So another possible setting for Savage Pathfinder (or Fantasy) is a pretty cool one, the classic Mystara setting for the original B/X D&D games. I just picked up a set of the original PDFs (plus the PODs you can buy, please make more of them available) on DriveThruRPG, and this is a strong contender to take my #1 spot - just because I have a long history with these lands and they were the home of the first adventures I ran as a DM.
Everything is here, the world, a cool setting I have a history with, that familiar feeling, and plenty of places to explore and visit again. I could use this for classic B/X as well, just grab Labyrinth Lord and we are good to go for years of fun, no conversions, no waiting for the Savage Pathfinder books to come (I have the PDFs but books are so much easier), and I have everything I need to make it work.
So the question becomes, B/X or Savage Worlds?
B/X vs. SWADE: Goals
This comes down to if you are a fan of the "gamey games" that Savage Worlds implements as a part of the system, such as chases, initiative, bennies, raises, social interaction, and the other systems that Savage Worlds ships with that B/X does away with. Me? I am a fan, and while playing solo it is fun to navigate some of these systems and play through them. Also, initiative in Savage Worlds I feel is way easier than d20 style systems and it does away with a lot of math and sorting of up to a dozen combatants when a combat begins.
I like Savage Worlds combat as well, there is a lot more play and options in a modern system such as this, and you can make a lot of choices and switch up tactics from turn to turn, work together, and use edges or skills to manipulate the flow of the action.
One thing about B/X is you don't need to convert, and you have everything right there. You do lose things in the conversion, and things get mechanically soft (or you forget a monster ability). If you like rules-as-written and want things clear, do not convert. If you are shooting for more of a story and the type of action Savage Worlds simulates well, then convert.
For this playthrough I want more story and pulp action, problem solving and NPC interaction, and I am not as concerned with an old-school simulation. I love B/X and the old-school ethos, it is just for this game I want to play more with the characters and setting than the dungeons and the monsters. Some settings to me beg to be played as a grand drama, where others are a darker crawl into the dungeons and the nature of greed and power.
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Old school modules are notorious for using quantity as quality, to make a fight challenging they will throw 13 rats in a room and expect you to handle hit points, initiative, and attacks per rat, and they will give you a hit point list for all of them individually (1,1,1,2,2,2,2,3,3,3,4,4,4). In Savage Worlds, that's one swarm. But if you are playing an old-school module in SW, adjust the monsters in quantity and shoot for quality encounters rather than the adventure-as-written.
Similarly, if you have a room with 10 goblins, think about knocking that down to a wild card goblin leader and four extras - and maybe give a few special weapons and attacks/defenses (bow with poison arrows, burning pitch, caltrops, or an entangle weapon). You just took a "bulk fight 10 goblins" sort of old-school hit point grind and turned it into a fight with some interesting options and challenges. Less combatants but more quality that leverages the special parts of the Savage Worlds rules is better than a boring bulk creature fight.
Similarly, consider non-combat options to resolving encounters such as stealth, skill rolls, negotiation, role play, and using powers or gear. Again this is obvious when you are playing Savage Worlds, but if you are in a certain old-school mindset you may get locked into the "if there are 15 orcs in the mess hall, you gotta defeat 15 orcs to get through the room" and all other options disappear from your mind. This happens to me on conversions, and I have to take a step back and wonder, could a food fight be started? Can you wait out dinner? Where would they go to afterwards? Is the time of day even right for a meal to be served? Could the food be spiced to be extra spicy (for laughs or other reasons)? Could an illusion be used to make the food less appetizing? What happens if a large rat or insect runs through the room?
Are there other ways of dealing with this encounter than the obvious?
Again, instead of a "fight quantity of X" sort of encounter, you are creating something that can be roleplayed through, skills used, or other inventive uses of the rules and leveraging the options and powers the system gives you. The resolution to the problem the room presents can be solved with more than just combat, so your quality is being reflected by a wide variety of resolution options supported in the rules and character abilities.
In B/X the referee ruling on player experimentation is the core of problem resolution, with a default focus on combat as the final resolution. You don't need special rules or abilities, maybe perhaps a save or ability check if there is a question of success chances. Nothing says you can't do any of the above in B/X either, you can be just as inventive and have a good referee play off that.
In Savage Worlds you have systems, edges, player abilities, skills, and the minigames built into the rules that help you resolve problems. These need to be considered when you think about how an encounter can be resolved. For a solo play experience, I find the structure here to be of great assistance when I make rulings and try to have characters influence the story through skills and abilities.
My Second Go Around
When we played this in our years-long campaign the stories started personal and NPC-based, and then naturally shifted into "superhero save the world" plots. When that happens I feel you lose the personal and dramatic stories that are lower-level and a lot more meaningful. By the time our campaign ended the only reason to go anywhere in the world was because of a world-ending plot, and frankly, it got tiring. We were young and did not know any better, but what else can you do when you lack hindsight and experience?
I tire of superhero movies these days for the same reason. Plots where you start out invested in a few characters and their struggles always turn out to be an "end of the world" plot and you lose that connection to their personal stories. And honestly, in many cases the world never ends or can change much because the next movie needs a normal world to setup the next end of the world. The story becomes "too big" and we lose the intimate feel that drew us in.
I would run these on a lower-level and make all the plots driven by NPCs and stories instead of extra-worldly threats. You can change the world, things evolve, towns can rise or fall, and the world is a living world where making a difference in an area matters and continues on in the campaign.
One thing about out campaign was that Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms did not exist in our minds. All the classic AD&D modules took place here. The Slave Lords, B-series, S-series, Tomb of Horrors, and everything else is scattered around the world here on the map. We have a world, just put the dungeon somewhere and let's play! We were kids, so we kit-bashed everything, played using D&D rules and tossed in AD&D as we needed it (like the classic Labyrinth Lord setup), and all the best modules and adventures were in this world.
Would I keep that? I probably would. If this is the D&D homage playthrough, this will be it. Everything is on the table here. I may change a couple things, add characters, change up the stories a little, but if I feel the need to pull these adventures in, they are there and they could fit in if I needed them.
And I can get the PDFs, so that is cool.
Fantasy Companion or Savage Pathfinder?
Classic Mystara can stand beside Pathfinder's Golarion and be an equal. The settings are comparable, and Mystara has the benefit of me knowing and playing in this world since I was a kid. Now, Mystara does not have all the things Golarion has, two I can think of off-hand are a Cheliax-like evil kingdom and a ruined starship fantasy-tech place. I could fit places like that in if I really needed them, and I could take a huge isolated area and crash Barrier Peaks S-series style starships into the planet and have my tech-fantasy area with that classic twist. A evil kingdom of demons (or just a city) could pop up somewhere as a story drama to play through.
I am leaning towards the Savage Pathfinder rules, with a scattering for the Fantasy Companion mixed in (like the magic item generator). I hope the printed books come quick, or I may be ordering some print outs from somewhere of the PDFs I have or printing out a few sections for reference.
More when this game gets going, since I have a couple things in the way of playing. I am now focusing on teaching another player how to play Savage Worlds, and she should be getting up to speed and happily having adventures soon.