Savage Worlds Question … er … Wrong Forum?

Hello all,

I heard some wonderful things about Burning Wheel on a podcast. I’m planning on picking up a copy, as soon as this stack of school books is out of my sight …

I was wondering if someone could offer me a brief comparison of BW to Savage Worlds? That’s pretty much all I play right now. Switching from D&D to SW was like switching from PC to Mac—once you figure out it’s a different system, it’s SOOOOOO much easier and WAAAAAAY more fun!! You just have to let it be a Mac, and not interact with it like it’s a PC.

My problem with the game is that it’s still very GM-driven. “Here’s my world … go explore.” I don’t have time for that sort of planning anymore, and since I read Paranoia a few years back, I’ve been all goofed up on rules mods that let the players take narrative control. Savage Worlds does not do this—well, not on its own, anyway.

Possibly someone could touch on:

  • Incentives (XP, bennies, leveling up, etc.). How? Real-time or end of session?
  • Character personalities (good & bad) as a game mechanic
  • Suited for episodic/campaign/one-off play?
  • Dice. Probabilities. Slope or bell curve?
  • Play style—pulpy, serious, scary, in-between?
  • Generic settings or fantasy only?
  • Anything else you think is important.

Thanks. I know that’s a pretty heavy list. I’ve been reading a lot about game theory and Plato lately, so I’m a little … you know.

First off, you can get the first chunk of the game here, for free:

That will likely answer the “is this game for me?” question better than anything else.

As to your questions, some quick answers:

1. Incentives (XP, bennies, leveling up, etc.). How? Real-time or end of session?

Both. Abilities advance as they are used. Artha (the bennies) is awarded at the end of the session.

2. Character personalities (good & bad) as a game mechanic


3. Suited for episodic/campaign/one-off play?

Ideal for campaigns.

4. Dice. Probabilities. Slope or bell curve?

Bell curve, it’s a success-counting die pool system.

5. Play style—pulpy, serious, scary, in-between?

Default play style is serious.

6. Generic settings or fantasy only?

There is an implicit setting in the game of medieval fantasy.

I’m not familiar with savage worlds at all, but the comedic thread title caught my attention, so you deserve an answer to your questions about game-prep. Stormy covered the rest above.

Getting ready for the first session takes the most amount of time, mostly setting up the initial conflict situation and brain-storming possible wrenches you can throw at the characters. of course, to really enjoy the game you need to learn how the mechanics fuel the fire of imagination, but that can certainly be done through play and checking in with these forums when a question arises.

As for prep-time in between sessions, once the group is comfortable with the basic dice mechanics, usually a few notes jotted down at the end of every session (some ideas for new wrenches to throw at the characters) and a read-through of Beliefs (the player personality/priorities that tie into the incentivized reward system) at the beginning of every session is really all you need to keep the game running well. i spend less than 10-20 minutes a week prepping a game, and i’ve run very satisfying 2yr long campaigns with this method.

Overall, I’ve found burning wheel to have much less prep time than any traditional long-campaign play. it’s been the most satisfying way to itch my fantasy role-playing sensibilities without requiring too much time spent between sessions doing anything but reading through and geeking out over the rules every few months. if you have player buy-in and the GM can handle coming up with interesting consequences for failure of the cuff, you’re golden. you have to have players willing to invest game-time learning the rules - which I’ve found people who aren’t into experimenting with new things don’t want to bother trying - but beyond that, the investiture is all fun and… games.

What kind of player narrative control are you looking for?

Well, here’s my ideal …

Before we start, I provide the CONTEXT for the scene, whether we’re looking at a kingdom or a tavern, or an event like a combat, or the Big World Map. THIS is a very generalized map, THESE are some important bits of history or theme or function or widely-known facts, aaaaaaaaaand … I’m done. Nothing I write about anything should ever be more than a paragraph.

As part of their backstories, the players provide all the DETAILS about their character’s homes, whether it’s a kingdom, a town, or whatever. They can provide as much or as little detail as the like—maps, people, customs, history, etc.—as long as it jives with my very broad context (or at least contradicts it in an interesting and meaningful way that I can build a hook on).

This by itself shouldn’t require any special game mechanic—but I would like to have a mechanic that keeps that backstory popping up throughout the game. It’s one thing for the GM to repeatedly cross your path with an old childhood rival, but I’d like a mechanism by which the players can say “I have an old childhood rival. I think it would be good for the story if he showed up this session.” This way they can volunteer for their own conflict, and earn XP or whatever accordingly … and because it’s their own idea and not a “gift” from the GM, I know it’s something they’re going to have fun with.

So that’s one mechanic I’m hoping to see. Here’s the other:

Paranoia has a mechanic where, in combat, the GM doesn’t actually tell the players anything about the scene. You’d think this would make it hard to get cover bonuses and all that, but the players actually get to choose their OWN bonuses by describing the scene to the GM: “I really want to hurt this guy, so let’s say there’s a bunch of pipes right next to him, and I shoot the pipes and they burst, dousing him in radioactive acid that’s on fire?” Could there be pipes there? There’s a point-buy system to keep it a game, but SURE!! +15 to damage! Or “I really don’t want this guy to hit me, so let’s say his laser rifle jams when he pulls the trigger.” Spend points … SURE!! +5 to your Evasion or whatever.

This particular mechanic would only work in Paranoia, but something similar that lets the players say “We’re in a marketplace, right? So there’s lots of vendors around, and probably a bunch of wine barrels stacked somewhere? I kick the barrels over and roll them down the street at the guys chasing us!” Were there barrels there in the first place? I never said there WASN’T, and it does fit the context of a city bazaar … you probably just never noticed them until you realized they might be useful, but sure, they were there the whole time.

Other situations might be when the story dead-ends and one of the characters suddenly “remembers” something that helps get the game moving again. When the GM does this, we call it “deus ex machina” and it’s lame, but when the players get to do it, they feel like they’re in charge and it’s fun.

Often in Savage Worlds I’d let players spend a benny to take narrative control like this, even though it’s not in the rules. Other times they just do it and I let it go because it’s cool and they’re getting more involved. But I think a mechanic that actually encourages this behavior would be the cat’s pajamas. So whether that’s a moment-to-moment die roll kind of thing, or a GM “passing the torch” for a scene … but as long as there’s a game reward for the player investing their creativity. Because that’s what encourages them invest their creativity again … and again … and again …

Ha! Go to 43:36 and listen to this guy’s story about his first BW experience. It’s this exact thing that brought me here in the first place!

And I just realized I pretty much answered the first half of my own question in the last post. Sorry 'bout that …

Luke’s friend Jared Sorensen wrote a game called Inspectres which does that sort of thing better than Burning Wheel does. It’s an easy-going game which gets the players introducing their own conflicts and narrating in scene aspects. It often turns out funny, which might be considered a downside for using it widely but it’s pretty hackable to other genres.

Burning Wheel is a pretty heavy time investment, it’s a deep game that is also complicated. Inspectres you can learn in an evening so there’s much less risk, it’s not as deep but has a better depth to complexity ratio.

Edit: I’ll have to check out the video when I’m a bit more free.

I feel like I should mention that knowledge skills (called Wises in Burning Wheel) have been used to declare facts about the world and the setting by the players. And player intent, if it doesn’t contradict something that the GM has concretely written down and is unwilling to change, can establish a lot of things via a test. I had a player Circle up someone who secretly knew that a noblewoman in the setting was actually lowborn. And don’t even get me started on the delightfulness of Family Secrets-wise.

It hinges on a roll, but the excellent flipside of that is when the roll fails, the GM is expected to twist it in a painful way–including “it’s true in some way; I won’t tell you which bit is wrong”.

Case in point, I’ve had a player use Family Secrets-wise to remember that there’s a secret tunnel and a cave in the nearby area; then he had to explain why that cave was involved with his family’s secrets, and that will ripple out and enrich the story and the world.

Dave, I think the game you want is Fate Core. Players creating items in the scene for a bonus to their roll, players rewarded for messing things up for themselves with their backstory, that’s Fate Core.

SW is more focused on pulpy action, a miniatures wargame (the derivative case of savage worlds is showdown) and combat is shallower and less abstract in SW than BW. SW has lots of wiff and ping in it’s combat, sometimes BW combat is a sing die role. I don’t even play BW with a map. Having played a mystery campaign in Savage Worlds, and some more combat oriented as well, I’d say SW is more oriented towards battlefields with the capability to do other fights, and some non-violent things. Burning wheel: you get in a fight, someone is going to get hurt, probably killed.

In BW, combat is either a single die roll (perhaps opposed), a vs die roll with the chance to go another round (called bloody vs), or a drawn out fight that’s rather involved.

Bennies are far far far more prevalent than Artha. Bennies are per session, Artha is earned at the end of sessions but stores up.

SW feels a lot closer to D&D than to BW.

Oh, that’s the sword, watch some people play it here:

EXACTLY what I was hoping for. Thanks!

