Showing posts with label heart-breaker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label heart-breaker. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Quest of the Ancients: The Obscure Fantasy RPGs Appreciation Day

"Look upon this, old-schoolers, and know that this path has been tread before." -  Jeff Grubb

Today is The Obscure Fantasy RPGs Appreciation Day hosted by Mesmerized by Sirens.

On this day I want to go back over some ground I have tread before.  Today I want to talk about Vince Garcia's magnum opus Quest of the Ancients.

QotA was the topic of one of my A to Z posts a few years ago. It seems I was not the only one to use it for Q, Jeff Grubb posted about it the same year and Charlie Warren the year after.   There is surprisingly little information out there about this game.  The Wikipedia article is sparse and the RPGNet database entry only has the basics.  There is very, very little else on the web and the author, Vince Garcia, seems to have no net presence I can find.  Plus there is no legal pdf of it out there. In fact if you search for "Quest of the Ancients"  + "legal PDF" you will only find me asking for it on RPG.Net.  I would also like to find a copy of the 2nd edition print.  It has different (and better) cover art but that is all I know for sure.  I have heard it was never printed and in other places I have heard it is longer by a few pages.  No idea.

So, obscure? Yeah. It has it in droves.
I don't even remember where I learned about it.  I am pretty sure I know how and about when though.
I was finishing up my very first netbook on Witches for AD&D 2nd ed and I wanted to collect all the AD&D  compatible witch classes that were ever made.  My idea was I was going to play test all the classes with the same character (same background and stats) and see how they all played out.  Something I still do to this day. I discovered the Judges Guild Witch Class and was not overly thrilled with it.  Somehow I discovered or was told about Quest of the Ancients. I picked up a copy on eBay and that was that.

Quest of the Ancients can be best described as an AD&D clone, an AD&D add on or as a collection of someone's AD&D house rules.  The author, Vince Garcia, had some publications before QotA came out including some material for AD&D2 and White Wolf magazine.  So he was not new to this. In deed the copyright date on this book lists 1982, so some form of these rules were around at least then.  Likely it was a collection of house rules.  What I noticed though right away was the Witch Class.

Let's be 100% honest here.  Vince Garcia loves the Witch class as much as I do.  Really.  The book is easily 70-75% class material and the class that gets the most attention and the most text is the witch.  Before I get into that let me talk about what the book has.

We start out with the title/author page.  He dedicates the the book to "Miss Stevie Nicks".  Ok. So let me be honest here.  I get this. No, I really do.  That doesn't not make it weird. But I get it.  He also thanks "Angelique".  Yeah, I did the same thing.

The QotA game (and I am unsure if this is intended to be a seperate game or as thinly veiled add-on to AD&D) characters have nine (9) stats.  They are rolled differently depending on the race of the character and sometime the gender.  Nearly everyone has the same mins and maxes (1-20), but the different dice and pluses usually mean different mean, median and modal scores.   The big stat is IQ (Intelligence) since it determines how high level you can go.  The ability adjustments for these abilities are D&D standard (+0 for average up to +3 for 18 and beyond). Our abilities are Strength, Agility, Conditioning, IQ, Charm, Appearance, Luck, Stamina, and Body (which is the average of Strength and Conditioning).
The book covers the standard races (human, elf, dwarf, half-elf, gnome) and some ideas on how to make other races like the ogre or a "furrfoot" (halfing) work.  This bit is not bad advice really and certainly expands on the ideas of races.

Chapter 2 covers the classes.  This is the reason you buy this book.
There are  Fighter classes. These include the Cossack, Gladiator, Knight, Legionnaire, Rouge (not a thief), Saracen, Viking, and Woodsman.  Another group are the Tricksters which are the Assassin, Bard (with some spell-songs), Cutpurse (this is the thief), and Gypsy.  The gypsy is interesting since there is a difference between male and female gypsies.  The males are more like a Bard/Cutpurse/Rogue while the females are more witch-like.  Lastly we have all the  Spellcasters.  Each class is presented and all their spells follow after.  This includes the Druid (different from the AD&D one), Earth Priest, Necromancer, Sorcerer, and Witch.    The Necromancer is more akin to the original idea of a Necromancer, one that speaks to the dead.  He does have plenty of death-related spells.  The Sorcerer is a "do it yourself" sort of spell using class.  No spells are even listed for this class assuming the GM will make their own or use some "from magazines".

