Wednesday, September 24, 2014

GM Wednesday - Shaken Effect

Let's talk "Shaken". There are people out there who are playing Savage Worlds and believe that Shaken means "Stunned". This is a mistake.

Stunned is usually interpreted as the character loses the ability to act as a result of loss of physical or mental faculty.

Shaken does not mean that you have to stand there dumb-founded with drool coming out of the corner of your mouth. You can still take free actions when Shaken. You can still dive for cover.

Here's some examples of what Shaken can mean.

  • The enemy unloads the full magazine of a Machine Gun in your direction. Your sense of self preservation is prohibiting you from poking your head out to return fire.
  • The boxer who is being pounded by savage blows from his opponent finds that he can only curl up defensively against the ropes until the referee calls for the fighters to separate.
  • You get clocked upside the head and are dazed for a moment.
  • You are a victim of a Taunt so withering that your brain locks up for a moment as it is overwhelmed with rage or shame.
  • You see something so horrific that your brain decides that running away is smarter than getting within it's reach.
  • You are attacked by a man wielding "poo on a stick". It's not scary, but you can't override your revulsion to counter attack.

Shaken is the name of the mechanic used to simulate all of these responses because mechanically they can all be handled with the same rule, and because the cure for each of these conditions is for your "chutzpah" to override your brain's fear or shock and get you back into the action. Thus a Spirit roll breaks you free.


There has been accusations that the Shaken mechanic can keep a player out of the fight by keeping them perennially Shaken. I experienced this as well when I was a novice GM. There are ways to mitigate this.

1) Spirit is not a dump stat. There are no dump stats in Savage Worlds.
2) Combat Reflexes is an edge that grants you +2 to your Spirit roll to get out of being Shaken. Leadership Command grants a +1 to all of your allies within a certain range.
3) A player can roll Spirit, and if he fails he can then immediately spend a Benny to remove the Shaken status and act that round. You don't have to choose to spend the Benny before you roll. You can always spend that Benny, even if you fail the roll.
4) As GM, you should not be stingy with awarding Bennies. I'll talk about Bennies more in my next post, but suffice to say that they shouldn't feel the urge to hoard them for soak rolls.

That said, I have had player succeed on his Spirit roll but have to wait for the next round to get unshaken. In the meantime they get shaken again by the enemy's attack. Yes it can be frustrating and there are a couple of house rules you might like if you are having this problem with your group.

a) Character's can take actions, except at a -4 penalty while Shaken. It's a harsh penalty but some people like the idea of having an outside chance as opposed to no chance at all.


b) Have a Success on a Spirit roll remove the Shaken status so that characters can act immediately instead of requiring a Raise.

Despite the outcries of "Stun-lock", I find the Shaken mechanic a valuable rule set. It allows suppressive fire to work, the heroes to keep a very tough enemy on the ropes while they formulate a plan, and it gives the creative loudmouth a way to contribute in combat. Remember that before you decide to remove the Shaken mechanic as a fix.

Speaking of system fixes, I give Savage Worlds props. I tinker with every system I get my hands on because they do stuff that just didn't make sense or could be done better. Savage Worlds really didn't look like it made sense when I first read through the book, but every change I made to the system I ended up reverting because the way it was written in the rules just worked better.


  1. Now I want to stat up a poo stick...

    Maybe something like:

    "Cost: 0. Weight: Neg. If armed with a Poo Stick and within melee range of an opponent, gain a +2 to Intimidate checks. Charisma -2 as long as you're carrying the item."

  2. "Savage Worlds really didn't look like it made sense when I first read through the book, but every change I made to the system I ended up reverting because the way it was written in the rules just worked better."

    Amen, brother.

  3. Edit: Sorry about that. Leadership isn't the edge I was thinking of. It's Command and it adds +1 to Shaken rolls, not +2. My bad.


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