Friday, May 29, 2009

Wayfarers Review

The following is a review I did for RPG Net on Wayfarers. I am posting it here because of it's relevance to the Old School movement. Wayfarers is not a retro-clone, but it does capture that old-school feel.


"Daddy. What is this book?" asked my ever inquisitive 6 year old son.

"It's a game, called Wayfarers. I just got in the mail and I am working on a review for it." I answered him back. There was a pause as looked at the cover of what appears to be a battle nun beating the crap out of humanoid looking bear thing. Blood was everywhere. "Its like D&D" I added.

"Cool." He said and ran off.


Cool is a good word to describe it really. Plus. There is a battle nun beating the crap out of a giant humanoid bear. But I fear that my 5 year old's reaction will be that of many gamers. Cool to look at, but not bothering to look inside to see what is really cool about it. And that would be a shame.


Wayfarers is a hefty new RPG from Ye Olde Gaming Companye. Like many d20 products of the last few years, Wayfarers is a fantasy RPG using the Open Gamin License, but that is only a surface similarity and something that Wayfarers goes to some length to distance itself from. This is not a d20 game however.


The first thing you notice about Wayfarers is its size. Wayfarers is a large book, 400+ pages. The second thing is the overall style of the book. It immediately brings to mind some of the 1st Edition AD&D books. While I find this very attractive, it also had a side effect in that I expected this game to be a D&D clone. WF is not. It is a Fantasy RPG and there are plenty of similarities, but it is the differences that I found the most interesting. Similarities include the Standard Player Character RacesTM in the most familiar guises. The art even reminds me of the 1st Edition AD&D PHB, also a plus, but might work against them for some. WF, unlike D&D, only has five attributes, not six. Wisdom and Charisma are rolled into Presence, which I like to be honest. Though I would like to have seen Perception as well. Hit Points remain as Health Points, but levels are gone. Sort of.


Section by Section

Wayfarers is divided into three rather large sections. The Player's Section, The GM's Section and the World of Twylos. Instead of a chapter by chapter detail, it is more useful to look at the sections.


Chapter 1: The Game

Pretty normal introduction to RPGs and hey what are those weird dice all about deal. Pretty much the same here as any other game.


Chapter 2: Player Section

Includes: Player Character Creation, Money and Equipment, Armor and Weapons, Basic Game Mechanics, Magic Potential and Spells, and Examples of Characters and Game Play.


Again, Character creation is pretty straight forward. You have your five attributes, but they are point buys like GURPS or Unisystem, not rolling dice like D&D. I suppose if random attributes are your thing a 2d6+4 for each one might work, but I am not sure if that would throw off any balance. The real changes from its D&D forbearers come in the addition of Skill points which can be spent on Proficiencies and Disciplines which are roughly analogous to Skills and Advantages ala GURPS. Skill points are awarded by the Game Master for adventures and are spent to improve your character. Every 20 skill points or so you gain a "Skill Level" which is a rough means to judge the power of the character. Proficiencies and Disciplines are the feature worth looking into. Proficiencies work like skills in other games. You spend a number of points per "grade". Proficiencies are checked with a d20 per grade. The highest roll is then used to compare against a target number (read Difficulty Class). The Skill system reminds me a bit of the original system used in 2nd Edition AD&D and a bit of Chill. Disciplines are a bit like Feats, Advantages or Qualities, they are spent with them same pool of points and provide extra features that one normally finds in classes; only far more flexible. Want to be a "cleric" then buy Faith Magic Potential, want to be better at it, then buy another Circle of Faith magic. Want to be a Paladin, buy some combat skills and then later some faith magic. Same with wizards, or monks, or thieves, or any combination you can imagine. Here is the true strength of the system. I spent some time putting together some combinations to imagine various character "classes" and came up with nearly everything including ninjas, rangers and a witch.


Mechanics remind me of 2nd Ed AD&D. 1d10 for initiative, some percent rolls here and there. Combat is still a 1d20 vs. Dodge resulting in lost health points. Some neat rules on mounted, two handed and blind combat. Again, I am left with the impression of this starting with the same roots as *D&D, but going in a different, if not opposite, direction than True20 did.


The magic system is also fairly interesting if for no other reason than how something familiar can be re-used. The spells in form and function look like they are taken right out of the SRD, though altered to fit the system, which includes the three types of magic; Hermetic, Hedge and Faith. Spells constitute a full 100 pages. There are also Rituals that can be used. All in all a large magical section that can provide nearly anytime of magical effect or type of spellcaster.


