Three words every kid hates: back to school. Summer vacation season is officially over, and the world is suddenly awash with annoying advertisements for sneakers, three-ring binders and back-packs (it’s a tough time for the kids, but gamers should rejoice: #2 pencils and graph paper are on sale, and it’s a perfect time to stock up).
The glory days of summer may be dwindling, but there’s still time to squeeze in that last-minute get away for all of you holiday procrastinators. Our Corporate Travel Department has booked several package deals with the Savage Worlds RPG to provide affordable and memorable destinations for all tastes and budgets. So get out your passports and make sure your vaccinations are up to date, because time is running out!
(High Level Games is not responsible for any tropical diseases, cursed relics or Total Party Kills (TPK) incurred while traveling. International charges may apply.)
1.) Tour a Frozen, Apocalyptic Fantasy World (for only 10 gold shields a day)
Probably the most familiar of our vacations spots will be Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams' Hellfrost setting. Take equal parts Game of Thrones and 13th Warrior, add a dash of existential despair, and let simmer in a crock-pot of medieval Anglo-Saxon flavor for a week and you'll get the idea. Hellfrost is a gritty fantasy world that is, for all intents and purposes, ending. In ancient times, a horde of every evil and cold thing imaginable invaded from the frozen North. The world united, and, after generations of conflict, pushed the horde back north; but, as the invaders retreated into the frozen wastes, a massive wall of ice rose behind them, and the far north became the Hellfrost: not only wicked cold, but literally, demonically, wicked cold. Ever since, the southern lands have begun to freeze. Winters are longer each year, summers shorter; crops fail, and refugees stream south, hungry and desperate as an endless winter reaches further and further south. As the icing (get it?) on the cake, magic has begun to change, with elemental cold growing stronger as fire magic fails.
So what sets Hellfrost apart from every other Viking-esque setting out there? First off, don't let my derivative, comparison-laden summary fool you: some of the elements are common (wall in the north, impending doom, loads of Saxon-inflected names), but Hellfrost itself feels fresh. The writing and art all convey this feeling of a world crumbling, and imminent peril creeping steadily from the north. Old alliances fail as kingdoms and races begin looking for a place to make their stand. And, through it all, there's this gorgeously envisioned world of snowy forests, fog-enshrouded tombs and deep mysteries.
Beyond just the gorgeous flavor of the world, Wade-Williams introduces some nice twists to the standard rules: not only have fire and ice magic changed, magic itself is draining from the world, resulting in what's called the Siphoning. Spell-casters increasingly run the risk of a magical backlash when working their trade, with the grim possibility of permanently losing their arcane abilities. In game terms, Hellfrost does away with Savage Worlds' standard magic system of Power Points, allowing spell-casters to cast spells at will; but, each time they do, they run a risk of an arcane 'backfire' that can range from being temporarily stunned to permanently losing their spellcasting abilities. It brings a real sense of transaction to using magic: yeah, I can blast away like Rambo-meets-Gandalf if I need to, but…is it worth the very real risk?
2.) Savage Cruise Lines: Sailing Scenic, Cursed, Monster-Ridden Caribdus
Have you ever wanted to captain your own pirate ship in a high-fantasy world of magic, strange races and endless seas? Who hasn't, right? Well, Savage Worlds creator Shane Hensley has a world for you: 50 Fathoms is a perfect way to scratch that very particular itch. When three evil sisters are found guilty of practicing blood magic rituals in the kingdom of Ograpog (man, what an awesome name for a fantasy kingdom. I want to drink beer and run amok just thinking about it), they are sentenced to death by drowning, staked at the shore as the tide rolls in. But, as the waters rise about them, they pronounce a curse upon the world of Caribdus that it will drown along with them. Cue endless rain and floods and sinking kingdoms, and the rise of a ridiculously fun campaign setting.
50 Fathoms is populated by some seriously interesting playable races, most with a maritime twist (including my favorite, a sort of giant hermit crab popularly employed as accountants / notaries by the various trading companies). The world can be played as a standard campaign setting, but comes with a ready-made story arc (the ‘Plot Point Campaign’, common to Savage Worlds) where the evil witches have become Hag Queens, threatening to destroy what’s left of the world. But a mysterious force is visiting our world, luring sailors from various places and eras with mysterious visions of a ghostly maiden that leads them through a portal and into Caribdus. This plot device really brings a fun twist, introducing historical factions and archetypes into the fantasy setting. Would you like to role-play how the Spanish Inquisition would react to meeting a race of psionic squid-people? Here you go. Real Scandinavian Vikings and Sir Walter Raleigh chasing a mysterious ghost ship? Sure, why not? If you follow the Plot Points, the visitors play a role in destroying the Hags and bringing salvation to Caribdus, but nothing is set in stone: it’s up to you as a group to play the story out.
Or you can just roll dice and enjoy playing a walrus-man who yells “Arrrrgh!” at random intervals. That’s pretty fun, too.
3.) From CIA Headquarters to Sunken R’lyeh: A Shadowy World Tour
Last on our list of Savage Destinations is a modern-day world of spies, eldritch horror, super-technology, conspiracy, and secret alien infiltration: Agents of Oblivion presents a world where anything goes, but your Agent is the only thing standing between an unsuspecting world and…well, any or all of the preceding existential threats.
Agents of Oblivion is intentionally open-ended. The back-story is of shadowy secret societies, namely the Pandora group, who are wise to Ancient-Secret-Scary-Wisdom and Oblivion, a group dedicated to containing all that scary stuff and keeping the world in comfortable, safe ignorance. As a gaming group, you can pick how much of each element you want in your game. Options are given in the generous ‘game mastering’ section of the book that details various flavors of the game, with varying levels of horror, conspiracy, technology and aliens: you can play straight spy-craft counter-terrorism, X-Files style conspiracy, Lovecraftian conspiracy, or high-tech Mission Impossible versions of the above. Personally, I like mashing it all up: aliens, Elder Gods, Illuminati and James Bond. Why not, right?
An interesting mechanical twist in Agents of Oblivion is in character creation: where most game systems (including vanilla Savage Worlds) have you pick powers and abilities as your character progresses, most of the powers in Agents of Oblivion are based on high-tech, James Bond – style gear. Depending on which branch of the Oblivion organization your character works for, you can mix and match these powers and skills, even accessing requisitions mid-game to change things up. It makes for a great way to easily tailor your character into someone you can really get inside, without being bound by (and, perhaps more tragically, defined by) the choices you made at character creation. Not to mention, it really encourages player creativity in tackling missions.
So, before you pack up the mini-van for another boring trip to Wally World, think about these Savage destinations instead. Go buy/beg/download a copy of the base rules and give it a try. And if you like what you find, be ready for a wild ride, because there are limitless worlds, and they’re all better when they’re Savage.
Jack Benner is the head bottle-washer and sole roustabout at Stick in the Mud Press http://stickinthemudgames.blogspot.com/.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.