Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fighting Fantasy, The Introductory Role Playing Game (RPG) and the Riddling Reaver

I have been on a pilgrimage to complete my Fighting Fantasy RPG collection.  I somewhat distantly remember playing and owning a few of the books growing up.  I was already into D&D so the books were a "just okay" solo endeavor if I could think of nothing else gaming related to do.  Clearly they did not rank high on my to do list, which probably explains my having 3 books total growing up.  Additionally I have no particular fond remembrances of the series, yet I do own the GW Warlock of Firetop Mountain game so???

Even so, I never realized a full RPG had been created on the back of this system.  I found out about it and my pilgrimage began.  I recently came upon the final 3 books I was missing, the final book, and oddly the first in the series, greeting me (after my wife of course) when I came back from my trip.  Life is funny like that, and I think it is no coincidence.

I've studied FF and AFF as I have worked on my Roguish RPG.  This series of books became quite a phenomena.  Certainly the story, random events, varied settings, and stream of new material drove players on, but the back bone of the game caused them to play time and time again.  So let's look at the basics of playing Fighting Fantasy.

Your character has three stats Skill, Stamina, and Luck.  I like that already.  Skill, roll 1d6 and add 6.  Stamina, roll 2d6 and add 12. Luck roll 1d6 and add 6.   That my friend is quick and easy character generation!

Skill is how well you do stuff.  You test by rolling 2d6 and try to roll under your skill total, OR in a fight roll 2d6 and add your skill score, highest total wins.  Targeted and contested rolls.

Stamina-its you Hit Points. When Stamina reaches zero, you becomes a bleeding, dead zero.

Luck-this is the random catch all stat.  The adventure can require you test it, the GameMaster can require you test it, or you may declare you want to test it to see if something goes your way or not.  Test it by rolling 2d6 and trying to be equal to or under your luck skill.  Each time you test, reduce your luck score by one.  Neat mechanic, the more you test your luck, the harder it is to be lucky!

Do you see what happened there? In a about 70 words you now know how to roll up a character and the basics to play Fighting Fantasy.  GENIUS!

No wonder this became SO popular.  Even the slowest simpleton could get this, and the most erudite could enjoy it.  The mechanics did not get in your way, they added dimension to reading and exploring a story.

So why did the FF RPG bomb?  Well the basic RPG (pictured above) really was basic. The essential parts of being an RPG like equipment lists and spells are simply non existent.   The "rules" themselves are sort of an expansion upon the FF game books themselves.  Many additional pages are added to help the young GameMaster, but the bulk of the book is a mapped adventure of GM use.  Is that bad?  Not in the least, but as a full RPG (at least as I understand and enjoy it) it does not work.

What I do like are the included simple sections on how to do stuff like  bribery, searching, spotting, stealth, doors, etc.  The kind of stuff characters will want to do and how to do it in a few sentences which both can reference.  Sometimes those basic things are completely overlooked in a RPG rules set, or worse, hidden amongst pages of rules.  FF calls it out clearly and it is easily referenced.

I have the Riddling Reaver to thumb through next. It is an expansion to the Fighting Fantasy Intro RPG with "Four thrilling adventures" and some additional rules.  My issues with FF RPG were resolved with The Riddling Reaver...somewhat.

In roughly 9 paper back pages RR adds magic, weapons, and adds Unconscious player rules.  Yes all of that in 9 pages and obviously the majority (6)of that is magic and spell descriptions.  So let's look at these in a tiny bit more depth.

Unconsciousness-this mystifies me.  In the books zero stamina equals death, yet the now add rules for negative stamina so that PC's can go unconscious and not die. Call me a simpleton but why is it okay to be dead in the books but not when Young James is GameMastering?  I am sure it's because the books are tested to make death a rarity and Young James the Kill Joy GM may not have the same issue with PC deaths.  Even so I think this is weak.  I did not like it in D&D and do not here.

Weapons-While FF treated every weapon the same, RR adds a random damage chart.  To use the chart find your weapon, roll d6, and you opponent loses the stamina listed.  Some weapons lower your skill score by one or 2 points, but in exchange do more damage when you hit.  While I like weapons now having a mechanical impact on the game, the chart leaves me cold and is not something I'd like to thumb back and forth through a book finding.

