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 Gaming 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 features 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 the 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.

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.

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.

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