I have two or three go-to systems for games as GM, mostly flexible systems that can handle a wide variety of genres. At this point, the bulk of the games I run are short campaigns or one-shots designed for convention-style play. For my money, one of the best systems around for this sort of thing is Savage Worlds. There’s a not insignificant amount of Savage Worlds design work already floating around this very website, serving — if nothing else — as evidence of the fact that I end up running the game relatively frequently. I like Savage Worlds a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
But here’s the thing: I don’t love it. And the reason I don’t love it is the “Shaken” mechanic in the game. Here’s how it’s supposed to work:
From the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition:
If the damage of an attack is a simple success (0-3 points over Toughness), the target is Shaken. Shaken characters are rattled, distracted, or momentarily shocked. They aren’t stunned but are temporarily suppressed enough that they
must make a Spirit roll to be effective.
On their action, a Shaken character must attempt to recover from being Shaken by making a Spirit roll:
• Failure: The character remains Shaken. He can only perform free actions (see page 66).
• Success: The character is no longer Shaken, but can still only perform free actions.
• Raise: The character is no longer Shaken and may act normally.
Spending Bennies: A player may spend a Benny at any time to remove his Shaken status. If it’s currently his action, he may act as if he gained a raise on the Spirit roll.
…which is actually a reasonably elegant way to enforce some kind of consequence for taking damage. Over the course of a campaign, losing an action here or there is significant, but not crippling. And honestly, for a game that considers the ability to handle large combats with numerous PCs and NPCs with ease, having the bad guys lose an action periodically is pretty useful: it naturally limits the number of active combatants in a given round, making everything more manageable.
But in a typical con game — running 4-5 hours — losing a round of actions can be disproportionately punishing. When you’re only going to play a character for 240 minutes, losing 15 to damage is a real bummer. In that kind of compressed time horizon, it’s more attractive in many ways to take damage (suffering a penalty to your rolls but maintaining the ability to act) than to avoid damage and spend a round shaken.
So, for me, something needs to give. I don’t feel all that strongly that the the rules for my games’ antagonists need to change: after all, it’s not that important to me that the random mooks I intend for the PCs to mow through get a full suite of actions before they disappear into happy gamer memory. I’m not even sure I’d change anything for enemy Wild Cards (major NPCs in the parlance of Savage Worlds), but for PCs, I want to replace Shaken with something else. Something that will remind them that they’re almost hurt, but do so in a more fun and memorable way than forcing them to roll (or toss me a bennie) to get back in the game, or just sit on their hands for a turn.
If the damage of an attack is a simple success (0-3 points over Toughness), the target rolls 1d8, and experiences the result outlined on the table below. These rules are to be used for PCs in place of the Shaken condition. Any time the ruls suggest that a PC should be shaken, roll here instead. The target may still take all normal actions, but they must make a Spirit roll to overcome the effect.
- Blinded. Sand got kicked in your face, or maybe there’s a cut om your forehead gushing blood into your eyes. Perhaps Scooby knocked off your glasses. No matter what, you can’t see. You automatically fail all vision-based checks, and are at a -4 to all attacks until you recover.
- Deafened. Something loud happened, or maybe you got hit in the head really hard. It’s possible you’ve punctured an ear drum, or just spent too long next to the speakers. You can’t hear. You automatically fail all hearing-based checks. Opponents have The Drop on you until you recover.
- Slowed. You twisted an ankle or a knee, or took a grazing shot to some part of the body that’s slowed you down. Your pace is reduced by 2 until you recover.
- Butterfingered. If you were holding something, you dropped it. If you try to pick something up, you’re too distracted or stunned to do so effectively. All Agility-based checks are at a -4 until you recover.
- Knocked Prone. You hit the dirt, either intentionally or by force. Perhaps you dove for cover, or maybe someone got a lucky shot across your jaw. Either way, you’re in the dirt now. Ranged attacks against you suffer a penalty, but you’re especially vulnerable to melee attacks until you recover. NOTE: In this case, you cannot simply stand up from the prone position.
- Confused. Something rung your bell, and now you’re seeing stars. Your thoughts are a little slower than usual, and you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing here. You automatically fail all Smarts rolls, and all attacks are at a -4 until you recover.
- Entangled. You’re tripped up, maybe wrapped up in some unexpected underbrush or perhaps you stepped into a gopher hole. Either way, you’re not moving until you can pull free. You cannot move from your current location until you recover. Attacks against you get a +2 bonus until you recover.
- Shaken. The Shaken effect occurs as normal. The player may also choose to substitute the Shaken effect for any of the above penalties before they are applied. Normal rules for recovering from Shaken still apply.
On their action, a Shaken character must attempt to recover from these effects by making a Spirit roll:
• Failure: The condition remains in place.
• Success: The condition ends…at the end of your turn.
• Raise: The condition ends…right now. Act normally.
This is a pretty loose solution, and one that hasn’t gone through a lot of thought or playtesting. I’d love to hear what you think.