The other bulk of the book includes the standard information of equipment and adventuring.


Chapter 3: Game Master's Section

Includes: Skill Points & Character Skills, General Mechanics & Rules, Magic Items & their Creation, Optional Rules, NPC rules, Other Planes, and Monsters.


The second third of the book includes the GM Section. It includes the standard fare and a good section on how to deal with proficiencies and what the individual skills are and can be used for. Some magic items, some optional rules (like critical hits and fumbles), and an original treatment on the Planes are also in the GM section. There is also a large section on standard fare RPG monsters. A quick look would reveal these as unoriginal choices taken from the SRD, though closer examination reveals that the monsters in many cases have had their standard history or backgrounds changed. Hobgoblins are orc/goblin crossbreeds for example. Each monster is both familiar and yet has something new to make each one worth a look. There is about 80 pages worth of monsters with about 4 per page, a very decent amount.


Chapter 4: The World of Twylos

Includes: A Player's Guide to Twylos and Game Master's Guide to Twylos.


The last third of the book is dedicated to the campaign world of Twylos. Here some of the mechanical choices are given a story-based rational. Why is there Hermetic, Hedge and Faith magic for example. There is a quite a bit about the world, and setting it up as world for adventures to actually be able to do something in. Gods and their respective churches and/or cults are also detailed. This where this book actually really shines. Not that the other stuff wasn't fun, but this is a world where a lot of thought and time has been put to good use. (note: A quick trip to their website will reveal a map of Twylos from 1993, so this is a world that has been around a while, at least for the authors). The guilds and their role in the world are nicely detailed and could be used in any FRPG. In fact this entire section could be used in any game. One is easily reminded of the old Greyhawk Gazetteer or the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. In fact, one could imagine this section, along with a few more of the unique monsters as a separate product, possibly for True20 or d20, if this were say 5 years ago.


The book ends with a few Appendecies.


Points

The book could be easily converted to use in any other 3.x d20 product and visa-versa. The system is both familiar enough to d20 to allow these conversions, and different enough to make such conversions interesting, but not difficult.


The art is appropriate for the book's style, the faux-old-school feel. Some of the art is familiar, coming from various publisher resources, but that is not an issue either. It is all black & white, but at 400+ pages it is steal at $39.95. If the art was color it would be far more expensive.


The problem Wayfarers has overcome is simple, why would someone want to play this game and not say, D&D 3.5 or an older version? Obviously the authors of the game would point to their changes over the standard D&D rules and mechanics. Or even their newer magic system or the world of Twylos. Those are a good reasons yes, but is it enough for average gamer?


Certainly a lot of work went into this game. That is obvious. It has a nice clean look and the layout easy to read, if rather uninspired. I hate to downgrade it for that (I find some funky layouts difficult to read, looking at you White Wolf…), so I won't, but some gamers might. I do like the table layouts, much easier to read than ones in typical 3.x books, again more like a 1st Edition book.


I don't like the character sheet. It is rather blocky, but functional.


Who should buy and play Wayfarers?

Anyone that enjoys D&D-style games but also felt that GURPS like point-buys were what was needed in their games. Levels and classes are gone, which will make some people happy, though Health Points remain, even if they are not exactly like Hit Points. I would suggest Wayfarers would be a good choice for anyone that liked 3.x but did not want to play 4.0 or True 20. Wayfarers is different enough from the retro-clones to be it's own game, but yet still have some appeal to people that like the feel of those games. So I also think it is a good choice for some people that liked 2nd Ed AD&D, but not 3rd Ed D&D.


Additional

RPGs are not exactly just books anymore. They are also made up of various other products such as character sheets (which I have mentioned) and their website. The YOGC has a good site and plenty of additional material for Wayfarers including a very nice color map of Twylos (worth a download) and a small but active forum community. To their credit the authors/producers of Wayfarers encourage others to produce material for their game. Of course anyone could anyway under the OGL, but the authors go that extra step of providing a logo for others to use and even allowing you to say "compatible with Wayfarers" all for the price of emailing the company. Such openness should be rewarded in a loyal fan base. I can see this becoming the favorite game of a some very loyal and dedicated fans.


