Thanks to all who gave the WoD post a shufty and made comment last week... especially Lo, for catching my lamentable error of letting one of my house rules sneak into the fray. This week, a system I have never run but always loved to play: Savage Worlds.
Savage Worlds is the win. If I had to choose one of my gaming books to keep, while everything else was swept into some sort of ravenous book-eating vortex never to see the light of day again, I'd choose Savage Worlds like a shot.
Why? Because it's generic. I don't mean that in the "it's just like D&D with a few minor changes based on the author's idea of What's Best About Roleplaying" sense, though, ooh hell no. I mean that in the "goes anywhere, does anything, one system to rule them all and rock their socks off while it's doing it" sense.
Savage Worlds isn't an RPG. It isn't a wargame either. It's a rules system which slides beautifully between the one and the other, adding or removing layers of detail to cover mass combat or individual derring-do depending on what your gaming group feels like this evening. Savage Worlds also slides beautifully between settings. The core system is setting-neutral: it can be taken anywhere and anywhen, set in any context you like. Want to run a Call-of-Cthulhu-esque noir adventure in 1930s Chicago? Fancy a political thriller on a space station poised between five mighty empires on the brink of war? Or do you just want to bust out your seven mighty heroes and see how many of Thrashgal the Necromancer's monstrous horde they can actually cleave down before their inevitable death? Maybe you want to do all three and more besides in the same campaign? Savage Worlds won't stop you.
The core game itself contains a clutch of species archetypes for players - there's the traditional human/elf/dwarf/halfling, but there's also avians, saurians, rakshasha and a half-orc straight out of [i]Girl Genius[/i] by the looks of it. Each race is described not in terms of one setting's origin stories but by clear, mechanically reflected traits called Edges and Hindrances. Want to add something else? There's a chapter for Edges and a chapter for Hindrances. Big long lists. Pick a set that describes the new species. Go to it, and good luck.
What the game doesn't have is classes, or other similar constraints on what kind of, say, lizard-dude your lizard-dude is. Characters are framed purely by the Attributes, Skills, Edges and Hindrances you choose for them. Powers - like spells, prayers, weird scientific gadgets or mutant abilities - are all represented using the same set of abilities, with the main difference being in how those abilities are fuelled and recharged, as it were, between uses. You might have a few Edges and Hindrances set, and a few Attribute or Skill values arbitrarily raised or lowered, but in principle the field is yours. Build what you like, go forth and adventure.
The actual processes of adventuring, as is the norm 'round these parts, involve polyhedral dice. Each of your character's Attributes and Skills is assigned a die type - a d4, d6, d8, d10 or d12 - which indicates what you roll when you're trying to use that Attribute or Skill to interact with the game-world. High numbers are good, as you're trying to beat the target number assigned by the system or GM, and rolling the highest number possible on your die means you get to roll again and add both results. Player characters, and major GM characters, also get a Wild Die - an additional d6 which is rolled alongside the Attribute or Skill die, and can be substituted in for it if the roll isn't up to snuff.
The other cool thing that player characters (and major GM characters) get are bennies - some sort of token indicating a re-roll on an Attribute or Skill check, or a soak check for resisting damage. Every player starts every session of play with three bennies for their character; the GM has one for each player character, which can be used by any GM character during the session, and two for each major NPC, which are bound to them. Players can earn additional bennies for achieving objectives, outstandingly good theatrics, or just being damn entertaining - players can also (at least, in the second printing of the game, which is the one I own) hang onto their bennies and trade them in for extra experience points when those are awarded.
And then there are the mass battle rules. These are very brief, in the second printing of the book (which I own), more penned as a means of resolving mass battles that take place around individual characters than of fighting those battles as the primary goal - a system for enabling heroes and villains to wade through the melee and make for their final confrontation, as it were. Fortunately, there's a supplement that expands on those and turns the core engine of the game into a proper wargame, with miniatures and terrain and suchlike - so that's all right, then!
So far, so good. But what's it actually like? Well, the tagline is "Fast! Furious! Fun!", and while it's not the most stripped-down RPG out there (bearing in mind that 'stripped down' for me basically means 'next to no rules at all), it is really quick to pick up, and lends itself very well to the sort of pulp-fiction action-adventure stuff it's designed for. It doesn't, inherently, point at any more depth than that; it's a very unpretentious game in that regard. Indeed, the best piece of advice in its slender-but-rewarding GM's section is to 'trim the fat' as they put it - look over your setting and ask yourself if you really NEED elves and dwarves just because everyone since Tolkien has had them, or if you really NEED those four pages of spot rules for computer hacking.
It develops further through the supplementary companions for particular genres and proprietary settings, including the stonking good weird-West-before-Malifaux-was-a-glint-in-a-cowpoke's-eye Deadlands. It also has an ass-ton of free supplementary material, if - like me - you balk at paying more than twenty quid's buy-in for an RPG.
It's twenty quid well spent, too. There are other RPGs, and other wargames for that matter, which are better at specific things, but if I had to pick a go-anywhere do-anything learn-these-rules-and-never-any-others game, I'd probably pick this 'un. For what that's worth.
Next week, I fancy taking a turn for the grimdark and checking out the GW RPGs. I'll see you then.