WDD #6 (10/23/2017): Savage Worlds Arcane Backgrounds

As you may know I have been in the process of building a lot of things recently. Some of it has been directly blog related, but I have also been pretty inspired to build up a sort of preliminary campaign guide for my home brew material. This is something I can bring to the table and look through if I need too, especially as I continue to build more and more. I have also been working towards a Brave New Worlds revamp called Agents of Farsight. In order to do that properly, utilizing the lessons I have learned these last few years, I have begun building some mechanics and specific fluff pieces for myself and the players. Today I want to talk about some of that work.

Arcane Backgrounds

For those who don’t know, the old Brave New Worlds game was run using the Savage Worlds system. I love the system because it is universal, it has some amazing mechanics built into it, and it allows for one basic mechanic to represent many different things. This mechanic is the arcane background concept and the powers that come with it. By making certain backgrounds and developing some specifics for them, one can make any power source they want. In the core book this covers crazy gadgets, wizardry, miracles, psionics, and super powers. Other books include ritual magic, alchemy, and more. Each of them use power points to use powers whether we consider them spells or potions or anything else. These powers are basic, but can be adjusted by adding trappings to them. For example you start with bolt as a ranged attack. This may be fire, ice, electricity, acid, or more and it may take on different aspects of that trapping. Depending on the benefit of the trapping, the cost of the power may increase or other effects might occur. What it comes down to is that the system is elegant and adaptable. Perfect for a multiverse game!

In the original Brave New Worlds, each character chose their background and world and we picked an arcane background that fit. For Agents of Farsight I am creating a more structured character creation process. This starts with which Realm (or dimension) the character comes from. All the Realms with unique magic or sciences should have their own arcane background. The result? I made 14 of them for the players to choose from, in addition to the normal ones that might fit in some of those worlds. I have to say this was challenging in a number of ways. Concept was probably the easiest part, given the fact that these developed from the Realm concept. There was no need to come up with them, they developed from the fluff of the world. What was difficult was making most of them not just a bit different, but unique.


The most important part of making the arcane background unique was to do so in a way that both showed what they were, but also represented something that wasn’t rules breaking or overly complex. Luckily for me I found Zadmar’s Savage Stuff, which includes a guide for developing these things. The guide itself breaks down the design of many backgrounds into the composite mechanics. From backlashes to powers known to power points to preparing. Each aspect is assigned a value and the goal is to develop drawbacks and benefits such that they balance with those that already exist. This was building with math and something I could readily work with. If you want some great resources for Savage Worlds check out the site here, there are tons of resources like the Savage Arcanum.

To show an example of what I had to work with let’s take a look at the Echo Seer. This background represents the majority of mages in the Realm of Glass. Well, at least those of Avalon. These seers are your classic mages and wizards, but they draw magic from the Echo and Portents, two planes that coexist with the material much in the same way the ethereal does in D&D. The Echo is one that shows the past, the way things were. Destroyed buildings exist in full and new buildings are gone. The Portents is similar, but represents the future it is chaotic and changing, showing and existing as what may be. In D&D I would do virtually nothing mechanical for this. Things would be more fluff and exploring such places. For Agents of Farsight I want to showcase the power source and the place it comes from in the design. The reason for this is two fold. One: a character gets less powers in general in Savage Worlds and in the system flavor has an effect on mechanics. Two: if a player chooses this I want their existence to showcase a place that may be visited and what makes it interesting.

For the Echo Seer, this had to be based on not-quite-temporal magic. Honestly, this was one of the easier backgrounds to build because it was a basic magic that needed showcasing rather than full development. In order to do this, as I did with a few background, I gave a signature power to the background instead of an extra chosen power. The Echo Seer always knows the boost / lower stat power. For me this is flavored by giving allies a bit of Spidey-sense, while giving enemies a delayed, stuck in the last 5 seconds way of being. The Echo Seer also has a backlash that works like the psionic one, but flavored as a temporal disorientation. Easy, but not groundbreaking. In order to accentuate the Echo Seer I provided a benefit and detriment to this method of magic. As someone harnessing temporal energy, I decided spells could be maintained with ease and only choice can interrupt such powers. You see part of the spell is in the past and part in the future, therefore no present event could break it completely. To balance this, casting is a bit complex and care must be taken. As such, no other actions may be taken on turns where spells are cast and the Pace of the character is halved in that round.

Other backgrounds were more complicated. Deciding what mechanics enhanced the concept and which did not was difficult. Fitting in other factors, such as limited trappings or specific ways of utilizing trappings, caused me to estimate the mechanical values of the backgrounds. Some will need a bit more eyes and testing than others, that is for sure! One of the hardest parts was definitely recognizing that trappings could be used to accentuate the flavor in addition to the background. Sometimes instead of adding a mechanic to the background itself. Parsing that out was enlightening both about the system and game design in general, but I am very happy with the first draft results.

Continuing The Process

The adjacent steps to this are developing the necessary powers and trappings to fully realize the Realm. I plan on covering those in future Dev Diaries. For now I have provided a little insight into what I have been working on. Concepts have been around and writing them concisely has been the first step. Luckily these concepts have informed the arcane background mechanic that Savage Worlds utilized. Even luckier I have access, we all have access, to a tool to balance such things. That has been in large my project of late: step three, if you will, of creating some setting rules for 9 Realms of a multiverse. If you want to see all the end results, think about becoming a Patron. Anyone who pledges $3 or more has access to PDFs of my developmental drafts. There will be a decent amount of Savage Worlds stuff coming over the next couple months!