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Savage World 50 Fathoms (2003)

Great White Games

 

Date Reviewed: 6-5-2010

Critical Kobold Rating:    (4 out of 5 Dice)  

"What do you mean, everyone has beachfront property?"


"High Adventure in a Drowned World.”

     Before you get visions of a webbed Kevin Costner swimming through your heads, let me assure you that this sourcebook is more full of potential than Waterworld, and less full of images of drinking one’s own urine. (I’m sure we can all appreciate both.) 

     50 Fathoms is a Plot Point campaign book for the Savage Worlds generic role playing game, sold separately and reviewed here by your favorite goblinoid critic. You’ll need the core Savage rule book in order to properly use 50 Fathoms as written. Luckily for you, the Adventurer’s Edition goes for under $9, so you may as well grab it!

 

   

     The Plot Point books are pre-fab campaign settings that include a long-term story arc for GMs to weave into their sessions. You can and should have plenty of adventures not related directly to the campaign storyline, but the Plot Point adventures allow the players to eventually be involved in an epic tale spanning the length of your game campaign. (Another Savage Plot Point sourcebook reviewed previously is Sundered Skies, if you prefer your sailing to be airborne…)

    The campaign takes place in the Age of Sail, circa the 17th or 18th century. PCs can be sailors, buccaneers, English Navy men, Dutch traders, Chinese smugglers, whatever they’d like from the time period. However, sneaky GMs may enjoy pulling a bait-n-switch with this sourcebook, lulling their players into the assumption that they’re about to play a campaign of Pirates of the Spanish Main. The catch is, 50 Fathoms isn’t set in the real world, but rather the land of Caribdus, in an alternate universe.  See, periodically, an unlucky ship from our world sails into a massive fog bank, and gets pulled through the dimensions to Caribdus, via some magical hanky-panky. And while Caribdus used to be a standard planet with continents, cities, cultured kingdoms, reefs and seas, it suffered a cataclysmic planetary disaster 13 years ago. Now it’s drowned under 50 fathoms of cursed floodwater, so that only the highest mountain peaks form short chains of inhabitable land. And in the middle of these chains is the Flotsam Sea, a churning morass of shattered ship hulls, seaweed, the bloated dead, and detritus from submerged civilizations. Here live the Sea Hags, and with a name like that, you know they’re up to no good.

 

 
       Characters from Earth pulled into this setting have to adapt to the fantastic new lifestyle and environment of the Drowned World. Alien races inhabit the seas and rocky crags of the lands, and magic is real, used to manipulate the elements of the world. Each island chain has politics, dangers, and adventures of their own to offer, in addition to the interplay between disparate societies left scrabbling to survive amidst the disaster of the great flood.  Natural resources of all sorts are now a finite commodity, solid land is invaluable, territory is jealously guarded, and a town’s fleet of ships is a most prized tool. A perfect opportunity for some enterprising sailors and heroes to make their fortune, wouldn’t you say?      
 

        

     The short players’ section of the book consists of simple rules additions or tweaks to the core Savage Worlds rules that apply to the campaign, such as new Edges and Hindrances (such as “Natural Swimmer”, “Rope Monkey”, and “Advanced Doggie Paddle”.) There’s a full chapter on native Caribdus races that players may opt to try out. These include the winged Atani, the massive and powerful but slow Grael, the aquatic Doreen, and the most prominent natives of Caribdus, the Masaquani, who vaguely resemble humans but with wildly differing skin coloration. There are other, more freaky species to play as well, if you’re into being a crab or an ogre-kin. Each race is given good detail which describes basic attitudes, outlook, mannerisms, and society, so players have a solid springboard to play an alien race in a strange world without having to completely wing it. PCs will also quickly become acquainted with some of the nastier inhabitants of the seas, such as the hostile and torture-loving Kehana who live beneath the waves, and the slimy and vicious Octopons, who began appearing after the flood to kidnap, terrorize, and eat the local landlubbers. Do not invite these guys to your fish fry.

    The equipment section is unsurprisingly heavy with sailing and  marine supplies, which is obviously helpful. Almost a dozen basic ship types from dinghies to man o’ wars are statted for quick use, and there are chapters not only on naval combat and boarding, but also on shipping, trading, smuggling, piracy, and exploring, with accompanying useful tables for the values of commodities commonly moved around the seas of Caribdus. A gazetteer chapter follows the equipment, giving brief but flavorful notes about the many, many islands, empires, seas, and other interesting areas of the setting. The notes help the players to understand the landscape (so to speak) of the setting without being over inundated with details.

    The last half of the book is the GM’s section, and it delves more deeply into the background story of Caribdus, the flood, and what’s what in the Drowned World. The key movers and shakers are presented, more detailed info about the islands and lands of the world are explored, and of course, the Plot Point adventures are written up. PCs who pursue the Plot Point campaign in 50 Fathoms are expected to uncover the mysterious cause of the catastrophe that wiped out the lands of Caribdus, discover what the campaign villains are up to and how they plan to achieve their nefarious ends, what’s up with that fog bank that traps Earthly ships in this amazing and soggy world, where did these hideous man-eating octopons come from, and who the hell is that chick in the fog who lures captains to their demise? Oh, and, um, does that waterline on the levee look like it’s getting higher to anybody else?...

     I like 50 Fathoms. It combines the swashbuckling of a solid pirate game with a dash of fantasy elements. The background is rich, and the plot point campaign looks like it flows smoothly and will blend nicely with whatever other adventures the group partakes in.  

     And even if the fantasy setting doesn’t fan your flames, you can certainly use the presented material for your own Age of Sail historical era campaigns.  There’s enough info on ships, naval combat, equipment, skills, exotic islands, Edges and Hindrances in this sourcebook to use 50 Fathoms as a cheaper alternative to the Pirates of the Spanish Main core book, or just to add some sea salt to any other campaign you design.

    So batten the mizzenmast and swab the poopdeck, matey! Thar’s a fog bank up ahead, and th' sea be growin’ rough…

 

 

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