Characters have four basic Properties: Physical, Mental, Social and Combat
Physical - refers to things that are of the body.
Mental - refers to things that are a result of training or education.
Social - refers to things that deal with non-combat interaction with other characters
Combat - Refers to fighting.
Properties are general indications of a character’s aptitude in these areas. A character with a high Mental Property is usually one who has lots of training or general intelligence. Properties are fleshed out with Expressions.
Each property can have a number of Expressions. An expression, is simply a way that property can be demonstrated or used in a game. For example a physical property might be “Strong as an ox”, or a Social Property might be “Outsider”.
A Property can have anywhere from 0 to 4 Expressions. Expressions are especially noteworthy applications of a given property. A character with no expressions of a given property does not represent somebody with a deficient property, merely that they are unexceptional. For example, Tira has a Combat Property with no expressions. She can defend herself, stab someone with a knife, etc. She is just no better at it than the average person with no training.
Beginning characters may choose up to 10 Expressions, which they may divide up however they choose. If a character is almost legendary in a given Expression, they may take it twice.
Certain NPCs may have more or less than 10 expressions. Some villains are meant to be a threat to a whole group of roleplaying characters, or may be simple thugs of little consequence.
Using Expressions is detailed in much greater depth below, but the basic idea is that a player can gain a bonus to his actions by using an Expression during a post.
A knack is a capability that a character has that cannot be acquired through learning or training. They might improve their knack through learning or training, but ultimately, it’s an ability that they are born with. This can represent things like super powers, magic spells, psionics and such. In Savage Earth, it is most often used to for Adept Devotions, and for Animate abilities.
A Knack is treated like an extra Property. This means that any points that go toward the knack must come from the ten points a character may spend during character creation. They must also
require an extra Drawback. Thus a starting Adept character would have four Drawbacks.
A Knack could be a list of abilities, but still only count as one Knack. Thus, an Adept’s list of Devotions counts as one Knack. A Knack’s description will tell how and under what circumstances it could be used, as well as how often. In general, if a Knack is used in an Exchange, it confers a +1 to the general success, unless otherwise noted. Often a knack simply allows a character to perform an action that other characters can’t, and no modifier is needed. For instance a spell that creates light might do just that, allow a character to make a visible light. Creative use of the spell might confer a bonus, but it’s not the primary purpose.
The GM will have prepared lists of Knack and their expressions that are suitable to the campaign. Some expressions are only available to characters who have a certain level of their Knack Property. The Knack Property may be increased by permanently expending one Experience Point. This point still counts against the total possible of 3 that can be learned during a character’s existence.
Major Devotions, one Aspect (Anima, Morphia or Psyche)
Major Devotions, two Aspects
Major Devotions, three Aspects
Or in a Fantasy Campaign:
Knack: Fire Wizard
Create Light, Heat Metal, Light Normal Fire
Burning Hands, Create Flame Without Fuel
Fireball, Imperishable Flame
Summon Fire Elemental, Improved Fireball
Holocaust, Flame Wave
Just because a character has the potential for having particular Expressions of their Knack, it does not mean that they automatically have all of those Expressions. The GM may require they adventure for them, or receive special training, or decipher mystic texts. In general, the number of Expressions known or usable should be worked out during character creation in a way that makes sense with the character’s background.
No character is perfect. All characters should start with three Drawbacks. There is no point value associated with these, other than that the GM may invoke them as a modifier against the character in a given Exchange. This is not always necessary. Usually a drawback limits a character’s range of actions or effectiveness, and is used as an aid to role-play. Gilead has the Drawback of “Honorable”. He doesn’t fight unarmed people, nor kill helpless prisoners. He also keeps his word. These are enough of a limitation that they do not require being used as modifiers in an Exchange. However, a GM may rule otherwise in special circumstances. When Gilead is trying to convince someone he is speaking the truth (and he really is) he might use “Honorable” to gain a +1 to make himself believed. Similarly, an GM might use “Honorable” as a -1 against him in an Exchange, if Gilead must lie for some reason, no matter how noble.
In general, if a player willingly neglects or circumvents a Drawback, the GM is justified in using it as a long term negative modifer, or even causing campaign repercussions. (If Gilead slew a prisoner in a cell, his reputation might be tarnished, or he might suffer a crippling lack of self-confidence for an indeterminate amount of time.
Drawbacks are meant to be seriously limiting, and flagrant abuse should invite serious repercussions.
Some Expressions require Tools. I.e., Gilead cannot express his cartography skills without a compass or sextan. The tools required will vary by situation.
Weapons and Armor
In general, a character is classed by whether they are at a significant advantage or disadvantage during combat. An unarmed character vs one wielding any weapons gets a -1 situational modifier to a combat resolution. These do not stack. In general, two armed characters in combat have equal threat to each other, unless the weapons are decidedly unequal. Here is a rough grouping:
Normal melee (sword, spear, dagger, broken chair leg)
Powerful melee (spirit weapon, working pistol)
If it will make a fight more dramatic, a GM or players may agree to fine tune the threat levels. This should only be done for important duels and the like. In normal combat, you are usually either, unarmed, armed or specially armed.
Characters with an expression of being able to fight unarmed (a martial art, for instance), are normally never considered unarmed. This does not require using an Expression.
Some tools are of such incredible quality that they confer a +1 when they are used in an exchange. An example might be a demon blade. This is a case when it would stack on top of the threat level described above. Thus, Iron John, who bears the demon blade Crystalwind, when fighting a person bearing a normal sword, gets a +1 for having a powerful melee weapon, plus another +1 for its particularly devastating ability (it can cut through stone and metal). The GM could rule that if he is fighting someone armed with a spirit sword, the weapon itself is not of enough quality to count as a superior threat, nevertheless he still gets the +1 for its special quality. With a Major Success, the wielder would be within their rights to declare that such a blade had shattered and destroyed an opposing normal weapon.
These are granted by the GM over time, and can represent characters with a long history. The idea is that if a character has survived an adventurous life this long, there must be a reason. A character can use Experience as a wildcard Expression in an Encounter.
