 10% chance on a d10. The neatest thing thought is the addition of a Wild Die. The Wild Die, a d6, can be rolled in any action, but only once per action. If the Wild Die rolls higher than your normal die you can take that roll instead. Given this Id like to figure out a Wild Die mechanic for Unisystem, but given the flat distribution of the Unisystem task resolution I dont see it working as well. Like a regular die roll a Wild Die can Ace as well. There are also cards used, but I wont get into that here.
Savage Worlds also has something called Bennies. Think of these as advanced Hero Points or somewhat lesser Drama Points (this is a recurring theme really. Characters in Savage Worlds are just slightly less powered than their Unisystem counterparts, but more later). You only get four of them and they dont transfer from session to session so use them while you have them.

Game Play
We played one of the downloadble adventures for our first time. I had not bought the books yet, but one of the guys I was with had them. It was the Core Savage Worlds book, Rippers (which we only looked at) and a couple of others. We played a pulpy style adventure where the characters were a professor of Archeology, his assistant who happened to be a witch (that was mine) and an 8-foot tall Cat-humanoid. Ok I gotta admit that any game that allows this out of the box has my attention! Turns out it worked REALLY well.
We did get up an running rather quickly. Combat seemed to be a little slow, and the magic system took a little to get used too. Now my group is used to playing odd things. I have playtested many new games with them and combined we all have about 80 years worth of RPG experience. Combat I think we just need to get used too, Magicis a different story.

Basic Conversions
Conversions between the two systems are surprisingly easy. I say surprising, it isn't really since I feel both games appeal to the same kind of gamer and similar kinds of game worlds. Both games assume normal humans (at least at their core) and a small set of skills. Both games have Qualities or Edges and Drawbacks or Hindrances.

Attributes and Skills
Conversions here could not be easier. From the Unisystem perspective the lowest human score is a 1, but most heroes will have a minimum of 2 in their Attributes. Savage Worlds heroes start out as fairly hardy folks, so they all begin with a d4 and can go up with creation points. The max for Unisystem humans is 6 and for Savage Worlds is d12. This is pretty much the same conversions I use for Cortex, so I'll include them as well.
This give us this:

Unisystem        Savage Worlds  Cortex      
1 d4-1 d2
2 d4 d4
3 d6 d6
4 d8 d8
5 d10 d10
6 d12 d12
7 d12+1 d12+d2
8 d12+2 d12+d4
9 d12+3 d12+d6

As we move up an Attribute of 9 in Unisystem is an automatic success. Likewise in Savage Worlds a d12+3 will be an automatic success in just about anything as well. Ok, technically an Attribute of 8 + 1d10 is an automatic success in most cases. But that is picking nits and most humans won't be this high.

Quick converting NPCs from the Savage Worlds Core and Rippers and breaking down the basic Savage Worlds rules reveal that your starting Savage Worlds character converts out to 15 Unisystem Attribute points. This is the same as a White Hat or Primitive Screwhead in cinematic Unisystem or a Pre-Heroic character in AFMBE. This parity between the two games continues.

Attribute classifications line up really nice as well. They even serve very similar functions.

Unisystem            Savage Worlds        
Strength Strength
Dexterity Agility
Constitution Vigor
Intelligence Smarts
Perception - Not Used Here -
Willpower Spirit

So at this point it is rather easy to spot convert characters. A Savage Worlds character with Strength d6 is roughly the same as a Unisystem character with Strength 3.

When converting to Unisystem from Savage Worlds I say give the character a base Perception of 2. No worries, the Notice skill converts as a Notice skill.

Both games have Secondary or Derived stats too. As in most cases it is best to convert Primary Stats and then use the system in question to derive the secondary ones.

Like the Attributes running the numbers on Savage Worlds skills gives us the equivalent of 15 skill points; again, Primitive Screwhead territory. The issue comes when spliting these skill points up. Cinematic Unisystem has 18 skills (or 16 for Ghosts of Albion) and Classic has more. Savage Worlds has 24 points for skills (in Unisystem terms). Some of these crossover with their Unisystem equivalent, enough to make me call them all the same. If you are converting a Unisystem character to Savage Worlds this is only an issue if the character is Pre-Heroic.