Let's talk about the Witch now.
Like I mentioned the classes take up pages 13 to 157 (of 214),  the witch has 52 of those pages. Who does that remind you of?
 She has a lot of new spells up to the 7th level and about five new powers. The witch is also the only class to get a detailed NPC. Actually she gets three.  The "Queen of Witches" Elvyra, her familiar and her chief handmaiden. The rules limit advancement to 20th level; Elvyra is 25th and Night (the handmaiden) is 23rd.   Look. I am the last person that can throw stones at this one OK.  Part of me is face-palming over this, and another part is impressed with the shear bravado of it.
Notably the "iconics" from the cover are not stated up anywhere in the book.
The Witch and Gypsy are both pretty interesting classes.  I think what happened here is the author wrote all this material for the Witch and then had a bunch of spells and ideas left over that used for the other classes.  Or maybe I am projecting too much.  Hard to say.

There are some interesting rules on multi-classing.  It reminds a little of the D&D4 Hybrid class rules.  Basically you advance in two classes at the same time, taking the more advantageous options.  The experience points are a little more than 75% of the two classes added together.  So on the average a multiclassed character takes 1.5 times longer to level up than a single class character.  Neat idea on paper, not sure how it works in reality.

The rest of the book goes by fast, really just enough to call it a complete game.  There is a chapter on skills. only a couple of pages really but for an AD&D Heartbreaker it has some neater ideas.  A chapter on Equipment, one on "the Adventure" and another on Combat.  The Combat is a d30 deal which is again interesting, but not one I would ever use to be honest.
You might think the Chapter on Magic would be longer than it is. But it is only about 3-4 pages.  Though there is some interesting ideas on magical research for all classes.
There are chapters on Rewards and some Monsters.  The only thing that sets it apart is the listing of female vs. male unicorns.  One (female) is white and good and the other (male) is black and not as good.
There is also a chapter on the campaign world of Islay.  It is a typical game world where lot of quasi medieval and semi-mythical lands are clumped together Xena-style.
There is some historical  detail about the worshipers of Brigit and his witches which made me smile.  Vince Garcia and I read a lot of the same books it seems.

In the end I can't dislike the game and I admire the author intents.
I am not likely to use anything from it really,  but it is a fun book to pick up a flip through. Plus I kinda like that there is not a whole bunch known about it.  Gives me the illusion that I am some sort of occult expert in a very narrow field of expertise.  I can pull on my old professor clothes and have a snifter of age brandy; "Islay you say? Let me tell you about the lands of Islay. Her unicorns, demons and most of all about the Witch Queen.  Yes. You must hear about the Witch Queen Elvyra..."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: The Secret Fire

The Secret Fire came out to much hoopla and goings on last year.

I have always meant to review it, but never sat down to do it.  Now, depending on my mood I go back and forth between this being a great homage to old-school play and even to Gygax himself to it being a fantasy heart-breaker with delusions of godhood.  It will be interesting to see where I am by the end of this review.

Like I mentioned above The Secret Fire came out to much hoopla last year before Gen Con with this whole campaign blitz on how it was going to change role-playing and how it was going to be the biggest thing since D&D.  I talked a bit about that around Gen Con back when it had changed it's name from Legends &  Labyrinths to The Secret Fire.
Of course give yourself some credit if you get the reference correct.

It didn't quite set the world on fire.  Secret or otherwise.
But I can't blame the author, George R. Strayton (also the screenwriter for the Dragonlance animated movie and some episodes of Xena), for being excited.  I would, and have, done the same.
One thing I am going to give the Secret Fire right now.  It has style.  The art is not fantastic and the formatting is a bit odd, but I enjoy looking at this book.

