Savage Worlds: Fantasy Companion [Review]

The Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion is a 158-page official supplement for the Savage Worlds: Explorer’s Edition rules. The new book repackages and updates the material from the old Fantasy Toolkit PDF into the Explorers Edition‘s digest book format, while simultaneously expanding it with new content. The book expands the core rules with fantasy-inspired races and edges, a rich selection of magic items, new and expanded spells, and a bestiary packed with iconic monsters.

There’s an undeniable old school feel to the Fantasy Companion, with 50 pages dedicated to generic and named magic items and the hundred-odd monsters and their variants, all of which had me waxing nostalgic for my old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule books. It’s packed with enough crunch to tempt diehard D&D-ers to convert, except for one potentially fatal flaw: the lack of a Vancian magic system.

Fantasy Companion kicks things off by bringing back many of the fantasy races that appeared in the old Savage Worlds hardcover, the immediate predecessor to the Explorer’s Edition. Dwarves, half-orcs, elves, half-elves, half-folk (halflings), rakashans, and saurians (lizardmen) are back with all of the benefits and penalties you’d expect (dwarves have strong Vigor but move slowly, half-orcs take a hit to Charisma but are strong) There’s also a short section on making additional races so any missing from the mix (such as gnomes) can easily be recreated by game masters.

The book adds new fantasy-specific professional edges like Familiar (grants arcane casters an animal companion) and Knight (gets bonus equipment, +2 charisma bonus). There’s also the Troubadour, which introduces a D&D-ish, magic-using bard and the Assassin (gain +2 damage vs. unaware foes)

Complementing these are eleven racial edges, all of which are what you’d expect from a fantasy supplement. For example, half-orcs get the Berserk Blood edge, which lets them trigger a rage by spending a benny, while elves get Double Shot, which lets them fire two arrows at one target at a -2 penalty. I’d hoped that we’d see more edges than this – in particular I was hoping for more role-playing oriented edges for skillful characters like rogues and bards. Admittedly, I’m coming at this from d20’s Land of Ten Thousand Feats but I can’t help but feel there’s design space that’s not being explored here.

The book’s magic section reprints the spells from the Explorer’s Edition along with a number of new fantasy-specific ones. Some may balk at the double dipping, but as a reference I’ve found it’s handy to have them all in one place. The book has three new magical backgrounds – alchemists channel their spells into potions while sorcerers can dispel an opponent’s spells without suffering any penalties. The ritualist is an NPC-oriented class that trades speed of casting for reliability. Their spells take longer to cast (a full round), during which time they can’t take any other actions, and can only move half their pace. On plus side, the consequences of failure are less; they’re only Shaken on a critical failure. All three backgrounds are variants of the standard power point system from the Explorers Edition, but there’s one big whole that isn’t filled, or even addressed: a Vancian magic system. Inspired by Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, Vancian magic systems require practitioners to memorize each spell before casting it. Once cast, the spell was lost until re-memorized. This fire-and-forget approach was the hallmark of Dungeons & Dragons until its Fourth Edition incarnation.

I know many Savage Worlds‘ fans see the lack of such a subsystem as a feature rather than a bug, and for the core rules, I agree. But when it comes to fantasy, Vancian magic is hard coded into many gamers’ DNA. That’s certainly the case in my group – they like Savage Worlds well enough, but the lack of a Vancian magic system is a major stumbling block. They like being able to learn a large number of spells, and cherrypick from them each session. The Fantasy Companion doesn’t address that need, which is a shame since its addition could have won over some of the holdouts.

Vancian magic aside, the Fantasy Companion offers plenty of new miraculous and arcane backgrounds. There are eight deific templates – such as God of War or God of Sun – that can be used to create new pantheons on the fly. Each template includes aspects of reality the god controls, a list of powers granted to its followers, edicts that its followers must obey, and sins that might attract the wrath of the deity. So the God of Justice has aspects of justice, truth and law, powers such as armor, barrier and stun, duties of uphold the law, and sins like allowing a miscarriage of justice to go unpunished.

Arcane backgrounds get a greatly expanded treatment of trappings, Savage Worlds‘ method of customizing spells based on a particular theme. Trappings are offered for acid, cold, darkness, electricity, fire, light, necromancy and sound, all of which have examples of minor and major effects. One such option is Sound: a minor trapping effect causes enemies to be deafened if the caster gets a raise on their Spellcasting roll; a major effect halves the spells range but does an extra die of damage from the sonic shockwave.

It’s a cool system that allows you to spawn many variant spells without needing to publish a half-dozen spell compendiums. The downside is each modified spell still counts as power in its own right, which makes it an expensive option if you want to have standard and variant versions in your spell book since both need to be purchased. I’d like to see an edge that grants minor trappings to any power you already know (and perhaps an advanced version that grants the major trappings). That would go a long way toward enhancing the flexibility of the system, and making it more appealing to Vancian players.

The Grimore section reprints spells and miracles from the Explorer’s Edition while adding in a bunch of new options. I can’t say exactly how many new spells there are, as they aren’t broken out into lists of new vs. old, but my sense is the Fantasy Companion fleshes out the skeleton that was the core rulebook. It’s biased toward low and mid-power play – you won’t find any Wishes or Meteor Swarms here, but then again, Savage Worlds isn’t meant to be Dungeons & Dragons. If you’re looking to run a sword-and-sorcery style game, everything you need is here.

All of this is standard fantasy, but where the Fantasy Companion really hit me with an old school feel was its Treasure chapter. It’s packed with the sort of fantastical, weird, and downright odd magic items that filled the original D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. There are pages of random charts, and even a character Edge (the Artifact Hunter) who can manipulate rolls on these charts. Many of the magic items are what you’d expect: swords that grant bonuses to attacks and damage, potions that emulate Edges (like boost trait), and armor that bulks up a characters Toughness score, but it’s the non-standard ones that I enjoyed most. Particular favorites include the Bag of Fog, which can spawn an ever-growing fog bank in the middle of the battlefield or the Doppelganger Prism, which creates copies of the user that are identical in every way save they are Extras (similar to Minions in D&D 4th Edition). These are fun, creative magic items, and they remind me of the sorts of things I used to throw into my Dungeons & Dragons campaign in waning days of 2nd Edition, before things became so standardized in 3rd Edition.

The last quarter of the book is given over to monsters, with some of the creatures from the Explorer’s Edition as well as new threats. Its’ a good mix, providing the staple monsters that game masters are likely to need, including the obligatory orcs, dragons, trolls and skeletons, as well as generic NPCs that can be used to round out a village or city, such as healers, town guards, nobles, and court jesters. It’s a ready-to-run GM toolkit, and should help greatly with prep time.

While I’m not running a fantasy game right now, Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion would be my go-to ruleset for a sword-and-sorcery, Keep on the Borderlands-style sandbox game. Even without GMing such a game, I’ve found the Fantasy Companion useful for my 1950s apocalyptic The Day After Ragnarok campaign. I regularly use the monsters – with a radioactive, Serpent-tainted twist – for the game, and I’ve got a few ideas about how to work in some of its spells and magic items into the setting.

The book is mostly reprinted content, taken from Explorer’s Edition and Fantasy Toolkit PDF products. Those who own both books may not want to get it, but I found that having the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion in a printed, easily-accessible digest-sized book made it well worth the $20.

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