From Pathfinder Spells to Savage Powers

Thuesday, February 9, 2021

The Pathfinder core rules contain 289 spells by our count. Savage World Adventure Edition includes 54 powers. When it came time to figure out how to translate the expansive, robust Pathfinder magic system to work in the smaller, dynamic Savage Worlds power system, we had to boil everything down to their core.

As designers, one of the most useful tools we have is constraining the problem. When you’re staring down the barrel of holding nearly three hundred spells in your head all at once to figure out how to combine and represent them, it’s too much for anyone to handle. But if we categorize these items and constrain them to a pre-defined structure, they’re much more manageable.

What do spells in Pathfinder accomplish? In general terms, we can assign all Pathfinder spells up to three of the following trait categories (in order of how core that trait is to the spell) and effectively summarize what they do:

  • Deal Damage
  • Deal Damage in an Area
  • Heal
  • Heal in an Area
  • Buff an Ally
  • Buff Allies in an Area
  • Debuff an Enemy
  • Debuff Enemies in an Area
  • Remove an Effect
  • Remove Effects in an Area
  • Cause a Social Effect
  • Cause Social Effects in an Area
  • Mimic the Usage of a Skill
  • An Impossible Effect

Now that we’ve got everything grouped, we can organize the spells into buckets. If we look at the spells that “Deal Damage” or “Deal Damage in an Area,” the list trims down to 31 spells:

A list of thirty-one Pathfinder spells in an excel spreadsheet that deal damage or damage in an area

That’s a lot less to think about all at once! We grouped both damage traits because we know that in Savage Worlds, our direct damage powers either damage everything in an area already (blast, burst, & damage field) or have a way to hit multiple targets at once (bolt). Our next step is to figure out which of those spells we can reproduce the effect of using our existing powers.

We need to understand our toolset to finish our work, so let us digress for a moment and describe how powers work in Savage Worlds. Instead of having spell slots of different levels, you have a pool of Power Points. Each power has a listed cost you spend when you successfully activate that power (a roll of four or greater on your arcane skill). In addition to the base cost, most powers also have Power Modifiers that increase the power’s cost to give it extra effects. They also have trappings: the narrative description of how the power functions that the player defines when they gain the power.

For example, the bread-and-butter direct damage power in Savage Worlds is bolt. It costs one Power Point, shoots out at range, and deals a base of 2d6 damage. It also has the Damage Power Modifier that increases our base damage by 1d6. Remember, we don’t have hit points in Savage Worlds, so doing an extra d6 damage at any point is a pretty good damage bump.

With trappings alone, we can use bolt to mimic call lightning, lightning bolt, magic missile, and scorching ray. Magic missile has many additional rules that tie into Pathfinder’s specific systems, but otherwise is just like bolt; it’s a ranged attack that hits a target to deal damage.

Scorching ray is more or less bolt with a fire trapping. Suppose we wanted to fire multiple rays in a single round. Instead of using the baked-in rays per four levels mechanic of Pathfinder, we’d leverage the Multi-Action economy of Savage Worlds to cast our fire-trapping bolt up to three times in a single round. And that’s before we use any new Power Modifiers from our work-in-progress Fantasy Companion. Like Onslaught, that lets us fire two bolts per activation. In the end, the list looked like this:

The list of Pathfinder spells from earlier with how you would cast those spells as powers in Savage Worlds.]

Cloudkill is an excellent example of how a mechanically complex spell can be re-created in Savage Worlds using our Power Modifiers and trappings. It’s based on damage field, which deals 2d4 damage to everyone adjacent to the caster by default. Well, to start, cloudkill automatically kills creatures below three hit dice, kills creatures from four to six hit dice on a failed save, and deals constitution damage to anything with more than six hit dice.

In Savage Worlds, 2d4 isn’t going to wipe out a lot of folks outright, so let’s up the damage to 3d6 Heavy Damage using the new exalted Power Modifier, Greater Damage Field. Against most Extras (minor NPCs like most goblins that tend to die quickly), that’s going to be vicious, while our Wild Cards (player characters and tougher creatures) will have a chance to get out unharmed.

