To Savage or Not to Savage

Savage Worlds FanWhen you convert an existing campaign setting or game to the Savage Worlds rules you have “savaged” the setting. But there’s one important question: does it make sense to savage every setting?

Savage Worlds is currently a very popular system. There’s almost no day without a post about Savage Worlds on our own RPG Bloggers Network. There are currently over a dozen campaign settings available for SW and a lot of fan conversions are floating around on the internet. I recently even thought about running an Eberron campaign using the Savage Worlds rules.

But is this always the best way to go? No, I don’t think so. I like Savage Worlds because it really is “fast, furious, fun” as the creators claim it to be. You can run SW with almost no preparation, especially when you use a “plot point” campaign like Rippers or Slipstream. The rules are easy to learn and still allow you to use them in almost every genre. The killer argument is the price. I don’t think you can get any other multi-genre roleplaying game for just 10 bucks (aside from a few free ones of course).

SWEE CoverSo, why do I advise against using SW for everything? There are a few things you have to keep in mind, before you convert your favorite campaign setting to SW. Sometimes you can’t separate rules from the setting completely. One example is how magic works in the official D&D settings. For a long time we had Vancian magic where magic users had to memorize their spells for the day. When a spell was cast, the magic user had to rememorize it the next day to be able to cast again. This is part of the D&D rules but nevertheless it affected how magic works in the campaign worlds. If you use the Savage World rules, the magic system is vastly different. If you don’t mind that your version of the campaign differs in that respect, you’re fine. But if you want to bring the feel of Vancian magic back, you will have either to create your own magic system or stick to D&D. An in my opinion problems arise whenever you try to convert rules and not the setting.

A few days ago we had a talk on Twitter about playing a Fallout pen & paper game. My first idea was to use Savage Worlds. But there are a few things to consider first. A lot of the feel of the computer games comes from the SPECIAL system used. I have to admit that on a second thought a SW conversion might actually lose some of the games’ appeal. But on the other hand, the SW rules would probably work just fine in a post-apocalyptic setting. Tough call…

You also have to keep in mind that the SW combat rules don’t use hitpoints like a lot of other systems. When you are used to long drawn-out combats where the players slowly reduce their enemies hitpoints, you’ll be shocked when you realize that you won’t have that experience using SW combat. The whole combat dynamic of SW is different from most other roleplaying games I’ve played. This is of course not a bad thing per se, but if you prefer killing your dragons one hitpoint at a time, you should avoid using Savage Worlds.

So, when should you think about converting an existing setting to Savage Worlds? If you ask me, you can convert everything to SW as long as you can live with the fact that the rules will definitely have an impact on the feel of the world. Especially the combat and magic rules will probably have a big impact. If you don’t mind these changes, go ahead and give it a try. In most cases using the Savage Worlds Explorers Edition will suffice. If you are going to play in a fantasy setting, you might pick up the new Fantasy Companion or at least have a look at the free Wizards & Warriors supplement.

Converting settings to SW is less work than probably expected and could be great fun, but you have to accept the consequences. Especially when the setting you want to convert is tied to certain rules to make sense (like D&D’s Vancian magic), you will either have to create variant rules or just accept that some things work different, when “savaged”.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

10 thoughts on “To Savage or Not to Savage”

  1. I don't think this just a SW issue. This applies to any game out there. Converting a D&D game to say the Hero System would have the same issue. Sometimes it's hard to separate the rules from the setting. I've had this argument about Traveller for a long time. Although I've stated as is Traveller what is is because of it's rules or because of it's setting? The answer I've always come up with is, is a bit of both.

  2. Good post. As a Savage myslef, I think there is some really good advice on Savaging a setting to found in the toolkits and at the Pinnacle boards. Foremost is to convert the setting not the system. Decide what few themes or tropes define the setting and begin by converting those. Also, check to see what someone else might have already done on Savaging the setting. many games have been savaged already.
    .-= Mountzionryan´s last blog ..Dust Devils Revenged; A review =-.

  3. Yeah, I agree, it's the same with every other game. But since Savage Worlds is very popular right now and since there a dozens of fan conversions in the making (or already done), I used it as an example.

  4. I picked up the SW core rulebook last week. I had the Solomon Kane book, and while it was an interesting read, I could never ask a player to fork over $50 for a book of which two-thirds the content was meant to be GM-only. With the core book, and the $10 condensed version, this is a lot more reasonable. I'm liking what I'm reading so far, and would like to put it to good use sometime in the future.
    .-= Badelaire´s last blog ..Thoughts on Creating Non-Human Characters =-.

  5. Agreed 100%.

    It's very tempting to treat Savage Worlds (or Mutants & Masterminds, or GURPS, or…….) as a universal panacea role-playing game. But where's the fun in that? Variety is the spice of life, after all 😀
    .-= greywulf´s last blog ..Endday, part three =-.

  6. Interesting thoughts. I've recently become a Savage Worlds addict and have been running wild with conversions. I'm currently working on Buffy/Angel and Halo: ODST. Thing is, they work with the system. The magic and combat systems are pretty good fits, though Halo has some nasty stuff to work through (i.e. energy shields). Still, their tone works but I don't think my standard D&D game would. Something to think about, I guess.
    .-= Will´s last blog ..Imperial Scout Trooper =-.

  7. I'm currently prepping to run a Forgotten Realms sandbox game using Savage Worlds. I mulled over the problem of the magic system not matching the setting for a while until I struck upon the idea of using the setting itself to explain a drastic change in magic. I'm using 2e Realms materials, so instead of the Time of Troubles converting the magic system from 1e to 2e, I'm rewriting the history to have the Time of Troubles change magic from the AD&D 1e way to the Savage Worlds way.

    I think to maintain the thrill of discovering a new spell I'm going to make scroll creation really easy, so all those enemy spellbooks are still useful: for creating (fragile, bulky) one-shot spells.
    .-= d7´s last blog ..Wizards’ Fan Site Kit is not a fan site policy =-.

  8. @MJ Harnish: Thanks for the link. I knew that there was an Fallout PnP already (I even created a character sheet back in the day, that's probably still available somewhere on the net), but for my taste the SPECIAL system is a bit too crunchy, especially in combat. But I like the background, so I might use another system to run a Fallout one-shot sometimes.

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