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My world setting is based on the movie “A quiet place”. Background is fantasy based on Pathfinder for Savage Worlds.

The main plot is as follows: some time ago the Raan appeared, creatures (alien like) that endanger all civilization decimating most cities. Before total collapse the ancients created “the shelters”, cities protected by ancient magic forming a barrier and enabling the races to survive while, conveniently dying in the process together with their knowledge.

The raan only attack intelligent creatures and are intelligent themselves. That sets up a world that I intend to be gritty, dangerous and dark. You can either be safe on one of the shelters or be exposed to a very dangerous world. The magic, of course, have started failing and our heroes will need to figure out why.

I love the idea of the world, setting and plot in the overall theme, but I’m struggling with the actual way of engagement. The premise is the world is supposed to be deadly and the players are supposed to be “out in there” but I’m not sure how to balance the deadly world with having interesting things happen to them. There can be some encounters but not too many or they will be dead fast, at the same time there are no dungeons or traditional encounters (bandits, dark temples to explore, merchants to protect and so on).

How can I balance my deadly world keeping it deadly while, at the same time, giving them a good set of “things to do and react to” on each session?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically, Fallout with Pathfinder. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2022 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haven’t played the game. Is it a good source for ideas on this kind of setting? I’m sure there’ll be some summary on yt or something. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2022 at 21:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's post-nuclear sci-fi in a crapsac world where people survive in shelters, while mutatns roam the radioactive world. I think it could be a great source for ideas if you transfer a bit. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2022 at 21:19

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Sounds like an interesting campaign. I hope it all comes together and you all have fun.

System, Pacing, and Broadened Definitions

You can balance the hyper-violent world with a combination of mechanical systems, campaign and session pacing, and by broadening your definitions of "an encounter".

System Choice

Choosing Savage Worlds as the base system was a generally wise choice. The fact that a goblin with a knife can be lucky enough to one-shot a healthy dragon* means the system provides a degree of constant danger, but the extreme odds against such events (and the existence of systems, including Soak Rolls, to prevent or mitigate them) gives good odds of characters surviving most of the time.
Don't ignore the more mundane rules, like Fear. A good description and a well-timed Fear check can see the party fleeing an encounter as fast as they can.

When refining your choice, you need to consider appropriate Setting Rules. If you want the characters to be able to survive more easily - or dragons to not get ganked by a lucky goblin - then you'll want to look at the Wound Cap setting rule. If you want to give greater weight to Benny usage then look at the Hard Choices setting rule. If magic generally, and not merely the protections of the Shelters, is failing then the Dynamic Backlash setting rule can convey that in a constant fashion. And so forth.


*Not a random example. I actually had this happen when a goblin scout got extremely lucky on a damage roll, dealing 47 damage with his 2d4 attack, enough to inflict 6 Wounds on the Wild Card dragon.

Pacing

I have played in several tense, fraught campaigns that averaged one combat every three sessions. This worked because of the pacing of the campaign and the sessions.
Natural Healing is slow, requiring five (5) days per attempt. Without a dedicated healer (mundane or magical), a second combat within those five days could be a death sentence for a Wounded character. I've seen a character fail five consecutive Natural Healing rolls, requiring a full month (30 days) of down time to recover from two Wounds.
Starvation and Thirst are deadly, creeping upon characters quickly and with potentially fatal consequences. A very unlucky player character can be Incapacitated by thirst in a hot desert or jungle in as little as 32 hours, and dead in two more hours. (That expands to 40 hours in a more temperate climate, with the same Critical Failures.) Pacing out access to supplies, resources, and rest can provide tension and discourage unneeded (and unplanned for) exploration by the party; alternately, supplies can be the bait to encourage the party to explore something they would rather not.
Even peaceful encounters can turn hostile. Ruins can crumble further, survivors can turn hostile, creatures can attack, and more natural phenomena (weather, magical storms, wild fires, etc.) can sweep through to convert a calm interaction into something chaotic and deadly. This can ratchet up the tension of a scene or session without having to bring in something that is pursuing the party. After a couple of bad events, most groups will have a more paranoid view of every encounter - providing more tension.

Expanding Definition

Encounters do not have to be combat encounters. They can be with other survivors (friendly, wary, or hostile), wild creatures (an owlbear is of no interest to the raan because an owlbear is not intelligent in the way they desire), intentionally dangerous ruins, unintentionally dangerous ruins, hostile environmental effects (tornadoes, thunder storms, flash floods, landslides, wild fires, various magical calamities, etc.), contamination of provisions, terrain obstacles (chasms, river crossings, previous landslides, battlefields, craters, etc.), or local mysteries like a fey incursion.
Start thinking less in terms of D&D and more like Oregon Trail. The real enemies are disease, deprivation, and indifferent terrain - not the now-extinct ogres and the (presumably) rarely-encountered raan.

The other definition to expand is The Party. The party is not just the characters that start the campaign; it is also the characters added along the way to replace the dead or maimed. (In one Deadlands: Hell On Earth Classic campaign, we had two Party Wipes, I personally had six characters killed, and the campaign still finished.)

Closing

This is absolutely doable. You'll need to understand and refine the game mechanics being used, carefully manage the pacing of both the individual sessions and the overall campaign to keep the players tense but engaged, and broaden your own definitions to encompass the world of possibilities available to you.
Again, I wish you the best of luck.

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Focus on exploration, stealth and investigation

The way you describe it, the Raan are not really something the players will be able to fight against. If they are discovered, players will die.

One game I have experience with that is like that is classic Call of Cthulhu. There, like in what you describe, combat is very deadly and encounters with supernatural beings can easily wipe out a whole party if they do not run. The goal is not to defeat the monsters, but to instead work around them, somehow survive and learn what is going on. The outcome often is that you eventually devolve into raving lunacy or die.

Game system

A system designed for heroic fantasy gaming like Pathfinder is not the best fit for the kind experience you want to create. In leveled systems like that, the expectation is there will be lots of combat, and the characters will be extremely powerful eventually. That does not work as well with a game where one of your main goals is to avoid combat. The first recommendation I would make is to consider a different game system, that is not level based, such as Basic Role Playing system (which you can try for free). Such a system would more naturally support a less combat focused game.

Investigation

Most of the activities can be based around exploration and investigation. The characters need to go out into the world to learn what is going on. They cannot survive encounters with the Raan, so they must focus on avoiding them, be stealthy. A lot of the play will be figuring out how to hide, go undetected, disguise yourselves and enter sites that may contain clues. If you want fights, you can have them against normal beasts and maybe monsters that live in the world, while avoidig alerting the Raan. They can meet other refugees that live in hiding and provide information. An adventure can be to meet a contact in another shelter who has information -- you just need to get there alive.

Embrace death

Avoiding the Raan may not always work. One way to handle being discoverred then is to flee. The Raan will likely follow and kill one or several of the group, but those that escape can recruit new helpers, and carry on with the mission/campaign. (In one Call of Cthulhu campaign, Masks of Nyarlathotep, we went through 53 player characters).

This also is different from a normal heroic fantasy campaign, that always centers on the same characters and expects them to survive. If you do play fantasy, you have raise dead as an option, although that tends to not work as well with a dark and gritty world. Dark and gritty does better if there is no way to come back from death.

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