I had the opportunity to play my first Savage Worlds game last night. I am an instant fan! The GM utilized the ruleset to run a game based on the Japanese Ultraman TV show and we all had a blast playing it. Savage Worlds uses several of my favorite mechanics in clever ways.
Savage Worlds replaces the common dice mechanic — something I often champion — with a variable dice mechanic. Larger die indicate greater skill (i.e. d6 is more skilled than d4). After playing with it, I see merits to both approaches. However, only one die is rolled and this often conjures up feelings of nerd rage.
Savage Worlds abates that rage with a second die factored into every roll: the wild die. In addition to your normal roll (be it d4, d6, d8, etc), you also always roll a d6 and take the better of either die. While not as preferable as a bell curve, the mechanic is interesting enough that it alleviates the normal d20 problem of “I’m an expert, but rolled a 2!”
Also included are die explosions, like one finds in Storytelling and 7th Sea. Any die can explode when it rolls the highest number (i.e. d4 explodes on a roll of 4, d6 on 6, etc.), which results in rolling that die again and adding the new roll to the previous one. This can happen indefinitely, and we saw several double- and triple -explosions last night. This also applies to the wild die, and you can decide after rolling all your explosions which of the two die you wish to keep.
Savage Worlds includes a mechanic by which excellent role-playing, cool actions, and so forth are rewarded by the GM with a “benny” that may be later traded in for a re-roll, avoidance of wounds, and so forth. This mimics the drama die of 7th Sea and hero points of Mutants & Masterminds, and is a mechanic I favor. Dare I say that systems lacking such a mechanic are outdated? I do indeed.
There are a number of smaller interesting quirks to the system, too. The usual target for a check of any kind is 4, and beating the target by multiples of 4 results in raises, which yield better results. Damage is either sustained or avoided based on your toughness, and may be soaked via use of a benny. A simple hit with no raises results in being ‘shaken.’ Another shaken result produces a wound, and any raises on a hit can result in wounds, too. Wounds are crippling and can pile on very quickly, making avoiding damage at all a major strategy (as it ought to be!). Each wound imposes a penalty on every roll you make.
All in all, it’s a lot of fun to play and contains a number of neat ideas that I might try and adapt for my own homebrew mechanics.