Interview with Savage Worlds Core Rules Brand Manager, Clint Black

In just the way we knew it would, Savage Worlds has commanded the interest of the readers to make an undeniably successful list of interview questions.  After serving up an appetizer of a dish with my Intro to Savage Worlds last week, I’d like to now present you with the main course, an interview with Clint Black, the Savage Worlds Core Rules Brand Manager.

I’m going to keep my questions brief so we can move right into the big list of reader questions coming to us from all over the web!  We owe huge thanks for the great questions, this time coming from both /r/RPG and /r/SavageWorlds – two fantastic communities for gaming news and conversation.  I highly recommend that if you enjoyed these articles you pop over to the each subreddit and sign up!

Nundahl: I imagine you consider Necessary Evil to be your great work, at least until you release something to beat it.  Does that setting/plot point campaign still get some play at your table?

Clint: Actually, I consider Necessary Evil one of Pinnacle’s great works, but to consider it purely mine would be a disservice to all the people who collaborated on it.  It truly was a group effort in some of the best ways possible. As to playing it, I guess the answer is both yes and no. It’s been many years since NE first came out, and while I haven’t run the campaign in a long time (other than at cons), I have used the power system in other games.

Nundahl:   Outside of Savage Worlds and the various Savage Settings (which Rolling20s asks a question on later) do you have any favorite systems or settings from other publishers and designers?

Clint: Oh, certainly. You can find my love of superhero RPGS in the Easter eggs of Necessary Evil with NPCs named the Champion and the Mutant Mastermind. In fact, there were many more that got cut for one reason or another. Most recently, I’ve really enjoyed Dragon Age by Green Ronin both for its system and its setting.

Nundahl: How did you manage to meet Shane and get involved in Savage Worlds?

Clint: I was a fan of Deadlands for many years and had written a couple of things for Pinnacle before Savage Worlds came along. Pinnacle was releasing Test Drives of the rules during development, and I suppose I created one of the first “fan conversions” off the Test Drive by running a Starship Troopers scenario with it. I posted on the mailing list the stats I had used for the game and how it turned out. Soon after, I had an email from Shane saying I had pretty much nailed his intent with the system and asking if I would join the playtest and development.

Nundahl: This will be my last question before I turn it over to the inquiring minds of our readers.  What advice can you offer to the young game designer who is eager to make his break into the industry?

Clint: Well, first and foremost, work with what you love. Game design is built on a passion for gaming; if the passion isn’t there for whatever reason, it will show.

Reader Questions

Rex:  “I’m a newbie in the realm of gaming, so I’m sort of taking an outsider’s look in. I’m intrigued by the idea of a “Core Rules Brand Manager.” Could you give me some insight as to what that entails?”

Clint: The short version is I work on anything directly connected to the core rules. Occasionally, that means working with other Brand Managers on setting books so new rules mesh as best possible with the core system, but mostly, I work on products that are not setting related but expand upon the rules, such as our Companion series. I also answer all rules questions on our forums.

1point618: “Why is Savage Worlds not released under some sort of open license … or are there benefits to licensing the rules to every individual who wants to release something under them?”

Clint: Our license is free; it just requires approval by Pinnacle to publish products for sale (the actual license is listed on our website). While it has rarely been needed, that means we have the option to say no and more importantly, an open line of communication with every licensee. The goal of the license isn’t to flood the market with Savage Worlds products, but to provide the fans with options Pinnacle alone can’t provide.

Unsmily: “What drove you to write [for] Savage Worlds in the first place? Were you fed up with other systems? Just wanted to try something new?”

Clint: Heh, I’ve often told people I was the “poster child” for Savage Worlds. The design goal was based off where Shane was in his life; a busy gamer with a job, family, and other obligations, who wanted to game without hours of GM prepwork and where the system mechanics were fast and actually enhanced the fun of the game experience. It so happened, when he started releasing information on the system, I was in the exact same place in my life, and Savage Worlds hit everything I was looking for as well.  It was kind of a case of pure synchronicity.

Rolling20s: “Other than Necessary Evil, what is your favorite Savage Setting?”

Clint: I get this question quite a bit, and I always throw out the caveat that it’s hard to ignore the ones I know about that haven’t been released, but I don’t think it’s fair to include them. Otherwise, I’d say it’s a toss-up between Deadlands and Weird War II, but I’d also have to mention RunePunk by Reality Blurs, a setting I actually get to play in.

