I currently run a weekly Deadlands Reloaded game, which uses the Savage Worlds generic system from Pinnacle. The game is eminently hackable, consisting as it does of a pretty simple mechanics giving a “pulp” feel to whatever genre you choose. Their mantra is Fast, Furious, Fun. They like to say that if something about the game isn’t “FFF” then you should change it. Implicit in their rules, as well, is the idea that you’ll be working out various setting rules (read: hacks) for whatever genre you’re playing. In essence, Pinnacle wants you to hack savage worlds with gleeful abandon. They want you to wield your rule zero like a machete, house ruling to your heart’s content.
Don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll be looking at a few of my own: The Take A Benny, Leave A Benny tray, as well as Secret Hand and Team-Up initiative options and Fifth Round Draw, and Hold ‘Em initiative variants.
So, without further ado, some delightfully Savage hacks for Savage Worlds:
The Take A Benny, Leave A Benny Tray:
This bad boy is one I’ve been thinking on for a while now. It’s based on the Take A Penny, Leave A Penny tray you see in convenience stores sometimes, an explanation which is likely unnecessary but, then again, you can never be sure. In short, it’s a way to ‘penalize’ metagame or disruptive play by any given individual in your game group. Now, I won’t go into the group politics of this, as that’s for each individual group to decide. Suffice to say, for me, that this only works for a mature group or a group of people who like to mess with each other. There are specific group dynamics that support this mechanic, everyone else steer clear.
In Savage Worlds, there’s a metagame/reroll mechanic for rewarding good roleplaying called a ‘benny.’ In this hack, you lay out a dish in the middle of the players. If someone is metagaming to the detriment (we can talk about good and bad metagaming later, I promise) of the group then you tell them to leave a benny. Alternately/additionally, if someone is playing the game disruptively, or not roleplaying one of their disadvantages consistently, you could tell them to leave a benny. They pick out one of their bennies and drop it in the tray. Then, any other player can take from the tray as if it were their own benny. If you have left a benny, you cannot take a benny until someone else in the group does. This way, you penalize the player’s negative action but you don’t penalize the group. Not suitable for every group, but if your players have thick enough skins to realize that it’s nothing personal, it could be a lot of fun. On the other hand, it could be a giant drama creating fun suck. I’ll let you decide.
Initiative Option Hacks:
-The Secret Hand: Initiative in Savage Worlds makes use of a deck of standard playing cards, and each set of combatants is dealt a card. By default, the player’s initiative card is open, and you proceed from aces to deuces. However, when we play, we play with secret initiative. So the GM counts down from aces to deuces and when your initiative comes up your slam down your card and take your turn. It makes for really tense moments when a character about to be eaten by a pack of raving walkin’ dead pulls a six and the count moves down from ace – the player hoping all the time not to see the GM throw out a superior card. I’ve found it keeps everyone focused on the table, as well, because if you’re not paying attention you could miss your chance to go before your opponent. Finally, I like what it does to ‘holding’ your action. Savage Worlds’ delay mechanic allows you to wait and act on a later card. Nice to see an opponent walk around the corner and smile before revealing the Queen you’ve been sitting on – then making that agility test to gun them down before they even draw.
-Team Up: This is a simple little hack for letting groups of PCs or NPCs team up with each other. It’s as simple as this: if players manage to form a poker hand by acting simultaneously during initiative, give them a scaling bonus to their actions. It’s a +1 if they’ve got a pair and are assisting each other, it’s higher if they’ve got anything more complex than a pair and are assisting. Perhaps +2 or even +3 if they’ve got some astronomically rare card combination. This should be a two way street, and their enemies should use the same mechanics. The crux of this is that it gets some of the more little-used mechanics in many RP systems, the assist mechanics, into the forefront. “I’m gonna taunt him while Player B drives him into cover with gunfire, so that Player C can sneak up behind him and conk him on the head/line up the perfect shot!” is only made more fun for everyone because they managed to get a straight while doing it. (Yeah, I know, three cards does not a straight make, but that sentence was getting pretty long as-is.)
Initiative Variant Hacks:
-Fifth Round Draw: I’ve experimented with this idea in the laboratory of the mind, but haven’t playtested it because of a hard physical limitation. In short, each player keeps their cards through the rounds. On every sixth round, instead of dealing out new initiative cards, the players make the best poker hand they can from the cards in their hand. They can pass in as many cards as they want to the dealer for new cards to construct their hand. Note that this rapidly gets unfeasible due to simple math if there are more than six initiatives in the group. If you play it Stud (nobody can pass in cards), then you could have as many as ten initiative groups, though occasionally someone is going to have a truly awful round and possibly be surly about it. Tell them to (wo)man up about it and be a good sport. If it seems like six or ten initiatives is a lot, think about a standard group of four or five players, and three NPC groups. That already passes the limit for a Draw game. I think that this variant has the most potential for smaller groups with three (or less!) players, who won’t run into the hard-limits imposed by the system as often and will allow for the GM to have more initiative groups, which I find makes Savage Worlds more fun by far. It’s a system that can thrive on large combats without slowing down the game, and I’d hate for a hack to remove that from any play group’s repertoire.
-Hold ’em: Based on Texas Hold ’em instead of Five Card Draw/Stud, I think this particular initiative variant has a lot of potential. In short, you play as normal for two rounds and on the third the GM deals out a five-card river, putting aside any Jokers that come up (there are good reasons for that, which I don’t feel the need to explain, but a wild card in the community pool is strange and jokers have very specific initiative effects that you should never allow someone to reap twice). If a player can make a hand, they act in descending order of highest to lowest hand. Otherwise, they get dealt an initiative card as normal. Those with a single dealt card act after those who made a hand. At the end of the third round, cards return to the deck as normal. It’s a short and fun little hack that, like the draw/stud hack above, won’t actually add that much bloat to the game if everyone is pretty familiar with the normal way of doing things.
So there you have them, a set of house-rules and hacks for Savage Worlds. Comments? Concerns? Let’s discuss below.