The next piece of the puzzle is the size of cloudkill. It’s a 20-ft. radius, 20 ft. high cloud. The Radius modifier expands our damage field to a Small Blast Template (that’s a 4-yard diameter in Savage Worlds, about 12 feet across). Well, that’s smaller than its Pathfinder cousin, so we can pause a moment and consider if damage field needs an edited version of Radius that lets us use a Large Blast Template (12 yards diameter, or 36 feet across). Given that taking damage every round is much more lethal in Savage Worlds than Pathfinder, probably say not. Even Wild Cards will start to wither and die if they’re in a 3d6 Heavy Damage field for a few turns, so constraining our cloudkill to a smaller size works better for our game.

Next, we need to address how cloudkill can be placed anywhere within 100 ft. + 10ft./level in Pathfinder and moves away from the caster at 10 feet per round. First, we must accept a difference in the presumption of scales between our two games. In Savage Worlds, we generally assume you use your powers within the scope of an encounter instead of at long distances, limiting the ranges of our powers. That said, by using Mobile we can let the caster move their damage field up to their arcane skill on each of their turns. That means we take the maximum number from their arcane skill die (anywhere from a d4 to a d12+#), and the cloud moves that far. That’s between 8 and 24 yards (24 to 72 feet). We trade a higher range for the cloud’s starting location for the ability to move it to a specific spot on each of our turns. On average, the two balance out so we can move on.

As Mike Barbeau (the chief designer on the Rise of the Runelords conversion) pointed out, one of the things GMs love to do with cloudkill is block line of sight for their players. Taking damage in a cloud is one thing; not finding your way out is another level of pain. To that end, we can use the universal modifier (these are available to almost every power in Savage Worlds) Shroud to mimic this effect. It doesn’t completely block line of sight in the same way, but given that the Savage cloudkill is more lethal to our player characters, that’s preferred.

We describe our damage field as a noxious, yellow cloud to assign its trapping, and we have our Savage Worlds version of cloudkill ready to murder encounter player characters everywhere! Sometimes, however, our existing toolkit isn’t large enough to encompass everything we want a power to do in Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds. A great example of this is disintegrate! It’s an iconic spell with an effect that doesn’t have a strong translation in the existing powers, so we get to have some fun and create something new. If we look at the other effects of disintegrate, we can see it fits mostly under bolt, so we can get away with just adding a new Power Modifier that looks like this:

The Power Modifier that makes a bolt disintegrate a target in Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds. Disintegrate (+2) If the bolt incapacitates a creature, it immediately dies, and its body disintegrates. If the target is an object, everything in a Small Blast Template disintegrates.

By building spells using our existing tools, we can exemplify the breadth of expression our powers system allows and capture the expanse of Pathfinder spells in our game. When we encounter spells outside of our usual portfolio or too cool to resist making anew in Savage Pathfinder, we follow the existing principles behind our system to expand our powers and their modifiers to capture the spell’s essence.

Without a doubt, the category that resulted in the most new powers was the “An Impossible Effect.” This was the catch-all category for spells that had effects you couldn’t replicate without the usage of magic.

We don’t want to give too much away, but we grouped these spells to inspire some of our new powers for Savage Pathfinder:

A list of Pathfinder spells that don’t have a clear cousin in a Savage Worlds power

What new powers do you think we made?

We’ll be live on Twitch Thursday, February 11th, 2021 at 2:00 PM MST (4:00 PM EST) to talk more about converting spells into powers. If you want to watch your favorite Pathfinder spell turned into a Savage Worlds power or to hear more about the process, follow us here: https://ad.peginc.com/Twitch

Donald Schepis
Developer at Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Donald Schepis is a writer and game designer with a background in both digital and physical games. He’s worked on everything from kid-friendly, mobile side-scrollers to VR first-person shooters to narrative supplements for tabletop war games.
www.peginc.com
@DonaldSchepis

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Grand Archive

Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Huzzah!
> Mansion and Rope Tricks are on that list
Hum... I guess there would be a new "extradimensional" power?
I don't know Savage at all though. So might already exist.
Probably a new "wish" power?


