Ultima Forsan is set during an alternate Renaissance suffering the aftermath of the Black Plague. All manners of undead creatures have practically decimated the world with small pockets of civilizations hiding behind walls. All economical resources have been diverted to warfare, to invent more efficient ways to combat the army of the dead. Think of it as Resident Evil meets Warhammer or –if such an amazing thing existed – Leonardo Da Vinci: Zombie Hunter. It uses Savage Worlds as it’s engine. No other book besides the Deluxe Core Rules are required to play.
The first two chapters talk about the world in it’s current geopolitical state, how things came to be how they are today, the nature of the plague and the various kingdoms that populate Europe, the Middle-East and Northern Africa. This is a rich setting well thought of. What I like about it is that you don’t have to be a historian, an anthropologist or geographer to play or run this. You now have kingdoms like the Sultanate of Granada, the Caliphate of Sicily and the Teutonic Federate Principalities. Each of those kingdoms are described and each has it’s own flavor, motivations, government and attitude. The New Kingdoms map is also gorgeous.
Next up are the character creation and gear chapters. You get to choose between two races: the Untainted and Tainted. The Tainted carry atrament in their blood but do not suffer it’s fatal fate. They are still contagious however. Atrament is the black ichor that spreads the plague and turns the living into the not so-living-anymore. They are more resistant to diseases and, if they are bitten or otherwise infected by the dead, they will not fall ill from the ordeal. They are still fated to turn upon their first death however. Also, most parts of the world don’t tolerate or trust them. And yes, their ghastly appearance gives it away.
There is a plethora of new edges and hindrances. The professional edges are especially interesting allowing the players to have characters like the deadcatcher, gravedigger, knight, plague doctor, monk or the red odalisque featured on the cover with the red robe and two scimitars.
The gear section has new weapons and gear to amputate and treat infected wounds as well as augmented armor and prosthesis (see amputation).
Following this great introduction comes the Setting Rules chapter. You have rules to scale the lethality of the setting from downright gruesome and extremely deadly (the default setting) down to two less lethal settings. Let’s put it this way, the default lethality setting (Triumph of Death) is so tough the GM is advised to hand out two extra Experience Points per session.
All manners of preventing infection, fighting the Dead, the behavior of the Horde during combat, dealing with amputations and last hours before you turn are covered here. They don’t change the core rules too much, just a few tweaks here and there and the addition of necessary rules.
Then, the new (and only) arcane backgrounds are explained. This setting uses the No Power Points setting rule. You can play an alchemist, inventor or witch. They each have different mechanics, power list and feel to them.
At this point, from page 114, it’s information for the GM. Relics and Marvels, the Secrets (behind-the-scenes look). A short four episodes long campaign called The Secret of Marco Polo. An adventure generator and the surprisingly well detailed bestiary. It even has optional rules for using Tarot Cards as the action deck.
Finally you get a map of Lucca, a fortified city and a character sheet.
This is a very rich setting that fills a hole in the Savage Worlds catalog, that of the gritty kind. Through clever setting rules, gear and character options it manages to make a lethal setting appealing and deep.
The introduction of augmented armor is very interesting. There is a wide selection of character options guaranteed to satisfy players as well as many different opponents or adventure types a GM can throw at the players.
The artwork is absolutely fantastic, offering a mix of stunning modern style pieces and artwork you’ll swear were taken from medieval books and drawn by monks.
It’s been pointed out by others that the translation from Italian to English is sub par. I’m a non-native English speaker so those awkward sentence structures aren’t as apparent to me. However, the book is hard to read at times. Let’s face it, a rule book isn’t like a captivating novel so the text has to flow better than in this book.The text would breathe better with shorter sentences for instance.
The Alchemist arcane background seem over complicated to me. Two rolls to determine preparation and effects are one too many in my opinion. I can’t help but think it should have been designed like the Lotusmaster arcane background from Beasts & Barbarians. Both written by Italians and Umberto Pignatelli (author and designer of Beasts & Barbarians) is even in the thank you section. Did he fail to give a sound advice or did the Ultima Forsan authors decided not to listen? All joking aside, one roll to determine effects during preparation and mishaps on a roll of 1 on the arcane skill die, or critical failure would accomplish the same thing with less time, die rolls and things to keep track of.
Most of the interesting art pieces are full pages between chapters or sections. I’d like quarter page art of the new gear and bestiary creatures. What does the Last Hope look like? How creepy-looking is a Possessed compared to a Carrion?
If you want to play during a zombie apocalypse in a fantasy setting and want more than just shambling mindless zombies and a more polished and interesting metaplot Ultima Forsan is for you.
This is a macabre setting where life is cheap, where survival, instead of gold coins is an incomparable reward. It’s truly unique and comes from the minds of very creative folks who understand the Savage Worlds system and don’t try to throw the kitchen sink at you. A lot of the setting rules, edges, hindrances, gear and creatures can easily be used in other settings or mined for your own setting as well. They are that well designed, with flair.
I, for one, feel like I’ve been given a quality product and look forward to more offerings from GGStudio. I feel this product deserves a 3.5 star but since I can’t award half a star I’ll go with 4 stars because my gripes about the book were minor.