Sunday, February 10, 2019

Things I think about things: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition



So, a few months ago I decided to jump on to the kickstarter for the new Savage Worlds edition. It's been one of my most-used RPG systems (as you can tell from all the conversions I've done) and my favorite "traditional" RPG. Not to mention a significant inspiration for my own system: Badass Kung Fu Demigods. So, I figured Pinnacle had earned an investment. 

Although the book itself won't materialize for a few more months, Pinnacle has released the pdf. It went through a few revisions, but seems to have stabilized enough to give it a proper review so I figured I'd look it over and share my thoughts. 


First Impressions

This is the biggest Savage Worlds core book so far but it's still fairly lightweight compared to other mainstream games (clocking in at slightly over 200 pages). Production values are good, lots of good inspirational art pieces and generally easy on the eyes. 

The broad strokes of the system are still familiar to anyone whose played SW before (die-step attributes and skills, wild die, Aces and Raises, Wild Cards and Extras, etc) and it should be pretty easy to learn for veterans. 

However, it doesn't take long to figure out that this is also the most dramatic overhaul SW has gone through. Previous editions usually kept about 90% of the content intact and mainly served as an easy way to consolidate rules from the last editions supplements and provide some new balance tweaks. The Adventure Edition is a different kettle of fish and has some significant mechanical changes. 

The engine and chassis of the original system is all there, but otherwise you're looking at a hefty overhaul. A lot of Edges are slightly different, the action economy is significantly different and there's been significant alterations and standardization of the "general" rules. One significant pattern I've noticed is a tendency to reduce or limit bonuses (many things that granted bonuses before now remove penalties or allow things like free re-rolls). The focus seems to be on creating a more "smooth" system where it's harder to rack up probability-busting bonuses.

Let's break it down:

Races

This is probably going to be the most familiar: almost all of the races are fundamentally the same as those in previous editions. The biggest change is an overhaul of the race-building system. It was an area I always felt was a little weak in previous editions, doing things like assigning +1 Toughness the same value as a boost to Vigor (which includes +1 toughness and more). It mainly suffered from a lack of granularity, trying to fit almost all abilities into either a 1-point or 2-point category which rarely worked out too well.

The Adventure edition improves things a bit, but mainly by rounding down rather than up. To use the example above, a die-type boost to Vigor is worth 2 points and +1 Toughness is worth 1 point. Racial advantages above 2-points are also presented (like Construct, which clocks in at 8 points). 

However, it's still probably the least impressive part of the new rules...granularity is still an issue. For example, that +1 Toughness for 1 point means it's "balanced out" by something as basic as reducing Pace by 1. Likewise, it means that some of the racial advantages are comparatively weak. 1 point for +1 Toughness or +2 Armor is definitely a lot more worthwhile than paying 1 point for something like immunity to disease or only having to sleep 4 hours a night. 

Some of the higher-point advantages are questionably priced as well, having things like an extra action (reducing multi-action penalties by 2) priced the same as having a set of claws that inflict Str+1d6 damage (i.e. just a built-in shortsword). It also still fails to recognize that "open" advantages (like a human's free Edge-of-choice) are better than "set" advantages as a racial ability.

Overall, the races presented in the core book are fine, but GMs should probably be careful allowing players to design their own races...there's a lot of potential for abuse.

Hasty House Rules: Speaking personally I'd probably rate a free Edge (the base human advantage) and an attribute boost as 3-point advantages (the free edge being worth more for flexibility, the attribute boost for increasing your maximum attribute rating and bypassing the 1-per-Rank limit on an attribute increase). Then lesser, but significant advantages like improved Toughness can be clocked in at 2 points and dinky bonuses like disease immunity or not having to sleep much can remain 1-pointers. 

Hindrances
 
Hindrances are going to be pretty familiar as well, although one significant difference is that you can take any combo of Hindrances adding up to 4 points: 4 Minor Hindrances are fine as are two Major ones. 

There's some new Hindrances in the mix and several Hindrances have minor/major versions they didn't before, such as Ugly which ranges from unpleasant looking to basically deformed. 

The Adventure Edition does make official a rule I don't think much of...providing players with a Benny whenever their roleplaying Hindrances come up. By itself that's a fine rule (I'm a FATE fan after all) but I've always felt it misses out on a major problem, it turns those Hindrances into stealth advantages, while others remain flatly disadvantageous. 

For instance, an Arrogant character gets the 2 bonus points for a Major Hindrance and gets a Benny whenever they act Arrogant and haughty (which was presumably what they wanted to do in the first place). But a character with Bad Luck gets 2 bonus points for a Major Hindrance and one less Benny a session and that's that. 

Basically, you can't balance Aspect-Style roleplaying flaws (where you're given in-game bonuses to encourage you to roleplay) with concrete mechanical flaws. Sure, some mechanical flaws can also be roleplaying flaws...but where is the line drawn? Does a Small character get a benny every time they take damage? That's clearly a non-starter. 

I have no problem with tying roleplaying flaws to the benny-economy, but those shouldn't be using the same rules as mechanically enforced disadvantages that actually alter your stats or rolls. 

