Review and thoughts on Savage Worlds MARS adventures (RPG)

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Review and thoughts on Savage Worlds MARS adventures (RPG)

Billiam Babble

Look, just stop gawping and concentrate
on the text. (Blood Legacy of Mars p16)
MARS!  Swords, guns, strange coloured tribal aliens,minimal clothing, alien tech, brutal classical empires.  Looks like we've all got the red-fever at the moment.  In my aging hard-copy collection the closest I've been to these settings is with West End Games' Space: 1889 - where Venus and Mars are in the process of being tamed by the jolly forces of European colonialism.  In Pulp Land, away from Verne and Wells, there's a more brutal free-for-all where those barbarian "skills" are used to liberate enslaved princesses - that's if a generation of Franzetta covers are to be taken literally.  Of course, I know that it's all just a little bit more sophisticated than that, and some of the women turn out to be pretty tough, but hey, from Gor to Carter there's been some images that have had some formative effects on my perverse mind.  The covers of three new adventures from Adamant Entertainment are definitely tributes to fine works of Mr F.  I've acquired some review copies of newly released ("March" is "Mars"-month -themed launch) Sell-Swords', Blood Legacy' and Sky-Tyrant of Mars, all designed for the Savage World system, but haven't quite taken the plunge by buying the core settings book (MARS: Savage World Edition).  As I type, the actual prices for the PDFs are miniscule ($2.50), which explains where they've been shooting up the charts on RPGDriveThru and RPGNow - that, and possibly a certain Disney film coming out...

Before looking at these I remembered mentioned in a few places, on forums and in some blogs, about the ease at which fantasy RPGs can be adapted to these and the more high-tech Flash Gordon style settings.  Older style systems, like OD&D and it's clones S&W Whitebox, EetS and others, fair especially well because all weapons perform the same damage (1d6 for example).  This means that choosing between a sword and a raygun is not an issue - so let the sci-fi swashbuckling commence!  I think the first thing I would adapt in a D&D style system is the availability of plate mail - perhaps the equivalent is some sort of alien gladiatorial armour.  The other armours would be changed aesthetically - to represent a lighter types, more as armour as pieces on flesh, chest plates, greaves etc.  If one simply replaces bows with guns and rifles but just about keeps the damage the same, there's almost no effect of the balance of the game. T&T5-7.5 is perfect for sci-fantasy since it deals with guns and different ages of fantasy worlds - including the future. With very little work game mechanics wise many games would adapt quickly to these settings.  At the low tech end the Dark Sun campaign world is pretty similar to pulp-sci-fantasy, certainly with a theme of desert-exotic it resembles Burroghs/Marvel-Carter Mars visually speaking. Maybe Glorantha RQ or HQ could be wedged into the Mars setting?

So when I'm looking at the new adventures from Adamant Entertainment, half of me is already adapting them to my favorite RPGs.  This could be considered as ironic since Savage Worlds clearly took the crown from GURPS many years as the multi-genre adaptable-system of choice - and here am I talking about shoe-horning other systems into square holes when Savage Worlds players will probably shrug and wonder why I'd want to make all that work for myself.  Did I mention that Adamant Entertainment also sell a d20 MARS RPG?  :)

MARS: Savage World Edition
-core setting and rules-
Sometimes optional!
These three new releases are each very different from one another.  I'll come straight out with it, that my favourite is Sky-Tyrant of Mars by Umberto Pignatelli.  This is partly because, being the budget shopper I am, I can see that Sky-Tyrant requires only the Savage Worlds main rules to play (in my case that's the Explorer's Edition).  Its scenes rush forward into each other with the excitement of Star Wars or Indiana Jones.  Pre-generated characters also help greatly in implementing the setting, which is just about generic enough to not require the core settings book.  This adventure jumps from straight-forward encounter survival to being part of politics (but still with action).  Sky-Tyrant is for the more "cinematic" action favouring players.  The accessibility of the scenario means that it is also perfect for conversion to other systems (or maybe different settings).  Summary: Fast-action pure-pulp sci-fantasy, awesome.

Blood Legacy and Sell Swords are definitely written for games masters who like a longer, broader campaign, but again both are very different.

In Blood Legacy of Mars the background reads like a Roman/Borgias/Hamlet paranoid love, daggers and intrigue story.  This paragraph from The Advice for GM sums up well how-to-use-this-book - making it very different from, say Sky-Tyrant:
"This adventure is organized differently from most Savage Worlds adventures. The plot is convoluted, and has several potential branches. Because of this, the main NPCs are given extensive writeups in the Dramatis Personae section in the last chapter, along with a list of their personal plots, plans, and goals. Locations which will be visited more than once during the course of the adventure are detailed in the last chapter as well, for convenience. Refer frequently to that section as you read through the adventure.  In addition, a relationship diagram has been provided, showing the main NPCs and their conflicting intentions, to help you
keep it all straight."
I really, really, really want to post a picture of that "relationship diagram" - it is truly a masterpiece of interconnected PC motivation and all that intrigue and double-crossing stuff (which makes my brain hurt - but in a good way) - but since it's such an integral part of the product it would be wrong to do so, I reckon.  If you straightened out a bowl of speghetti and added square meatballs, that's what the diagram looks like.  Excellent.  The line-art art in this adventure is absolutely superb.  Definitely an adventure for the readers, talkers and thinkers, spiced up with sexual intrigue and disputes resolved in drunken viscous brawls.    Tell the players to keep notes on everyone they meet!  Suggested additional rules are the main MARS rulebook for the descriptions of Minor NPCs.  Also, if you're enjoying the setting and need equipment resources etc, it's probably near-compulsory to buy the MARS rulebook.  Summary: Compelling!

Very different in purpose and play is Sell Swords of Mars, and not for novices!  You may have to check your library first:
"This adventure requires both the Savage Worlds rule book and the MARS setting book in order to play. For best results, the GM should have access to the Savage Worlds ‘Showdown’ rules (available as a free download from the Pinnacle website) and the supplement WARRIORS OF MARS. In the event that you do not wish to run the larger encounters using the ‘Showdown’ rules, it is possible to stage them using the Mass Battle rules on page 120 of
the Explorer’s Edition of the Savage Worlds rule book."  (p2, Sell-Swords of Mars)
Got all of those?  Then you'll do just fine. :)

This adventure is truly epic in scale.  It's a war, with heroes, troops, vehicles (airships and alien tripods!), some political ramifications, glory and salvation. There's a useful flowchart in the back of the adventure, where the variety outcomes of the battles and decisions will still lead to the final showdown. I'm guessing that there's plenty of hours of play here, but again, definitely for veteran players who'd like to branch out into mass combat.  Summary: Exotic 40K with a decent plot. ;)