One of the best parts of Savage Worlds, in my opinion, is that it is a truly genre free system. Though there is a bit of an implied play style (namely pulpy Fast! Furious! Fun!) the world in which that play takes place is almost entirely up to the Game Master and Players. There is little, if any limit to what a group can do with the system unless they are looking for one that has a lot of bookkeeping. As both a benefit and flaw, they do not have to struggle against any pre-conceived notions of how the world their characters are going to exist in will be. Of course there are numerous sourcebooks that use the Savage World system that provide worlds and, usually, fairly tight campaigns (often with surprisingly dark twists) for those who are not interested in creating their own world. But none of that is inherent in the system, itself.
Each of the Sourcebooks that have come out for the game add a bit of an implied setting, though this may be a side effect of their focus on a particular genre. Although they go far afield and attempt to cover everything within their genre, there is definitely some spin toward certain aspects in each Sourcebook. This is, perhaps, most prominent in the Science Fiction sourcebook, which even includes specific names for different groups in the game. While this might seem like a small detail, a few evocative names combined with just a few details can go a long way in telling people what sort of game to expect. Still, there is nothing overwhelmingly world specific in the book and it would be possible, even easy to play a sci-fi game set in a distant future where there is only war, a space opera where laser sword wielders rub elbows with all manner of aliens or one where both the hope and doom of humanity rests on the shoulders of giant robots.
In fact, the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion may be the most flexible of all the sourcebooks and the impressively efficient toolbox it provides is why it I is my favorite. You can see my review of it here as well as some of the things I built with that toolbox over on my personal blog HERE, HERE and HERE.
Still, I always like to see what other people do with Savage Worlds Material and it is pretty hard not to get excited about what the people over at Pinnacle do with their own material. And, I am happy to say, their new setting designed using the Science Fiction Companion, “The Last Parsec” is pretty tantalizing.
I say tantalizing and not excellent because, though it is excellent, it is more tantalizing. Much like the last Marvel Super Heroes game, Pinnacle has not published a single, heavy, all encompassing sourcebook but rather is releasing their sci fi setting, the Last Parsec as a series of adventures with the setting material necessary for that adventure included. Their universe is thus built a single location, event or group at a time instead of dumping an overwhelming amount of information on players and game masters all at once.
The first in this series of releases is the Enigma Equation and it establishes the Last Parsec as a setting. Of course, in this case, in keeping with the idea of not overloading the reader with an excess of information, the “establishing” is done in the first 10 pages of the book. In these 10 pages the government, method of space travel, basics of economy and communications, organizational hook and 11 primary player races of the Last Parsec are all presented and discussed. Needless to say, this section is heavy on story and light on rules. In fact, it is immediately clear that players and GM’s using the Last Parsec are going to need to reference the Science Fiction Companion for the rules content. There’s no space wasted in reprinting material from that book. Despite how short this section might seem, it does an excellent job of giving a feel for the setting. The details may be missing but the overall picture, including the areas of adventure and danger, is complete. For that matter, it takes some effort to truly think of details that are missing.
The remaining 20+ pages of the book are an adventure set in this briefly described universe. And it is a grand adventure, or at least one that has far spanning consequences. Without giving too much away, the crux of the plot is determining the fate of a star. Opposing the party in this goal is a fanatical cult of bug aliens. Characters also face a mad scientist and an ultra powerful being called the Collector (who I envision as looking very like Benicio del Torro…) who don’t have any particular malicious intent but whose goals will quite likely complicate if not run against those of the players. And true to what makes Savage Worlds great, some of the things the Collector collects seem to have come from some other genre and Game Masters are encouraged to throw in even more from whatever Savage Worlds Settings they might have lying around.
Even though the adventure is fairly brief, it still manages to add to the Universe of the Last Parsec. The framework the bug aliens and their opponents is provided with enough information for a Game Master to run with and, though the Collector’s bosses are only mentioned in passing, it is evocative enough to make one wonder about those bosses and to inspire both players and game masters to go looking for them.
The second release in the Last Parsec line is Pranac Pursuit. Again, this is a fairly short adventure but it still manages to add more to the Universe of the Last Parsec.
The adventure begins by fleshing out what it’s like to work for Jumpcorp., the organization that is assumed to be the character’s employers. It isn’t long before it gets into the meat of the adventure, though.
It starts out as a relatively simple rescue mission, actually not too unlike the starting point of the Enigma Equation. Of course, like the Enigma Equation, this simple, straightforward beginning quickly goes pear shaped and it isn’t long before the party is drawn into an entirely different plot while trying to fulfill their mission.
During the course of this plot, the party runs into a race of really interesting aliens. While many games (including the basic Last Parsec book) resort to aliens being littler more than “elves in space,” “cat people in space,” or “bug people in space,” the alien race presented in Pranac Pursuit is actually, bizarrely alien. They resemble nothing on earth and even have a different way of communicating than most sentient species encountered in the game.
Even better, they don’t fall into the cliché of being a single, monolithic culture. They’re not simply greedy or honor-bound or warlike as commonly happens in even the most established sci fi settings. In fact, the adventure makes a point of stating that each village of aliens the party encounters should have a different reaction not only to the party, but also other members of their own species and the unusual objects that have come to rest on their world.
The adventure ends with a twist, though one that is a fairly common trope in the sci fi genre. Even that, however, is put to good use as it ends up suggesting that there is more beyond the known universe and a potential threat to the sentient species within the Last Parsec is lurking just around the bend.
As should be expected from a release from Savage Worlds and Pinnacle, the Last Parsec has an excellent blend of details and rules without ever threatening to get in the way of anyone’s fun. More importantly, they’ve presented this setting in such a way that fans can look forward to an ever expanding universe without having to wait to jump in with both feet.