Sunday, 5 January 2014

Review - Advanced Fighting Fantasy: The Roleplaying Game

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: The Roleplaying Game

By Arion Games

I cut my teeth on gaming with the Fighting Fantasy books, way back in 1983. I battled my way through The Citadel of Chaos and then proceeded to collect and absorb the other books. When I got into the tabletop roleplaying hobby proper in 1984 I started with D&D, but I also ran a few games of Fighting Fantasy to help introduce new people to the hobby and to help hone my GMing skills (what little there were of them).

I’ve always liked Fighting Fantasy, the primary gaming world of Titan especially as it’s just chock full of fantasy goodness, and I’ve always been a proponent of the original gamebooks and the simple rules being a great way to get new blood into the hobby. It was with some excitement, then, that I purchased and read through the new Advanced Fighting Fantasy: the Roleplaying Game by Graham Bottley, released through Arion Games and Cubicle 7.

Without a doubt, my first question with any new roleplaying game I purchase is, ‘Could I see myself running this game?’ The answer in this particular case is, ‘Yes, most definitely’. The original Advanced Fighting Fantasy - spread over the three books ‘Dungeoneer’, ‘Blacksand!’ and ‘Allansia’ - was a bit clunky but perfectly serviceable. What Graham Bottley has done is take the original game, slim it down and make it simple. There’s no masses of changing, adding to or manipulating the original rules. In fact, the attitude seems to be ‘How can we make this simple and fluid?’ He has taken the basics of the original game and made them much more playable.

First of all, let’s take a look at the book itself. A softback with a full colour cover, using the original John Sibbick artwork from the original edition of ‘Dungeoneer’, and it looks okay. The interior is black and white and laid out like the original books, in some respects, with original Fighting Fantasy artwork included. Russ Nicholson, John Sibbick, Steve Luxton, Chris Waller and Kelvin Green - it was wonderful to see the original artwork and it helps set the mood for adventures on Titan.

So, what do you get in this book? Well. I’ll break it down chapter by chapter:

Fighting Fantasy – The Introductory Roleplaying Game: An introduction to the game as a whole, and a quick intro adventure called the ‘The Wishing Well’, and a selection of Heroes to play.

Chapter 1 – Hero Creation: How to create a character and flesh them out.

Chapter 2 – Game Rules: How the game works and how to deal with all kinds of situations.

Chapter 3 – Combat: Very simple combat rules. This covers fighting, weapons, armour and damage.

Chapter 4 – Magic: How to use it and the different types of magic, Minor Magic, Wizardry and Sorcery.

Chapter 5 – Religion: The religions, priests and gods of Titan.

Chapter 6 – The World of Titan: The history of the world, the gaming world itself, and a guide to Allansia (the primary continent), prices and trade.

Chapter 7 – Director’s Guidelines: How to handle characters, combat, designing adventures, situations; everything a GM needs to run a game.

Chapter 8 – Monsters and Enemies: nasties to throw at your players.

Chapter 9 – Adventure Ideas: Some hooks and places for Director’s to design their games around.

Chapter 10 – Treasure: Random treasure generation.

Chapter 11 – Optional rules: Some ideas on different ways to run your FF game.

Appendices: A blank character sheet and some handy reference tables.


So, let’s get to the meat of the game. I’ll be honest, the system is that simple that if I go into a lot of detail you’ll pretty much get the whole game system in this review! Considering that, I’ll be brief and to the point.

In the original Fighting Fantasy rules the player rolled 1D6 and added the score to 6 for SKILL and LUCK, and rolled 2D6 and added it to 12 for STAMINA. This was a perfectly serviceable way of creating characters but it was also far too random – high rolls made some PCs almost invulnerable. Now, the new Advanced Fighting Fantasy uses a point-based system. All Heroes start with SKILL 4, STAMINA 8, LUCK 8 and MAGIC 0, and they are given points to divide up between the scores. This gives SKILL and MAGIC a range of 4 to 7, STAMINA can be as high as 16 and LUCK as high as 11. There are also some racial modifiers depending on if you play a human, dwarf or elf. Then you get to choose some Special Skills (which are added to your SKILL level to make your PC a bit more specialised and unique in certain areas) and then there are Talents, special abilities that help with rolls and skills. In all it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to create a PC and they can be pretty well-rounded. You can have a nice selection of PCs with some decent abilities. In general, the skill resolution is roll 2D6 and score equal to or lower than your SKILL level + Special Skill score. That works. There is an experience system that may allow Special Skill levels to be increased, so this might become an issue later on in the game as the scores get higher and the rolls much more easy for the player to succeed at. There are plenty of optional rules in the book, too, so that will help with any issues you may have with the system as it stands

Magic is handled the same way as normal skills and there are a selection of magic spells to choose from. Spells are cast from a pool of magic points, and there are simple cantrips and wizard spells you can cast. What brought a huge smile to my face was the use of the spell system from Steve Jackson’s SORCERY! Series of gamebooks, right down to their three-letter descriptions such as POP, FOG and TEL. It’s a very simple system and suits the game perfectly.

