I'm playing in my first savage worlds next week, and I have no idea what the system is like. What should I know going in?
Having recently ended my first turn as a Savage Worlds GM, I think I have some insight:
Make sure you know what the GM expects in terms of play style - I gave out Bennies left and right for Firefly-esque dialog in my game. Another GM will want something else. The way I see it, Bennies are your reward for creating awesome. So you should know what the GM thinks that is.
If the game is going to be combat-heavy, players should have a copy of the one-page Savage Worlds Combat Survival Guide handy. Players new to the system usually overlook the combat options that aren't straight-up "attack" since the bonuses they give seem so small. But they're not! The ganging-up bonuses (most often used by monsters) are not to be underestimated, nor are the bonuses from Tricks, Intimidation, Taunts, Aiming, and Wild Attacks.
The Combat Survival Guide provides a handy reference for the effects of these combat options, as well as advice for what tactical situations they are best suited to. It's not as good as having play experience with the tactical options, but it is an excellent guide to what features of the combat system players should try to exploit and become familiar with when they're wondering why they're not wounding a tough enemy.
A quick read should get you going with the basic terminology.
Normals and Wild Cards
Bennies have many uses, but can't be saved session to session (each remaining at end of game is a 1/3 chance of an Experience Point...) They are awarded when someone makes the gme fun for the GM, advances the story, risks their character, roleplays well, or does cool stuff (SW Rev, p.115). The uses for them include rerolling any trait roll (but damage rolls and table rolls are not trait rolls, while skills are... see p.58)
One can tailor advancement rates by how bennies are being used. If players horde them, and the GM awards a lot, advancement speeds up. If players spend them like water, and the GM awards few, advancement is slowed.
Standard advancement is 1-3 experience per session, plus any rolled on unused bennies.
It's also extremely useful to know that the design ethic is to modify the rules in setting books to fit the genre, rather than the genre to fit the rules. Also, most setting books require a core book. At least one, however, is a standalone with adjusted core rules. Many setting books add other requisite props; One setting book adds custom plot cards (bound in), while Deadlands Reloaded needs a box of poker chips (the standard $5 box of cheapies works, provided you paint a few whites to make a 4th color...).
PC - With Wild Die - Percent chance of success TN 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 d4 95.8 83.3 62.5 50.0 32.3 27.1 19.3 16.7 12.6 8.5 4.3 4.3 3.5 2.6 1.8 1.3 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.4 0.3 d6 97.2 88.9 75.0 55.6 30.6 30.6 25.8 21.0 16.0 10.8 5.5 5.5 4.6 3.7 2.8 1.8 0.9 0.9 0.8 0.6 0.5 d8 97.9 91.7 81.3 66.7 47.9 37.5 24.7 22.2 18.4 14.4 10.4 8.9 6.9 4.9 2.9 2.5 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.1 0.8 d10 98.3 93.3 85.0 73.3 58.3 50.0 39.7 28.9 17.5 15.0 11.5 10.6 9.2 7.7 6.3 4.9 3.4 2.5 1.4 1.3 1.1 d12 98.6 94.4 87.5 77.8 65.3 58.3 49.8 40.7 31.3 21.3 10.9 10.9 9.8 8.7 7.6 6.4 5.3 4.6 3.8 3.1 2.3 NPC - No Wild Die - Percent chance of success TN 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 d4 75.0 50.0 25.0 25.0 18.8 12.5 6.3 6.3 4.7 3.1 1.6 1.6 1.2 0.8 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 d6 83.3 66.7 50.0 33.3 16.7 16.7 13.9 11.1 8.3 5.6 2.8 2.8 2.3 1.9 1.4 0.9 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 d8 87.5 75.0 62.5 50.0 37.5 25.0 12.5 12.5 10.9 9.4 7.8 6.3 4.7 3.1 1.6 1.6 1.4 1.2 1.0 0.8 0.6 d10 90.0 80.0 70.0 60.0 50.0 40.0 30.0 20.0 10.0 10.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 6.0 5.0 4.0 3.0 2.0 1.0 1.0 0.9 d12 91.7 83.3 75.0 66.7 58.3 50.0 41.7 33.3 25.0 16.7 8.3 8.3 7.6 6.9 6.3 5.6 4.9 4.2 3.5 2.8 2.1
The most important thing to remember is that all Player Characters are Wildcards, so you always roll your Wild Die (normally d6) for every trait roll (but not damage). If you Ace (that is get the maximum, Explode) on either your Trait Die or Wild Die you re-roll that die and add the result to the previous rolls. If you roll an Ace again you keep rolling and adding. Once you have finished rolling Aces, compare the two totals. The highest result from your Trait Die and your Wild Die is your roll. You then add or subtract any modifiers.
A Traits Roll is a common term that refers to both Attribute and Skill Rolls.
If you don't have a Skill then you default to d4-2. This means you roll a d4 and your Wild Die d6. Once you have the select the highest after Aces you then take away the 2.
The base system is you need to roll 4 or better. Every 4 higher than this is called a Raise, and the number of raises determines the quality of your success. Most Tests use a difficultly system where you add or subtract a modifier. For example Driving-2, this means roll your Driving Skill and then subtract 2. If you get 4 or more your succeed, 8 or more your get one Raise, 12 or more two Raises and so on.
Combat is slightly different. Once you have rolled your attack this is compared to the target's defense. If this is a Melee Attack then this will be Parry (usually 2+half fighting die). If it is Ranged Attack then the target's defense depends on how far away the target is. If your roll is equal to or greater than the defense then you have hit. If you have hit by more than four then you have a Raise and do an additional d6 damage. Only one raise matters, and you do not get more damage for additional raises.
You then roll your Damage, this tends to be Strength + some die for melee attacks. For example, if you attack with a knife you roll Strength+d4. If your Strength is d8, you roll d8+d4 your roll this and an additional d6 if you got a Raise on your attack roll. Damage rolls do Ace. You add all the dice and this is your Damage score.
Compare the Damage Score to the targets Toughness (2+ half Vigor + armor). If you get a success (ie Greater than Toughness but not a Raise) and the target is not Shaken then they are Shaken. If they are already Shaken then they are now Wounded. If it is a Raise then they are Shaken and get that many Wounds. For example say you damage with two raises, and the target is shaken, they then get two wounds. Shaken characters can only take free actions (earlier versions of the rules were more restrictive, only allowing Shaken characters to move half their pace). You can try to remove your Shaken statuswith a Spirit roll. Wild Cards can also spend a bennie to Soak Wounds they receive, which allows them to make a Vigor to try to remove them.
A Wild Card character may have up to three wounds, Extras have none (they are out of combat as soon as wounded). This means that in combat the GM has to deal with less maths. Normally there will be lots of Mooks (Extras), and only one Wild Card NPC in any encounter. The Mooks are either, in the action, shaken or dead (I have the shaken Mooks figures on their side and remove dead ones).
Because of the Wild Die the probabilities are very much skewed in the favor of the player characters. Savage World tends to balanced this out by having a lot more Mooks that would see in most games.