Darhavos (A Savage Worlds Campaign Setting)

Savage Worlds is a Tabletop RPG similar to DnD.  If this means nothing to you, you should probably go back now, you made a wrong turn.

I wanted to make a world for a RPG campaign with a friend.  We had both had our own reasons, I wanted to make a city based steampunk campaign, while my friend Phil wanted to make a more flexible magic system.  Most campaigns I have played have a heavy emphasis on the wilderness with smaller towns sprinkled throughout.  I wanted to finally experience a system that is tuned to a campaign who's majority takes place within a city. 

To make this happen, we created the follow sets of rules.  The whole campaign setting is not yet complete, but that is due to the world building not yet being finished and most playtesting sessions being required.  Once I came up with the initial campaign setting and drew a basic outline of the city as shown below. We determined what goals for our changes mechanically would be; we wanted to improve the flexibility of the magic, create steampunk technology that incorporates magic, and ensure the new weapons fully eclipse medieval weaponry in the same way black powder eclipsed weaponry.  This last one might seem a bit strange, but by creating more deadly weapons, in an already deadly system, we move more of the emphasis on good strategic preparation or avoiding combat completely.  This helps push the campaign and players more towards the city's themes of corruption and subtly. 

Why Savage Worlds?

Savage worlds is a flexible system first and foremost.  The rules are not as complex as DnD, but they are robust enough to handle most situations. DnD is a good system but it can take a fair amount of time for new people to become accustom to all the rules.  We tried Fate as well, but the rule set was so lax that it left too much up to the DM to decide on the fly.  We found Savage worlds to be a healthy middle ground.  

Unlike DnD savage worlds combat is fast and deadly.  With the 3 wound system, players really feel the sting of being hit just once.  In a system with swords where people will get slowly killed by cuts, bruises, and burns, this makes sense, but we needed a system where our new technology really showed its power.  Where one bullet being fired is enough to cause the player to get nervous.

Finally, Savage World's magic system felt tacked on.  It works for Savage worlds, but ultimately it can be removed without the rest of the system feeling lesser without it.  This was important if we wanted to import our own system.

The World, an Overview

This is the passage we provided to all the players for their first look into the world when building their character.  This is from the Player Info Document that we wrote up whose link will be available at the end of this post.

Traveller, welcome to Port Darhavos.  The center of discovery, riches, opportunity, and the largest city in the world.  Many have written their name in lights with just their bare hands, but plenty of others have assumed room temperature  So, if this is your first time in this grand city I suggest you listen, lest you end up the latter.  

Navigation can be slightly hard your first time here, but there are Railrouters to help you get around.  The city is divided into three levels. The main section of the city is divided into nine districts:  The Lion’s Maw, The Stacks, The Towers, the Docks, The Government District, The Port District, Midtown, The Exchange, and the Conray district.  If you are looking for knowledge, start at the Towers, industry, go to the Stacks, and if you want money, go to the exchange. If you take one of the many tunnels down, you will end up in the Conduits.  I suggest you stay out of there, only the poorest or shadiest of characters stay down there.  From the looks of you, you can probably just forget about the upper level as well. You need a passcard and a fair amount of money to be even allowed up to the Peaks.

There is a lot of opportunity here for those with ambition. Every street and every district is littered with inventors, craftsmen, merchants, and artists all trying to create the next Router or Projector.  Sometimes their masterpieces get slightly out of hand, but the Watch usually cleans that up.  In a city of half a million people you cannot expect everything to go right.
Now I did mention the Watch, but that name might be misleading.  They only “watch” some people here.  Some districts and the Conduits are all mostly ignored by them.  They sure keep the Peaks and the Government safe though.  As for the government, the only real thing you need to know is that we currently have nine members on the council, used to have four but now there are nine.  They are all headed by Grand Duke Conray. That is the gist of it.  I wish you the best of luck.  Grab yourself a projector and don’t go swallowing the wrong end.

Our Mechanical Changes

We changed a variety of things to help savage worlds better fit a city campaign and the world that we created.

