Saturday, July 2, 2011

Savage Empires

At long last, I've finally gotten my hands on a copy of Savage Worlds: Explorer's Edition, which (at $10) is just about the cheapest mostly-complete RPG in a single book that one can buy. It's certainly enough of a rulebook to get a campaign off the ground, although I suspect that if I want to run something according to my preferred model of long-term epic quests, I'm eventually going to need the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion as well. But that's for later.

Despite the fact that I'm running a small mega-dungeon right now with Engines & Empires and the Rules Cylcopedia (and having a blast in so doing), I've been dying to take Savage Worlds for a spin. There are lots of things I like about it: mainly the balance of a system that lets characters advance, but doesn't suffer from the inherent problems of D&D's "chumps to gods" model. It's like playing D&D with Epic Six, but the limited power level is hard-wired into the system. (It uses a death-spiral instead of hit points, for example, and magic tends to be more limited and less world-breaking in SW.)

There are things I don't love about SW. It's a bit fiddly, in the same way that the d20 System is. There are lots of combat modifiers, lots of tables, and character creation/advancement hinges on a longish skill list and the accrual of Edges (basically feats). That detracts a bit from the speed and simplicity I've grown used to with classic D&D. Ultimately, though, I think that SW's good qualities outweigh these minor faults. This game is doubtlessly going to remain a permanent addition to my gaming arsenal. Classic D&D remains the best system out there for dungeon crawling, wilderness exploration, and dominion development. It's the system I'd use for any game that I wanted to feel like Final Fantasy I through Final Fantasy V. On the other hand, SW looks like the ideal system for pulp adventure, and I'd use it to emulate any Final Fantasy world from VI onward.

So when my D&D game finally winds down, I'm probably going to try and get SW started up. The million-gil question, though: what do I need to do to translate my Engines & Empires setting, Gaia, to this system? SW is already pretty good at mixing fantasy and pulp under a steampunk milieu. So what do I need to add to make it work for me?

1) Races. The world of Gaia is populated by elves, dwarves, and halflings (already supported by Savage Worlds) and by gnomes, fays, centaurs, fauns, merfolk, and birdfolk. Luckily, SW races are so easy to build that I doubt I'll have any trouble with this once I really start to grok the system.

2) Magic and tech. SW is great for fantasy technology. I don't have to make any changes at all to the "Arcane Background: Weird Science" edge to cover the role played by E&E technologists. SW is decidedly less great for fantasy martial arts. The closest thing to a D&D monk is the Adept professional edge, which (a) grants unarmed damage at Strength + d4 (I'd be more inclined to make it Strength + Vigor) and (b) requires Arcane Background: Miracles based on the Faith skill, which I would need to change to "Arcane Background: Ch'i" based on a... oh, let's call it the "Discipline" skill. But the mechanics wouldn't need to change: the "sin" mechanic that applies to miracle-workers in SW could simply become a set of taboos and ascetic disciplines that monks must follow.

As for the other kinds of magic that would exist in the E&E world, using SW instead of the classic game gives me the chance to get creative. SW includes four kinds of Arcane Backgrounds: Magic, Miracle, Weird Science, and Super Powers. The Fantasy Companion adds a few variations on these: Troubadour, Alchemy, Sorcery, and Ritual. Right away, I can tell that I won't have any need for Super Powers and Ritual; neither truly fit the setting. The kinds of magic that would exist in Gaia include the following:

Sorcery: This is what ordinary arcane magic is called in the E&E universe. So this would be the new name for "Arcane Background: Magic." Your standard bookish wizard, black mage, or fay sorcerer would use this edge.

Geomancy: The less civilized counterpart to the learned arts of mages and scholars. It's shamanism, druidry, witchcraft, hedge wizardry. Folk magic rather than book magic. This is best modeled by the edge that the SW fantasy rules call "Sorcery." So the Fantasy Companion's "Arcane Background: Sorcery" edge would get renamed "Arcane Background: Geomancy."

Theurgy: Instead of priestly clerics, the E&E universe has scholars who practice hermeticism, astrology, and kabbalism. It's new-agey and medieval all at the same time. The best mechanic in Savage Worlds to represent this is "Arcane Background: Alchemy." And it doesn't really need a name change, since real alchemy is already very closely related to hermetic traditions.

Bardic Music: The game rules give us a straight up Arcane Background: Troubadour edge designed explicitly for fantasy bards. In the E&E world, merfolk are commonly bards. Under the SW rules, humans would be old-fashioned bards as well. Elves and fays and sylphs could potentially have their own spell-singing traditions. Dwarvish skalds, centaur and faun lyrists, halfling pub-singers, gnomish Vaudeville entertainers... the possibilities begin to dazzle me.

And that would about cover it. Six arcane backgrounds in total, as follows:

Savage Worlds ... Becomes for E&E
AB: Magic ... ... ... ... ... AB: Sorcery
AB: Sorcery ... ... ... ... AB: Geomancy
AB: Alchemy ... ... ... ... AB: Theurgy
AB: Troubadour ... ... ... AB: Bard
AB: Weird Science ... ... AB: Technology
AB: Miracle ... ... ... ... ... AB: Ch'i Kung

No comments:

Post a Comment