“Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition” Review

Savage Worlds is a multi-genre roleplaying game created by Pinnacle Entertainment. So it’s no coincidence that the Savage Worlds rules have some similarities with the classic Deadlands rules. But other than Deadlands which comes with an original background, the Savage World rules are suited for any campaign. And if you don’t want to create your own campaign there are quite a few SW campaign settings available at your FLGS and you can get dozens of “one-sheet adventures” at the official PegInc site for free!

The “Explorer’s Edition”
The SWEE is the newest edition of the SW rules. It’s a 160 pages paperback book and of smaller size than usual roleplaying game rules. The advantage is that you can easily carry the book around and check out the rules with ease instead of hauling around a whole library of books. And in most cases you don’t need anything more than this book, your campaign, dice, and a deck of poker cards to play or run SW.
 The printing is full-color and get a lot of artwork although of varying quality. And beware! There’s no character sheet in the back of the book. But luckily PegInc provides them at their website. But the major advantage of the “Explorer’s Edition” over previous versions of SW is the price. The complete rules you need to play this game set you back only 10 bucks! And you get a lot of fun for that 10 bucks, I can tell you.

Fast! Furious! Fun!
PegInc advertises SW as being fast, furious and fun and I can fully agree with that.  But let’s first talk about the rules. For my first look impressions of the SW rules and the “Pirates of the Spanish Main” stand-alone campaign setting, you can check out my post “Savage Worlds“.

The rules
Instead of plain numbers, SW uses dice to measure your attributes and skills. Every character starts with a d4 in all his or her traits (Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength, Vigor). At character creation you get a couple of points to raise your traits, so 1 points improves a d4 to a d6 and so on. In normal campaigns the average value of an attribute is d6. Skills work in a similar way. For example: You have a d6 in Agility and want to learn Boating. Boasting is based on Agility, so every dice up to d6 costs you 1 point. If you want to improve Boating from a d6 to d8, you need to pay two points and so on.

When you have to make a skill or trait test, just roll the corresponding die. If you score equal or higher than a set difficulty value (usually 4) you have succeded. Of course the GM can raise the difficulty according to situation. Wild Cards (Special NPCs and player characters) have to roll a d6 in addition to their normal die. The higher result counts. If you roll an ace on one of your dice (a 6 on a d6 or an 8 on a d8) you can roll again and add that to your score. Every 4 points over what you needed for success is called a “raise”. Getting a raise normally means a better action result (like more damage in combat).

When you have understood how trait/skill tests work you are almost ready to play the game. It’s as easy as that. Of course you still have to learn a few things concerning combat, but every test is made using this technique. Combat initiative is handled in a different way though. Every player and NPC gets a poker card at the beginning of the round. People with Aces go first, Kings and Queens next and so on. Jokers can choose to act whenever they want. When a joker is dealt you reshuffle the deck afterwards. This works fine, but I would have preferred a more traditional method.

Edges & Hindrances
The major part of character creation are Edges and Hindrances. Edges not only give the character some special abilities (like Arcane Backgrounds for magic) but also some roleplaying flavor and background. You get one Egde for free every additional Edge you must buy by taking Hindrances. Hindrances are things like Ugly, Poverty, Clueless, et cetera. Hindrances are even better than Edges to give your character some background. In my Pirates campaign one of my players plays an clueless English Noble. The roleplaying opportunities are endless and half of the time it’s comedy gold!

Gear and Vehicles
SWEE comes with equipment and weapon descriptions for multiple genres, so you can easily run almost any campaign with additional work. There are also statistics for various vehicles from horse & carriage to a civilian space shuttle or a galley. You get no rules for the creation of gear or vehicles because you don’t need any. If you need a new vehicle just write down the statistics as you see fit. The same goes with the creation of NPCs or monsters. Just give them the traits, skills, edges and hindrances you seem appropriate and you are done.

Arcane Backgrounds
A lot of genres need arcane powers like Magic, Psionics or even Weird Science. SWEE has special Edges called “Arcane Backgrounds” that allow characters to use special powers. Arcane Backgrounds is part of what makes SW so great. You have a list of powers like Fly, Elemental Manipulation, Armor, whatever that describes what the power does. But the Arcane Background describes how it’s done. So the Fly power can be a anti-grav harness when created by “Weird Science” or a levitation spell. Or, if you use the Supers background, you can fly like Superman. This rule mechanic gives the GM the option to create completly new arcane backgrounds, without having to change the rules. You just have to add more “Arcane Background” edges. 

Gamemaster’s Section
The end of the book constits of approx. 35 pages of tips on how to run a campaign, rules on experience, reaction tables, world creation and “Villains & Monsters”. You even get a short pirate adventure for you to run. Especially the tips on gamemastering and world creation are much to short in my opinion, but considering the low price it’s probably ok. But if you are an experienced GM you probably don’t need a lot of material of that kind anyway. The list of monsters and NPCs included in the book is not exhaustive but sufficient in most cases. If you need anything else, just make it up yourself.

If you are looking for a complex ruleset that has rules for every situation then SWEE is probably not the right choice for you. Check out GURPS instead. But if you need a simple and fast roleplaying rules system that can easily work with any setting, than SWEE is worth more than a look. The rules are very easy to learn and the edges and hindrances give players a lot of opportunities for creating unique characters. Another major selling point is the low price and the compact format. SWEE could be perfect when going to a roleplaying convention. Just throw the rules, some character sheets, a pencil, your dice and a deck of poker cards into your backpack and you’re good to go. If I should rate SWEE on a scale from 1 to 5, I would give it a 5!

Some final notes
SWEE can also be used as a tabletop miniatures game. The distances and speeds in the rulebook are already  given in Inches. I didn’t try that out yet and I am more interested in using it as a roleplaying game.

If you want to learn more about SWEE check out the following sites: