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I'm running a game of Savage Worlds in which my players, as seems to be the norm in the system, end up in command of a group of human and kobold soldiers. As with most things in Savage Worlds I want to make this quick and easy for the players as well as myself and giving the players a copy of their subordinates' stats would simplify combat a bit, seeing as they wouldn't need to ask me every time they wanted to know something like what dice to roll for their attack. I'm a little uneasy about doing this though, for two reasons.

Firstly I think it removes some of the mystery from the game, where now instead of dealing with characters in the world the players are dealing with stat blocks that they have on file.

Secondly it limits the extent to which I can fudge their rolls and capabilities and nails the world down and limits my narrative freedom a little more.

Are these valid objections? Does the benefit of smoother combat outweigh them? Let me know what you think. Thanks!

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Having done this myself, yes on all counts: it makes their control of the NPCs much simpler, and it dehumanises them significantly when they become fungible bags of dice. If you're playing using a grid always or often, that exacerbates the latter. (I can't comment from experience on fudging rolls for NPC allies because I avoid fudging rolls myself, but it's trivial to say "yes", as being unable to fudge rolls you're not making is an obvious side-effect.)

In practice, this was sometimes OK, such as when the NPCs really weren't important and really were fungible resources that would exit stage left shortly anyway, regardless of whether it was as a corpse or not. But when the NPCs were meant to be significant characters to which the PCs related, handing over their sheet reduced them to a few lines of notes, undermining their substance as a plausible personality in a world.

So take that as a guide: if they're fungible allied Extras, hand 'em over with abandon. If they're important personalities, keep their sheets to yourself and play out the command & control interactions between them and the PCs.

That leaves the rare in-between characters. For example, if one of the squaddies is still a mook, but is individually a minor roleplaying personality (say, the named lieutenant they eat with in the mess), then having her sheet lumped in with the sheets of the other mooks under their control is actually neat, because it underlines how fragile this friend is and that the PCs are responsible for bringing their underlines through alive. Having one of the mooks be a relatable personality gives them all a face.

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Since this is a Savage Worlds question, it seems best to take into account what the book has to say (from the GM section on Extras):

Though it’s rarely written, most games assume that the Game Master controls the nonplayer characters, both when they’re being talked to and when they fight alongside the player characters in combat. Most of the time, this means the overworked GM simply forgets about the additional characters during a fight, or shoves them off to the side and narratively describes what happens to them. This goes for hirelings as well as animal companions, sidekicks, or love interests. The simple fact is that in most games, allies are a cumbersome complication.

Savage Worlds takes a very different approach—we turn control of allies over to the player characters. The GM acts out these allies when they’re spoken to, of course, but he should very rarely, if ever, take them over in combat.

...This can take a little getting used to. If you’ve been Game Mastering other games for a long time and have a hard time letting go of the nonplayer characters, we suggest you try it for a bit and see how it works out. You can always change it if it doesn’t make sense for your group.

Having run Savage Worlds a great deal, I would agree with this advice. It's much easier for the GM to let the players take control of the allies (which naturally means giving them the stats) and players enjoy getting to run other characters.

Your first concern about doing this was that allies might just be a big stat block rather than a character. I'm not sure what your players are like, but I would hope that they would be just as capable as you at providing them with a personality. You are able to when you have the statblock, so why can't they? Also, I strongly encourage rolling on the Ally Personality table (Chapter 4: Situational Rules under the "Allies" section), which goes a surprisingly long way towards breathing life and character into extras. Including roleplaying Hindrances as well can help a lot.

As for your second concern about the inability to fudge rolls, I think that this might be a sign of a deeper problem. After all, you can't fudge player rolls and I presume your game goes okay, so why would you need to fudge ally rolls? Is the encounter too difficult for the number of characters? Do you feel that you can't accept the possibility of failure or ally death?

That said, one trick I use in Savage Worlds when I really want to fudge player dice is that I reveal the penalty or bonuses to the roll after they roll (or I just make them up after the roll). The characters succeeded a bit too easily at the heal check? Turns out there was poison in his system that added a –2 penalty. Or if they just barely made it, there wasn't. You can try this with bonuses as well, but I think that this is harder to pull off as it can lead to the feeling that players will succeed no matter what. If you go this route, use it sparingly!

At the end of the day, I'd say that you should follow the Savage Worlds book's advice and always hand over the allies. As it says, "try it for a bit and see how it works out. You can always change it if it doesn’t make sense for your group."

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If I can add something: You don't have to give out a full stat-block, you can just give out the values for the things you expect the allies to be doing (such as attack, as you mentioned). This means that when they want them to do something unexpected, or you want them to do something expected, you can make your call then. It fits with the fudge-factor penalties or bonuses pretty well, too. –  Dave Jul 16 at 11:10

The simple answer is no.

The more complicated answer is that it depends. My personal feelings on the subject are that too many mechanical details break immersion for players. If this isn't a role-play heavy group, then you may want to ignore my answer. I tend to operate my games the same way largely independent of the system, and in general I strongly disagree the handing over NPC control to the players in most circumstances. The reasons for this are two-fold:

  1. Forcing the player to role-play commands that he gives to his NPC troops opens up lots of cool possibilities for the narrative. It's difficult for scenarios involving mutinies or desertion to occur when a player is in control of those who would be in a position to mutiny or desert during a critical portion of the story (after all, RPGs are all about telling a story). These are just two examples, I'm sure you could come up with more where it is beneficial for the NPCs to do something that surprises your players.
  2. Savage Worlds emphasizes speed of play and reduced preparation. You mentioned in the question that you are concerned that the smoothness of combat might be affected detrimentally. I concur with that concern. Further, I think that if you don't want the players to have to repeatedly ask you what dice need to be rolled for the NPCs that you provide them, then you should be the one making the rolls. This gives you more control to fudge rolls when you think doing so is appropriate. I have certainly done this in the past, and I will probably end up doing so again in the future. Some times the results of the roll are simply inconvenient for the story you're trying to tell, and that's okay.

Personally, I tend to play fast and loose with the rules often when I'm running an RPG. I tend to favor immersion and narrative above mechanics and rules.

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I removed my comment and incorporated the good bits into my answer to better reflect how I intended it to come across which will hopefully clear up a lot :) –  Dyndrilliac Jul 16 at 6:46

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