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Playing pretend for grown-ups
February 25, 2009 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Want to play a swashbuckling pirate, space opera hero, or monster-fighting Victorian dandy? How about a supervillain fighting against alien invaders? Or a mutant snack cake? Welcome to Savage Worlds.

Do you just want to have fun with a role-playing game without having to spend your life savings on books that make your college calculus textbook look like as much fun as Rocky and Bullwinkle?

All the rules you need to play fit into a small, cheap book. There are a bunch of supplemental sourcebooks, but there's also tons of fan-created content. The system has an active community, with enormous amounts of resources available for players and GMs.

Want to give it a shot for free? Try the Test Drive rules(PDF) and a scenario (20MB download) or two.

And on March 9th, for all those of you who grew up wanting to be John Carter (or just dress like him), Savage Mars gets released.

Role-playing the way it was meant to be: fun.

Yes, I know, I'm a geek.
posted by MrVisible (56 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice post. But in the interest of consumer guidance, people in the market for a universal role-playing system should at least be aware that the well-established - albeit immeasurably more complicated - HERO system has a 6th edition scheduled for publication this year.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:53 PM on February 25, 2009


I want to be a deep-sea fish with tubular eyes and transparent head.
posted by ornate insect at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I love this stuff.

Tangentially, Savage Worlds is one example of a fairly recent generation of tabletop RPGs that emphasize quick gameplay and rules-light narrative-building over intricate simulation and fine-grained dice rolling. The creators of these games gather at The Forge, where every possible theoretical position vis-a-vis the playing of roles has been hashed out in fascinating detail, ultimately identifying three broad times of players: Gamists, Narrativists, and Simulationists.

If Savage Rules (itself already a very Narrativist game) has (shock!) too many fiddly rules for you, you might try Primetime Adventures or Wushu.

Me, I always wanted to give Savage Worlds a try, but for the life of me I couldn't find the core rules anywhere—Nan's Games in Houston didn't have them, and they have fucking everything—and the edition I was looking for seemed to be out of print.

I guess it's available again now, though; hooray!

And as a side note, I had stolen from me the excellent (and long out-of-print) Adventure! Tales of the Aeon Society, a game very much in the spirit of Savage Worlds -- and if any MeFites out there have a copy and would be willing to part with it, I will make it worth your while.
posted by pts at 2:08 PM on February 25, 2009


For a really, really lightweight system you could also check out the RISUS rules and whip up a scenario by yourself.
posted by Glow Bucket at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2009


Tangentially, Savage Worlds is one example of a fairly recent generation of tabletop RPGs that emphasize quick gameplay and rules-light narrative-building over intricate simulation and fine-grained dice rolling.

I realize that compared to D&D, Savage Worlds is relatively non-crunchy. Still, hearing it described as "rules-light" kind of makes me boggle. I'd describe it as far more simulationist than narrativist, but regardless, neither one is inherently rules-light. Primetime Adventures, Risus, or The Pool fit that description a lot better.
posted by EarBucket at 2:13 PM on February 25, 2009


Hey, what's wrong with Rock and Bullwinkle?

Which reminds me that there was a Rocky and Bullwinkle RPG and that I have it. In a box. Somewhere.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:20 PM on February 25, 2009


Still, hearing it described as "rules-light" kind of makes me boggle.
Ah, perhaps you're right -- truthfully I've never played Savage Worlds, but I've heard it mentioned in the same breath as many of the above games, so I sort of assumed it had narrativist tendencies.

I see now, looking at the test drive, that while it might include a few flourishes along those lines, it's simulationist at its heart. Good to know.
posted by pts at 2:23 PM on February 25, 2009


I'd say it's a lot like West End Games' D6 system in terms of simulationism. It's certainly on the cinematic end of the scale, but it's definitely a "these dice say how good you are at doing things" kind of game.
posted by EarBucket at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2009


Can I shill my favorite RPGs in FPPs too?
posted by edheil at 2:29 PM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can I shill my favorite RPGs in FPPs too?

I don't know, are you ever going to make a post?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:37 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can I shill my favorite RPGs in FPPs too?

After three years you're going to make your first FPP out of spite?

