Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tommy's Take on Savage Suzerain

Savage Suzerain is a dimension-hopping Savage Setting by Savage Mojo, and it's darn pretty...but then, most books graphically designed by Aaron Acevedo seem to be. I previously reviewed the very impressive Shangai Vampocalypse, using the free version of Savage Suzerain as my guide. That sparked me to pick up the full version.

To get you in the mood for the dimension hopping, the cover has a guy in powered armor with a laser rifle standing opposite a lady with wings, a sword and traditional armor...while a small, ornate box called the Telesma floats in the air between them. We'll get to that in greater detail, later.

Suzerain is 196 pages and both colorful and art intensive, though if you get the PDF version, it does include a printer friendly version. The PDF will set you back about $20, which is generally more than I'm comfortable with for a PDF, while the print version is very reasonably priced at $34.99 (and you can get a Print+PDF bundle for about $10 more).

The PDF is fully searchable and bookmarked, though it does lack an index for those purchasing the print version.

Let's get to the meat of the book and see what we can see.

FOR PLAYERS

This technically comes after the disclaimers and table of contents (which is fully clickable in the PDF).

Here, we get the overview of Suzerain...from Novice to Heroic, it's pretty much Savage Worlds. From Heroic on...well...the characters kinda start getting epic. A new Rank has even been added beyond Legendary: Demigod. Starting from Heroic, it is possible for your PCs to travel through time and space, to other worlds and dimensions and right those wrongs.

They do recommend that at 180 XP, you mothball the PCs and start all over again...maybe even worshipping the previous PCs as Gods.

There are some tweaks to the terminology as well...bennies have been replaced with Karma, while Power Points are now Pulse.

As well, every PC has the Touch of Greatness...that is, a certain connection to the greater universe. This is why they have a Telesma and why they can advance to Demigodhood.

Fatigue has been extended, so you can take three levels of Fatigue in addtion to three Wounds, and race is a completely unique concept here...as everyone is technically human, but can acquire racial Background Edges.

As is common, some Edges are tweaked and some are removed. Followers can now be gained at Heroic rank, for instance, and Followers and Animal Companions can all gain advances every time your Hero does, once your Hero hits Seasoned.

The Spirit World also plays a huge role in Suzerain, and it gets at least broad detail in this section.

Some Optional rules are included...such as encouraging you to use Pinnacle Adventure Deck (and Savage Mojo offers their own, specific one as well), differentiating the red and black Jokers are positive and negative and players being able to spend Karma to add details (like a trap door when the heroes are cornered).

Once heroes hit Heroic, they start becoming unShaken even easier, gain more Karma and even see their Wild die increase.

Death also loses some of its sting in Suzerain, as heroes can spend Pulse and have their Telesma spare them...and once they hit Heroic, they can start spending Pulse to Flex nexus points...rewriting reality (temporarily). This is not a power to be abused, either, as Karma spent on Flexes do not regenerate at the start of the next session.

Character creation is pretty standard...although everyone gets 10 Pulse, without having to take any kind of Edge for it.

New Edges & Hindrances

Okay, all I'm saying about Hindrances is: Optimist. Yes, you can be too cheery. At Minor, it gets on people's nerves. At Major, you become "immune to the concept of danger"...this may be my favorite Hindrance ever.

As for Edges...wow...there are a ton of great options. Sidekick has pretty much been bumped down to a Seasoned Edge called Companion, and there are several Edges that let you spend Pulse to push yourself far beyond human limits, such as Surge, which allows you to increase your Pace as much as you want by spending 1 Pulse per extra inch. Pulse Armor lets you deflect attacks and Living Banner allows a Leader to expand their radius of influence as well as affecting Wild Cards alongside Extras.

Patron Gods can be selected, each of which grants unique abilities...like the Patron God of Fertility allowing you to create a replica of yourself for a limited time.

Pulse Paths

The Powers that you are used to do still exist in some form: Pulse Paths...of which there are four: Prayers, Rituals, Sigils and Spells. Two additional powers, The Sight and Divine Intervention, are included as well.

Saving The Universe

It seems that when the Telesma get together, they form a little pocket realm for the heroes to use as a home base. Honestly, if at all possible, I would recommend hiding this part from your players until you spring it on them...I'm sure I will. The realization that their Telesmae have built them a pocket realm, I think, is kind of a cool revelation.

At Heroic rank, the Telesmae pipe in and contact the PCs, letting them in on just what is going on. We get a full treatment here on the Telesmae, just what they are and how to handle them (including a hint that Excalibur was one...or at least had one built into it). The abilities of the Telesmae are laid out, such as their ability to "read" new realms and impart information on the PCs, and the Edges that they can take (they gain one Edge every time the PC increases in Rank). Some nice roleplaying options for the Telesmae are included as well: Don't worry about it, just use it as a tool...lay out a rudimentary personality for it...or have the everyone play the Telesmae of the PC to their left or right.

The Telesmae are rather cool, but I would again recommend not sharing this stuff with your PCs, at least not at first.

RELIC

A fantasy realm for Suzerain, the setting for their new release Caladon Falls, as well as a plot point campaign in this book, gets a Players Version treatment. This includes even more Edges, especially Racial Edges such as Aurora (bizarre light manipulators), Dwarf (who look more like stone golems than traditional dwarves) and Fury (half-man, half-wolf). There is an Edge group called Child of the Arrow which marks the PC as a Hunter and allows them to spend Pulse to increase their damage...the higher the Edge you want to take, the lower your Strength has to be. The only problem with this, is that most of your ranged weapons have at least a d6 Strength requirement...though I suppose you could always eat the penalty and use other Edges to compensate.

A handful of new powers are also presented for Relic, as well as a new Pulse Path: Anatomist...who can do things like transform their fingers into surgical tools.

FOR GMs

We get some new creature abilities, including the scary Vitality, which can be ranked and provides free Soaks for the beast that has it.

We also get a bit of detail on the Spirit World and why you would want to use it...it's not just a shadowy reflection of the living world...it's that and so much more. Imagine the surprise when your swords and sorcery party enter the spirit World and find their approximate village over there is being brutally dominated by a scar-faced Chicago gangster.

Or not, whatever.

A pair of sample spirits are included, as well as the Mael-Born - those born of a powerful spirit and a mortal (and why wasn't this a character option?)

WELCOME TO THE MAELSTROM

There's more than just the Physical World and the Spirit World...the Maelstrom is a crazy, beautiful, chaotic lightshow of a realm where the Gods hang out, and you really shouldn't if you don't own a Telesma.

The Maelstrom can screw with time AND space, so have fun with that. The book provides some of the important Realms, like the Realm of Archangels, Realm of Yggsrasil, The Realm of Pure Mages, The Realm of Mount Olympus, The Realm of Fire, The Red Realm, The Realm of Ascendant Order and The Fey Realm of Dreams, each of which gets a few paragraphs on what you should expect if you decide to visit.

We also get the "rules" for Time Travel...as applies to Heroic characters and as applies to Demigods. For instance, Heroic characters cannot exist in the same time more than once...it is impossible. We also get a primer on "elastic history"...that is, how history always tends to "bounce back", no matter what you try to do...with the suggestion that if someone REALLY wants to TRULY fundamentally alter events in history, it should almost be a campaign in and of itself.

Gods are also treated here, with the "hows and whys" of their normal interference, and how some Gods will ask nicely while others will manipulate and so on.

HEROIC GAMES

One of the stated goals with Savage Suzerain is to get you to agree that "Life begins at 60" (that is, experience points). Most adult roleplaying groups have to deal with missing players from time to time...so Suzerain built this into the system: Have Gods summon the missing player's PC (or all of the PCs except theirs) for a special mission through the Telesmae.

