How Advanced Fighting Fantasy Led Me to Pits & Perils (and BOP)

How Advanced Fighting Fantasy led me to Pits & Perils
or
My autistic obsession with mathematical reduction
or
How my desire to play games with my non-gamer wife led me to love simple rules

Part 1

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.

Part 2

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.

Part 3

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.

Part 4

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.

Part 5

Why Advanced Fighting Fantasy led me to Blood of Pangea
or
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.

Part 6

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)

 

download link for Searchers of the Unknown 2012 compilation

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Spells for Blood of Pangea

I must admit I have difficulty thinking up magical spells for Blood of Pangea that fit within the guidelines.  The most noteworthy being that sorcery cannot directly cause permanent damage: causing someone to break out in sores, fireballs, death rays, crumbling boulders to dust etc.   So that means permanent changes in matter. There is an optional rule to allow it, but I want to push my creativity by adhering to this rule and see what I can think of.

Spoiler warning.  If you don’t want your imagination contaminated with my ideas, turn back now.

Some of these ideas may warrant charging the caster more than 1 Might. The sample spells given: summoning a smoke to distract a monster, took 1 might. Levitating the caster out through the roof took 1 might, but taking his friend with him took an additional point of might.

With that in mind, I’m assuming a large, muscled character and his gear weigh 250 to 300 pounds, tops.  So Each person levitated up to that weight takes 1 Might.  Lifting your horse may take therefore 3 or 4 might.  Likewise, I’ll use that as a guideline for moving other heavy objects.

Here we go!

Levitate a looped rope around the target’s neck and strangle him with it.

Yank the spear or sword from the enemy’s hand and chase after him with it.

In an environment with loose sand, levitate the sand from beneath a target’s feet and the target falls into the pit.  Then bury said target with the sand!

Levitate target off a cliff, then drop it!

Hurl boulders, spears, any other projectile.  Send a storm of stones at approaching infantry.   *  This may not be in the spirit of maximum movement of 50′ per turn.  I assume that means a gradual rate to 50′, as opposed to moving really quickly, all of a sudden.  But why not?  Matter is not being changed, nothing is being directly damaged by the spell.  Perhaps an increase in cost for the force required to propel the stones?

Seal a watchman’s mouth shut so he cannot shout the alarm.

Set an illusion for a watchman that the PCs are allied soldiers returning from a patrol.

Pass off a brass button as the illusion of a gold coin.

Lift the keys off a sleeping guard.

Unbuckle a weapon’s belt, leaving the former wearer without his sword.

Slam a heavy door in the face of pursuers.

Turn the tumblers of the lock of that door.

Pull the rug out from beneath a foe.

Snuff the candles with a gust of wind. * The moving air does the work, not the spell.

Untie hanging curtains or tapestry so it falls into the torches and catches on fire.

Deflect arrows.

Cause the sensation of being terribly itchy.

Create auditory hallucinations of all kinds: sounds of violence, sounds of mischief, sounds of sexual activity, whatever might catch the interest of the target

Cause the target to believe someone else is the caster.

Appear to be in two places at once.

Appear to look like some hideous monster.

Make target think his food or drink has a nauseating taste.

Animate a corpse to perform a task.

Levitate one volatile substance into contact with another to cause a reaction.

Cause target to become sexually aroused.

Bend tree branches down. * this is iffy, because a bent branch may not spring back up.

Pull stones out of a dam.

Cause a horse or other large animal to hallucinate and panic.

Create a foul odor.

Create the illusion of casting a damaging spell.  Such as the illusion of lightning bolts.

Throw your voice.

Reverse gravity in one small area.

That’s all I can think of for now.

 

 

Skullduggery in The Hundred Acre Wood

I just finished a complete collection of all the Winnie The Pooh stories written by A A Milne.  If you can find a copy (there are several compilations about), I highly encourage you to read it.  There’s some fantastic stories about the friendships and hardships of Christopher Robin’s animal friends.

