When it comes to the Savage Ringworld campaign, one of my struggles is figuring out how to use the setting. As I described in my introductory post, the ringworld is huge – it’s surface area is equivelent to 30 million Earths. It’s possible to have thousands of civilizations on the ring without any of them coming into contact with one another.
So on the one hand, the Ringworld itself is a relic of an ancient civilization with technology far beyond those who live on the Ring itself. It is a thing of wonder, forever climbing into the distant sky. And at the same time … it’s hard to know what to do with it. The ring itself is effectively just a really REALLY big planet … there’s none of the space/time strangeness you get in your typical episodic Star Trek episode. And unlike Stargate, which takes you to a new part of the galaxy just by stepping through it, the Ringworld necessitates a certain amount of conventional travel.
In thinking about this problem, I’ve come up with an approach inspired in part by Dungeon World’s fronts. There are multiple forces at play on the Ringworld, and those forces are coming together at Fist of God Mountain (the location where a Luna-sized object punched through the Ringworld, creating a massive “mountain” and disrupting terrain for miles around).
So what are these fronts?
- The Ringworld Experiment: The civilization that created the Ringworld did so for a reason. Giant space ark for the galaxy’s trillions of species? Immense laboratory for experimenting with evolution at a time and physical scale unimagined by lesser sentients?
- The Cause of the Fist of God event: Was the Fist of God a cosmic fluke? Given that the Ancients cleared out the entire solar system building the Ringworld, that seems unlikely. But if it was an engineered event … why did it happen? And what’s going to happen next?
- Consequences of the Fist of God event: The Fist of God event occurred 150 years ago. It ravaged the land around the newly formed “mountain” and drew the attention of all nearby civilizations. Those who could travel to the mountain eventually formed the bastion of interconnected civilizations known as Fist of God City. Who else is still traveling to the Fist of God … and what do they want?
- Ringworld instability: As in Larry Niven’s books, the Ringworld has become unstable. Can it be saved and if so, how?
Each of these fronts is advancing and causing conflict as they do so.
The default technology assumption for the Savage Ringworld campaign is mid-20th century. There are automobiles, trains, and planes, but no spaceflight. There’s light and heavy weaponry, but little in the way of lasers or other high-technology weaponry. Mass communication exists, but is limited. The same goes for computers. Science can heal you … but it probably won’t do it quickly.
This is the default technology level for our characters and their respective nations, but of course, there are exceptions. One character comes from a space faring race who’s starship crashed on the ring; he has a few relics of his technobabble-powered high civilization. Another channels technology as magic; they use the words of science to create effects that might as well be magic.
The Ringworld itself is a bastion of high technology, and occasionally the heroes encounter that technology, be it ring-wide telecommunications network, AI-spawned Librarians, virtual reality chambers, or even more advanced items. Simultaneously, parts of the Ringworld have fallen far below the baseline, reverting to a more archaic existence that relies on far more ancient technology.
This hodgepodge approach means adventures on the Ringworld can be drawn from any source; all you need is a little technological rationalization.
Building the Library
I’ll admit it: I love collecting source books. Yes, I appreciate the the elegance and simplicity of a single-tome RPG without any supporting materials, and I have a bunch of those games. But I also love the inspiration and thrill that comes from picking up a new book, cracking the cover, and seeing what new worlds it’s going to take me to.
Or, you know, steal those worlds for use in my own campaign. Lair of Secrets has a proud, unrepentent history of borrowing liberally from other games to improve our own. Savage Worlds, with its many genres and linked rule set, supports this brilliantly. And unlike Dungeons & Dragons, the books tend to be slim, digest-size publications that don’t take up a ton of space. There are a few hardcover exceptions, but for the most part, the books – like the game – are fast, fun, and furious.
Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWADE)
Before the pandemic, I backed the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWADE) kickstarter. I was downright giddy when it arrived in all of its mega boxed set glory, complete with dice, counters, spell effect templates, and two copies of the core rules (one conventional, one faux leather bound). Then the pandemic hit, and my opportunities to use my new toys were far and few between. Savage Ringworld fixes that.
The latest edition of the rules streamline things a bit. A few skills were merged or dropped while new ones were added. Some (like Guts) became setting specific (the logic being Guts is more of a horror-centric mechanic, and less needed in a superhero or scif-fi setting). The rules themselves read better, and are better organized (at least, that’s my impression from my limited time with them). The thing I’m most excited about are the modular rules for things like interludes and complex challenges; they’re not critical for running a Savage Worlds game, but I love the “something extra” they provide
Over the years, Pinnacle released a number of different “companion” books for Savage Worlds which augment the core rules for different genres. They include new edges (like D&D feats), hindrances, equipment, and setting specific rules. Some of these have been updated for the latest version of the game (SWADE, aka Savage Worlds Adventurers Edition), others have not. The editions share the same DNA, so it’s easy enough to update things to the latest version.
