Monday, August 30, 2010

Anybody Wanna Trade For In The Labyrinth?

It seems I have two copies of The Fantasy Trip - In The Labyrinth, by Metagaming, and a copy of Advanced Wizard, but am missing a copy of Advanced Melee. Anybody out there have an extra copy of Advanced Melee, and would like to trade it for In The Labyrinth?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TFT Adventure: The Crown Of Kings

I've mentioned before that the programmed adventure format was adopted by Metagaming Concepts in 1978 for their The Fantasy Trip line of MicroQuest adventures. That same format was massively popularized in a series of choose-your-own-adventure books from 1979 to 1998.

Dark City Games resurrected The Fantasy Trip rules in 2005, by creating a free retro-clone called Legends of the Ancient World (LotAW). In addition to a fantasy ruleset, two other free rulesets, for science fiction and western adventures, are also available on the DCG website.

Publishing those retro-clone rules allowed Dark City Games to release 19 new MicroQuest adventures, compatible with LotAW.

According to the lore of DCG, The Crown Of Kings adventure was originally submitted to Metagaming some 30 years ago, just as Metagaming was imploding. The Dew brothers, George and Warren, created DCG and LotAW in 2005 in order to publish this, and other adventures, and keep the spirit of The Fantasy Trip alive.

The Crown Of Kings was published in 2005. It is priced at $12.95, and consists of a 44-page booklet, a sheet of cardboard counters representing the characters, monsters and opponents in the adventure, and a playing board used for encounters. The adventure consists of almost 600 paragraph entries, with the players moving from paragraph to paragraph, based on the choices they make at the end of each entry.

The premise of The Crown Of Kings is fairly straightforward. The players have heard rumor that a local warlord is in possession of the legendary Crown of Kings. They decide to break into his castle to steal it.

I must confess, when I read the premise of the adventure, I was hopeful. Surely the Crown of Kings is not simply a crown, I thought, just as the Sphere Of Power from the D&D adventure, The Lost Tomb Of Martek, was something other than a crystal ball. I imagined that the adventure would end with the Players a little wiser, but no richer, having discovered that not all legends are to be taken literally.

Unfortunately, the Crown Of Kings really is a crown, and a magic item to boot. While the adventure is reasonably well written, and features art by Dario Corallo that pleasantly harkens back to the role-playing art of the mid-70's, The Crown Of Kings adventure is a straight-up treasure hunt. There are lots of monsters and opponents to battle, but the authors claim that you can also complete this adventure without having to engage in a single combat.

If you are interested in some light role-playing, or would like to discover what The Fantasy Trip was all about, you may enjoy giving LotAW a chance. DCG has four free adventures available from the website, as well as the free rules. For those who have played some or all of the original MicroQuests, you may want to give The Crown Of Kings or some of the other DCG adventures a try. While this particular adventure seems a little overpriced, at $12.95, some of the other adventures, such as The Dark Vale, are well worth it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Fantasy Trip Retroclone

Like so many other great 'old-school' games, The Fantasy Trip (TFT), published by Metagaming Concepts in the late 70's and early 80's, has it's own retro-clone, called Legends of the Ancient World (LotAW, not to be confused with LotFP).

For those few of you that are not familiar with TFT, it began in 1977 with the game Melee, which was the third in a series of "microgames" published by Metagaming. Metagaming's microgames were small, 4" x 7" games that came in a clear pouch or cardboard box, and could be played, generally, over lunch. Melee became so popular, in the day, that it justified a second, related game, Wizards, and then a series of eight pre-programmed MicroQuest adventures, starting with Death Test. The Fantasy Trip system culminated in the publication of a set of three 8x11 saddle-stitched rulebooks, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In The Labyrinth.

The demise of Metagaming, microgames, and The Fantasy Trip game is a sad tale, which I won't re-hash here. Fortunately, for those who are still fans of the game, there is a free retro-clone, and several new adventures published by Dark City Games. I have already reviewed two Dark City Games adventures, The Dark Vale and Wolves On The Rhine. Over the weekend, and quite by accident, I came across six more LotAW adventures at The Sentry Box, my FLGS. They included Little Black Book, The Crown Of Kings, The Island Of Lost Spells, and The Sewers Of Redpoint. Stay tuned over the next several days, as I intend to review three of them (Little Black Book is no longer in print, so i'm unlikely to give it a full review).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm A Wealthy, Wealthy Man ...

If the Troll And Toad webstore is to be believed, that is. According to the prices on their website, my metagaming and microgame collection is worth several thousand dollars.

To wit:

Ogre ... $70
Chitin:I ... $40
Melee ... $80
Warp War ... $20
Rivets ... $35
Wizard ... $55
Olympica ... $20
G.E.V. ... $30

And on and on and on it goes. Based on the prices Troll And Toad is quoting for those metagaming titles, i've made anywhere from a 5 to 10% annualized return on each of the items in my microgame collection over the last 30 years. Not a bad little investment!

