Setting Review: Caladon Falls from Savage Mojo

What would you do to save your your way of life? How about your home? Your neighbor’s home? Your country? I always find that sort of story easy to get into – from films like Red Dawn and Battle: Los Angeles to Krull and The Black Cauldron. It’s the little guys with their back to the wall fighting to keep what is theirs.

But let me go back a step. In May, Michael Garcia started looking for help financing a new book for Savage Mojo via IndieGogo called Caladon Falls. I, along with more than 50 other good folks in the gaming community, answered the call and tossed some money in the hat. As a result, they raised an impressive chunk of change to do the book justice and get it printed. I helped get the word out in May and ended up with an early copy of the game to review, which I previewed in early June.

As I said back then, Caladon Falls immediately captured my attention with not just a gorgeous full-color cover, but amazing interior art, and a layout that is up to par with the big books from Open Design, Paizo, and Wizards of the Coast. Aaron Acevedo, Alec Acevedo, Jennie Kohl Austin, James Denton, Jason Engle, Alida Saxon, and Gorislav Solovov did an amazing job. So from the art alone, I was already loving it.

But beyond that, the idea of an invading army of god-like spellcasters leaving destruction and madness in their wake… that’s easy to get behind. The back cover sums it up succinctly:

“They came out of nowhere and started ripping the world apart, one city at a time. Using power on a scale never before seen, Warlocks, god-like leaders of the Wild army, are rampaging across Austeria with one goal: raise armies and annihilate the entire continent. Set in the fantasy realm of Relec, this book looks at warfare through the eyes of everyday people turned soldiers – soldiers whose side is losing the war.”

So beyond the artwork, the writing was also enough to suck me into the world quickly. Writers Vickey A. Beaver, Steve Dean, and Curtis & Sarah Lyon, with help from Aaron Acevedo, Phil Brucato, Dan McGirt, Kevin Ranson, and John Wick did a great job pulling all the various player and GM-related information together to make it both entertaining and informative.

In order to use the setting properly, it looks like you need a copy of the Savage Worlds system, which Pinnacle Entertainment Group just recently released a new version of with Savage Worlds Deluxe, as well as a copy of Savage Mojo’s book Savage Suzerain, which extends the core Savage Worlds rules in a few ways (races, character advancement, and more).

Though I have not yet had an opportunity to play Savage Worlds, I have heard nothing but good things about the system (and have a copy of the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition to review at some point). So most of this review will focus on the setting and setup instead of any rules-specific bits.

The book is divided into two major sections. “For Players” comprises the first 40 or so pages of the book, and “For GMs” is the other 100 pages or so . You’re immediately thrust into the middle of the war.

“So many gone. It is shocking how many comrades, neighbors, family have been lost to this Wild army in so short a time. Always on the run, the survivors have barely been able to say brief goodbyes and commit the dead to their final rest before moving on to the next doubtful stronghold… And now we can’t even bury our dead.”

Players start in the first year of a three-year war in the High Kingdom of Caladon as the Wild army comes crashing into the picture. The Warlocks and their horrific army, somehow altered by the Warlocks’ magic, only offer two choices – stand and fight, or run. And once you’re on the run, will you ever stop?

In a few short pages, you get a high-level overview of the history of the world, the calendar, economy, and so on and are then introduced to the Powers That Be. The High King governs. The noble houses are the same as noble houses in any world – full of intrigue, backstabbing, and oneupmanship. And then each house is divided into concentric rings – the inner court, outer court, courtiers, and underlings. We get a bit of flavor (and a gorgeous coat-of-arms) for each major house, which gives a taste of what’s going on when the campaign starts.

After that, we learn a bit about Caladon’s major religion – The Church of Trinity – which seems a bit like Christianity, encompassing three main pillars – Charity, Faith, and Hope. And we learn a bit about The Wizards Guild, which offers training, guidance, and laws for each magic user in the land to adhere to. The major classes of wizards seem to be – mages (spell-casters), scriveners (imbue parchment with power), alchemists (apothecaries), anatomists (mages interested in manipulating living tissue), and enchanters (creators of magic items).

And lastly, before discussing character creation, we get maps and an overview of the High Kingdom of Caladon – from major features like Aisley Rock and the Baerwald Forest to the waterfall called Caladon Falls – to the many towns and cities in the kingdom like Dunhoun, Kinholt, Portagusta, and Waterford. Each feature and point of civilization is given a paragraph or two of description to give you the high points.

The Character Creation section walks you through, step-by-step, what you need to do to pull a character together. Obviously you need the Savage Worlds rules here. But I love the impressive list of Archetypes provided to give you ideas for characters that fit in this setting – from archers to soldiers, there should be something in there for every player. Also included are some new Hindrances , Edges, Pulse Paths (see Savage Suzerain), Powers, and Gear to help flesh out the character.

Once the “For GMs” section starts, you’re definitely deep in the details. Here you’ll find the story behind the Warlocks, the Wild army, and Wild Magic. Think of the way The Wizards Guild approaches magic through order and organization and think of its opposite – chaos. That’s the secret of how the Warlocks have so much power to wield. They’ve found ways to use chaos to their advantage. Unfortunately, there’s a side effect – the Taint. If you wield chaos, it’s like looking into the abyss – and sometimes the abyss looks back.

There are so many details in this section, it’s impossible to capture them all in a short review. But with details on how the Caladan army works and a detailed campaign that leads them from the time the Wild army hits the shore to when Caladon is lost and the retreat is in full swing. The writers really put a lot of thought into this – from ways to randomize certain encounters using Savage Worlds’ signature use of playing cards, to monster descriptions, action repercussions, and much much more.

As a player, it would be hard not to get wrapped up in the inevitable downfall of the nation your character calls home. So I hope that at some point the good guys get the upper hand in a later book, otherwise we’re talking some deep depression here!

Let me talk a little about the way this book is constructed. It’s the first that I’ve noticed hyperlinks out to resources on the Savage Mojo website. There are links to journals of NPCs who the PCs will encounter and supplemental encounters and adventures to get the party into the swing of things. I would *love* to see more publishers use this kind of link in their own PDFs to take advantage of the Internet and potentially unlimited expansion for some of their products. I can see Savage Mojo adding all kinds of cool stuff to their website to help out GMs using their materials.

The layout also uses great little boxes for helpful GM tips, from how to scale a particular encounter, to how to introduce random elements to routine patrols, to how to quickly whip up some “nearby ruins” to explore on the fly. This is a book written to help out players and GMs take advantage of the great amount of detail without getting lost in it.

And lastly, the page design is also great. Occasionally I’ll see a cool graphic layout that somehow manages to make the text nearly impossible to read. Though Caladon Falls uses a parchment background for each page, with some decorative elements as borders, the text is in boxes deliberately kept light so that the black text is very simple to read – even for older folks like me wearing bifocals these days.

So there you have it. Caladon Falls should be available for purchase through the Savage Mojo website very soon. If this is representative of other Savage Mojo books, I look forward to diving into more of their products in the near future! And I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of the book in my hot little hands to page through physically as opposed to just electronically… Until then, you can check it out at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG in PDF form.

And before I forget – congratulations to Savage Mojo for their 2011 Ennie Award nomination for Shanghai Vampocalypse!

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