One story in particular struck me as slightly disturbing (in a good way).  In this story, Kanga and her son Roo arrive in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Rabbit doesn’t think too highly of their intrusion, so hatches a plan with his friends to kidnap Roo and hold him hostage in a hidden place until Kanga agrees to move out of the forest!

Well there’s a humorous twist to their plan, and nobody gets hurt.  In the end, Kanga and Roo stay and everyone becomes friends.  I was so surprised to see such a plot among the animals in this mythical forest.  It was interesting to see how even good-natured, lovable, almost-innocent characters can have a dark side.  It may make for some good creative fodder for later RPG adventures.

There is another story where a prolonged and heavy rain falls for days, and the forest becomes flooded.  Eventually, Christopher Robin and Pooh are on a mission to rescue Piglet before his home gets flooded out.  This is an excellent story revealing Pooh’s creativity.  Not so bad for a bear with little brain.  I’ll spare you the details so you can read it yourself.

The whole series of stories brought forth a mix of emotions: laughter, childish giggling, tears (I wept at the sweet, loving conclusions to some stories), tears again (sadness after the end of the last story), big ear to ear grins of joy.  I suggest this collection for anyone with a love of fairy tales.

Rat Warriors for BOP and P&P

Rat warriors are cunning, crude and brutish creatures.  They make excellent minions for one disposed to evil, provided that there’s plenty of delightfully nasty food for them to eat.

Rat warriors are not overly brave, preferring hit and run raids to prolonged brawls. Their preferred weapons are spears, nets and crude short bows.  Rat bites are particularly nasty.  In melee, if a rat rolls a 12, the victim is bitten and must Save or contract a feverish disease that, over the next 3 days, will cause a permanent loss of 1 Might.

Rat warriors are usually led by a chief who is more clever and ruthless than the rest.  This leader often is armored and has an armored personal guard of his closest cronies.

Rat Warrior: 1 or 2 Might

Chief: 4 Might

 

 

Creating OSR classes in BOP, part 2

I’m going to try my hand at creating classic D&D/OSR classes in BOP, once again.  I want to run a game at the local game store. I’d like to use BOP, but it would be more of a high fantasy setting using material from the OSR universe.  Therefore, I consider this practice for that activity. If I find it to be too awkward, I’ll probably run Pits & Perils or Swords and Wizardry Whitebox.

When it comes to particular skills, I’m going to use an extra die as an Advantage mechanic when that class attempts something it is good at.  That is, roll three dice, keep the highest two. If a situation puts a character at a disadvantage, roll three dice, keep the lowest two.

And as always, non-spellcasters can boost their physical rolls with Might.  I will do Fighter, Thief, Sorcerer (as magic-user), Ranger, and Demi-human race-as-class.

Fighter

Choose a class of weapon: swords, axes, pole arms, bows, etc. When fighting with that class of weapon, roll with advantage.

In Combat, for each point the fighter rolls over the target number, score an additional point of damage.

The fighter gets double the armor value for his armor and shields before needing to repair them.

Thief

When engaged in any task of subterfuge: sneaking, hiding, picking pockets, tinkering with locks and fine machinery, or ambushing someone from a hiding place,  the thief rolls with Advantage.

Sorcerer

As a Blood of Pangea Sorcerer.  Damage dealing spells cost 1 Might per point of damage. Healing spells cost 1 Might per point healed.

Cleric

No clerics.  If someone has the favor of a deity, make an ad hoc ruling.

Ranger

The ranger rolls with advantage when tracking or engaged in wilderness survival activities: foraging, hunting, sneaking, detecting predators, etc.  The Ranger rolls with Advantage when attacking with missile weapons.  The ranger can, for a cost of 1 might, ask a question of any wild animal and understand the answer.

Paladin

As cleric.  A fighter with the favor of a deity.

Dwarf

The dwarf rolls with advantage when discerning features of stonework: traps, slopes, hidden doors.  The dwarf rolls with advantage when resisting magical spells.  Choose either the Fighter’s damage ability or Armor ability.

