Review: 50 Fathoms

Posted: 4 February 2017 in Reviews
Tags:

In a Nutshell: 210-page plot point campaign for Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment, roughly $10 at time of writing. This is the Explorer’s Edition, which is updated for Savage Worlds Deluxe and includes content from the 50 Fathoms Companion. Think Waterworld meets Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

What’s a Plot Point Campaign? It’s the Savage Worlds version of an adventure path, with a number of adventures which together form a story arc, and a large number of side quests. 50 Fathoms is often said to be the best one, so let’s take a look inside…

CONTENTS

I should start by saying SW plot point books take the view that you want adventures to run, and any setting information beyond what you need to do that is a distraction – stuff you wade through searching for nuggets of information, but probably won’t use. The campaign is divided into three main types of session; the adventures on the story arc, which move the plot along; the side quests, which allow the PCs to gather the resources and information they need to take the next step along the main arc; and random adventures, which are a fallback in case they go completely off-piste. The first two types are in the Savage Tales section, the last is under Adventures.

The premise is that a piratical fantasy world is slowly drowning, and Earthly pirates are drawn through a dimensional portal to help save it. The story arc revolves around them figuring out what the threat really is and stopping it, thus saving their new home. Of course, as pirates, they might decide to slope off in search of booty, but as long as everyone is having fun, what does that matter?

50 Fathoms (32 pages): A brief introduction to the setting, including what the characters initially think is going on as opposed to what’s really happening; a map of the Thousand Isles; character creation, which is standard except for a few new nautical edges and hindrances; new races; gear, including all manner of pirate goodies and ships. Races include Earth humans, local humans, the winged atani, doreen (dolphin-men), grael (walrus-men), kehana (fish-men), kraken (squidheads), red men (dumb barbarians), and scurillians (crab-men).

Setting Rules (10 pages): These are mostly focused on ships; navigation, repair and upkeep, ship combat, the fatigue that builds up in the crew on a long voyage and the carousing that can resolve it, trade, whaling and finally a section on “pirate lingo”.

Caribdus Gazetteer (4 pages): This is “what everyone knows” – a short paragraph on notable places and persons on the world of Caribdus, the general knowledge that any PC would know after kicking around the Thousand Isles for a few months.

Magic (3 pages): The only Arcane Background in this setting is Magic, and the mage must specify which element (air, earth, fire or water) he has specialised in; you can learn others later. There are eight new spells, a discussion of appropriate trappings, and a table showing which spells are available to which elemental specialisation – if it isn’t on the table, it doesn’t exist in this setting. To summarise, the earth mage fixes things, the fire mage destroys them, the water mage heals you and the air mage fills your sails with the right breeze.

The Thousand Isles (42 pages): From this point on, we are in GM-only territory. We begin by learning the true backstory for the campaign. Then there are 17 areas of Caribdus, mostly islands or groups of islands. Each is expanded for the GM with a little more background information, encounter tables, and (crucially) pointers to which Savage Tales the PCs might be drawn into in that locale. So in a typical session the players will say where they are going next, the GM will tell them what they meet on the way, describe what the place is like when they arrive, perhaps including places and people of note, and then embroil them in one of the Tales – or perhaps a randomly-generated adventure if they have exhausted all the ones listed for that area.

Adventures (10 pages): This contains the random adventure generator, as well as rules for salvage, trade, natural hazards, subplots you might encounter within the main adventure of the session, and random treasure tables for both mundane and magical loot – +2 blunderbuss, anyone?

Savage Tales (74 pages): This is what the book is really about. Almost 90 different scenarios and adventure seeds, ranging in size from a quarter of a page to several pages. There are two series of plot points, each 9 adventures long; you can play one and save the world, play the other and find a great treasure, or play both and do both.

Encounters (22 pages): About 70 NPCs and monsters, each with notes and a statblock. Those which only appear in one Savage Tale are listed with that tale, so there are quite a few more buried in the previous chapter.

…and we close with an index, character and ship sheets, and an advertisement for short fiction set on Caribdus.

FORMAT

6.5″ x 9″, full colour everywhere but with help from the option to suppress page background your printer might survive the PDF. Colour illustrations every few pages. Two-column black text on whitish background with colour trim. Personally I find it a lot easier to read with the background turned off, but most of you probably have better eyesight than I have.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Some ship deck plans would be nice, but those are available for free from Pinnacle’s website, so I’ll let them off.

There is already a players’ guide, roughly half the price and contains only things it is safe for players to know.

CONCLUSIONS

As best I can tell without running it, this does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a ready-to-use story arc in a sandbox without requiring a lot of prep time, which is a really cool idea. It gets a lot of very positive commentary in reviews and the SW forum, and is reportedly held up to SW licensees as how to do a plot point campaign. Some GMs have reskinned it as a space opera setting, and I think that would work well, too.

However, I’m left with an overall feeling of “Yeah, I can probably make this work,” rather than “Jeez, I have got to run this RIGHT NOW!” For me personally, the gold standard in SW settings remains Beasts & Barbarians.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Cloud Divider says:

    50 Fathoms was the book that sold me on Savage Worlds back when it had first come out. The setting hit one of the weak spots I had – it probably takes at least as much inspiration from an old US cartoon called Pirates of Dark Water as it does Pirates of the Caribbean.

    I think 50 Fathoms has had the best implementation of a Plot Point campaign across the various SW books I’ve collected. It basically had the entirety of a Paizo-style Adventure Path series taking the players from Novice to Legendary across a pretty epic storyline, but sublimated into the core ideas needed to run it as GM, and fit the whole arc+sidequests+unrelated adventure seeds into maybe a dozen pages? That was brilliant.

    It does leave a lot more work up to the GM for fleshing things out, but in my experience, my players go off the rails enough that you end up with a lot of wasted material, or I end up tweaking the details to tailor it to my group, and I end up with more unused material.

    • andyslack says:

      My kids used to love Pirates of Dark Water, but I could never get back from work in time to watch it with them. 😦

      I love the idea of plot point campaigns, I just haven’t found one that sings to me yet.

  2. Tom Zunder says:

    I have run 50 Fathoms straight and then I ran it in (inocognio) inside my longer Sutherlands game. It’s the best Plot Points game there is, and is just work out of the tin perfectly. It feels like fantasy Traveller, and that’s a high recommendation for me. The way that certain plot points can’t be triggered until others are completed means the GM can’t get it wrong. I recommend running it straight, or just filing off the serial numbers and run it inside another setting, and B&B would be a great fit.

  3. Galu says:

    In my opinion 50 Fathoms plays better then it reads.

    Also, there is a wonderful synergy built into the rules: because of the cabin fever and small-time trading, the group has to visit the docks of every settlement, which means they will meet all kinds of adventure hooks. This way, it is much less direct then the Deadlands plot-points.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s