Skills

The first change we made was to enhance and encourage the stealth and subtlety aspects of this campaign was adding the skill Subterfuge(Smarts).

        Subterfuge is the ability to make the player or another object appear inconspicuous.  For example, hiding in a crowd or replacing an object with a fake.  This skill allows the player to forge counterfeit objects, to allow the player to plant evidence around another character’s house, and/or leaving a scene undisturbed.  This skill also allows the player to make himself or herself, and/or another character appear to belong with a group.  Think, hiding in plain sight.

The opposing role will be investigation in most cases.

This skill was added to curve the strength of stealth in this campaign while giving a clear difference between Perception and Investigate.

Perception is the skill used to notice things around you but more so than that, this is a skill used for quick glances and general awareness.  If the character is staring and studying something for too long, this becomes investigate. 

Investigate is for careful study of a scene for things that appear out of place.  People could be completely oblivious to the world around them (Perception) but still determine the small dots on the wall are in fact buttons for a secret passage.

Stealth is used for all sorts of hiding, but mainly it was used for sneaking up on an unsuspecting foe. The opposing role is perception.  But what skill does the player role when they want to hide a body so the watch does not notice that a murder took place? Well hiding something in savage worlds would fall under stealth, but once the watch comes to search for the body, they would use investigate to find it.

We wanted a separate skill that would oppose investigate for cases of stealth like moments.  This is where subterfuge comes in.

 

The second change we made was to remove Driving, Piloting, and Boating and merge them into Routing.  This skill allows you to operate both types of routers within the city and just felt like a nice flavor change.  In most campaigns all three skills would rarely be used and for us, there were currently no Air Routers planned.  So so make the skill seem more worthwhile to the player, we merged them.

Next, we modified Survival (Smarts) and Tracking(Smarts). Survival allows all the benefits of being in the wilderness to also be applied to the streets.  Salvaging and digging through trash or finding more sheltered areas of the city.  As for tracking, we added a modifier set for tracking within a city, as it is different than tracking out in the wilderness:

  • Recent snow +1
  • Mud +1
  • Busy street:   -4
  • Narrow Alleyway +0
  • Dusty Area +0
  • Raining +0
  • Tracks are more
  • than one day old -10
  • Target attempted to hide tracks (-4 to -6)

Finally, the last big change we made was the complete removal of the Knowledge(Smarts) skills.  I never liked the feel of rolling to see what characters "remember".  I thoroughly enjoy when players have information provided to them based on their background via note cards,  and they keep track of all their information to recall throughout the game.  This allows for players to actually feel good when they recall a piece of information, or look up on their cards and say " Yes this was the old man we helped 3 sessions ago, I remember him".  that eureka moment feels much better and the other players will be just as appreciative maybe even moreso, of the recollection as they would be if the player rolled a high.

Equipment

Steam-powered technology, or Steamtech as we call it, is a staple of modern life here in Darhavos. It’s modular, rechargeable, portable, and mostly environmentally friendly. Steampacks come in a few a different sizes and shapes, but all are equally easy for the end user to operate. Just hook up a hose and you’ll be punching through walls, skulls, boxes or whatever gets between your hand and its destination.  Not happy with how your personal Steampack fits? No problem, from the stealthy Wristpack to custom giant-sized packs we’ve got ‘em in every size and shape you can want. Run out of steam? No problem, almost every repair shop, workshop, guild, and factory has a boiler to top you off, for a modest fee, of course.

Projectors, the marvelous modern magical self-defense tool. Sold by a variety of manufacturers, these mana-fueled means of destruction are everything the sensible citizen needs. Unlike noisy steamtech, projectors are nearly silent and come in every flavor imaginable. Fire, Ice, Acid, Lightning, you name it, we make it. Every mana cartridge can be customized to fit your personal needs. Of course this peace of mind comes at a cost, we can’t just give away the secret to a happy life. There’s bound to be one you’ve got to have whether it’s a Firby-Smith or a Fauconer.

