Thursday, February 4, 2021

Odd Synergies - Pathfinder Savage Worlds and Other Fusions

 A comment on the earlier post I made about the Pathfinderized Savage Worlds mashup currently on Kickstarter got me to thinking: this actually happens more often than we realize in the RPG hobby, in which one game blends in some fashion with another game to produce an interesting new hybrid or take on the setting or rules as a result. Ignoring licensed IPs which tend to jump around a lot out of necessity, we can see some other examples of this over the years with just a brief view in the wayback machine,  including some noteworthy gems:

GURPS Traveller - wedding the "reality based" verisimilitude and deep skill system of GURPS with a variation on the Traveller Imperium in which the canonical events of Megatraveller and Traveller: The New Era never happened. While Traveller's mechanics are a mainstay today, with Mongoose's Traveller 2E being a close match in spirit of design and intent to the Classic Traveller of 1st edition, at the time GURPS Traveller came out it was the closest anyone could get to a "patch" on a system that had experienced a significant mechanical upheaval in the TNE edition along with a setting upheaval of equivalent contention in the game universe.

Fuzion - One has to dig back a ways to remember this, but there was a time when Hero System and R. Talsorian Games got in to some sort of strange and unholy union, and the result was the Fuzion game system. This is a particularly interesting one, because it materialized as an edition of Champions and then it's own generic system in a slim book that works quite well as a complex but hyper-condensed generic rulebook. The system was an integration of RTG's Interlock system which spawned out of Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton with Hero System 4th, and the result was...a good think in and of itself, though maybe not ideal for, say, Cyberpunk on its own or Champions/Hero 4th on its own.

Savage Worlds Rifts - That they even scored this crossover was significant, as Palladium has traditionally been very restrictive in its game licensing (which until this deal was all but nonexistent). I'm not a particularly big fan...mostly because I don't like Rifts as a setting all that much (I have played it, just not run it), but this is a case where I think many could argue that it gained a great deal in moving to a more coherent and modern rules system, though it also lost a bit in the unique style of black and white art characteristic of Palladium book designs. Still, Pinnacle does its own art style exceedingly well and I think all fans of both games won out here.

D6 System - What started as the Star Wars RPG of the 80's and early 90's eventually was decoupled from its original IP and developed over time into the mechanical basis for many other games, and eventually even was turned in to a OGL ruleset, allowing it to continue on in to perpetuity in various incarnations. The key detail here, though, is that a set of rules specifically designed with Star Wars in mind turned out to be excellent general mechanics for a wide array of genres and settings for which it was never originally intended.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy - Yes, GURPS does this sort of thing, a lot. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is an excellent example of how genre emulation of "D&D as a genre" is a solid thing that exists, now. People don't play Tolkienesque fantasy anymore....they play D&Desque fantasy these days. Gone are all Heartbreakers, long live the Heartbreakers, I guess.

But Back to the Pathfinder/Savage Worlds Mashup!

Now, on Pathfinder with Savage Worlds, its worth noting that nothing about the design and focus of the new Kickstarter necessarily required the Pathfinder license (other than the Golarian setting content and Rise of the Runelords modules). What the licensing appears to do is give us a tailor-made rulebook using Savage Worlds rules that defines how to do things like Pathfinder-like classes in Savage Worlds, a bestiary of distinctly Pathfinder monsters, and a spell system that will function like Savage Worlds but look like a Pathfinder (and therefore D&D) spell system. 

If you are coming at this from the Pathfinder side of the equation it may seem rather odd; fans of Pathfinder (both 1E and 2E) are honestly tethered to the game system for its actual mechanical elements, and not just it's D&D etymology. If you play Pathfinder for its mechanical style, why would Savage Worlds be a good fit? What is the point?

A Savage Worlds gamer can tell you why easily. When you look at Savage Worlds you have an efficient multi-genre system, but like most multigenre systems it does everything reasonably well on a broad scale but nothing in depth unless you have additional content to expand upon. Some genres have a lot of content for them right now: Savage Worlds has science fiction covered rather thoroughly, and arguably its a de facto system for pulp gaming in whatever form you want. But fantasy has been a bit all over the place, rather oddly. More significantly....dungeon fantasy has been a bit lacking in the Savage Worlds vein.

When you look at the trappings of Dungeon Fantasy it is extremely common to see sourcebooks pop up on Drivethrurpg and online for free trying to create various mods and settings for Savage Worlds that let you run it like it's some sort of spiritual successor to different editions of D&D. When you're used to playing just D&D or Pathfinder this may not seem so obvious, but those rule systems and the implied settings lead to very specific styles of world design, campaign design and game play. If you lack the specific tools to recreate those environments, but have a set of rules you think would handle it well (as Savage Worlds can), then the desire to pull it off is intense, and the tons of fan attempts and 3PP publications trying for this goal demonstrate a real market of some sort for the fans of SWADE and its prior editions.

