Review: Shaintar: Legends Arise

Sean Patrick Fannon is one of Those People. The people like Ed Greenwood and MAR Barker. The ones who invent their own fantasy world before they leave school, just keep adding to it, and eventually turn it into an RPG. I’m jealous, because I have never managed to do anything like that, and I would like to.

Still, Mr Fannon has now re-released Shaintar, of which I have heard many good things, in the form of Shaintar: Legends Arise, and it appeared in the Savage September Sale on RPGNow for $5. What’s a man to do?

In a Nutshell: High fantasy setting for Savage Worlds, 186 page PDF. Covers the highly-praised Shaintar setting up to Veteran Rank – there’s another book on the way to cover Heroic and Legendary Ranks.

CONTENTS

Foreword and Acknowledgements (3 pages). This section is autobiographical, explaining how Shaintar grew over decades from a homebrew D&D world into one of the most respected SW settings, the influences which shaped it, and the kind of stories Fannon uses it to tell.

Chapter 1: Shaintar Omnibus (8 pages). This is the setting background, intended for use as a player handout; what’s like Earth, what’s different, and many "liner notes" in which Fannon speaks directly to the reader, as one GM to another. It has a colour map, to which I’m afraid my immediate reaction is that Shaintar is not a very interesting shape, and short briefings on the land, the gods, magic, the inhabitants, history ancient and recent, and current affairs.

Chapter 2: Heroes of Shaintar (104 pages). This chapter opens with possible origins and sponsors for the heroes; as befits high fantasy, the player characters are intended to be the good guys – in his liner notes, the author explains that he discourages certain hindrances, and encourages heroic edges; PCs in Shaintar are intended to be heroic fellows who work together against evil for the common good. At any rate, each of the origins – knight, soldier, priest, druid, etc – has a few paragraphs of explanation, including suggested skills, edges and hindrances.

As is traditional in SW settings, we then move into a recap of how to create a PC, with notes on how things are different in Shaintar. Variations on the SW theme include "hobby skills" or Defining Interests, which grant situational modifiers on skill rolls; and the way gear is allocated, where the book allows the normal approach of buying equipment, but recommends instead giving PCs whatever makes sense for their background.I applaud the inclusion of 22 almost ready-to-play archetypes – pick your hindrances and go – but they would make more sense to me if they came after the racial descriptions rather than before, as most of them are non-human.

The 11 available races are Aevakar (winged humanoids), several flavours of Elves (Alakar, Eldakar, Korindians), Brinchie (cat people), Dregordians (reptile men), Dwarves, Goblins (who replace Halflings in this setting), the ubiquitous humans (with several subraces), Ogres, and Orcs. Each has racial edges listed for it.Skills are much as one would expect, and there are over a dozen languages. These are followed by notes on how stock hindrances and edges are adjusted for Shaintar (for example, if you have an Enemy, who is it likely to be?), a couple of new hindrances (Animosity or Obligations towards a group), and over 70 new Edges; of these, my favourites are the Power Edges that allow casters to combine two powers into an "Application" or modify the area effect, range etc of a power. One example given is "Alain’s Unerring Dart", which is the bolt power with increased range and no range penalties. So, you can recreate the lengthy lists of Vancian-named spells from That Other Game if you want to. Would I? Probably not, I just mess around with trappings. Is it cool? Yes.

Shaintar is not a setting where gear matters much; you get what’s appropriate for your PC’s background to start with, and use a resource system for later purchases – one of the ones that crop up regularly in SW, where heroes have an extra attribute called Resources and roll against it to buy stuff. There’s a list of setting-specific weapons, armour and gear, but you should know by now that I skip over those chapters in RPGs. I should draw attention to essence-bonded items, which are a kind of low-power magic item bestowed upon worthy students by eccentric priests or druids; essentially a Power Point battery. I should also mention Soul-Bonded Edges, which allow you to choose an item that develops as the hero advances.

Gear done, we move on to the topic of magic in Shaintar. There are seven schools of magic, two of which (necromancy and thaumaturgy) are naughty, and not available to PCs. However, as I understand it, the school is essentially an uber-trapping for the standard Arcane Backgrounds (except Alchemy, which is a new AB). This section covers notes on core powers – for example, Boost/Lower Trait is split into Boost Trait and Lower Trait, which must be learned separately, anyone with an Arcane Background gets Detect Arcana free, and so on. Then a couple of dozen new powers, and a table showing which school can learn which powers (only Necromancers get Zombie, for example, which means no PC can cast it).

Setting rules are up next, and there are quite a few of them, including "Bypass Skull", which allows you to take an extra -6 to hit in exchange for halving the target’s Toughness and ignoring its armour. I like Meditative Casting, which allows the cast to take one minute to cast a spell rather than one action, in exchange for which he multiplies the normal duration by ten. The overall impact is to shift the focus of the game in the direction of epic high fantasy, which is what Shaintar is intended to be.

Chapter 3: Gamemastering an Epic Realm (20 pages). This begins by defining the high fantasy genre as Shaintar supports it; magic is powerful and important, but rare. Heroes perform great deeds beyond anything that could be expected of a normal man. The PCs are born to a great destiny, and quite possibly know it.

This chapter speaks of sources of inspiration and information, great books and movies, before moving into lines of conflict – the major nations and factions of the setting, their origins and motives, and what they think of each other. We then get an overview of the 8,000 year history of Shaintar, in the time-hallowed form of a list of key events in chronological order.

Chapter 4: Legendary Tales (43 pages). Here we find several campaigns for Shaintar, each with nine "chapters", i.e. one-paragraph adventure seeds.

  • Countering the Terror: the PCs are novice members of Grayson’s Grey Rangers, pressed into service to maintain justice and order in the Wildlands while their more experienced colleagues fight the War of Flame.
  • Red Store Rising: The PCs investigate the criminal organisation called the Red Store and deal out summary justice. I could see this as a follow-up to Countering the Terror, using the same PCs.
  • Return to Honour, Return to Glory: Escaped slaves plot to take their revenge by trying to tear down the Kal-A-Nar Empire.

Also included in this chapter are 38 pages of setting-specific monsters, NPCs and monster templates for creating your own new beasts.

…and we close with the obligatory character sheet and some adverts for other SW products.

FORMAT

Two-column black on light brown text, with darker brown illustrations on many pages and the occasional full-page, full-colour artwork. Looks a lot like D&D 3.5 in this respect. Page background is a separate layer, so can be turned off to save your printer, as can the artwork if you like. Or indeed the text, should you only want to print the pictures, which I sometimes do myself ("You look into the cave and see THIS…").

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I struggle to find anything here. If anything, I’d question the need for the variant races, many of which overlap significantly with the ones in SW Deluxe – for example, does SW really need Brinchie when the core rulebook has Rakashans? However, if I’d been gaming in that setting for decades and had a very firm idea what the races were like, I would probably use them as well, rather than a stock race that didn’t quite match my vision.

CONCLUSIONS

Shaintar is D&D-style high fantasy for Savage Worlds, done right. It expands and modifies the core rules more than I would want to, and for that reason I will probably not use it as-is, but if you want the feel of D&D with the rules-light approach of SW, it doesn’t get much better than this.

There’s a lot to like here, but for me the best parts are Fannon’s thoughts on how to run a Savage Worlds high fantasy game. Those, I expect to internalise and use; the setting and its variant rules, probably not, simply because there are so many other games I want to play…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

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