The OSR games cap the the Dwarf’s ability to move high in levels to balance its special skills.  So I “balanced” the dwarf by making the player choose which Fighter ability to take.  If you have a better idea, please tell me.

Elf

A sorcerer with the Fighter’s skills.  The elf rolls with advantage when resisting sleep, paralysis, and disease.  Elves need only half the sleep other races need.  It costs twice the experience as other characters to increase the Elf’s might or acquire new skills.

Halfling

Halflings roll with advantage when sneaking, hiding, and picking pockets.  They roll with advantage when using missile weapons, and have the Fighter’s damage ability when using missile weapons.  Halflings roll with advantage when resisting magic.

Personally I’m find all this quite tedious.  I played a Halfling in an online forum game of Labyrinth Lord a couple of years back.  While all armor types were available to him,  I went lightly armored (leather) as I wanted him to be able to sneak.  There’s no explicit rules in that game for Halflings sneaking; the fiction informed those tasks when I attempted them.  Anyone who has read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings understands that halflings can move very quietly when they want to.

If I had a game with Halflings, I’d know right off that I’d give advantage of some kind to a sneaky halfling, provided he’s not loaded up with clanking gear.  If he’s a bumbling, clumsy halfling, then I wouldn’t.  But, unless he was played as a heavy footed clumsy oaf, I’d run with it.

Now that I’ve tried this experiment, I don’t like the idea of using OSR classes for BOP.  It feels too restrictive.  Perhaps a class could encompass some talents as part of a narrative.  As far as explicit mechanical classes, I’d have simply Warriors, Sorcerers, and Rogues (a hybrid of the two), and as racial modifiers something special for each species I wanted to run, and be done with it.  I think it would be possible to blend that with the BOP character narrative. Consider my take on Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings:

Samwise is a halfling warrior, skilled gardener and cook.  He can carry extremely heavy burdens for a great distance.  He is resistant to curses and wields a mean short sword.

Fiction fills in the rest. I’m not sure if I’ll run BOP yet at the local game store but now that I’ve dumped my brain on here and sorted out some thoughts, I’m not entirely opposed to it.

Someone on the BOP Google+ forum suggested letting BOP narratives be longer, but only five talents can be pulled from it. 

In such a way, a custom character could be built.  This reminds me of World of Dungeons where you can create a custom character by selecting four talents from a list. If I wanted to skip the narrative and let the players build characters from some master list of talents, they can create their desired character type.

This blog post is getting a little long and, being a light-weight, my second beer is making me unnecessarily verbose.  So I will end this now.

 

 

Recreating OSR classes in Blood of Pangea

Before I begin….

Some terms for folks that are unfamiliar with OSR:

OSR – Old School Renaissance.  Home brewed and independently published games compatible with the classic Dungeons & Dragons, known as D&D.

Hit Dice – A number of dice rolled in D&D and OSR games to determine the number of hit points of a character.  Roll 5 dice for a 5HD character.

On with the show…

One thing I like about BOP is how you create your own character class by describing what the character is good at.  The only real mechanical distinction is between those who can use sorcery and those who cannot.  Those who don’t cast spells use their Might to boost dice rolls for any physical activity.

I’m going to try to replicate the original 3 classes of D&D with BOP’s rules, tweaking only what I have to to get there.  I’m not doing the thief as I see thieves as merely lightly armored Fighters with a bolted on rule set for sneaking, climbing and lock picking.  If you want a thief, travel light.

Fighter

Narrative: This character has exceptional training in the use of all kinds of arms and armor.

Mechanics: When attacking, for each point greater than the target number, the Fighter does an additional point of damage.

(Wow, that was easy)

Cleric

Narrative: The cleric uses the favor of his deity to repel undead monsters and to work miracles such as healing, defense, or giving aid to a friend.

