I was a little disappointed when I opened up the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion and realized that it wasn’t filled with pictures of the half clothed Amazon warrior featured on the cover. It wasn’t even filled with a saucy story about her adventures. In fact, it seems that she is not, in fact, the Fantasy Companion.
Fortunately, what actually is in the Fantasy Companion more than makes up for my disappointment. The siege rules alone, while short, are almost worth the price of admission. In fact, the Fantasy Companion is everything you need to run a sword and sorcery/medieval fantasy/semi-historical campaign with the Savage Worlds system.
It begins with the Savage Worlds rules for a number of stock fantasy races, including Elves, Dwarves, Half-folk and lizard and cat people. But far, far more interesting and exciting, it expands on the rules given in the core rulebook for creating original player character races. An impressive number of potential traits are listed with a suitable numeric bonus or penalty from +3 to -3 depending on their usefulness to the race or how much they will penalize them. Creating a player race is now as simple as balancing the advantages and hindrances your concept requires. It also suggests slight advantages that can be given for characters from certain cultures. For example, the elves that have their homes on the plains would get a free d6 in Riding while their cousins who live in the forest would instead receive a free d6 in Climbing. This system was so interesting and useful that after reading it, I started creating a fantasy race for my future campaign and got halfway through before realizing that I’d already created that race using the basic rules from the Savage Worlds system.
New edges are presented next and, true to the Savage Worlds mantra, they are both simple and few. The massive number of similar mechanics in other games and the often mind numbing focus of the individual examples is bypassed for a few easy, but flavorful edges that can go a long way toward customizing a character.
The magic section is similarly generic and I use the term “generic” in the most admiring way possible. Savage Worlds revolves around offering a generic system that is easily customizable and the new powers, trappings and Arcane Backgrounds offered in the Fantasy Companion are right in line with that purpose. In many games, defining new possibilities simultaneously limits other possibilities, but in this case, players and game masters are left only with more options.
The equipment section is informative, and unsurprisingly, short. Essentially, a sword is a sword is a sword in Savage Worlds and how well variously shaped blades punch through various types of armor is considered less entertaining and useful than simply having some basic rules for how much damage a weapon does and perhaps a special ability or three. The above mentioned rules about sieges and siege engines are contained in this section. Again, Savage Worlds comes through with rules that are complex enough to allow player interaction and strategy to have a big impact on a siege without having to keep track of every pound of food on one side of the wall and every catapult boulder on the other. Few game systems have even attempted this and even fewer have managed to succeed. Players make a few decisions and rolls throughout the course of a siege without having to roll a hundred times to cut through swaths of opponents one at a time.
The magic item section is, perhaps, a little too thorough. It begins with a simple explanation for how to create magic items, both in character and out. It should have ended there. The Savage Worlds system for creating magic items is simple enough that there is little need for exhaustive examples of magic items when a Game Master can simply determine a piece of treasure’s magical properties on the fly, or more appropriately, create something specifically tuned to a particular character’s skills or players wishes. Random charts and pages upon pages of examples seem like a waste of space. Granted, for a new Game Master or for a Game Master who doesn’t want to be bothered with thinking about rewards like treasure, the charts and descriptions are potentially useful and I can’t deny the possibility that I will use them sooner or later, but in the end I had the feeling that this section of the Fantasy Companion was modeled a little too closely on a similar section of another fantasy game.
Finally, the Fantasy Companion ends with a comprehensive bestiary. This bestiary includes not only all the fantasy creatures from the Explorers Edition but also numerous new foes for fantasy heroes to face. All the standard fantasy monsters are provided from Centaurs to Medusas to Pegasi and there are a handful of unusual or even unique creatures in the Fantasy Companion especially suited for Savage Worlds. As usual for Savage Worlds, the creatures have just enough in the area of special abilities to give an encounter with one a distinct flavor without having so many rules that combat grinds to a halt.
The Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion is not without its flaws, however. Perhaps the most annoying are a few examples of poor editing in the book. While this is generally as minor as a missing category on a chart (which can be easily extrapolated,) it still makes the Fantasy Companion seem a little slipshod. Given how common these little editorial issues were in the glut of products that came out in the OGL third party boom, they make a company appear fly-by-night. Clearly this is not a position any serious company wants to be in. And, as usual for Savage Worlds, the topic titles can be a bit obscure and unfathomable. Fortunately, unlike the Core Rules, the Fantasy Companion has a good index.
The Fantasy Companion seems to be trying a little too hard to emulate D&D, as well. The order in which the main topics and even the subtopics are presented are in just the same order they would be presented in a D&D 3.5 book. For that matter, the random treasure and magic item charts could almost have come straight out of the D&D 3.5 DMG. Again, Savage Worlds and the Fantasy Companion are such robust systems that it is disappointing for them to try so hard to present themselves as D&D Lite.
Unfortunately, one area where the writers make a point of diverging from D& D is in not providing any kind of threat level for the creatures in the book. The reason they give for this choice is quite logical, namely that there is no way of knowing what sort of resources the party will bring to bear on a creature. Nonetheless it seems that they are being a bit hypocritical and are missing the point of threat ratings. First of all, while threat levels are not provided for the creatures, each monster has a listing for what section of the treasure chart to roll on to determine how much loot it possesses. It should be just as important for an encounter to be balanced based on what resources the party uses to tackle it as it is for a monster to have a logical amount of treasure. Of course attacking a bandit camp will not be much of a challenge for the party if they’ve mustered an army to help them, but should said bandits have the same amount of treasure even if the whole reason the party was able to muster the army was because the bandits managed to rob the royal treasury?
Second, while I am not at all new to gaming, I have only run a single Savage Worlds adventure. I have only the vaguest clue of how dangerous any of the creatures in either the core rulebook or those presented in the Fantasy Companion are. I don’t yet have a firm grasp on how deadly various levels of strength and damage are compared to different levels of toughness. Granted, I realize that a single goblin is not going to be a challenge for a well prepared party (unless the goblin has some impressive and unusual edge) and that a Novice party will not be able to take on a dragon (unless there is something very wrong with the dragon or they have a lot of Extras with them,) but where on the scale between the goblin and the dragon does a Medusa fall? Is a Methusalah Tree going to massacre my Seasoned party? How many Khazok’s do I need throw at a Veteran party to make the battle interesting? Some sort of ranking system would be helpful in answering these questions. I’m not saying it has to be completely precise but a number or letter or color or even saying small, medium or large for each monster would go a long way in helping me design challenges for my players. From there, I could size up how to alter an encounter to make it challenging.
It doesn’t help matters any that I’ve seen not one, but two GM’s whose skills I respect end up completely surprised by the outcome of a combat in Savage Worlds.
Overall, however, the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to either run or play a sword and sorcery campaign using the Savage Worlds rules. As usual for Savage Worlds, it has tight, compact, effective rules for fast paced combat as well as options that allow simple but interesting characters.