Savage Worlds Setting Preview: Totems of the Dead

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Hello World,

this time I will have a quick look at an upcoming release by Gun Metal Games, mostly known for their Interface Zero Setting. Interface Zero has received a lot of deserved praise as one of the most comprehensive and detailed Settings for Savage Worlds around and one of the best modern Cyberpunk settings in general. It is also one of 6 RPGs nominated  for best RPG at the upcoming UK Games Expo Awards. And now they are preparing the release of a new setting for Savage Worlds.

The new book is called “Totems of the Dead” and was announced in the Pinnacle Forums in November 2010. Since then steady progress has been made and the book is now in playtesting. What is the setting it all about? I let the Designer speak for himself:

Totems of the Dead was originally conceived as a sort of “New World” counterpart to R.E. Howard’s Hyborea, a place where Swords and Sorcery meet Native American myth and legend. From there I added the Skadian kingdoms, based on what the Viking colonies at Vinland might have evolved into had they been successful in establishing themselves and spreading. From there the setting has taken on a life of its own.

Matthew E. Kaiser – Freelance Writer

If that is not a great idea and an interesting premise for a setting! Who does not  like a setting with Vikings? And mixing it with the native American cultures and their lore, which are a bit underrepresented in RPG settings in general,  should make for an interesting read and some exciting adventures.

So What do we know so far from different Posts/News?

  • This will not be a historical setting, but a fantasy setting inspired by certain periods of pre-Columbian history.
  • The overall geography will be similar to the Americas as we know them but not the same.
  • The magic system will be using the same basic mechanics as Solomon Kane but with different arcane backgrounds appropriate to the setting.
  • It will be around 250 pages, but that’ll change with layout, and art in.
  • The release will be in PDF and Print

But that is not all. Thanks to the kind permission of David Jarvis from Gun Metal Games I have the great opportunity to add a bit to that information based on the current version of the Playtest files.


“Know, brave wanderers, that we live in the dawn of a terrible new age. Our great-grandfathers speak of an age undreamed of, a shining time of plenty, when the wilderness was not so wild to us and the earth was our mother who provided all things. That was before drought and famine set each tribe at the throats of its rivals. Before the sorcerer-slavers came across the salt-foamed sea from Atlantis and stole a generation of our people, or the Sea Wolves turned the coast into a red tide of blood and slaughter. Before the Shenese and Skadians came with their new gods and strange ways, and before we knew the fear of Ruskar war parties. More ominous still are the dark storm clouds gathering on spiritual horizons. The spirits were once our guides and allies, but now, with the coming of the mists, terrible beasts that have no place in a sane world stalk through the otherworldly vapors. Our future is pregnant with dangers unimagined. Stay awhile and sit by the warmth of the fire, for it is a wise youth who will listen to what an aging warrior has lived to know.”
– Unknown Elder

The Setting is a lot deeper then I would have anticipated. It contains many more layers then simply Vikings vs. Natives. To reduce it to that would do it a real disservice. It describes a truly Conanesque world. It is full of mysteries, dangers, a history, varied people and clans as well as twisted secrets. It is a world worthy of a Robert E. Howard. The work I was able to sample so far is already very polished. It opens with a short Introduction into the world which explains the current situation and how the world became what it is. This really sets the mood and tone for the setting in the first few pages without giving away any secrets only a GM should know. Little quotes and stories describe what happened but not necessary why it did or who was responsible.  This section alone sparked a few adventure ideas right away.

Cover Draft
Cover Draft


When I look at the way characters are going to be handled I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The basic process remains familiar to anyone who knows Savage Worlds. They added a really interesting idea however by not only having different races but also adding cultures to humans. Each culture comes with their own unique tweaks and changes. The entries for each culture contain a description consisting of the cultures way of life and world-view, the style of clothes normally worn, the type of equipment used and the languages spoken. There are also sample lists of typical male and female names for each culture to assist you in your character creation. On the mechanical side the cultures differentiate themselves from each other by default Edges, Hindrances or bonuses for specific traits. These always emphasize the strength and weaknesses of the particular culture and because of that human characters from different cultures will be very different from each other straight from the start. However a character will always be a recognizable descendant of his particular culture which will provide a nice backdrop to start character customization from.

I believe that characters in Totems of the Dead will be a bit more powerful than your average Savage Worlds hero. In keeping with the Sword and Sorcery attitude of the Setting the rules also recommend that the characters start at seasoned and not novice level.

Alpha map
The Alpha version of the map, subject to change!


I hear the magic system in use is quiet similar to the one in Solomon Kane. However I cannot comment on any similarity’s because so far I was not able to have a look at that particular book. In Totems of the Dead Magic is not based on Power Points but degrees of difficulty and casting times. It also carries the possibility to corrupt the caster. There are a total of six arcane backgrounds in the current version. All six have their own little traditions and twists to make each of them unique.

One arcane background that immediately stuck with me, out of pure personal interest, was the way of the Runecaster. A Runecaster has to learn runes individually. Each rune is also tied to a specific meaning. That meaning is represented within the powers that can be used with that rune. Every rune also has two forms:  Maat (Positive) and maug (Negative). Each time a rune is cast the character can decide which form to use. Usually the powers are two sides of the same coin. For example if maat is the “raise trait” power then maug might be “lower trait”. The Runes can of course also be used in Divinations.  This trapping is as simple as it is effective in conjuring up the image of a Norse rune-caster casting his runes and depending on how they land the meaning is either good or bad.

Setting Rules

I will not go into any depth here to keep the suspense, but I will tease you with the fact that it has rules for alternate Tricks, Bravery and Despair as an inner struggle, Carousing, Warpaint and even Songs and Dances as Treasures! That is only a small selection of topics in that particular chapter with many more I haven´t mentioned. They all seem well thought out and help to make the setting unique.

If this preview piqued your interest at least a bit you should read the design journals by the author for some further Information. Part one talks about the concept behind the Setting.  Part two focuses on the arising conflicts in the setting itself. Also join their Facebook Page for regular Updates around Totems of the Dead. And of course don´t forget to visit the thread in the Pinnacle forums. If you have question about this book, that is the place to ask. There is no firm release date yet but it is expected “soon”. Gun Metal Games do not want to rush this but give it the polish and care it deserves. And that can only be a good thing.

Totems Cover
The current Cover
 What do you think? Will you be buying it? Is this interesting to you? And what did you think about the format and content of my first quick look? Let me know in the comments!

Read you soon.

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