Whenever a character uses Experience, they must reference something that happened to their character in the course of play.
0 - Beginning Character
1 - 1 adventure
2 - Several adventures
3 - (Maximum) Long history
Alternatively, a character can trade an Experience to buy off a Disadvantage.
Characters with several Experience points can use one or more of them in a single Exchange if they wish, but they are used up until the the GM declares a Reset.
Expressions, Experience and many Knacks represent resources a character may draw on during an encounter. They are used up during the course of the encounter, so a player needs to use them wisely. Once they have exhausted their various modifiers, they are down to resolving Exchanges with only their base Property value. They are not gone forever. At the end of an encounter, the GM will call a Reset, and all Expressions, Knacks and Experience once again become available.
The purpose of this is to encourage creative use of a character’s resources, and to increase tension as an encounter progresses.
An Encounter is a discrete interval of dramatic time. It might represent a fight lasting a few seconds, to an escape attempt lasting hours or days. Usually, a GM will call a reset after a particular problem has been addressed and resolved.
Spiritual Enhancement (Special to Savage Earth)
A Character who is enhanced may use an expression at +1 normal value. In other words, referencing it once counts as a +2. They can only do this if their enhancement could logically affect their expression. This does not stack with Experience, although a character could use Experience to use a second expression in an Exchange.
A player (usually the GM) sets up the situation and opposition. Characters state their general intention (fight or flee, sneak or play dead, etc.) The GM will roll [1d6-1d4-1] to add to the appropriate Property. This is call the Exchange Dice Roll, hereafter referred to as XDice. This generates a bell curve from -4 to +4, with a nice flat area of probability in the middle.
He will compare it to the opposition (usually unknown to the player, but not always), add the positive or negative result ot the roll and post the result. He may decide to use an Expression when setting up the situation.
The result will be on the following scale
-3 or more Catastrophic failure
-2 Major Failure
-1 Missed it by That Much!
0 Just made it
2 Major Success
3 Showstopping Success
This will be posted as:
Character 1: -1
Character 2: +1
Character 3: 0
If a player wants to up their success rating (or turn a failure into a success), they can use an Expression. I.e. they write into their post a use of the expression.
The GM reserves the right to veto (re-write) a player’s account of the outcome, but this should be done sparingly, only used when the player has insufficient information (I.e., they don’t know that their opponent has a magic sword or Ring of Regeneration), or when someone is abusing the system. In the former case, a player should be rewarded with a +1 bonus for their next Exchange.
Example 1 - Combat
Gilead a Captain of Tallon, a hero who has just escaped from bondage in the so-called “Celestial City” and has encountered Geddon, a winged seraf of the ruling class of that city. Geddon wants to return him to captivity. Gilead doesn’t want to go. They are in a lightly forested section of the Wilds.
The GM Posts:
“Geddon calmly draws his blade, but does not strike. Instead he stands nonchalantly, as if inviting the attack. A haughty smile curls one corner of his mouth. ‘If you seek to leave this area alive, you will have to go through me. I recommend surrender, for your own good’.
+1 Superiority Complex”
The GM does not state that Geddon has a Combat of 4 to begin with. That is information the player might have to guess at. A character with the Expression “Know Your Enemy’s Style” or similar might petition the GM to use that expression to gain an idea of his opponent’s opposition level. But in any case, the player should have an idea of what expressions are being invoked in order to give the narrative flavor.
You may also noticed that Geddon has used two expressions. Characters are normally allowed to use only one. (plus Knacks, Experience or Tools). If you are the one setting up an Exchange, you may indeed use two expressions. This reflects the advantage of being proactive and setting the scene.
The Player (Gilead) posts:
“I intend to attack him. There’s no way I can let him take me into captivity.”
At this point, he is using no expressions. He’s just indicating that he will use his combat property to resolve this action. We’ll look at other ways this could be resolved momentarily.
The GM takes Gilead’s Combat Property of 4 and Compares it to Geddon’s modified Combat Property of 6 (4 + 2 Expressions) He XDice and gets “4 minus 4 minus 1” for a total of -1. This lowers Geddon’s Combat Property to 5, compared to Gilead’s 4.
Nothing is resolved at this point. Now comes the part where player interaction creates the outcome.
The GM Posts:
At this point Gilead is failing the encounter with a minor setback. Missed It By That Much. If Gilead’s player fails to post his response in a reasonable amount of time, the GM may use this value as shown, and post:
“Gilead rushes forward, but his blade is neatly deflected by Geddon, who turns the parry into a slicing motion that leaves a red streak on Gilead’s forearm”.
If the GM is feeling nasty, he could even burn one of Geddon’s Experience points and change the -1 to a -2 and end the combat. This should be done very sparingly, and only when needed to advance the action to a new scene. In most cases, leave the interaction as is.
If Gilead does respond, he will likely decide to use at least one expression to raise his outcome to “Just Made It”, indicating the barest possible of successes. He posts:
“Gilead draws his own sword. It’s only a weapon recovered from a fallen foe, but any blade is deadly in his hand. He feints, causing Geddon to attempt a block, and then neatly brings the blade around from an unexpected quarter and cuts into Geddon’s side. Not a big enough wound to seriously inconvenience the Seraf, but enough to make him think carefully when Gilead says, ‘I think you are the one in trouble here. Back away and return to your city.’
+1: Deadly With A Sword
Result = 0, Just Made It”
Note that Gilead has stated his actions without narrating the response of his opponent. When possible, players should narrate their own actions, and the GM those of NPCs. This may not always be possible, though.
Consider: Gilead wants to end this encounter now. The above post allows combat to continue. It does not resolve the action. He wants to turn it into a true success. At least a +1. He posts:
“Gilead draws his own sword. It’s only a weapon recovered from a fallen foe, but any blade is deadly in his hand. He has fought the Serafim before and knows that they are likely to use their aerial advantage to confuse the enemy. He feints, causing Geddon to leap upward, spreading his wings with a loud snap. But Gilead’s feint has maneuvered Geddon under a tree branch, wich he collides with, throwing him off balance. Gilead’s sword is ready and cuts the blade from Geddon’s hand leaving it bloody and useless. Gilead says, ‘I think you are the one in trouble here. Back away and return to your city. Tell your masters that Gilead is not theirs to threaten!’
+1: Deadly With A Sword
+1: Experience (has fought Serafim before)
Result = +1, Success
Some other potential modifiers that might have come into play.
1) If Gilead had had a Spirit Sword, his Expression of Deadly With A Sword would have counted at +1.
2) If Gilead had been unarmed, he would have been at a distinct combat disadvantage and the initial exchange would have had a starting value of 5 vs (4-1), or -2. Gilead would have to think quickly to come up with a way of leveraging his Properties and Expressions.
Which brings us to the alternate solutions we talked about at the beginning of this section.
If Tira had been the one faced by Geddon in the same situation, she would be better off coming up with an alternate solution. Her strength is her mind, or her social position. She decides to go with her Mental Property of 3. Unfortunately, trying to counter one property with a different property is always at a -1. So she starts with a 2. She needs to get at least 5 to pull even a minor success. Let’s see how she could accomplish this.
“Tira knows she is no physical match for the Seraf warrior. She has to use her brain. They are standing in a clearing of the wilds, where she was raised. She knows things he couldn’t possibly be aware of. She raises her hands in meek surrender. The seraf binds her wrists and marches her off towards the city. But Tira remembers a particular grove of trees that they passed on the way here. As they near them, she makes sure to angle herself to pass under their boughs. As they do, she holds her breath, knowing the trees target animal exhalation. She concentrates, using her spiritual devotion of Anticipate Movement to judge just the right moment and position, then ducks just as a vine drops from the Hangman’s tree and grabs Geddon. Taking advantage of this, she leaps into a nearby seemingly impenetrable thicket of thorns. She knows easily how to avoid their branches and has a good head start by the time Geddon can get himself free.
Mental vs Combat -1
Comfortable in the Wilds +1
Experience: Hangman’s Trees +1
Knack: Anticipate Movement +1”
This has given her a grand total of 3 - 1 + 3, or 5 = “Just Made It” It wasn’t enough to truly resolve the situation; Geddon can still track her and try to finish her off, but she has now made the contest one of wilderness and tracking skills, where she excels. Geddon lacks the necessary Expressions to find her, and barring a lucky dice roll, will likely lose her in the jungles where she is so at home.
A character may use an expression to help another character. For example, Persia could warn Ragachu of something heard with her sensitive feline ears, and help him avoid a surprise attack. Or Khaz could use his Military Training Expression to aid Persia in a fight. If a character is helping another character, that is their action. They post that they are throwing an expression to an ally and the bonus they are conferring.
Example: Khaz posts:
“Khaz notices that the guard Persia is trying to sneak past is a raw recruit. He whispers to her, ‘If you cause a distraction by throwing a stone, then that guy is likely to leave his post for a moment, rather than bother his sergeant and face a reprimand for giving a false alarm.’
Military Training, +1”
In this case, Persia can post that she throws a stone as suggested, and may add the result to her bonus. The most a character can get from being aided is +1 total.
This is a special form of helping another. If one character is involved in the same general conflict as another, instead of using an expression to give their ally a +1, they may elect to automatically downgrade their own conflict to -3: Catastrophic Failure. This grants a +3 to their ally. They may elect to describe their own catastrophic failure, or have the ally or even the GM describe it for them.
Ex. Persia and Tira are facing a band of riven. Tira is attempting to use her adept powers to slow down the leader before he can dispatch a fallen Farallon. Give her roll and her bonuses, the best she can achieve is a -1: Missed It By That Much. Persia can't do much more with her rolls either, so her player elects to Sacrifice.
"There is no way Tira will be able to affect that huge riven. Persia does the only thing she can to slow him down and throws herself in front of Gilead, giving Tira time to muster her adept powers. The riven's axe bites deep into her unprotected flesh.
Sacrifice: +3 to Tira"
This gives Tira enough of a bonus to raise her -1 to a +2: major success. She describes in her post how the riven leader is near parayzed, giving time for them to subdue or dispatch him. She or the GM (or Persia's player) may then describe how Persia is critically injured, and in need of major medical care.
Limits to Modifers
In no case, may a character modify his base Property higher than twice it’s base value. Thus, the highest Gilead could achieve in combat is an 8. However, any character can modify themselves up to 1 higher than their base.
This yields the following table
Base Property Upper Limit
Damage is explained after the play examples, since it is usually the result of an Exchange gone poorly.
If any Exchange during an Encounter results in a negative result, the character might be in some way damaged. Here is a rough guide:
-1, “Missed it by that much” Character is considered Healthy, though they may have a few cuts and scrapes of little consequence
-2, “Major Failure” Character is considered Impaired. For every Major Failure sustained during an Encounter, they are -1 to all future actions until the GM decrees enough time has passed to heal, or special healing has been performed.
-3, “Catastrophic Failure” Character is Incapacitated. They are severely wounded or comatose until the GM decrees enough time has passed to heal, or special healing has been performed. They may use no Expressions, Experience, nor most Knacks, and all relevant Properties are considered to be at 0.
Death occurs when a character either suffers two catastrophic failures during one Encounter, or there is no logical way a character could survive an action. For example, if Geddon suffers a catastrophic failure at the hands of Khaz, but continues to fight with all Properties at 0 and no modifiers, and suffers another Catastrophic Failure, then he is considered dead.
Damage to Minions
Certain classes of opponents are there to act as general deterrents: low level guards, sentries, hordes of slavering mutants, etc., are generally considered dead with any “Major Failure -2” or worse. Games with a grittier outlook might require all characters to have the same level of durability and 3 dimensionality as the PCs, but more cinematic campaigns (like Savage Earth) treat these unfortunates as they are treated in heroic literature: expendable.
In general healing is handled by dramatic license. The GM determines a reasonable amount of time, or special healing abilities or knacks have been invoked. The GM may or may not communicate the time or conditions to the players, depending upon their medical knowledge or dramatic license.
Monsters and Animals
Creatures which function on a scale different from human, may have a base bonus to their property. For example, no normal character is as strong as an elephant. An elephant might have a base Physical Property of 6. The GM doesn’t even have to use an expression; the elephant is just massive beyond the scale of normal characters.
Nevertheless, this is a game of larger-than life people, and even though Ragachu is not going to win a tug of war, he might figure out a way to turn something else to a physical advantage. Hence the elephant has a high defense, but not an insurmountable one. Note that the GM might require a really creative post from Ragachu to allow the contest to stand without Veto.
This section probably needs the most playtesting.
This includes things like scaling walls, resisting poison, deciphering a manuscript, etc. These generally fall into four categories. (The number after the category tells the opposition factor for skilled and unskilled characters, explained below).
Routine (Auto / 0)
Anyone with a relevant expression can perform this. Climbing a Wall can be performed by any character with a relevant expression, with no rolling or modifiers needed. In the examples below, Persia could do it with “Acrobat”, or Ragachu with “Takes to the Trees”. For Routine Actions, this does not count as using an Expression. A character may perform an unlimited number of Routine Actions during an Encounter.
If a character does not have a relevant expression, they must take their most relevant property and roll XDice against an opposing value of 0. Climbing a wall would most likely be a Physical challenge. This would be handled like a Normal Exchange. Characters may use Knacks, Tools or Experience to help them in this roll.
Ex: Tira, Persia and Gilead post that they want to climb a wall.
The GM decrees that Persia succeeds (Acrobat Expression)
Tira has a Physical Property of 1 vs the walls opposing of 0. She will be successful slightly more often than not. If the XDice indicate failure, she might decide to use her Adept Knack Expression of “Efficient Movement” to give her a +1. If that’s not enough, she might use an Experience Point if she can come up with a relevant time in her play history that she has done something similar.
Gilead has a Physical of 4. He will do this automatically by dint of superior physical conditioning. (i.e. he can’t get a modifier low enough for failure.)
Almost no one can perform this with impunity. The aforementioned wall is now slick with moss.
For characters with a relevant Expression, the Opposition factor is now 2. They may use their expression as a modifier, but it now counts as Expended.
Characters without a relevant expression face an Opposition Factor of 4, and work as described above.
As above, but the Opposition for characters with relevant expression is now 4, and non-expressioned characters is 6
The aforementioned wall is now slick with moss and it is night with a high wind.
Nigh Impossible (6/–)
As above, but the Opposition for characters with relevant expression is now 6, and non-expressioned characters simply cannot do it.
The aforementioned wall is now slick with moss, at night in a high wind, and it slopes backward over the climber’s head.
Difficulties greater than this are pretty much impossible, though a GM might increase the difficulty factor as high as 8 or even 10 if there is a chance that a character is that skilled.
Physical Mental Social
Routine Climbing a wall Reading stereo instructions A job Interview
Difficult Catching a greased pig composing a sonnet Pleading a case before the ducchess
Challenging Diving off a tall cliff writing a novel Pretending to be a ducchess
Nigh Impossible Escaping the dungeons of the Mad Trapmaster Writing a transformative philosophical work Negotiating a treaty between competing Theocracies
Comfortable in the Wilds
Outsider to human society
Knack: Adept 3
Detect Psychic Danger
Outsider to Human Society
Bounty from Rats and Gators
Secretly a Sympath
Deadly with a Sword
Know your Enemy’s Style
Hatred of the Celestials
Silent as a Shadow
Sleight of Hand
Tallon Secret Ways
It Takes a Thief
Can’t Hit Me
Beast - Cat
Must Outdo Kamlak
Strong as an Ox
Horns and Hooves
Born to the Fight
Tough as Teak
Master Craftsman 2
I Can Fix Anything
Arms Like Clubs
All Tools Are Weapons
Knack - Animate Body
Take to the Trees
Hands like Feet
I know the Celestial City
Friends in the Arena
Beast - Gorilla
Besides gators and bird talkers, why are there only mammal based beasts?
The magic system for the Savage Earth was designed very carefully, with a backward approach. That is, I decided what sort of world I wanted to portray and worked backward towards a "magic economy" that could produce it.
I wanted a typical Edgar Rice Burroughs model of "savage civilization". In many of ERB's novels, cities seem to be fairly isolated. Travel is rare or difficult. One city seems to know little about the other and they are often surrounded by endless tracts of terra incognita. They also seem to lack a lot of the supporting structures that cities require, namely smaller towns, vast systems of agriculture and patterns of trade. This is an inherently difficult construct to support.
To this end, the magic system encourages small pockets of high population density. Magic needs to be limited geographically. There need to be intense pressures that keep people from spreading out. The external pressures are wildernesses filled with a variety of "monsters" that are beyond the technology of muscle and steel to overcome. Reavers are the uppermost threat of course, followed by any number of chimeras, barbarians, riven, mutants and so on. In short, conquering the wilderness is beyond the means of any but the most aggressive and toughest of people.
The magic of adepts is very effective at reducing the hazards of the wilds. Adepts can repel reavers and produce artifacts capable of long term reaver protection. They can produce warriors, weapons and engines of destruction that can overcome most barbarian, mutant and riven threats. Thus, there is a great tendency of people to cluster around adepts for security. By making the training of adepts dependant on arbitrarily placed Standing Stones, they are anchored geographically. This is why there are a small number of large cities (each founded upon a group of Stones), instead of a large number of smaller towns, each with its attendant adepts. By designing a system in which magic fades rapidly as it gets farther from its adept source, cities are made more compact and less likely to spread or colonize.
Initially, the problem of food production becomes paramount. How can these cities produce enough food to support so many people if the lands around them are unsafe for agriculture? The answer is to make food production also dependant upon adepts. Over many years, adepts have developed strains of crops whose yield and nutritional value far surpass even the highest-producing of modern plants. Combined with making most of the cities dependant upon the sea for protein this is sufficient to support an otherwise unlikely population.
This is one of the most difficult problems to overcome. Once you start looking into the logistics of the problem, it is not insurmountable however. Part of the solution lies in the way the city is laid out. Adept influence and presence decreases as one gets further from the city center. In Tallon, the city is rather heavy-handedly divided into high-magic and low-magic halves. Thieves and muggers operate much better in the bad half of the town, where there are far fewer adepts and police and where there is virtually no artificial lighting. Criminals also tend not to victimize adepts for fear of reprisal. The bulk of criminals therefore prey on those least able to defend themselves, and consequently have the least to steal. This leads to a cycle of desperation and brutality encouraging tougher, nastier criminals. For game purposes, this makes the average criminal a good match for the average constable, and the constables are greatly outnumbered. The police tend to guard the areas of town that are most defensible and the wealthiest and to let the rest of it police itself with private guards, mercenaries and the like.
It takes a truly elite criminal to pilfer and otherwise threaten the half of the city where the magic is highest. For ways in which they might overcome these obstacles, see the next essay.
Another toughie. Adepts can see through objects, detect personal danger and read minds. They would seem at first glance to be virtually superheroes in a world of normals. There are a number of conventions that can reduce the utility of these advantages.
Firstly, always remember that Spirt Sight is not N-Ray vision. The information gained is very general. Identification of specific individuals is hard. Just because an adept says, "I am scanning the crowd looking for someone with a sword," doesn't mean that to them the world looks like a dark blur with all swords shining like beacons. Scanning the rainforest looking for a gator doesn't mean the gator stands out like the jungle didn't exist. Adepts see all spirits, not just the ones they are interested in. The contrast that one gets with sight is not a good analogy. Looking for a gator in a forest is not like looking for a red square in a field of blue circles. It's more like looking for a red square in a vast and confusing array of shapes and colors, or listening for the oboe in a full orchestra. Never let an adept use spirit sight like a tricorder.
Spirit sight is further limited by layers of dissimilar materials. Finding gold inside a wooden chest is fairly straightforward. If that wooden barrier is backed by even the thinnest sheet of lead, that's a -2 penalty to the PER roll. If the lead is backed by a velvet liner filled with cotton padding, that's two more -2 penalties. By creating such a chest, the person who wishes to conceal something will have given the scrutinizing adept a -6 to their PER roll. A failed PER roll will only reveal the contents to the degree the roll is missed by. Therefore, missing a roll by 3 in the above case will only reveal that the wooden chest contains lead. Merchants will tend to use such chests or wear similarly constructed pouches. Even if two materials alternate (leather/wool/leather/wool), each layer grants a penalty. An oil cloak used by a thief might have two or three layers to conceal weapons or even general identity.
Never forget to use range modifiers for PER rolls. You can ignore them if the plot would be advanced by doing so, but always remember that distance is a good negative modifier.
Psychic probes and Detect Hostile Intent present their own difficulties, but both can be countered by similar techniques.
Some people have the aptitude to learn shielding. Mental Defense is used as a defense against all adept abilities, including these two. A normal with a Mental Defense of 10 gives the detecting adept a -2 penalty. A truly psychotic person might also give off no aura of danger if they do not believe they are causing harm. This would more likely be represented by a Psychological limitation and used as a plot device, but it is possible.
A person might resist probing by special preparation. For instance, they may have a psychic alteration of some sort that is triggered to collapse when probed. This would again be more of a plot device as such preparation would be possible only through the actions of a highly skilled psychist.
Another possibility is a complete body covering. Although the brain is the organ of rational thought, the Psyche emanates from the body as a whole. If the person were encased head to toe in a body covering, the layers of intervening material would provide the modifiers listed above, i.e., -2 per layer after the first. Of course, any eyeholes would have to be extremely small, and a GM would not be out of line in giving a similar PER penalty to the person in the body stocking. Also, such garb would be so cumbersome and uncomfortable in the equatorial clime of the campaign that it would be only the most temporary of tactics.
Any and all of these techniques could be employed by thieves, assassins or other criminals. Or perhaps just paranoid players.
Beyond these techniques, there are further limitations that a GM can use to stop adept abilities from short-circuiting a plot.
Always bear in mind that the vast bulk of adepts have little beyond the lowest form of Spirit Sight. Use Masters and Grandmasters where needed, but the run of the mill adept won't have danger senses, heightened characteristics or anything like that.
Also, although judges are required to be psychists, the available pool of Master Psychists in a given city is very small and might not even be enough to cover the required number of offices. As such, the Archon or other appointing body cannot be too choosy in the character of the person they appoint. A judge could quite easily be corrupt, receiving kickbacks from a criminal group to turn a blind eye or even give a false witness on a probe.
The adept devotions are periodically revised or refined as game play reveals weaknesses in the design. The most recent change was in the minimum costs. It was my original intention to limit the number of psychists in relation to other varieties of Master. After all, they were the ones with the greatest potential of wrecking a story line. In practice though, this meant that all psychists were extremely powerful. I couldn't have a Judge for instance with just a limited ability to read or alter minds. It might be useful to have more weak psychists and a few poweful ones than to have them all be powerful. So i reduced the minimum Multipower reserve to 40 across the board, and instead raised the minimum for having multiple devotions. This didn't invalidate any already-purchased characters and made the devotions a littl more flexible from a dramatic point of view.
The place of riven characters in the campaign has evolved somewhat through play. Initially, they were there to fulfill the part of orcs play in a traditional fantasy game: an enemy a hero may freely kill with no moral taint. In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn never sympathizes with an orc or goblin. Even his parley is more of a "get lost or we'll kill you" speech. They were designed to be quick and dirty opponents that a GM could use to attack players in the wilderness. A melee could ensue without players worrying "am I doing the right thing?"
In the course of game play, they turned out to be too alluring as a player character. Their unique and potentially exotic nature allows a player a lot of creativity. The few players who played riven characters elicited such pathos from the other PCs that viewing riven as wholesale monsters became unpalatable. Also, when you get right down to it, they are ultimately victims. They did not ask to become what they are. Killing them seemed more like executing the wounded.
