Thanks to Garlick for asking this question. Normally I respond to folks but in this case I think the topic deserves a whole post.
The first thing GM’s should look at is the Economy of Bennies. How many you or don’t hand out helps determine the both the length and threat from a combat encounter. Also, how you spend GM Bennies can turn the tide of a battle quickly. Bennies are useful for both Soak rolls and re-rolling attacks (It takes the No Mercy Edge to re-roll damage.) This boils down to two things. When to hand out a Benny and when to spend a Benny.
When should a GM hand out a Benny? This is topic has been discussed multiple times on the PEG forums. What’s the tone of your game? For cinematic games, just make it easy. Find any excuse to hand out a Benny. Shuffling the Initiative Cards. Getting the GM munchies or a drink. Whatever. For more gritty and realistic style campaigns, make them work for it. Good role playing, unique uses of Skills or Powers. There’s no way I can give you a hard number of how many to hand out. Just look at it this way. In a cinematic game, Bennies should be like candy. In a gritty game, they are a precious resource.
So when should you spend Bennies? For GM’s, it’s pretty easy. Don’t be scared to spend them but don’t spend them to “beat” the players. Spend them to make encounters more dramatic and interesting. Maybe have your villains re-roll a Notice or Stealth check. You don’t necessarily have to use your Bennies for combat. Keep a few in reserve to help keep your Big Bad from being taken out in one round. And it doesn’t matter if you happen to have a few left over at the end of the session.
For players, this question is much more complex and difficult to answer. First, when not to spend Bennies. If that mook just happens to roll a horrendous amount of damage, it’s better to save your Bennies to keep from dying. Chances are you won’t Soak enough damage to make a any difference. Save your Bennies for when you have a good chance of success but just rolled poorly. That’s not to say don’t spend them on a Hail Mary plan. Just make sure that it’s the big fight when your back is against the wall and it’s all or nothing time.
For lethality itself, I’m not going to go over the rules as written or the gritty rules (available in Moscow Connection on Pinnacle’s download page. Also check out the Combat Survival Guide too.) too much. They pretty much stand as they are. New GM’s should hand out the Combat Survival Guide to new players and answer any questions that they may have. Also, GM’s should offer helpful suggestions for new players. Like I said in my last post, you may have to remind them that “This ain’t D&D”. Explain the folly of their action and explain the similar mechanic in Savage Worlds and how it works.
Finally, I’ll go over briefly Cinematic house rules I used for my Legends of Steel game. First, I never used the Incapacitation Chart. I figured Wound Penalties were enough and heck it was cinematic. Second, I house ruled some various Healing Edges that sped up the natural healing process (Basically, rolling once a day rather than once very five days). I also used the toughing it out rules from Winterweir. Basically, make a Vigor and Spirit roll to keep on going even though the character is Incapacitated.
As a Savage Worlds GM, you want to keep things Fast, Furious and Fun and not necessarily Fast, Furious and Fatal. The number one thing you can do is educate your players. Teach them the differences between Savage Worlds and other games. Encourage and reward players for thinking outside of the box. Know the player characters, learn their strengths and weaknesses. Balancing encounters for Savage Worlds is mostly gut instinct. Don’t be afraid to modify a monster or an encounter on the fly to make it either more or less of a threat to the party depending on how things are going. Use your Bennies to make the game more dramatic rather than beat the players. Remember, its a role playing game. It’s about action, story and drama. It’s not about winning. And don’t let the rules get in the way of a good story.

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3 Responses to “Tweaking the lethality of Savage Worlds”

  1. Great post! Again, I shall be directing my players to be reading this! :)

  2. ChuckNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks! Hopefully, it will make your GM life easier.

  3. GarlickNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the suggestions! I will also be sharing this with my players.

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