Thor: “How was the idea of character development through Edges initially conceived and what were the hurdles you had to overcome in balancing that type of system?”

Clint: That idea was actually a core principle from Shane since the beginning and as I understand came from his experience with previous games (like Deadlands) where he saw how much cooler it was to get a special ability. If there was any particular hurdle, it was simply the new paradigm that Traits were simply the foundation for the characters and not the defining aspects of them. A lot of the balance was pre-existing from the source material of The Great Rail Wars.

Eric: “I really enjoyed Necessary Evil and the twist it puts on a supers game. Do you have any other campaign worlds coming up that do something similar for other genres?”

Clint: Personally, no, not at the moment. Pinnacle’s near future (near being subjective) includes core setting support, companions, and looking at re-releasing some earlier settings in the Explorer’s Edition format as we did with Necessary Evil. One to look for there might be Rippers which has a twist on Victorian horror.

Phillip: “How do you feel your game system fairs in comparison to others such as D&D and World of darkness?”

Clint: Wow, I wouldn’t really know where to begin such a comparison. Obviously, they have bigger sales, but then they target much larger markets. There are multiple target audiences within the overall RPG market, and while there is definitely some overlap, SW, D&D, and WoD all pretty much appeal to dramatically different ones. That said, Savage Worlds has been very successful and has grown pretty continuously by being at the forefront of our own particular niche within the market.

Gerhb: “Apart from perhaps Solomon Kane, what kind of pop culture icons and stories did you look to for inspiration for the mood, and more particularly for edges and hindrances?”

Clint: Quite a few were derived from The Great Rail Wars (the inspiration for the core mechanics) which were inspired by westerns of course. Really, a lot of the Edges and Hindrances for invoking a mood are relegated to setting books where mood is everything. Still, there is some in the core rulebook, particularly in the example Professional Edges, where a certain pop culture 80’s character capable of jury-rigging his way out of any situation lends his name to one of my favorite Edges.

Nathan: “Why the change to single die and a wild die … as opposed to the multiple dice in the Classic Deadlands?”

Clint: In a way, that’s the very origins of Savage Worlds. Shane felt the single die mechanic of The Great Rail Wars could be used as the basis for an RPG, one that would be faster than Classic Deadlands. While he loved Classic, he also knew its limits better than anyone. He tested it, but didn’t have time to follow up immediately, so it sat on the shelf until the beginnings of Savage Worlds later on. The Wild Die was added during development to produce a curve of results for Wild Cards (and allow for some other options in the system).

J Lee Watts: “It seems that D6 vs D8 vs D10 does not [yield] a great deal of [difference]. Average rolls are just one point higher as you increase die type. The cost to upgrade seems steep. Was that because character development is not the main objective, but to reflect that story driven character development is often slow, as in the pulps?”

Clint: Nope. Looks can be deceiving. One point of difference in Savage Worlds can actually make quite a difference. It’s also not always a question of the average, but the odds of success. With a standard Target Number of 4 (and ignoring the Wild Die), a d6 has a 50% chance of success, a d8 has a 62.5% chance of success, and a d10 has a 70% chance of success. On top of that, keep in mind that most rolls will have at least two levels of success: normal and a raise or extraordinary success by rolling 4 points over the TN. Oftentimes, if the odds don’t dramatically change for one level of success, they do for the other. And then there are modifiers to consider; a 1 point higher average with a -1 penalty can mean the difference between success and failure. And for the icing on the cake, each higher die type also decreases the chance of a critical failure.

However, the main thing to remember relates to an earlier question; a lot of systems use skill (and attribute) levels as a significant component for character differentiation where Savage Worlds does not.  Traits certainly serve as a foundation for that in the system, but Edges and Hindrances do most of the defining.  As Thor pointed out, a significant amount of character development comes from Edges.

Geoff@IC:  “Does being able to Ace multiple times mean that the “random element” has more bearing on combat than the character’s abilities?”

Clint: Not really.  Acing is fun, but has less impact than it appears at first glance.  First off, two types of rolls ace, Traits and damage.  Trait rolls are generally limited in gaining a benefit from only a single raise (with a few special exceptions).  That means acing doesn’t typically have an impact past 4 points above the TN.  With damage, multiple raises can have an impact, but even then, that’s typically limited to Wild Cards.  Extras go down with one wound, which is caused by rolling a raise (4 points) over their Toughness, so that’s back to the way things work with Trait rolls.

