Savage Suzerain, by Steven Lindsey
Savage Suzerain is a cross-genre RPG done by Savage Mojo and Cubicle 7. The basic idea behind it is to allow players to use Savage Worlds to play characters that can go above the power levels of most games, and do so while in any numerous settings. The PCs at a certain power level are expected to gain the ability to travel between settings and time. Savage Mojo plans to release several settings that could all be backdrops for a Suzerain campaign. A bonus is that since this version uses Savage Worlds, virtually any SW setting from any company could be used with Suzerain. This allows a ridiculous number of possibilities.
The Book Itself
Savage Suzerain is a 192 paged full color hardcover. The cover depicts a surreal portal like background with a power armored (or perhaps a Cyborg) warrior carrying a rifle and an angelic Greek lady wielding a sword and shield in the foreground. The color art in the interior of the book ranges from average pieces to some truly remarkable works.
For Players (Pages 4-53)
Savage Suzerain (from now on just Suzerain) uses the Savage Worlds rules and requires the Savage Worlds Explorer’s edition for its base. Some of the terminology is different such as Bennies becomes Karma, Power Points become Pulse, and Settings become Realms. Suzerain also adds a whole new rank to the advancement list. Players after reaching Legendary rank can now look forward to reaching Demigod rank. Other than the usual benefits of a new rank, Demigod ranked PCs’ wild dice become d8s instead of d6s.
Suzerain assumes beginning characters are humans, but then goes on to say those of other races are done by the racial abilities being chosen as an Edge. So technically you can be any number of races, and your race can actually change in the future based on Realm-hopping. So the way suzerain describes races is a bit confusing. The races section begins: “Just humans. That’s because races work a little differently…” and “…Races have been switched to background edges.” Now I understand I can be any race; it just needs to be a background edge, but what was the point of pointing out “just humans?” Is it that all races are based on a human base? Is it purely a mechanics of the game statement? It’s just worded oddly and seems an out of place phrase in a book about RPing in any number of setting all in one campaign.
Suzerain gives us new rules for followers and animal companions. Essentially, Suzerain makes them a character that always stays one rank behind the main PC, and can follow the PC through the Maelstrom by being linked with their Telesma. A Telesma is a gem that grants the user minor properties of the Gods themselves. It is what allows the PCs of a Suzerain game to open portals to other Realms, and allows the user to travel through time. Telesma are often in the form of jewelry or some worn item. Suzerain offers a few modifications to Intimidating and Taunting, and also gives a list of changes to edges allowed and how some work.
Suzerain does an excellent job of setting boundaries as to how realm-hopping and time travel would work. In a nut shell, all settings have nexus points. Nexus points are key milestones in the setting’s history that without divine intervention cannot be permanently altered. No matter if the player’s go back into history and kill Hitler before the War, the same outcome will always happen. Some examples are: it wasn’t really Hitler they killed, Hitler was just a figurehead and the true puppeteer was still there, etc… However, when PCs reach Demigod rank they gain the ability to subvert the nexus points for a limited amount of time creating an alternate reality for so long. For example, the PCs are trying to defend a town bridge to prevent troops from occupying it. A demigod ranked PC could use karma to cause the bridge to have been destroyed in the past by a bomb from a previous attack. The bridge is destroyed preventing the enemy tanks from crossing; yet, after so much time the nexus re-instates itself and the bridge re-appears with no one the wiser than those with Telesma and the Gods.
Suzerain adds a lot of new edges and some hindrances to Savage Worlds. It also does not use Arcane Background, and instead introduces us to its Pulse Paths. Pulse Paths are the Suzerain equivalent to Arcane Backgrounds. There are 4 paths which include Prayers, Rituals, Sigils, and Spells. Prayers are used by “empowered” characters and are often your priestly magic. Rituals are used by “sighted” characters and are based on shamanism and dealing with spirits. Sigils are used by “enabled” PCs and magic through mystic symbols. Spells are used by “gifted” characters and represent classic wizardry. Each path has the powers that can be chosen and Suzerain adds several powers not in the SW core. These four paths cover quite a bit; however, if you use a setting with an Arcane Background that does not fit it should be no problem simply allowing it in the game.
Suzerain PCs Telesma not only allow them to travel through the Maelstrom and Spirit Realm to other Realms of existence, it also creates a pocket dimension for the PCs. When several Telesma become accustom to other Telesma being around they start to create a pocket dimension that the player’s can use as a sort of “headquarters.” The Telesma are form of sentience. It can communicate with its owner telepathically, it can control portals, and it can see into the spiritual realms. Not all Telesma are the same though; they each have their own personality and origin. Some may be created by the Gods, others might be natural. For the most part the Gods give them to people who they hope will accomplish deeds they wish to see completed in the Realms. Due to a previous unknown incident, the Gods have agreed to never step direct foot in the mortal realms again. Those with Telesma are their agents.
