Fast and furious: that’s the Savage Worlds combat motto. The rules are beginner-friendly, but battles can be as complex as you need them to be. Pathfinder veterans are going to see a little less “crunch” in the numbers system and a little more variety in what characters can do. It’s a very cinematic system, built for tabletop miniatures and a battlemap but easily workable in the theater of the mind.
Combat takes place in ROUNDS. This is the time it takes everyone, including bad guys, to take one TURN. While rounds will take more time meta-wise, the characters experience about six seconds per round; ten rounds is about a minute of battle! Savage Worlds shows us that a lot can happen in a short period of time!
To determine Initiative order, Savage Worlds uses a standard playing card deck including both Jokers. These are called “Action Cards.”
At the start of each ROUND, each Wild Card–players and the serious villains–are dealt a single Action Card. Some Edges or Hindrances might pull extra cards, but generally everyone will have just one. We also give groups just one card. If a PC has a group of Allies–say, some helpful guards–the group will also go on that PC’s turn. If the GM is running a group of minor NPCs–say, some angry guards–those NPCs will share an Action Card and all go together. This keeps everyone moving quickly, and most importantly for GMs, it’s easy to track!
Initiative order goes by the highest card first–Aces, Kings, Queens, etc.–to the lowest cards–4, 3, 2. Each character or group resolves their actions when the GM counts down to their card. If two people have a tied card–both 9s, for example–they are resolved by reverse alphabetical suit order: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs. Imagine two 9s are at the table, but our Dwarven Wizard has a Spade and our angry guards have a Club. Our Dwarf goes first, to the mighty regret of those guards!
JOKERS are the best cards! Jokers can act whenever they want in the round; they are automatically considered first, but they can hold and interrupt another’s action instead. They also add +2 to all TRAIT and DAMAGE rolls for the round!
Whenever a Joker is dealt to a player, all the players get a bennie! GM tip: make this a celebratory moment at the table. Everyone wins! If a Joker is dealt to the GM side, bennies go to GM-run Wildcards and the GM. After the round is resolved, you’ll gather all the cards back up and reshuffle the deck, so both Jokers are potentially back in play.
Characters have several options for taking actions on their turn. This might include stabbing someone with a sword, swinging a warhammer, or casting a spell. Common battle actions include Fighting, Shooting, or using a Power. Supporting Allies and Testing Foes are also actions– these are where Savage Worlds brings fantastic new mechanics into Pathfinder, and we’ll cover those in just a bit. Characters can perform multi-actions at the cost of -2 per additional action. There’s a lot of wiggle room here to make the gameplay really cinematic.
Some actions are free! Movement is free, so my wizard can take cover and THEN cast his spells. Reactions, such as reisting opposed rolls or powers, are unlimited, and occur as needed. Falling prone, dropping an item or reloading a weapon, or shouting a warning to your fellow adventurers, are also considered free actions. Our Dwarf can shout “Aim for the Captain!” while dropping his backpack, and then cast his spell as his action.
More complex actions like digging through his backpack for a special talisman might take more than a free action–and sometimes, more than a round to complete. This is always the GM’s call.
When will our Dwarven Wizard need to run? Possibly often! HA! He can increase his Pace by rolling a d6 at the cost of a -2 penalty for all other actions that turn. Running die never ace, so they can’t hit that 6 and then 12 and so on–there’s only so far anyone can run. Running can be more difficult depending on the terrain–GM’s call. However, if my Dwarf is running out of a castle, I can increase his reduced pace of 5 by rolling that d6. Let’s say I roll a 4. He can now run 9 squares, nearly twice his walking pace, and get the heck out of the castle!
Before we run away, though, let’s assume we want to start a fight in that castle. Or, I mean, someone else started a fight in that castle. Remember to use your wild die! Attack rolls generally use fighting or shooting, or sometimes athletics if you’re throwing something, and Wildcards always roll their extra d6.
The Target Number for Melee Attacks is the opponent’s Parry. If a guard punches my Dwarf, they must meet or exceed his Parry of 5.
The Target Number for Ranged Attacks is a base number of 4–unless it’s a small ranged weapon, such as a pistol, in close combat. Then, it has to meet Parry just like melee combat. Large two-handed ranged weapons cannot be used in close combat. Generally, if a guard shoots their crossbow from a distance, they only need a 4 to hit my Dwarf. The GM could add penalties to their roll based on distance–they might roll at a -2 to shoot all the way across the courtyard–but they still only need that 4 to successfully hit.
After a successful Melee or Ranged Attack, the attacker rolls damage. DAMAGE NEVER USES A WILD DIE. PUT THE WILD DIE DOWN. However, all damage rolls can Ace, which means even a lowly guard, who is just an extra, can get reaaaalllly lucky. If the guard punches my Dwarf and rolls a 5 to meet his Parry, he can then roll damage, which can ace. Additionally, a raise on an attack roll–let’s say the guard rolls a 9, which meets my Parry and goes over it by 4 points–means adding a +1d6 to damage. This bonus d6 can also ace!… and when damage aces, and then aces again… You see why Savage Worlds is known for being both FAST and FURIOUS.
This is where Toughness enters the picture. Once Parry is met or exceeded and damage is rolled, we compare the damage total to the target’s Toughness. In short: ATTACK is compared to the target’s PARRY. DAMAGE is compared to the target’s TOUGHNESS.
If the damage roll is LESS than the target’s Toughness, the hit succeeds but there is no in-game effect. Cinematically, the guard punched my Dwarf but he just spits and smiles.
If damage is EQUAL to the target’s toughness, they are Shaken. Each raise on the damage roll also inflicts a Wound. If the guard meets my Dwarf’s Parry of 5, he is Shaken. He’s rattled by this guard’s audacity! Luckily, recovering from shaken or stunned occurs automatically at the beginning of a character’s turn, and is free but may only be tried once. When our wizard’s turn comes up, he tries to unshake. If he doesn’t, he can still perform other free actions on his turn, like movement. If he succeeds by rolling at least a 4, he is no longer Shaken and can act normally. Players can also spend a Benny to automatically unshake, even when it’s not their turn!
Let’s say the guard gets really lucky and aces their damage roll. For every raise over the target’s Toughness, the target suffers a Wound in addition to being shaken. Wild Cards can take 3 wounds and still function, but there’s a -1 penalty per Wound for ALL ROLLS. YIKES.
Savage Pathfinder has a Wound Cap of 4. Not all Savage Settings use this mechanic, but it’s especially useful in Pathfinder. This means characters can never suffer more than 4 Wounds in a single hit, which lessens the chance of one-shotting a villain (which is always a little disappointing). More importantly, it means the guard probably won’t one-shot our awesome Dwarf!
However, let’s imagine the guard managed to roll truly exceptional damage and gave my Dwarf four wounds which I couldn’t manage to soak. The dice rolls were against me! My wizard would be INCAPACITATED. He can’t perform actions but he still gets an action card every round, in case he manages to recover or other effects take place. Once incapacitated, the character makes an immediate Vigor roll.
On a critical failure–double ones–my Dwarf dies. Note to GMs: Make it a good one! It’s important for players to feel their character deaths are cinematically important.
Anything besides a crit fail gets a roll on the injury table.
A failed Vigor Roll means the injury is permanent and the character is bleeding out, and needs healing to stabilize them!
A success means the injury goes away when all the Wounds are healed.
A success with a raise means the injury goes away in 24 hours, or when all Wounds are healed, whichever happens sooner.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S HOPE!
Damage can seem really intimidating, right? But Savage Pathfinder battles are cinematic, which means our heroes will take some devastating hits and dive right back into the frey. We do this by making SOAK ROLLS.
