Friday, June 27, 2014

Tommy's Take on Karthador

Ya'll know Reality Blurs, right? They've had products named to my Top Six in the past, specifically Realms of Cthulhu and tremulus, and have been around the Savage Worlds community for quite a while...now, they are launching a new setting, sci-fi/swashbuckling setting called Karthador, available for preorder now!



WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The preorder is $40 for PDF and print, and the book is weighing in at a nice, plump 351 pages (in PDF, so this is including cover and so on). The book is in black and white, with a fairly spartan layout, but this also means that VERY little space is wasted (kinda like Agents of Oblivion).

So...what is "sci-fi swashbuckling" mean? I admit, my first thought was something along the lines of Star Wars. That was an erroneous assumption on my part, and instead what we have is a world that has developed after the people found the "Elder Machines", technology left behind by the beings that came before. This leaves the setting at a slightly unusual intersection: It's not space-faring (though there are airships), it's not fantasy (no elves, no dwarves and no magic, but there are psionics and weird science) and no standard fantasy monsters (no dragons and no orcs, though there are dinosaurs and vicious frogmen and vicious war-mutants that have overran one of the nations).

Characters all hail from one of nine nations: Arcona (a snow-covered wilderness), Myratas (the tech center of the setting), Doongarda (a fallen nation sacked by invaders), Ferazonn (complete with secrets hidden in its jungles), Porothon (the major power challenging Myratas, an industrial nation protected by dinosaurs), Rathiveen (a theocracy with an old school approach), Sparasool (a desert nation), Tharran (a gloomy land of poetry and plantations) and Ursicor (a matriarchal society known for beautiful art).

The setting is a fairly open one, with no set Plot Point Campaign or the like, so the PC options and the type of campaign ran are going to go hand in hand. The GM section provides a number of campaign types, complete with Plot Arcs that you can flesh out into a full blown campaign. For instance, the Sky Traders framework offers a Plot Arc that involves the PCs, who are trying to be simple merchants, embroiled in a war with Sky Pirates. Maybe your players would rather be Explorers of the Unknown? If so, a Plot Arc is provided that involves the PCs searching for the former home of The Ancients, currently lost to the peoples of Karthador. For a John Carter-like twist, maybe they are from Earth and accidentally get transported to Karthador. The provide Plot Arc does a nice job of taking the PCs on a World Tour, should you go that route.

This being a Reality Blurs production, there are touches that will seem very familiar. For instance, Defining Interests are used to clarify and distinguish Common Knowledge rolls, and the adventure generator and random mutant creator bear a strong resemblance to the framework from Realms of Cthulhu for random adventures and random horrors (not that this is a bad thing, and it's not a straight copy and paste, as all charts are specific to Karthador).

As noted above, the only Arcane Backgrounds are Psionics and Weird Science, and neither of them use Power Points. Instead, you make rolls to activate them, and every power you maintain is a -1 to future rolls until you end it. It's worth noting that some powers have been split up...like Bolt is now three separate powers, Light and Obscure are split into two, and so on. New powers include Cloud Mind, and other powers, like Speak Language, are modified (Speak Language now having a range of Smarts instead of Touch).

Hindrance and Edges are always fun, and Karthador does not disappoint, adding options like Dark Secret (which become Wanted (Major) if exposed), Milquetoast (a -2 to recover from being Shaken, which sounds extreme for a Minor Hindrance), Simple (which reduces your Defining Interests), and Savage (which provides some harsh penalties in civilization). Some, like Isolated, essentially just rename existing Hindrances (like Outsider, in this case).

Edges included Inherited Vehicle (ice crawlers, pirate sloops, etc), Innate Power (for a person with a one-off mutation instead of a full blown Arcane Background), Photographic Memory (which gives you a Smarts roll +2 to remember basically anything...and you have to have a minimum of Smarts d8 to take it), as well as some Combat Edges that are not Core, but have commonly shown up, like Dirty Fighter and Bring It On!, as well some cool Edges I don't recall seeing before, but are awesome, like Sharpshooter (which lets you spend a benny to double your Aim bonus), Ready For Battle (a Heroic Edge that builds on Improved Level Headed), Nimble Strike (which lets you get in, hit an opponent and get out before they can swing at you...combine it with First Strike and an agile fighter can jack someone up). There Edges to modify Psionics and Weird Science as well as setting-specific Professional Edges like Beast-Rider and Duelist. Legendary Edges cab make sure your action card is never treated as being lower than a 10, let you temporarily shake off wound penalties for a scene, and even let you ensure you always have a mole in your enemy's camp. In fact, there's a lot of great Edges here that could be mined for a lot of games.

The tech level is described as 1900s + rayguns, basically, but Airships DO play a prominent role, and there's a whole section on them, from the stations on a ship (and the skill required), to a sweet selection of new maneuvers and rules for boarding (or being boarded).

WHAT WORKS: Random tables. I love random tables for adventures, to say nothing of the tables for mutants and elder machines. The Edge selection is great, with some options worth ripping for other games. While the Plot Arcs need a bit of fleshing out, having what amounts to seven distinct campaigns goes a long way towards helping you figure out what to do with the book (and showing the diversity of the setting). No Power Points. The Airships.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not of fan of breaking up the Powers, because that just makes Arcane Backgrounds more expensive. There's the odd Edge and Hindrance that seem out of whack with similar existing Edges and Hindrances, like Isolated with Outsider and Signature Moves with Trademark Item, with the Karthador versions being objectively more beneficial to take.

CONCLUSION: Karthador manages to feel very familiar, yet distinctly different, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy and not quite post-apocalyptic. There's room for standard dungeon crawling, political intrigue and even crazy high adventure aboard airships. Personally, I like the approach of the PCs being zapped, John Carter-like, to Karthador from Earth. Sky-pirates, dinosaurs, ray guns, psionics, mutants...none of these elements are new, but I'm not sure they've ever appeared in quite this configuration before, and Reality Blurs applied their very distinct touch with Savage Worlds to Karthador in order to make those elements sing.