Magic-Ah yes, the glaring missing thing from Fighting Fantasy.  In this Intro RPG only ONE character can be a wizard.  Yes, it is italicized in the book.  The wizard only add +4 to his Skill score roll, BUT now gets a whole new Magic stat. To that the wizard adds +6 to the roll of 1d6.  To cast roll 2d6.  If the roll is equal or under, the spell works, if not something bad happens!  (HA! I wrote the same thing, except using 3d6, ages ago for my Roguish RPG!  There is nothing new under the sun indeed!)  A total of 12 spells are available to the prospective wizard.

Overall Magic is definitely tacked on and if I remember correctly changes later in the evolution of FF into AFF.  In short Riddling Reaver adds to and expands the FF intro RPG into a more fleshed out game, but still has numerous issues to resolve. 

I like that the whole system is maybe 24 pages complete after removing the adventures. I like targeted and contested roles, I like the simplicity of 4 stats-although not how they set them up.  I don't think I would play the system frankly, but as a springboard I have seen far, far worse.

So my pilgrimage continues...

PS- I know it is being re-released (okay correctly Advanced Fighting Fantasy is being re-released) and like an idiot I will be re-purchasing.  My wisdom score is an 8 I believe.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Jacksonian Conundrum or Why Munchkin and not GURPS

I was going to start out by listing my history with SJG but let's be honest, it won't matter.  If you hate what a write, convincing you because I grew up playing them that it matters, frankly won't.

So Evil Stevie was at the game show I was at today.  Yup saw the new Ogre, and a boatload of stuff that was part toy and part game.  Then there were the truck loads of Munchkin stuff.  For those not playing, in essence Munchkin consists of leveling up your character to 10th level to win.  You play good cards on your self, and everyone plays crap cards on you to stop you.  Now pick a theme, rinse and repeat.  Unlike the more erudite of the OSR, I do not despise munchkin and its ilk.  SJG has hit on a theme and game design that appeals broadly.  If they don;t have your theme, wait a few months its coming...including Axe Cop.  Yup That is not a mis-print, look it up.  Don;t be surprised if Munchkin Conan does not show up (or some riff on it) as well...

I am listening to Steve pitch his stuff and I come up with 3 things:
1) Steve is Smart
2) He listens and produces what his customers support
3) He isn't afraid to try things-PROVIDED they make him $

Look at the bulk of SJG's projects and they are a lot of one off's with potential.  Let's take Cthulhu dice.  He made the game he has a Cthulhu dice bag that looks like Cthulhu...and he is coming out with a giant foam die version with Cthulhu silly bands as markers.  Clearly this is making him $. If an when any of these bomb-Steve moves on.

He showed a giant plush tentacle, maybe 2 feet long-no purpose, no game tie, just a tentacle.  If enough attendees could convince him they could sell it-SJG gets in the foam tentacle business.  If it sells maybe you get foam eyes on stalks next, if that sells, maybe wings.  Steve stops when a sales threshold is not met and then moves on.

So why not GURPS?  Unlike the last edition which filled shelves with splat books, this edition really does not have anything to show for itself.  In fact I don;t remember seeing any GURPS at his rather large booth.  What does that tell me? It is not selling. In fact it is selling so poorly, it isn't worth talking about or showing to prospective retailers.  Brother that is bad...remember the foam tentacle? He was willing to talk about that...but not GURPS...yeeech

Okay so Munchkin sells by the goat-load, and GURPS is Texas sized roadkill.  What's my point?  Should be obvious-PEOPLE WANT AND WILL BUY EASY TO PLAY AND UNDERSTAND GAMES.  Munchkin-easy, GURPS-hard.  Solution?  Already made (but need updating) Melee and Wizard.

Don;t believe me? Okay let's talk about WotC!  Yup after they had zippo at GAMA, they had 40 feet of gaming goodness at this show!

Board games 25 feet
Magic 10 feet
D&D 5 feet

That isn't a mistake either and D&D was spread out to cover the 5 feet and almost no one was looking at it.  WotC was showing what people were buying. (FYI-they have Shogun/Samurai swords reprint coming-looks sweet!)