As stated before, Savage Mojo is working on releases for settings to go along with Suzerain. In the core book we are given the Realm of Relic. (As of this review Dogs of Hades and Noir Knights have also been released) Relic is a high fantasy realm with threats from dragons, dwarves made of stone, Egyptian style sea-elves, wizards and priests. It is very classic fantasy in style while having enough variations to be somewhat unique. There are several pages of Relic specific edges and new powers. Many of the adventures in the GM’s section, including the majority of the Plot Point campaign take place in Relic.
The GM section begins with describing the Spirit Realm and the Maelstrom in more detail. There are several powerful Realms in the Maelstrom that are ruled by certain pantheons of Gods. There is the Realm of Archangels ruled by the Goddess Trinity, the Realm of Yggdrasil ruled by Odin, the Realm of Pure Mages ruled by science and logic, the Realm of Mount Olympus with Zeus and his lot, the Realm of Fire watched over by the Great Spirit of Fire, The Red Realm is the prison of the God’s, the Realm of the Ascendant Order ruled by the Great Spirit of Order, and the Fey Realm of Dreams. After looking through this section I am starting to be reminded of Planescape from AD&D 2nd. This is an entirely good thing to me, especially seeing as it encompasses more than just D&D type planes but every setting imaginable in any genre of timeframe.
Suzerain’s GM section spends a lot of time explaining time travel, alternate realities, and dimensional travels in great detail. The advice on how to use Suzerain is excellent, and one of the few times I feel I have seen good structured rules to time travel and its consequences. The advice goes into the different type of games one could play with Suzerain such as one setting, dimensional sliders, Demigod games, etc…
I find myself extremely excited about the type of game Suzerain supports. When I ran Rifts, I had a very long campaign that composed of lots of dimensional hopping and alternate realities. Suzerain supports this supremely. I also ran a lot of Torg back in the day. Suzerain would be absolutely perfect in running a new Torg campaign. The lords trying to take over core Earth could simply be Demigods who have found machines that allow them not only to break nexus points through the machine but cause their realm to shift over into core Earth’s. Suzerain is so perfect for this I dare say it’s better than Torg’s own game system.
(Warning: Sort of Spoilers Ahead)
The rest of the book is dedicated to a six act plot point campaign and 20+ Savage Tales adventures. The Plot Point campaign mainly uses the Realm of Relic. The PCs are trying to stop a certain “God” from being brought back directly into the Realm of Relic bypassing the agreement of no Gods directly on the mortal realms. Each act increases the rank and XP the characters should be at, and it is assumed the Savage Tales adventures will be played in between the acts to fill in time and allow the players to reach the level of the next act. A screw-up in the first and assumed successful mission causes the players to have to travel in time and space to fix the problems.
I am one of those people who believes that railroading is not the adventures fault, but that of the GM’s. That being said, I think some adventures make things easier on the GM and some cause the GM to have to work so much it’s not worth the price of admission. The Plot Point campaign and the Savage Tales are all wonderfully written and I would say are average on the GM. For the most part they flow well and allow GM creativity and alteration to work easily with them. There are occasional a few “have to happens”, but for the most part it is pretty open to changes.
Savage Suzerain is my type of game. I have always been a sucker for kitchen sinking together genres and settings. Suzerain seemed like it had some elements of Planescape when it came to realms (planes), elements of Rifts with its kitchen sink portal hopping, and Torg with the Telesma and the power of Demigods and Gods. I can’t wait to see all the realm books that Savage Mojo releases. Suzerain demands to have lots of world sourcebooks; the more the merrier. I found the sections on dimensions and time travelling excellent to read. Someone put a lot of thought into it.
Style is getting a 4. Some of the art is truly amazing. The full color book is nice to look at and the layout makes it easy to read. The font seems a little larger than usual, and is a nice change for the eyes. The book flows well, and I particularly like the book being simply split into a player’s side and a GM’s side.
Substance is getting a 5. Not only does Suzerain add more edges, hindrances and rules to Savage Worlds, it is chalked full of good writing. As stated before the section describing how to handle time travel and dimensions is top-notched. The book is brimming full of ideas, and the fact it can work with virtually any SW setting is just great.
Steven “NulSyn” Lindsey is an official reviewer for RPG.net where he publishes his reviews for the gaming community.