Review of Savage Suzerain by Savage Mojo

I’ve had my eye on Savage Suzerain for a while now, and bought it as part of the GM’s Day Sale at RPGNow. (Admittedly, only because I bought Dogs of Hades and then realised I needed Savage Suzerain to use it; be aware of that if you’re doing likewise. However, since Suzerain was on my wish list anyway, I’m not upset about it.)

In a nutshell: Savage Suzerain expands and extends Savage Worlds so that your characters can progress beyond Legendary status to demigodhood. As an example, picture your fighter PC growing into Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion and you’re about there. Your PC’s time up to Heroic rank is only the prelude; Savage Suzerain takes you beyond, into the realms of saga and myth.

Format: Two 196 page PDF files in my case, one with full-on artwork and page backgrounds, and one print-friendly version. I applaud the print-friendly version, as ever, but a minor niggle is that this has been done by chopping out the pictures, so there is a lot of blank space in it. Still, paper is cheaper than coloured ink.

Disclaimer: This review is based on reading through the product; given its scope, it will be some time (if ever) before I have played it thoroughly.

Still with me? Good. Off we go. Beware, there are some spoilers below.

The book is split into a Player Section (about 50 pages) and a GM Section (the rest). The Player Section gives a capsule summary of the Suzerain multiverse, and an extended discussion of the way Savage Worlds rules change to better describe it. The central conceit of the game is that the PCs are demigods in training, who have that touch of greatness which attracts the attention of the gods. This doesn’t make much difference while the PCs are at Novice, Seasoned or Veteran rank, during which the gods give them missions and support covertly; but once they reach Heroic rank, they have proved themselves, and the source of both assignments and benefits becomes overt. By default, the PCs are working for a coalition of gods, so they are not constrained to work which suits only one.

The main changes between vanilla SW and Suzerain are:

  • A new rank, Demigod, which cuts in above Legendary at 120 experience. (Suzerain suggests that at 180 experience, the GM considers raising the PCs to full godhood, and retiring them from play, with the players starting new characters.)
  • Dozens of new edges and hindrances which reflect the PCs’ destiny as gods. I probably won’t use these, since I think they start to chip away at the SW philosophy of “Fast – Furious – Fun” by increasing character complexity.
  • Races redefined as being a background edge. I didn’t like this idea much to start with, but I am warming to it.
  • Expanded uses for Bennies (renamed Karma), including the ability to take a little narrative control from the GM (a common house rule), change reality to adjust the current situation, and cheat death – however, some of these uses expend Karma permanently.
  • Everybody has Power Points – renamed Pulse – and everyone can use them to do certain things, for example power the use of one of the new edges; however, one of four background edges are required to use them for Powers. These background edges replace the normal SW Arcane Background, which along with its associated edges is banished from the Suzerain campaign.

The thing which really caught my eye was the Telesma – think of the Lens from E E ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman stories. Each demigod-in-training acquires one of these small gems somehow, and it guides and supports him unobtrusively through his career – up until Heroic rank, when the veil is pulled aside to reveal what is really going on. When several heroes gather, their Telesmae network and begin to create a team base. I particularly like the way this is meant to build up as a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences – I can see myself having huge fun with that. It’s also easy to introduce into an existing campaign, and I think I shall.

The GM Section then lifts the hood on the spirit world, which is the matrix in which individual universes float like bubbles. How to get there; what you might encounter when you do; where the edge of the multiverse is, and what lies beyond. In this I sensed similarities to Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, with the Maelstrom beyond as being much like elemental Chaos, with pockets of relative sanity carved out by various pantheons of gods. If you like D&D planar adventures, you’ll be at home here.

Next, the book explores time travel and alternate realities. Suzerain is intended as a framework within which the same characters can adventure through both time and space, and eventually, into parallel universes as well. I’ve run a couple of campaigns where this idea worked really well, and would underscore one of the pieces of advice from the author: It’s a great way to try out a new campaign setting – if the players don’t like it, drive on to the next. There are many options here, but one of the key aspects of the framework is that while unimportant events and people are easily changed, key nexus points are both resistant to change and guarded by other agents of the gods, who would rather the timeline stays as it is, within limits – changing a key nexus point is not to be undertaken lightly, and is the sort of thing which forms the central story arc for a campaign.

After a brief discourse on what the gods want, and why they use the PCs to achieve it, Savage Suzerain explores different types of campaign. Single vs multiple settings; single vs multiple GMs; creating scenarios to challenge PCs with godlike abilities. For the multiple-setting approach, Savage Mojo is releasing individual setting books such as Dogs of Hades and Noir Knights.

Finally, as is now traditional in Savage Worlds settings, there is a plot point campaign set in a more-or-less traditional fantasy world. For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is a ready-to-use campaign, with an overall story arc, a number of key adventures which occur in a specific sequence to advance that arc, and a collection of scenarios (“Savage Tales”) which can slot into the storyline at more or less any point. Unusually, this one starts at Seasoned rank rather than Novice. This book has a long campaign, with six key adventures and a couple of dozen Savage Tales.

What will I do with this now I have it? I’m not sure. I can see myself mining it for ideas – Telesmae, the overall metaplot, some of the scenarios. I would probably not introduce many of the rules changes, because I think they shift SW from being a fast, simple system towards something more complex than I have time or inclination to run. I’m also not sure that I have the mental stamina to run a Suzerain campaign from Novice to godhood, because I expect something else bright and shiny will have caught my attention before I can finish it – at an average of two experience per session, it’d take a couple of years if I ran one session per week, and at the current rate of 2-3 sessions per year I could well die before the story was complete. On the other hand, it would be easy to flip from one genre to the other, and incorporate all those bright shiny settings into one overarching metaplot; and if I ignore the extra edges and rules changes, I can slip it in as an extra layer of my existing campaigns, and eventually use it as a reason for the PCs in those games to meet and work together.

I’ve got time to mull it over; the most experienced PC in my SW games is only Veteran. Next up for review: Dogs of Hades.

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3 thoughts on “Review of Savage Suzerain by Savage Mojo

  1. The fact that you are only playing 2-3 sessions in a year makes any game system that is designed for a long term story arc likely to be the opposite of what is good for you and your group. You’re really only suited to running one-shot adventures with that limited amount of gaming.

  2. Pingback: 2010 in Review « Halfway Station

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