Sadly, after checking out eBay, I've discovered that a punched version of Ogre went for only $16 at auction, rather than the $70 that Troll And Toad is asking. There go my dreams of selling my microgame collection, buying one of the Thousand Islands, and retiring in style.

Monday, August 23, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG: Rules Review

In my estimation, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is yet more proof that there is still life in the original Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Within Weird RPG's 48 page rulebook, James Raggi has married the OD&D ruleset with weird tropes and his own particular brand of lunacy, to create a game that feels like OD&D, yet is also vaguely unsettling and unfamiliar.

Right off the bat, Weird RPG re-arranges our familiar six prime abilities and places them in alpha order (Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Strength and Wisdom), making us re-think our assumptions about the relative importance of each ability. Abilities are generated with six 3d6 throws, in ability-order, and Weird RPG employs the traditional B/X ability modifiers, ranging from -3 to +3. Weird RPG considers your character unsuitable for play if the sum of your ability modifiers is less than 0.

Another somewhat unconventional choice: no experience-bonuses for high prime requisites. In fact, no prime requisites at all. While you have the standard four classes (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric and Thief/Specialist) and demi-humans (Dwarf, Elf and Halfling), none appear to need any minimum ability score to be playable. So a Fighter or Dwarf with 8 Strength is possible.

The Fighter (and I presume Dwarf and Elf, though it is not explicitly stated) are the only characters who can improve in combat ability. This is a marked departure from OD&D where all classes improve in combat, albeit at different rates, but one that I do not strongly disagree with, since Fighters in Weird RPG no longer possess the ability to inflict multiple attacks on multiple low-level monsters. This rule change certainly encourages the Clerics and Magic Users to focus on their strength, spell-casting.

The re-imagined Thief, named the Specialist in Weird RPG, uses a novel mechanic to resolve the traditional thief skills. A d6 system has been instituted, with each specialist skill converted to a certain chance in 6 of succeeding at a task, whether it be picking locks, finding traps or climbing walls. As the character advances in level, the players spread an additional 2 pips between all of the specialist skills, gradually increasing them over time.

Weird RPG uses a three alignment system (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic) but assumes that most characters (other than Magic Users and Elves who both tend towards Chaos) will fall in the Neutral camp.

The Starting Equipment section occasionally slips into Gygaxian excess. For those who want to get on with playing, the Weapons section is mercifully short: most weapons are smartly grouped into four classes, of minor, small, medium and great weapons, with each weapon within the class priced the same and inflicting the same damage. No more min-maxing based on cost and the best damage within a given class! And nine specific weapons possess additional characteristics, with each profiled in its own paragraph. Sadly, the much-maligned d12 is once again left out in the cold, as weapons do anywhere from a d3 to d10 damage.

On the other end of the Gygaxian-excess scale, there are nearly 70 miscellaneous equipment items, 17 unique ship types, 14 food items, and four sizes of tents. Since I am a fan of Gygaxian excess, I felt like Scrooge McDuck rolling around in his vault of treasure when I looked at those item lists. The relative pricing of items is always a tricky business, and depending on how you approach your game economics, you may want to fiddle with Raggi's prices. In Weird RPG, livestock is priced at 50 gp a head, while a riding horse is 15 times that, at 750 gp. A warhorse comes in at 7,500 gp.

Weird RPG has nine pages of adventuring rules, such as opening doors, foraging and hunting, the effects of disease and falling, light and vision, the passage of time, and so on. Some interesting insights and approaches can be found in these pages. Of particular interest to me was Raggi's approach to encumbrance. Rather than tracking weight, you simply track number of items, with each 5 items moving you up to the next level of encumbrance. While i'm not sure that I am completely satisfied with this approach, it is a novel and simple way to handle the issue.

Considering that Weird RPG includes 17 unique ship types, it is only fitting that it should also have its own set of Maritime adventure rules. Finding a way to boilerplate subsystems like maritime adventures and combat to a role-playing game has always been a challenge for RPG designers. Weird RPG provides its own travel, water-bourne chases, combat, damage and boarding rules. I'd be tempted, instead, to find a board or hex-and-chit game and simulate ship-to-ship combats and chases that way, but the maritime rules provided in Wierd RPG will certainly fit the bill.

What better way to pay homage to OD&D, than to include a comprehensive and detailed section on retainers? You will find four pages of rules and information on hiring and using retainers. This is one of my favorite sections of the book, if only because it revels in more Gygaxian excess, with 24 different types of retainers, along with rules for determining their upkeep, maintenance and loyalty.
Weird RPG also includes rules for purchasing and maintaining property and investments. The mechanics are relatively straight-forward, because, let's face it, its more interesting to go adventuring than paying attention to how well your estate is doing.

