Review originally appeared at http://rptroll.blogspot.com/2011/12/review-savage-worlds-horror-companion.html
Pinnacle Entertainment Group released a new member of their Companion series for the Horror genre. This work joins the Super Powers and Fantasy Companions as supplements to the Savage Worlds rules set. Like the others in the series, the Horror Companion is in the smaller Explorer’s Edition format.
One important note: this rule book does not stand on its own. It is a supplement. You must have either the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition or Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition in order to fully utilize this product.
The Horror Companion contains generous amounts of artwork, reference tables, encounters, character additions, and equipment for all your Horror genre needs. It’s information-packed pages contain rules and setting advice to recreate Horror/Super Natural adventures in the Victorian worlds of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly, the modern slap-stick humor of Ghostbusters, the serial action/horror adventures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the star-spanning terror of H. P. Lovecraft's creations, or the futuristic nightmare creatures of the Alien franchise all packed in 144 pages.
In the Savage Worlds tradition of Fast, Furious, and Fun; the Horror Companion jumps right into character creation. Savage Worlds is one of the best game systems for replicating the theatrical adventure one finds in movies and novels. To that end, the work includes a number of customized Edges and Hindrances to allow for characters pulled straight from the movie house.
The new Edges and Hindrances for your players and NPCs include:
Tower of Will
One of the Chosen
If your campaign is a little more powerful, you can also have non-human characters and NPCs. Be warned, they will be distinctly more power than the humans. If you plan on running a mixed character group, you might want to consider starting humans as Seasoned while starting other races out at the Novice rank.
Dhampyr - half vampire
Patchwork Man - like the Frankenstein Monster
Phantom - ethereal
Zombie - has a thing for fresh meat.
The Tools of the Trade
The Horror Companion equipment section was truly a joy to read. I was pleased to see Ghostbuster-style equipment present. Other equipment mimicked that found in movies series like Blade or Underworld. Below is a partial list of equipment found in this section.
Atomic Ghost Hunting Pack
Silver Nitrate Bullets
Fear and Loathing in Gaming - Setting Rules
The Setting section adds horror tinted ideas to create custom styles of play. Your game setting might have a horrible price for magic, people splatter when killed, heightened magical effects based on the calendar day, or the fact that immoral behavior is a serial killer magnet.
For the Lovecraft fans, the Horror Companion includes a Sanity attribute which measures the character’s Spiritual toughness. It starts at half the character’s Spirit+2. Carnage, super natural terror, and forbidden knowledge lower Sanity while triumphing over evil, rest and relaxation, and psychotherapy heal it.
If a character’s Sanity drops too low, they are odd in some way and pick up a negative to their Charisma. If it drops to zero, they get the joy of rolling on the Psychosis Table. Luckily, the rules allow for Sanity healing, so your characters might be brought back from the brink.
Other setting rules include
Forbidden Lore - containing information “Man Was Not Meant to Know”
Rituals and the Price of Failure - magic in horror settings isn’t often as easy or available as fantasy settings. The Ritual rules contain some variations to simulate this in game terms. Rituals that fail carry special consequences. Depending on the setting, Villians may use Sacrifices to power their evil Rituals and spells.
Signs & Portents - Horror often includes foreshadowing from a fortune teller or dreams. The Horror Companion includes a Portents Table to help the GM determine the value of the visions or advice. Unlucky characters receiving a fortune of Doom may have their Bennies removed for the rest of the game.
Wards & Binds - an important aspect of Horror is the ability to ward against evil or bind an unstoppable being, so the Horror Companion has rules governing these aspects including how such a creature breaks free.
Much like the equipment section, the Horror Companion contains new powers to simulate popular Horror fiction. In addition, powers derived from Dark sources may drain sanity if the caster rolls a critical failure. Even if your character does not have an Arcane Background, they may still be able to cast spells via Rituals (see setting rules, above).
Some of the new powers include:
Strength of the Dead
The Horror Companion also contains a list of Arcane Items for inclusion in your game. Some of these items are cursed, others are ancient and unique, while still others can be made with the proper ingredients. The items include:
Bandages of Anubis
Hockey Mask of Terror
What’s a Horror adventure without terrifying creatures to fight, overcome, or evade? The Horror Companion doesn’t disappoint with a list of mundane and super natural beings for encounters. They aren’t all monsters. Some are people like Vampire Slayers or Occultic Investigators that might help your characters when things go bump in the night.
Stuffed Animal Fiend
Chinese Hopping Vampire
The last section on Game Mastering guides the GM through a setting creation by describing the various genres of Horror. Before starting, the GM needs to decide the Horror style to use including: Action, Greater Evil, and Dark.
Action settings involve lots of combat where the characters wade through monsters, kicking super natural butt and taking names. The heroes are more akin to fantasy settings than helpless teenagers running way from a serial killer. Fear rules are rarely used in this style of play.
Greater Evil settings feature super natural creatures as far above us as we are above ants. The human race is an insignificant speck in the universe and all their technology is useless against being of cosmic power. Heroes are normal men and women who are drawn into the dark to keep mankind safe from the greater cosmic horror. Fear and Sanity rules dominate this style of play with the characters struggling to stay sane.
Dark settings are somewhere between Action and Greater Evil settings. In this case, there may be monsters that are easily killed but others, like vampires, are difficult and take planning. Fear rules are used often but the Sanity rules are de-emphasised. Things are scary but not mind bending.
After the GM picks the style, they must decide on an era of play. Will the campaign be in a Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Modern, or Historical era.
Fantasy is a well worn path with which most gamers are familiar. It’s also likely the hardest to separate from a classic fantasy campaign. The Ravenloft modules can be easily transformed into Savage Worlds using a combination of the Fantasy and Horror Companions.
Sci-Fi campaigns are another setting players should be familiar with. Aliens or Warhammer 40K would both do well Savaged using these rules. Likewise I could see moving the Horror Companion rules into the existing Savage Worlds Necropolis setting.
Modern is another era setting that would be easy to implement. Thanks to the Internet, maps and locals are easily found and used for game purposes.
History era settings are probably the hardest to create. The GM will need to spend a good bit of time on research to get the story-telling touches down to make the players feel like they’re in the time period. That said, the Victorian time period has many game supplements available including Space 1889, Rippers, and Deadlands. Other historical settings include Weird War II, Pirates of the Spanish Main, and Solomon Kane.
I enjoyed reading this supplement cover to cover. It’s packed with ideas, statistics, and other content to help GMs and Players create a fun (or scary) Horror campaign. While the content isn’t as extensive as other Savage Worlds horror supplements like Realms of Cthulhu or Rippers, it contains more than enough to get you started on a lenghthy campaign.
As a side note, the fact that the Creature list includes Pazuzu and Dark Man entries made me wonder if Wiggy’s been in my computer since those are the creatures I used the Thomas Gunn Detective Stories of The New Moon Murders and Prescription for Revenge.
On the up side, the Horror Companion gave me lots of idea’s for my third novel. After all, isn’t the reason we game to tell good stories and have fun? That’s what the Savage Worlds Companion series is all about.