Forward and Introduction
Ok this part is cool, if maybe a touch corny.  Learning to play D&D on Halloween 1979. Sure that sounds cool and I don't doubt it, but if that were true for me I might not say that because so many wouldn't believe.  But that is not the point here.  I know this, that kid learning to play D&D on Halloween would have loved the hell out of TSF.  Oh.  I gave the game a freebie now I need to take one away. Look I know this game is important to the author but reading THE SECRET FIRETM all the time is really annoying.
All that aside, I like this part.  Why? Cause Strayton deep down is a kid that loves to play D&D and this is his 300+ page love letter to it.  I like that he wants you play normal folk that could get killed, I like that he was "stuck with the dwarf" back then.  If this is his mission statement then I am all aboard with it.

Quotes from Gary Gygax are good.  Quotes from Gail Gygax advertising your game, not so much.  One more point given, one more taken away.
Part 1 is your typically "what is role-playing chapter but also some descriptions of what makes TSF different.  I am torn on this one.  While I like that this is not the kindergarten discussion on what is role-playing and what do you do, there also seems to be a lot back-patting here.  TSF does this better and TSF does this... great, but tell me that in the game sections.  BUT....I also often lament that we don't see enough of what makes Game X different than Game Y.   If he makes good on these promises then we should be ok.

Character creation. The classes, or callings, are pretty straightforward; cleric, warrior, thief and wizard.  The big four really.  They have some neat features.  Levels only go to 10 and you know what, I kinda like that. The races are also the common four, Dwarf, Elf, Human and Halfling.  I would have liked to see some more, but there are some neat twists to the races.  Tables of what the races do, like Many Dwarfs...(roll a 1d20) and Some Dwarfs... (roll a 1d20), that is kinda cool really. Easily added to any sort of D&D-like game.
Instead of hitpoints we have wound levels, similar to some damage track systems I have seen.  I like how damage effects movement and combat. Again, nothing revolutionary here, but still nice.
There is a random table of personality traits as well.  I am sure would like this, but I prefer to figure out my character's personality in the playing, not the the rolling. 

This is the chapter on character Trademarks.   They act like qualities/perks/drawbacks from other games.  Interesting.  Given the amount you can get I would have liked to have seen more, but this is a good list.

Your weapons and equipment chapter.

Energy Points are discussed here and are used to power "Special Effects".  In a way they work a bit like Drama, Hero or Fate points.  While like like these kinds of mechanics, they are not really "old-school" since they allow the player more control over the dice.  While a plus in some respects I think the old-school purists will dislike it.

PARTS 6 & 7
Details the Elder Gods and prayers respectively.  Prayers are of course the spells that Holy-men can use.

Details the spells in the game.  Like the Prayers, there are a lot of unique sounding names for some familiar looking spells.  I like that.  "Read Languages" sounds dull, but "Comprehend Texts (The Great Unknown)" sounds so much more...eldritch.

Details the skills characters can have.  The advice listed is that most time the character succeeding or failing should be obvious. This chapter should only aid in the cases where success is uncertain.
Skills are a roll-under mechanic compared to the necessary ability.  The listed skills modify these dice rolls (3d6 to 7d6).

PART 10 
Details adventuring. Not a bad chapter, but mostly narrative.

This chapter details Engagements or what if typically called combat.

Scenario Design.  Lots of advice and random tables to stock your dungeons.

Is monsters.  The stat blocks look pretty familiar and would not be difficult at all to add to any other game.

Treasure. What I liked most here was the creating Talismans.  I have done talismans as well and they are a little different here than mine, but still fun.  Like the spells there are a lot of unique items here.  If you need to spice up your magic items, then this is a good place to start.

Details the world.  Not a lot of detail mind you, but enough to keep you busy.

PART 16 
Deals with level advancement. How to do it, what to do about it and the like.

Is an adventure, the Dungeons of Madness.

