Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Ideal Introduction to the Fast-Growing World of Role-Playing Games

Art by Duncan Smith

Steve Jackson – not to be confused with Steve Jackson – was co-author (with Ian Livingstone) of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the “solo gamebook” that launched the Fighting Fantasy line.  Among many other accomplishments, Jackson was responsible for Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Role-Playing Game which incorporated the 'system' used in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.  (Henceforth in this post, FF shall refer to the Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roll-Playing Game  book.)

Penguin Books, through its Puffin imprint, published FF in 1984 as a 240 page paperback.  From an American perspective, it may seem unusual to publish RPG rules in a paperback format, but in Britain it made sense to produce the rules in the same format as the gamebooks.  Corgi did the same thing with their edition of Tunnels & Trolls in 1986.

Although 240 pages, the bulk of the book is devoted to two sample adventures.  The rules section only encompasses about 58 pages and the font size is generous.  Still, the book accomplishes its goal of presenting a set of introductory RPG rules.  FF is intended for younger players, but it does not state the age of its demographic target.  However, in the introduction, Jackson writes:
Many of these role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, Traveller and Warhammer, are quite complicated, and their manufacturers recommend them for twelve-year-olds and over.  They refer constantly to charts and tables in the rules and require a lot of book-keeping by the players.  But the spirit of role-playing games is not so much the tremendous detail and statistics they go into (although there are 'walking-encyclopedia' types who revel in the complications of such games).  For most players, the real fun comes from the adventure itself.
Jackson engages the reader in an informal tone and deftly explains the rules of the game and the function of the GamesMaster.  As we can see on the Adventure Sheet reproduced below, there are three 'characteristics'.

Skill (1d6 + 6):  “...indicates an adventurer's own skills in a variety of areas: swordsmanship and general fighting abilities; problem-solving; strength; intelligence; etc.”

Stamina (2d6 + 12):  “...represents fitness, will to survive, determination and general constitution.”  Should an adventurer's Stamina fall to zero, the adventurer dies.

Luck (1d6 + 6):  This score acts as a 'saving throw' in FF.  When a GamesMaster requires an adventurer to “test for Luck,” 2d6 are rolled.  If the result is equal to or less than the Luck value, the test is successful.  Regardless of the result, the Luck value is reduced by one; subsequent tests therefore become more difficult.

Combat occurs as a sequence of Attack Rounds.  In an Attack Round, each opponent rolls 2d6 and adds the result to his or her Skill value.  The total is the opponent's Attack Strength.  The Attack Strengths of opponents are compared; the opponent with the lower Attack Strength sustains a loss of two points of Stamina.  Attack Rounds repeat until combat concludes.  Upon sustaining a combat injury, an adventurer can test for Luck to reduce the amount of damage.  A successful test means a loss of only one point of Stamina, but a failed test means the adventurer loses three Stamina points.  When inflicting a combat injury, an adventurer can also test for Luck to cause more damage.  If successful, the adventurer causes four Stamina to be lost; however, if the test is not successful, the adventurer inflicts a loss of only one Stamina.

As presented, the rules in FF are limited, but the selling point is that it's an introductory system.  Also, as Jackson implied, the spirit of the game lies not in the rules but in the adventure itself – a sentiment that actually applies to all role-playing games.

Fighting Fantasy character sheet

1 comment:

  1. I owned this as a kid. I think I actually had it before I got the Basic Set, making it my first RPG. I also got The Riddling Reaver. I probably never actually played the FFRPG; the rules were very familiar from the solo gamebooks which I played obsessively at one point. I have to say that 'Dungeoneer'/'Advanced Fighting Fantasy', which came out a few years later, was a great improvement and something I would certainly have considered playing as an alternative to D&D.