A world that recently discovered a new power source required a new type of weapon.  Because we knew we wanted combat to be deadly we went about making weapons that would reinforce this.  Additionally, due to the scattered equipment in the explorers handbook and our desire to grab weapons from other campaign settings, we rewrote all available weapons and gave the list to the players.

The Equipment List

I headed up the creation of the new weapons.  The first thing I went to do was create the weapons that would define the era and eclipse the previous era of weapons like gunpowder eclipsed our swords and crossbows. I made a cartridge based gun system. The cartridges would be purchased separately and have an charge based system that would deplete over time.  The cartridges are universal with all weapons types but each weapon uses a different amount of the cartridge with each shot. 

Next I needed to create a variety of different projectors, so i invented 6 different manufacturers that each have their own quirk to their weapons.  As a baseline, I took different weapons as templates so I could create each store's invetory based off of these set weapons. I wanted a pistol (Hand projector), a rifle ( projector) and a shotgun based weapon (Blaster). After more analysis I determined a melee weapon would do wonders in diversity as well, so the shock Baton was added as well.  I do not want to talk too in depth about each of the manufacturers when you can read them in the above list, but I will highlight my thoughts when creating the templates for each.  Each Manufacturer quirks modify the guns slightly and this can generally be captured by the company's taglines.  For example, Firby-Smith Equalizers have an increased rate of fire, and thus their tagline is "Projectors are the fastest way to settle an arguement and Firby-Smith's the fastest". While Fauconer Pistoleers weapons deal more damage than others and thus have used larger damage dice when rolling for damage, but they lose their semi-automatic benefit, and thus their tagline is "You'll only need to fire once".

Because this is a cartridge based system, each cartridge could be loaded with a different magical effect.  So the weapon determines the damage, while the cartridge determines what the shot will do.  So at each store, the players can by the varying types of effects for their weapons.  Below is an example of a store's page

Once the projectors were settled, I wanted to define the mundane equipment.  Most of this was taken from the explorer's handbook and a the ripper's campaign setting.  The prices were adjusted to match the times.  Almost all were lowered.

Finally, for those that do not want to use projectors, I wanted another avenue for technological advancement, steamtech.  Steamtech works off of a steam charge based system that is comparable to the projectors, except that their ammo does not last as long and is free.  These devices end up being slightly weaker and cheaper version of projectors, but because they have been around longer, they have a few more interesting options.  The Drill is not so much a weapon as it is used for break ins.  The net launcher offers a great unique way for the player to capture fleeing foes, (or be captured), while the Rotary Saw offers the highest Armor Piercing in the game.  So these varying options offer a lot more versatility to the owners of steampacks that those of projectors.  

New Magic System

Magic systems in almost all tabletop RPG systems is very rigid.  You learn spells at each level and you can only cast those specific spells.  My friend Phil wanted to change this.

He put in a lot of the legwork and vision to create this system while I helped with the mechanical setup for the system.  We looked at Ars Magica for the initial inspiration. Ars Magica has a wonderful system where spells are created based off of a Range, Duration, and a Target.   This allows for endless possibilities for a mage character to create their own unique spell perfect for whatever situation.  The way this RPG is balanced is that all characters are mages.  If this system was implemented into any other RPG system, the mage characters would just be too powerful.

We took Ars Magica's system as a start, but we had a lot of balancing work that needed to be done to make this system actually viable for Savage Worlds.  We needed to convert everything into the style of Savage Worlds.  This means we needed Edges, Hinderances, a skill die with associated attribute die.  Smarts was the obvious choice for this attribute, while we could easily make a spell casting skill.  To determine how a character became a mage, we just added an Edge that can be taken, Mana-touched, that allowed casting of spells and access to the spell casting skill.

Next came the hard part, we needed a way to actually cast a spell using the spell casting skill.  We wanted to take the Range, Duration, and Target table from Ars Magica, but we needed more.  We needed earlier level spell casting to be difficult so that we could curve the power of mages to more closely balance with non spell casting classes.

