Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Advanced Fighting Fantasy New Rulebook impressions #1

While I am not yet finished here is a to date impression of the new AFF rulebook  It will be a mix of impressions, probably not a true “review” but honestly as I am not playing it, it seems dishonest to call this a review as it's based on read through only.  Keep that in mind as we go through.

AFF RPG book is an 8.5x11 170+ pages perfect bound soft cover. It features part of the original cover on front, but half of the cover is what I’ll call text blocked.  The look does not fit with the previous editions, nor with the FF book line in general whether classic or current.  The FF series of books themselves feature full cover art, and it’s a shame these do not.  From a branding perspective it breaks the tie between the two.  That may have been the goal to establish this as wholly separate, but that makes as much sense as a bikini coffee stand.

I’d have rather seen full color homage art done that pays respect to the past but keeps in the theme of the established FF brand.  Second the originals were roughly 4x6 book sized.  While not practical from a merchandising standpoint, I think digest sized would have created the FF feel and spoke to the brand as well as creating that sense of a new beginning.  The out sized 8.5 x 11 does not fit the FF established brand in my own opinion-so who does it appeal to? It isn’t crunchy enough for a grognards and I think the opportunity was missed to appeal to the nostalgia of old gamers, as well as appeal broadly to new ones in an unimposing format.  Instead it’s sort of muddled not really reaching either.

The book starts off with the original intro from 1985 edition along with a new one for the new edition.  The basics of what is an RPG, and then into game play specifics like, dice rolling, attribute definitions, combat, magic, armor, and damage are described.  This takes about 6 pages-then you get an adventure.  Yup before you learn how to make a character, or even see a pre-gen character you get an adventure.  I found this awkward and if I were not an experienced player I think I would be left more confused.  In the original you had a GM’d walk through helper dungeon, and this new adventure mimics the presentation sort of. It is not a direct port over from Dungeoneer.  

What is awful is the map itself, it is hand drawn and not by any of the geomorphing talent on the blog circuit-more like me circa age 12.  Perhaps that is to make it feel more easy or simple, but it comes off amateurish and unimpressive in a new edition.  Especially since the original in Dungeoneer had terrific art.  It’s like your kid drew a map on a piece of blank paper in appearance, underwhelming would be the best way to describe it.  

Both adventure and map-are not as good as the original Dungeoneer..  Again the outer redesign of the new editions seem to be trying to appeal to a non-FF crowd or possibly a minimally nostalgia based crowd so direct lift and use of assets and layout may have felt out of place to the designers.

Character gen has changed, and I can’t say for the better.  It’s now point based with everyone getting the base value for skill stamina and luck, and a zero for Magic. Then you get 8 points to spread amongst them, with a max addition to each stat like you can only add a max of 2 to your skill or 7 to your Magic.  

Frankly the hallmark of the FF books in my opinion is the random characters generated.  The natural bell curve of 2d6 took care of much of the vagaries of randomness-but did not kill it.  This kills it.  In the back of the book you still have the option to randomly generate attributes, but I wish the author had swapped these and made “build a hero” an option in the back instead.

There are the same options for adding classic races with their bonus skills.  The skills them self have not changed really and armor skill determines the level of armor one can wear. If you are wearing armor above your skill-then your Skill attribute is penalized.   Included are some pre-gen archetypes: Thief, Wizard, Dwarf Warrior, Elf Archer, barbarian, Warrior-Wizard, etc. Oddly these are laid out horizontally and not vertical? Again I am unsure why that decision was made but I think it was a poor one making you turn the book to study them.  It breaks up your reading pattern. Worse is yet to come,then you get a blank page.  

Oh that blank page, representing opportunity lost in so many ways!  Thus far I have counted 2 blank page sides and some only partially (25% maybe) filled with text…then the rest left blank.
My mind reels at this decision.  No classic full page art from the original to use? No classic cover retrospective? No dungeon maps or one page adventures? No what we have learned so far capsule summary? No pre-gen characters or enemies or featured creature?   Nope, it remains just a blank page and a glaring reminder of missed opportunities.  Does it symbolize something deeper in the production of this edition of AFF? I think it does frankly, but that’s gamesmanship from the dugout.

More to come…if you are interested

(Side note on the business model of bikini coffee: I am no prude, but this is about money not morality.  These stands take out roughly 70% of your potential and established coffee hut market (women, families, and most married guys) so you are left with only some guys: the skeezy, lonely, and creepy who want coffee and a bit of something else…which seems like a very small demographic, and maybe not one you want around your employees or business. Besides how many successful global coffee chains can you name like this? NONE! So that’s your business model?  Think again…)


Alex said...

There is currently a competition on to win copies of these:


Fenway5 said...

awesome! even if one doesn't win its worth getting, I think there is a lot that seems rushed or disjointed, in presentation but the system is solid!

Stuart Lloyd said...

Interesting review - I'd like to read more.

I have to disagree with you on character generation.

I think that the character build option is better than random generation as the random generation created a huge imbalance. In a party of players, any players with a skill of 7 would have been made redundant by any players with a skill of 12. Having a smaller range of skill values and being able to increase skill through choice rather than randomly makes the game a lot more balanced.

Fenway5 said...


I am very glad you do disagree, and illustrated why! I have no illusions that my view is the right one, and certainly is influenced by my own experience.

You have illustrated the reason why I dislike point based char gen-game balance. I am unsure when this became necessary. The imperfections and imbalances of a party are what make things interesting. If you are going for balance why not eliminate all classes all archetypes and all races? One character type to rule them all!

