How Advanced Fighting Fantasy led me to Pits & Perils
My autistic obsession with mathematical reduction
How my desire to play games with my non-gamer wife led me to love simple rules
When I was a kid, my autistic obsession for detail drove me to ever more complicated RPG games. D&D to MERP to Rolemaster. Then burning out, excising chunks of Rolemaster and appending it to MERP, and then condensing MERP skills to the broad categories in Lord Of the Rings Adventure Game (all three published by Iron Crown Enterprises). I was on my way to simplicity in RPG gaming, and then sex and the drama of teenage life and later adult life led me away from the hobby.
I returned to RPGs to a) do something fun with my wife and b) get my friends to do something fun aside from stand around and chat. I’m an autist: I need my conversations to be structured and go somewhere entertaining to me.
When it came to games, my wife was certainly not a grognard . The most complicated board game I could play with her were Carcassonne or “Zombies!!!” I had to pick my games carefully. Enter Fighting Fantasy. It was a hit. We tried Dungeon World, but we found it way to wordy and complicated. While we had fun that one time, it was a mechanical failure.
I played FF a couple more times with my wife, and it was a success. I wanted a little more meat and potatoes to my FF, and bought Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Whoa, too many choices for her taste. It was like picking salad dressing in a supermarket. She said something to the effect of: “I just want to be an archer who can talk to animals.” I obliged by house ruling the basic Fighting Fantasy.
Base rule for Fighting Fantasy is this: when your character attempts an unopposed task, roll 2d6, and if it is less than or equal to your SKILL plus any modifiers, then the attempt succeeds. For opposed actions, roll 2d6 + SKILL + modifiers, and if it’s greater than your opponants 2d6+SKILL+Modifiers, you succeed.
If you convert the unopposed check to to a roll greater than or equal to system, then the target number is 14. 2d6+7 >= 14 is identical in odds to 2d6 <= 7. I’m a big fan of uniform mechanics and roll-high, because it is easy to imagine higher numbers are a better outcome.
Your typical AFF character has a starting SKILL of 7. He could have less than 7, that is, if one puts points into MAGIC or LUCK instead. Generally, however, one favors SKILL or MAGIC, and then putting a point or two into LUCK or STAMINA. The reason being that the SKILL score is the baseline for all Special Skills, so even if you have a Sword Skill of 4, and your base SKILL is 4, then your total combat skill is 8. Whereas if you had a base skill of 7, and 4 points in Sword, your combat skill adds up to 11. That is a lot more impressive.
High base SKILL makes your character all around better (in a pinch) than someone with low SKILL and several points in a Special Skill. There are house rules to work around this, and give specialists some kind of extra advantage, such as automatic success when a Master at a special skill (with 4 ranks) has the time and tools to succeed (similar to Take 10 or Take 20 in Pathfinder). I got to feeling, however, that there must be a simpler way of doing character skills.
Given that your typical character will start with a SKILL of 7, why not just reduce SKILL to zero, and then reduce the target number for success to 7. Same odds, simpler math. And thus you can eliminate the SKILL stat, and just list Special Skills as bonuses to your 2d6 roll. Likewise one could do this with MAGIC also, just listing the magic special bonus for your character (Sorcery, Wizardry, Priest, or Minor) and adding that to a dice roll: target number 7. This number works out well for my taste because it represents a marginal chance of success (roughly 58% without modifiers), and nobody wants an adventure about a bunch of failures (though they can be entertaining if narrated well)
Combine this with my desire to nix the damage table for each weapon (flat damage and +1 damage for two-handed), convert the armor to a per-encounter ablative function, all magic fueled by Stamina, and ad-hoc rulings that fit the narrative, I had what I thought was my ideal abridged Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Maybe it would be Basic Fighting Fantasy Plus or AFF Minus. There are Skills for things you try, Luck for things you can’t control, Spells if you have them, and Stamina to measure how much pain and misery you can endure.
This obsession was frosting my ass for a couple of years. Having had no live play since my divorce (my ex-wife being my primary gaming partner), I was eager to try my revised Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Unfortunately, I had no outlet.
In comes Pits & Perils with everything I want. Target number 7 (or 9 for combat), check. Bonus for being good at something, check. Simple damage. check. Ablative armor, check. Room for rulings, check. I discovered this gem while watching reruns of Crossbow, a medieval fantasy show from the late 1980’s. So the wave of nostalgia swept over me just as I perused the the gameplay example of the three characters exploring a tower, and I knew I just wanted to get this game.
Now I have an ad on a Meetup forum, trying to entice a group to play.
*House Rule: If you have a crossbow ready to fire, you can fire first, even if you lose initiative.
Why Advanced Fighting Fantasy led me to Blood of Pangea
My Autistic Obession with Customization and Minimalism
What I liked so much about AFF was how you can customize your character at creation, and pursue all kinds of wacky builds (if you’re so inclined). High Skill, High Luck, Magic, lots of Stamina, good at jumping, good at climbing, good at lock picking, or stealth, or throwing spears, or several languages. There’s even a distinction between Bargaining, Conning and Etiquette: commerce, deception and polite interaction. The character sheets had an entry for “Class” but that was just for flavor. Your class is what you wanted it to be. You could do a hybrid fighter-mage-thief, but at an early state of adventuring he probably wouldn’t be especially good at any of them.
I liked the versatility of AFF, but my obsession with mathematical reduction irritated me, and I also developed a taste for simplicity due to my desire to include my wife in my gaming.
In comes Blood of Pangea, a reduced form of Pits & Perils meant for a Swords & Sorcery game world. What I like about it is how you can customize your character with but a basic narrative, and everything else flows from there. It doesn’t get much more reductionist than one numbered stat and a character description. Rules are akin to P&P, though the target number typically is 9 for all tasks (but adjusted as appropriate). I like how the Might is a universal resource for avoiding harm or achieving glorious feats. Armor is just Armor (soaks 3 points), and if you want more nuance to your armor (Leather, Chain, Plate), you can do so. My (ex)wife’s simple desire for an Archer who can talk to animals is realized in this gaming system. And my desire for customization and simplicity is satisfied by this game.
I will conclude with a quote from “Adventurers! Exploring the Unknown”, a modified version of “Searchers Of the Unknown”, which is itself a reductionist take on D20 D&D. They managed to capture my general philosophy of Role Playing Gaming with this brief passage: “Every PC is an Adventurer with only a little customization done during the creation of the PC. The player will bring complexity and flavor to the PC through their play.” (emphasis by the Author)
[edit 2/25/18: I got the feeling that I wasn’t entirely clear when I finished this post. I enjoy the complexity that emerges from creative play, and not from mechanical complexity of the rule set. ]
download link for Searchers of the Unknown 2012 compilation