A while back I had a conundrum. I had an idea for a campaign involving street level superhero´s, hard nosed investigators, eldritch and amorphous monsters and horrible ancient magic. It was a mix of historical drama, Call of Cthulhu, The Avengers and Hellboy on steroids. But without a good rule system I was at an impasse. How was Dracula and his Brotherhood of the Seven Dragons ever going to take over Pennsylvania if I could not settle on a system to run the game in. After scouring the systems I had on my shelf I turned to the internet for answers and in the end came upon Savage Worlds. It had all the answers and more, all in a simple affordable package.
Savage Worlds is a setting neutral role playing game and the main book, Explorers Edition or Deluxe Edition, focuses on giving you as many generic tools for your game as it can with several Companion books expanding the rules to suit your game. I quickly picked up the Deluxe Edition along with the Superhero and Horror companions and found I had everything, and more, that I needed to run my game. With a simple core system the optional additions easily fit the style you are after selling me on the system on my first read through.
Written by Shane Lacy Hensley and first published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group in 2003 the Savage World system is a follow up to the older Great Rail Wars that itself was based on the old Deadlands system. Savage Worlds was received the Gamers Choice Awards at Origins 2003 in the category of Roleplaying Games. Pinnacle have published several Savage Settings for the system including Evernight, 50 Fathoms, Necessary Evil, Rippers, and Low Life as well as two larger settings in the form of Weird Wars and Deadlands: Reloaded that received the award of Best Roleplaying Game Supplement in 2007. The company has also published licenced settings such as MageKnight, Pirates of the Spanish Main and The Savage World of Solomon Kane respectively.
The system itself rates player attributes as die sizes ranging from the humble d4 to the mighty d12 with all steps above d12 being treated as a straight bonus to the roll. Attributes determine your passive derived stats such as defenses and endurance but also act as a cap of sorts for more commonly rolled skills. Skills can be raised above the value of a connected attribute but this has a prohibitive cost increase discouraging players from focusing too much on a single skill. The system also boasts a intuitive system of Edges and Hindrances that give each character a unique flavor and are ranked by character level from Novice to Legendary. Most additional rules for magic or superpowers function as an addition to this Edge system in some way allowing you to build a variety of interesting characters in an otherwise simple system.
The feature I had the most trouble getting into was the game’s use of a deck of cards for certain important parts of the game like initiative in combat. This is also used for several of the additional rules such as narrative downtime during travel and serious injuries if a player is taken out of action during combat. While I agree that an alternative to dice rolling is good this felt clunky at times and i am not sure i would use this part of the system if running another campaign in the system.
If you are looking for a new system to try or have a tricky campaign to run where you need a versatile system but don´t like GURPS I highly recommend you give Savage Worlds a good hard look as I did, you will not regret it. You can have a look yourself at Pinnacles Entertainment Group site here.