Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tommy's Take on 50 Fathoms Explorer's Edition

This seems like odd timing, but there's a reason for that. I've owned the original 50 Fathoms for years, and but never ran it. However, I was approached by Pinnacle last week about reviewing their new 50 Fathoms book, Fire & Earth, and thought that before I did so, I would tackle the original (or at least the version that was revised for Deluxe Edition) for posterity, and also to refresh my memory about 50 Fathoms.

DISCLAIMER: This review contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG. Purchases made through these links may provide me with a of the proceeds in store credit. Note also that I have freelanced for Pinnacle in the past, but haven't had any professional contact with them in the last few years.


  • PDF is $9.99, print retails for $24.99.
  • Full color.
  • 208 pages.
  • Written for Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition, but a 4 page SWADE conversion document has been released as well for free.
  • 50 Fathoms was one the earliest Savage Worlds releases, being the first Plot Point Campaign, I believe (Evernight was a "scripted adventure", rather than a Plot Point Campaign).
  • It's also widely regarded as the best of the Plot Point Campaigns, and among the best of the Savage Worlds settings.
  • It's also often cited as the "flaw" in the original Plot Point Campaigns as it was a setting designed to be read and ran with low-prep, with an overarching story that was meant to be concluded, and then the group moves onto the next adventure. For that reason, Plot Point Campaigns at that time tended to have a world-threatening problem that needed to be "fixed" and, once that was done, tended to eliminate the main source of conflict in the world.
  • This despite the fact that the campaign has always stressed that you can, and should, continue adventuring in Caribdus if you so desire.
  • The premise is that it's a fantasy pirate adventure in a world that's been flooded by a magical curse.
  • 13 years ago, three witches were executed by King Amemnus. The witches cursed the world of Caribdus, flooding it in constant rain. The witches washed away and returned as The Sea Hags, and set up a lair in a region called The Devil's Cross, which is known to be a center for shipwrecks. Humans have also been drawn to Caribdus from Earth, being lost in storms or fog and emerging here.
  • Party set-up is kinda easy, because everyone has to have a reason to be on a ship together, by nature of the setting.
  • Races include Humans (who aren't native to Caribdus, and aren't even necessarily summoned from the same time period. just a generalized "Age of Sail"), Atani (who have wings that let them glide, but not fly), Doreen (semi-aquatic hunters), Grael (who look vaguely like humanoid walruses), Kehana (who are fully fishmen and hate the Doreen), Krakan (who look a lot like Mind Flayers from D&D, but are aquatic mages), Masaquani (who were the "humans" of Caribdus before humans got here), Half-Ugak (who are brutish offspring of humans or masaquani and the Red Men, very much like a half-orc thing, complete with all the uncomfortable implications half-orcs tend to have) and Scurlillians (crabs mutated by magic).
  • Lots of aquatic and sea-faring Edges and Hindrances. Seasick is a Major Hindrance, for instance, and rightfully so as you'll spend a lot of time in a boat. Bilge Rat is an Edge that allows heroes to fight below decks without penalty, while Ramming Speed! allows a ship's captain to get a bonus when using a boat as a weapon against another vessel.
  • Several new professional Edges are present as well, such as Boarder (which provides bonuses to boarding an opposing ship), Mark of Torquemada (in which you are branded by the dread inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada and can resist magic, but you are expected to hunt mages), and roles like Whaler and Ship's Carpenter.
  • Lots of ships and blackpowder weapons are included in the book, as makes sense for the setting.
  • Lots of setting rules in this one, mostly of the maritime variety.
  • One non-sea specific setting rules allows heroes to start with a Seasoned Edge at character creation (as long as they meet all other requirements).
  • Navigating the boats is a thing, based on the Captain's Boating skill and the average of the crew's Boating Skill.
  • Maintaining your crew is also a thing, from the pay they are due to crew members suffering cabin fever, to carousing to blow off steam.
  • Rules for ship to ship combat are touched on, tweaking the vehicle combat rules somewhat to fit ship to ship specifically. This includes new details for critical hits on boats and the effects of fires on boats.
  • A fairly extensive section on trading is included, with prices and capacity for buying and selling, assuming your crew decides to get into shipping. For instance, among the list of settlements, only a fraction has any interest in iron, but it is pricey (to buy or sell). 
  • Whaling is also a thing, with about a page of mechanical support for hunting whales.
  • Arcane Background (Magic) is a thing, though you have to specify an element, which modifies the list of spells you can learn and cast. For instance, only Fire Mages can use Damage Field, only Earth Mages can use Mend, only Water Mages can use Healing Magic and only Air Mages can use Telekinesis.
  • The player's information on Caribdus is four pages, just enough information to know the difference between one island and the next. The GM version is significantly more detailed.
