History of the (Savage) Worlds, Part I

To say that the campaign worlds created for Savage Worlds are brilliant and innovative is to understate things. While the game was originally advertised as a generic rules system for miniatures skirmish and roleplaying, it quickly developed its own campaign settings, some fantastically unique campaign options. Since I’m bored, here’s a rundown on the current Savage Worlds, starting with the “first run” from when the game line started in 2003-2004.

Savage Worlds first showed up in 2003, and within the first two years had built up a stack of settings to go with the game. The books were all small-ish (around or below 200 pages per), black and white, but with a lot of great concepts and ideas between them. All of them come with a complete “Plot Point” campaign, a set of adventures and scenarios loosely tied together but which fleshed out an entire plot. Having a copy of the core Savage Worlds rule book was necessary to run the early campaigns, but each book included plenty of world-specific rules, such as new traits, edges, and races. Most of these are long out of print, driving up their price on the secondary market.

50 Fathoms (2003): Probably the most original of the first run worlds, this one takes place in a fantasy world where three dying witches cursed the world to exist under fifty fathoms of water. At some point, for reasons unknown, human pirates sailed into the realm from real-world Earth, a hodge-podge of Elizabethan sea dogs, French privateers, corsairs, Barbary swashbucklers, and Chinese plunderers. So, now the humans are trying to get home, while the native creatures are trying to break the curse. There’s a variety of cool fantasy races, including elves, half-orcs, crab-men, Kevin Costner’s mutant character from Waterworld, large thug people in parachute pants, and gliding-winged humanoids to go with all the human pirates. And the game world’s pretty developed, craggy mountain tops and floating cities, an entire ocean world filled with pirates and swashbuckling adventure. Think of a cross between 7th Sea and Waterworld and you’ve got the basics here.

Necessary Evil (2004/2009): Ok, this is tied with 50 Fathoms for most awesomely original concept, Necessary Evil takes the Supers genre for a spin. A group of aliens lured most of Earth’s superheroes into a trap, killing or imprisoning most of them. Now, they’re landing on Earth to take charge. But there is one final line of defense: supervillains. And that is what the characters play. Resisting the aliens bent on controlling the earth and killing any supers left, regardless of alignment, Necessary Evil’s metaplot involves taking down the alien invaders once and for all. I cannot express just how awesome this game is. In fact, it’s the only game out of the “first run” of worlds to be reprinted so far. You can buy it today in Explorer’s Edition form: a $20 softcover, roughly pocket-sized, containing all the setting-specific rules and plot point campaign.

Evernight (2003): A dark fantasy campaign with an interesting twist. The traditional fantasy races are scattered, living in the remains of fallen empires, after the invasion of spider-like “masters” centuries before. The adventure campaign takes the players from the time before the arrival of the “masters” to the grim conclusion in a world of eternal night and endless horror. Given the name, there’s a lot of comparison between it and Midnight, but Midnight is much more traditional in its scope, more like if Middle-Earth was lost to Sauron. Unlike 50 Fathoms, the fantasy races are all standard trope fare (elves, “half-folk,” half-orcs, et al.) without new names, but with some twists because of the horrible situation the world is in.

Low Life (2005): The apocalypse has come, humanity is gone, and new races are inhabiting the Earth (“Oith”): tapeworms, cockroaches, sentient snack-cakes, sewer-muck, and more. If you haven’t guessed it, this is the “comedic” game, very tongue-in-cheek and not for gamers with an aversion to poop jokes (sigh). Low Life is pretty innovative in its own right, coming up with a game set in the sludged remains of Earth with vermin and sentient junk as playing options.

Rippers (2005): Another dark setting, Rippers is a game of gaslight Victorian horror, with players taking the role of monster-hunting ‘Rippers’ fighting off and investigating a shadowy cabal of supernatural creatures. These Rippers also use the essence of their monster foes in their fight, walking the line between power and insanity. Pretty interesting, but not exactly ground-breaking in its vision of Victorian horror.

Tour of Darkness (2004): Pinnacle used to have a game line called “Weird Wars,” a supernatural-based World War II based off the old DC comics like, say, Weird Wars and G.I. Combat’s “Haunted Tank.” For Savage Worlds, they redid the game into the psychological, crushing horror of a supernatural Vietnam: Tour of Darkness. It’s a horribly creepy game, filled with the terror you’d expect from a combination of Platoon and a horror movie. The plot point campaign is an interesting series of scenarios, with some truly horrific ones as the players discover just what’s going on deep in the heart of darkness.

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