Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shaintar: Immortal Legends

Shaintar was something I've had my eye on for some time, and when the GM's Day sale started up I had no excuses left not to buy it. Published by Talisman Studios and written by Sean Patrick Fannon, one of the first things you realize when you open it up, is that this is a project that they cared about.

The art is beautiful, and the writing is crisp and interesting. One thing I especially want to point out is the "GM to GM" sections, which is something that I'd love to see in every game book. Something that's very simple, and yet so useful in getting into the mind of what the writer was thinking or trying for. With over 250 pages, for a SETTING book, you know you're getting a lot for your value, and it doesn't disappoint. Setting specific flavorful gear and classes right along with the more traditional fantasy tropes, one almost feels as if those hundred of pages aren't enough for what they put in, not to mention the wonderful art that is sprinkled throughout the pages(it actually feels more professional than the core Savage Worlds book).

Of course, the majority is taken up by the latter sections, the plot point campaign and a list of sample encounters. I call it a list because that's what it is, it has something that I really feel that any GM would appreciate, samples of the characters/monsters presented at three levels, a regular version, an advanced version, and an elite version. A lack of interchangeability has always bothered me in the more traditional RPGs*coughdndcough* in that adventures are designed for a certain level of character and it's quite hard to adjust that, whereas an inability to judge what will be a challenge without a being an execution squad is an adjustment that Savage World GMs have to make. The little guide they present and levels of challenge provide a very useful tool for making your own adventures, or repopulating theirs as you see fit for a larger or smaller party.

The plot point campaign and assorted adventure hooks promise to quickly pull the adventurers into all sorts of world shattering events. Again, the GM to GM sections shine through here. With references to the Cajun flavor of a certain group of elves sticking out in my mind, and in another adventure you've got a familiar Hatfield and McCoy type feud. Also included is the MACs, which is a pretty comprehensive adventure generator, for when you need to toss something together without much prep.

If this was a regular book, the review would stop here, but it's not. Because it's an RPG and setting book it has to be functional. That's something I demand, and something that I'm sorry to say Shaintar has some problems with, because with quality like it has, I want to like it. First and foremost is the Table of Contents, sharing half a page with other information and easily overlooked, it's definitely lacking.If I wanted to find a specific adventure or encounter, I would need to possibly page through nearly a hundred pages of densely packed information. On a similar vein is that some sections are oddly organized, information on the Arcane powers for example, there's actually a section on arcane powers in Shaintar, which lists some of the background and trappings, yet says that I'd need to look under the professional edges, which has me flipping through pages to find them as well, and once I get there they mention needing skills associated with the magic, but each magic has a different skill and these are not mentioned in the "skills in Shaintar" section, which I would have found useful. Actually, come to think of it, an expanded Table of Contents would be good, but bookmarks would be ideal. (Edit: A little update, the new version of the download includes a well organized bookmarks page, and thus resolved the major issues with navigating the document.) Also, near the end of the book is the full color map, in print it might be perfect, but on my screen it's small and the detail could be improved. I was nose to the screen to read some of the city names there, and since much of the plot points and adventures are in a relatively smaller area, a regional map would have been nice, even if it was just a black and white sketch(if there was one somewhere, which is possible with 260 or so pages, then I couldn't find it). A final little quibble is the download, instead of having both the print friendly and full version in a little zip file, they're presented as separate downloads, it's something to look out for and make sure you have both versions when you get it.

Now on the gripping hand, Shaintar has something that you aren't going to get with every RPG you get, a very active and accessible creator. It's not hard at all to get in touch with questions, not to mention additional information supplements. It's a living creation, and the gaps at the edges of the map with "here be monsters" are being filled in. And with a very helpful community, I'm hopeful that someone or another is eventually going to at least come out with crib notes that will keep me from going crazy searching for things while trying to run a game.

Paying for a fantasy setting book when there are so many free conversions on the internet may be controversial, but if you get it, then you aren't going to be disappointed, and as mentioned before, it's a lot of book for the price. It isn't without its flaws, but I don't want to give the impression that they overshadow the meat of the product, and with the active community, many of those flaws are likely to be patched up. This isn't a must have, but if you are going to run Savage Worlds games in a fantasy setting this provides a vibrant, living world for your players to adventure in.


tenkan said...

Thank you! The review sounded very helpful. I was undecided, not anymore! =)

Talkos said...

You're very welcome, glad I could be of service.

Anonymous said...

you need to check out the Kickstarter...3 days left and Sean is bringing everything to this one!