The Seven-Sided Die

Advanced Dungeons & Savages review

Posted Friday November 07, 2008 at 10:08 PM

Advanced Dungeons & Savages (ADS) is a fan-made PDF conversion of 1st edition AD&D for Savage Worlds by Joel Sparks. It's available for download free from Savage Heroes, a Savage Worlds fansite with a huge collection of adventures, setting conversions, and sundry bits of crunch. (Thanks to UncleBear for linking me to ADS!) There's also a copy at the Savage Worlds section of Dragonsfoot that includes some trivial errata that is mostly fixes to page number references.

First, a caveat: I have yet to play Savage Worlds. I'm looking at ADS as a veteran *D&D gamemaster with an eye to what it can offer me when I want to run an existing AD&D setting using Savage Worlds. Any implications about the system, balance, and such should be taken with a chunk of rock salt.

Look and feel

As a document it weighs in at a considerable 68 pages, including 3 pages of title, table of contents, and acknowledgments. It's missing bookmarks, and though bookmarks would make it more useful at the table, in a middling-sized PDF with a good table of contents like this it isn't a huge problem. In presentation and art style it looks just like an AD&D rule book, using the same typeface and font size, two-column layout, and that familiar, spare styling for headers, lists, and tables. There's quite a lot of art throughout the book (excepting the spells chapter, for some reason) mostly used as accents rather than illustrative of the nearby material. I might even say there's too much art, with some pages having two or three moderate accent pieces when smaller ones or just one moderate one would have been more true to the style.

The look immediately gave me a warm glow of nostalgia, and it very effectively invokes the style of gaming that is on offer in the rules themselves. However, after that initial glow the irritation with the cramped layout, spartan visual cues, and general ill-ease of reading set in. The AD&D books are not æsthetically pleasing, and neither is Advanced Dungeons & Savages. Worse for a PDF, it's hard to read on a screen and the abundance of art makes it wasteful to print. Noism over at Monsters and Manuals has written about the trend of coupling old-school rules and settings with 70s and 80s æsthetics to the product's detriment, and this complaint certainly applies to ADS. I would have preferred a more legible layout that was easier on the eyes and more suited to screen reading.


Visuals aside, ADS is a competent translation of the AD&D genre to Savage Worlds. The grognardiest of AD&D gamers will immediately feel at home with the Savage Worlds take on classic races, classes, and abilities. As were many AD&D supplements, it is split into a players and a GMs section. The players section is concerned exclusively with character creation and advancement, with information on races, Edges, classes, alignment, equipment, and spells in these 24 pages.

The first page of actual rules modifies how the character creation in Savage Worlds is handled. There are slightly more points for attributes. Race and class give a character automatic Edges and Hindrances, and the gold piece standard replaces generic Savage Worlds dollars. It also notes that ADS characters will have many more Edges and Hindrances than standard Savage Worlds characters due to the automatic ones from race and class. Next some modifications of certain Edges used for class abilities are detailed, and a saving throw mechanic is added.

The first hint that I wasn't going to like this modification of Savage Worlds 100% was the section on classes. ADS implements classes by dividing the majority of Edges between the classes; to take an Edge a character must be of a class that allows that Edge. I think this unnecessarily limits the possibilities in the Savage Worlds character system without adding anything. As a GM I would use the class section as a guide for what in-world people or organisations (such as a thieve's guild, druidic circle or a wizardling's master) might expected of or offer to teach to characters. Not every character possible with Savage Worlds is going to neatly slot into one of the D&D archetypes and the point of using a modern system like Savage Worlds is to give players more leeway in crafting a compelling and mechanically-interesting character. There's no reason a sword-slinging enchanter (who can't carry a tune or play an instrument) can't appear in Waterdeep, and I don't think requiring a player to pick "Bard" to do that is to anyone's advantage.

The section on alignment is unremarkable, detailing the 3x3 system familiar to AD&D players.

The equipment section looks good with a quick once-over. I haven't read the tables in detail but nothing jumped out at me as particularly out of place. One nice point of interest is that the crossbow uses the Savage Worlds armour piercing rules (it has AP 2), fixing one of my long-standing gripes with D&D's handling of bows and crossbows. Weapon damage is given in the old pre–Explorer's Edition way, with damage being Strenght plus a fixed number. This can easily be converted to the updated Strength + Damage Die rules by the guideline given in the FAQ in the Savage Worlds TestDrive rules:

In some earlier versions of the rules, melee weapons had a flat bonus instead of a die type. You can figure out what most weapons should be by this simple guideline: +1 = d4, +2 = d6, +3 = d8, +4 = d10, +5 = d12.

Spells are listed by spellcasting class and further divided by rank, echoing the spell levels of AD&D but with fewer divisions. The list for clerics, druids, and magic-users fits on a single page, there being only 22 cleric, 17 druid, and 40 magic-user spells (not including reversed forms). Though this might seem scant, it's worth noting that the original spell selection in 1st edition AD&D was pretty slim compared to the glut we've gotten used to in later editions. I think there's enough in the nine pages of spells to cover what most players will expect in a D&D-genre world, and standard Savage Worlds powers can always be added. However,  it's worth noting that ADS superimposes the Vancian magic system over top of the Savage Worlds powers system. As with other such decisions in ADS, I think this results in an unnecessary dilution of the strengths of Savage Worlds' system for little gain.