Is it fair a wizard should cast spells but not use a sword? or a cleric only has access to healing? It would take the fun out of the game and the need to rely on others by striking differences.

A 12 skill fellow may be super-but he still only acts once! Second this character will be forced by the party to be the guinea pig for everything...and at some point that luck WILL run out. If everyone is the same? I think you lose some interesting drama.

I guess I see lemonade and not lemons here with the vagaries and randomness.

Stuart Lloyd said...

Thanks for your response and your respect Fenway5, although I must disagree again.

You say that imperfections and imbalances make things interesting; otherwise why not eliminate all classes.

There is a difference between variety and power level. With the current edition of AFF, I can make two characters with identical stats and the same number of skills, but one could be a hardened warrior but the other one could be a sneaky rogue. I like variety in a party, but I also want every character to shine.

In the old system of AFF, a skill 12 character would be better in almost every situation than a skill 7 character. The only reason a skill 7 character could help would be in a task that requires more than one person, but no one in a party wants to be the person that gives the hero a helping hand when he needs an extra body.

Imbalances and imperfections are only good if everybody can contribute enough so that they are feeling a valued part of a team.



Fenway5 said...


Well said, and well supported. I agree with your points on a strictly mechanical bases-they are the facts. So in a strictly "roll playing" sense you are 100% correct.

Yet from a "role playing" perspective it is up to the referee to insure everyone can participate through varying the challenges. A dwarf may have night vision, where humans do not. A wizard could cast healing possibly, where a warrior could not. These imbalance remain regardless of everyone having skill 9.

Yes the numerical imbalances will make things difficult for the referee, but that's part of the fun-at least for me.

Thanks Stuart, I see, and concede your points are accurate and valid-but we will have to agree to disagree my friend.

The good news is, either way we both get to play and enjoy the same game each in our own manner!


Stuart Lloyd said...

I think we agree to disagree. I agree with your point that ultimately, balance is down to the referee. If two characters had identical stats but different skills and the referee only had situations that utilised one character's skill then it would be unfair for the other character.

Similarly, a weaker character on paper could have a pivotal role to play if they were the only character with a particular skill. I can see that it is part of the fun to make sure that all of these characters get a chance to shine.

And I am also glad that we can both enjoy this game.


Anonymous said...

The current FF line doesn't have full cover pictures. It has a smaller picture set in a similar manner to the AFF2 books.

The original Titan and Out of the Pit were in approximately the same size as AFF2. I am happy to see the larger format for those two books as the digest size, which incidentally isn't the same as the game book size until 2009, felt a little squashed for the content.

The opening adventure "Wishing Well" is from the original 1984 Fighting Fantasy and had a simple hand drawn looking map in it too. I imagine this was to cater for the fan base that had followed FF as an RPG a while before was around.

Dungeoneer also had an adventure before PC creation which I think makes as good sense then as it does now for an introductory RPG.

AFF2 has random PC creation as you point out. Though suitable for solo game books, it was identified as the number one reason why the system was not robust for RPGing. The fact that you get both options should deal with any complaints.

Fenway5 said...

I am glad you enjoy the new size, me not so much!

I looked and sure enough the Wishing Well is in the original FF. I looked and maybe my perception is different but it does not appear hand drawn, it's more stylized. Regardless, Why not just make a really cool version of the map? If you have to revise everything anyway, why not pay to really upgrade the map?

I guess the conundrum of who this is supposed to speak to is highlighted by using Wishing Well instead of the Dungeoneer adventure? Why would you throw out the original Dungeoneer adventure with all of its artwork and cool maps? There's blank space in the books so it could have conceivably been included as well.

Well I think we will agree to disagree, I don't think its a bad game at all, I just differ on the design choices for the new version. It is still a very good system and still a good game.

Anonymous said...

I don't have my copy of AFF2 on hand so I can't do a comparison. To be honest, I had just flipped past it and assumed it was the same map from the quick view. As such, I can't comment on the artistic quality of the map.

I know that there is quite a debate amongst grognards over the beauty of the kind of hand drawn maps that FF and similar books were renonwed for and are now slowly becoming extinct. Given the black and white art, I am pretty sure a part of the decision was to remain consistent to the look of the book.

My guess as to why Wishing Well was chosen over the Tower of the Sorcerer is that there are plans afoot for the Dungeoneer adventure sequence (Tower of the Sorcerer, Revenge of the Sorcerer, Shadow Over Blacksand, Darkness over Kaad). By carving out the start of the sequence, you effectively reduce the potential of that later product.

The same decision was made in the revision of Dragon Warriors in removing the classic introductory adventure of King Under the Forest (which also started a campaign - reprinted in Sleeping Gods) and adding in a new introductory adventure. AFF2 had the added adventure of having an arguably even more iconic introductory adventure on hand, being Wishing Well.

The licence may also have been a factor here too, in AFF2 being a revision rather than a reprint, using a different adventure would have been more appealing to the licencer.

As to disagreeing, fans have the prerogative to disagree with design decisions and each other :) However, designers often have a much broader range of demands on them that they have to consider. I am just trying to highlight what those might be. Personally, I don't think Arion has done as bad a job as your impressions make it out to have done. In fact, I think they have done pretty damn well, especially when you compare the result to comparable revisions like Lone Wolf and Dragon Warriors (both of which are also good).