Some good advice is also given on the difference between playing in one setting, or hopping from dimension to dimension...and while the latter is one of the selling points of Suzerain, it is far from required. They even touch on the whole notion of everyone making a character from a different reality and banding them together as a unit...Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Man with No Name, Aragorn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dick Tracy plucked from the time stream and forced to hop from reality to reality (for instance).

DEMIGOD GAMES

This is mostly some types on raising the stakes for some epic games...and I HIGHLY recommend Shanghai Vampocalypse as an example of a Demigod game. The margin for failure there is nuts...not in a Gygaxian dungeon kinda way...but there are a couple of points where, if you fail, that's it...end of the world.

RETURN OF THE DRAGON GOD

This is a full-on plot point campaign, with a plug for their Gamescapes line of maps, which has entries that coincide with at least approximations of many of the locations in this campaign.

The campaign begins with the PCs having captured a baddie named Gregor, who has kidnapped a bunch of kids. The PCs are also assumed to be around 30 XPs (you can jump straight to this, or play and build them up...your choice).

In kind of cool twist, the first two parts of the Plot Point are meant to only be followed up once the Pcs have SEVERAL adventures under their belts...after their Telesmae start talking to them and they break the Heroic barrier...it seems that a little detail was (likely) left undone during the kidnapping plot, one not directly related to the whole affair...and it is now having ramifications...200 years earlier.

Yeah, Suzerain operates on a different scale than the typical Savage Worlds setting.

This trip to the past drops them right in the middle of a massive melee, and the success or failure of the PCs in the next part can make the encounter with The Big Bad a little easier, depending.

The next part of the Plot Point kicks in while the PCs are Demigods...and, again, find that a certain detail was overlooked...oops. This time, we zip fromm swords and sorcery into an apocalyptic sci-fi wasteland.

The final battle itself is very interesting, especially for people who complain about their Savage Worlds fights being "one hit kills"...there are four important steps to follow in defeating The Big Bad, which will take some doing, and Pulse, in order to penetrate this thing's body and scatter its Pulse.

Did I mention that drawing blood on him can actually be bad? I won't spoil it here...but yeah.

The Plot Point is really just six points, but they are all interconnected. I think it's a slight cheat saying it takes the PCs from Seasoned to Demigod given all of the bouncing around, but I also think it's pretty cool, especially for the inventive "Boss Fight".

SAVAGE TALES

Eight tales are included for the pre-Heroic ranks. These include a Boogeyman tale with a twist, a little tomb raiding and a separatist conflict involving djinn. A couple of them are quite clever, and they all provide a good cross-section of some non-epic adventure.

HEROIC SAVAGE TALES

Now, there is a bit more travel involved here, including a trip to the Noir Knights setting to haggle over a Heart. They also get to take a sidetrack to the Dogs of Hades setting, in an adventure tied into one of the earlier Savage Tales.

DEMIGOD SAVAGE TALES

That plot thread that began in the Pre-Heroic Ranks, and went into the Heroic Ranks continues into an Alternate version of Relic. There are several trips into the Maelstrom, throughout the Realms, including a big brouhaha with Archangels and Demons.

The Savage Tales are filled with a number of creatures and stat blocks, even if a true bestiary isn't present, so an enterprising GM shouldn't have much trouble adapting things to their own game.

The book wraps with a one page character sheet, complete with an advancement track for both the character and the Telesma. Given the emphasis on companions, I would have at least included an NPC sheet to track their advances, personally.

CONCLUSION

Do you like the idea of epic level adventures in Savage Worlds? These guys are on the ball. From globe hopping to dimension hopping...or even just earth shaking stuff in a single world, it's all here. They have released four setting books so far (Shanghai Vampocalypse - reviewed here, Noir Knights - review coming very soon, Caladon Falls - review coming soon, and Dogs of Hades).

I dig Savage Worlds, and I'm not bothered by them changing some things...(I know some folks were uneasy with things like Power Points becoming Pulse or Bennies becoming Karma...but Deadlands has Fate Chips, y'know?).

A big thumbs up for a book that is not only gorgeous, but has a lot of substance backing up that style.