Savage Masters

The Dungeon Masters section covers NPCs, bennies and experience, converting AD&D material to Savage Worlds, random encounters, and magic items.

Curiously the illusionist class is considered an NPC-only class unless the GM decides otherwise, saying that they are too unbalanced to be a PC class. Anti-paladins and necromancers (plus spell lists for illusionists and necromancers) are given some room as well. Rouding out the NPC section are notes on how NPCs of particular races differ from PCs, and a short bit on hiring NPCs.

The section on bennies and experience advises to hand out bennies like candy on Hallowe'en to better "simulate the combat-and-treasure based experience system of AD&D". In line with my desire to use Savage Worlds not as an AD&D simulator but as an superior system for playing in published AD&D settings, I plan to thoroughly ignore this suggestion. There is also a section on how ADS differs from the standard Savage Worlds rules on converting unused bennies to experience at the end of a session, but players of the Explorer's Edition can ignore this since it's been removed from the rules.

The conversion guidelines look good, but without using them and throwing the results at players a few times I can't judge how faithful a converted monster will be in terms of dangerousness. There is a note here that Butch Curry's Savage Beasts PDF already converts many D&D staples that aren't already included in the Savage Worlds core book.

Seven pages on random encounters follows, mostly taken up by tables of possible creatures. The chance to encounter something depends on terrain and time of day as in AD&D, but uses a more Savage Worlds–like die system that includes Acing, which indicates multiple encounters simultaneously or within a short time span. The one odd note is that some of the probabilities listed are "1-6" on a d6, apparently obviating the need to roll except to see if the die Aces.

The philosophy evident in the tables and the accompanying text indicates that, like the rest of ADS, there is a lot of love for the old-school intent of random encounters. The tables provide for random encounters that are mostly flavourful, with a chance of rarer, nastier things being encountered. I do have to question some of the numbers, though: it appears to be that in half the terrain types listed the chance of an encounter during the day is 100%, since it's listed as "1-6" on a d6. I could just be completely failing to read the tables right, but if not I fail to grasp the purpose of "random" encounters that are guaranteed.

Apart from that complaint, the table that follows for what might appear includes a nice selection of creatures. Some are detailed in ADS, some in the companion Savage Beasts PDF, and some are from the first edition of Savage Worlds. For people like me who have bought the incredibly good deal that is the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition which lacks those creatures, this will be a small sore point.

The magic items section begins with advice for including and managing the many magic items AD&D is renowned for in campaign with Savage Worlds mechanics. It even notes that giving them some non-simulationist flair is a good thing even if it makes players who crave predictable mechanical effects grumpy. ("Hey, it's magic", it says.) I approve of this take on AD&D magic items. It follows this with four pages of tables for randomly creating items in the best tradition of AD&D, and 14 pages of specific magic item descriptions. Notably it avoids many familiar magic items' names, such as the Cloak of Elvenkind or Apparatus of Qwalish, though it does have a Cloak of Camouflage and a Cloak of Vanishing. (A quick skimming didn't reveal an alternatively-named version of that quirky crustacean submersible, though.) Two pages on item creation include rules for creating bonus-conferring combat gear, Edge-granting items, potions, and scrolls.


Overall, Advanced Dungeons & Savages is a good ruleset for playing the implied setting of classic AD&D rules. It takes the system in Savage Worlds and adds the restrictions and quirks of AD&D in order to create the old-school feel particular to the 1st edition AD&D core books. Players and GMs who want to recapture the feel of 1st edition AD&D but want a tidier set of resolution mechanics will be well pleased by ADS.

For my purposes, though, ADS is disappointing. Although I am an advocate of enforcing level limits and other restrictions when playing AD&D in order to foster the kind of play style that AD&D excels at, I think doing this in Savage Worlds makes the resulting mechanics more like AD&D than like Savage Worlds—I might as well just play AD&D. The PDF would be more valuable if it put more trust in Savage Worlds to do a good job of the mechanics, especially character creation/advancement and magic, and concentrated on adapting AD&D to Savage Worlds style. As it is, it is more of an adaptation of Savage Worlds to the AD&D mechanics.

Looking at it as a resource, though, Advanced Dungeons & Savages is full of useful crunch for any GM to pick and choose from to run a game with setting material that assumes *D&D mechanics. The spell conversions are particularly useful and serve as a good guide for adapting AD&D material to Savage Worlds. I particularly like the random encounter tables and magic item creation rules. Things I will ignore are the class and race rules and possibly the spell system. For GMs and players wanting to start with something more like 1st-level AD&D characters and less Novice-rank Savage Worlds characters, I would suggest just starting out at Seasoned rank instead. The magic will take more of a close look, and I'm leaning toward using the ADS spell lists while eliminating the Vancian overhead that ADS adds to the Savage Worlds powers system.

Comments (2)


Saturday November 08, 2008 at 07:08 PM

Hey, thanks for a very substantive review. I downloaded this PDF a few months back, intending to use it for my own Savage Worlds campaign, but to be quite honest my group forgot all about it in our haste to start playing. But thanks to your review I'm going to revisit the PDF and see if there are any interesting things to graft onto our ongoing campaign.

PatrickWR’s last blog post..Reading Gygax for the First Time


Monday November 10, 2008 at 09:57 PM

Very welcome! I'd be interested to hear what you extract from it since I'm still pondering how to adapt Savage Worlds to a D&D setting.