Thus several changes were implemented in the course of play. Firstly, a reason was found to make riven into social desirables. They serve the city of Tallon (and perhaps others) in a tactical sense. Through a strange quirk of spiritology they can sense the invisible assassins sent forth from the Celestial City. Continued exposure to riven in a useful capacity did much to change public attitude. A riven character is now more possible than when the campaign began. A GM starting fresh in the Savage Earth may want to place this event in the campaign's past, so that new players can play riven characters.
Although there are still bands of riven in the wilds, these are now more accurately portrayed as savage people who have banded together for the express purpose of brigandry or ogreism.
The role of "orcs" has now been subsumed by gators. My advice is to never exhibit a sympathetic gator character. They are villains.
Not at all. The Savage Earth is not a medieval fantasy, or even a pseudo-medieval fantasy like D&D. It could best be described as a post-apocalyptic fantasy. In order to distance the campaign from the medieval European feel, some social and technological constructs have been allowed to survive. Basically, it was a good enough idea that people didn't forget how to do it.
Restaurants are one thing. They bear a great deal of similarity to a modern restaurant, save that the fare is probably not as varied. A patron might be able to choose between 5-6 basic meals, or in a nicer establishment, request a specific preparation. Restaurants will not have printed menus; the server will have memorized the venue. Food preparation time can be lengthy in the case of more elaborate meals, so a restaurant visit can take a couple of hours.
There is even the equivalent of fast food. Booth vendors in market places and large busy public squares can sell meat or fish pies, rice wrapped in edible leaves, hot potatoes or raw fruits and vegetables. These can be bought on the run.
Tobacco has survived and in Tallon can be inhaled through pipe or wrapped paper or leaf, generally called a "roll-up". Matches are common as well, though they are expensive enough that many will prefer either flint and tinder or some existing fire source such as a lamp to do their lighting up.
I have retained some standard fantasy terminology such as "tavern" or "guild" although the latter might be better referred to as a labor union.
Beyond seeming anachronisms, Merikians also have some mundane technology that is quite advanced
There are clocks, both traditional clock-work and morphically powered. Merikian oil lamps are marvels of waterproof technology and will continue to burn if dropped or rolled. They will even burn underwater until the oxygen is depleted. Oilcloth is a textile that is complete waterproof, but not greasy to the touch. Neither is it particularly uncomfortable. It is so light as to nearly "breathe". Although spirit-harvested and initially spiritually enhanced, Merikian crops are unparalleled in their yield. There are even the equivalent of tractors, though these are used only on the largest and most wealthy of farms.
A GM is of course free to use any, all or none of the material presented in this campaign setting. They should in no way feel constrained to include the events described in the Chronicles or the Tales. In fact, the Chronicles and the Tales are fairly exclusive in that events in one rarely if ever intrude upon the other. They certainly could be taking place in the same continuity, but they don't have to be. Certain NPCs are used in both campaign, but these could be seen as campaign NPCs, available for anybody's game. Thus anyone's game might include the Vice-lord Harker, but the DNPC Jareek would only be found in the Tales. Likewise, the PC Tira is likely only to adventure within the Chronicles.
This campaign guide should be looked at as a common starting point. Take what works and ignore or change what doesn't. Feel free to kill off the Rivermaster in your campaign; he'll likely be around in someone else's.
The Savage Earth models a certain barbaric genre of fiction and fantasy. It would be a mistake to impose modern morals and ethics upon a given situation, since the world does not operate by those principles, even by way of lip service. Within the context of the game world, all people most definitely are not created equal, there are no inalienable rights, and civil liberties are words that don't really make sense when used together. A common mantra heard during a game is "Well, it's a Savage Earth.
Corruption exists at any level and is a fixture of the way things work, not a scandal to hide. Your ability to be thrown in jail or roughed up by the police is directly and inversely proportional to your social status. Nobodies have few protections. The rich and powerful can get away with quite a lot. Who you know is paramount to success. The society has a built-in social structure intentionally modelled after the Elizabethan concept of the Chain of Being. There is a place for everyone, and everyone should be happy in their place.
All that being said, PCs are highly forceful and ambitious people and are not required to just sit back and accept their fate. They are heroes, and are usually more than capable of forging their own destinies.
It is tempting to make the wilderness savage and brutal and the city tame and well... civilized. To some degree this is true. The city is a much safer place to live than the wilds. But the safety is a matter of degree only. Death can come just as quickly and unfairly within the walls of Tallon as in the deepest jungles of Nunavut. If anything the danger can be greater simply because the jungle is fairly honest about its dangers. Everything out there pretty much wants to kill you or eat you. In the city, you must add treachery and deceit to the list. However, those who keep their heads down, travel by day and don't make waves (i.e., not PCs) are safer within the walls.
Never forget the danger. Never forget that nobody gives a darn about you but you, your family and friends and the very rare stranger. Never forget it's a Savage Earth.
First, the Church derives its authority from the same source that is the foundation of the entire Merikian society, government and technology. There can be no doubt of the power behind its philosophy since without Spiritism, the cities would collapse. The Church is real, and it is manifest in every aspect of Merikian life. There are no doubters. Now it's true that someone could have a beef with the Church's interpretation of the teachings of the lawgiver, but there is no question that their entire way of life is dependant on the Spiritist way of thinking.
Second, the Church has far more in common with ancient religions than the modern "moral" religions. That is, the Church is a source of power, tradition, philosophy, social order and devotion, but it is not a source of morality. There is not moral ideal from which good intentions and just living flows. The Church is not about love or faith. It is about duty and honor, tradition and social order. A person seeking comfort in the church would be seeking confirmation that they are living their lives or that events are unfolding in accordance with a divinely-inspired order, but there's no sense that this order is for anyone's personal well-being. It's about survival. The church represents a way of living in a Savage Earth that works.
Individual priests may be pious and generous, or greedy and acerbic. There's nothing that says you have to be nice to be a priest. But you must be willing to give your life to public service.
