Thursday, September 12, 2013

Make Mine Savage -- Some Observations on Savage Worlds Probabilities Before Conversions

One of the many concerns that gamers have when playing any game is "will my character be as awesome as I imagine?" In a d20/Pathfinder game where the player wants to become the world's best dual wielding sword fighter, this is a question of optimization within some pretty well known constraints. A lot of work has been put into d20/Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D to ensure "balance" and regular play and min/maxing gets players familiar with certain guidelines. Every gamer, no matter how RP oriented, has a little power gamer in them. This can especially be the case when the player is adapting their favorite character from fiction into a role playing game character. Have you looked at some of the stats for Conan or Elric in Gods, Demigods, and Heroes and Deities and Demigods? Let's just say that there is some game breaking wish fulfillment going on there.



I have found that this call to power game gets amped up on steroids when players start adapting their favorite super heroes to their favorite super hero system. Sometimes all thought of game balance goes out the window in the attempt to create "accurate" representations of one's favorite hero/heroine. I remember when I first started playing Champions. The first superheroes I converted to the game were the X-men -- Byrne era. It was a great exercise in design. The X-men had a broad array of powers among them and statting them up really taught me the underlying basics of character design in Champions. I built the characters with Sunburst and Crusader as my benchmark characters and had a stack of 200 point X-men (it was 2nd edition Champions). Colossus had a 55 Strength, Nightcrawler had teleportation and martial arts, Wolverine had a 2d6 killing attack (3 1/2d6 with Str added), and so on. When I showed these characters to some new friends, they told me that I had the X-men all wrong. Colossus was severely underpowered, etc.

When I designed the characters, I looked at the baseline world rules in the Champions rule book and the Guide to the Marvel Universe to feed my assumptions. To me it was perfectly clear that the Hulk with his ability to lift 100 tons had a 60 Strength which has a lifting capacity of 100 tons. Colossus < Hulk, thus 55 Strength. My baseline was a far cry from the baseline of the group who were using Grond as proxy for The Hulk and who were playing experienced characters in a campaign that had already suffered a good deal of "power proliferation." How much? People were taking "double armor piercing" as a modifier to overcome villains with "single hardened" defenses. At the time, I adjusted my next character designs and fit within the group's baseline.

As I've played more role playing games, I've come to the conclusion that my first instincts were right. That doesn't mean that I think my X-men were "correct," I'd have to look them over to see if they actually emulated the characters at the time. But it is to say that I think that the players in my group were suffering from a case of "power exaggeration" which led to power proliferation and eventually led to very long and drawn out combats as everyone had defenses too high (both villains and heroes) for the damage being done. No one wanted to get hurt...and so no one did. The group used their power fantasy to set the assumed baseline instead of starting with the game's mechanical baseline. Instead of asking how high a strength do you need to have to punch through a brick wall, they asked how they compared to Grond or Eurostar.

I don't mean to point them out as "playing wrong" because I don't think they were. I do mean to say that had they viewed the baseline as lower, then there would have been more room for character growth horizontally and less power proliferation. I think that the power exaggeration tendency is one of the reasons why many gamers think that game X or game Y cannot properly emulate super heroes or that the game can only do street level heroes and I noticed a bit of this discussion in my recent post on how Savage Worlds has these wonderful switches that GMs can use in game to have the same characters interact at different scales without ever needing to change the stats of the character.

Let me put it another way. How high a Shooting skill do you think Hawkeye needs to have?

1) d12
2) d12 +2
3) d12 +4
4) d12 +8

The power gamer might say d12 + 8 because "Hawkeye Never Misses." This isn't quite true, but it is true most of the time and we all know that Hawkeye can do some ridiculous things with his bow and arrows.

I would ask to start with the system's baseline assumptions. In Savage Worlds, the base difficulty for any skill and for all ranged attacks is 4. In order to get a "raise" on the action (and only 1 raise matters for the purpose of damage), the player must get a total of 8 or higher. With that in mind, we can see that at d12+8 Hawkeye will never miss, but is that really what Hawkeye is? Let's look at his probabilities at the different levels.

d12



What we can see here is that Hawkeye has an 87.50% chance of rolling a 4 or better with a d12 and a 49.77% chance of rolling an 8 and thus getting a raise. This gives Hawkeye a pretty amazing chance to hit his opponent and that he will likely only miss opponents with Superspeed or Deflection or at long range (-2 modifier). If you want to make it so that he hits 98.61% of the time and gets a raise 65.28% of the time then give him d12+2. At +4 he hits all of the time and gets a raise 87.50% of the time. I think a case can be made for any of these power levels depending on whether you are starting Hawkeye at Novice or at Legendary. I don't know that I would ever worry about d12+8, but if everyone in your game has Superspeed at -6 (the max) Deflection you might need that.

Just in case you are wondering what the probabilities for die values other than d12 are, I am providing them below. I think understanding the probability of a skill/attribute achieving a certain target number is one of the keys to creating a balanced Savage Worlds campaign. The game is a little "looser" in the balancing math than other games and requires GMs to be able to "eye" it out more than other systems. Note that all of these graphs are for Wild Card characters and include the possibility of choosing either the main or the wild die. I want to thank Any Dice for making this easy (all rolls assume a choice between exploding d6 and exploding dX with an expode depth of 3).

d10


 d8


 d6


 d4



As you can see by the above Wild Card probabilities, even a d4 Wild Card has a 62.50% chance to succeed at a basic difficulty task. The "GMs Best Friend" in Savage Worlds is supposed to be a +/-2 modifier with +/-4 modifier representing a significant advantage or disadvantage like hiding in heavy cover (+4) or shooting at Long range (-4).

All of these a significantly better than the chances of a d4 or d5 "Normal" who has a 25% or 50% chance of rolling a 4 or higher.

When I provide my character conversions and conversion guidelines, I want you to know where I am coming from. I will be coming from a position that a Novice Hawkeye probably has either a d12 or d12 +2 Shooting skill. At d12 he would have an 11% chance of shooting someone at Long Range who was in Complete Darkness. I think that is pretty amazing. At d12+2 this increases to over 30%. Now neither of those comes with a raise, but c'mon...he's shooting someone at 120 yards in total darkness almost 1/3 of the time...without spending a Bennie.

If my conversion guidelines end up seeming a little on the low end to you, please feel free to bump them up.
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