Attributes

These are virtually unchanged: the same 5 attributes, ranked by die-type and doing more or less the same thing. Likewise derived stats like Toughness work out the same as well. You get all the attributes at a d4 and have enough points to make them all d6, just like before.

The only significant difference is that Charisma has been ditched and it's simply rolled into the effects of Edges and Hindrances. 

Skills

Although the basic idea is the same and you'll see a lot of familiar skills, this area has gotten a significant overhaul. 

Players get more skill points (17 total), but that's because 5 are automatically tied up in "Core" skills that automatically start with a d4, leaving you with 12 remaining.  
*Athletics: A catch-all that rolls up the former climbing, swimming and throwing skills all into one, in addition to serving as a general skill roll for being spry.
*Common Knowledge: which replaces the former common knowledge smarts roll
*Notice: Works just like previous editions
*Persuasion: Again, just like the previous versions, although it's noted as being very useful for the new "support" rules. 
*Stealth: No longer will you have to deal with that one player who's unskilled in Stealth, now everyone gets a d4 by default. 


There's also a bunch of modest changes to the skill list (lockpicking turned into the broader "thievery" skill, for instance), some skills (like streetwise) are removed and Knowledge has been split into several more predefined skills. 

Edges
 
This is where a lot of the big changes happen, too many to go over individually (that's what buying the book is for anyway). But generally speaking you'll find most of the familiar edges here with slightly different mechanics. Several come with slight "upgrades" that make them more appealing, for instance Brawny gives it's bonus to toughness and carrying capacity, but also boosts your effective strength for purposes of meeting weapon minimums. Block grants +1 to Parry like before but also reduces Gang Up bonuses against you by 1.

Edges that granted flat bonuses to rolls have been reduced or altered (for instance, each level of attractive gives +1 to persuasion and performance instead of +2, and charismatic gives you a free re-roll on performance rolls). Several that used to grant bonuses now remove penalties instead (such as the near-ubiquitous marksman edge)

A lot of Edges are more...defined. For instance, Dodge specifies that it's bonus doesn't combine with Cover. Martial Arts comes with defined rules for interacting with natural weapons and whether unarmed attacks count as natural weapons. 

Professional Edges have been towned down fairly significantly and a variety of new non-combat Edges are introduced along with Edges linked to the Test and Support rules introduced in this edition.

Some significant changes come up with the power-based edges but I'll save that discussion for further down. 

Legendary Edges in particular get a hefty boost with the crowning eye-popper being the Tough As Nails Edges, no longer limited to a Toughness bonus, they now increase the number of Wounds you can take before being KO'd!!

They're still disappointingly scant however, I'd really like to see a few more but it's understandable that they're more setting-specific. Hopefully with this extra kick we can look forward to some cooler Legendary Edges in future releases. 


Gear

Gear is pretty much unchanged other than a few tweaks here and there (armor has a minimum strength rating now).

Otherwise, you'll see stuff that's mostly pretty familiar.

The Rules!

Here we go, this is where the real meat of the changes happens. Going roughly in order: 

Bennies are expanded, allowing things like re-rolling damage by default, as well as drawing new initiative cards and even regaining power points.

The action economy is significantly altered. Multi-action penalties are similar but you can now repeat the same action more than once (with a cap of 3 actions per round). That's a big deal, because at a relatively mild -2 penalty you can fire your gun or swing your sword twice. Even firing full-auto multiple times a round or casting multiple spells a round. Needless to say that's a pretty big change. Full-auto weapons and combat Edges can make for quite the damage output (not to mention things like spellcasters laying down multiple AoE spells at once).   

This is one of those changes I'm going to have to see in action to really evaluate. My knee-jerk reaction is that this is going to push things towards the crazy end of things, with the potential for a huge amount of destruction in a single round for relatively mild penalties (-4 for 3 actions ain't nothing, but it's not insurmountable either). However, it's entirely possible that I'm overestimating the impact this will have and the feasibility of taking multiple actions. It definitely boosts the effectiveness of guns and automatic weapons even moreso...cover is important!

Another significant introduction is a set of new conditions which are used to standardize a lot of the miscellaneous effects from various actions: 
*Shaken The old classic is still around, but uses the newer rule for recovering fully on a successful spirit roll (no "unshake but lose your action" anymore). 
*Stunned: Stunned is a rougher version of Shaken, knocking you down and distracting you (see below) and preventing actions and giving opponents the drop on you. Needless to say, it's pretty harsh (and is recovered using Vigor rather than Spirit). Fortunately not a lot of things will Stun you, mainly magic or special weapons like tasers. 
*Distracted: A general "messed up" status, inflicting a global penalty to trait rolls. 
*Vulnerable: A lesser version of "the drop", you get a bonus to your actions against the victim. 
*Entangled: prevents you from moving and distracts you. 
*Bound: Can't move or act (except to break free) and distracts and renders you vulnerable.

Biggest thing I notice is the synergy with distracted and vulnerable. Although vulnerable is meant as a kind of "drop-lite" it's bonus applies to "Actions and attacks" against the target. This doesn't make much difference for straightforward attacks (as they aren't opposed rolls) but if you get your target distracted and vulnerable (which can be done with grappling or confusion spell for instance), this means that if you're making an opposed roll your opponent is at -2 and you're at +2. That's nasty when combined with spells like puppet or mind reading.

