Brief review for the hasty: Beasts & Barbarians is a sword & sorcery setting that has a feel of familiarity - perhaps because many civilizations have been inspired by historical civilizations. Carefully spiced up with originality, combined with classic sword & sorcery elements and tied together with a believable history this setting make a very tasty stew.
The book has simple but clever rules for various things, showing all kinds of neat things you can do with Savage Worlds. The book has just the right amount of content and it is well structured; even if Deluxe Edition is the latest version of Savage Worlds, I can't help but think of how cheap combination is this setting together with Explorer's edition, giving you a complete game of extremely high value for very little investment, if you are on budget.
The setting feels good, it feels right and is quite complete - except of course base rules, for wich you'll need Savage Worlds rulebook. I wouldn't have bought this game without hearing it being praised (I didn't actually need it and cover wasn't that promising) but now I'll build my future Sword & Sorcery game on it. I'm very happy I bought it!
Currently you can buy the book only as a pdf.
I first noticed Beasts & Barbarians while it was being talked about at Savage Worlds forums. Having a Sword & sorcery campaign in my future plans I was slightly interested in the topic, but I had already gathered good amount of material for my upcoming game, and as my plans involved more evil humans than beasts, the name wasn't a seller either. I decided to check it out anyway.
The materials I had gathered for my game beforehand are from various resources, which gives a little chaotic feel. I bought B&B having an idea of picking a few more components to my game - but after reading for a while it started to look like I could get all I want for my game from this book. I'll post more about actual games later, although it may take months before I get there.
Magic and powers
Game mechanics are always the thing I'll check out first in a new game book, and of those I tend to find pages presenting supernatural powers first. Here I encountered the thing that pushed me off the balance first - I had planned to use power pointless magic rules of Savage World of Solomon Kane, but in B&B there are some very cool things that can be done by investing Power points for extended period.
There are three Arcane backgrounds: Sorcery, Lotus Mastery (Alchemy, but this expanded my image of an alchemist a lot) and Enlightment (used by exotic monks). Enlightment first raised my eyebrow, but on a second thought this wuxia -like element fits in quite well. The setting rules suggest that there's no more than one character with Arcane background in the group, so you won't be seeing too many pc's jumping around, and even the monks aren't all jumping around.
There are also some edges allowing non-magical use of some powers - for example, a temptress can inspire or depress a man if she so wishes, altering his traits temporarily. This is a great idea to give a little extra things to do for non-arcane characters.
There are 4 new powers, plus a modified Summon ally - summons are very important part of B&B sorcery (one more aspect I love!). There's also hints and examples of how to use trappings for powers of various arcane backgrounds.
Character -related stuff
There are 30 edges in the book, plus a few hindrances. Loincloth Hero/Bikini Heroine allows typical half-naked heroes, and while it first may seem overpowered, it really isn't and is another display of excellence of Savage Worlds core rules. Many edges and flaws like Poisoner, Temptress, Binding ritual, Impressive Aura and Damsel in Distress are tickling your imagination and making you want to use them.
The edges are evenly distributed: 7 Background Edges, 7 Combat Edges, 7 Power Edges, 9 Professional Edges, 3 Weird Edges and 2 "Mood" Edges. There are 4 new hindrances, and several edges have been slightly modified - generally, they have new prerequisites.
There's 21 archetypes described, and all of them are very fitting to the theme. Mixing archetypes is recommended, as it already gives a huge amount of different character ideas.
The world feels believable. Many cultures are based on historical earth cultures, some are original ones and some S&S classics; A decaying empire with legions sounds vaguely familiar, as well a culture of sorcerers. Mongol-style invasion of Valk riders from the east is part of the recent history of the world. There are barbarians in north, savages in south, oriental folk, pirates, alchemists - some of the cultures and groups are really unique, like Cairnlords that live side by side by dead Ancestors, who's mounds their land is filled with.
Priests are figures of authority, not magic users, unless they decide to learn sorcery or alchemy - which is the way it should be in Sword & Sorcery.
The world gets analyzed layer by layer; First there's a map, then brief history, one-page timeline, overview of cultures, technology, languages, religion, climate, and finally the largest part, gazetteer that gives you some insight to each area on the map. There are a lot of hooks included, many of which can make your imagination fly right away.
Setting rules, items
There are different 'tech levels' in the world, at least what comes to material of weapons; Weapons of more advanced civilization are superior against ones of more primitive, even if they may work as well against unarmed opponents. Iron Confederation's legions conquered a lot of the world after inventing how to use iron, while most other cultures used bronze at best. There are simple rules for creating magic items, as well as a list of sample relics - which is a lot for a S&S setting where magic items usually aren't that numerous. And, all relics aren't actually magical.
There's a list of items that nicely complements SW core book. The armors are distributed to light/medium/heavy -style armors instead of leather/chain/plate. There's rules about using poisons, for small game groups, to what happens to the heroes between battles, hints for gm's how the setting should be used.
About organization and other content
There are only 11 new monsters or creatures, which isn't much - but in a man-filled world the need for monsters isn't very big. Upcoming bestiary -type book will give more beasts for those in need of them, and there is always monsters in the core rules. Most monster descriptions tell how sorcerers use them - summoning is a very common way to use magic for them.
Some of the imaging is great, while some pictures are quite simple - but IMO any imaging that gives you picture of something and isn't actually horrible is better than nothing. Unfortunately the cover picture isn't the best choise and may turn buyers away.
Minor issues and gripes
I really don't find many bad things from this book.
If you are looking for a setting completely different from earth, references to earth cultures may be too much for you - but remember that your players are seeing the stuff bit by bit, not all at once like game master. To me, the earth-like cultures feel really good after seeing too many settings that try to be as exotic and original as possible.
There is some technical issues with the pdf too. My mobile (Nokia) doesn't show images, and I've heard similar problems with some apple viewers. The file didn't work on my PC first either, but it only required updating to the latest version of reader - unfortunately Acrobat Reader doesn't always tell this, the file just doesn't work. I heard that these issues are going to be fixed soon, and I got the picture that so is my biggest personal issue - the picture of cultural types having no names of the represented cultures in it.
I'll post a comment here when an updated file is available, so you can check back later if you're interested, and I bet you can also see it from Savage Worlds forums too.
You'll find pregenerated characters and a free adventure for the game, and there's another free adventure to be pubished soon. A bestiary and 4 longer adventures are planned to be published too.
You'll find the products here.
If you aren't totally turned off by having earth -like cultures in a fantasy setting, I recommend to check out this setting. It's affordable, believable and pretty complete. The setting may not be most original, but it doesn't feel worn out; it feels familiar and easy to step into. The whole book is just 76 pages, which doesn't sound much, but into which you can put a lot of information. There feels to be right amount of everything; Even if you aren't a Savage Worlds -person, the setting might still be worth checking.
This setting was a perfect hit to me, which is why I wanted to write a review of it - it may not be to everyone's tastes, but I hope that after reading the review you know if this setting is for you or not.