Review: SWADE World Builder and GM Guide

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In The Lord of the Rings, who is the only witness to Boromir’s death? Aragorn – who is also the person who stands to gain the most from Boromir’s death. Why was Aragorn so set on rescuing the kidnapped hobbits? A sense of duty – or fear that they might have seen something?

Here’s another piece of SWADE goodness from Kickstarter… this time, a 98 page PDF expanding on the advice for GMs in the core rulebook, written by a number of different SW luminaries.

What has it got in its pocketses?


World Building (12 pages): Creating settings, converting settings, plot point campaigns, Pinnacle style guide; essentially a more detailed version of the advice in the core rulebook. Savage Worlds settings usually take a common genre and add a twist, usually zombies; this section includes the throwaway idea of running The Lord of the Rings as crime noir, and as an avid reader of thrillers I’ve been wondering about Aragorn and Boromir since the 1970s, see the opening statement.

Savage Worlds for All Ages (12 pages): Advice to the GM on running games for people of various age groups. While SW was originally intended as a game that working parents could fit into their schedules, it has a broader appeal; this section offers advice on running games for everyone from age 6 through to post-retirement, suggesting how to tweak the game for different attention spans and interests.

Risks and Reversals (9 pages): This section is about how to make games more interesting by using suitable risks and reversals – using scenes from movies to illustrate the point. This was one of the more interesting sections for me.

High Powered Games (8 pages): Savage Worlds differs from a lot of games in that characters reach the maximum power cap fairly easily – a one-trick pony can very nearly do this at character creation – after which they grow horizontally rather than vertically, becoming more flexible rather than more powerful. Combined with exploding dice rolls, this means that the lowliest foe remains a threat in combat for even the most advanced PCs. This section is about how to handle games with superpowered characters, say Rifts or a superhero game. While I don’t plan to do that, the commentary on the unpredictable nature of SW and how characters advance supports views I developed about the game some years ago, and there is also advice on engaging quiet players.

Building Your Tribe (10 pages): This goes off in a direction I’ve not seen covered in the books before, by explaining how to build a community of gamers using conventions and other public games. I might try this, although probably not until after I retire.

Turning Ideas Into Swag (11 pages): This chapter is about how to turn your game into published products as an indie game publisher. I normally mash up existing published products, so I don’t expect to use this part.

The Long Game (4 pages): This is focused on Deadlands, the flagship SW setting, and uses the development of that product line to explain how to run a game that lasts years or even decades. Regular readers will know that despite my admiration for those who do run such campaigns, it’s not in my nature; there are so many shiny new things appearing each year that I struggle to settle down to a single one.

Anecdotes (22 pages): A selection of short articles covering a range of topics such as running unusually large parties, designing mystery-solving adventures, running a game as a “show” on an online stream, and so on. Most of them are reflections based on, and illustrated by, a specific incident in actual play, and all of them are short.

Under the Hood (7 pages): In this final part, the book looks at how to tweak the rules. The most interesting idea for me was how to use the rules to cover things you might think are missing – in essence, this is a metagaming expansion of trappings. For example, your character has Repair and wants to work as a mechanic for a while? Use the rules for Performance, change the skill, and maybe tweak how much income is received on a success or raise.

Having read through this, I don’t think I’m the target audience, as I have been a GM for over 40 years and have been playing Savage Worlds for over a decade. If you are new to either, you will probably find it more useful. I did enjoy reading it, but I probably won’t reread it.

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