Some skills do not have exact duplicates. On the Cinematic Unisystem side there are Acrobatics, Art, Computers, Languages, Occultism and Science. Art, Computers, Languages and Science are mostly covered by the Smarts attribute. Acrobatic can be covered by Edges (more on that below).
Occultism in terms of Occult Knowledge would also be covered Smarts. Occultism in terms of knowledge to cast spells is handled in part by the Arcane Background and various Arcane Edges.
On the Savage Worlds side there is Guts, which has some equivalents in Unisystems Willpower, Nerves of Steel and Resistance (Fear) or Coward.

Up to this point our hero and his Mirror Universe counterpart are still mostly the same. The differences begin to show when we get to Edges and Hindrances.

Qualities, Edges, Drawbacks and Hindrances

One of the hallmarks of Unisystem are the Qualities and Drawbacks. There are the basics Hard to Kill and Nerves of Steel, but in order to be a Protector, have a Really Big Chin or be called a Slayer you need the associated Quality. Edges and Hindrances also work a little different than Qualities and Drawbacks. First off you get a lot fewer of them in Savage Worlds than in Unisystem. Secondly Hindrances come in two types, Minor and Major. A major Hindrance for example gets you two Edges. You can gain a new Edge (or buy off a Hindrance) only when you level up. Level is not the same as d20 levels, more like Chill really. But Edges do remind me of Feats and the magic system works much the same. An enterprising Game Master could figure out a way to convert True20s magic system to Savage Worlds very easily in fact. But I digress.

In general when converting look for Qualities, Edges, Drawbacks and Hindrances that have the same names, it will work out better for you. Minor Hindrances in Unisystem terms should be worth about 1 or 2 points (mostly one), while Major Hindrances are worth 3 to 5. Some 3s could go either way depending on what they are.

There are no combo or package Edges like some of Unisystems package Qualities, there are Professional Edges that are a combination of Edges, Hindrances, skills and prerequisites that do the same job though. The Wizard Edge is roughly analogous to the Witch Quality. One I really liked was the McGyver professional Edge, sounds like something that needs to be in Army of Darkness. ;)

Something like a Slayer or a Protector from Ghost of Albion is going to take a little more work. With Weird Edges, Wild Edges and Epic Featser sorry, Legendary Edges, there are quite a few neat things here. Enough to keep anyone busy for a while.

At this point in comparison sake our SWs character is a tad weaker than his Unisystem doppelganger. I think this is fine given the Wild Die mechanic and Aces you get in SW.

Magic and Other Powers
Ok, Ill be very blunt here. I dont like SWs magic system. I am sorry, but after Ghosts of Albion and WitchCraft very, very few systems could compare. That being said there are some neat ideas.
First thing is characters do not have a lot of start up powers, this not that big of a deal in a Two-Fisted Pulp adventure, but my witch character ended up using her revolver just as much as her own powers in the combat situations, so to me it is a big deal. Rippers expands on Magic, but not quite enough really for my tastes.
Now looking inside the game itself the Powers system sits somewhere in between the free wheeling hands-off rules of BESM or Mage and the static magic of D&D, but still not quite where Unisystems Metaphysics or Sorcery/Magic rules are. They are though internally consistent and flexible enough to provide some nice upgrades. This is another place where the rules feel like a cross between Unisystem and True20.

Now what I DID like are the rules for Weird Science (which is just another Power, like Arcane or Psychic, so there is nothing really different about it). In fact I like them much more than Buffys Super Science (which I never liked in the rules and less in the show), but here Weird Science (and I like this name so much more too) FEELS right, it feels like it fits the system well both in terms of mechanics and in terms of themes. I can see a 30s Mad Scientist right out of those old serials built with this rule. I might work on converting these back into Unisystem or take what very little I like of Super Science and mix it in with a little Sons of ther. Given how much this reminds me of True20 I am also half tempted to convert this power to True20 for a Weird Science Adept whose power feats are gadgets.
Powers for Magic, Super Heroes or Weird Science are bought like Metaphysics and they even look similar to Cincematic magical Spells. Translations are a breeze.


I should pay some special attention to Rippers. After all Rippers, like Ghosts of Albion, is a gothic Victorian game in which monsters and the supernatural are real. Like Cthulhu by Gaslight, Masque of the Red Death and Victorian Age Vampire, Rippers takes place in the later 19th Century. Ghosts of Albion takes place at the dawn of the Victorian Age in the 1840s. Rippers though also incorporates some Steam Punk ideas.