Oh wait, what that a rhetorical question?
posted by nanojath at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2009


eerie
posted by nanojath at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2009


NATURAL 20!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:41 PM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anyway, this post is worth a fave for all the "now, THIS is a rules-light RPG" links alone. If you can make a "shill" post that provokes this quality of discussion within 8 comments, edheil, please do!
posted by nanojath at 2:44 PM on February 25, 2009


I love, love, love me some Risus RPG. It's free and open RPG with simple rules you can build on if you want. It's perfect for creative people!
posted by joelf at 2:46 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, you could just go "diceless" and roleplay the narrative.

Never played Savage Worlds so I cant speak to its value. I recall the old TORG game tried (successfully I might add) to create a system that applied to virtually every RPG scenario. It was a really fun RPG but I would not categorize it as simple. You practically needed a calculator and knowledge of calculus to resolve some actions.

Diceless systems, by their nature, apply to anything a gamer might want to to play. They are, however, seriously advanced roleplaying. The pinnacle is Nobilis, but the concepts behind the Amber system are pretty good too. Not for amateurs those systems - heed my words - but I submit that any serious gamer needs to have those books in their possession, if only for reference.

And I will agree with EarBucket about West End Games' d6 system. Their Star Wars game was the simplest and most fun RPG I've ever experienced.
posted by elendil71 at 2:46 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've tried Risus, and I find that I really do like a more simulationist structure; I find it helps guide the story. Without game mechanics to fiddle with, the RP session becomes a bit too much like shared storytime, and most gamers are just a bit too self-conscious to enjoy that. Giving them dice to roll and rules to argue over makes it easier to run.

To be honest, I was a little leery of posting an FPP about a product, but it took me a while to learn to navigate all the Savage Worlds resources out there and collect the links. I figured if it was too egregious a shill, it'd get deleted. So far (previews) so good.

What I find I like most about the system is that it's built for very cinematic storytelling. Your characters are heroes, dammit, and they do heroic things that normal people can't. It's entirely unrealistic, but still achieves good dramatic tension. The exploding dice/bennies rules make just about anything possible, while still making it possible for your character to get badly mangled. Perfect for swashbuckling.
posted by MrVisible at 2:49 PM on February 25, 2009


Sounds interesting, but I'm sticking with Kingdom of Loathing. Level 19 Turtle Tamer, bitches.
posted by queensissy at 3:00 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where's that thread on Car Wars? Now there was a good sim that was light on rules. Basic shoot em up. I loved that game.

All those pocket games, like Ogre, and the one with the insects. I really liked the one with the insects. I can't remember the name of it. Hymenoptera or something.
posted by Xoebe at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2009


SW is not a narrativist game and was not part of that movement. It is a very light take on D&D 3E with an eye towards mass miniature combat (or maybe a take on mass miniature combat with an eye towards being 3E lite). It's not too new or representative of anything new. It's light, but it's not free-form. And even for being light, it's kind of a bit rulesy.

Then there's this RPGnet thread.

A narrativist game that was influenced by SW that I kinda enjoy is AGON set in mythic Ancient Greece where the players are meant to be show-offy competitive oath-swearing jackholes like Odysseus. Then there's Dogs in the Vineyard if you like the idea of playing a Morman-esque trouble-shooter and demon hunter. I'm being really sloppy with the term narrativist, they mostly fall under the category of indie games. I can't really do them justice.

The same thing that inspired SW (namely, that D20 is a gigantic piece of shit) also helped inspire the so-called "Old School Renaissance" which is more about DIY and returning to the roots of roleplaying, which is where I hang my robe and wizard hat these days...
posted by fleacircus at 3:15 PM on February 25, 2009


Level 19 Turtle Tamer, bitches.

Hold off the bragging until you've done a few oxy hardcore whatever-the-flavour-of-the-month runs. Or oxy hardcore NO WEAPONS. har.

Also, I'm a bit out of the RPG loop these days, but why do people keep publishing new rulesets? Doesn't GURPS, HERO or d20 cover ervything, rules-wise, by this point? Hasn't the market moved to sourcebooks? Isn't publishing a new ruleset with your setting kind of 1984?
posted by GuyZero at 3:23 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hm I guess the term used these days might be "story games" for the newer breed of games with lotsa N, a dash of G, and not so much of the ol' S. Then there's this guy's opinion on them.