This question is actually answered within the main text, but bears mentioning here. The game design reason of course is to keep stat inflation down and to prevent everyone from running around with superhuman abilities. The game would quickly devolve into a situation in which the only people who mattered combat-wise were those who had adept enhancement. Non-enhanced people would be severely marginalized. Enhanced people are the rare exception for players to encounter.
Although explained in greater detail in the link above, it basically boils down to a limited number of adepts and ley lines, which would be better utilized for civic purposes, and the metagame construct that a character needs to buy a knowledge skill for anyone they plan to keep enhanced long term.
Well, who wouldn't? Actually, if a groups is sufficiently mature enough to handle a situation in which one character vastly outshines them in terms of physical and mental prowess, right from the start, there is no problem with allowing a starting Paladin. They would not even need to pay for the enhanced characteristics, since they are artificially boosted. They would need to abide by the social, physical, and psychological limitations imposed upon paladins, however. Some of these would make game play difficult.
A paladin is geographically limited to the near proximity of their Grandmaster. The Grandmaster would be a huge fixture in their lives, requiring the GM to make this a recurring (more powerful) NPC. They would not be able to leave the city and go adventuring for instance. They are unswervingly loyal to their master. This loyalty is at the highest level; they cannot even make an EGO roll to disobey. Their devotion is so great that Paladins are interred along with their Grandmaster after the latter's death. Immediately after. Yes, they suicide short after losing their patron.
Paladins are best used as NPCs, unless the focus of the campaign is upon a Grandmaster and his retinue of paladins, these being the player characters.
This is kept deliberately vague. Part of the reason is that the theories regarding how long buildings, roads and other artifacts would stick around are often contradictory. The unclear timeline helps to resolve any problems by sidestepping them. However, there are some clues in both the campaign guide book and gleaned during play:
Echomen from Saginaw (ghosts or memories of long-dead people possessing modern bodies) have claimed to have ranged from the mid-twentieth, well into the twenty-first century. None of them have seemed to be familiar with the term Demon King.
Vagrant is a character apparently preserved intact from the early to mid twenty-first century.
The calendar of Tallon is undependable, but seems to be around 300 years old. It was not founded during the time of the Demon-Kings.
The Demon Kings were said to have reigned for a "timeless time". There is no good explanation of what these words mean.
Areas of the city of Tronto were unnaturally preserved. As if they had been abandoned only decades ago instead of centuries. The general history of the area indicates that it is an ancient ruin, regardless. This is an unexplained phenomenon, but may have something to do with the fact that the Great Lakes stone group seems to focus on time-based spirit manipulation.
Get used to mystery. The Gamemaster has a good idea exactly who and what they were, but this is one of the central mysteries of the campaign. Revealing it would reduce the terror and awe they inspired to a mundane, dry historical fact. It would be best if each GM had their own idea and acted accordingly upon it.
However, like the timeline, there are clues within the text and the chronicles.
They seemed to have few physical limitations. They had a technology capable of altering the rotational axis of the entire earth without destroying all life on the surface. Their artifacts seem to be indestructable and orders of power greater than anything achievable by current Savage Earth Spiritual technology. Nevertheless, they are all gone and were apparently defeated by the Prometheans, whom tradition says were humans who learned Demon King secrets.
They do not seem to have operated in groups. Each Demon King court appears to have been the province of a single entity. Given their distribution across the lands so far explored, their number were probably below a hundred, if that.
They seemed to be named after human concepts, sometimes from literature or mythology. Sometimes their names seem to come from a region. Thus names like Nemo, Great Cthulhu or the Wendigo, or one from the Old South called the Colonel or from Southern California called Imago. The reason for this is unknown, but presumably the names were adopted at some point.
The only known entity (Arthur) to have claimed to be a Demon King was a notorious liar. Although undeniably possessed of great personal power, any claims he made are to be regarded with a jaundiced eye. He did not seem to have cosmic ability, though in terms of personal power he seemed unassailable.
For all intents and purposes, the Prometheans are to be regarded at face value. They were slaves who rebelled against their masters, overthrew them, laid the foundation for the great cities and the technology/philosophy of spiritism and then disappeared. Actual details again are vague, so that the GM is free to improvise upon history.
They appear to have been human. Surviving accounts all refer to them as human. Some very old beings (Arthur, the priest of the Seraphim) refer to them as human and seem to corroborate their story.
The stones they left undeniably work and allow the creation and sustaining of the great cities. They are often said to have had an inscrutable plan. Arthur corroborates this, for what his word is worth. He refuses to elaborate, however.
Although Prometheus is credited with the revolution, it appears that he may have had help from existing Demon Kings. He certainly did not act alone.
From a campaign standpoint, they fulfill the role of gods in a fantasy genre. They are the Founders of Civilization, the well spring of the culture. They are more similar to the old Irish Tuatha de Danaan, who defeated the Fomorians, and then were themselves defeated by the Goidelic Celts. More supernatural than divine, but definitely worth reverencing. Neither the Prometheans nor the Demon-Kings seemed to have claimed to be Creators. That seems to be an even more enigmatic thing called the Deus.
In game terms, Deus, of course is just Latin for God and represents a creator who could just as easily be Yahweh or Brahma or Uranus or any number of creators. I placed the concept there when I realized the current cosmology needed a Prime Mover and an Ultimate Reality. The Demon Kings and Prometheans may have been supernatural, but they are not generally regarded as of divine origin. Deus is mentioned often in scripture, but little substantive is said of him. For all the Merikians know, he made the universe and then fell asleep.
Since Morality does not feature in their religion, there is no concept of Heaven and Hell. Departed souls are said to join with Deus. Rewards and punishments come in this lifetime.
Mysteries, mysteries and more mysteries. The Standing Stones were created from a game designer's perspective to enforce the pattern of "savage civilization" mentioned above. They are a way of anchoring the cities and keeping them from spreading and colonizing. They are necessary for the learning of the advanced magic that keeps civilization working. They also serve to give authenticity to the religion. It's not a bunch of made-up mumbo-jumbo.
Arranging them into groups that teach slightly different magic is mostly a way of keeping far-off lands from being homogeneously familiar.
