Savage Pathfinder

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about recently is what to with the large selection of Pathfinder Adventure Paths that I have. Some of them look quite interesting, but I’m not sure that I want to run any more Pathfinder (or any other D&D variant for that matter) for a long while. It’s not just the rules complexity (and inconsistencies), it’s also the classes and levels style of the rules. I do much prefer point based systems which don’t have the class and level limitations of D&D style systems.

So what I’m looking for is a system that can do the high fantasy of Pathfinder/D&D (and that is something that these systems are good at), without the restrictions and complexities of classes and levels. I want to be able to do flashy magic, with the ability to scale from fighting goblins to fighting dragons and demons as the characters advance. I also want a bit of crunch, so systems like Fate don’t really fit.

I have been fiddling with a YAGS variant for high fantasy, but magic systems are a lot of work and I haven’t had the inclination to spend a lot of time on it recently. Some systems we’ve played recently, though fun for what they do, don’t do the high fantasy very well. Magic in Zweihänder is too dangerous to use, and Runequest magic isn’t very flashy.

After some discussion on RPG.Net, I’m taking a look at Savage Pathfinder. When I asked the question, I actually listed Savage Worlds as a system I wasn’t interested in, but I’ve been convinced to take a look at it.

Firstly, I’ll get my issues with Savage Worlds out of the way, and why I’ve avoided using it before:

A Benny
  • There isn’t much scope for advancement – with skills ranging from d4 to d12+2. Characters can even start with a d12 skill, meaning you don’t get the “zero to hero” feel of D&D. Though characters can improve in breadth, does it mean challenges won’t be able to grow in scope?
  • It uses a deck of playing cards for part of the mechanics. I have countless sets of polyhedral dice, but no playing cards (card games have never interested me). Yes, I could just buy a cheap set, but it’s a blocker that’s added to the knee jerk reaction I have against any system that doesn’t keep to just ‘standard’ dice.
  • Bennies is a terrible term. Apparently it makes sense in America, but it just makes me think of woolly hats and bad daytime TV soaps from the 1970s.
  • The use of both tabletop distances and real distances is confusing. It’s easy to read 5″ as meaning 5 feet, when it’s actually 10 yards. Feet and inches are confusing enough as it is, without mixing scales like this.
  • I’m not a fan of PCs being treated differently to non-PCs, and so the Wild Cards and Wild Die system doesn’t sit well with me.

With the exception of the advancement range, none of them are real practical blockers. There’s just been enough of them to put me off taking a serious look at the system.

My First Skim

So I bought and downloaded the PDF for Savage Pathfinder to try and give it a serious chance. My very first thought was that I’d downloaded the wrong book because it looked so much like actual Pathfinder. They have very definitely captured the look and feel of Pathfinder with the art, layout and feel of the rules. Whether that is actually a good thing I’m not sure (comparing to what GURPS did with Traveller, where the book felt like a GURPS book which just happened to use the Traveller setting).

After my first skim through it looked very much like they’ve taken the Pathfinder rules and replaced the d20 with a different die. The character generation rules look like they’ve fitted in classes and levels, and the same classes and levels that Pathfinder has. This was actually off putting since it’s what I was wanting to get away from.

It also took them over a 100 pages to actually explain the core mechanics of how to make a skill check. For me, this should be on page one, since nothing else really makes sense until I’ve understood that. Since it’s been such a while since I’ve looked at Savage Worlds, I couldn’t remember whether it was success based, target number based, whether you rolled multiple dice etc.

On finally getting to that part of the rules (p.117), I’m still a bit concerned about the core mechanics and the range of skills and difficulties. Skill levels range from d4 to d12 (with up to d12+2 being possible at high ranks). Since it’s possible to start with d12, there’s not much room for improvement beyond that. A lot of the iconic characters seem to have d8 in their primary skills, but I can see players wanting to start higher if they have the chance.

Dice do explode (if you roll maximum on a die, roll it again and add), so there’s a bigger range of difficulties that can be obtained, but there’s not a big window between what a novice is capable of, and what an expert is capable of. Games like GURPS, Ars Magica and Pathfinder have a wide range of skill levels that allows difficult tasks which a novice has little or no chance at, but an expert has a good chance at.

Our current characters (level 14) in Pathfinder have skills in the high 20s, so a DC 30 task is quite easy, but impossible for most starting characters. From what I can see for Savage Worlds, a difficulty of 8 is achievable by a starting character, but also quite risky for an advanced character. Mongoose Traveller with its 2D6 system has a similar issue – there’s a lot of randomness because of the low skill ranges. I feel it would be more of an issue in a High Fantasy setting where you want high ‘level’ characters to be more heroic, but until I’ve played it I won’t know for sure.

One thing I do like is the use of the term Ancestries rather than Races. I’ve had an issue with the latter for years, and have tended to switch to species in SciFi, but that’s not a term that really works in fantasy. An Elf isn’t a different race to a Human, they’re pretty much an entirely different species – except they can interbreed, because, well, magic I guess. Wood elves, dark elves, high elves might be different races of Elf, but ‘Elf’ itself shouldn’t be a race.

Ancestry is a good term that fits the fantasy genre better than species does. I should have picked this up when playing Zweihänder, which also uses the term, but I was probably taking in too much other detail to really notice.

A Second Skim

Taking a bit longer to look at things, character generation looks a lot more sensible. What I took as class progressions are just the examples for the iconic characters.

Each character can take a Class Edge, which are things such as Barbarian, Fighter, Wizard etc. These give the character some special abilities (such as Sneak Attack for a rogue), as well as some Edges (like Feats) which can be taken later. Other than that though, characters are free to buy what edges they want. This is much more what I’m actually looking for (it does help to read things properly).

The fact that it has class edges for all of the core Pathfinder character classes and prestige classes makes it feel that they have tried porting the Pathfinder system more than is necessary (why not just allow players to build these type of characters from basic edges?), but it doesn’t look too bad.

The magic system looks reasonable (and I like that Invisibility is far less perfect than it is in Pathfinder). There are fewer spells (or Powers as they are called), but they have options and modifiers. Blast is a stand-in for fireball and all other exploding type spells. Barrier creates walls of fire, ice, energy etc. Teleport is short range (so Dimension Door), but can have its ranged greatly increased by spending more power. This greatly simplifies things.

Lots of spells is fun, but flexible spells can be simpler and better.

The magic system also uses power points rather than spell slots. How it compares with the number of spells a spell caster can use in actual Pathfinder I’m not sure yet. It also raises the question of why there’s both a Sorcerer and Wizard now that power points are being used.


I’ve moved from Savage Worlds isn’t an option, to Savage Worlds is now one of the primary systems I’m looking at. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is still there (and probably my preferred choice), but SW has probably bumped D6 Fantasy from it’s position on my list of options. There’s not much of a bestiary included in the main rules, so I probably need to pick up the bestiary at some point to see how the high fantasy monsters actually work.

This is a long term project of mine, so I’m not going to dive into the rules in detail quite yet, but when I get a chance to I’ll take a proper read through the rules (there’s a lot on magic I still don’t fully understand), and maybe run a one shot to give it a try.

But I am pleasantly surprised but what I’ve seen so far.

Currently, the system still seems to be at the KickStarter stage of things, but the PDFs are available to buy without needing to pledge. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of splat books – but if I do go down this route, then hopefully I can resist buying them all and keeping things simple. That’s probably 80% of the issue with Pathfinder – so many extra rules across so many books.

I’ve also picked up HARP, Against the Darkmaster and Delvers to Grow (a Dungeon Fantasy addition) to take a look at. Maybe I’ll get a chance to try running one of them next year.

Samuel Penn