I've had an off feeling about Savage Worlds for a while now. I felt like it lacked tactical depth, like it was missing something that systems like DnD and Warhammer40k have. I think I've figured out what it is. Savage Worlds doesn't lack the tactical options of those other systems, not on the core level at least, the problem I have with it is that it's not very deterministic.
What that means is that a players choices don't have a consistent enough effect on how things play out. An attack can do almost nothing one turn and one-shot the target the next. In 40k and DnD heavy randomisation is still present, but the delta of randomness doesn't swing so far. In 40k, you can only use random chance to one-shot a normally resistant target if you take specific actions that allow those kinds of swing results. Otherwise, damage is a much less random number.
The lack of traditional hit-points is certainly a major factor in this, as is the card draw initiative. The latter I'll be replacing with standard Agi rolls, and the health system will be replaced too, but I'm not sure which areas of the core gameplay will be creating the wild delta of randomness.
While there are plenty of houserules online that induce even more wildly swinging results (random ammo consumption rolls, etc) there seems to be a lack in houserules that make the game more consistent. What rules have you used that make the game more deterministic?
Why Savage Worlds?
I've chosen Savage Worlds for this campaign for a few reasons. Firstly, it is cheap and lightweight. For all the inconsistency in the results of die rolls, it's remarkably consistent in it's core mechanic. The game is being run with many new players, such a system is very good for easing them into it.
Secondly, Savage Worlds is setting neutral. I'll be running an XCOM campaign, DnD is fantasy, and while 40k's mechanics are good for an XCOM game, the conversion effort would have to be so comprehensive as to no longer be worthwhile. I could sooner create a new system from scratch than convert all of 40k. I'm aware of the existence of d20 modern, it's not for me. It's not a system I want to run.
Thirdly, Savage Worlds is a good mechanical fit for XCOM. Aside from the high delta of randomness that I'm looking to address, Savage Worlds' mechanics seem like they fit the tone of XCOM rather well. The way hold actions work in this system fit right in to XCOM's overwatch leapfrogging gameplay. Hell, the roll to hit percentages even line up with XCOM's rather nicely.
Finally, adaptability. XCOM is all about the titular organisation researching new ways to conduct warfare. Whether that be improvements to conventional weapons and tactics, or development of entirely new combat doctrines and equipment. XCOM creates new things, and Savage Worlds allows for that creation to be far more freeform. With the powers system and general adaptability of the Savage Worlds rules (the system explicitly encourages overhauls and rule changes) I can give my players much more freedom on countering the alien threat. If they want to develop a type of technology I can do that.
What I want to change.
Savage Worlds is about Fast, Furious Fun. It's mechanics are all built to encourage quick decisions and fast combat resolution. It also allows for stylish actions that have a solid gameplay effect with the tricks system. Coincidentally, it also manages to show hints of a more strategic system. Still lightweight and fast, but more thoughtful. I want to alter the mechanics to bring that latter style into the forefront. The system can support it, even if the result no longer resembles the base game.
The damage system is a big part of the swingy nature of the game. The departure from hit points is interesting and certainly speeds things up, but it also means the difference between perfect health and death is only one solid hit away. Great for fast paced action-star gameplay, less great for more strategic play.
The initiative system bothers me because it's a gimmick, plain and simple. I like Savage Worlds, I've used the card initiative. It's not really any faster than classic initiative rolls and it's a pain to explain to players. Dice rolling mechanics are so ingrained in culture at this point that even though card initiative should make more sense the shift throws people off. That said, if the site I'll be running the campaign on has a good system for cards, I'll leave it in.