Friday, January 20, 2012

SAVAGE WORLDS AND THE SINGLE PLAYER


I love Savage Worlds. It has the mechanical simplicity of West End Games' Star Wars or Eden Studios’ Unisystem with the character customization of3rd Edition D&D. It is, by far, the most entertaining RPG I’ve ever run.

It is, however, not designed for single player play.

Single-player games have challenges quite different from those geared toward teams or adventuring parties. First of all, unless the player really, really enjoys making characters, then the GM is going to have to employ plot armor of some sort to keep the PC alive. Secondly,unless the GM really, really enjoys running the same kind of stories, then thePC is going to have to be multi-talented. The answer to both problems is to ensure the PC, from the beginning, is as skilled and tough as the average cinematic or literary hero.

Any skill-based system, even one with as limited a skill list as Savage Worlds has, is going to have issues modeling polymath heroes like Batman, Conan, and James Bond (but most level- and class-based systems have the same problem). Even a duo like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser poses difficulties. For an example, consider Zorro, an archetypal pulp hero in a low-technology setting.

As a solo hero, Zorro has to be prepared for almost any situation. There are 24 skills in SavageWorlds – Arcane (the skill roll made to use magic, psionics, or super powers), Boating, Climbing, Driving, Fighting, Gambling,Healing, Intimidation, Investigation (what Call of Cthulhu calls “Library Use;”the ability to get knowledge from books, newspapers, and the modern like), Knowledge(which is actually multiple skills), Lockpicking, Notice, Persuasion, Piloting,Repair, Riding, Shooting, Stealth, Streetwise (gathering information fromtalking to people), Survival, Swimming, Taunt, Throwing, and Tracking. Of these, three are superfluous to Zorro: Arcane (he isn’t even as much a superhero as Batman), Investigation (I’m sure there was at least one episode of the Disney series where Zorro solved a mystery by reviewing documents, but it was probably just one), andPiloting. Boating, Driving, Gambling, Healing,Knowledge, Repair, and Swimming seem debatable but all of them have potential uses when playing Zorro (heck, Allende specifically makes Zorro an expert gambler) and the remaining skills are all ones that Zorro has notable expertise in no matter which interpretation we speak of. That means Zorro needs at least average skill in 7 skills and above-average skill in 14.

A Savage Worlds player character Wild Card starts off with fifteen skill points and can, at most, get two additional skill points per advance.

One way to resolve this difficulty is to begin the PC off at an advanced rank (or level). Unfortunately, in Savage Worlds this would mean declining Edges (similar to D&D 3+’s Feats) in favor of skill points. (I said Savage Worlds was my favorite, not that it was perfect.) This doesn’t even take into account the problem of raising attributes! Thankfully,there is another solution.

Make the character a superhero.

The Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion offers three superpowers that enable a character to gain heroic skills and abilities without possessing actual super powers: Super Attribute, Super Edge, and SuperSkill. If all of the benefits from the Super Powers Edge were spent on skill points, then a starting Wild Card could begin play with over 65 skill points. With two skill points required to bring a skill to average, that would be 42 points spent on raising all of the skills to d6 and another 23 points left to advance individual signature skills to d8, d10, or d12.

In future posts, I will demonstrate this in full by building Zorro, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Conan, and Drizzt Do’Urden as “street legal” Savage Worlds supers in the Savage Swordsmen series.

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