Beginning with a note on how this version came to be, author Sean Patrick Fannon then gives tribute to the three writers he regards as seminal influences on this work: Lawrence Kasdan (who worked on Star Wars and other epic films), Ed Greenwood (creator of the Forgotten Realms and Joe Straczinsky (creator of the Babylon 5 TV show), explaining what it was about each of them that inspired the development of Shaintar. It is good to know where you are coming from and what has influenced you along the way; above all, Fannon's own love for his creation and desire that it will become as real to those who play there as it is to him shine through. That's the way to create alternate realities!
So, on to Chapter 1: A Shaintar Omnibus, designed as an introduction to the setting for player and GM alike... indeed, GMs are encouraged to share this so that players can get a jump start on the world their characters inhabit, something always difficult to manage as a game begins with characters familiar with their own surroundings, but their players still feeling their way.
The known world consists of but a single continent and a few scattered islands, but it is a place full of mystery and magic, a place where adventure and legends abound. This moves swiftly into the calendar, with mention of the three moons that can cause the seas (little explored beyond coastal waters) to become quite rough. The calendar is just a little different from our own, close enough to facilitate familiarity yet different enough that you're certain you are someplace else. Neat.
Next, the deities are reviewed. They're all based on legends and seem a quarrelsome bunch, involving mortals in their squabbles. Magic is a bit more tangible, being based on the channeling of Essence (or spirit energy) that influses the land. There are four primary powers making up this Essence: being Life (its pure form), Darkness, Flame and Light, each bringing contrasting influences to bear. Both magicians and followers of religion manipulate Essence, in different ways according to their particular beliefs and philosophies. These are followed by the different races: the standard fantasy ones for the most part with the addition of felinoid and lizard-like ones, and winged fae. This section ends with the sweep of history, which is often difficult to separate from legend, and an overview of the current state of affairs.
Chapter 2: Heroes of Shaintar begins by talking about some of the paths that may be taken on the journey to become a hero about whom legends will be woven. An organisation called the Rangers, orders of knights, soldiers, druids, priests, magic-wielders of various kinds... rogues and other villains, former slaves, diplomats and other wanderers have their place as well, and of course everywhere are the common folk, the ones who keep the place running and food on the table but any of whom might have the potential for adventure within them. This leads on to the mechanics of actually creating your character. Naturally, it draws on the Savage Worlds core ruleset, with a few minor tweaks to suit this particular setting. Both race and trade give advantages and disadvantages, choose wisely based on your core concept of who you want to be. There's a lot here but one thing is clear: your character will be embedded in the setting from the outset, and he'll not be boring!
Once you have decided on who your character is, he can then select appropriate skills from the lists provided, learn languages and suffer apposite hindrances (if you want a few more points for anything else). It's recommended that characters start with about 10 experience, to give them that extra edge and to reflect that they've already begun to develop signs of potential Herohood. Some of the skills, hindrances and edges available are drawn from the Savage Worlds core rules, others are new to this setting: all, however, come with the distinct flavour of Shaintar woven through them. The whole is built around the concept of epic heroism: if your character isn't the sort of person that one day legends will be written about, he's not right for this setting. This doesn't mean you have to play some kind of goodie-goodie by any means, but selfish or angst-ridden characters who care about nobody but themselves and cannot be bothered to look outside themselves don't really belong here!
This section ends with gear, weapons, etc., and an abstracted system of determining resources and what you can acquire. The setting isn't about loot-grabbing, hence the abstraction, although there's sufficient to let you be a bit more precise if you want to keep accounts.
Then comes magic the Shaintar way. It's based, of course, on the Savage Worlds standard system, but with plenty of tweaks and new bits, so even if you are familiar with core rules magic you need to get to grips with how it's done here. The effort is worth it, with a coherent magic system truly embedded within the world that powers it. Seven styles of magic, no less, all distinct and full of flavour. Once met, you'll recognise a Shaintar magic wielder. Mechanically, the core system has been torn down and reconstructed from the bottom up, an effort repaid in an elegant and coherent set of rules for spellcasting.
Then come 'Setting Rules' - all the other tweaks, modifications and house rules that make adventuring in Shaintar different from merely playing Savage Worlds in a generic fantasy setting. It's all designed with an eye to the epic nature of this setting, a place where epic legends are just waiting to be written. One gem is the use of a 'golden bennie' that can literally change events, deus ex machina-style - epic storytelling at its best!
Finally, there's 'A Glimpse at the Lands of Heroes' being a brief gazetteer of the fascinating lands in which you will be adventuring and a few of the groups you might meet - just enough to tantalise and to cause a genuine shock that you've reached the final page of the PDF.
What can I say? If you want epic adventure, to become the hero of your own legends, this could well be the game for you. Now, to round up some players....
[5 of 5 Stars!]