Shore Leave – The SagaBorn Review!

Hello Called Shot Crew! We have a very exciting episode for you all today! We are reviewing our good friend Michael Bielaczyc’s gaming system SagaBorn. We have a full episode discussing and playing a short scenario. We hope you enjoy it. Below you will see our written review of SagaBorn written by Chad Hughes and Wes Smith. Don’t forget to check out his Kickstarter for the creature compendium. This book is filled with some amazing creatures and beautiful artwork! Michael, thank you so much for allowing us to review your work!

Overall score: 8.5/10 Skulls

The short and sweet: 8.5/10 Skulls, with a little errata and expansion, 9/10. As a simplified D20 based system, Sagaborn rewards a group that can work with their GM to come up with awesome ideas on the fly.

The review:
Sagaborn is a simplified D20 system that attempts to encourage storytelling and epic action and reduce the need to check the rules during play.
Five Playable races: elves, dwarves, humans, elflings, and fauns
Eight Classes: fighter, barbarian, archeon, luminar, wylder, bard, ranger, and rogue
Talent system: the prerequisite feat system has been replaced by a point based talent system
Simplified skills: eight skills oriented towards covering all the standard adventuring skills
Heroic Actions: replaces the combat maneuver/special attack system with a simple opposed ability check
Mana based casting: a simple mana based magic system with the spells organized by cost, without class or level restrictions
Eight level system: level advancement ends at eight to ease the complication that comes with higher levels
Legacy items: magic items that level with your character

The 112-page core rulebook is available as a pay what you want to download on Sagaborn.com or drivethrurpg.com, and the softcover printed version is available for $19.99.

Tonight I had the pleasure to sit down with the Called Shot Crew and play my third ever game of Sagaborn. Wes, Matt, and I were lucky enough to play a couple of games with the creator, Michael Bielaczyc at Chattacon back in January, and we enjoyed it enough that we all decided to pick up a copy.

Combat will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played the D20 system, with combat actions divided into standard (opening doors, kicking over tables), move, and attack actions. A move action can be split with a standard or attack action, so, for example, a fighter could move 15 feet into a room, kick over a table to provide cover, then move his remaining 15 feet.
Attacking is similarly familiar, following the D20 + (base attack + ability modifier) VS Armor Class formula. Critical hits occur on a natural 20 without requiring confirmation and cause double damage. Fumbles occur on a natural one and the consequences of such are left to the GM.

For our review, I played Cenric, second level well-scarredd in well-worn scale mail and wielding a longsword and a well-scarred shield (his legacy item), Cenric is a fighter in the frontline tank tradition. While he had several talents to improve his ability to take damage (dodge, etc.) the one which stood out most to me was Shield Bash. This ability allows you to take a free heroic action to knock an enemy prone with your shield, and Cenric being the burly fellow he was, took advantage of it at every opportunity.
Where combat really shines for me is the heroic actions. Their freeform nature allows for epic feats of imagination and really rewards a group that works together with each other to do something awesome. As an example, when ambushed by zombies, Cenric turned and performed a heroic action, using his strength to drive one of them back on the broken branches of a dead tree, impaling it with a mighty surge of strength. Traditionally, this would require a special attack such as a bull rush that would need to take into account threatened squares, whether or not you had the correct feat, and attacks of opportunity. In Sagaborn it was accomplished with a single roll.

The Sagaborn fighter feels competent, solid, and effective. Many times there is a tendency for melee characters to feel like the only action they can take is ‘I hit it with my sword’, particularly at low levels. With the heroic actions and the streamlined skills, I never felt that I lack for options, be it using his shield to drive a zombie back onto spikes, knocking an aggressive NPC to the ground, or swinging to the attack on a chandelier.

My only real issue with the system is that there are a few spots that could use a bit of clarification and expansion. As an example we had a character knocked to negative hit points. At this point by the book the character needs to make a constitution to stabilize, then another to become mobile. However, there is no indication of what happens if the character does not stabilize. Do they continue to bleed as is normal for D20, do they simply remain unconscious? It’s not entirely clear, and while it can be easily resolved by GM fiat, it can slow down the game because the information is not readily available. That being said, the creator has been excellent about responding to feedback and has already released some errata, so I fully expect the issues we encountered with it to be resolved over time.

Below you will find a review of the magic system in SagaBorn by our lovely GM Wes Smith.

I had the opportunity to GM a game of Sagaborn for Adam, Hanna, Chad, and Matt. Having GMed for this group in the past, I knew how to get the group involved as quickly as possible. The Sagaborn rules are great for getting a group sitting down at a table and jump right into the game. With the premise set in a few short sentences, the group was ready to roleplay! I had them fight a magic user as the Big Bad for the short one-shot we played and I’d like to go over the magic system since it is one of the largest changes from Pathfinder or DnD 3.5.

The magic system Sagaborn uses is where this system shines brightly. If you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 or Pathfinder you are familiar with spell levels and spell slots and the difference between arcane magic and divine magic. Sagaborn is much more flexible. Magic in the world of Uteria has just returned and is a much wilder version than other d20 systems.

At character creation the magic user picks a small set of spells for their spell list. All spellcasters pick from the same list. It includes everything from your standard fireball to healing spells. They also have a pool of mana determined by class, level and the chosen ability to represent their spell casting. Do you want a wizened old man who uses his innate knowledge of the world to channel his spell casting? Just choose Wisdom as the ability to base his spellcasting. Do you prefer a brash and charming sorcerer-type? Charisma it is!

Each spell has a mana cost that is either 0, 1, 3, 5, or 7. To give you an idea of mana pool size, a level one Wylder will probably have about 5 or 6 mana in their pool. As the group plays, every magic user has the ability to learn spells when they witness them being cast by other spell users. Characters can also hire mages to cast spells and the player will earn a bonus to their Spellcraft roll in this case. There is a limit to how many spells are on their list, but if they see the spell they are dying to learn, then the character just “forgets” one spell on their list and replaces it with the new one.

The mana pool refreshes every day, but the mana pool is not a hard limit on the spells cast during the day. The character can choose one of 2 ways to pull deeper to cast a few more spells in one day. A character can pull on their own life force to find more mana, or they can pull from those around them, including nature. This part has a very Dark Sun feel too it. The act of pulling from the surrounding life force is called Ravaging. It is considered an extremely evil act and only the vilest choose to do so. However, a spell user trying to pull from deep within themselves must succeed on a Spellcraft check. A roll of a natural 1 causes them to accidentally ravage. Of course, if a Ravager rolls a natural 1 on their Spellcraft check for ravaging, they instead pull on their own life force. A very deadly act if one fails to ravage while low on hit points.

I really enjoy the magic system of Sagaborn. There’s no complicated explanation of spell slots or spell lists that you can or cannot choose. Once you have the initial spell list, any spell the characters sees being cast is up for grabs. Sagaborn also has a nice printout of spell cards to assist the player in keeping track of how much mana it costs and the effect. Whether you’re playing with new players or veterans they are extremely helpful. You can find the PDF on drivethrurpg.com.

Michael, We thoroughly enjoyed SagaBorn and we hope that someday everybody in the Table Top community has had the chance to play!
-The Called Shot Crew.

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