Me, I'm just waiting for rpggeek.com to unite us all.
posted by fleacircus at 3:26 PM on February 25, 2009


If we're talking about universal systems, it seems like SJG's GURPS deserves at least a mention.

/ducks incoming

posted by snuffleupagus at 3:27 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


WORD UP GUYZERO
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:29 PM on February 25, 2009


Since no one has gotten there yet, for a really free form RPG I love Fudge. It doesn't have so much structure as it looks like Savage Worlds does, but it really does get out of the way and let you tell a story, while having enough luck elements to keep it a game. The 1995 version is here(pdf) , and excerpts (pdf) from the 2005 reprint. I played this system for a few years in the late nineties in a long online campaign on irc.
posted by meinvt at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2009


EVERYBODY STAR FRONTIERS AT MY HOUSE TONITE
posted by GuyZero at 3:33 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kind of reminds me of early GURPS before all the max-min'ing twinks started in...(*)

Maybe it's part of the natural cycle: Make something simple, find out that simple things have lots of edge cases and loopholes, fix them, then look at it and go "Bah! Too complicated!" and throw it out to start over.

Never let them use the old MAGIC rulebook vampires. Never - Ever.
posted by Orb2069 at 3:35 PM on February 25, 2009


Other "rules light" rpgs: James West's The Pool (free) and The Questing Beast (cheap), Clinton Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday(free, or you can pay for the printed version) and Tiny Triangles (free, a much lighter rules set than the official Mouse Guard RPG), and Hero's Banner.
posted by yeloson at 3:49 PM on February 25, 2009


I'm not a big fan of Ron Edwards but he does write clearly. His response to "why not just use D20/Hero/GURPS" might be those are just three of the same thing.

Anyway, first you start with the single good specific thing, then you generalize it, then you try to clone the pattern as much as possible, then it collapses under the weight of cruft, canon, patches and add-ons until it's too difficult to use or change. Then you throw it out and start over with one single good specific thing.

We might as well shout out Basic Role Playing the child of venerable and awesome RuneQuest. And GURPS itself started out as The Fantasy Trip... but of course RQ and TFT were just themselves reboots of the OD&D pattern that was found wanting.
posted by fleacircus at 3:51 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't beat Amber for rules-light RPGs.
posted by oddman at 4:13 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


oxy hardcore NO WEAPONS

Blagh. No problem on boozetefarian or oxygenarian runs, but I hated hardcore and only did it once. I just feel better knowing I have a savory sword in my inventory.
posted by queensissy at 4:14 PM on February 25, 2009


There are roleplaying games other than D&D?
posted by sy at 4:26 PM on February 25, 2009


Nice to see a post like this on a more mainstream site than rpg.net or enworld.org or the countless other nerd hobby related blogs.

I like Savage Worlds, but it has a steeper learning curve than is readily apparent. The way it handles the health status of important characters confuses most people until they've played through it once or twice. It's a good little system that (usually) delivers on its promise of fast furious fun.

My go to game/system: Unisystem. Mechanically simple and tons of solid resources in the All Flesh Must be Eaten and Witchcraft (amongst other) product lines. And if you want, there's also a lighter-weight variant called Cinematic Unisystem that was used in the Buffy, Angel, and Army of Darkness RPGs.

Regardless, good face-to-face gaming is 90% group and 10% system. I suppose that's just like any real world group activity, but it seems to get lost when trying to find "the perfect game/system".
posted by C.Batt at 4:28 PM on February 25, 2009


His response to "why not just use D20/Hero/GURPS" might be those are just three of the same thing.

That's certainly a good argument. I'm not 100% sure that Savage Worlds is any different either, but whatever. I actually kind of enjoyed that old days when setting and mechanics were linked so that you had very specific mechanics that gave each game a different feel. Logarithmic stats for the Marvel RPG, SAN in CoC, not really anything at all in Lords of Creation or Traveller. Well, Classic Traveller. But you really felt like you were playing a different game.
posted by GuyZero at 4:29 PM on February 25, 2009


You had me at "Mutant Snack Cake."
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:36 PM on February 25, 2009


GuyZero, the logarithmic stats are from the DC Heroes RPG. The Marvel RPG had FASERIP and that big honkin' table on the back of the books.