Style: 3.5 (almost a 4 really)

Substance: 5 (there is a lot of stuff here)


Note: This review is based on the Hardcover version of the Wayfarers book. I also reviewed the PDF version. The text on both is very easy to read and despite is size I never felt like I was reading 400+ pages.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chill 3.0

Long time readers of my site and/or my posts online know of my love for the classic Horror RPG Chill. To many role-players around my age their first introduction to Horror roleplaying was the venerable “Call of Cthulhu”, but not me. Mine was Chill.


I got started in the 1st Edition Pacesetter days (early 80s) and “Chill: Vampires” was and is one of my favorite books for any game. The 90’s came around and I picked up the 2nd Edition, Mayfair, version. It was slicker and had some minor rule changes, but it was a great addition to my ideas for my 2nd Ed AD&D Ravenloft game. The Mayfair version is of course superior, but it lacks some of the feel I associated with the game. Maybe it was the lack of the Jim Holloway art or the darker tone. Picking up a copy of the Mayfair version now I get the impression (true or not) that the makers of Kult saw it and thought, “yes this is good, but what if the world was much, much worse?”

I liked Chill also because it had Midwest sensibilities. Pacesetter was from Wisconsin; Mayfair was/is in Niles/Skokie, a suburb of Chicago than is not too far from where I live (and has one of my favorite pizza places). It was while playing Chill that learned that the best horror was horror close to home. I don’t know, or much care really, what Hollywood thinks is horror. How can a place that gets like 350 days of sunshine know what is horror? On the other hand East Coast horror (Lovecraft) has a completely different flavor. It’s almost alien. Chill may have had a global scope, but the horror is home grown. Chill remembers that there is simple horror in the haunted house, or the strange creature from the Unknown. It is not about the bigger-badder-more horror of some games, where every game has to up the ante on the last game.

I had lots of ideas for Chill, but never got to use them since I couldn’t find anyone that wanted to play it. No worries, most of my Chill ideas were resurrected for my WitchCraft RPG games. In fact there is nice continuity in my horror game world of supernatural occurrences increasing over the years that track nicely to the power levels of my games (Chill -> WitchCraft RPG -> Buffy/Ghosts of Albion).
So needless to say I was stoked when I heard Chill 3.0 was coming out. I joined the playtest, gave my stuff and……that was it for a very long time.

Well now Other World Productions is producing Chill 3.0, but they need the cash (and interest) to do it.

You can find all the information here:
http://www.chillrpg.com/

And their Fundable account here: http://www.fundable.com/groupactions/groupaction.2009-05-13.8365429432


Now I would love to see a new version of Chill, but I am not sure I should be getting my hopes up here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Family D&D Night II

Well we did a second round of Family D&D night last night to coincide with World D&D Day. We got to another room and found the two kidnapped boys we needed to rescue. We tried to get them out, but triggered the magical trap instead. We fought some living suits of armor and in the end defeated them and rescued the boys. Not your thrilling blow-by-blow D&D adventure recap I know, but that is not the point. The point is that here in the second game I felt everyone was doing much better.

My oldest was more into his character and was trying to move him around where he would be most effective (a Dragonborn Paladin). How effective? Well he managed to move in just in time to keep my Fey Pact Warlock from getting killed. To me that is a good game. And he rolled another natural 20 to do it. He had no complaints about not getting double damage tonight, and it killed the animated armor. My youngest had more of an attention span with this one too. He is only 6, but he was remembering which dice to use when and that was really cool. My wife still is having a good time. But I think she enjoys watching all of us.

All in all it has changed what I think needs to be a minimum age for D&D. I knew my 9 year-old would do fine, but my 6-year old is having a blast too, and he is getting it. He knew he needed to stay back and do his thing with the bow. Plus I also feel they are getting into the role-playing aspects well, which should not be a huge surprise really. Kids are good and playing pretend. I also think everyone worked off of everyone else's strengths well. While last time I was getting my butt kicked by Kobolds (with a high Reflex save) this week I did better with animated armor with low Reflex saves. So everyone did get a chance to shine. I think that is the sign of a good DM and a sign of well put together rules.

So now where we are at is my wife would like to play a game with just the four of us. I am thinking of keeping with D&D4, but BFRPG and/or LL are also sounding like good ideas. I would make their characters 4th or 5th level so they would survive a bit better. I can also ignore feats and skills really and focus on what they enjoy most; exploring and combat. This could be fun really. Get my old-school D&D fix in and still have a game that doesn't interfere with my other D&D night.

