Savage Worlds and the Three Bowls of Porridge

Too hot, too cold, or just right?

Too hot, too cold, or just right?

I am really interested in other SW players feedback, but that will come at the bottom of the post.

After receiving a defective book, sending it back, and getting another one I was able to finally play test Savage Worlds. 4 of my 7 players were able to make the session, which is just as well, since it made explaining everything easier.

Character Creation
My players all seemed to respond to fairly well. EVERYONE appreciated how much easier it is to make a character in Savage Worlds as opposed to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. With all being said and only having one book, character creation was done in about 30 minutes. That is a damned record! Then I explained some of the rules, and left others to be discovered in combat and in role-playing. Everyone made characters starting at 0 XP Novice. What caught my players off guard with Savage Worlds is just HOW wet behind the ears your starting character is. One player actually said, “Umm.. Are you sure this is all the points we start out with?” I explained that this isn’t DnD where you start out better than regular NPC’s. The only thing that makes you better from Extras is the Wild Die (rolling a d6 along with any trait test).

Actual Session
I had an adventure planned out, in a fantasy setting so the players could compare it with what they know.. Dungeons and Dragons. It started with Pirates attacking the port town they resided in. As the first combat started, I went hell with it, and said we were just going to play test combat for the evening, since that was the thing that all of us were most curious about. Not because we are hack n’ slashers, but for me.. What makes or breaks a system is how good/bad combat is. The role-playing aspect can be done well even in a poor system if a strong DM/GM to handle the lack of mechanics, and players are on the ball, so I wasn’t worried about that aspect of the game. I was worried about combat. I was able to run three sessions of combat.

One of the things that attracts me about Savage Worlds is the simplicity of NPC’s both in and out of combat. Everything is broken down into two categories; Wild Cards and Extras (the PC’s fall into the Wild Card category). Certain villains also make the Wild Card cut. If you were going to put your players up against Dracula, he would definitely be a Wild Card, or your campaigns main villain who is the head of an evil corporation, etc would be a Wild Card. They get higher stats, to roll a wild die, and a benny or two as well (bennies allow a character to reroll a trait roll, soak damage, or recover from shaken instantly).

Extras are NPC’s that don’t have Wild Die, or Bennies, etc. And when they reach Wounded -1 on the Status chart, they are out of the fight. Wild Cards can go all the way to wounded -3 and keep fighting, at wounded -4 they are incapacitated and possibly dying with a failed Vigor roll.

So for all three fights I decided to do what the Explorer’s Edition of Savage Worlds suggests: blanket stats for the different villains. In all three fights it was nothing but extras vs. the PC’s. All fights consisted of 3 melee w/ a flint lock pistol for their opening attack, 3 musketeers who stayed under cover the whole fight, and one mage with a flint lock pistol.

For the first fight I decided that they would have a d6 in their traits, but a 4 in parry and toughness. I fiddled with all this because I wanted to see how the numbers work. Each fight would consist of different sets of numbers so I could gage how Savage Worlds works.

This bowl of porridge is too cold
The first fight, the PC’s all drew really high cards for initiative (initiative is settled using a standard deck of playing cards) and dispatched 3 of the 7 enemies in the first round! Having only a 4 toughness and 4 parry made the enemies, needless to say, really squishy.
In the next round I did want to prove how deadly magic could be, so with the mage I opened up with the power bolt (like Magic Missile). It costs 1 power point per bolt, and does 2d6 damage each. You can then spend an additional 1 power point per bolt to up the damage to 3d6, for a total of 6 power points.

I had only given the mage 8 power points, and figured what the hell. So he opened up a can of whoop ass and dropped a player who hadn’t been hit at all to unconscious in one hit! The player burned a benny and rolled a decent soak roll taking him from wounded -4 to wounded -1. By the end of that round though, the enemies were all dead or fleeing in terror.

This bowl of porridge is too hot
The next combat I went to the other extreme and gave the enemies a toughness and parry of 6 (no armor) and the rifleman and mage got a d8 in their respective skills. What happened was the other extreme. My players couldn’t hit anything. After 5 rounds (the last one lasted 3 rounds) and not ONE injured enemy, but two players at wound -2 we decided to scratch this combat and move to the next one.