There are also a few Appencies, including a combat chart, links to the Gygax Memorial Fund, and a bit on why the game was made AND, interestingly enough, an alternate XP point award table to things the players can do outside of the game.  I have done this with my kids to great effect.

The Appendix D, or suggested reading does come of as a bit pretentious.  But...these are all in fact good books.

Bottom line
Again, this game didn't, and probably won't, set the world on fire. BUT there is a lot of cool things here that can be easily added to a D&D, S&W, ACKS or B/X Companion game.

It is easy to see what the author is trying to do here. I get it. I think the game though comes off a little like D&D + Fate.

I will also add that TSF character sheet is one of the coolest ones I have seen.  It, like the game, as a sense of style I really like.  Another point in favor of this game, the website for the game is full of all sorts of goodies.

I guess in the end I would give it 4 out of 5 stars and use it as a kick-ass resource. It is a good enough game by itself, but I plan on using it as an add-on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Wizard's World (1983)

What can one say about Wizard's World?

Well for starters it could be easily dismissed as yet another fantasy heartbreaker, but I don't think that would be fair really.
Yes it's AD&D roots are showing and there is a lot about the this game that is derivative.  But that is looking at it in 2012.  To look at this game as it was meant to be seen you have look at it with 1983 eyes.

This game offers some interesting twists beyond the typical D&D knock-off.  First I love the art in this book.  Sure there has been better art, much better art, even in books from the same time. But there is such an honesty about it that I enjoy.  And I LOVE that cover.
The attributes are nearly the same, enough that conversions are easy.  The charts all go to 30 which is nice.

Ok so we have a bunch of classes, many of which would drop right into AD&D, OSRIC or what ever Clone you enjoy.  There are a number of fighter-like classes, that honestly only differ a little bit from each other, but that is fine.  Some martial artists, some magic using types, 14 total.  What is cool is there is Vampire class!  Something we won't see again till D&D4 or until I did my own (link).  We have all the standard races plus some new ones, Metamorphic Dwarfs and Demon Halflings.  Honestly the book is worth it just to be able to say "Demon Halflings"!

There are 22 pages worth of spells that go all the way to level 10.
Rules follow next which is primarily about combat, weapons, poisons, potions and the like.   A little bit on magic items.
Monsters follow. There are a few, but almost no overlap between here and what you might find in a typical monster manual for a game.  There are dragons, but very different from what we are used to seeing in "D&D".
Some suggestions for play and threadbare character sheet.

Ok what is good about this game?  Lots really.  If you play D&D or some old school game you would be hard pressed not to find something here to use.  Did I mention the Demon Halflings yet?  There are plenty of monsters and lots of spells.

What is bad?  That is subjective.  If you are not a fan of old-school play or expect full color art then you will be disappointed.

What did I like? Nearly everything really.  I have to hand it to Dan Procter and Goblinoid Games for becoming an old-games preservation society.   This game isn't going to win any awards now nor would it have won any then, but it is a fun trip into the past when many games were little more than a few pages, a staple and your friend's brother to do the art.

At 80+ pages this is packed.

If you wanted to play this system and say use one my of witch classes from either The Witch or Eldritch Witchery then I say you would need an INT 11 and WIL 11.  Choose spells from the witch lists and use those or the WW spell that was most similar.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Heartbreaker your time has come, can't take your evil way

I have talked before about the Fantasy Heartbreaker.
Fantasy games that attempt to "improve on" D&D but in the end break your heart.

Here is the Ron Edwards/The Forge standard definition. (circa 2002-3)
characterized by (1) the basic, imaginative content is "fantasy" using gaming, specifically D&D, as the inspirational text; (2) independently published as a labor of love, essentially competing directly with D&D in the marketplace; (3) the rules are similar to the majority of pre-1990s RPGs.
And some links:
Fantasy Heartbreakers
More Fantasy Heartbreakers

reviewed a couple in the past and made a number of posts about one of my favorite ones, Quests of the Ancients.

I was going through my stacks of books (and PDFs) to figure what I had and what I should look to buy at the most recent Gen Con and came on a bunch of what could be called Fantasy Heartbreakers.

