Thursday, November 26, 2015

First impressions: Savage Worlds Showdown for solo play

Recently I read and played a bit with Savage Worlds Showdown, the free set of miniature rules based on Savage Worlds RPG. It is available as a PDF book 44 pages long and very well produced.

Miniatures are grouped into units, and the game assumes most of a player's force will be organized this way, although it is also possible to have single miniatures acting independently -- usually heroic figures, or "Wild Cards." Each unit or figure has a number of traits and skills, adapted from the role-playing game, which are rated in terms of dice size, e.g. Agility d8. Action resolution involves rolling one or more dice against a target number, and on a few occasions players roll against each other.

There is also a handy unit builder spreadsheet to calculate point values for different figures and groups. Even those not inclined to use point systems may use it to get a feeling of how to build new profiles, based on the samples included. The upside is that units can be varied and detailed; the downside is that setting up a force takes some time.

Although the game does not provide any rules for solo play, it does have a number of features that make it suitable for that purpose. Specifically, I would highlight the following:

  1. The rules for "rogues", figures that act independently of the players and may attack anyone, may also be used as a basis for a simple "artificial intelligence" for automated enemies.
  2. The card-based activation system provides an order of activation of units, thus removing the need for a solo player to select which enemy to activate.
  3. The "fortune and calamity" system adds random events that are welcome in solo play, as they provide another source of uncertainty.
On the other hand, there are a few problem points in adopting these rules to play alone. Here are the ones that drew my attention and some proposals to handle them:
  1. The choice of when to use "bennies" can be problematic. Removing them altogether is probably not the best option, unless playing a "gritty" scenario. My approach is to roll a six-sided die to decide if a "benny" should be spent. If the roll is equal to or lower than the current number of available "bennies", then it is spent. Subtract 1 from the roll if the "benny" would be used for a soak roll of a Wild Card.
  2. The choice of when to hold an action can also be problematic. One option is to simply remove this action from the game. An alternative is to judge the option to hold an action as one would consider the option to set a unit on overwatch in other games, e.g. if it would benefit from guarding an area.
In my test games, combat with modern weapons was very lethal: a single pistol shot is quite likely to take down a figure, and smaller units soon start suffering morale effects. Therefore, a large table with lots of terrain is recommended.

My initial impressions of Savage Worlds Showdown are positive. It may take some time to build the unit cards but the game flows quickly, with a simple turn sequence and combat resolution. The trait and skill rolls are very flexible and might be used for battles with role-play and stunt elements. It is worth a try for those interested in an alternative for large skirmish games (say, up to platoon size). It might also work with a handful of Wild Cards fighting each other, but I have not tried that. Although the system does not include support for solo play, it is not hard to adapt it.


Fitz-Badger said...

Nice review!
I have looked at the Savage World rules before (and even own a copy somewhere). So many rules systems, so little time! :)

Ricardo Nakamura said...

Thanks Fitz-Badger!

Some time ago I backed a crowdfunding project to translate the Savage Worlds RPG. Got the book... and still haven't played a game with it!