They also form a good source for adventure, legends and tall tales. Finding a set could mean you might become the founder of a new city!
Any magical set of spells could have arisen out of the magical restrictions and requirements that I induced from the world I wanted. Why Spiritism? Why not fireballs and lightning bolts? The answer to this lies in a previous campaign treatment I developed. I had originally wanted to create a world called the Borderlands, where all fairy realms lived. Oz, Wonderland, Atlantis, Neverland were simply geographic locations in this bizarre other realm. The campaign was going to revolve around displaced people from the real world of the thirties trying to keep the secrets, powers and people of this realm from falling under the dominion of a large contingent of Nazis who had discovered the means of entering the realm.
The campaign was stillbirthed however, when a friend began running a very similar campaign. So similar that I was convinced he had read my mind. He was brilliant enough to find a way to include Romans and Dinosaurs. Rather than run a nearly identical campaign, I decided to salvage what I could and create something different from anything anyone else was running.
The magic system I developed for the Borderlands was designed to explain the existence of talking animals like the White Rabbit and the March Hare and animated people like the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.
Spiritism evolved from that and was influenced by the novel A Barnstormer in Oz, by P.J. Farmer as well as concepts in some of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Some intense researched turned up further sources, but they are a bit obscure to go into here. (I.e. I've forgotten.)
One of the concepts that seems difficult to grasp is the new orientation of the earth. It really should be introduced better. People who have played for years will sometimes light up their eyes and say, "Oh! I get it!" when they recognize what has been done with the map. Originally, I was just going to use plain old earth, with perhaps some subtle alteration of coastlines due to horrific flooding or something. Then a friend reminded me of an idea I had long had in the back of my mind for a fantasy map. Back in the Stone Age, when I was in college, the campus library had a huge globe, nearly three feet across, that sat in a mount that allow it to be easily viewed from any angle. Someone had been playing with it early and I was looking at the Arctic Ocean. I realized that if that sea had only been more temperate, it would have been like a giant Mediterranean, the source for much trade and adventure in the Classical World. It has a zillion islands, two facing continents, and a really unfamiliar coastline.
I had been looking for a civilization and climate-altering disaster and when my friend reminded me of this global trick. So I said, "hey, why not?" It makes the familiar into something very mysterious and new. Eastern Sahara is now arctic. The world has tropical fjords. Antarctica is equatorial. The eastern seaboard of the United States is arid desert. It does a very good job of making the world as mysterious to the players as it should be to their characters. Admittedly, tipping the earth was somewhat beyond the means of what I had originally envisioned for the Demon Kings, but it wasn't a big stretch to make them so powerful, since they were all gone.
I have done my best to work out the new climates and have extensive maps showing currents, high and low pressure areas, wind and precipitation patterns and so forth. I have done my best to make it realistic.
It is of course impossible for dense jungles to grow upon the Canadian Shield, especially in any realistic time frame. There's no topsoil to speak of. The answer to this design problem lies with the reavers.
The reavers serve several purposes in the campaign. They are the source of all the riven and fantastic creatures that populate the world. Evolution couldn't create such variety in such a short time. They are also the reason people can't just spread out and colonize the wilds freely.
As a source for mutation, they do far more than make monsters to fight. They alter whatever they touch, creating plants that can break down basalt in generation and allow jungle to bloom. Or perhaps they altered the land itself to create fertile topsoil? It really doesn't matter, in this aspect they are a plot device to explain otherwise inexplicable diversity and growth.
The other function they serve as an insurmountable threat. Human beings are ingenious creatures that when using applied learning and tools are more than a match for the greatest monster ever made. Reavers are beyond human understanding and beyond their ability to destroy. At the very best, adepts (remember them?) can turn them a bit. This ability should be a clue as to the origin of reavers. Also, the cities and artifacts that adepts make are deterrent to reaver intrusion. Reavers reinforce the plan of the Prometheans in this way. Accident or Design?
Anthropomorphic animals exist in the campaign for several reasons. First, as mentioned above, the previous Borderlands campaign featured them, and I had already done groundwork on character packages and such. I also wanted my fantasy campaign to have a variety of player races, since they're fun to play. At the same time, I didn't want standard fantasy tropes. Elves and Dwarves just wouldn't fit. Likewise, I didn't want to make up new races wholecloth, since that would be overwhelming to new players. So talking animals it was. By designing them so that they had the exagerated characteristics attributed to their root stock, players would have a rough and ready guide to the rae as a whole. Foxes are clever and tricky, dogs are loyal, cats are independent and so forth.
A great deal of thought went into deciding which animals could be made anthropomorphic. One of the paramount problems was how to differentiate between animals you eat and animals you talk to. I wanted to avoid a feeling of cannibalism at all costs.
This is the entire basis for the "no hooved animals are talkers" rule. It gives a good guideline that allows people to raise and eat cows, sheep, pigs, etc without worrying about having to ask, "pardon me, do you mind being eaten?" first.
I extended the classes of talking animals to reptiles since gators seemed like such good monsters: armed with teeth and armored with scaley hide, ravenous eating machines. Logically, birds are more advanced than reptiles and should be represented among the anthropomorphic crowd. So birds are in there. Birds are naturally less humaniform than reptiles (having wings instead of forelegs), so they are far more often talkers than full beasts. They also serve a valuable purpose within the game. Birds are efficient spies and messengers. They must be used carefully and only when the plot requires, or players will become too paranoid.
I have had a very few amphibious talking animals, since I really didn't want to muddy the waters any more between talkers and non-talkers. Eventually the flow of the story would bog down as people would be (rightly) cautious about every animal they met or ate.
Fish in particular will never be talkers. The economy of Merikia depends on fishing, and there's no way to interrogate every fish brought up in a net.
I came up with the idea of talking beasts wearing clothes as a signal to all other beings of their protected, uneatable status (at least to civilized folk). Again, I want the distinction to be immediate.
There are many riven who have attributes from throughout the animal kingdom, including insects, worms, fish, molluscs and so on. There are even some hooved mutants like satyrs or devil merks, but they would in no way be confused with beasts.