 To be clear I am not some gilded age wanna be, back to the future, everything was better when TSR had a cartoon, my kingdom for a wood grain box devotee.  What I am is mystified by the blind devotion to encyclopedic gaming production in an age of on demand consumer. Is that a problem?  If you think it is, you need to ask yourself what the problem is?  Is it the chicken laying the egg or the egg that is getting produced? Or do we need a different bird altogether now?


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

OSR is a pilgrimage, not a destination

Hello from the road. One of the good thing about being trapped in a metal tube 35,000 ft above the planet is the luxury of time to read and think  uninterrupted. Note that only applies provided you have a window seat.

I can't say my site is OSR (Old School Renaissance) compliant particularly if by OSR you mean only D&D.  In fact its clear using that yardstick, this site is not even measurable.  For me (and yes I own and love the old stuff, D&D and beyond) I see the idea of OSR as one not about recreating D&D in some idealized form, I see the OSR movement as one of a pilgrimage.  I define a pilgrimage as a search to find deep moral or spiritual significance.  So I read, write, study and play the old school games trying to find that spark of significance that still matters to me and inspires me all these decades later.

Also note I am referring to myself, although I don't think I am the only OSR Pilgrim.  Between my starting in the RPG hobby in 80-81 and to where RPG games are now, something to my mind has been buried and lost.  Well at least to me its been lost.  The fun and joy I had in playing RPG's which numbered 64 or fewer pages became buried in tomes of rules.  The free form, figure it out style of play where every DM did something different became homogenized, ruled, and dis-spirited.  Somewhere along the line, "it's not in the book" ceased to be an opportunity, and instead became a problem.  In the end the more advanced and detailed rules have become, the less free and enjoyable I have found gaming.  In fact it is to the point where I simply gave up playing driven away by encyclopedias of rules, their vocal adherents, and attendant rules lawyers.

Then I realized if what I enjoyed were the more free form, more flexible, less layered rule sets-they were still available.  Sure not in a store, but in my garage and in my closet.  I began my journey by reading and re-discovering what thrilled in the past, and how little enforced structure was actually there.  That lead me to the net to see if any other journeyers were on the road as well.  Sure enough the road is packed with travelers.  There are the outbreaks and cries of truth and heretic, but I keep right on walking.

In the end D&D is not a bible, Gygax and Arneson are not saints, and Tekumel is no temple.  Even so they all have something to say to the traveler on an OSR pilgrimage who stops to read, ponder, and look for enlightenment-not an answer. I hope to see you on the OSR road, and I know that whenever I stop, others will keep going on their own pilgrimage, and that is as it should be.

In the immortal salutation of Marc Miller of Traveler fame, "Bon Voyage!"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Creatures in Roguish

The "name that game" poll on this site and on the Roguish RPG site turned out about as mixed as I was on the title.  Even so, Roguish did get the most votes, so it stays as the game title.  For those who took time to respond thanks!

Here is another brief look into Roguish with creatures and stat blocks.  As with everything Roguish I try to skin it down to what's most important, at least as I see it.  You may see some things missing that you feel are important, and if so let me know what and why.  Is treasure important? Number appearing? Habitat? I did not think these critical and they could actually be limiting, but you still have chance to tell me I'm wrong and explain why.

Animals and Monsters
Fantasy worlds of legend and literature are filled with all sorts of dangerous creatures. Herein you will find all sorts of challenging foes for your characters to overcome. In Roguish, animals and monsters are represented by seven Categories:

Type (TY): This broadly defines the category of creature in Roguish.  Some spells or special abilities may only affect certain creature types.

Animals-this includes insects, dinosaurs, dogs, bears, oozes, slimes, and other similar creatures.

Enchanted-this broadly covers magical beasts like dragons, demons, and living statues.

Humanoid-creatures which have a human like appearance and traits from goblins to giants.

Undead-creatures which have returned from beyond deaths pale veil like Zombies, vampires, and ghosts.

Skill level (SL): This represents its ability to make physical and magical attacks whether with claws, swords, bows, fangs or spells.  The SL is added to all attacks or spells cast of any kind made by the creature.

 Second the SL can serve as a guide for the Referee.  It can be used to help determine if the creature is strong enough or too strong for the characters to face.  As a guideline a monster’s SL is roughly equivalent to a player character’s level.