Which is why I like it—it’s all the things I love about D&D, and none of the things I hate. And I don’t play SW with a map, either. :slight_smile:

But either way, D&D and SW both seem to be in a different category of game than BW—they’re goal-driven and action oriented (even if the goals are radically different). I’ve been trying to cram my homebrew setting into SW for a while now, and it’s sort of like a high-school musical version of what it ought to be. Might be time to reboot in a different OS …

Did you read through the Hub and Spokes that Stormie posted above?

Erm … no. To be honest, a free download that I have to create an account and login to get isn’t really a free download. I’ll just buy the book. I Googled it, but couldn’t find a direct link.

Given the price of the BW Gold book fair enough.

I found watching old Alfred Hitchcock movies put me in the right frame of mind - do what he does to setup scenes. When I first started running BW I hid things from the players, as you would in D&D or SW, but that doesn’t work in BW. You don’t yell “roll for surprise” and after the roll are rolled tell the players what they see or don’t see. In BW you tell the players up front that there is a homicidal manic on the other side of the door that their characters aren’t aware with up front. The players KNOW what bad stuff is going to happen to their characters before hand. To start with I thought this will never work, but it does, and actually adds MORE surprise/tension to situations.

I ran the D&D Ravenloft adventure using BW and it was crazy good - first time in a long time I have had players actually physically look worried…

Good luck,

Should be an easy transition, then. That’s pretty much how I run SW now.

I’m pretty stoked for this game!

So, new question: What’s magic like? I trust it’s not Vancian like D&D …

In SW, it’s power-point based. You get a set number of spells, but your casting ability grows with your Spellcasting skill die, not some screwed up level system. Then there are some rules mods on their forums about no-power-point system, and another about a no-spell system, in which you create your own organic effects on the fly (rather than casting spells out of the book)—mods officially sanctioned by the game designers.

The book spells themselves are very generic, but players get to add “trappings” of their own imagination—no rules for it, just a collaboration between player and GM. It’s another way they get to put their creative stamp on the game. So the “bolt” spell could be a “magic missile,” a lightning bolt, or a swarm of angry bees depending on your trappings.

Most SW settings pick one set of rules, either core or a single mod. I went off the deep end and incorporated ALL of them and a few more into my campaign. Then I wrote a very complicated metaphysic and creation myth based on the works of Plato and Robert M. Pirsig to explain WHY there are half a dozen completely contradictory rulesets all functioning within the same game, and how they interact. I REEEEEAALLY hope it all ports over to BW …

(I’ll disclaim this wasn’t done just for the sake of “fitting all the rules in.” I’ll have to explain the setting some other time, but I’d actually built my own mods before the “official” ones were released. Theirs were better than mine, so I scrapped mine and used theirs. Go figure.)

In Burning Wheel, basic human magic is Sorcery. People who have the Sorcery skill and the Gifted trait can cast spells. The character has to meet the Obstacle of the spell to cast it successfully. Successful spells can be very powerful. If the character fails, the spell with either harmlessly dissipate, misfire in some unexpected way, or summon something nasty through a rift in reality. After casting the spell, the player rolls to see how much it took out of them and whether they’re able to stay conscious.

So to put it another way …

Skill-based, not PP-based. Potential for drain to the caster, regardless of success or failure. Organic spell effects instead of a list of spells.


There’s also other types of magic (found in the Magic Burner), but Sorcery is more than good enough. And I think it’s roughly flexible in terms of what it can look like, but the spells are still strongly defined in some aspects.

There’s also Faith magic, which is far, far more loosely defined, and boils down to “these are the general types of things that you can do if you meet this Obstacle rating with a Faith roll, but you can figure out your own stuff”. Basically, it uses Faith just like a normal skill–when someone wants to use Faith, the GM figures out how hard what they’re attempting is. And Faith magic can basically look like whatever is appropriate to the being who’s behind it.

EDIT to respond to the question: correct, but Sorcery is actually not effect-based, but rather spell-based. There’s other types of magic that are more effect-based, like Enchanting items. But that’s in the Magic Burner.

Technically you can handle Sorcery with just the Hub & Spoke (first 74 pages) so using Tests, Versus Tests, Linked Tests. A very free form way. Description, what the player wants the outcome to be (Intent), the GM sets the Ob (Task) and there you go. I’d probably lean towards including a follow up Tax (bottom 1/2 of page 504, top 1/2 of 505 describes recovery). Concise version is Test Forte against the Ob used for Sorcery, temporary -1D ‘injury’ to Forte for every success you are short. Base rest to recover is 4hr/die, Health Test can reduce this. Drop to 0 Forte and you pass out, drop below 0 and you take physical damage.

Mind you this would put Sorcery more in the category of Faith for power level, because of the flexibility, and you miss out on extra magic rules shaping and informing how the world’s magic works. But otherwise functional.