Review: Legends of Steel

Posted: 27 November 2013 in Reviews

I really ought to stop buying Savage Worlds settings. I have something like 30 of them now, of which I have actually run a campaign in, errm, well, one actually.

I had a sort of plan here though; since the Dread Sea Dominions of Beasts & Barbarians has an ocean to the left of the map, and Erisa in Legends of Steel has an ocean to the right, I thought of this:

Erisa Big ocean thingy Dread Sea Dominions

It’ll probably never get used, but maybe someday… Anyway, on with the motley.

In a Nutshell: Sword & Sorcery setting for Savage Worlds. 70 page PDF. This is one of the Evil DM’s home campaigns done as a setting book. If SW isn’t your thing, there are also versions for other RPGs; Barbarians of Lemuria, Broadsword, and ZeFRS (a retroclone of TSR’s Conan RPG).

CONTENT

Introduction (1 page): Quite possibly the shortest I’ve ever seen in a book like this, largely because it assumes I already know what roleplaying games are. Moving on…

Player’s Section (19 pages): This begins by setting the tone – or rather, recommending that the group agrees what kind of sword & sorcery they’re playing, choosing from 1930s pulp fiction, 1970s comic books, 1980s movies and cartoons, 1990s TV shows. The default setting, Erisa, is a mixture of the comic book and cartoon versions.

Players are encouraged not to limit themselves to barbarian warriors, but to consider their PCs’ background, motivation for adventuring, race, age and so on. The best advice and examples given are for motivations.

Character creation is largely unchanged from SW core, and blurs into setting rules; there are four of these:

  • PCs start at Seasoned, not Novice. My first thought was “Oh no, not again”, but the author, Jeff Mejia, points out that protagonists in the genre are generally famous veterans when we first meet them.
  • There are no Rank requirements for Edges. Want to have a sidekick and loyal followers at Seasoned? Go for it.
  • Wild Cards are never considered unarmed, even if all they have is their bare hands. I quite like this idea, it underscores the general badassery of the sword & sorcery hero.
  • PCs with an Arcane Background are limited to Novice rank powers. This is because in the genre, any halfway decent wizard is a hostile, evil NPC. (The author argues at several points in the book that a pure sword & sorcery campaign would have no PC spellcasters at all.)

There are a handful of setting-specific Knowledge skills; Etiquette, Heraldry, Legends and Lore, Military Training, and Religion. I’d be tempted to call all of those Common Knowledge myself.

As usual in a setting book, there is a range of new Edges (about 30 of them), and some tweaks to the standard ones (four of these, I think). I especially like the tweak for Attractive and Very Attractive; in addition to the Charisma bonus in the core rules, a character with one of these Edges always looks good, whatever has just happened to them – this explains why the sword & sorcery movie heroine has freshly-applied makeup and stylish hair at all times, and why the mud on the hero’s costume disappears between scenes. Of the new Edges, the one that intrigues me most is Birthright, which allows the PC to begin with a family heirloom of some power, effectively a magic item. Not sure I’d let one start with a flying ship, though.

Unusually, there are no new Hindrances. Character generation closes with another good idea, references; these are three statements about your character made by minor NPCs, for example Arik the Barber may say the PC is a jealous type who assaults anyone insulting his lady friend.

Next is a section on the style of play appropriate for the genre; everything, including the heroes, is in shades of grey; money and equipment are largely irrelevant, as there is always a half-eaten body with what you need on it lying around, or a patron who will equip you for the mission. The author points out that the hero’s motivation is usually wealth, but he rarely becomes wealthy; a wealthy hero is a retired hero, and a retired hero is bored – and boring.

From the GM’s perspective, the genre is built around the short story or single issue of a comic book; there are no long story arcs, just individual adventures. The GM is advised to work within the framework of the pulp short story, make things thrilling, rewarding and heroic, capture heroes rather than kill them, and make extensive use of outrageous coincidences. Magic items should be rare and unique. Everything, in fact, that I love about sword & sorcery.

Taverns get special attention, as that is where the PCs will spend most of their time off-duty, and consequently is where they will be most often recruited. Naturally, this leads into setting rules for over-indulgence.

Campaign Section (35 pages): This is essentially a gazetteer of the world of Erisa, with a full-colour map and details of a score of locations, usually provinces or cities rather than nations.

Each location has about a page dedicated to it. There is a short description, followed by brief discussions of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; it would be easy to extract adventure seeds from the opportunities or threats, while the strengths and weaknesses are more about what the place is like.

In addition, there are capsule summaries of another score of minor locations – forests, swamps and the like. These are followed by two pages discussing the gods and goddesses of the region, at roughly one paragraph per deity.

River Pirates of the Belsa (5 pages): Here’s the obligatory introductory adventure. Dagoberto the merchant wants revenge, and hires the PCs to infiltrate the pirate gang which killed his son and assassinate their leader for him. Unusually, most of the word count is devoted to the personalities in the gang, with the plotline taking second place.

Sample Characters (6 pages): There are half dozen of these; Anteus the gladiator, Brother Stern the warrior priest, De Silva the sorceror, Risa the mercenary archer, Talena the pirate, Talon Ironhawk the exiled prince. They are all at Veteran Rank, so perhaps better suited as NPCs than PCs, unless you want to run a Veteran level one-shot.

FORMAT

Full-colour cover, looking for all the world like a comic book cover, wrapped around single-column black text on white with greyscale illustrations – almost all of these are in the Campaign section.

There is a separate printer-friendly PDF delivered with the main one, although that is relatively printer-friendly itself, and the download also includes a TIFF file of the world map. That would be useful if I wanted to mark up with map with things of my own, as I often do.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The book would benefit from an editor or proofreader looking it over. There are a number of grammatical errors and inconsistencies in layout. It sounds petty, but these bring me to a grinding halt every time I find one.

There’s no Gear chapter, which doesn’t bother me; what does the sword & sorcery hero need besides a horse and a sharp blade? Both of those are in the core rules already. However, there is no bestiary either; I was hoping I might see stats for at least the reptile men the iconic heroes are fighting on the front cover. I guess I would just reskin orcs for those.

CONCLUSIONS

With its cinematic combat and larger than life heroes, Savage Worlds is well-suited to the sword & sorcery genre. That genre is an exercise in a limited palette; PCs are human, sorcerors are evil NPCs, monsters are more likely to be prehistoric reptiles or animated statues than orcs and goblins. Legends of Steel is essentially a set of GM’s notes on how to evoke that genre, with a setting in which to do so, drawn with very broad strokes; it reads like a collection of blog posts, which I suppose is probably what it started out as.

I can’t help comparing this to Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition, which is about twice the price, but three times the page count, with a richer and more detailed setting, and ongoing support in the form of adventures short and long. For what you get, I think Legends of Steel is overpriced; I can’t help feeling a little disappointed with it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5.

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