I wasn’t sure whether or not to get this, but then it rocked up as a freebie on RPGNow for Halloween, so… Yoink!
In a Nutshell: Genre supplement for Savage Worlds, 145 page PDF.
Characters (9 pages): There are no major changes to the existing character creation rules, apart from a new derived stat – Sanity, which begins at half Spirit plus two; we’ll come back to that shortly. The chapter has 11 new Hindrances and 13 new Edges; they’re appropriate to the genre, but none of them leapt out at me and made me think I had to build a PC around them.
However, the main rules expansion in this section is monsters as playable races. You can be a demon, an angel, a half-vampire, Frankenstein’s monster, a ghost, a vampire, a werewolf, or a free-willed zombie.
Tools of the Trade (8 pages): Here, we find specialist gear for hunting monsters; from the simple stake to the Atomic Ghost Hunting Pack. I’m still not that interested in equipment chapters, but the specialist ammo for werewolves (silver nitrate bullets) and vampires (glass capsules full of UV-emitting chemicals) caught my attention. Sneaky. Those and the motion tracker might make it to my table.
Setting Rules (12 pages): These are focussed on bringing the party an atmosphere of doom and dread. Magical backlash is nastier than usual, with particular times of year influencing the casting chance too; the Vices rule simulates the monsters preferentially picking off people with specific behavioural traits.
The main addition, though, is Sanity. When you fail a Fear check, you lose a sanity point – bear in mind you only have five as an average PC; once it drops below 3, you start picking up extra Hindrances, and start creeping people out. If it reaches 0, you start picking up psychoses – while at San 2 you might have a Minor Habit of carrying a rabbit’s foot, at San 0 you might need to kill a rabbit in a grisly ritual every few days and harvest fresh feet yourself.
Sanity grows back if you triumph over evil or stay well away from it, preferably under psychiatric care, for a long time. (Good luck with that.)
Naturally, no horror setting is complete without rules for books of forbidden lore and ritual magic, including human sacrifices, and you’ll find those here too. Reading books of forbidden lore does not bode well for your sanity, incidentally, but does get you bonuses; more of them if you deliberately sacrifice points of sanity.
There are also rules for signs and portents, fortune tellers and prophecies, warding and binding evil creatures. These are more fluff than crunch.
Magick (9 pages): A quick recap of the backlash rule changes, and we’re into 14 new Powers, which for the most part you’re better off not admitting to anyone you know.
Arcane Items (12 pages): Just over 30 magic items for you to inflict on your players; a good chapter to play Spot the Movie Homage in.
Creatures (73 pages): Horror is all about the monsters, right? There are over a hundred monsters and stock NPCs here, from the beat cop to the veteran monster slayer, from the fiendish stuffed toy to the killer clown to the xenomorph. ‘Nuff said, you don’t want your players reading what these can do.
Game Mastering (15 pages): The GM is encouraged to decide initially what kind of horror he wants to run. This is partly to do with the underlying setting – fantasy, historical, present-day, sci-fi – but also whether you want action horror, Cthulhoid Elder Gods, or dark and gritty, and how much the general public knows about what’s going on.
Advice is offered on creating atmosphere, maintaining the sense of the unknown which is crucial to good horror, and scripting encounters, for horror is not a genre (and SW is not a game) which lends itself to random encounters.
Two-column black text on textured cream background, but fortunately you can suppress that by tweaking the PDF layers. Headings are in a faux-typewriter font which suits the genre.
Colour illustrations every few pages, ranging from about 1/6 page to a full page.
Straightforward, legible, gets the job done. I don’t much like the heading font, but that’s a personal preference.
As usual with things written by Wiggy (yes, this is another of the prolific Paul Williams’ books), you can leaf through this thinking “Oh yeah, I know what movie that’s from” – and that’s a good thing, in my opinion.
Given how many zombies appear in this blog, it may surprise you to learn that horror isn’t really my bag; but put that together with not wanting to creep out my more squeamish players, and it becomes unlikely this Companion will join us anytime soon.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5.