This bowl of porridge seems just right
For the final battle everything reset and I gave the enemies a toughness and parry of 5. Again the rifleman and the mage had a d8 in their respective skills. This fight went about 4 rounds and held up to the tagline of fast, furious, and fun. This seemed to be the sweet spot. It was challenging enough that there was a chance for the players to miss, but not impossible for them to hit. The fight went off pretty smoothly.

Now for the issue that did seem to come up a bit and what I’m looking for feedback on…

My character is Shaken.. I can’t do.. what?
When a character is wounded in Savage World the first thing they become is Shaken, and wounds proceed from -1 to -3 as I stated earlier. When a player is shaken they can only move half their movement and that is it. On their turn they must make a Vigor check TN 4 to become unshaken. If they roll a 4-7 they are no longer shaken that turn, but that is all they can do. If they roll a 8+ they are no longer shaken and can action as normal. Anytime a wound is taken, the character becomes shaken again, and must again, on their turn, roll a vigor check. This seemed to be the biggest beef that my players had with SW. My girlfriend was hit just enough to become Shaken.

At the start of her next turn she rolled a Vigor check and failed. She didn’t want to use a benny, so everything continued on. The next round, she rolled again and failed. The third round she rolled a 4, but was unable to do anything else. On the next round she was hit bad enough to go to wound -3, spent a benny and soaked to -2, but was now shaken again, and couldn’t do anything. Something similar like this happened to another player during the session as well.

Now I know that they could spend Bennies to get out of this, and Bennies are handed out throughout the game session, but I’m worried that players will not utilize Bennies for anything other than soaking and/or getting out of shaken. Any other SW players have this experience or words of wisdom on how to handle this? I was pondering that if you fail two rounds in a row, you automatically can resume on the third.. But I’m not really sure since I’m still new to SW.

Thanks much!


About wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn. View all posts by wrathofzombie

15 responses to “Savage Worlds and the Three Bowls of Porridge

  • bonemaster

    Just a minor point, It’s a Spirit not a Vigor roll to recover from being shaken. Second from my read of the rules, (which may be faulty), I believe you recover from being shaken when you attempt your soak roll.

    Yes most players tended to use bennies to soak rolls or to recover from being shaken. I’ve only in my limited play seen it used for re-rolls twice in the few games I’ve run so far. Still, this is to be expected, and since the GM also gets one benny for each player adn each Wild Card NPC gets two bennies, It sort of evens out in my opinion.

    • wrathofzombie

      Alright. I think I read that wrong then. I took it as if you were just shaken you can get out of it, and if you soak, say from wounds -3 to -1, you were still shaken and would have to spend another benny to get out of Shaken.

      And I admit it.. I snaffued on the whole spirit/vigor thing.. Damn my eyes..

      • bonemaster

        I’ve had to read some of the rules twice or three times myself. Just to make sure I got it right too, so Your not alone.

        That’s ok, I snaffued a few things myself. Still, everyone enjoyed themselves, so that’s more important than anything else.

  • Chuck

    Welcome to Savage Worlds!
    First: Recovering from Shaken is a Spirit roll, not Vigor.
    Second: Were the players using Tricks, Ganging Up or taking Wild Swings at those opponents? Or were they still doing the D&D tactic of running up and just swinging at their opponents. A good resource is the Combat Survival Guide over at Pinnacle’s web site.

    • wrathofzombie

      In all honesty, the first session was so easy that there really wasn’t any time for tactics. The second fight they started with the standard DnD fare (even though I warned them to use the environment, gang up etc, and started getting their asses handed to them. About 1/2 into that fight, and going into the fight where I used the blanket 5 number, they really started using the environment, asking more what was around and could be used.

      Near the end they realized the benefit of holding and action and attack as someone comes out from cover to shoot.

  • Joshua

    The way it’s written is confusing.

    There are two separate things that happen: one is Soak rolls, which are attempts to prevent damage before they’re even applied, the other is attempts to become unshaken.

    A Soak attempt happens the moment that the attacker figures out the damage; at that precise instant, before the damage is applied, the player can declare an attempt to soak. They spend a bennie and make a Vigor roll: each success and raise reduces the severity of the wound that’s about to be applied by 1; the roll is modified by any wounds already sustained but not the wound that’s about to happen. It doesn’t matter whether the character is currently Shaken. IF the Vigor roll eliminates all of levels the wound, then nothing happens; if the character was shaken, he’s still shaken… if he wasn’t shaken, he remains unshaken. On the other hand, IF there is even 1 level of wound that gets through, then unshaken characters become Shaken and Shaken characters remain Shaken (no promoting the Shaken status to an extra wound). If you don’t choose to soak immediately, the wound is applied and you can not attempt to soak it later. If you don’t like the result of the soak roll, you can spend another bennie and attempt it again, but you don’t get to apply the first soak roll and then spend another bennie to eliminate the rest of the wounds.

