Gambling in Savage Worlds

I’ve been having a lot of fun running Savage Worlds. Hee, I’d like to think my group is having a good time too. It’s got some kinks in the game and I still make some mistakes, but overall it’s a fun, streamlined system.

I had a player adopt a gambling scoundrel type. The default gambling rules for SW are decent. A player chooses a value of the stakes and folks make a gambling check. The highest and lowest are paired off, with the lower roll paying the difference times the stakes. Then the next highest and lowest are paired off, etc. Ties and odd players are considered to have broke even. It’s a fair way to resolve an hour or so game time of gambling.

The downside it’s a little swingy and doesn’t quite capture that night of gambling. A player can seriously flub a roll and be paired off against someone that got a raise or two. You can get into territory where a player wins 5-8 times the stakes bet. Even weirder, a player could actually lose several times over their initial stakes.

So I thought about tweaking the gambling checks a bit and resolve more around a capped amount players can potentially win. First a player chooses the stakes and ‘buy in’ at 2-3 times that amount. Each buy in is represented by a marker given to that player (say pennies, glass beads, poker chips, whatever). This marker abstractly reflects the cash brought to the table.

All gamblers in the game make a gambling check and it resolves as per the rules (highest and lowest paired off, etc.). However instead of paying the winner, the loser just hands over a marker. Any odd players out do not gain or lose any markers. Players keep rolling until there is a clear winner (getting all the markers), or other players drop out. The markers are then cashed in, each being one stake. So if the stakes were 5 silver, a player ending up with six markers would have 30 silver at the end of the night.

For it to work you need a few people playing, at least three with 4-5 being ideal (including the player that wants to gamble). I always have 2 or more PCs join in the game representing NPC extras at the table. I also try to have one extra have a similar skill to the player, with most having gambling at d6, and possibly one having a lower skill of d4. All participants would have the matching marker total of the player, with one possibly having 1-2 more (they simply are bringing more money to the table).

To speed up the gambling a bit, I have another rule that kicks in when an extra ‘drops out’ and loses all their markers. The next player/extra with the least amount of markers will also drop out of the game. Consider they have actually played a few hands and decide it best to cut out of the action early. At this point the player with the highest gambling skill makes a check. If they pass, they can choose to force that player to stay in the game if they wish. With a raise (not cumulative), they may also convince that player to buy in another marker.

This represents the gambler is able to string along a player having a losing streak, and may even convince them to throw more money into the game to stay at the table. Note this is entirely optional for the player making the check. They may want to have that player drop out. Even if doing so loses a chance at earning more cash, they are also cutting down the chance of having to pay markers.

Lastly, when it’s down to the last 2-3 players, I double the markers won and lost. It can drag out a bit just passing around a single marker over again and again. With multiple markers being won or lost, it tends to resolve the gambling a little faster.

An alternate to this could be that all players just throw their markers into one big pot. However I found actually exchanging markers gives players some gauge with how they are doing as the game progresses. Also they can utilize a large marker pile as a means to push other players into cashing in, wielding their winnings like a bludgeon to force others into calling the game early.

There are a couple of things I like about it. It represents cash in hand pretty well. You don’t have this phantom total of money pop out of nowhere, it’s all based on stakes at the table. The PC rolls a few times, which can average out that single lucky (or unlucky) roll. Having another extra drop out when one loses all their makers gives the player an opportunity to utilize their gambling skill in another fashion (potentially keeping a weaker player in the game for more money to be earned).

Lastly, there is some tension with the game and encourages a player to try and cheat on a particular roll. By default you don’t have this huge incentive to cheat. However if you really need a good roll to win a few markers off your opponent, cheating can be a decent way to get that edge. It’s all about that player flubbing their roll and getting caught, which can lead into more interesting situations.Trampier-Hommlet

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