Still, I wouldn’t discount acing.  It can allow a character to succeed despite severe penalties, but in combat, I’d say it’s about a third of the equation. Another third would go to character abilities, and the last third would be player tactics and maneuvers.

Boomerxl: “I’d like to know which parts of the system he’s most proud of, and which areas he thinks could use a little work.”

Clint: If we’re talking personal pride, then mechanically, I’m pretty proud of the current Chase rules.  It’d be unfair to say others didn’t have a hand in them, but I was much more directly active in their development, and yeah, I’m proud of the result.  If we talk conceptually and pride in the work of others, then I really like the Core Rules + Setting Rules idea.  “Generic” systems seemed to be most successful with the kitchen sink approach of putting rules for everything in the core and then having to ignore a lot of them depending on the specific setting. SW went a different route providing 95% of the rules for most settings in the core book and the other 5% in rules just for the specific setting (either in a setting book or created by the GM).

And that pretty much leads in to where I think the rules might need the most work, explaining that approach better in the core rules.  Some people don’t get that from the core book, which is understandable given the Explorer’s Edition format and style.  We’ve put out some freebies on the website as examples (the Wizards & Warriors supplement for fantasy gaming and the Crime City One Sheet for gritty play), but if I had room in the book, that would probably be my top addition.

Whatevernevermind: “[Can you] see a future for tabletop RPGs with the huge following that MMORPGs have now?”

Clint: Possibly, but it would be pretty far in the future, and really, it might just be a point where the two merge.  Obviously, I’m a bit of a comic book fan (see Necessary Evil), and I recall many years ago (before MMORPGs) reading an issue of the Legion of Super Heroes where they were playing D&D, only the table was computerized and the miniatures were holograms.  So maybe one day we will have PPIRPGs, Personal Photo-realistic Independent RPGS that are the table top games of the future… I still want to roll dice though.

LoMerc: “What’s next for Savage Worlds?”/ Magehammer: “Where do you see Savage Worlds in ten years?”

Clint: Lets’ see, coming soon (note that “soon” is a term allowed by our Vice President, Joel, who oversees ambiguity), we have the re-release of Deadlands Reloaded in two books for players and the Marshal.  Plus, Space 1889: Red Sands should be travelling through the ether towards us, and hopefully, the printed dual pack of Action and Adventure Decks are on the horizon as well.

In ten years, well, I think Savage Worlds has the longevity to still appeal to the target audience it is designed for, gamers who don’t have a lot of time to prep.  It just so happens, the more time that passes, the more gamers of that nature appear as they naturally get older.  That said, I think before the ten years is up a comet will pass between the earth and the moon, heralding the Age of Thundarr, and it will all be a moot point.


Nundahl: Thank you again Clint, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Clint: Just to remember that regardless of all the other design goals mentioned, Savage Worlds has one as its foundation, and that is the game should be fun in every way possible.  Fast and furious are just lead-ins to the ultimate goal of fun.  And some of the game mechanics that may not make sense on paper show their usefulness in actual play where they make the game more fun.  So if you enjoy both the Role Playing and the Game aspects of playing a Role Playing Game, then I say you should give Savage Worlds a try.

Nundahl: It has been an extreme honor (and a bit of a fanboy’s dream) to work on this interview and accompanying article.  It simply isn’t possible to thank and the Troll ITC readers enough for letting me set up these interviews and for asking some really fun questions.  Clint has been great to work with, and so were Shane and Joel over at PEG Inc, who were kind enough to put a link to the introduction article on their front page.  Thank you guys so much!

I know this won’t be the last on Savage Worlds you hear from me, and I hope it isn’t the last I’ll hear from Pinnacle as we go forward and the Savages count more and more among their number!

[tags]Savage Worlds, PEG Inc, rpg, role playing, games, interview[/tags]

10 thoughts on “Interview with Savage Worlds Core Rules Brand Manager, Clint Black

Add yours

  1. Definitely, man, great job on the interview. I wish I would have had the time to take that one. Many thanks to Clint for taking the time to talk to TC, as well.


  2. Hah, I knew MacGuyver was going to be mentioned. Awesome interview, I liked the point about a single die other than the wild die. I have really enjoyed the simple elegance of Savage Worlds (even though I’ve only been playing it on a PBP so far).


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