Monday, May 08, 2006

Why I Love Savage Worlds

Everybody has a favorite game. For some it is Scrabble, others Risk, for Curt Schilling it is Advanced Squad Leader (he loved the game so much he bought the publishing rights). As a person who love games, period, I don't judge whether your favorite game is "mainstream" or "avant-garde." All I care about is whether or not you are willing to hang out, chat, and play a game of (insert game here) some time. That's not true of a lot of gamers, particularly roleplaying gamers.

It is bad enough in the game-playing industry (I was going to say gaming, but since I worked in a casino once the term has specific meaning for me), on the consumer side, we have armed camps around game types. All rpg-ers know that larpers are freaky goths with no life. All ccgers know that rpgers are 300lb. bearded freaks who live in their parent's basement. All miniature gamers know that ccgers are fad of the moment players with no sense of commitment of duty to the "hobby." The list could go on forever, but needless to say the games hobby has its many niches and few are the players who overlap in more than one area. As for me, I have played some in all the areas, but I have my preferences and prefer straight improv theater to larping. Though I do have friends who larp like crazy.

Anyway, one of my favorite gaming milieu is that of the roleplaying game. Like game-playing in general, there are often armed camps in the roleplaying "sector." But I will save a discussion of where the armed camps are aligned for another time, for the present let me merely state that like games in general, when it come to role playing games I have played/read/owned my share. Also, as above, I am a crossover player. There are few game systems I think aren't worth the time of day, though Alma Mater probably makes the list, I like and own a lot of RPGs. The one I play most often is Dungeons and Dragons, for those who lived through the 80s it is the "Devil's Game." Just ask Tipper Gore. But the one that inspires me most and, in my opinion, represents the best of the hobby with regard to enthusiasm and sheer focus on fun is Savage Worlds.

Savage Worlds is roleplaying which attempts to be "Fast, Furious, and Fun!" It also attempts to be a simple to learn, simple to play game which can cover any genre. Not a small task, but one that I think the game does admirably. The game is the brainchild of Shane Lacy Hensley, but it is really the culmination of an interesting developmental journey.

The following are my observations and not the official story.

In the early 90s roleplaying had a quick surge in sales, not as big as the early 80s but substantial. The surge was primarily due to the emergence of some new games which captured the roleplayer/and new player's imagination. I call this era the Shadowrun/Vampire revolution because these two games brought so many new gamers to the hobby that they are almost as important event in gaming as the creation of D&D. Vampire brought in more gamers, but Shadowrun shouldn't be left out of the equation because it did something wonderful it was one of the first successful Hybrid RPGs. Shadowrun combined Fantasy and Cyberpunk, not enough Punk for Chris Pramas (but what exactly punk is would be a wonderful discussion to have with Chris) but Cyberpunk none-the-less. It had a world of elves, dragons, hackers, and machine guns. Vampire, in addition to having great artwork and a subject that Goths adore, contained advice for a gaming style which focused on narrative rather than event based stories. It wasn't the first game to do this, but along with the West End Games Star Wars it was one of the best.

So the early 90s saw a revolution containing both hybrid games and games that focused on narrative interaction. The best, in my opinion, of the games to merge these two new-ish gaming ideas was Deadlands. Deadlands combined horror and the Old West with an innovative game system designed by Greg Gorden (who also designed the flexible DC Heroes System) which captured the genre perfectly. Imagine playing an Old West rpg with dice, playing cards, and poker chips, that's how well it captured the genre. Deadlands had "Dime Novels" which contained serialized adventures with a short story and then an adventure along the lines of the story. The game was furious and fun, but it wasn't very fast. Gameplay could bog down from time to time. But the system was extremely flexible, Matt Forbeck adapted it for Brave New World a Dark Future Dystopian Superhero RPG (roleplaying in a Fascist America), showing that the game system was flexible. It could also be made faster, which Hensley and crew accomplished with the Great Rail Wars Miniatures game, a miniature skirmish game based on Deadlands. If it was Brave New World that showed that the Deadlands system was multi-genre capable, it was Great Rail Wars which streamlined the Deadlands system to be fast.

By 2000, sales in RPGs had dropped down to extremely low levels. The biggest rpg company had almost ceased to exist, was saved by a collectible card game company, and was finally purchased by Hasbro (who make consistent, but not awe-inspiring money from D&D). But that changed when the Third Edition of D&D was released in the Fall of 2000. Sales jumped, but the large boost to the industry was temporary. By 2002, players were already grumbling about the impending release of Edition 3.5 and how Habro was ruining the industry and how there were too many d20 products by non-Hasbro companies that were awful. It was around this point that Hensley noticed another new niche to be developed, Gamers with little time. Those of us who had been able to play all-nighters in college were married, had jobs, and often children. They couldn't play in crazy weeklong sessions. They needed a quick and easy game, with guaranteed quality production values. So he released Savage Worlds a quick and easy system which has a fast a loose style that lends itself to a casual style of gameplay. It is also a game which has the kind of excitement, on the part of the creators, that so many games are lacking today. Oh, and the prices are pretty cheap compared to the marketplace. Shane and crew wanted to minimize the "necessary" purchase to one book and possibly one setting book to play. Combine this with their company's support of the pdf revolution and you have an inspiring company.

I love Savage Worlds because it loves the hobby. I also love Savage Worlds because its settings are still wonderful examples of genre hybrid, but that will be the focus of tommorrow's post.
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