Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tommy's Take on Shaintar: Legends Arise

I intentionally made this HUGE because, well, it's an absolutely beautiful cover.

IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE: Savage Mojo assisted in the creation of this book and are assisting in the Kickstarter for Shaintar: Legends Unleashed. I am still a freelancer associated with Savage Mojo, though I had no hand in this book and am receiving no financial compensation from this project whatsoever. I was provided a PDF of Shaintar: Legends Arise as a courtesy, one that I was glad to receive due to being a fan of Shaintar for years, when I picked up the previous edition from Talisman Studios, the forerunners to Savage Mojo. I write this as a blogger and a fan of Savage Worlds, epic fantasy and Shaintar, nothing more. That said, the affiliate link I am using does award a portion of sales through it to my own coffers to support the blog (generally always in the form of store credit that I can use to purchase products from RPGNow for review here later).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You can get the full PDF from RPGNow for $20 and the Player's Guide under the "Pay What You Want" model. Legends Arise is meant to cover Shaintar gaming from Novice through Veteran, with the upcoming Legends Unleashed to cover Heroic and Legendary, and promising to rip the absolute lid off of what can and cannot be done in Savage Worlds in regards to "epic". Print versions of the book will be available soon via POD, and the Kickstarter page currently says they will be $35 each.

So, that said...what do you get in Shaintar? A full-blown fantasy setting for Savage Worlds. A lot of this is going to look familiar, as a lot of fantasy looks familiar. For instance, we have humans and elves and dwarves and so on. Sean Patrick Fannon spends the first chapter laying a groundwork for the setting, including the five sources of power for magic (Darkness, Life, Essence, Light and Arcmancy), including a series of helpful sidebars that speak to the reader author-to-reader.

Chapter 2 dives into character creation, a lot of which is easily stealable by anyone that is wanting to run a Savage Worlds-based fantasy campaign. There's even a group called Grayson's Gray Rangers that are an all purpose group of heroic types that can be used to provide easy rationale for the PCs to be joined together. From there a full list of character types is given, such as Knights, Rogues, Ex-Slaves, Alchemists and Common Folk. Defining Interests, from many of Reality Blurs' settings, are present as well. S:LA similarly takes a page from Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition and provides a series of Archetypes, two for each race present in the game. Those racial options include Aevakar (winged fae), Alakar (fae that are closely bound to the mortal realm), Brinchie (big cat dudes), Dregordians (big reptile dudes), Dwarves (c'mon, you know these guys), Eldakar (a lot like the classic mystical elves), Goblins (you know these guys, too), Humans (the most versatile of the races, of course), Korindians (half-elves who, in an interesting twist, have a whole culture to themselves rather than being the outcasts of the borders of elf and human society), Ogres (just as big and hulking as you remember) and Orcs (not as inherently evil as you remember from most fantasy). Each of them have a STUNNING amount of racial edges (which you can file the racial requirement off for your games) and the Korindians have a whole Martial Art of their own. One of my favorite Edges is for the Orcs, which allows them to fling themselves between an ally and a successful attack, which I think I'm going to steal for my Midnight game.

To encourage heroic characters, the author provides an optional rule in which characters with Heroic, Loyal or Code of Honor are allowed to carry over bennies from session to session.

A whole slew of new Edges are introduced, such as First Among Equals which allows a character with Leadership Edges to grant his bonuses to all allied Wild Cards within sight or sound of him, or a series of Edges designed to modify Powers (with included examples), to being Soul-Bonded to an item (giving the item special qualities). The bean-counting of a lot of fantasy games is done away with in favor of Resource Rolls. The author takes an approach I tend to: I don't get worked up over exact "dollar" amounts, nor do I sweat encumbrance too much, instead applying common sense where applicable.

The Powers section gets into the fact that there are seven different types of magic: Alchemy (whose practitioners like to bust out magic potions), Channeling (used by Druids and powered by Nature, Earth, Sea and Sky), Faith (which has one of the cooler Trappings - Penance - which causes a target to reflect on their misdeeds), Necromancy (that's generally bad), Sorcery, Thaumaturgy (which channels demonic power) and The Way (which is far more subtle than the rest).

