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How To Run A Game In A Primitive Fantasy Setting

How to Run a Game in a Primitive Fantasy Setting

Sometimes you want survival itself to be your players’ biggest challenge. Learning to stay alive in a brutal, primitive fantasy setting can offer players a refreshing challenge, and we have some tips on how to do that!

“But,” you might ask, “what sets a primitive fantasy setting apart from a normal one?” Generally, a ‘primitive’ fantasy setting is one where races are still struggling to survive against the forces of nature. The world may be unexplored, and technology like metallurgy may not exist.

Here are some elements to consider when crafting your game, with examples drawn from Savage Dawn, the LoreSmyth’s own primitive fantasy setting!

Weather and Climate

Adventurers may have to cope with the harshness of the weather, whether that means braving a snowstorm or trudging through blistering heat. They don’t need to travel to a desert or the far north to experience these, either–a pleasant, temperate forest can transform into a frozen wasteland at the turn of the season.

In Savage Dawn, adventurers who face the cold without proper clothing or shelter may take ongoing cold damage and have their movement speed reduced, or suffer penalties to their agility in heavy snow. Though the weather may not kill players outright, it may weaken them when they need their strength the most!

Scavenging and Crafting


In a primitive fantasy setting, knowledge is power–especially when it comes to creating the tools of survival. Crafting weapons, armor, and items is one of the coolest mechanics for players to experiment with, and it creates new challenges as players gradually repair and improve their gear.

In Savage Dawn, players can scavenge materials (such as bones and hide) and assemble those components into a new weapon if they possess the right Crafting Slate (shown to the left). These Slates represent crafting knowledge that’s been passed down through generations, and show an items’ stats, the necessary materials, and the DC to successfully assemble it all. Without this knowledge, players can attempt to craft items, but they’re less likely to succeed.



Hunting and Foraging

Hunting expeditions or quests to find helpful herbs can become a major part of the gameplay in a primitive fantasy setting, since successfully killing a beast for its meat can mean the difference between starvation and survival. Without proper sustenance, players may face exhaustion…or worse.

In Savage Dawn, learning what creatures provide the best meat and most desirable crafting materials is essential. Certain items, like the bone cleaver above, need to be repaired the more they’re used, and the primary way to find replacement parts is to collect them from creatures. This means every kill can be a small triumph for players!

Want to Learn More About Savage Dawn?

If you’re looking for more inspiration for how to run a primitive fantasy setting (or you’re ready to jump into Savage Dawn yourself!), you can download the free Savage Dawn Starter Guide or check out the wiki!

The Savage Dawn wiki includes pages on Crafting, Climate and Weather, and even unique Beasts. Best of all, the setting is system neutral, so it can apply to any game!

Christopher Mahon

Chris Mahon is a fantasy writer, speaker, and essayist living in Brooklyn, New York. His non-fiction work has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, SyFy WIRE, Outer Places, The Portalist, and others. He's also spoken at New York Comic-Con, Columbia University, and the Glasgow International Fantasy Convention. In his free time he runs The Occult Triangle Lab, a blog on trigonometry, fantasy, and ungodly amounts of milk.

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