I have no idea why these games fascinate me so much.
I *could* claim it is an academic interest that the design of these game reflects either the personal psychic of the designer or the inherent zeitgeist of the times.  But in truth, I don't care enough about the first and the later can be better observed in better more popular games. (Thesis topic: Is the change from oWoD to nWod a direct reflection of the post 9/11 world or merely an attempt to make more money? Another post perhaps.)

I *could* claim that each one is a fascinating game evolutionary cul-de-sac, but that is often giving them too much credit.

I think I like them because each one is insight to someone else's process of writing a game.  A flawed process from a flawed premise.  The flawed premise is "I can make a better D&D than D&D" rather than "I can make a better FPRG than D&D".  I say it is flawed because D&D is the best D&D there is.  There are great FRPGs that are not D&D and they do a wonderful job.But the FHB does not try to be a fantasy game, it tries to be D&D.

There is one thing I always find interesting in FHB's, their "Appendix N" or list of books to read.
Sometimes, rare times, there are good tidbits here.  Most of the time it is a bunch of pretentious posturing of "ooo look what I have read! You read it now to or you are stupid!"
I get putting in Lovecraft (if you have actually read his stuff and not just the bits with Cthulhu), Howard and Poe.  But "Walden", really???  How is transcendental thought going to help me in my game of mass murder and theft (killing things and taking their stuff).  I am going to put list John Dewey (a major figure in my academic life) in one of my books one day JUST so someone will call me on my shit.
Seriously.  The one-up-manship in these is crazy sometimes. In others I am convinced they never actually read the books they mention since the bulk of their game so antithetical to the writings of the author they listed.

But I digress...

Before I go on too much more let's get to today's post.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) Fantasy Heartbreakers?


What is the state or role of the FHB in this post OGL, retro-cloned world?

Friday, August 12, 2011

What is the Secret Fire?

I have seen a lot of posts on the Secret Fire (formerly Legends and Labyrinths) RPG.

I saw the ads, and my first thought was "oh another Fantasy Heartbreaker".
But I have seen a lot more recently and I'll admit I am curious.  The character sheet looks cool, but a part of me still thinks "fantasy heartbreaker", but I am willing to have a look.

BUT....since I blew past my RPG budget for August. And September...and October at Gen Con, I am not going to pick it up just yet.

Anyone pick it up yet? Play it?

I don't need another game, or even another game to distract me.  But there it is. Out there. Taunting me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quest of the Ancients

Q is for Quest of the Ancients, an RPG I discovered back in the days when I was getting "out of" D&D and looking for something else.

Quest of the Ancients can be described as a D&D clone, a D&D add on or as a collection of someone's house rules.  The author, Vince Garcia, had some publications before QotA came out including some material for AD&D2 and White Wolf magazine.  So he was not a noob to this.

QotA fills that same slot of near-D&D that you will sometimes find other games living in. Similar to the Atlantean series from Bard Games.  Lejendary Adventures is one that comes to mind as well.

Why did I pick it up?  Simple, it was advertised as having the most complete Witch class ever made.  I forget where I read that, but I knew I had to pick up a copy.  So I did. I was a bit underwhelmed, but there were some good bits.

While the game certainly has it's impressive moments, it never struck me as bringing anything new to my table.  I liked the Gypsy class, the Witch class was interesting, but everything else seemed like a poor-man's copy of AD&D.  There were a ton of classes in this book, something like 15 or more, and a bunch of spells.

I want to talk about the witch class for a bit.  Now in general I liked the witch.  Garcia was obviously pulling from some of the same books I was when he wrote up his witch.  Also (and you can tell by looking at the cover) this was a thinly-veiled attempt to have a "Stevie Nicks" character class.  I can't say I disapprove of that.  There was also a gypsy class which was divided into Male and Female gypsy.  I kinda made sense, kinda didn't.  I see what the author was trying to do, but I don't think it worked out as well as he liked.