There are a few other nasty "double-ups" like that...for instance, if someone is stunned they're Distracted, which penalizes the roll they have to make to recover from being Stunned, on top of giving opponents the drop (which they can use to Shake you, and recovering from that is also penalized by being Distracted). In short, don't get stunned. 


The next significant new ideas are "Test" and "Support" Actions. Tests replace Tricks and Tests of Will from the previous editions and instead is intended as a generic "try and get an advantage" attempt. Pick a skill, explain how the skill can be used to create an opening (using knowledge or notice skills to find a weakness, using athletics to run circles around them, etc): you roll your skill and your opponent rolls whatever attribute is linked to that skill. So if you want to use your Notice skill to work out the pattern of your opponent's kung-fu, then they oppose you with their Smarts. Victory means you can make your opponent Distracted or Vulnerable, while a Raise shakes them. 

Support is the inverse, you pick a skill that you're using to assist an ally and make an unopposed roll with each success and raise adding a +1 bonus to your opponent. This can include using skills like persuasion or performance for bard-style encouragement. 


Adventure Toolkit

A lot of these I've only skimmed so far given how situational they are. 

The chase rules are familiar, but a bit less abstracted which may not be to its advantage. 

The dramatic task rules are more or less unchanged, just with some vague language tightened up and a few alternate options. 


Both fear checks and hazards are essentially unchanged, although they do incorporate the new rules verbage. Same goes for Interludes and Mass Battles

One new set of rules her is Networking, essentially a more formalized set of rules for digging up dirt and investigation, using Persuasion or Intimidation. It's not particularly complex, mostly amounting to a long-term skill check with abstracted results to find clues or basic aid. It's not a bad idea but lacking in meat...not much more than "make a skill roll, if you succeed you get what you're looking for, if you get a raise you get more. A critical failure has things go wrong".

There are also rules for "quick encounters" which are basically just a super-short version of a round-by-round encounter with abstracted results.

Social conflicts have become a bit more detailed but are otherwise fairly similar.


Powers


Powers have received a pretty major update and the theme they're focusing on seems to be increasing the flexibility of spellcasters.

For instance, one of the most significant changes is that the new Power Edge gives you two new Powers, meaning most spellcasters are going to have a much bigger bag of tricks than they did before. On top of that, several powers have been "collapsed" into one, for instance there is no more Healing and Greater Healing, instead Healing can be improved by spending more power points to do things like cure disease/poison, restore body parts or ignore the golden hour.

In addition, there are new "power modifiers" that can be added to any power, adding things like AP, inflicting fatigue, or letting you do things like choose to remove targets from an AoE effect. The majority are offensively focused but there are a couple of "buff" effects you could potentially apply to beneficial powers...which are a little bit lame since they're limited to two very specific effects (boosting pace or adding a concealing shadow effect) but since they're the only beneficial effects they'll often get applied by default. Most powers have a selection of specific modifiers available as well

The ultimate example is the Wizard Edge which lets you pay an extra power point to change a spell's trappings on the fly (presumably this is meant to be mostly cosmetic or for interaction with a creature's weaknesses/immunities, as there are no specific trapping "effects" anymore).

Power Points recover faster too. They only recover when resting, but they now recover 5 PP/hour spent resting (up to 20 PP/hour with improved rapid recharge). The final result is that spellcasters can cast spells more often and with a vastly improved breadth of spell effects.

On the other end, some of the previously overpowered spells (looking at you Quickness) have been toned down. Quickness now removes 2 points of multi-action penalty, but doesn't grant you the ability take a whole second action or take more than 3 actions total. That said, a lot of powers have been collapsed together...Slow, Speed and Quickness are all one power now and given that spellcasters have more powers now than they did before this seems a little much. 

The final result is a little hard to evaluate, partially because one of Savage Worlds flaws is that there is no automatic "balancing" between Power-users and mundane characters depending on setting. The rules for being a mage are the same in a medieval fantasy where your mundane allies are toting swords and shields and an apocalyptic cyberpunk game where normal humans can carry around fully-automatic weapons and grenades. 

In previous editions the Powers seemed to mostly be in line with the medieval fantasy level...a sorcerer was a bit more dangerous than an archer or warrior but was limited by their power point supply and the ability to affect enemies. Move up to modern day or beyond and the spellcaster quickly falls behind the curve when compared to guns and high-tech equipment (this is often mitigated by specialized arcane backgrounds with a bit more oomph such as what is seen in the deadlands settings). 

In the adventure edition, the spellcasting rules are probably roughly on par with modern or near future capabilities (assuming players have fairly free reign with equipment) but look like they'll dominate when compared to mundane heroes in pre-gunpowder days. There are some very impressive new combat Edges, but not to the degree that spellcasters have.

TL:DR
 
 I'm planning to upgrade to this edition with my games, which should tell you that I consider it to be an overall superior edition. However, it's not flawless and there are a few areas I'm going to have to watch and possibly shore up with house rules.


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