    Attempts to unshake happen on the player’s action. The player can choose to spend a Bennie to automatically unshake and still have an action. If the player doesn’t want to do that, the player attempts a Spirit Roll. If that is successful, the character becomes unshaken but has used his action; if the player gets a raise, the character still has an action. If the roll fails, the character is still Shaken. NOW the player again gets to decide whether to spend a Bennie to unshake. If the player spends the bennie, the character is unshaken, but has already spent his action trying to unshake and failing. I wish the rules explained it better, but that’s pretty clearly the sequence based on Clint’s post in the forum:

    There’s definitely a learning curve to Savage Worlds combat, not just in the GM applying the rules, but in the players absorbing the implications. The big one is that if you’re Shaken, you’re in trouble. If you’re not going to spend a Bennie, use your half-move to get behind cover and drop prone. If you can’t, perhaps because you’re in melee and don’t want to give your opponents a free attack, reconsider spending that Bennie unless you’re confident you’re a lot better/tougher than your opponent. Otherwise, yes, you can spend the rest of your short life shaken and unable to act…

    Hope that helps.

    • wrathofzombie

      Thanks Joshua! I was basically doing that except for getting the Spirit roll confused with Vigor. Oh well. That will be for next time. There is definitely a learning curve with SW. I think that this game puts quite a bit of strategy in the players hands as opposed to other games. I honestly, even though I have tried to impress upon my players at times about strategy, think my players are really going to have to reevaluate how they attack in SW as opposed to 3.5 DnD since, in DnD. You can usually take a beating a bit more, as far as it seems now, in SW.

    • bonemaster

      I’ve read the soak rule several times. It reads as follows
      The Soak Roll
      A character can spend a benny to
      automatically eliminate a Shaken condition
      (see Shaken, below).
      If the benny is spent immediately after
      taking one or more wounds from a single
      attack, you may make a Vigor roll as well. A
      success and each raise on the roll reduces
      the number of wounds suffered from that
      attack by 1. If the character is left with any
      wounds from the attack however, he’s still
      Shaken as usual. Don’t count the wound
      modifi ers you’re about to suffer when making
      this roll.
      It seems to imply that if you try to make soak roll, you remove the shaken effect period.

      • Joshua

        Not exactly, at least according to Clint, the official rules-guru on the Pinnacle forum:

        My restatement above wasn’t quite correct, in that if you spend a Bennie on a soak roll and you succeed in soaking the wound completely you become unshaken if you were shaken before the wound even occurred, but if you choose that option then you must soak the wound completely or you’re still shaken. Alternatively, you could just take the wound and spend the bennie before your next action (and Spirit roll) and automatically become unshaken.

      • bonemaster

        After re-reading the section again, I see your point. It does read that way on the 7th or 8th reading. It’s something I think my players will have to remember for the next time.

  • greywulf

    Sounds like you had a ton of fun, and that’s what matters most of all, eh? Who cares if you snafu the rules along the way! 😀

    Live ‘n’ learn, and I hope the next time you play will be even more fun and you’ll be a master of the Shaken rules too. Oddly enough, my players didn’t have that problem as the combat system is similar enough to the way we play Mutants & Masterminds (complete with Hero Points/Bennies and a damage track) that they made the switch smoothly. Next time we play (next week, hopefully) they’re eager to try out the different combat tactics. From what we’ve seen so far, that’s where Savage World combat really shines.

    We found that the Hindrances make all the difference when it comes to making the characters feel better than your Ordinary Joe off the street. You characters really need to take a couple of Hindrances to be able to stand out in other areas – and they make for great role-playing plothooks too.

    • wrathofzombie

      Yeah. When they made characters each chose a good hinderance and made a really good personality with it. I was actually really impressed with my girlfriends decision. She chose habit hinderance and was very prim and proper. Clothes couldn’t have a wrinkle and if they did she fussed with it. Think MONK the TV show. Not as paralyzing, but still fun. When we actually start the steampunk campaign I hope she will keep that because that would be so much fun to have in a game, yet annoying at the same time.:)

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