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This looks well written! I definitely want a copy; Savage World stands beside Pathfinder 2e for my favorite system


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Well I just went heart eyes over a blog post.

I love systems talk and design fundamentals. It is one of my favorite things to see talked about here.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

This type of process is always an interesting thought-experiment in adaptation, and I loved reading this!


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AnimatedPaper wrote:

Well I just went heart eyes over a blog post.

I love systems talk and design fundamentals. It is one of my favorite things to see talked about here.

Same, and now I'm interested in Savage Worlds, which I admit I've never really considered until now.


Seems like we should have some more categories (maybe these are currently in Impossible Effects?):

Prevent an Effect (& Area version) -- maybe could be done as an ongoing Remove an Effect, but only works on incoming effects, and not those that have already taken hold?
Alter Stuff (creature and object versions) -- not all of these fall cleanly into Buff or Debuff
Create Stuff (like the various Wall spells, not all of which deal damage)
Move Stuff (from Floating Disk to Fly to Interplanetary Teleport, etc.)
Summon Stuff
Modify Another Spell


Cleaning the big old list up alone is an impressive feat by itself, really.


This seems interesting. I've never quite caught the Savage Worlds bug, on account of the game feeling more like a game construction kit rather than an actual game, but with a finished system it might be worth it to give it a go.


Very interesting!

I really like what I’m reading, but I’m not sure I understand how the conversion will be done. Is it entirely up to the players to construct their spells or will there be a list of example spells in the core book?

I like the freedom this system provides, and having played a lot of Pathfinder (but no Savage Worlds) I could probably recreate any existing caster character of mine using this toolset, but if I was entirely new to the setting I’d be interested to see a list of premade spells (like Cloudkill) just to get an idea of how the setting’s magic usually works.


For one I'd be glad to see a unified answer on how to handle the bolt power at touch range. I've seen at least 3 different ways to handle that one! (mostly to with the question if the casting roll is that attack roll if its touch range do you get that +2 to hit for touch range to casting as well or do you still need to roll a 4+ etc)


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

Seems like we should have some more categories (maybe these are currently in Impossible Effects?):

Prevent an Effect (& Area version) -- maybe could be done as an ongoing Remove an Effect, but only works on incoming effects, and not those that have already taken hold?
Alter Stuff (creature and object versions) -- not all of these fall cleanly into Buff or Debuff
Create Stuff (like the various Wall spells, not all of which deal damage)
Move Stuff (from Floating Disk to Fly to Interplanetary Teleport, etc.)
Summon Stuff
Modify Another Spell

At that point I'd be getting too granular to be very useful for categorization. Fourteen categories was already pushing the bounds of usefulness. You've got to resist the urge to be overly specific when breaking down a system like this, otherwise the problem is still to large to maneuver around.

Staffan Johansson wrote:
This seems interesting. I've never quite caught the Savage Worlds bug, on account of the game feeling more like a game construction kit rather than an actual game, but with a finished system it might be worth it to give it a go.

I'm curious as to what brought you to that conclusion? The core rules are setting-agnostic, but it's a full game in of itself. I know we get a lot of confusion between the core SWADE rules and then the setting supplements like Deadlands, so maybe that's what got you there?

Natural Three wrote:

Very interesting!

I really like what I’m reading, but I’m not sure I understand how the conversion will be done. Is it entirely up to the players to construct their spells or will there be a list of example spells in the core book?

I like the freedom this system provides, and having played a lot of Pathfinder (but no Savage Worlds) I could probably recreate any existing caster character of mine using this toolset, but if I was entirely new to the setting I’d be interested to see a list of premade spells (like Cloudkill) just to get an idea of how the setting’s magic usually works.

You'll choose from a list of powers as is the norm for Savage Worlds. The process I outlined above was in large part to figure out what things we couldn't replicate with existing powers. Anything we couldn't do already needed to be a new power. We've talked about including some form of reference sheet on how to cast various iconic Pathfinder spells as powers, but I'm not sure where that's landed.

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