ONE HOUR LATER:

Well I talked with my wife and my boys. She wants LESS choices in her game about classes and attacks. The youngest want to play an archer/ranger and my oldest wants to keep with his Dragonborn Paladin. So. I think I will use the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a base, with ideas from Basic Fantasy and Labyrinth Lord. I think a Basic D&D Dragonborn will end up looking a bit like a Dwarf in terms of mechanics, but I am not worried about that right now. OR I might stick with D&D 4 and just reduce some of the options. Haven't quite figured that out yet. Skills are not important to me in this game; we can just do ability checks, so that is a mark against D&D4; though in general I prefer D&D4's skill system over the past incarnations. I prefer the simpler saves/defenses of D&D4 and the single advancement rules. And I certainly prefer the AC as DC style check.

This will be interesting to figure out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GenCon 2009 & Ghosts of Albion, Part 2

I am running three Gen Con events this year for Ghosts of Albion.

This are the official times and places from Gen Con. Registration is closed now, so you can register for these at the con or use the generic tickets.

I will repost this when I have more information

Here are the details.

Ghosts of Albion: Blight

RPG0906270 - 08/13/2009 07:00:00 PM (Thursday) Crowne Plaza, Grand Central Ballroom B, Table 3

RPG0906268 - 08/14/2009 07:00:00 PM (Friday) Crowne Plaza, Grand Central Ballroom B, Table 3

Ireland is dying. Her Protector has been murdered and you are the primary suspects. Can you clear your name, regain your magic and stop whatever necromancies befoul the land? Time is short, yours and one million lives hang in the balance. Set in 1847 this is an adventure for the Ghosts of Albion RPG.


 

Ghosts of Albion: Obsession

RPG0906269 - 08/15/2009 07:00:00 PM (Saturday) Crowne Plaza, Grand Central Ballroom B, Table 3

There is trouble at the Plough Street Theatre. The Times reports that authorities have found the strangled body of prominent actress and performer, Miriam White. However Miss White has herself commented to The Times that she is in fact alive and well and has been seen not only on stage, but having lunch with her manager just outside the theatre. You are requested by James V. Harold, esq., owner of the Plough Street Theatre to discreetly investigate this matter.


 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Family D&D Night

The board game companies have been trying to sell us "Family Game Night" for a while. Generally speaking I am ok with this. You get to spend a nice evening at home with people you love and have fun. Not to mention the merits of it being much cheaper. Star Trek + Popcorn for 4 = A lot more than my RPG budget for the month. Plus I can have popcorn at FGN and not have it covered in palm or coconut oils.

So recently we tried out Family D&D Night last weekend and it was a huge success.

We got together with another family we do a lot of thing with. Their boys are the same ages as ours so that is always nice and Greg, the father, is my regular DM (and I am his regular Ghosts of Albion Director). So we had 4 adults, him, I and our wives, plus all of our kids, three boys age 9 and two boys age 6. We got together in my new game room for a night of D&D 4. It was a lot of fun. My youngest didn't like the character he had, so Greg had a back up (was supposed to be my character I think) that he liked better. He played an archer build Ranger, I was playing an-alternate reality version of the warlock I play in the "big guys game", my oldest had his dragonborn paladin he has been asking me to play since we went and got the 4e books at midnight last year together. And my wife got to play a fighter, her first real character and real game. We had elves, tielflings, a sneaky little halfling and a bunch of humans.

We explored some old ruins were we suspected that two boys got lost. Morality tale for our little ones? Maybe. But it did bother the youngest in the crowd. But what was really fun was see what everyone else would do. My youngest and Greg's youngest hated it if any kobolds attacked their moms. To the point of they wanted to attack the very ones that did it. My oldest, who I have been playing 3.x with for a while, REALLY got into it. He was disappointed that his natural 20 was not double damage (as it is in our games) but got over it when he figured out it meant max damage. Plus once a kobold next to him got bloodied he shouted with excitement "I can use my Dragon rage on him now!!". My wife REALLY had fun, it also helps that I had a really cool looking mini for her to use, and yes I am letting her keep it. She was glad her character was so effective in the battle. I had decided to remain understated in this adventure to allow others to shine. That was a good choice cause I seriously doubt I rolled higher than a "3" all night long.

