I've been looking around for a good system to adopt as my default system. It's much like leaving home on a long journey, through wilderness and unfamiliar cultures, looking for something without knowing quite what it is. The high, study walls of D&D 3.x were left behind long ago; I've since wandered through the outlying lands of d20-derived systems, and had an extensive stopover in the nostalgic lands of 1st and 2nd editions AD&D. (I still carry a talisman of Old School from that stop, and it guides my steps even now.) My travels in the realms of indie games have been exciting and tumultuous, but forage in those lands is unreliable and I've left off intensive exploration for now. Short day trips should do me fine for a while. I heard a rumour in those lands, though, and it has lead me here...
Metaphor aside, I'm currently looking at the setting-agnostic Savage Worlds from Pinnacle. Getting here I wandered through a few interesting pages about the game and left a trail of breadcrumbs:
- My curiosity was first piqued by Dr Checkmate when he wrote in Leaving the Shire, "This is going to sound odd, but I’ve missed having a system to, for want of a better term, hack. Savage Worlds does everything I need it to do right out of the box. I guess I’m still looking for a second system, but the more I look the less I think I need one." This intrigued me. Maybe this system could satisfy my itch? I needed to do some research.
- This RPGnet review of Savage Worlds is where I started. It's not completely positive, noting that combat was a bit uneven, but the comments on the review mention that the tactical options in the combat system are good and skimming over them like the review group did will result in flatter and more difficult combats.
- Pinnacle has a page of Savage Worlds downloads that include a set of Test Drive rules, pregenerated fantasy characters, and a one-sheet adventure. That's everything I would need to put it through its paces and see if my group likes it.
- Reading through Pinnacle's list of published Savage Worlds settings, Fifty Fathoms, Evernight, and especially Sundered Skies look interesting. The Slipstream setting also looks interesting for sci-fi play.
- A fan mention the setting of Shaintar. I looked up the RPGnet review of Shaintar: Immortal Legends and I really liked what I read. It sounds like what modern D&D might have been in an alternate universe.
- Reading about Shaintar on publisher Talisman's site lead me down a tangential byway to their comparable sorta-universal system Suzerain. The RPGnet review of Suzerain is glowing, but it feels like the wrong kind of crunch for my tastes so back to Savage Worlds...
- On the RPGnet forums this thread planted the seed of using SW to run classic AD&D settings. I like the Forgotten Realms and have a lot of setting material for it.
- I read through Forgotten Realms but not D&D... and found a tangent with Burning Realms, a blog about running the Realms using the Burning Wheel.
- More wandering led me to the provocatively-named thread Why does Savage Worlds suck?, which despite the name has a lot of interesting and varied opinions on the system. It's a stupidly long thread so I haven't yet read more than the first few pages.
- Searching for more Forgotten Realms/Savage Worlds stuff online lead me to an ENworld thread where BabbageCliologic linked to his very gonzo Savage (Forgotten) Realms notes hosted at the tongue-twistingly-named One Thousand and One Nights and One Night.
Pros of Savage Worlds that I can discern from a distance: By all reports it's very easy to teach to new players. It looks easy to adjudicate and fast to run. It should be easy to stat things up for the GM, while maintaining a considerable amount of crunch for the players who really enjoy that. It's well-supported and there's a nice selection of settings are available, cutting down on creative prep I'd need to do. It's a universal system that doesn't feel dry, a huge sticking point for me with most universal systems. It's a traditional RPG that doesn't require teaching the players a new way of relating to the mechanics or the point of the game, unlike Solar System or Burning Wheel. There's sufficient tactical depth in combat to satisfy the grognardiest of my players while allowing large combats to run quickly. It appears to have the right feel for a fantasy system, which is totally subjective but vitally important for me to like a system for playing fantasy.
One con I need to consider is that magic is very different than in D&D. From what I've read, it sounds like a mage character is often better off swinging a sword that slinging a spell, which will throw most of my players. On the other hand, a different conception of spellcasters as people who have arcane talent in addition to, rather than exclusive to, martial and other skills is something that many D&D players have fondly wished for. Another possible con is that Novice characters seem to be rather weak. That could be fixed by starting characters out at the next rank, Seasoned, but dumping all the options of the advancement system all at once on new players detracts from the major pro of it being easy to teach.
I'm not in a hurry to buy into Savage Worlds since I wouldn't be running it as a regular game until the current AD&D game comes to a close anyway. I would like to try running the sample fantasy adventure with the Test Drive rules and the pregen characters, though.
I never did find any solid conversion material for using Savage Worlds to run Forgotten Realms, but I think that'd be icing on the cake given how easy it looks to stat up real and imagined things in SW. I really, really like the sound of Shaintar, even though I have some misgivings about having all the PCs be part of a specific organisation.