Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fighting Fantasy: An Introductory RPG

This morning I'm going to talk about an old school RPG. And that RPG is? Fighting Fantasy! Now, to clear up any confusion, I'm talking about the original Fighting Fantasy introductory RPG, not the later Advanced Fighting Fantasy (first or second edition), nor the earlier Fighting Fantasy solo game books (although this game sprang forth from those books).

Fighting Fantasy was the first RPG I ever owned, at least in part, thanks to my UK pen pal, Simon Garber. He gifted me with a copy of The Riddling Reaver, the first (and only) full length campaign for Fighting Fantasy. I still consider it one of the better published RPG campaigns I've read/played, despite the fact that it's pretty railroad-y. This is somewhat balanced out by the sheer gonzo factor of the adventure. You can definitely tell where the early Games Workshop weirdness came from. Oh, yeah, did I mention that? Well....

The guys who dreamed up the world of Fighting Fantasy and the game books that took place there were also the founders of Games Workshop. A lot of the weirdness in Fighting Fantasy shows up in their later work for Games Workshop, particularly their Warhammer Fantasy lines. It's kind of a neat piece of gaming trivia. That said, it's not directly relevant to this discussion, so back on topic.

Anyway, The Riddling Reaver is pretty awesome and it's available for dirt cheap prices (I payed less than a dollar for mine, IIRC) on Amazon if you'd like to check it out. As to the actual RPG, I didn't get my hands on that until some time after I received that copy of The Riddling Reaver from my pen pal. Like years after. By the time I got a copy of the rules I no longer had a copy of the campaign but, being an introductory RPG, Fighting Fantasy had me covered with two adventures that are ready to play out of the box. Indeed, most of the book is dedicated to these adventures as the rules are quite simple (see below).

Your basic character per the core rules only has three ability scores: Skill, Stamina, and Luck. Stamina is a measure of health and functions like Hit Points do in many games, while Skill and Luck may be tested to perform different actions (including combat). How they are tested depends on the exact circumstances under which they are tested, but typically you will roll 2d6 or 1d6 and try to meet a predetermined difficulty (rolling high, although there are some exceptions). Some key points of interest are that there are no rules for magic and all weapons do the same amount of damage (rules for magic and variable weapon damage are added in The Riddling Reaver book).

If you've ever played a Fighting Fantasy solo game book and thought that the rules would make for an interesting, rules-light, RPG or if you've ever fallen in love with the world of Titan where the Fighting Fantasy games were set, looking into the original Fighting Fantasy RPG is probably not a bad investment of your dollars.

Larius Firetongues's School of Sorcery: A Quick Look

So.... Ray Chapel's Larius Firetongues's School of Sorcery supplement for Swords & Wizardry White Box or similar old school simulacra. It's pretty cool. In fact, it's an idea that hasn't been properly capitalized on enough in RPGs, as far as I'm concerned (and, perhaps, oddly given the CRAZY huge popularity of properties like Harry Potter).

It's basically what it sounds like - a supplement detailing a school for the magical arts with everything that entails. It introduces a ton of new races (representing the diverse student body), new classes (representing new areas of magical study), new spells, and even new rules for using spells (a cantrip system, specifically). There are a lot of alternative magic supplements for Swords & Wizardy (and other OSR games), but this is, bar none, the strongest I've seen for a few reasons.

First, I give this supplement very high marks because of the aforementioned rules content - there's quite a bit of it and it's all very good. Second, as the title might suggest, there's an actual setting here - the school itself and the surrounding environs (including three dungeons). That alone sets Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery apart from pretty much every other OSR magic supplement I've seen (those pretty much stopped at rules content). Finally, the presentation of all this content is top notch. This is one super sexy PDF in terms of layout and artwork. Granted, if you want to print it out, it will be a little heavy on the inks due to the glorious full color presentation, but I'm reading my copy on a tablet (so that isn't a huge concern for me).

You can pick up your own copy of Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery for just under $10 at RPGNow [Edit: When I picked up my copy of this product and wrote my review over at RPGNow, the PDF was on sale for less than $5. Obviously, that price has been raised. It's still a good deal.] 

Charlie Mason's White Box: A Quick Look

Charlie Mason's White Box RPG borrows from many different sources, Including the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the one in the little wood grain box printed in 1974), various versions of Swords & Wizardry by Matt Finch, Delving Deeper by Simon Bull, The Hero's Journey by James Spahn, Bloody Basic (Blood & Sinew Edtion) by John Stater, and Douglas Maxwell's SnW Whitebox Essential Adventuring rules. That is to say, it draws from many well-respected sources.

Having called out all of the sources that White Box draws upon, I think it takes the best parts of those many sources, improves upon them and, ultimately, provides a superior experience. It will, at least for the time being, be my old school simulacra of choice going forward. The rules are simple yet robust, the presentation is straightforward, the PDF is easily accessible (it's free; see the RPGNow link accompanying this post), and the books are available for a reasonable price (also from RPGNow). All of these things make it a winner.

So, why should you check out White Box? Well, for starters, as mentioned above, the basic PDF is free (so you're not out anything if you decide that it sucks). If you're curious about old school RPGs, this is an excellent chance to satisfy that curiosity. Further, if you're a fan of any of the RPGs mentioned above as sources for White Box but always felt that they could do better, perhaps elements that you were critical of in those games have been implemented in a manner more to your liking in White Box. Check it out yourself, at the following link: 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jack Shear's Ulverland: An Overview

I mentioned Jack Shear's Ulverland a little while back, so I'd like to take a moment to discuss it. Ulverland is, at its heart, a Gothic fantasy version of Victorian Britain - BUT - it's more a skeleton for you to build on than a tome of canon carved into stone. Which, for me, is a huge, HUGE selling point.

As a GM, I like to take a setting and make it my own. I absolutely HATE being locked into canon (especially if it's culled from secondary sources such as novels). It's one of the reasons that, when I run Forgotten Realms fantasy, I stick to the original FR box set released by TSR and ignore EVERYTHING else published after that as I see fit (I do admittedly sneak in some of the FR series of modules because, well, they're really good).

Ulverland caters toward this particular foible of mine by providing a 'big picture' overview of the setting and small details that can be built upon as I see fit, rather than saddling me with excruciating detail presented as mandatory that I feel compelled to adhere to (or that exacting players feel that I should be compelled to adhere to). If you like the same kind of approach to world building that I do, you'll probably like Ulverland. If you don't you won't.

As to Ulverland's subject matter, it's a darkly reimagined fantasy Britain, with everything that entails. Mostly, there's a lot of focus on Victorian technology, customs, and traditions viewed through a fantasy lense. Similarly, there's discussion of government and religion in that context. The artwork is all public domain period artwork, with the exception of the maps (which are poorly rendered, but serve their purpose). That said, the real value of Ulverland is the text.

Ulverland is available for free in PDF format (see the link below) or as a paperback book for just under $11 over at Lulu (I picked up a copy when Lulu was running one of their frequent sales). You can check out the free version below and make your own judgement on its worth: