Chris Miller

Savage Worlds for D&D 5E Players

If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5E player interested in branching out into new systems, Savage Worlds might catch your eye with its fast, furious, and fun approach to tabletop RPGs. While both games share the common trait of being role-playing games, the mechanics, character creation, and overall approach are quite different. This article aims to highlight those differences and provide a transition guide for D&D players stepping into the Savage Worlds.

System Mechanics

D&D uses a d20 system, where most checks involve rolling a 20-sided die, adding relevant modifiers, and comparing the result to a difficulty class (DC). Combat is classically turn-based with initiative determined by a dexterity check.

In contrast, Savage Worlds uses a range of polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12), depending on your character’s skills and attributes. The goal is generally to roll a 4 or higher - a relatively static target number. Instead of simply taking turns in a set order, Savage Worlds has a dynamic initiative system using a standard deck of playing cards. Each round, you draw a new card for your initiative.

Character Creation

D&D’s character creation is class and level-based. You choose a race, class, and background, each providing specific abilities, skills, and attribute modifiers. As you gain experience, your character levels up, gaining new class-specific abilities and increasing your power level.

Savage Worlds, on the other hand, is not class-based. You start with a set number of points to spend on your attributes and skills, and you choose Edges (advantages) and Hindrances (disadvantages) that define your character’s abilities and flaws. The growth of your character is more horizontal, expanding their versatility rather than escalating their power significantly.


D&D combat, especially at higher levels, can become quite complex, with many abilities, spells, and tactical options in play. Savage Worlds aims for streamlined and quick combat. Damage doesn’t increase as much, and instead of hit points, characters have a static Toughness score. Exceeding this Toughness can cause Wounds, with player characters typically only able to take three before being incapacitated.

Also, Savage Worlds includes a mechanic called “Bennies” - tokens players can spend to reroll dice, resist damage, or influence the story. This adds an extra layer of strategy and resource management to the game.


Spellcasting in D&D is based on spell slots, with spells divided into levels. A spell’s level often indicates its power, and class determines how many spells of each level a character can cast before they must rest.

In Savage Worlds, magic and similar abilities are referred to as “Powers”. Instead of spell slots, characters have Power Points, spent to use their powers. Each power can be augmented in various ways, allowing for more flexibility. The ‘Trappings’ of a power, its aesthetic and sometimes minor mechanical elements, can be customized, adding a creative element to spellcasting.

Setting and Tone

While D&D is traditionally high fantasy, it does offer official settings and supplemental material for different genres. Savage Worlds, however, is designed as a genre-agnostic system, enabling play in settings from fantasy and sci-fi to horror, pulp, western, and more right out of the core rulebook.

Transition Tips

  1. Forget Classes: Embrace the freedom of creating a character without pre-defined classes. Focus on the concept of your character, then choose skills, edges, and hindrances to fit that concept.

  2. Think Tactics: With a dynamic initiative system and simplified combat, thinking tactically and being able to adapt your strategy

is key.

  1. Experiment with Powers: The flexible power system allows for creativity. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different trappings and power combinations.

  2. Embrace the Narrative: Savage Worlds encourages cinematic, narrative-driven gameplay. Embrace this, and don’t be afraid to spend those Bennies to influence the story!

Switching from D&D 5E to Savage Worlds can seem like a big leap due to the mechanical differences, but they both share the ultimate goal of creating exciting, character-driven stories. Take the time to familiarize yourself with Savage Worlds' mechanics, and you’ll be leading thrilling adventures in no time. Happy gaming!

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