I have always wanted to pick up the second edition.  I don't know if much has changed in it, but the cover art is much better (featuring the same characters).

I like this cover to be honest.  The Witch looks more like Stevie Nicks than ever and the wizard looks like he has gained a few levels.

I have wanted to get this, but can't actually bring myself to buy it until I see what some of the differences are between the editions.  I am hoping that there is something here above and beyond the first edition, but I am fairly sure there is not.    In the beginning of the 90's this might have been a cool game to play, but today it looks a little a dated.  A+ for effort though.


Noble Knight Games (best place to get it really)

ETA: And check out Jeff Grubb, also doing QotA for his Q post.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DriveThru Reviews: Fantasy Heartbreakers

The term "fantasy heartbreaker" is a term coined at The Forge to describe a then new breed of fantasy games that were very detailed, but obviously not far from the root game that spawned them, D&D.  To me Fantasy Heartbreaker games always come across as someone's house rules of D&D or how they would have made D&D.  Now sometimes they are supposed to be a game in their own right, a supplement to another game or in the case of more recent years, an OGC/d20 ruleset.

Most times the rules are nothing more than D&D with a different coat of paint, though sometimes were are treated to something new.  Take Pathfinder.  It is basically a Fantasy Heartbreaker that cleaves very close to the original source.  So close in fact that it even has some of the same staff on it as the 3.x version of the D&D rules.  Plus it gives a few new things.

World of Lykarnia
World of Lykarnia certainly feels D&D-ish.  There are 6 traits that map perfectly onto the 6 standard abilities of D&D. There are skills, classes, levels, the standard races. Everything we expect in a FRPG.  The equipment list the same weapons we have seen dozens of times. Granted I am not expecting much there.
A couple of things I felt were odd.  The table of contents is huge, even for a 169 page book.  I think the author could have collapsed a level or so; give us the broad categories, not ever thing to a Level 3 Header.  Secondly the book starts off with (Chapter 2) with an example on combat.  We don't even know what some of the words being used are (Spirit Score?) but we are supposed to follow along?  Didn't like that.
The system is a simple d10 based one, not all that different than Unisystem or True20 (with a d10 instead).  I found that more interesting since I could use this with Unisystem fairly easy (Characters are even ranked 1 to 5 on their traits).  The magic system is interesting, but the spells are not all that different than what can be read in the Basic D&D books.  I do like how they were grouped into classical elements.
The bit about psychotic disorders seemed way too modern for a fantasy game to be honest.
The monsters are just descriptions with their stats at the back of the book in a big table.  Like OD&D.
There is a introductory adventure in the back as well, which I thought was a nice touch.
The author obviously put a lot of work into this book but there is nothing here that we have not seen already.
The included JPG map is very nice.
I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Tome of the Lost Realms Players Handbook
Released not long after the world had heard about 4th Edition, Tome of the Lost Realms does what Pathfinder also sat out to do, extend the life of the 3.x ruleset. Also like Pathfinder, this is a massive book at near 480 pages. The fonts and typography are meant to bring another Realms to your mind I am sure.  The realms themselves are interesting as far as that sort of thing goes. the races section is rather large with all sorts of fantasy races, again many we have seen before. The same classes as 3.x/Pathfinder, with the Warlock replacing the Sorcerer in all but name.  There are skills, feats, equipment and spells just like 3.x but it is hard to tell if anything here is new or not since there is so much of it.  The Section 15 of this book leads me to believe that there is a ton of stuff in this book above and beyond the SRD, but nothing jumped out at me.
In the end this is 3.x or maybe 3.6.  It is not quite Pathfinder and it has not moved past it's D&D roots to be completely unique either.
I gave 3 stars out of 5 since there is nothing really new here.  But the price puts it at a fifth of the cost of Pathfinder, so maybe 3.5 out of 5.

I think the issue here is that if you are going to make a new fantasy RPG you have ask yourself what are you giving us to overcome D&D-inertia.  What is new, interesting or otherwise different than before.  Retro clones will start to fall into the same issues, if they haven't already.