After rolling damage but BEFORE applying those wounds, characters can spend a benny to make a SOAK roll. We use Spirit to Unshake, but we use VIGOR to SOAK.
A way to remember this is that Spirit is for Shaken, but Vigor is for Vitality–so SOAK that damage and keep our insides… um, inside.
Every success and raise on the Vigor roll reduces the number of wounds from that attack by one. If the character soaks all the wounds from that single attack, the character is no longer shaken–no matter when the shaken condition occurred. It’s a full success!
For our purposes, let’s assume the guard rolled one raise on damage over my dwarf’s toughness. I’ll spend a Bennie for sure, or else he’ll become SHAKEN and WOUNDED. A success on my Vigor roll–remember, a 4 is almost always a success in Savage Worlds–means my dwarf soaks the damage AND he’s no longer shaken. If the guard had managed 2 wounds, I’d need to succeed with a raise on my Vigor roll to soak both wounds, and so on. If the guard managed 2 wounds but I only had 1 success, I’d soak 1 wound, but my dwarf would still be shaken with 1 wound.
Players can only soak once per attack, but can use as many Bennies as they want to reroll the Vigor check! And it’s important to note that Wound modifiers affect those Vigor rolls, but only if they were received prior to the attack you’re trying to Soak! If you are attacked, get wounded and roll Vigor to Soak, that wound is not technically applied yet and so will not negatively affect you.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S EVEN MORE HOPE!
Using a couple of methods specific to Savage Worlds, you can help your team and hurt your enemy’s chances.
One of the most important mechanics in Savage Worlds is the ability to influence–for good or ill–the rolls of other characters.This is a major difference between Savage Pathfinder and OG Pathfinder. In OG Pathfinder, we’re pretty much just hitting as much as we can, as hard as we can. In Savage Worlds, we can assist our adventuring parties by setting other characters up for great shots–or for villains, terrible failures. For my money, these are the most important and most overlooked combat techniques at any table. You can really turn the tide of combat by thinking creatively and being a generous player who wants the PARTY to succeed.
You can TEST attackers to make actions more difficult for them! My Dwarf could drop one of the iron chandeliers close to the guard and DISTRACT them, forcing a -2 to all their Trait rolls for their next turn. It’s harder to hit when you’re distracted! Or he could say something really mean about the guard’s ill-fitting uniform, making them VULNERABLE. Actions and attacks against the guard would now be at a +2 until the end of their next turn. Everyone can see how embarrassing that uniform is! Let’s get ‘em!
Savage Worlds additionally provides an option for CREATIVE COMBAT! The world can feel as cinematic as you want, and the system has this really cool mechanic to assist. A regular success on a TEST works as normal, but if a character rolls a success with a raise, they can decide if they want to take the Shaken result or roll on the Creative Combat table. Our wizard can choose to roll on the table and might get anything from an extra Benny for being especially mean, to forcing the guard to suffer a setback–maybe that uniform is really embarrassing and the other guards start to laugh and walk away.
We can also directly SUPPORT other characters. Describe ways in which you might help an ally with a task, and with the GM’s approval, roll the relevant skill and declare what you’re attempting to support. A success adds +1 to that ally’s skill roll, and a raise adds +2. The total amount of support any one person can add is +2, and the total support a character can receive is +4, if multiple people are supporting. Our wizard can definitely help look at that weird rune, make an Occult roll, and add a +1 or +2 to someone else’s potential to understand the rune’s powers.
There are MANY different combat methods we didn’t cover here, from wild attacks to darkness penalties–this is just an overview. Mostly, if you want to do something, there’s probably a rule to help you do it, but the basics will get you through most adventures!
Let me know if there are specific deep-dive combat mechanics you’d like us to cover in the future! We hope to be able to cover some of those and want to know what will help you the most. Thanks for watching. If this helped you, please consider liking and sharing. And check out the Saving Throw’s Ko-fi to support more content like this!
If you have specific questions or have a request, please check out our Discord!