  • For instance, humans are being drawn to Caribdus not by the curse, but by the sister of the Sea Hags, who is seeking champions who can hopefully defeat The Hags and free Caribdus.
  • Encounter tables are used, and are keyed to a random card draw to determine if a random encounter occurs, with region specific charts to roll on, using a d20. The various Savage Tales provided in the book are also keyed to their appropriate regions in the GM's gazetteer, so you can tell in a glance what pre-written Savage Tales are available when the group travels there.
  •  The focus on each city is key locations that the heroes are likely to visit, but none of the descriptions are meant to be all encompassing, just highlights for the GM to build around.
  • A Booty (treasure) and Relics table is included, geared towards the setting, for randomly rolling treasure and magical items. In addition to standard magic weapons with bonus, there's items like a self-loading Pirate's Pistol (but you still have to HAVE the ammunition), an eye patch that provides bonuses to Intimidation, a stone that gives a mage Power Points, a magic lantern, a peg leg that makes one immune to cold, as well as a slew of potions.
  • There's also relics that are meant for ships, like Super Heated Cannonballs that start fires, main sails that magically increase ship speed, or a figurehead of the Greek God Poseidon, which can protect you from storms.
  • The idea of the Plot Point Campaign is that the group is part of a crew of a ship with an NPC captain, newly shipwrecked on an island, and quickly escalates, leaving the heroes on their own. From there they find an ally who clues them in on the real threat facing the world (but one they are not remotely prepared to fight, even if they want to).
  • A *second* Plot Point Campaign (originally appearing in the 50 Fathoms Companion, I believe), is included, to be inserted in the middle of this one, providing a treasure that the heroes can hunt for to help in their war with the Sea Hags.
  • The Main PPC includes a guest appearance from Blackbeard, as well as another "boss" fight that seems like it would be much cooler to play in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition than previous versions (The Inquisitor).
  • One of the PPCs has a fairly notable railroad on it, in that the PCs are tasked with an important goal, but literally cannot succeed.
  • A whopping 68 Savage Tales are included in the book, not counting the 9 tales that make up the main PPC, or the 9 that make up the secondary PPC. Admittedly, some of the Savage Tales are little more than paragraph long encounters, so you'll probably need to do a little more work that normal fleshing out game sessions using those Savage Tales, but that's still a ridiculous amount of content. The adversaries in the Savage Tales range from sea beasts (like killer whales) to pirates to undead, and they encompass hunting trips, Mass Combats, and freelance work for wealthy benefactors.
  • A very basic adventure generator is present, underwhelming by Savage Worlds standards, but made up for by the *extensive* amount of premade material.
  • Pretty all-encompassing.
  • Basic stat blocks for the PC races are included, as well as all manner of Caribdus variations on animals (like Blubber Monkeys, Giant Crabs, Giant Eels, Monkapes), key NPCs, "regular" NPCs like pirates, mages and inquisitors, and fantastical creatures like zombies, elementals and the humanoid octopi knowns as Octopons.
  • I always had a hard to buying into the races of the setting, one of the reasons I've never ran it. Not saying it makes sense to be more okay with dwarves and elves and gnomes over walrus-men, talking crabs or the dueling underwater races, but here we are.
  • If you use *most* of the adventures in the book, you'll blow past Veteran, which is the presumed end point of the campaign, at least by the Deluxe Edition XP rules.
  • I'm amused and impressed that there's a full page on hunting whales, when people would probably just tell you now to roll a Dramatic Task or something (I, for one, actually like that level of detail, even in Savage Worlds).
  • The Relics are amazing, reminding me of the best of the more offbeat D&D magic items, which were always my favorite. Most of them are really good utility items (like a map that causes the ship it's on to magically appear on it, so the captain doesn't have to navigate, or a fog horn that actually generates fog).
  • Tomes that mages can learn new spells from (rather than just spending Advances) is another thing I love that seems like it would drive more balance driven players crazy.
  • 50 Fathoms feels like a setting that was tailor made for SWADE, long before SWADE arrived: Support rolls being more open and useful makes the ship setting better for most any character "build", Tests seem like they would elevate the battle with the Inquisitor near the end of the campaign, and the new Mass Combat rules - like the Support rules - are much more suited to providing various character builds things to do to impact the flow of battle even if they aren't sharpshooters or hardened warriors.
  • I've never been a big fan of aquatic adventures of any stripe - to the dismay of one of my friends and former players - and so I don't know if 50 Fathoms is a campaign I will ever run That said, if you've been on the fence, I think it does what it advertises very well, and the SWADE conversion honestly makes it noticeably better...which is impressive for a book that would be a first ballot Hall of Famer if Savage Worlds had one.


  1. Whatever doubts I had before about buying 50 Fathoms, you've now blown them away like a cleansing storm.