Friday, September 9, 2011

Tommy's Take on Beasts & Barbarians Player's Guide


If someone had managed to get a Conan adaptation for Savage Worlds out, it really would have been the Summer of Savage Swords and Sorcery, between this and Totems of the Dead.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Currently available in PDF format for $6.99, The Beasts & Barbarians Player's Guide is a primer on the Dread Sea Dominions, a fairly classic swords and sorcery setting for Savage Worlds. The book is 76 pages and includes pretty much everything you need to run a game in the setting.

As might be expected from a book that is detailing a setting, rules and all, brevity is the order of the day, detailing the world - from history to current gazetteer - in a little over 25 pages. The included map has a rough, old school feel to it, more like the ones you would see in old fantasy novels as opposed to the ones you would see in old Dungeons and Dragons books.

One bit specifically pointed out in the setting chapter is that the world is evolving, with cultures developing new technology over time. As it is, steel and magic are the order of the day.

Character creation is pretty standard Savage Worlds fare, of course adding new Edges and Hindrances (Damsel in Distress is a particularly interesting Hindrance basically forcing you into a non-combat role...and it is NOT gender exclusive). Many of the Edges are very interesting, such as a barbarian dichotomy of Savage and Brute, the former helping you survive in the wild while the latter helps make you more ferocious in combat...and Ghoulblood, which provides you with a very unnatural affinity to the (un)dead.

There are even Edges allowing for bare chested "armor", in fitting with the genre, though the book does lack Legendary Edges, which would seem to be a no-brainer for the setting. Arcane Backgrounds in the setting are Lotus Mastery, Sorcery and the Path of Enlightment. Lotus Mastery is kinda like alchemy, but focuses specifically on using Lotus plants to power effects. Sorcery is kinda like magic, except you can Wound yourself for Power Points and the Backlash table is really cool...and potentially quite hazardous (as Backlash should be). The Path of Enlightment is practiced by the monks of the setting, transcending their earthly limits. A few new powers are present (like Analyze Foe, which gives a bonus to a target based off of your roll, and will be stolen like crazy by me for future games even outside of this setting).

Another feature of the book that I am a big fan of is the After The Adventure chart, where you can draw a card to determine what happens while you are between adventures...with both positive and negative outcomes available. For instance, you may get really drunk and be hung over on the next adventure...or you may temporarily retire from adventuring, only to return with a new skill (and a bit of "road rust" until you get back into the groove of things).

There IS a GM's section despite this beinga player's guide, and it gives advice on dialing the setting up and down, making is more or less gritty - or humorous - as your group sees fit. In fact, it also gives advice for tweaking the setting for groups that only consist of PC duos, or even solo heroes (common occurences in my games).

Relics and a small helping of creatures are also provided, though it is far from an extensive bestiary.

WHAT WORKS: Some great setting rules, as well as Edges and Hindrances, which are always welcome. I'm a very big fan of the After the Adventure chart, but random tables are right up my alley. The Ghoulblood Edge nearly made a character spring to mind almost fully formed. The interior artwork is, by and large, fantastic. Early signs are that support for the setting will be strong, with two free adventures released thus far.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Still room for expansion (although that may be a pro, you decide), especially in the bestiary (in my opinion). The setting does nothing to really GRAB me...nothing bad, mind you, just nothing that makes me say "Dread Sea Dominions is THE Swords and Sorcery setting". No Legendary Edges, especially in a genre like this, disappoints me.

CONCLUSION: GRAmel enters the Savage Worlds ring in a big way with a stacked setting book and strong support for the line. They made the best of their page count, providing a lot of material for the price. There are several cool bits that can be lifted for other games if you so choose, and the book heartily embraces flexibilty in your play style within the genre...(I demand a minisupplement of Comedy Edges). Anyone coming into the game with shoutouts to David Jarvis and Sean Preston alongside Shane Hensley probably has their head on straight, and Beasts & Barbarians is a strong addition to the Savage Worlds library. GRAmel should have a bright future in the publishing realm. Strong recommendation.