The natives say a trio of witches were discovered working dark sorcery in the land of Ograpog. The three were tried, sentenced by King Amemnus himself, and drowned with the rising tide. But with their dying breath the sisters uttered a dark curse, drowning Caribdus beneath fifty fathoms of water. Soon after, ships from another world drifted through the mists into the “Thousand Isles.”
The visitors are sailors from the age of piracy, dashing corsairs, bloodthirsty buccaneers, or savage sea dogs. They’ve taken to this new world and now sail alongside its strange inhabitants—crab-like scurillians, massive grael, lonely doreen, mysterious kraken, cruel kehana, and the near-human masaquani. Many believe these visitors are destined to defeat the Sea Hags and save Caribdus, but most just seem interested in plundering her for the forgotten treasures of a drowned world.
50 Fathoms is a Plot Point setting for the Savage Worlds roleplaying game.
A Generic RPG That's Great for Pirates [ edit ]
Savage Worlds is a generic RPG system from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. The system ranks among the top 25 highest on RPG Geek, and has spawned a huge range of supplements and campaign worlds. It's still actively developed, with it's latest edition being the "Adventure Edition", in 2018. However, that edition was a relatively minor update to the previous edition ("Deluxe Explorer's"), so products from one edition can be used with the other fairly easily.
Savage Worlds' rules are about as detailed and complex as Dungeons and Dragons (not as crunchy GURPS, but more than narrative-focused systems like FATE or Cypher). They were originally based on miniature war game rules (Deadlands: the Great Rail Wars), and so they are designed to handle combats with larger numbers of participants (like say a pirate ship boarding another ship) particularly well.
In fact, despite being generic Savage Worlds has long had pirate ties, with Pirates of the Spanish Main (a partnership with WhizKids) being one of their earliest products. More recently PEG released another pirate campaign, 50 Fathoms, which has been very well received ... but before we get to that, let's look at Savage Worlds itself.
Savage Worlds, Adventure Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
As with most games, Savage Worlds characters have attributes, in this case five of them (essentially the D&D attributes, without Charisma). Attributes are measured as a die type, so a weak character would have a d4 Strength, while an incredibly strong one would have a d12.
Players can also select a race for their character (or remain human to get an extra edge), and a number of skills. Just as with attributes, skills have die-type-based ranks. Raising skills higher than their associated attribute costs double, but otherwise there are no restrictions, so you can make a cowboy/hacker/biologist if you so desire: there are no class limitations.
Finally a player selects Edges, which provide special benefits to the character, similar to feats in Dungeons and Dragons or advantages in GURPS . To gain edges characters can take on hindrances (similar to GURPS disadvantages). Every edge costs the same in Savage Worlds (no varying point costs like in GURPS), and there are only two levels of hindrances (Major and Minor; one major or two minor provides an Edge).
There are also a somewhat limited number of hindrances and edges compared to some other generic systems, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. While it does mean less customization options, it also means new players can review their options much quicker, speeding up character creation overall.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To succeed at an action in Savage Worlds, you roll a die based on the associated skill, and then also roll a separate "wild die" (a d6). Either dice can "ace" ("explode"), which means that if you roll the maximum number on the die, you get to re-roll it, and add the result of all the rolls together. You can then choose to keep either your original die or the "wild" one (whichever rolled higher), and if that die's result is 4 or greater (after any penalties), you succeed.
Players also start with "Bennies", and can earn more during play through good role-playing. These "Bennies" can be used to re-roll any roll, giving characters another chance to succeed at critical actions.
Combat [ edit ]
When it comes to combat, Savage Worlds uses a deck of regular playing cards to determine who goes in what order. The higher the player's card, the sooner they go in initiative, and if a player gets a joker as their card they can go at any point (and also get a bonus to their rolls that turn).
Between it's wild dice, "aceing" (ie. exploding) dice, bennies, and jokers, and various other factors, there are a lot of ways to succeed even when your skills are low, although of course higher skills are clearly a benefit. All of this leads to a system that's more "fun" and cinematic, but also a bit less realistic, and also potentially more "swingy" (compared to, for instance, a system like GURPS).
Savage Worlds Can Do Pirates "Out of the Box", But ... [ edit ]
Because Savage Worlds is a generic system, you don't need any supplement to run a pirate campaign with it. The rules don't address sailing, but they do have rules for basic vehicle operation, and basic stats for a galleon. You can find a few more ships free online at this fan-made site, plus a bit of googling will turn up lots of ship floor plans and drawings and such ... and then you can just sort of wing everything else.
However, if you want some pre-made rules for dealing with sailing ships, and a pre-made campaign to run, PEG offers 50 Fathoms. This book won the Silver Ennie in 2004 for Best Non-d20 Supplement, and it's popularity has resulted in an entire product line of supplemental books.
The basic premise of the campaign is that a fantasy world was afflicted by a curse which caused the ocean to rise 50 fathoms (thus the name). Shortly thereafter something changed to allow humans from Earth (in the pirate era) to reach this fantasy world, and there are rumors that those humans might somehow help lift the curse.
50 Fathoms: A Fantasy Pirate World [ edit ]
The party members can either be humans of one of a fairly large variety of aquatic fantasy races (eg. walrus-people, crab-people, or "kraken" ... think mind flayers), and the book also offers new edges and hindrances for them to select. It also provides nautical rules to address things like moving around a boat, or managing your crew, and of course it also details nautical combat.
But perhaps the most appealing aspect of 50 Fathoms will be the "Plot Points" campaign it includes. Along with descriptions of the settings and peoples of the world itself (along with some relevant details on things like naval trade and profiteering), 50 Fathoms offers some 80+ "Savage Tales".
Now, some of these are only a few paragraphs, but together they form an entire campaign that the party can choose to join or leave as desired. This means they can have fun "leveling up on side quests" or pirating random vessels as desired, but also focus on saving the world when they want ... and whichever they choose the GM has support.
Two final notes about 50 Fathoms. First off, the game was published for the previous edition of Savage Worlds, but if you want to use the latest edition there is an update document available for free from PEG. Second, if you want to be able to print out the ships from the book, you can download those also (and also free) from PEG.
Should You Buy It [ edit ]
Aggregated Review Scores
|Source||Average Score||# of Reviews||As Of|
|Amazon||9.2 / 5||3||1/16/2022|
|Good Reads||8.5 / 5||32||1/16/2022|
|Drive Thru RPG||9.2 / 5||19||1/16/2022|
|Itch.io||8.28 / 5||18||1/16/2022|
50 Fathoms offers a watery fantasy world that's perfect for pirate adventures ... but is that world any fun to play in?
As you can see above the answer (from over seventy reviewers) was a resounding yes. Two sites gave it an incredibly strong 4.6, while even the lowest (Itch.io) still gave it a very respectable 4.14 out of 5.
You can also find lots of gamers playing 50 Fathoms and loving it, like this one who just wrapped up an 80+ session campaign in the setting. Or, to quote another fan (from an Amazon review):
Best Savage Worlds supplement I've come across. Immersive setting, all new races, weapons, armor, story lines, and plenty of great monsters.
So, while no RPG supplement will be perfect for everyone, if you're looking for a fantastic, detailed, and magical pirate setting, that uses the extremely popular Savage Worlds, 50 Fathoms is probably going to be just what you're looking for.