Combat (and for that matter Opposed Rolls) is exactly the same as in the original books – each side rolls 2D6, adds their SKILL score (and any applicable weapon Special Skill and Talent), and the highest roll wins. Instead of a standard amount of damage the winner rolls 1D6 and consults a weapon table of six numbers. The roll equates to the number on the table. So, a large club will have a damage score of 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4. A roll of a D6 chooses one of these numbers, so a roll of 1, 2 or 3 equals 2 points of damage, 4 and 5 is 3 points and a 6 is 4 points. The damage is deducted from the loser’s STAMINA score until it reaches 0 (death). The loser also gets an Armour roll which works the same way as the weapon – the better the armour the higher the numbers, and a roll of a D6 is read across a table and the number scored is deducted from the damage score. I like this system, but can’t help think that the damage and armour tables seem out of place with the simplicity of the rest of the system. In fact, they are the largest group of numbers you’ll see on the character sheet. It works, that much is true.

All in all it’s a great book and promises to be entertaining, but is it perfect? Not at all. The layout may hark back to the old days of publishing, and personally I don’t mind it because that’s what I grew up with, but there’s a blandness to it that some people may find jarring. There are also some blank pages, right in the middle of the book. No fillers, no full-page artwork, just blank pages. That’s not great.

There’s also the matter of the back cover blurb: ‘…for those completely new to gaming and veterans alike…’ It’s a lovely simple system but there’s nothing in there that really helps with easing new players into the gaming hobby. You’re pretty much thrown head-first into the game with no guiding or information on what the hobby is about. The original Advanced Fighting Fantasy books had long introductions and played on the idea that the players were all starring in their own fantasy movie, with the GM as Director, and it helped to explain what the tabletop roleplaying hobby was about. It wasn’t perfect but it helped. The new book just throws you in without any hint on what the hobby is about or what to do with it, just some guidelines on what a Director is supposed to do but no context on how it all works. I still think that the game is perfect for beginner gamers but whoever runs the game will have to have some prior knowledge of gaming. Fresh young players with no RPG history may find it a bit difficult, even for such a simple system. There’s a bit more help in ‘Chapter 7 – Director’s Guidelines’ but I could find no definitive description of what roleplaying actually is. It does say in the foreword ‘Many roleplaying game books have an introductory section on “What is a Roleplaying Game?” Without wanting to replicate this yet again…’ and then spends a couple of sentences giving a very basic premise on what the hobby is about. With a book like this, a book perfectly suited for new gamers, the “What is a Roleplaying Game?” section should have been replicated.

In comparison to the original AFF books this is much better. It definitely plays better, and PC creation is such a doddle that a gaming group could pull the game out at a moment’s notice and have characters ready to go in minutes. It’s that simple and perfect for those players who have gotten tired of crunch in their games. It’s also nice to be playing in Allansia again after so many years. The world of Titan is definitively one of those worlds that deserves more attention because it’s a wonderful fantasy roleplaying setting.

What’s even better is that the game uses a variation of the standard Fighting Fantasy rules, which means that every Fighting Fantasy gamebook you have on your shelf, if you have any, can be used as a sourcebook. ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’? There’s a setting right there. ‘The Forest of Doom’? Some great wilderness encounters. ‘City of Thieves’? Brilliant city design. But what about other books, the science fiction or super hero adventures, like ‘The Rings of Kether’, ‘Starship Traveller’ and ‘Appointment with F.E.A.R’? Well… why not? The system is so simple that there’s nothing stopping you from taking the extra rules for starships and super powers and the like from the books and using them with Advanced Fighting Fantasy. You can use the existing Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks as inspiration and settings for adventures and campaigns. With some tweaking you can even take the players through the gamebook, using the paragraph entries at key points and adapting to their decisions. I’m already looking at ‘Robot Commando’ as a possibility. A far-off world where they pilot giant robots to herd dinosaurs? Sold! What about ‘Freeway Fighter’? Mad Max-style car combat in a dystopian future? Sold! This system could do it all, and all it takes is an existing gamebook and a bit of tweaking.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: The Roleplaying Game isn’t perfect but it is a great system with some great ideas that can be expanded upon easily. It’s simplified the Fighting Fantasy game, if such a thing was possible, and made it much better. There’s also loads of stuff in the book I haven’t addressed that will help you with lots of games, and with ‘Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World’ (the sourcebook for the world of Titan) and ‘Out Of The Pit’ (a huge bestiary) out to support the game, there’s plenty of material to keep you in games for months. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this, especially if you’re looking for a system that will help you bring new players into the hobby.

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