Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fantasy Companion Bullets

More than a month ago, I picked up the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion, and recently used elements from several chapters for my thanksgiving gaming, so I'm pretty familiar with the book now.

Here's my point-by-point observations about the Fantasy Companion -- and apparently, I have a lot to say about it:
  • It's a good book, and you'll be happy with it, provided you understand how it came to be. It's compiled from several pdfs the company had released previously. As a result, sometimes the 4th chapter doesn't know what the 3rd chapter is doing, and vice-versa. If they'd integrated these documents better, it would have been a far more cohesive and immediately useful book. If you already have the pdfs, the print version doesn't add anything. I only had one of the PDFs, so I found the book well worth the money.

  • At first glance, it would seem races in Savage Worlds are far less fiddly than in D&D. A Savage Dwarf, for example, is elegant and entirely unlike the complicated package of racial bonuses seen in just about any edition of D&D.

  • Then you get to the Saurian and Rakashan races, which have no direct D&D analog, and for whatever reason they are significantly more complicated. It's an odd choice to simplify elves and dwarves so much, but make the new races very crunchy. I suspect there's some sort of copyright issue at work - if they'd duplicated all those dwarf bonuses from D&D, it could have been lawsuit bait.

  • I'm skeptical of the ability of the "Racial Enemy" flaw as a way of balancing the Rakashan race. They already have -4 to Charisma from one of the other flaws, and that -4 is pretty heavy. You'd never dream of building a Rakashan Diplomat PC, for example. Instead, they'll certainly be the parties muscle. So, then piling -4 to Charisma vs Saurians as an additional modifier is dubious. You're already talking about a character who desperately wants to avoid social rolls, so giving him an extra social roll penalty against 1 specific race feels kinda munchkiny to me.

  • I also don't like that that results in a situation where you can't just add one of the these two new races to the game, you have to add both or come up with some other major flaw to balance them out.

  • At least they follow that up with a really good system for creating your own races. That system is very sweat, and a GM's dream.
  • I kind of feel like Troubadour should be it's own Arcane Background, and not a second Edge. The little bit of cash you can make out of it doesn't really justify having to take a Major Hindrance to afford the second Edge to go with your Arcane Background (Miracles).

  • The list of possible Familiars is a little extreme. I'm not sure how I feel about a PC having a Rhino or Great White Shark as a familiar. It definitely out-performs the Beast Master edge from the main book, even before you start adding in the powers a Familiar can give you.

  • For that matter, this Familiar edge suffers from a similar problem to that which plagues the Shape Change power in the main book. For either the edge or the power, your choice as a starting character is between hawk, rabbit, or cat (or snake as a 4th option for familiar). Both provide reasons why the GM would need stats for those three animals - as they result in the PCs stats being increased if the creature chosen would naturally have higher stats. Problem is, hawks cats and rabbits aren't given stats in either book. How do I know if my rabbit familiar/form has higher agility than the d6 my PC started with?

  • I wish the Assassin edge had defined "unawares". The +2 bonus it gives is certainly not as devastating as the backstab in D&D that it's emulating, so it's hard to judge how hard it should be to earn the bonus. I could see some GMs interpret this to mean the bonus is only in cases where the Assassin had The Drop on a foe, whereas others would allow it to work with a mid-combat stealth roll, and my own inclinations would be to allow it vs Tricked or Shaken characters.

  • The gear section is pretty good, I especially love how they handled Studded Leather. I'd been thinking there was no good solution, because the main rules had truncated all armor down to a 3-point scale, but they found a way that works for me. Bravo.

  • The gear list includes both Hunting Dog and War Dog, at different prices. Seeing as how there's only one set of Dog stats in the rules, I wish they'd explained the difference.

  • Love the expanded siege rules. If I ever run a major war plotline, these will see serious use.

  • While I like the Deific Templates for Cleric-types, I was puzzled by the spell lists.
    Example: Bolt is Savage World's premiere attack spell, the equivalent of Magic Missile in D&D. So which of the following clerics should have access to it: A cleric of the Goddess of Healing, a cleric of the God of the Sea, or a cleric of the God of War? As it turns out, it's on the spell list for all three. Other oddities show up, like Burrow on the spell list for the God of the Sun.
    As mentioned above, the book was assembled from several small PDF releases, and this magic section is where that starts to show. If they'd actually used any of the spells from this book on their spell list for clerics, they could have made lists that had less overlap and strangeness. Instead, that work is left for the GM to do.

  • The section on Spell Trappings is certainly desired, but could have been better with more concrete advice and another editing pass. It was full of examples, but no actual guidance on how to balance those examples. No attempts were made to explain how much of an advantage was worth costing one more spell point, for example. If they'd given the trappings system the same treatment they gave the race-building system, the results would be more useful.

  • The expanded Grimoire has some very good spells in it, but also a lot of filler that seems to be redundant, especially given the trappings system that immediately proceeds it. Several of the new attack spells could have just been an old spell with a trapping tacked on.

  • I mostly like the Magic Item system. It's something the game really needed, and I'm a-ok with being a large section of the book. There were plenty of ideas contained within, and it has a pricing system that I found very helpful for my campaign.

  • However, the pieced-together nature of the book is again obvious. You can roll up a scroll with any of the spells from the main book, but not with any of the new spells introduced in the previous chapter. I find that very annoying.

  • Not sure having Minor Artifacts have their own pool of power points is a good design decision if your mantra is "Fast! Furious! Fun!" If a PC already has his own pool of 10-20 power points, I'm a little apprehensive about separately tracking the power points available to each of his two wands. Speaking of which, some of the wand descriptions are missing any indication of how many power points they should have, and only list how many points the effects use.

  • Loved the Tomes entry, and would have liked to see it expanded on. It's a great fix for one thing I consider a minor problem of the core rules. Savage Worlds is pretty much unique in gaming in that wizards actually lag behind fighters in the late campaign. Tomes give the GM a way to fine-tune and course-correct the wizard power level over time, so I'm very much in favor of them.

  • Moving on to the monsters section, I'm impressed. There's far more than 100 monsters here, including equivalents to many of the staple monsters from D&D that you're likely to have distinctive miniatures of.

  • My only real complaint about the monster section is the fact that again they've neglected to include any sort of rating system for the monsters. I understand that the authors of Savage Worlds prefer the sandbox feel where the PCs can sometimes pick fights they can't win. I'm okay with that. But as a GM, I'd like to know when this is happening before half the party dies. And yes, given the unstructured nature of the experience / level-up system, it's hard to say what "level" of characters are a good match for a particular monster. But what's not hard, when you're making monsters, is to put them into 3 or 4 categories based on relative power. Would it really have been that big a chore for them to do so? Or to just include a short list of the dozen weakest monsters, so the GM doesn't have to scan over 150 creature entries trying to find something appropriate for his first session of the new campaign?
Overall, I'm glad I bought the book, and feel I got my money's worth last week.

My biggest complaint with the book is the one I made again and again above. It feels like a tacked-together collection of other documents, and not a coherent whole. That's a natural outgrowth of how the book came to be, but I really wish they'd spent some editing efforts integrating the parts better.


Erik said...

Editing, in a role playing game? That's just crazy talk.

Kedamono said...

I own a couple of the aforementioned pdfs and I'm glad they chose to leave out the one that creates random, unbalanced characters. Yes, one of the pdfs let you "roll" up a Fantasy character and not create a balanced one. I'm glad that was not part of this new book.