'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A comparison of Savage Worlds and the 2d20 systems.

Last year sometimes I picked up the Savage World rules. I had heard they were good, and I knew they had done the Solomon Kane RPG based on these, which I still need to pick up. Despite all I had heard I didn't know very much about it. Other games reached back far enough into my youth and young adult days that I at least had a basic understanding of general mechanics. Savage Worlds was different. So I picked it up and I took a look.

I haven't played the rules, but I generally like the idea behind them, and as it turns out the most basic mechanic isn't totally new to me. If you are not familiar with the basic concept it is this. You need to roll 4+ on a die to get a success. How good or bad you are determines the type of die you roll. In the 15mm war game world there is a game called "Tomorrow's War" which works exactly like this.

There is of course more to the game, but one of the things that really struck me about it as I read it was the similarity to Conan 2d20, or 2d20 in general. They are far from being carbon copies of each other, but certain aspects of SW remind me of 2d20. So if you have played Savage Worlds and are looking for something different, give 2d20 a try.

One quick final note, there is a kickstarter for a new edition of Savage Worlds, The Adventure Edition. This is written based around my knowledge of Savage Worlds Deluxe.

Overall Feeling

I'll first start by saying I am most familiar with the Conan iteration of 2d20, so my thoughts and opinions are going to be largely revolving around that specific 2d20 ruleset. Both rulesets provide an action centric version of game events. 2d20 might be a little more crunchy in terms of combat resolution and Savage Worlds is certainly more concerned with miniatures. Both systems abstract certain things in favor of speed, but both are written to mimic high action and adventure whether they be from a modern movie or the pulps of the 20s and 30s.

Similarities & Differences

My first reading of Savage Worlds struck me at how much similarity it had with the 2d20 system by Modiphius. Certainly not identical, but more similar than it is to something like Dungeons & Dragons. This extended beyond the feeling of the game and had roots in the mechanics of both systems.

Success by Measure - Similar

Coming back to RPGs the concept of not just succeeding at a skill test, but being able to succeed by a little or a lot intrigued me. It is one of the things I loved about Conan 2d20. I no longer simply rolled to hit, I could roll to hit and either hit or HIT. I liked the idea a lot. Reading over Savage Worlds which has an open ended exploding die mechanic, I could roll not only above that target number of 4, but I could get raises. I could succeed better based on getting a higher roll.

This idea of success by measure is critical to these games that are revolving around these very heroic characters as it allows them to get things done in an exaggerated, or larger than life, way sometimes.

Momentum - Different

The concept of momentum and doom is a pretty large difference between the two systems. In Savage Worlds getting raises have a specified result, either causing more damage, causing extra dice to be rolled or similar. In Conan 2d20 getting more success than you need results in momentum, which can in turn be spent on various effects such as more damage, armor penetration, more attacks and similar, this can even be stored in group pools to allow your friends to use it to a degree, basically it's a measure of how well things are going for you. PCs store momentum in a group pool that maxes out at 6 and NPCs simply store it in a group pool called, "DOOM".

Bad guys - Similar

The "Bad Guys" in Savage Worlds are generally in two categories: Wild Cards and Extras. Wild Cards are equivalent to a Player Character, tough and unique. The super villain in a story is going to be a Wild Card. That villain's henchmen are going to be Extras. In Conan 2d20 we have a similar idea with our NPCs being broken into Minions, Toughened and Nemesis. Extras and Wild Cards are roughly equivalent to the Minion and the Nemesis, with the Toughened falling between the two.

In both Savage Worlds and Conan 2d20, inflicting a single wound against a Minion or an Extra removes it from play, although how those are caused is different, although I would say share a similar overall idea. As well they are less able to complete skill or trait tests. In 2d20 the Minion rolls a single d20 instead of 2d20, and in Savage Worlds the Extra doesn't get to roll a Wild Die like the Wild Cards do. Conan 2d20 allows you to group your Minions into mobs of five and then allows them to aid each other in their rolls making them more effective, but also moving things along quicker, ie if you have 10 skeletons attacking it is easier to have them attack in 2 rolls vs 10. Savage Worlds allows groups of these Extras to roll a Wild Die with their Trait Die when in a group, but makes no provisions for groups of them in combat situations.

The Nemesis and Wild Card both represent a special character, a high level named NPC or similar. They are both roughly equivalent to the player character and can both suffer more than one wound before they are removed from play. Both of them are as capable as the players in terms of the dice they roll, 2d20 in Conan and Trait + Wild in Savage Worlds.

