All By Design: Alternate “Shaken” Effects for Savage Worlds

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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:

The RAW

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.

My Problem

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.

The Solution

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Discussion

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.

Kennon Bauman is a professional analyst and lapsed historian who knows the sinister secret history of the origin the Twinkie. He currently lives in Germany with his wife, two children, and dog. You can find Kennon’s bite-sized musings on Twitter @theUniverseGM.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a wonderfull idea. Only thing I find a bit too harsch is 2 because of the damage bonus enemies will have. I would also try to expand the list and replace the extra die roll with the players Initative card value to determine the effect. I feel it would be faster that way.
    This also opens up the possibillity to use various attributes to unshake. Like Strenght to pull free from something. This might screw with the attribute balance too much though.

    Definetly more interesting and much more dynamic then simple “shaken” rule. Shaken Hell has been a problem at the table sometimes. This also creates a much more vivid combat environment. I might use it even without the new effects simply for prose inspiration.

  2. says

    Interesting post. I think your solution is a workable one but I’ll note that it’s not a problem I’ve seen be…well…a problem.

    I think that is partly because the Bennies (the sure shot cure for the Shaken Blues!) tend to fly around the table a bit more at one shot games than they do in campaign play. Opportunities for awesomeness and hilarity abound and these games (in my experience) tend a bit more toward the gonzo.

    Thus, if a PC becomes Shaken there is a very good chance that they have a Bennie to recover immediately if they don’t pass the Spirit check. The player at that point gets to make the resource allocation to either spend the Bennie and recover, thus assuring their spot in the action economy OR they can choose to keep it and use it for later when it might help assure that they pull off some crazy stunt or prevent them from taking a serious wound.

    I think that your d8 Solution is probably workable. But it would require an extra roll and some condition tracking. That’s not an unreasonable tradeoff by any means. Just that I’m not sure I feel it to be a necessary one in the games I’m running.

    But thanks for making me think about this and examine my own thoughts. That’s always worthwhile.

    • says

      Scott: I really like the Bennie mechanic in Savage Worlds, and agree that most of the time there are quite a few flying around the table. That said, I definitely prefer to see players using them to try something out of the ordinary or extra cool as opposed to “escaping boredom.” I mean, if enforced inaction is part of the game, having a mechanic to cancel it out is a great way to balance things back out…but even in a con game, Bennie allocation is rarely even. Consequently, stealing a Bennie here or there to keep a really engaged, frequently rewarded player is no big deal…it just really hurts the guys who maybe don’t have the big personality, or the great voice, or the portrayal of their character down pat.

      Per Chaosmeister’s suggestion, I’d love to have 13 conditions instead of 8 so that I could just use everyone’s initiative to determine the consequence, but I just ran out of steam after 8.

      • says

        I fiddled around and made the full 13. Not 100% on all of them but it is workable.

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

        3. 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.

        4. 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.

        5. 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.

        6. 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.

        7. 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.

        8. Shocked. The close call really rattled your nerves, you are shacking all over and can hardly concentrate. Roll all skill dice as one step lower then they actually are. e.g. d8 shooting becomes d6 shooting until you recover.

        9. Enraged. That’s it, you had it! The last hit was too close. You are loosing It. Until you recover you go all out, ignore all cover and suffer a -2 to Parry and Toughness.

        10. Searing Pain. While it did not actually hurt you that last attack left a mark. Either your vest caught the bullet or you where simply grazed. Whatever happened the pain is so great that you suffer from one temporary wound until you recover. This temporary wound can cause you to be incapacitated, but you would only fall unconscious until you recover.

        11. Dazed. This was close, your head is still ringing and you can not quiet focus. You act last each turn and suffer a -2 on all skill checks until you recover.

        12. Danger. This sudden attack makes you very careful. You move at halve pace only. Because you take your time and look out for another attack you suffer a -4 penalty on all attack rolls as well.

        13. 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.

  3. says

    I don’t mind shaken too much and my experience has been pretty close to Scott’s as far as the bennie/recover thing goes. That said, the point is well taken that losing an action can really suck for some folks in a game where actions in combat are so limited.

    But really all this makes me wanna do is work on (and complete!) my one-shot system that I kick around on scrap paper every time I get back from a Con or Gameday. I’ve been running and playing in enough one-shots the last 5 years that I really feel there is a system waiting out there to be created that works perfectly for “fire and forget” 4-5 hour play.

    Perhaps something that melds the frequently used Hero Point/Bennie/Awesome Point mechanic with just enough crunch to make characters distinguishable from each other and still be a game. And most importantly, allows the awesome to flow but be fueled by the system and not requiring a [Insert Point Mechanic] to activate or benefit from.

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