Sunday, May 18, 2014

If Melvin is north of here, this must be Boosboodle!

Art by Bruce Anderson

Thanks to Catacomb Librarian, I have been able to peruse The Spawn of Fashan, the topic of today's post.  Accordingly, this post is my official entry for the 2014 Obscure Fantasy RPG Appreciation Day contest.

In a more innocent age, Fashan was widely considered to be the worst table-top role playing game.  This was before such abominations as RaHoWa and F.A.T.A.L. blemished the hobby.  Fashan can scarcely compare to these egregious efforts, yet the legend persists.  The game even has its own TV Tropes page.

Is The Spawn of Fashan worse than The Realms of Atlantasia?  In comparing the two games, we must keep in mind that Atlantasia was created with the benefit of a 21st Century word processing application while Fashan utilized typesetting circa 1981.  Still, Fashan manages to embrace the concept of formatting and actually has interior artwork and a map.  In terms of presentation, Fashan is better than Atlantasia.  In terms of intelligibility, the jury is still out.

I wanted very much to show some redeeming features about Fashan – to present the diamond in the rough.  Alas, there is no diamond, only overwhelming rough.  Fortunately, I had read this review, so my encounter with Fashan was not as jarring as it could have been.

Fashan was written by Kirby Lee Davis of “The Games of Fashan Co-operative.”  Davis expected to publish a series of fantasy books having “Fashan” as the setting.  Fashan was a post-apocalyptic world “during the fifth volume of The Annals of Fashan,” an era that may or may not have had gods.  (The rules are unclear on this point.)  With the game rules, it was Davis' intent “to direct players and Referees on how to play and create worlds that are like Fashan” and because these worlds would not actually be Fashan, “it can be said that they are Fashan's spawn.”  Hence, Davis called the game The Spawn of Fashan

The game is so exquisitely bad that Lawrence Schick, in his Dragon review, assumed it was parody.  Although Davis was earnest, there are certain passages which might lead a reader to believe the game was written as a spoof.  “The Spawn succeeds in keeping the rules simple,” page one tells us and the very next sentence begins, “Furthermore, it is a complicated system...”  I hadn't realized the two concepts were reconcilable.

Davis stated his belief that, “The Spawn is the best role-playing game on the market.”  Sure, he was trying to sell a product and, doubtless, his proximity to (and enthusiasm for) the game prevented an objective perception of its flaws, yet his braggadocio bordered on the bizarre.  For instance, “We of the Games of Fashan co-op realize these are extraordinary claims, so we have countered these with an equal amount of modesty.”  What does that even mean?  Fashan is the “best” RPG (in Davis' thinking) because it “is the most realistic and lifelike role-playing system (short of manuveurs) [sic] around.”  As is often the case in RPGs, “realistic and lifelike” translated into convoluted detail and a plethora of acronyms and tables.  Although Davis included a “massive number of tables and charts,” he did not supply every table and chart necessary for play.  For instance, a portion of text with the heading 'The Radiation Chart' begins with, “Here is an introduction to a table that is not here...So, this is another table the Referee can make up for himself.”

One reason for absent tables is that Davis expected Referees to devise “cultures and societies” for their own campaigns.  For instance, distinct societies would have distinct influences on character creation and would therefore need original tables.  I can respect Davis' intent in this regard, but societies were also expected to be similar to those of Fashan and sufficient details about Fashan existed only in Davis' mind.  Davis ought to have presented a fulsome setting with a complete set of charts and tables; he could then have provided advice on how to 'personalize' the setting.

Another reason for absent tables is “the small space available” in the rulebook.  This might have been a compelling reason had Davis not been so extravagant in certain sections of the rules.  For instance, Davis spent two paragraphs to define 'mountains'.  His definition started, “Mountains are rock pennicles [sic] that extend thousands of feet in the air.” Unless you're writing a dictionary, if you feel the need to define 'mountains', chances are you're doing something wrong. Davis tried to be comprehensive, but he bypassed essentials and concentrated on minutiae.

“Due to the nuclear war on Fashan 2000 years ago...all life on Fashan evolved the ability to 'feel' other life forms,” according to the rule book.  The rules refer to this ability as “Senses.”  Contrary to the notion of “all life,” some character occupations do not have “Senses.”  Seemingly, the nuclear war was responsible for other biological changes.  Some character occupations, like Creepers and Healers, have unnatural abilities.  As a result of failing saving rolls during character creation, characters roll on tables that may grant an ability or inflict a disability.  Such (dis)abilities range from the mundane (e.g., 'deaf in one ear' or 'clubfoot') to the peculiar (e.g., 'microscopic smell' or 'attuned to insects').

Davis provided a page-and-a-half long example of Fashan play.  Detailed examples like this are perhaps the most important part of a system of rules; they show how the designer expects people to play.  Such examples should demonstrate the game's features in the best possible light.  Davis didn't do this;  instead, he showcased the dumbest possible playing experience.  In the example, a just-created player character (with a “Supersticious [sic] fear of bald hunchback females”) begins play in Biddles, capital of Boosboodle.  (According to the map, north of Boosboodle is “where Melvin is standing now.”)  The first inclination of the player character is to rob a store.  The example concludes with the player character murdering a shopkeeper by striking him with a metal chest.

In 'Section I', Davis asked perusers to “brush on through the rulebook.  Glance at the terms, the outlines, the tables.  We feel you will be impressed.”

Impressed?  Yes, but not in a good way.


  1. Yet another (of the not very many) reviews of Fashan I've read, that despite as usual having little good to say about the game and its systems, still makes me really, really covet a copy!! Good work! And, by the way, I just discovered your blog, not sure how I'd overlooked it before, it's fantastic. The ONLY place I've seen anything at all about High Fantasy on the internet, a cherished game of mine (I've even run it, once). Also was especially pleased to see your series on Daredevils. Am currently reading through your whole blog, so I'm sure I'll be commenting again. Thanks!!