Is not 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.
Hell, it’s not ANY edition of DND, or even a d20 / OSR based system.
Despite the fact that I started my Tabletop life with 2nd Ed DND and Tunnels and Trolls, and while these systems hold fond memories and great enjoyment for me, they are not my favorite system to play in or run. No, that honor goes to a simple game, with a setting agnostic feel, able to handle Fantasy games, Sci Fi, Supers, and more, while being Fast! Furious! And FUN!
If you recognize that tag line you might have guess but my favorite RPG system is Savage Worlds. And for those who have never played it, I am betting you are wondering why. Let me explain the system, why I love it, and some of the things that I don’t like (because nothing is perfect).
Let’s start with the tagline of Savage Worlds. Fast! Furious! Fun! Savage Worlds was originally developed out of Deadlands, and was designed to be a pulpy action game that was fast to setup, furious with action, and most of all fun. It hits all those notes. You see, Savage Worlds is a system built in such a way that you can get up and running very quickly with easy to understand ruleset.
For example, Attributes and Skills, the two major things that make up your character, and not static numbers. You don’t have a 12 Strength, you have a D8 Strength. You don’t have +8 to Knowledge Computers, you have a D10 in Knowledge computers. It gets rid of modifiers, and numbers, and simplifies everything down to the kind of die you roll. And, to make things even easier, 90% of the time all you need to beat is a 4. That’s it. That’s your TN or Target Number (DC for those DND folks). If a GM wants to make something harder or easier, you simply add or subtract from the die roll (usually a +-2). Additionally, every player gets to roll a d6 on TOP of their normal die for Attribute and Skill Checks. This is not added to your roll, but rather you take the higher of the two. If you need to make a Strength Roll, and your Strength is only a d4, well you get to roll a d4 and a d6, and take the higher number, trying to beat that 4!
Now you might say “But what is the point of such large dice, like a D12, if all you need to do is beat a 4?”. Well there are three reasons. First is that a higher die (d12) makes it easier to beat the 4. Second is that there is a system called Raises. Third is that your dice can explode.
A raise is when you beat your TN by 4. It’s kind of like a critical, but it scales up. For every 4 points you beat your TN, you get 1 raise. In combat this can do additional damage, or if you are trying to Notice something you will get more details, ect. The GM gets to decide how much extra you get based on the total number of raises. If you were hacking a computer, and got 2 raises, perhaps you did it so fast that it took almost no time, and you were not detected. Stuff like that.
And because dice explode, you can get a lot of raises. What do I mean by explode? If you roll the maximum number on the die, you roll it again and add to the total. If, say, you roll a d12 and get 12, you roll the die again and add it to the 12. What happens if you get another 12? Roll again!
A good example of this is when my wife was playing an Orc Space Pirate. She used a hammer in combat, and on her hit roll she rolled a total of 66. That was something like 8-9 raises on her hit roll, which meant her damage roll was going to be crazy high (damage in melee scales up with raises, basically they are each a crit). She essentially did so much damage on a single hit that the enemy was splattered, and I even decided that the sheer force she hit the guy with made every other enemy immediately give up.
Fast, Furious Fun.
There are two other things I adore about Savage Worlds as well. One is easy, it’s a classless system. Your character is made up of a few things. Those are your Attributes (Strength, Agility, Vigor, Smarts, and Spirit), and your Skills. You also have Edges (think Feats), and Hindrances (negative traits). That’s it. Your character can do or be anything as long as it fits the setting.
And that’s the second thing. Savage Worlds is SETTING NEUTRAL! The rules are designed that it can be played in any setting, in any genre. Want Fantasy? Easy enough to do. Hard Sci Fi? Do it! Cyberpunk? Yea we can handle that. Supers?! Oh yea, totally. Pirates?! Give me a challenge!
Seriously. The base rules are designed to run virtually anything. And with Savage Setting books and expansion rule books, you can add even more. The system uses Powers to emulate basically any special ability from Magic to Psionics to Super Powers, and everything is really really flexible. In fact, I am thinking up how to adapt the ideas from Magic the Gathering into a Planeswalker Edge, so people can play a magic user built around the ideas in MTG. No, really and its super simple to do stuff like this.
Now I mentioned the Savage Settings books. These are basically campaigns and setting books in one, and Savage Worlds has been doing this long before 5E ever started with their adventure books. If you want say horror, you can pick up Rippers, or Deadlands, or East Texas University. You can do supers with things like Necessary Evil, or fantasy with Evernight. These books have special edges, hindrances, and more in them so you can easily mix and match to create the perfect game for you and your group. Hell, I just got a setting book that I am going to be reviewing called “Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla” which is super science meets the Cthulhu Mythos set in the Roaring 20s. Yea, that’s a thing someone did (it’s based on the comic series of the same name!).
Now I did mention there was something I did not like, and thats the advancement systems. Sometimes, it feels like advancement is very slow and small. There are no levels in Savage Worlds. Rather, you earn XP (usually 1 or 2 points per session) and can spend that to advance your Attributes, Skills, or purchase Edges. If you super specialize your character early on, it can feel like you have nothing to spend your XP on. My wife had this happen to one of her characters, for example.
If you asked me what is the one tabletop RPG I will return to, time and again, its this one. I love Dungeons and Dragons, don’t get me wrong, but when I want to play ANYTHING other then heroic high fantasy (which is all DND is built to do really) then I am going to go to Savage Worlds. Hell, I might even run Fantasy from time to time with it. It’s really that awesome.
How about you, dear reader? Whats your alltime favorite Tabletop RPG system and why? What brings you back to it, time and time again?