Defense Value (DV): This bonus represents how well protected or how much armor the creature wears.  Add the creatures DV to its die rolls to defend from physical attacks. If using targeted combat rules the number in parenthesis is the target number you need to exceed to hit the creature.

Movement (MV): This represents the number of spaces a creature can move on the ground in one 5 second turn.  Multiply the score by 5 to get the number of feet that represents. If you see a slash the number after the slash is the creature’s speed flying.

Damage (DM): The letter after shows how much damage a creature does when it makes a successful attack.  This will be L, M, V, X, or Z.  If you see a + and a number (#) after the letter, it means you should add that number to the total damage rolled.   An Asterisk means they creature has a special attack like fiery breath or magical spells!  See that creature’s description for more information.

Hit Point (HP): This is the amount of damage the creature can take before it dies.

Behavior (BE): This will give you an idea of how and why the creature acts. Below is a brief list of possible behaviors, feel free to add your own.

Cowardly-attacks with surprise or in groups, flees if things go badly

Territorial-fights if attacked or to defend territory or property it claims as its own

Aggressive: Will fight and pursue those who retreat

Creature Example


TY: Humanoid SL:1 DV:1(11) MV:7 DM:L* HP:6 BE: Cowardly

These small 3 foot tall pale green or gray skinned creatures are thin wiry and not too smart. They breed like rabbits and are notorious thieves with a hideous love of humanoid flesh.  Dwarfs have tired for eons to destroy them, but like rats they simply scurry away.  Usually they are armed with knives, short bow, javelins, and small shields.  For every 30 goblins, one will be a shaman knowing how to cast 1-3 different spells.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Playtest Character sheets for Roguish

Well, sort of a character sheet...except they are bookmarks!  As I work on my Roguish RPG I thought I'd share with you the play test character sheet.  A bookmark may not be the hardiest of character sheets to use long term, but it is definitely a familiar, friendly, and simple way to get people started playing.  It does not intimidate a new player, it has a little picture to help fire the imagination, and it is not covered in big gaping blank areas to be filled in, nor lots of little boxes and stats to be filled out.  The other cool thing is it is a neat takeaway that can be used as a bookmark after the adventure, and might keep a play tester thinking about the game.

Not sure if the final character sheet will remain in bookmark form, or if I'll have a bit more detailed option ...but getting 5 character sheets from one piece of paper is pretty sweet!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

TFT Basic Set that was and wasn't: Dragons of Underearth

A while ago I wrote a rambling missive on my strange fascination with TFT and it's status as the biggest "just miss" in role playing for me.  Late in the life of Metagaming Inc., a new boxed set was released call Dragons of Underearth.  This was a basic and trimmed down FRPG based on Melee, Wizard, and TFT.  Strangely, Dragons of Underearth was apparently tied back to another Micro Game Lords of Underearth.  Lords of Underearth is a fantasy war game that has some ties to TFT, but it's definitely not a FRPG.  You control companies of fighters and battle using a CRT. More odd? Apparently the never published follow up to Dragons, Conquers of Underearth, served to expand and tie Dragons of Underearth and Lords of Underearth together into a "company based" FRPG solitaire play war game.  What would THAT Frankenstein monster of a game have looked like?

The Lords of Underearth is a unique and fun war game, and I suppose if your gaming style consisted of parties of adventures battling hordes of goblins, orcs, or other beasts in company sized units then a mash up with a FRPG is certainly a lost treasure.  Perhaps this sort of thing could have been invaluable to say an avid Birthright player or to the players who wanted to run their own kingdoms and have their party of characters involved in mass combats.  I never understood that need myself, but I'd never turn down another tool in the old gaming toolbox.

Back to Dragons of Underearth, while it is a basic FRPG based on TFT, its' pretty clear it's goal was to serve as a bridge to the Conquerors of Underearth product.  This again seems like yet another Metagaming mistake.  Where TFT became too complex and rules/ exceptions heavy, Dragons scaled back (too far mind you) to the core basics of the system presenting a simplified (and unfinished) core FRPG system.  Yet it's apparent goal was only to set up the basics needed to get into playing Conquerors.  I make this assumption based on two sources: The Dragons of Underearth rules which mention Conquerors multiple times for reference and rules expansion.  Second, from the designer himself commenting on it.

