So last night, I went down to the Baranof to hook up with the gaming group after being on a hiatus with the birth of my new, lovely son (ooooh! he's so cute!). The last couple weeks Luke's been running a "weird pirate" game using the Savage Garden rules, one of the current pop RPGs I haven't had a chance to play of late.
Excuse me...Savage Worlds. I was calling it Savage Garden all evening until Josh (also making a first appearance since his new daughter was born) tells me, "Um...I think that's a restaurant."
"No, no...you're thinking the OLIVE Garden." Oh, right.
Have you ever eaten at the Olive Garden? I have...though not for many years. You see the commercials on television, and you say, hmmm, it sounds like a good idea. And look at all those smiling, happy people being treated like "family." So many options and pastas and sauces to try...and breadsticks!
[all right, all right...I actually have a tendency to believe the opposite of what television commercials tell me. But I can imagine being someone who buys into what the boob-tube tells me. That's just role-playing]
So you sit down at Ye Old Olive Garden with your family or a team of co-workers or your baseball team or fellow cast-members from the play rehearsal you just finished. And there IS a lot of food. And a lot of options. And most of it is pretty tasteless, and some of it is not very good, and your wife with the touchy stomach is going to pay for the evening in hours to come, and at the end it feels like you spent a lot of hours for not much pay-off.
Savage Worlds isn't quite as bad as the Olive Garden...but there are definitely some similarities.
Which doesn't mean I didn't have a good time or that Luke wasn't proficient or that the setting wasn't interesting or imaginative. But the game definitely wasn't to my taste...that's just my honest opinion.
I'm very familiar with Pinnacle's original Deadlands game, considering the Weird West setting probably the best new idea in gaming (at the time it was released) since "Gothic Punk." Unfortunately, the Deadlands system itself had three big strikes against it:
Savage Worlds has certainly done away with #1...the game is far easier to jump right into and understand (with only single dice rolls, set target numbers, and a "wild die"). While we used pre-gens for the game, I would have to believe that character creation must be radically simplified as well compared to Deadlands...it appears to be a simple point/dice allocation system (the original Deadlands combined point allocation with random draws from a deck of cards, making use of both the showing and the suit...a cool idea but, again, not very simple to execute or teach).
And combat has been simplified considerably as well, especially in the damage allocation phase of the game...aaand that's all I'll say about combat for right now.
All in all, the SW system feels a lot like Deadlands Light. Which, I suppose, is great if you liked the original Pinnacle system but found it too hard to teach, too long to make characters, and too fiddly in combat. I don't know if I originally liked the Deadlands system or not...I was never able to run a single session with it, let alone a campaign, and my knowledge of the fiddlyness of chargen and combat comes from making practice characters and running mock combats. I was never able to get past the TEACHING part (none of my players were enthused enough by the setting to bother learning the game).
So having never actually PLAYED Deadlands, I can't say what game play feels like. However, I can say what Savage Worlds feels like.
Kind of bland.
There's a lot of dice rolling. Even though you aren't rolling many dice, you're often trying to set up a dice roll...whether you're in combat or hunting game or sailing a boat or looking for treasure or anything. The game feels like, "hurry up and get to a spot where you can roll a dice." And if you're smart you try to angle the action so that you can roll your bigger dice.
Most of the time, it felt like the target roll was either 4 or some gi-normous number that required blowing the top off the dice (rolling the max and then re-rolling and adding). Since fortune is a fickle bitch, the randomness often lent an overall feeling of lameness...for example, it didn't help to "blow the top off" the roll, when all that was needed was a roll of 4 (I had huge successes rolling every day our ship was at sea...without receiving any benefit from those "huge successes"). And then when one needed to roll high (such as for damage rolls with a tough/armored opponent) those "exploding dice" always seemed a bit more elusive.
There are other pet peeves of flawed design I could list (for example as Hindrances that have mechanical value versus those that do nothing and have no rules for enforcement). But that's just going to get redundant...the fact is, I didn't find the game all that fantastic.
Which, I have to say, kind of surprised me. I especially liked the Weird Pirate idea of 50 Fathoms (though I have to say I much prefer Christian Aldridge's version of the setting in his 1997 game Maelstrom)...hell, I like pirates in general and was looking forward to swashbuckling adventure. Plus, I've seen how popular Savage Worlds is (at the Dragonflight convention last summer, SW was definitely the largest turnout of any game system...by a country mile!). And I know the game won some Gamers Choice award at Origins in 2004.
My question would have to be: why? Why would someone choose to play Savage Worlds? What was its competition that year anyway?
Ah, well...I am a man notorious for being "behind the times" in these things (I only just started listening to Lady Gaga in 2010). There is probably some cool IPhone adaption for the game that elevates the play experience to a whole 'nother level, that I'm just missing.
The point is, it wasn't really to my taste. But it was fun to get back with the guys and play and kabitz and poke fun at each other and consume large amounts of beer. Hopefully I'll get to go back next Thursday...there's nothing on "must-see TV" that beats role-playing, even a semi-bland game like Savage Worlds.