We finally settled on adding a fourth column, the effect column, and giving each spell a varying casting modifier.  Our current iteration is shown below.

When a player casts a spell.  They first select the four components, Range, Duration, Target, and Effect.  The player then adds the difficulty of all 4 spell components together, divide by 2 and rounded up, and that will give them their spell casting modifier.  For any spell directly dealing damage, the player rolls 2 times their spellcasting die.

The next component added was a method to reduce the amount of spells a mage can cast within a fight.  We started with a complex willpower pool where each spell would reduce it based on how hard it was to cast.  this proved to annoying to determine for the players and not particularly interesting or related to savage worlds.

We settled on a Magical Fatigue system.  This system allowed us to severely limit how many spells 

All player start with 0 magical fatigue.  Upon attempting to cast a spell, whether the spell succeeds or fails, the caster gains 1 magical fatigue.  At three fatigue, the caster falls unconscious after the spell’s success is determined.

The player can choose to use a combat action and movement action to attempt to remove one magical fatigue.  The player rolls their spirit die and on a success, they remove one magical fatigue.  On a raise, an additional magical fatigue maybe be removed.

I am currently happy with the state that the system is in but I believe more numerical tweaking is required to better balance the early power of mages compared to their final power.  I think this can be done with edges and if I am able to playtest this system more, I would like to continue to explore that avenue.

The full magic rules can be read here.

Edges and Hindrances

Edges and Hindrances are the most interesting part of Savage Worlds character creation to me.  They really define your character, and give you interesting avenues to role play.  That is why I think the most interesting thematic and mechanical decisions can be made here.

There were a lot of good edges and hindrances in other campaign settings that we really felt fit the flavor of our campaign so those were added.

Our own contributions to the edges and hindrances mostly centered around our new Magic system.  But there are two additional areas I would like to talk about that I think have exciting opportunities within savage worlds.  First we added one edge related to the steampunk technology part of the world.  Steampunk Limb replacement can be used to replace a missing limb.  

Requirements: Missing Limb, Vigor D6, a Steampack

This character now has a rudimentary steam powered limb. They receive a -1 to Charisma. This Charisma reduction will only be applied once even if the player has multiple steam limps.

Steampowered leg will remove the "lame" or "One leg" hindrance. Running dice is d4. Character's toughness is increased by 1. This leg requires 3 steam per hour. If this leg runs out of steam, the character gains the lame hindrance.

Steampowered arm will remove the "one arm" hindrance. Character's toughness is increased by 1. This arm requires 2 steam per hour. If this arm runs out of steam, the character gains the "One Arm" hindrance.

This is an exciting area for more technology based edges using more steamtech or even the cartridge technology.  At present we only have 1 edge relating to the technological aspects of the world.  But as I develop more of the world, I will be constantly looking to further expand this area.

The next and more exciting avenue for Edges is using them to replace the use of the knowledge skill.  All character for Darhavos are given a free background edge, of City Born, Village Born, or Island Born.  each of these provides the players with a different sheet of starting information that would allow them to better understand the world while also removing the need for the knowledge skills.

I even created additional information for edges that can be taken later granting information about the various government workings or even the Back Alley's perk where I would provide the players with a map of once section of the city where they grew up in detailing names and stores all in that area.

Outside of the campaign we ran with this system, I ran a separate campaign (Nightmare on Brimbrock) testing out an alternate method of delivering knowledge to the player.  I would give them note cards of tidbits of information as they would enter stores, this would be given to the townsfolk that lived in the area.  These definitely improved the player's experience as they had information they could share with the group, and gave them some unique personalized info.  For example, one of the townsfolk characters was also a bookstore owner, so on ever card she received about a person, she also had the types of books they liked to buy.  This system allowed me to create a more personalized knowledge system and also give more room for actual problem solving of puzzles outside of rolling the investigate die.

These systems are still a work in progress as well as the world but here is the current status on the systems and their design decisions.