Everyone had so much fun that my wife and two kids had to go to my favorite local game store the very next day so they could have their own dice. My oldest had his own, but I could tell him no while my wife picked out three new sets. They got dice bags too, something I never even got for myself till I had been playing for years.

I bought a new d20. No more "3"s for me.


 

To all my gamer friends out there with families. Have you done Family D&D (RPG) night? How did it go for you?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Old School Bender

I went on an Old School Bender this last week. Not like the kind I did in college (too old for chemical joy), but Old School RPGs.

click for larger view

Within the last couple of weeks, and especially last week I picked up Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, Monsters of Myth, the Spellcraft & Swordplay boxed set, Spellcraft & Swordplay Pocket Ed and Monstrous Mayhem Pocket Ed

I want to say a bit about each of these.

Labyrinth Lord

What can I add here? It’s B/X. It’s cool. And I want to run this sometime. My only wish is I grabbed the Alternate cover, but I do like the purple.

Basic Fantasy

This was the “new” for me. I had gushed (somewhat embarrassingly so) about Labyrinth Lord, but I have mostly ignored this one. Well flipping through it I finally know what I am going to use this for. BF is a nice implementation of a stepping stone between Basic D&D and Advanced D&D. Back when I was playing B/X a lot of my friends were playing AD&D 1st ed, given my age I was confused about why two very similar games had such differences. Well like most I went on to AD&D. Now when I play or read B/X or BECMI rules, I want to preserve that nice 1981 feeling; so Elf is a race AND a class. Basic Fantasy splits them back up ala AD&D. This is actually kind of cool. If ever I wanted an nice blend of Basic and Advanced, then Basic Fantasy will be my game. I might house rule a few things, like go more with AD&D hit dice and other AD&D circa 1980 ideas. Plus the Basic Fantasy website has a ton of free supplemental documents to make this even more of a solid D&D and AD&D hybrid. Sure, I still have my old Blue Basic book, but I do like this game’s feel and approach.

Of course I will need some monsters.

Monsters of Myth

AKA AD&D Monster Manual III. Sure there are more monsters in *D&D than I will EVER, EVER use, but reading about monsters? No I can’t ever have enough. Thankfully there is Monsters of Myth from some of the guys that gave us OSRIC. So this is for “1st Edition” games, but a little tweaking and it works great for a LL/BF game. Not all the monsters are great of course, nature of the hmm…beast. But there is enough here to keep a 30+ year old vet like me going “wow, that is neat!”. Big selling point, my son loved the cover.

Spellcraft & Swordplay

Gotta support the home team here. So I picked up the Pocket Editions of the Spellcraft & Swordplay rules, both the core and the Monstrous Mayhem books. I also got my limited editions boxed set, with three books, character sheets, dice, reference pages and card. Like the others this one has filled me with no end of geek joy. But while I’ll freely mix and match items above with their spiritual ancestors (B/X and AD&D), I think I am going to keep Spellcraft & Swordplay separate; it’s own thing. The nice thing about all of these games is they can be played on their own or in conjunction with each other with some tinkering. Spellcraft & Swordplay is fine on its own doing its own thing. While I’ll happily play any game with my kids, I think this one works best with some veteran gamers. Ones that remember the “Old Ways” and can really sit back and enjoy the feel of this game. Looking up at that picture I realize I didn’t include the dice I got with the boxed set.

I do have a campaign setting that I think Spellcraft & Swordplay is perfect for. In fact it is a setting I have tried to build under d20, Unisystem and True20 and each time it felt a little off. With that I think Spellcraft & Swordplay will stop being a “nostalgia game” and move into the de-facto rules for my setting that I have been mulling around and playtesting for years. I just you get as big a kick out of it as I do.

Now all I need is a set of old-school looking dice to use with all of them; a couple of d6s, no d10, but rather a d20 numbered from 0-9 in one color and 0-9 in another color. And white. The dice need to be white to symbolize a return to innocence. Or something.

OH. I don’t have my Swords & Wizardry book up there since it hasn’t come in yet. S&W does share the same simplicity of S&S. Though in feel S&W does remind me of say OD&D, 2nd Edition. And I forgot to add my Wayfarers book as well (well in truth a friend has it now and I got that one a while back).

I plan to hit my regular gaming group with all of these rules here soon. Take a day-break from D&D 4 (yes I also play and enjoy D&D 4th edition) to try something else out.
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