Finally, we reach the section on Combat. Weird RPG has a very rules-light combat system, but gives you several interesting options, such as pressing (a vigorous attack that costs you AC to employ), holding (waiting to see what the other side does before intervening) and parrying (where you gain an AC bonus but lose any chance of hitting your opponent). I presume your Strength modifier can be used for both a bonus to your chance to hit and added to the damage you inflict on your opponent, but I had difficulty finding the reference to same.

The last page of the Weird RPG rulesbook provides you with instructions on how to complete your character sheet. The instructions are useful, even to old-hands like me, and I marvel at how effectively the character sheet was laid out.

Overall, I am very impressed with the Weird RPG ruleset. I did not find any rules that seemed particularly jarring or out of place: they all seemed to fit together rather well. And the art is in keeping with the weird theme of the game.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lamentations Of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

I had a pleasant surprise waiting for me in the mailbox on Friday. James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing game! With my wife away on a business trip for the weekend, i'm only, now, getting a chance to open up the box and have a look at its contents.

Here's the box, which is about the same size as the original OD&D collectors edition boxed set, or the Swords & Wizardry boxed set. Actually, it appears to be about a 1/4" shorter and an 1/8" wider than those OD&D and S&W boxes, presumably to accommodate booklets printed on European A4 or A5 paper, rather than the North American letter or booklet-sized paper.
And here are the Referee and Rules booklets. All of the basic rules you need to play Weird RPG are in the Rules booklet, while the Referee booklet contains advice on running a campaign. For the next printing, James may want to white-line the text at the bottom of front-covers, or print the text in white, to make it easier to read. The box itself is a clamshell style with corner tabs to keep the lid secure, rather than separate box and lid.

The compete contents of the Weird RPG boxed set is pictured above (not pictured is a small pencil and set of mini-dice that also come with this boxed set). The box is crammed full of booklets and materials. There are four booklets (Rules, Referee, Magic and Tutorial) an introductory adventure, sample campaign world, a "recommended reading" booklet, character record sheets, double-sided graph and hex paper, open game licence and adverts for Dragonsfoot and Expeditious Retreat Press. The best recent analogy I can use to describe this boxed set is that it is a weird version of the Swords & Wizardry boxed set, on steroids. At 60 Euros, I paid about twice for the Weird RPG boxed set as I did for the S&W Whitebox set, but i'm getting at least twice the value. I love my S&W boxed sets (I bought two sets, plus several extra Character booklets), but, to give you an example of the additional value, the Character booklet for S&W is 24 pages; the Rules booklet for Weird RFP is twice that, at 48 pages.
Similar to the S&W boxed set, Weird RPG has a separate Magic booklet. I like this publishing choice, as it permits the Referee to decide whether or not the Magic booklet will be available to the players. My choice would be to keep this booklet out of the hands of the players, and thus maintain some mystery regarding how magic operates. The Magic booklet contains all of the standard clerical and magical spells you would find in an old-school RPG: missing is a list and description of illusionist spells, but perhaps James has decided to exclude the illusionist from the Weird RPG game. Again, the word "Magic" at the bottom of the booklet could have been white-lined, to improve legibility.

The addition of a Tutorial booklet is an interesting feature of Weird RPG. It assumes that the game will be marketed to and purchased by those unfamiliar with, or uninitiated into, the world of paper and pencil role playing games. I applaud James' optimism, and hope that Weird RPG does indeed attract new players to the traditional PnP RPG hobby. But this Tutorial booklet is also valuable to those of us who are already well-acquainted with RPGs, as it provides some interesting insight into how James sees the role-playing game process occurring.

The Weird RPG boxed set also included an introductory booklet-sized adventure, Tower of the Stargazer. Stargazer is a 16-page adventure booklet, with a separate, unstapled cover, with the maps printed on the cover's interior, similar to those early TSR modules. While Stargazer is the same number of pages as another excellent introductory adventure, found in the S&W boxed set, The Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak, Stargazer has 26 detailed locations, while Vile Worm has less than a half-dozen. Stargazer looks like another excellent adventure, in the unique style of James Raggi: this can be a profitable adventure for the cautious and attentive, but not everything in the tower is meant to be touched or taken.

A complete wilderness adventure framework is also provided in the Weird RPG boxed set, and is appropriately entitled Weird New World. Like Stargazer, Weird World had been published as a separate 28-page booklet and unstapled cover, although the cover folds out to reveal a 4-page wilderness map featuring an arctic climate. Weird World is broadly designed in the sandbox style: James Raggi has designed and chronicled a few adventure locations to get you started, but the world is large enough that the Referee and players can participate in a long-running wilderness hex-crawl without ever leaving the map.

Another pleasant surprise: James' version of Appendix N, entitled "recommended reading." Among those appearing on James' list of recommended authors are Clive Barker, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. Each author receives a detailed biography by a guest biographer.

I can honestly say that this is the closest anyone has come to publishing my dream old-school boxed set. Once I have a chance to delve deeper into the Weird RPG booklets and supplementary material, I will provide some additional comments.