Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Savage Swords of Athanor...

Good Evening, All:

Tonight, I'd like to review a rules supplement for Swords & Wizardry: White Box. This one is entitled Savage Swords of Athanor, by Doug Easterly. Savage Swords of Athanor is a science-fantasy setting with heavy tendencies towards the planetary romance genre, my literary genre of preference.

I purchased my digest-sized softcover copy from the author's website on The cover for this 64-page supplement is a basic white book roughly the size of one of the Old School Traveller Little Black Books. The front bears a series of silhouettes in orange and black that create the impression of a lost world, and the font used for the title is both evocative of the setting and readable. It hints of Golden Age sword and planet adventure to me, so I was eager to dive in.

Looking at the 64 pages within this book, I can see that Mr. Easterly does not waste much space for non-necessities. There's a title page, followed by a page that contains both the table of contents and a one-paragraph introduction, and the final page of the manuscript contains the OGL. That's 61 pages left for gaming goodness. The font size of the body of the book is easy to read, and well-formatted. There are only two images through the book, a map of the City-State of Zamora and a regional map of the area around Zamora proper.

After the single paragraph that marks the introduction of Savage Swords of Athanor, the author organizes the contents in the classic three sections named after the three core books of the original version of the World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game. Throughout the text, I should note that there are a large number of typos, misspellings, skipped words and other editing issues. While this does not detract from my enjoyment of the material presented within, it does detract from the professionalism of the product. However, that said, the youthful enthusiasm and exuberance that Mr. Easterly brings to Savage Swords of Athanor make up for this distraction, in my mind.

The Men and Magic chapter is 15 pages long, and yet there's a lot of material packed in those pages. Under the Men and Magic chapter, we first encounter rules for the races that exist on the world of Athanor. It should be noted that, like the other products I've reviewed to date, Mr. Easterly separates race from class, a practice I support. The races detailed within this book are: Humans (in four sword-and-planet flavors of unusual skin coloration), Mal'Akkan (cactus-men), Alemanian (blue-shelled bug-men), Throon (humanoid fungus-men), and Earthmen (humans from worlds other than Athanor, presumably of Terran descent).

Next, Mr. Easterly talks about character classes. While we can play fighting men and magic-users, the cleric is not available as an option in the world of Athanor. Instead, the author introduces us to a new class, the rogue magic-user, or Rogue for short. The class has limited magical abilities, and poor combat abilities, but possesses slightly better hit points and great saves.

The next subsection of the Men and Magic chapter describes a very simple skill system. In general, you can attempt anything by making a saving throw. If you happen to be skilled at something, then you get to add four to your save. You basically get one or two skills for your character, which you select from a small set of broad skill groups, and you can spend money and time to learn new skills over the course of the campaign.

The section on Magic in Athanor describes the creation of scrolls, provides a chart for magical mishaps in the event that your spell is interrupted (or in case you interrupt the Big Bad Guy's spell), and wraps up with a list of spells by level. The spells on the list come from Swords & Wizardry, and are limited to those that represent psychic powers, as would be found in a planetary romance setting.

There's a small section on mutations, allowing the Referee to provide unusual abilities to PCs, NPCs and monsters alike should they become exposed to radiation through a variety of means. These range in power level, and avoid the outlandish powers that some mutation charts tend to hand out. All in all, I find them to be very evocative and many conjure up images that are easy to transform into adventures or encounter scenarios.

A brief paragraph and associated chart introduces the concept of the Clone Pits, where you might get a dead colleague resurrected for a pound of flesh and a thousand gold. Using the Clone Pits to cheat death, however, is not without risk, as this is one of the ways in which a character might gain a mutation or two.

The Men and Magic section wraps up with two pages of variant rules. Here's where you can find a variant on the Death's Door rules, binding wounds to restore lost hit points, the healing power of a good ale, parrying and two-weapon combat clarifications, and rules on disarming a foe. The mechanics are simple, functional and in keeping with the playability of Swords & Wizardry.

The second major section, Monsters and Treasure, is only 13 pages long, but the Referee can still find a lot of useful information in this section. The bestiary covers 32 monsters in 8 pages, including a wide range of dinosaurs, common planetary romance monster types, and a variety of monstrous antagonists related to the Zamora setting. Three more pages cover eleven "artifacts" of ancient technology, ranging from medical tech and weapons to defensive shields and a hand grenade of depression and woe. The last two pages discuss bound spirits, extradimensional essences that magic-users can summon and attempt to bend to their will. Herein lies the path to corruption and Cthulhu, I'm sure, but the abilities are very reasonable and in keeping with the flavor that's already been created by Mr. Easterly's presentation.

The third and final section, Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, forms the bulk of Savage Swords of Athanor, weighing in at 33 pages. We start off with four pages of random encounter tables for the various locations and terrain types found in the Zamora region. Seven pages describe the world of Athanor, with four of those pages devoted to the religious practices of the people. The rest includes details about the flora and fauna, climate, the two moons above, technology, travel, food and history.

Seven pages describe the City-State of Zamora. Among the local sites, persons of importance and power factions, Mr. Easterly has hidden a number of nice gems. Ramirez's, an inn within Zamora, is obviously an homage to the movie Highlander. The Lo Pan Society, as written, conjures thoughts Lo Pan's tong in Big Trouble In Little China. There are certainly other jewels within this section, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

After the section on the City-State, Mr. Easterly provides us with twelve adventure seeds and a series of charts the Referee can use to create their own planetary romance plot.

The last ten pages of the book contain a map of the Zamora region (with some of the hexes strangely misnumbered), and an amazing number of small entries describing the lairs, ruins and small adventures that await adventurers ready to explore this planetary romance sandbox. There's a wide variety of encounters, from killer robots and atmosphere factories to ancient bunkers and fallen meteorites, from mines and refugees to undead sorceresses in love and a lost astronaut from Earth. These entries definitely capture the flavor of a planetary romance setting, while making it easy and accessible to Referees interested in stepping outside the usual campaign settings and exploring the world of science fantasy.


All in all, I liked Savage Swords of Athanor. As an ardent fan of the sword-and-planet genre, I've looked long and hard for settings that capture that flavor. The World of Athanor is definitely one of them. Despite the typos and editing issues, the great depth and evocative nature of the writing more than makes up for the distraction I sometimes felt. Mr. Easterly does a great job of developing the world of Athanor and presenting it to the reader in a style and format that offers much in a surprisingly concise manner. I definitely hope that he continues to publish more works in this vein. I know that I would consider myself a fan of his work.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to rate Savage Swords of Athanor as an 8. For the planetary romance fan, I'd even bump it up a little higher. It's definitely worth checking out, and for only eight bucks (yes, I said $8), it's a steal!

With Regards,

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