The epynononmous Rippers are a world-wide group of monster hunters that are under the guidance of Van Helsing and the Harkers from Dracula. So shades of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to be sure (Allan Quartermain and Mina Harker are in the book, but I dont think they get it on here), with little bits of the Watchers (take your pick, the Buffy ones, the Highlander ones or the Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death ones) and maybe a dash of Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. What sets Rippers apart is the idea of Rippertech or taking artifacts from the various creatures the characters hunt to improve the characters. Now this is a neat idea, but I do find it curious that many pages are devoted to rather interesting Rippertech enhancements, but they are almost always described as dangerous and generally unsafe to use. In Unisystem they would work like Qualities, with maybe needing a Will doubled roll to resist the bad side effects.

There are other issues that would go unnoticed by most, but not a WitchCraft RPG player. I nearly choked on my coffee when I read that the Rosicrucians taught Enochian magic. But that is REALLY nitpicky of me. The monetary system was a bit weird, using decimals for Victorian era pounds just seems wrong. I got used to converting gold pieces to silver pieces in the 80s I think converting pounds to shillings would be fine.

All in all, Rippers and Ghosts of Albion could exist side by side. The Rippers might know of Protectors and maybe even have one or two on their side. The Protectors would certainly know of the Rippers, anyone that goes around their lands hunting down supernatural creatures is going to attract their notice. How they deal with other of course depend on their first meetings. If a Ripper is trying to extract Ghostly essence from Lord Byron against his will, Tamara might not be too happy about that. The trouble is there is nothing in the Rippers or Core book that comes close to level of magic the Protectors could wield, or even Occult Poets for that matter (but I bet someone that knew the Savage Worlds magic system better than me could pull of an Occult Poet). I might do some more conversion since I love Victorian age games. The spells would convert really nice. Even the Gypsy curses in the Rippers Companion would convert to Ghosts of Albion as a Magical Philosophy: Gypsy Curse. Rough conversion (not tested) Rank converts to Level, keep Range and Duration the same, Trappings become Requirements. Drop Power Points unless you are converting to Classic Unisystem, then they represent Essence loss.

Converting characters between Rippers and Ghosts of Albion is very easy, as you can see with Dirty Nellie, the Street Faerie prostitute.  Given that Rippers and Ghosts of Albion are separated mostly by time; Ghosts in the early Victorian, Rippers in the later, one could see each game as being a reflection of the other.

If you like Savage Worlds (or even d20 for that matter) and Victorian adventures, but not so much the Ripper Tech, then there is Gaslight from Battlefield Press.  Gaslight is a pretty straight-forward game setting, it is the late Victorian Era.  SW Gaslight and Rippers could actually play side by side.  With Gaslight providing some of the real world history that Rippers left out.

Gaslight is certainly more of a sandbox game.  You are given the world, the rules and then let go.  There is no over arching plot or theme like Rippers or Ghosts of Albion.  It is in feel much closer to the old Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death game.  Which is pretty cool.

Nel works fine for Gaslight as well.

Next time, let's play with conversions.  Armies of Darkness in Savage Worlds, Slayers in Rippers.


Havard: said...

Great review and conversion tables Tim! As you mention, I prefer Savage Worlds for more pulpy settings. For something less action paced, I would use Unisystem or even Call of Cthulhu.

Pun Isaac said...

I'm a fan of Savage Worlds in general, though I've not had much play experience. I own Pirates of the Spanish Main, Rippers, Deadlands! Reloaded, and Neccessary Evil: Explorer's Edition, plus a couple of copies of the Explorer's Edition rules.

Rippers seems like it would be a great setting. I really like the Rippertech and I think that the danger involved with it fits well into the Whedonverse. It makes me think of Adam and the Initiative.

I've thought about taking the Whately edge from Deadlands and turning it into a quality (as I love to put Lovecraftian things into my Buffy games).

As always, great work!

The Grey Elf said...

Nice writeup, Tim.

Pun: if you like Cthulhu Mythos in your Buffy, check out my site:

Scroll down to "Crossovers and Genre Rules," and you might find something of interest...;)

Pun Isaac said...

I've seen the netbook Jason. It's amazing. I'm going to use it in conjunction with the CoC Arkham Now book to run a college game set at Miskatonic U.