Mechanics: The cleric is a special sorcerer that can attempt to repel or destroy undead creatures with the roll of the dice, and may spend Might to boost that roll. The cleric may heal wounds at 1 might per point healed.   If the cleric’s behavior is inconsistent with the philosophy of his deity, he may be punished by that deity.

Magic User

Narrative: A sorcerer.

Mechanics: Per the standard Blood of Pangea sorcery rules.  Damaging spells may be cast at a cost of 1 Might per point of damage inflicted.

The magic user was the easiest of them all.  The cleric was the toughest.  It is difficult to define the limits of a cleric’s magic.  It tends to be defensive or utility in nature, but higher level spells, such as “Holy Word” from “Dark Dungeons” (an OSR clone) will kill anyone up to 5HD, stun anyone up to 12HD, and deafen anyone 13HD or higher.   If he worships a war god, then surely he can strike his foes down with the power of his god?  Clerics can be fun for role playing in OSR games but I think they’re mechanically silly with their blunt weapons, as though nobody bleeds from taking an iron ball to the skull.

If I were to play with the BOP rules in an OSR setting, then I’d keep the Fighter and the Magic User and ditch the cleric.  The Magic User has damage dealing spells so could, in theory, blast undead creatures if he chose to do so. And the healing spell makes mechanical sense to me.  It is analogous to “Poor Baby” from Tunnels & Trolls.

I like the two character classes: Adventurer and Sorcerer.  The Jock and the Nerd.  Ken St Andre seemed to like it too when he created Tunnels & Trolls:  There’s the warrior, the wizard, and then a hybrid known as a rogue which can do a little of both.

While we’re making characters, let’s make a Tunnels and Trolls Rogue for BOP.

Narrative: The rogue has some skill at arms and magic, but is not very good at either.

Mechanics: The rogue can boost all physical activities with Might, and may cast spells, but at twice the Might cost as the Adventurer or the Sorcerer.  Spend 2 to get +1.  Spend 2 to get one basic spell effect.

In T&T, the warrior has the benefit of additional armor protection. We could replicate that here, if wanted to:  The warrior’s armor or shield can take an additional hit before needing repair.

And lastly when it comes to OSR spell effects, embellish the spells.  Do you fire a bolt of magic light at your enemy, like a classic magic missile?  Or does the target spontaneously break out in bursting pustules, like some curse of disease?   Either way the effect is 1 point of damage per point spent.  Either the light or the pustules might be more impressive, depending on the situation.   When you magically open a lock, does it just click?  Does an ethereal key appear that you stick in the lock?  Does a tiny fairy crawl inside and mess with the tumblers?

First Blood of Pangea Character

This game appeals to me because characters have one one statistic, Might, that is used as a measurement of the character’s physical endurance, luck and general resolve. This resource is spent to avoid lethal wounds or enhance dice rolls.  It is recovered through rest.  Everything else is derived from the character narrative, which is a (maximum) 30 word paragraph describing who the character is.  Here is an example.

 

Kartum was  Puunish army physician and apothecary.  During his travels he became competent in Puunish, Nemian and Baroomian. His talent for throwing knives saved his life many times.

So your finished character sheet would have the narrative and these notes:

Name: Kartum        Class: Adventurer

Might: 10

Gear: Surgical kit, Herb bag, 1 week rations, bedroll, Knife, 3d6 silver coins

 

When dice rolling is required, a difficulty level is set, and 2d6 is rolled.  If the roll equals or exceeds the difficulty level, the roll succeeds.  Kartum’s rolls related to physicians, creating or dispensing medicine,  or throwing knives will be easier for him than for other characters.

He can speak Puunish, Nemian and Baroomian.  Languages are important in this game.  There is a common trade dialect that almost everyone speaks, but it lacks the substantive nuance of the other languages.  To communicate effectively and fit into a culture, you need to know their language.

As the character adventures and gains experience, he can gain new skills and increase his Might.

 

You can get Blood of Pangea from Rpgnow.com