Yeah, I know, the title’s not that original, but let me explain.
I am not a huge fan of the Flash Gordon movie. As I said in the past, I much prefer the animated feature, or the original Alex Raymond comics.
And if it’s the comics or the animation, then I love Flash Gordon.
I was therefore very excited when, back in GenCon 2016, Shane Hensley of Pinnacle Entertainment announced that there would be a Savage World of Flash Gordon RPG.
I waited with growing anticipation, and I was ready to back the Kickstarter, but my bank had other ideas, and only now I’ve been able to get my hands on the actual thing. And boy is this thing a beauty.
The core of the game is a 194 handbook simply called Flash Gordon – The Roleplaying Game.
The volume opens with a foreword by Sam J. Jones, reminiscing about his involvement with the 1980 film, and his meeting with Buster Crabbe (the only man to play Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers AND Tarzan in the history of Hollywood), and other fun insider details. This, together with the original Alex Raymond comic pages that grace the volume as illustrations, goes to show how much love for the character and the series went into this book.
The handbook covers all the gaming necessities – a brief intro, then character creation, equipment and gadgets, setting rules etc.
The setting rules are particularly interesting.
A lot of people are looking at the Flash Gordon game as a test run of the new edition of the standard Savage Worlds rules, and the risk of being biased (”this is not my Savage Worlds!”) is there. But my cavalier treatment of the rules is well known, so I can look at these pages without any religious feeling or expectation.
The rules changes are fine with me: they favor the action, simplify a lot of stuff, and offer a few new options we usually had to wing at the game table.
As for the setting specific rules, Cliffhangers (a new dynamic that uses special cards), Planetary Romance and Creative Combat rules are just perfect to capture the feeling of the old Flash Gordon stories – and would fit perfectly any pulp game.
So, all in all, if Savage Worlds always did pulp perfectly, now it goes all the way up to 11 on the pulp action/adventure scale. Perfect for me – and if this is what we’re getting with the new edition, I am more than happy.
The handbook is rounded up by a concise gazetteer of Mongo, a serial-style plot point campaign and a set of stand-alone scenarios.
The second volume, Kingdoms of Mongo, contains what it says on the label – an in-depth look at the nations suffering under the heel of Ming the Mercyless, with history, geography, creatures and everything else, plus a few place-specific scenarios, for a total of another 194 pages. Once again, original Flash Gordon comics are used throughout the book to illustrate places, monsters and situations.
The Savage World of Flash Gordon is a great roleplaying setting and a Gordon fanboy’s dream. The authors clearly went through the whole Flash Gordon canon to extract information, details, ideas and hooks for the game.
Well, the end result of what was clearly a tour de force of design and documentation is beautiful, but I honestly wonder how many will appreciate the effort.
The risk is that most Flash Gordon fans will fall outside of the roleplaying demographics, while many roleplayers will probably need a lot of time to “get” the setting. In this sense, the connections with that movie I do not like will probably pull more readers and players than the references at the original 1930s comics and serials. Which is a pity, but might be a good way to bring more fans in contact with the old masterworks. And that’s always a good thing.
As for me, I’m sold.
Now I only have to find a way to get my players to roll a few characters (but I have also a nifty set of pre-rolled heroes here), and them, off to Mongo!