Savage Worlds doesn't have a toughened class, but a roughly analogous idea might be an Extra that rolls Wild+Trait dice and can suffer an additional wound over an Extra.

This system of classes of bad guys allows your heroic characters to have an easier time eliminating all those pesky guards or low level monsters, just like we always see in the movies, comics and action stories.

Miniatures - different

Savage Worlds is built to be played on a tabletop with miniatures, the rules say so. Weapons ranges are provided in inches with a footnote on how to convert to real world distances. 2d20 can be used with miniatures, but doing so is a small footnote. Conan and other 2d20 systems use abstract zones, ie Irene and Frank are over by the vending machines, which Susan is guarding the exit door. Frank and Irene are in one zone and Susan is in another, how large the zones are isn't really that important mechanically to the 2d20 system. House rules wise, using miniatures in 2d20, unless you can clearly define zones on battlemaps, I find using a range rulers to be pretty helpful.

Damage and Elimination - Similar

Neither system uses hit points to track when a player or NPC is eliminated. 2d20 has a mechanic that allows a characters reduction of stress before they are wounded that superficially looks like hit points, but they are simply a measure of how long before a character is actually wounded. Savage Worlds is much more dangerous in this regard requiring only a shaken condition before a wound is inflicted. Both systems penalize characters when they are wounded making it more difficult for them to complete tasks.

In Conan players can suffer 3 wounds and remain functional, becoming unconscious at four but alive. if they suffer a fifth wound they are considered dead. in Savage Worlds Wild Cards can likewise take 3 wounds and remain functional, and at 4 they become incapacitated. However in Savage Worlds Wild Cards only ever become incapacitated, essentially anything over 3 wounds.

Good Fortune and Bennies - similar

Both systems have a limited resource that can be replenished as a reward for excellent ideas and role playing. In Savage Worlds we have Bennies and in Conan 2d20 we have Fortune. In Savage worlds players start with three bennies and can use them to re-roll trait tests. Players can also use it to remove the "shaken" status a character may suffer from. Their equivalent in Conan 2d20 is a little more robust and can be used for a multitude of things, although re-rolling skill tests is not one of them, they can be used to practically guarantee a skill tests is successful. They can also be used for other things such as getting a second action, recovering lost stress, ignoring a wound. So while not identical they are both a consumable resource that allows the PCs to accomplish extra heroic actions.

Final Thoughts

These two systems have many differences, but despite that they have a lot of similarities, which shouldn't be surprising. In general both of the systems are aiming to recreate a pulp or cinematic style of fast high action based around bad ass heroes. At present Savage Worlds is a generic system and 2d20 is not. 2d20 will need to be repurchased for each setting you decided you might want to play in, but once you learn one, the others will be simple to learn. Both systems have strengths and weaknesses, but overall I like what both can bring to the table.

Don't forget to drop a comment about your thoughts on these two systems and how they compare and contrast!

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  1. First of all, 10 bonus points for bringing up a very VERY good miniatures game "Tomorrows War" in your blog!
    Second of all, I know some people specifically who will not like your comparison of Savage Worlds to Conan 2D20. But they are crazy folk! ;)

    Prior to my conversion to being a 2D20 player for 90% of my own games, I almost exclusively played Savage Worlds for almost 10 years. The system is very simple, anyone with just a smallest scrap of creativity can "Savage" most other settings and shoe horn it into the Savage Worlds rules. (Prior to this, it was GURPS, which I also very much love)

    But your comparison above is very accurate! The one thing that actually got me turned away from Savage Worlds was it was becoming overly saturated with content. (good, bad and mediocre) And this, made me realize that one of the main reasons why I liked Savage Worlds to begin with, turned out to be one of the reasons I got turned off from it. It lacked game specific crunch and every thing felt like plain old Savage Worlds. Except for the Savage Worlds Rifts that was released, they did a great job of making sure that game felt like Rifts and not savage worlds sci fi.

    The 2D20 system is generic enough to be used for multiple settings: Conan, Star Trek, Mutant Chronicles and others. But each game setting had enough game specific crunch to make you feel like it was different then the other settings.

    In closing I must admit, both systems are very good! But if you like something with a little more crunch (That is not GURPS) then 2D20 is a good system. If you like simple, fast games with out that crunch then Savage Worlds is solid for that.

  2. I'll second that thought; when I run a one-shot or a game at a convention I frequently use Savage Worlds. However, my go-to games at home are 2d20, Conan and Infinity in particular.

  3. There are both 2d20 and Savage Worlds versions of Mutant Chronicles. I'd really like to see someone try both and talk about how they feel each one plays.