Sheesh...

:-D
posted by C.Batt at 5:05 PM on February 25, 2009


I've been tempted to do a FFP on RPGs for a while now, but wasn't sure people would be interested. Now I know :).

Thanks MrVisible.
posted by gryftir at 5:29 PM on February 25, 2009


NATURAL 20!

I don't know who's that bigger dork - you, for making that joke, or me, for laughing.


A long time ago, when we were playing Runequest, we had a GM who was such a rolling-dice-with-himself control freak douche that it was almost impossible to not want to screw the system by making up the most outrageous off the book outside of the lines shit possible. What started out as a traditional swords and elves kind of deal ended up with us writing scenarios that involved intergalactic football games played with armored tanks and giant pigs with 40,000 hit points and everyone getting killed by a cigar smoking chicken with a plasma gun.

As long as you have a system, you can use the foundations to tell any kind of story you like, really.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:19 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've participated in a lot of D&D-gone-wrong scenarios, and I agree with louche mustachio; you can mod any system to do anything, but it can take a lot of modding.

The thing that makes me a huge Savage Worlds fan is that it actively encourages this kind of world-building by making it really easy to set up.

Since my group started playing Savage Worlds last summer, we've done the following campaigns or one-shots:

World War I urban fantasy
Dystopian near-future corporate kleptocracy superpowers
The Zombie Apocalypse, fantasy-style
Paranoid, magical time travel
Post-ice age dungeon crawl
The Zombie Unified School District (based on this)

Current proposals for games include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Island of Misfit Toys, guerilla warfare style.

It's the only game system I've played where everyone fights over who gets to GM next.

To me, this system has hit a great balance between rules and imagination; it's got enough of a framework that people go nuts designing within its constraints.

Plus, exploding dice and bennies make for absolutely epic, thrilling combat.
posted by MrVisible at 7:51 PM on February 25, 2009


Damn, most of my favorite RPGs have already been shilled in the comments!

Oh well. :)
posted by edheil at 8:27 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rules light with spread-out narrative control? And no one's mentioned Spirit of the Century yet?

I really like the FATE system in general (that's a link to the Open Gaming License content, which in turn has a link to the wiki, in which the game has been hacked into almost every available genre.)

I played Savage Worlds, and it was fun (if not really our collective cup of tea), but my group has had a LOT of success with FATE that we haven't had with other systems. It really is very flexible and easy to use, and there's definitely enough "game" in it to keep it interesting when the dice come out.

The only thing Spirit of the Century isn't really is simulationist; it's a game for telling awesome stories, in which things happen because they are awesome (and because the player is willing to shell out the points to make it happen.) SotC's default setting can be tons of fun. We've been using it to run a game loosely based on Phil Foglio's Girl Genius comic and we haven't had any real trouble with the transition from the default setting of 1920's pulp, even with the addition of magic and world-eating demons (and a time-traveling nanotech robot named Ping.)

(And I am super-pumped for the eternally-forthcoming FATE-3.0-based Dresden Files RPG, which is apparently chugging slowly onward to actually being released.)
posted by Scattercat at 10:56 PM on February 25, 2009


meinvt: Since no one has gotten there yet, for a really free form RPG I love Fudge.

And for a little more structure with this particular system, you could try Fate. Since we're shilling and all.
posted by moonbiter at 1:11 AM on February 26, 2009


Man, I read all the comments except for that last one.
posted by moonbiter at 1:11 AM on February 26, 2009


So, I've been looking to possibly switch from about 5 different systems (DnD 3.5, 4, Shadowrun, and a couple others) to a more universal system.
Is the general consensus that this one is tight, or should I look at one of the other ones like GURPS, etc?
posted by JonnyRotten at 1:55 AM on February 26, 2009


Depends on if you like math (GURPS), miniature combat (Savage Worlds), having narrative control (FATE, Spirit of the Century), or lots and lots of freedom (Fudge).