Science Fiction Companion: Rules for species (and custom species), gear (including armor, personal equipment, and vehicle weapons), cyberware, power armor, robots, starships, vehicles, and walkers (aka AT-ATs). There’s also a “world maker” that can be used to randomly generate planets (which, in the case of the Ringworld, can be used to create planet-sized regions). There are also a handful of star-faring civilization write-ups, and a collection of “xenos” (essentially monsters, non-player characters, and other threats/challenges the player characters might encounter).
My intention with this book is to borrow from it in a hodgepodge-y sort of way. The players might encounter a tribe of cyborgs, or an self-driving, oversized walker. They might find a downed starship, or a suit of power armor in need of a recharge (yes, I’ll happily borrow from Fallout for this campaign).
Superhero Companion: Technology is magic, magic is technology. And mutations? Well, they’re just more of the same. The Superhero Companion is designed to run everything from street-level to Superman-style adventures, though it probably works best at the Teen Titans / New Mutants level of superpowerdom. I see using this when I want to change things up without having to build out a whole technological backstory. The Science Fiction Companion provides a good technology baseline for the galaxy at large; the Superhero Companion works for more Green Lantern-inspired technomagic.
Fantasy Companion: The Fantasy Companion provides useful inspiration for the lower-tech portions of the Savage Ringworld. Naturally, all of those magic items featured in its pages are some sort of technology, but we don’t need to delve into that too deeply. It also provides a variety of mythological critters with which to threaten the adventurers; there’s no reason – in a setting as large as the Savage Ringworld – that dragons can’t be a thing.
The Last Parsec
The Last Parsec is Pinnacle’s space opera setting for Savage Worlds. The technological baseline is higher than that of the Savage Ringworld, but that’s fine – it just means I can steal the high-tech stuff for a particular enclave or lost ruin.
The Last Parsec (Core Rule Book): Building on the implied setting of the Science Fiction Companion, the core rule book includes backstory for the galaxy (civilizations, planets, galactic history) as well as a smattering of gear, robots, and vehicles. The gem of this book is its playing-card based, sci-fi adventure generator. While some of the ideas work best when the galaxy is your playground, there’s very little here that couldn’t be leveraged for Savage Ringworld.
Leviathan (Sourcebook): If you love Jurassic Park/Juassic World, then Leviathan is the book for you. It takes place on a jungle planet filled with dinosaur-scale megafauna, plus all manner of jurrassic-inspired threats. The book includes the obligatory plot point campaign that can be mined for story ideas, but the best part of the book are its creature write-ups. I’ve already used this for a number of my Savage Ringworld adventures.
Scientorium (Soucebook): This source book takes place on a lost space station filled with galactic knowledge. It’s got a plot point campaign, but what I like most about this books are its artificiial intelligence librarians and the holodeck like libraries they curate. They provided the inspiration for the last Savage Ringworld adventure I ran.
Deadlands Reloaded: Hell on Earth
The original Deadlands took place in an alternative Weird West infused with all manner of supernatural strangeness powered by “ghost rock”. Deadland: Hell on Earth extends the setting into the future. The apocalypse came and went, but some how, humanity survived. What remains is a Mad Max / Wastelands inspired post-apocalyptic nightmare.
We know that the Fist of God event in Savage Ringworld shattered the ring and likely broke dozens of 20th-century-comparable civilizations. It makes sense that a few of these would have fallen into a Mad Max-style hell … and are eager for some payback.
Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded (Sourcebook): One of the view hardcover, full-size Savage Worlds books I own, Hell on Earth updates the original setting to the “Reloaded” rules (themselves based on Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition, if I recall correctly). The book includes a history of the “Wasted West”, some of which could be re-themed and brought to the Ringworld. It’s technology is a hodgepodge of Old West meets sci-fi future weaponry and tech, so you’ve got brass casing bullets alongside gryojet ammunition (which includes a small, self-contained rocket in the bullet). From a Savage Ringworld perspective, the best bits are likely the Mad Max-inspired vehicles.
Deadlands: Hell on Earth Companion (Sourcebook): A digest-sized supplemental rulebook, the companion includes new edges, new character types (bookworms, cyborgs, witches), more vehicle modifications, more gear, and a post-apocalyptic adventure generator.
Mutant Crawl Classics: The core rulebook is filled with mutations, god-like sentient AI, and weird technology, all of which could provide inspiration for a particularly toxic or radioactive potion of the Savage Ringworld.
Cover art from the Ringworld’s Children. Credit: Tor Books.