Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strolling Through Savage Worlds (Part 2): Traits and Character Creation


"Great heroes are more than a collection of statistics and numbers, but in a game system this is certainly where they begin."
- Shane Lacy Hensley, Savage Worlds Deluxe

In Savage Worlds, characters are mostly defined by Traits. Traits cover both innate ability (Attributes) and a character's training and expertise (Skills). The Attributes in Savage Worlds are very similar to the six standard ability scores in D&D: Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength, and Vigor map clearly to Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Strength, and Constitution--only Charisma, that perennial dump stat, is left out of the spread.

The standard list of Skills in Savage Worlds includes: Boating, Climbing, Driving, Fighting, Gambling, Healing, Intimidation, Investigation, Knowledge (with specialties), Lockpicking, Notice, Persuasion, Piloting, Repair, Riding, Shooting, Stealth, Streetwise, Survival, Swimming, Taunt, Throwing, and Tracking. I tend to think that most gamers have an ideal skill list in mind; Savage Worlds selection of skills may or may not fit it. In Savage Worlds, Skills are meant to be fairly broad. For example, your Fighting skill handles all melee combat rolls. Similarly, Shooting covers everything from bows to automatic rifles. For me, the skill list is pretty good. In a perfect world, Climbing and Swimming would be combined into Athletics. It's also a bit odd that Gambling is a Skill--how often does this come up in most games?

Traits in Savage Worlds are rated in terms of the dice you roll when using that Trait, from d4 to d12--with a d6 being human average. One thing that throws some people off is that Attributes and Skills are directly linked in terms of what you roll to do things in game; for example, if you have a d8 Agility and a d4 Stealth, you're going to roll that d4 to see if you can sneak down a hallway without being noticed. However, that isn't to say that Attributes and Skills aren't inter-related in Savage Worlds. Attributes act as "caps" for the Skills they are related for; advancing a Skill beyond the Attribute that governs it costs more points than advancing a Skill that is lower than its associated Attribute. I like this; it makes sense to me that it takes more effort to improve a skill beyond your natural aptitude for it, and that natural aptitude doesn't equal or trump training. While you wouldn't ever want a clumsy surgeon, I'd rather have someone with experience in heart surgery do a bypass instead of the most agile juggler in the world, you know?

Reason #7687624 why I'm not really in the 'old-school demographic': Outside of 1e Warhammer FRP, I don't really like random-roll character generation. For me, letting the dice dictate what my character is all about got old sometime in the 90s. I think this is true for a lot of people; there's a reason why most modern games (outside of the ones that aren't going for a "retro" feel) eschew random roll character generation. Randomly generated characters are a rarity in console and computer games for the same reason--people like to customize their characters to fit their preferences. Also, I tend to roll horribly when making a character.

That said, I'm picky in this regard because I also don't like overly-complicated or fiddly character creation. I want to be able to customize, but I also want to be able to make a character quickly. 

Character creation in Savage Worlds works like this:

Your Attributes all start at d4, and you have five "points" to increase them with. Each point spent on an Attribute increases it a dice size; if you spend two points on your Strength, your Strength is a d8.

Your Skills all start at...nothing, but you have 15 points to spend on them. Each point spent nets you a dice size in that skill. Spend three points on Healing, for example, and now you've got a Healing skill of d8. Just be mindful of the cap set by the Attribute that governs each particular skill (as I discussed here); you can raise a Skill above the Attribute it is linked to, but it will cost double. For example, if you have an Agility of d6 but want to have a Fighting skill of d8 it will cost you four points--two points gets you to Fighting d6, but two more points are required to raise that skill above the cap set by the d6 in Agility.

There are also four Derived Attributes: Charisma (which acts as a bonus or penalty to social actions), Pace (movement speed), Parry (how difficult it is to hit you in melee), and Toughness (how difficult it is to hurt you in combat).

16 comments:

  1. Pinnacle publishes SW and deadlands was a big setting they ported over that's the reason for the gambling skill. Btw great series I plan on purchasing a copy of the deluxe rules this week!

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    1. Yeah, the Gambling skill is definitely a holdover from Deadlands. And damn, I should be working on commission!

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  2. As much as I love Savage Worlds -- and as much as I think its skill list is one of the best in the hobby -- I still feel the skill list could use some tweaking. (In fact, I wrote an article about it for the next Savage Insider.) Gambling in particular seems like such an odd holdover from Deadlands; given how gambling was practically the only form of entertainment available throughout human history, it should really be Common Knowledge in most historical settings.

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    1. I agree up to "gambling was practically the only form of entertainment available throughout human history," heh.

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    2. I tend to be somewhat hyperbolic first thing in the morning. :)

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    3. Better than somewhat carbolic first thing in the morning.

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  3. I'm really enjoying this series, as it's giving me insights into a system that I own a lot of games for, but have never had the chance to GM or play. I think it's a very astute observation that most gamers probably have a skill set in mind that they judge all others against.

    I also have similar feelings about random roll generation systems for stats, especially rolls in order. I recently had to roll about 7 sets of stats for a LOTFP PC before I hit on one that did not meet the book's own criteria for a low-bonus discard. Who has time for that these days?

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    1. Thanks! And yeah, I've never had roll-in-order work out in a D&D clone. I also don't always have time to "discover who the character is in play"; making the character I want to play is so much more satisfying and a better use of time.

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  4. Charisma a dump stat? In 3/4 maybe!

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    1. I always hear old-school guys say that, but in practice it usually seems to be the case. Then again, OSR people say a lot of shit they don't actually mean, so...

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  5. One thing I love about Savage Worlds is the flexibility of the whole system. You can tweak the skill list to fit whatever setting you want, and the whole thing still works. And if I want less generic skills, the Deluxe book has the optional specialization rules (which I know you'll cover eventually in this series).

    I may be something of a Pinnacle fanboy, since I have read the rule book cover to cover, and I still like this little strolling series.

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    1. Thanks!

      I've never actually tweaked the skill list, but that's not a bad idea. And actually that mention of the specializations is a good reminder.

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  6. You've got me reading through the Explorer's Edition.

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  7. Rambling, ahoy!

    I have literal decades of Champions / HERO System under my belt, and combining that with a player base reared on D&D 3.5, White Wolf's output, and other "build your own character" games, this GM really soured on customization.

    That's what brought me back to "ol' skool" games. GMing Mutant Future and Dungeon Crawl Classics and such let me get back to the thrills of "random".

    But I realize that, ultimately, it was the people I was playing with--a NASA space station engineer, a World Class Magic player who memorizes systems in order to break them, and a selfish rules-lawyer; power-gamers, all--that taxed me, not the systems themselves.

    Planet Motherfucker has been a godsend, if for no other reason that I'm enjoying the hell out of Savage Worlds and remembering why I liked customization in the first place.

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    1. Thanks man! That's heartening to hear.

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