I tend to be suspicious of systems which claim to do "everything." All these games have a certain "feel" and something they do really well. What is it you're not liking about D&D, Shadowrun, etc.?
posted by Scattercat at 6:33 AM on February 26, 2009


HERO system is another one of those universal systems worth review.
posted by garlic at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2009


You should also keep in mind that what Savage Worlds does well is cinematic gaming. If you're looking for realism, it's definitely not the system for you.

If you want big, bold, unrealistic action it's awesome.
posted by MrVisible at 7:40 AM on February 26, 2009


(laughing)

Zombie Playground is my current wallpaper.

And as far as cinematic gaming goes, when I used to run Paranoia (and I could outdraw a official RPGA ref with a box full of props at conventions with only 15 minutes of prep), I developed DTCRS - the Dramatic Tactical Combat Resolution System.

It was basically two tenets - "He (or she) who speaks first shoots first." and "He who amuses the ref most hits most."

I used to get really tired of elaborate out of character planning sessions before combat, so I tried to encourage players to think on their feet. I never really used initiative rules other than as a guideline for how long I would be patient before the monsters/opponents would attack.

In addition, the killjoys for whom combat consisted of "I rolled x. Versus the hit probability of y. That means I hit, and, I hit for....ummmm... (clattering of dice) z damage." would really damage the fun factor, so damage was really what I said it was. Now, if we had players that would happily enumerate terribly exciting combat situations that even the general insanity that is Hollywood would fearfully avoid, things might be a little more successful than they could ever expect.

Fundamentally, looking at this post and the recommendations offered, the only systems that are intriguing me are the ones with people remarking on how much fun they had. Forget the game mechanics, forget the potential for minmaxing and rules lawyering, forget how huge a dice collection that might be needed. Are you telling me fun and fond memories?

Then I am there.
posted by Samizdata at 1:56 PM on February 26, 2009


Oh, and I tried to use DTCRS in as many games I referred as I could from then on.
posted by Samizdata at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2009


Ummm, refereed, even.
posted by Samizdata at 1:58 PM on February 26, 2009


Sweet, sweet Paranoia. Pity I never ran enough campaigns to balance the game out. It was either a cakewalk or a bloodbath. Although that may have been by design.
posted by GuyZero at 1:59 PM on February 26, 2009


You want my take as a veteran Paranoia rep?

If there weren't smoking boots, you weren't playing Paranoia. There's a reason each player gets six clones...
posted by Samizdata at 6:14 PM on February 26, 2009


Ummmm, ref, even.
posted by Samizdata at 6:15 PM on February 26, 2009


Please, no one make any more FPP's that involve the word referee or any version thereof for the rest of the night, please?
posted by Samizdata at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2009


It was basically two tenets - "He (or she) who speaks first shoots first." and "He who amuses the ref most hits most."
...
In addition, the killjoys for whom combat consisted of "I rolled x. Versus the hit probability of y. That means I hit, and, I hit for....ummmm... (clattering of dice) z damage." would really damage the fun factor, so damage was really what I said it was. Now, if we had players that would happily enumerate terribly exciting combat situations that even the general insanity that is Hollywood would fearfully avoid, things might be a little more successful than they could ever expect.
...
Fundamentally, looking at this post and the recommendations offered, the only systems that are intriguing me are the ones with people remarking on how much fun they had. Forget the game mechanics, forget the potential for minmaxing and rules lawyering, forget how huge a dice collection that might be needed. Are you telling me fun and fond memories?


I can't understand this. When I want to play an RPG, part of it is wanting to play a game and interact with my environment as my character would, not play, "jump through GM hoops" where the most motor-mouthed, or loudest, or purple-prosed, or most grand-standing player "wins".

Also, I don't need rules, or even other people, to play let's pretend. If we're simply going to sit around to create a shared story, why are we making character sheets and understanding the rules and writing down skills and all that if it's ultimately irrelevant to play, and if it we're not even doing that, why am I bothering to call what I'm doing anything beyond an improv theater game?
posted by Snyder at 11:09 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Oh My God—It's Full of Nerds!
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 7:50 PM on February 28, 2009


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