Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tommy's Take on Hael Core Rules

Everyone that reads my blog likes Savage Worlds, right? So let's get back to a little Savage Worlds fun with the Storyweaver setting called Hael!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The notes inside the book say that Hael started as a d20 setting, and is available in PDF format for Savage Worlds for $15. Like most Savage Settings, it does require a copy of Savage Worlds (specifically Deluxe Edition, Explorer's or otherwise).

Hael is a setting in which Orcs and Gnolls successfully stamped out opposition, causing Humans and Halflings to devolve into barbarians while Orcs gradually became the sorcerous Daeorcs and Gnolls developed into the monk-like Yaena. In a cool twist, aliens have come to Hael and now this fantasy setting is being bombarded with sci-fi technology. We're off to a good start.

The racial options are Daeorc (who are considered the baseline), Daemons (these are essentially the Half-Orcs, rare crossbreeds between a Daeorc and an uncivilized being), Humans (who are almost uniformly barbarians), Yaena (the evolved Gnolls), Kirene (four armed blood mages) and Halflings (who aren't afraid to fight). Races are handled differently here than in any other Savage Worlds setting I've seen, as you have straight up minimums and maximums for attributes (which don't prove even across the races), as well as required Edges and Hindrances. Being a Human, for instance, requires a Strength of d6, caps Spirit at d10, requires a d4 in Language (Human), d6 in Survival, a Combat Edge (your choice) and the Outsider Hindrance. Daeorcs, on the other hand, have no Ability restrictions, but must take Darkvision, Habit (Proud or Stubborn), Fighting d4 and Language (Ardek) d6. Every character has a Cultural Edge as well, but again, some of these are arguably better than others, like Aristocrat (which lets you boost any Trait by one die type, and gives you two more languages), over Militant, which gives you three skills at d4.

Edges are vastly more powerful than your standard Savage Worlds fare, as they largely provide free Skill die types. For instance, Criminal - which has no requirements at all - boosts Notice and Streetwise by 1 die type and Stealth by 2...and if you don't have the skill in question, the Edge grants it to you (at a d4 if it's a +1 or a d6 if it's a +2). Some other issues crept in, like the Pilot Edge granting a bonus to Navigation, which does not exist in Savage Worlds, and which isn't included in Hael, and Pilot also grants a bonus to Boating, so I don't think it's a reference to that. The rules also contradict themselves by stating that all core Edges are available in Hael, then a few pages later providing a list of Edges that are not available in Hael.

New Hindrances include Oathbreaker (which has a Major and Minor version, though the Major version gets off light, essentially the same as Ugly or Mean, with "Viewed With Suspicion" added in as a clause) and Uncivilized, which are for Daeorcs and Yaena that fit the temperament of their ancestors moreso than their contemporaries.

Blood Magic is magic that requires cutting oneself to access the power, though Edges can also be gained that allow you to draw on the blood of willing allies, while a stronger version allows you to use the blood of the unwilling, as well!

Call-En are psychics, who have the disadvantage that other Call-En can immediately sense them as well.

Sorcery is your more "normal" magic.

Other Edges cover other areas, like an Edge chain that Halflings can gain that make their steeds brutally effective in combat, or a series of Combat Edges that make Yaena crafty warriors.

Some cool new powers include Power-Sorcery, which is essentially used to duel another sorcery, and can be used to take their power or inflict harm (and that choice is actually left to the loser, not the winner). Blood Mages have a few new powers as well, like Glamor, which covers an area in a complete illusion and the ability to summon Elementals.

The area that gains the most attention are the Call-En, who have access to a whole slew of new powers, divided over six spheres: Forcing creates and controls raw force, and is used for powers like Effect-Field, which not only provides Armor, but also Strength and Agility bonuses, or Precision, which allows the Call-En to perform fine manipulation, mentally. Sixsense covers tricks like reading minds and learning about the past of an object, place or person. Energetic lets you do weird stuff like turning Heat to Cold, or even turning an energy source into precious metals! Shifting covers extreme body modifications, with one power allowing the Call-En to shift their physical Trait dice around on a 1 for 1 basis, or an extreme psychic ritual that can grant a permanent Advance to Vigor. Speaking not only allows you to communicate mentally, but can also be used to prevent another Call-En from using a given power. Universal Powers allow Call-En to do things like form a gestalt - to pool their power -, create a Prison within the minds of a target, or the Clash power, which is the default method of two Call-En throwing down.

The history section is awesome in that it provides several common knowledge, in character "Quick Sheets" that can be printed off and handed out to help your players jump right into the setting. Not something you see a ton of, and a great touch.

The cultural aspects of the races are given their own section, and two new races are introduced: The mysterious Strangers and the war-mongering Nuclarine, both coming from off-world as tensions between the five primary races continue to boil towards another war. Religion is interesting in that not only have the Human Gods fallen out of common knowledge, but the gods that the Orcs and Gnolls used to worship have also been discarded by a lot of Daeorcs and Yeana, in favor of their own religious groups.

A lot of the specialized equipment is cool, especially the Daeorc "family swords", which are big, ugly, jagged metal things like you often see Orcs wielding in most fantasy fiction, and the crazy sci-fi tech of the Nuclarine, such as the Spinner, a rotating disc that can be used remotely, or the Firespear, which can be charged up and hurled at a wall or tower, bringing it down! There are also Psifacts, which are psychic items constructed by the Call-En, such as the Mirrormask (which helps fend off Clash attacks), the Lightning Rod (which hurls lightning) and the Forceblade, which is kinda like a lightsaber.

The bestiary includes specially bred pack animals, as well as Varibeasts (predators that naturally shift between three different forms as needed), and the creepy combo of Firefly and Ash, a Call-En who accidentally immolated herself, only to have her body raise via a necromantic artifact, but her essence stayed behind.

The GM section stresses a "sandbox" mentality, and also encourages limiting the number of Call-En. It also includes some plot seeds and a helpful guide to the strength of the military forces for use in Mass Combat.

WHAT WORKS: A few very original twists on the standard fantasy world. "The Bad Guys Won" has been done before, but rarely with the twist of "and then they became kinda good". I really liked the art, as it had an evocative style, kinda comic-booky, but not in a "kids" way.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The overpowering of the Edges and the construction of the races will limit the utility of this for anyone who might want to pluck from this for another Savage Worlds game. Some of the Call-En powers sure seem like they could be overpowered in comparison to the other Arcane Backgrounds. The editing and proofreading could have been a lot tighter as well, given outright contradictions at points in the book.

CONCLUSION: I like the setting quite a bit, as there's a lot of potential there. However, I think the book could seriously do with a revision bringing it more in line with the Savage Worlds rules in regards to Race creation and the strength of the Edges. I'm not a super big stickler for "game balance", but you are asking for trouble when you obviously set up one option as being mechanically superior to others, and folding the required Edges and Hindrances into racial packages would then allow more flexibility at character creation (and keep one from being an obviously better deal than the others). The Call-En feel a LOT like AD&D2e Psionics to me, which I was actually a huge fan of, and the addition of the aliens and the tech reminds me of Tale of the Comet, which I was also a huge fan of. As I said above, the setting has some great potential, with the powderkeg between the Daeorcs and Yaena, the hostility of the "uncivilized races" and the conflict between The Strangers and Nuclarine...I do suspect that bits like the overpowered Edges won't be a huge issue as they are contained to the setting, but I would still love to see it line up better with Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition.