This will be my first offering for my reoccurring Alternative Games feature and it is a good one. Savage Worlds© is a product produced by the talented folks over at Pinnacle Entertainment, well renowned for their Deadlands© RPG system. The Savage Worlds system is a simplified variant of that behind Deadlands, designed to enable “Fast! Fun! Furious!” gameplay (in their words).
Explanation of The Alternative
Savage Worlds has a great many elements which are similar to that of Spark. Attributes are associated with Dice sizes, so that the better a character is at such an attribute, the larger the size of the Die. The attributes in this system consist of Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength and Vigor. Those attributes affects some of the derived traits and interact with the costs of skills when they are purchased. Skills are also on the same die scale as attributes and tests involves rolling either the skill die (if they have it) or the base attribute (if they don’t). If the single die rolls good enough compared to the static target number, the character succeeds. If the die rolls the highest possible, it “aces”, meaning that you can roll the die again and add that number to the total.
Any individual is classified as being either a Wild Card (for important named character) or an Extra (for minions and other lesser unnamed foes who are far less effective). All PC’s are Wild Cards, meaning that they get to roll an additional D4 on every test, statistically helping the characters to a decent extent. Extras drop like flies, but Wild Cards are durable and potent individuals.
The system accounts for Bennies, a resource given to the players each session to affect fate and increase their chances to succeed on important confrontations. Likewise, these Bennies are given the ST so they can support NPC’s at important times.
Each character is principally differentiated by their Edges and their Hindrances. These are the mechanical benefits or drawbacks for their specific characters and the book gives lists of all of the common ones, remarking that more Edges and Hindrances are found in setting books. Edges have specific requirements and prerequisites, often appearing to be special tricks or capabilities of the characters which have more in common with Feats (AD&D) then with Fortunes (Spark). Edges also allow for players to use Powers, gained from a proscriptive list of generic effects listed in the book.
The Merits of The Alternative
Savage Worlds is an award-winning product and has earned its place among the forefront of the crowd. It was built on the foundation of miniatures gaming and has a robust combat system, allowing for a wide variety of different kinds of combatants and tactical options. There are rules and tables covering every eventuality, from dehydration in the jungle to a chase scene in the streets of New York. The system lives up to its promise of being fast, fun and furious when physical conflict comes around. The combat system ideally functions with a battle map, miniatures and the appropriate templates, allowing the mighty heroes to stand against hordes of minions led by mighty leaders. The disparity in power between the Extras and the Wild Cards means that players can slay countless foes with relative ease.
Beyond the system-specific merits, there are also a number of areas in which the publisher has excelled. Firstly and most impressively, they have produced the “Explorer’s Edition” of the core book which is a digest size version of the core book. This essentially contains the entire game in a 160 page small soft cover book and manages to get a price tag of $9.99 each. It is often worth buying multiple copies of the explorer edition due to how economical they are; I purchased two of them myself. Their decision to make an affordable, portable and attractive book certainly wins my praises. They also produce a number of premade setting & adventure supplements which they call “Plot Point Campaigns”.
The Merits of Spark RPG
With Spark, we have taken a different approach in the game design process compared to the fine folks at PEG. One of our key goals was to have physical conflict; social interaction and mental puzzle-solving hold equal prominence. In Spark, physical combat is less emphasized and is dealt with in a more abstract fashion. Rather than rolling on a critical hit table for instance, the Spark system generalizes and assumes that the group may interpret the dice rolls appropriately for the situation. Combat progresses quickly even in the hands inexperienced players, as Spark has fewer mechanics and has less of an emphasis on miniatures.
The major advantage with Spark is creativity during the character creation process. The player decides what Trainings, Tools or Glories would best suit their character, potentially coming up with innovative and unique traits. These traits are then named and written upon the character sheet as opposed to picking the traits from a proscriptive list. As a result, each character is unique and memorable and there is more flexibility during game play for interpretation. The Spark RPG is built on the principles of natural language description rather than categories or numbers, potentially more comfortable for the right brained among us.
Savage Worlds is an excellent system, ideal for dynamic pulp-style action with plenty of tactics to keep you entertained. If this sounds attractive to you, I would suggest you try to purchase their Explorer Edition; the price is most certainly right in my opinion. If you prefer a non-pulpy game system with less focus upon physical combat, you may appreciate Spark once released. Even if you fall into the latter camp, I would still recommend picking up at least one copy of Savage Worlds as it excellent quality for a remarkably low price.