The Secret On How To Be A Gamemaster For Savage Worlds

One of my favorite tabletop RPGs is Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I am reading the Savage Worlds Deluxe and the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion books to prepare to run a game for friends following my gaming group going on hiatus.

In my gaming group one of our friends moved to Arizona, and that seems to have taken the wind out of the group’s sails. Having been in my fair share of gaming groups I am not concerned by this, because groups split up and reform all of the time. You just have to be committed to keep gaming and the group part will work itself out.

For that to happen though you need fun games that draw people back to the table, and Savage Worlds is definitely fun if you have the right kind of Gamemaster. I have played Savage Worlds with numerous Gamemasters including the creators of the game, and most of the time I have had great fun playing the game. If you ever have the chance to play in one of Sean Patrick Fannon’s Savage Worlds games at a convention take it! His games are always full of fun (and be sure to check out Evil Beagle Games)!

But I have played Savage Worlds games that were awful, and it certainly was not because of the Savage Worlds rules or settings. It has always been because the Gamemaster was someone who took the approach of treating the game as a competition between the players and the Gamemaster. This does not work with Savage Worlds. I would argue that the competitive approach does not work with any RPG in general, but due to a particular component of Savage Worlds this approach breaks down completely.

Savage Worlds has a system where the players accumulate benefits known as “bennies” that allow for the player to re-roll dice, attempt to soak damage, and most important of all to have more fun. The Gamemaster is the person responsible for handing out bennies in order to keep the level of excitement and fun high, and also to keep the game moving forward. This encourages players to take risks in the game, play to their character’s strengths and weaknesses, and to think in terms of what will make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

This is where the competitive Gamemaster falls apart running Savage Worlds. Bennies are the fuel that players use to defeat the challenges placed before their characters. Savage Worlds needs bennies to be handed out for great roleplaying, interesting tactics, risky maneuvers, and anything that contributes to the fun of the game even if it is just a humorous comment. Competitive Gamemasters horde the bennies though, and do not hand out enough bennies to keep the game moving forward.

A Savage Worlds Gamemaster has to treat bennies like gasoline. Bennies can cause the game to explode into flames if they are misused, so you should not just sling them around the table for any old thing. Players have to earn bennies and treat them as a precious resource in the game.

A Savage Worlds Gamemaster also cannot starve the game of bennies. The game needs bennies to run properly. You cannot have fun as a player if your character does not have the bennies that are needed to remain influential to the game. Without enough fuel the engine of the game sputters to a halt.

As a Savage Worlds Gamemaster your role is to challenge the players, and not to compete with them. You cannot compete with them, because there is no competition due to the fact that the Gamemaster has all of the player’s bennies! Even the three initial bennies that each character starts the game with are handed out by the Gamemaster. I was a player in a game once where the Gamemaster refused to follow that rule. The players were told that we would have to earn those bennies by really impressing the Gamemaster.

That particular game was horrible and I just left the table after a couple of hours. Enough said.

The role of a Savage Worlds Gamemaster is to set the stage with a challenge, and then to provide the players with enough bennies to have a chance of overcoming that challenge with the characters that they have chosen to play. Make no mistake – bennies do not make the game easy! Bennies make the game enjoyable. Without bennies the game does not work!

Which all boils down to the not-so-secret secret of being a Savage Worlds Gamemaster: If the player does something that makes the game more enjoyable give that player a bennie, and then tell the group why you gave the player a bennie.

“Here is a bennie! You played to your character’s hindrance even though it cost you something. Good job!”

“Here is a bennie! Your character took a huge risk to save a commoner even though she did not have to. I was on the edge of my seat!”

“Here is a bennie! That was some great roleplaying that made it easy to become immersed into the game world. You are an awesome player!”

“Here is a bennie! That cracked me up! We all needed a laugh!”

It is that simple!

The more you do this, the more intense you can make those challenges for the players to overcome. The more you reward good gaming with bennies, the more you can count on good players being a part of your game. Just keep your Savage Worlds game players fueled with bennies and the game will live up to its motto:

Fast! Furious! Fun!

Now who can refuse a game like that?