Given that so many other publishers and fans have tried this, though, a generic but distinctly "D&D" edition of Savage Worlds wouldn't really attract a lot of attention from the crowd if you don't have a gimmick. And as I see it, it's a pretty amazing gimmick to say, "Hey, you know Pathfinder, the only other game aside from D&D to pull off what D&D did, and provide the level of content that we expect from actual D&D? Well now it's also a Savage Worlds thing." That's what this Kickstarter is's promising a full package, a version of Savage Worlds that doesn't feel like one man's take on his version of OSR or D&D or fantasy, that doesn't have the foibles and art limitations of a low budget 3PP, and that in fact has all the structural and design qualities of a Paizo product as well as its art resources and specific design simulate a Pathfinder like experience for a crowd that actually does want that whole "thing," but maybe doesn't specifically want the D20 system elements that make it difficult to appreciate.

There is a notion running around in some forums, however, that presents a line of thought like this: maybe Paizo is licensing this out to see if maybe they can pick up some steam on product without a lot of risk. This could be happening because they like the idea, or it could be a test resulting from lower sales performance on Pathfinder 2nd Edition. This is a lot of conjecture and I haven't seen anything that could support the claims, but it's an interesting thought. 

Paizo's crew have been more than willing to experiment in the past with licensing, sometimes with disastrous results (Goblinwork's MMORPG) and sometimes with much better results (Pathfinder: Kingmaker CRPG). Licensing this out to a Savage Worlds product seems like a bit of a tame bet. Those same forums raise questions about why Paizo doesn't just start publishing their Adventure Paths in 5E format....and while that could be a valid survival strategy, I think Paizo is aware that their long term survival odds are better if they grow their own IP rather than cater to WotC's. But a deal with Shane Hensley? This seems both safe and filled with some interesting growth potential. 


  1. There's a "Classic Fantasy" supplement for Mythras that supposedly lets you do DnD using the Mythras rules. I have not tried it myself.

    1. Yes! That's another one, and a good example. I have that book and it's pretty's definitely for people who, as in this scenario, want that D&D feel but with a different game system. You can run most classic AD&D modules with Mythras' Classic Fantasy with minimal fuss, in fact.

  2. I've often wondered about how well Pathfinder 2E is doing, especially over the last year. My guess is just "well enough." After the lightning-in-a-bottle breakout that was 1st edition, I'd imagine that as to be at least somewhat disappointing.

    I do believe Paizo does excellent work -- I absolutely love their era of Dungeon magazine -- but I don't believe Pathfinder 1E could have ever blown up to the extent that it did had WotC not badly bungled the launch of 4E (a system I rather liked, but that's another story). Basically, it was WotC's game to lose, and lose they did.

    This time around, however, with D&D 5E firing on all cylinders Paizo really had no chance of leapfrogging D&D. Meanwhile, Paizo itself appears to be having operational difficulties. Their customer service backlog is *at least* a month long, their subscription shipments are barely making it out the door ahead of street dates, and their (frankly never great) website is teetering on downright broken.

    I guess is that my point is that their current problems seem eminently solvable with appropriate investment...and yet those investments don't appear to be happening. Of course the world is grappling with a pandemic, so it's hard to know how many of their struggles are related to the success of 2E and how many are a direct result of COVID-19.

    Of course this is all speculation on my part -- something I have a long history of over on the Paizo boards. I was totally wrong back in '08/'09 about Pathfinder 1E -- I thought challenging D&D was absolute insanity -- but I also called the specific timing of Pathfinder 2E's release date correctly years in advance. So my record is fairly mixed. ;-)

    In any event, I certainly *hope* 2E is doing well, because I _greatly_ prefer it to 1E. I welcomed the announcement of 2E, because I felt by 2014 or so that that 1E had pretty much run its course.

    1. Cogent points! I wonder as well, and am in agreement on your assessment. 2E is a breath of fresh air, but it's not grabbed as many 1E fans away, and can't quite do much more than stand in the shadow of D&D these days. Paizo' site is indeed a shambles, and when I order from them I have to remember it may be weeks or months before I actually get my books.

  3. I can't speak for other game store retailers but what Paizo did best was selling directly to their customers and filling some of the void D&D left. Starfinder & PF2 aren't more than blips in my store. I think Paizo should consider redoing each Adventure Path for 5E and maybe just some 5E stuff.

    1. I think Paizo is afraid of looking like its abandoning their main title, but I suppose it makes sense if they did do this....that said, they are probably sustaining themselves on the "non pop 5E gamer crowd" (like me) by sticking to PF2E. I can't fault them, I know they would make more money, probably, selling 5E stuff but then I would not be buying Paizo so maybe I'm the "secondary market" they have decided to stake out.