Lots of new powers are provided as well: Analyze Foe, Arcane Shield (which essentially "casts" the Arcane Resistance Edge), Mind's Eye (kind of a "super sight"), Quake, Telepathy and more. Additionally, a full chart is provided which breaks down which powers are available to which magic types.

Lastly, several setting rules are provided, such as bypassing the *skull* on Called Shots, everyone getting to reroll damage rolls by spending a benny, spending a benny to *add* a d6 to your result, to outright divine intervention and a swell little rule to encourage folks taking Leadership Edges, allowing them to boost a skill each time they do (as long as it is below its governing attribute).

Shaintar also alters the Advancement scheme, from 20 points a Rank to 25, slowing it a bit.

The GM section goes into a discussion of Epic High Fantasy, attempting to set the stage for the campaign mindset before diving into the setting proper. This begins with a discussion of the adversarial forces in Shaintar, such as The Builders, an odd group of almost demonic dwarves. If Grayson's Gray Rangers are the big heroes of the setting, The Black Lanterns are their "not afraid to get their hands dirty" counterparts. A full timeline is provided, starting with the creation of Shaintar in -5000 and continuing to 3121, when the Gates of Hell burst open. (Year 0 is the Dawn of the Age of Hope and the beginning of the new fae calendar).

Chapter 4 doesn't provide Savage Tales or a Plot Point Campaign, but it DOES provide a series of campaign outlines one can use, with tips on the kinds of characters likely to be involved, as well as chapter-by-chapter breakdowns.

The bestiary makes it absolutely clear that anyone or anything can be a Wild Card as needed, then provides two sets of templates. The first are things like Corrupted and Demonic (the former tainted by Death, the latter by the Abyss), and the second are a series of Racial templates that can be added to "common" stats: so you can take a "generic" Thief statblock, for instance, and make him a Brinchie with little fuss.

Entries like Builder include the various roles found among the Builders, as well as their Golems. Celestials also come in varieties, like guides or the "Honored Dead" being summoned to fight for good once more. The Childer is a catch-all for the demonic spawn that have arisen, from Gargoyles to Minotaurs to Ratzin (rat guys) to Thratchen (goat guys). One of the more interesting entries are Hobgoblins: Orcs who have become Corrupted.

Yeah.

Corrupted also includes the more classic "dark" creatures like werewolves and vampires. "Fallen" elves are known as Shayakar, and are essentially Goth Elves. Wraiths, zombies and mummies are included, as are a number of "professional" templates like Paladins, Necromancers, Thugs and Scholars...and I'm still leaving out a bunch.

WHAT WORKS: Even if you have no desire to play Shaintar, if you're running a fantasy game in Savage Worlds, there's some heavy duty stuff to strip-mine here. At least a few Edges will make their way into my Savage Midnight game, and maybe even a couple of the Setting Rules. A lot of it feels very familiar, sure, but there's a lot of cool tweaks (like the Korindians having their own martial art), and the ready made excuses to put folks together (like Grayson's Gray Rangers). I would also be doing the book an injustice if I failed to point out that it's gorgeous, with an absolutely amazing cover by Tomasz Tworek. Did I mention there's not a laundry list of "More Powerful Than Your PCs" NPCs to have to explain your way around? Although, they may be coming in the next book for all I know. (See? Told you I'm not in the loop.)

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Talisman Studios version had a really sweet random adventure generator that used cards that this one lacked. Not that I won't just swipe that from that book, of course...but YOU don't have access to it. In MY copy of the PDF, there were still a lot of "see page XXX" left, which may have been corrected by now (and which will hopefully be corrected by print for sure). The information for the setting itself gets painted in pretty broad strokes, which some folks are going to hate and some folks are going to love. Given that I'm just really getting started with one Savage Worlds fantasy game, I doubt I'll get to actually run Shaintar myself anytime soon.

CONCLUSION: For Pete's Sake, at least get the Player's Guide so you can rip liberally for your own Savage Worlds fantasy games. Then if it looks good enough, there's the full version of the book and the Kickstarter to consider. I love a lot of the tinkering Sean did with the Savage Worlds rules, and I seriously cannot wait to see what happens with Legends Unleashed and how it opens up magic to fit an "epic high fantasy" feel.