What a waste.  As Thompson did not like the direction Jackson took TFT, and Dragons seemed like the potential product Howard originally envisioned TFT to become, it's sad to think of Dragons as a bastard "son of TFT" meant only as a bridge to some other game. I created my own version of what a basic game might have looked like with Heroes & Other Worlds.

Below posted are the Dragons of Underearth designers notes from Interplay #8. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pocket Full of Peril #8: Ruins of Rhee-Suh-Uhs

Rhe-Suh-Uhs' tentacles of power once stretched over the land.  Slowly he lost power as others arose to challenge his rule.  In the end he fled into the southern ruins and caves of Mount Lepos with his family and retainers.  Rumors abound of fabulous wealth stashed in his tomb but its been hundreds of years surely there is nothing left to loot...or is there?

Tip of the cap to Tim Ballew over at Risus Monkey for the geomporphs edited and used to create this Pocket full of Peril.

Download the PDF version in the PfoP repository on the right side of the page!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pocket Full of Peril #7: Lair of the Lunartics

People in the small  villages around Mount Lepos have an ongoing problem, their folk are disappearing during nights of a full moon.  Worse, occasionally they come back with a misshapen neck and back, gaunt, stumbling and feeding on the flesh of any they find.  Mount Lepos is a notorious site filled with caves, ancient mines, hives of goblins, and strange creatures no man can name.  What is abducting the villagers and can it be stopped before the next full moon?

I ran this using my Roguish RPG system and its become something of a "Hive Crawl" at this point.  For now I'll post this first level PFoP version.  All the wicked cool hive geomorphs were made by Stonewerks and you can find them by clicking the link.

The Lunartics
The Lunartics in my game are an alien species that have been stranded for ages inside of Mount Lepos slowly growing in numbers.  They are now venturing out and using hive leaches to create zombie workers to dig new areas, or food for this brood.  The lunartics themselves look like pale gray/white upright walking ticks.  Huge bloated abdomens that are inches above the ground. The top short arms are used for feeding and grasping things up close to their poor vision eyes. The longer middle arms are used to hold tool or weapons, and two large power full legs propel their bodies uprightly like a humanoid.  The lunartics feel vibrations in the air via antennae,  through their feet, and through millions of small spiny hairs more than they actually see things.  So things like invisibility or hiding in shadows serve no purpose if the person doing these things is also moving.

There are lunartic workers who use a bite or claw to defend themselves.  Their carapace is equal to hardened leather or scale armor. The lunartic warriors use spine throwers which are sort of a shotgun firing d6 darts. These are fueled by a strange spiney larva.  In addition they use spore "grenades" which are a fungal growth that when broken does one of 3 things: Fails, creates a choking gas cloud, or creates a poison gas cloud.  This is determined by the age and moisture richness of the spore. They fall back on using dual wielded sharp dagger like knife hooks which grow from their claws and mark them as warrior caste at birth.  Their armor is also harder, like chain mail when young and plate mail when veteran.

Hive Leaches
The hive leaches are slow moving centipede like creatures which glow faintly in the dimness.  They range from a 12 to 18 inches in length.  They bred as food by the lunartics and secrete a mind altering fluid that effects humanoids by turning them into zombies.  A hive leach when attached to a humanoid well first paralyze, and the slowly feed off the victims spinal fluid until the back breaks and the victim is crippled.  This usually takes a few months.  In the meantime the victim is kept alive an nourished by the hive leach producing a protein based saliva that keeps the subject alive and also "zombifies" the victim.  The lunartics turn these victims into simple miners.  When threatened the hive leach secrets an adrenaline into the victim causing the fight or flight reaction in the host.

Spore Flies
In the hive players can also come across spore flies. These look like bat-winged grub insects with glowing abdomens. They bite and leach onto victims drain 1 hp per turn they are attached.

These are strange yellowish mushrooms that glow in dark and give off a candles worth of light for up to 30 days even after being picked.  When eaten by humanoids it can create various effects depending upon the age of the mushroom.  Dried mushrooms can be eaten like an iron ration and fill like a full meal.  Young ones are deadly poisonous, and full grown ones can induce madness.

What lies lower in the lair?  Time will tell...

Download Pocket Full of Peril #7 PDF  in the PFoP Repository link to the right. 

Also note my first dozen COLLAPSE RPG Administrator kits are now for sale!