Monday, 24 June 2019

AFF: I'm a man of many talents

...but posting more than every few weeks seems to be beyond me!

AFF starting PCs are, by contrast, much more competent - they're called Heroes by the game, after all. They have a broad range of (Special) Skills, and a usually able to get by by their 'raw' SKILL alone. If you have three players around the table (AFF works best, in my opinion, with small parties) chances are their Heroes will have lots of overlapping competencies. So what sets them apart?

Role-playing, you fools!

No, sorry. There is something else. AFF2e adds Talents into the mix. These weren't found in Dungeoneer (the first edition of AFF), but an embryonic talent system was found in the gamebook series - I know for certain they were to be found in Jim Bambra and Stephen Hand's Dead of Night, and that something very similar was found in Jamie Thompson and Mark Smith's Sword of the Samurai[1]. Indeed, the Talents from Dead of Night are translated into AFF in the Heroes' Companion, but the core rulebook lists 32 different Talents.

These range from Ambidextrous, Animal Friend, and Arcane... through to Swashbuckler[2], Trapmaster, and Weaponmaster. Not all of these are equally powerful. Many have an effect in combat - and AFF games will likely involve plenty of that - others, such as Status (punchline - the Aristocrats!), Natural Linguist, or Learned will find use in other situations... and the Director should pay heed to this. A player choosing these for their Hero should be assured by the Director that they will come into play at some point - but equally players should be reminded to *make decisions* on behalf of their Heroes that will bring their Special Skills and Talents into action.

As with Special Skills, there is no reason why a Director, perhaps in collaboration with their players, should not introduce more Talents, using the existing Talents as a guide. Talents could certainly be re-skinned and given flavourful, evocative names. There is no reason why, for example, Armour Training could be renamed Vymornan Legionary, though players and Director need to be on the same 'cheat sheet' when it comes to understanding what each Talent encompasses.     

Players choose one Talent for their Hero at character creation. Non-humans might start with other Talents intrinsic to their species - Dwarfs and Elves both start with Dark Seeing. The Rhino-Man, given as an example of creating new Hero species in Chapter 11: Optional Rules comes with both intrinsic armour and weapon as Talents, alongside Strongarm from the standard list.

Talents in AFF are one of the little gems hidden in the system. Their nothing special, in themselves; they're not complex, or innovative, you don't read the list and go 'wow', but in play they can be used to effectively add character to your characters - I don't like players building intricate backstories for their Heroes, but using their Talent to give us a glimpse of their Hero's history? Yes, absolutely. 

[1] One of the things that AFF has going for it is not just the material in Arion Games' own line of books, but the vast back catalogue of gamebooks (and fan created material). Some inspiration can be taken from the way in which the 'dead' Director (keeping with AFF terminology) of the gamebooks offers idiosyncratic methods of resolving actions and encounters, and lots of inspiration can be drawn from the straight, high-strength, system-neutral flavour - including great black and white illustrations that look great on the player-facing side of a Director's screen. Some of the later books might be a bit pricey, but the first 30 or so are normally pretty cheap. 

[2] Stellar Adventures (AFF in space! - a complete game in its own right which does not need AFF2e to be played) does away with the Swashbuckler Talent and allows all characters to use their Dodge Special Skill to reduce damage. This is one of a number of (minor) improvements that Stellar Adventures introduces to the AFF system.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

AFF: I've got (Special) Skills...

...they're multiplying!

So sang the famous Ogre minstrel, Jhon Revolta.

Luckily, in AFF2e there isn't quite the proliferation of Skills that can be found in some games (I'm looking at you, iterations of BRP). Plus, having Hero competency based off a generic SKILL score rather than finely sliced into different skill ratings means that a PC doesn't end up being extremely able in one area while incapable in another closely related area (though I am of the opinion that when this does happen it is as much a problem of the players (including the GM) as it is the system).

Nevertheless, in the AFF2e core rulebook there are a whole bunch of Special Skills, grouped into Combat, Movement, Stealth, Knowledge, and Magical. It is here, with the Skill groupings, that I sometimes start thinking of AFF as a kind of 'Junior RuneQuest' (there's also some bits of Titan that suggest a RuneQuest influence). These grouping have no effect on the game, but can help players when choosing to allocate Special Skill points, organise Special Skills on the character sheet, and might point the way to simplified or player-defined Special Skill categories.

More Skills are added in the expansion books Blacksand!, the Hero's Companion, The Titan Herbal, etc. There is no reason why a player could not discard this list and simply assign points to 'areas of expertise' (in negotiation with the GM to make sure nothing too broad or narrow is selected) or even to 'sources of power' - want to have a PC that can accomplish things through their 'Love', their 'Curiosity', or their 'Beauty'? Well, why not make it as Special Skill and bring it into the 2d6 resolution mechanism - AFF2e is a pretty loose game, with resolution mechanics that are pretty 'abstract', so why not? If this doesn't sit right, these things could always be added as custom Talents (see next post).

Special Skills are rated between 1 and 6, with the rulebook saying that "A special skill of 1 point indicates someone who has had basic training, 2 points indicates fully trained, 3 points can be considered an expert, and 4 or more a master" (AFF2e p 25). This sits uneasily with the standard task resolution mechanism which is to roll under SKILL + Special Skill (or roll + SKILL + Special Skill if using the alternative 'roll under'. As such, I have thought carefully about the ways to understand SKILL and Special Skill in AFF2e. I'll not rewrite those arguments here, but will point you to the appropriate blog posts:

Skill Rolls in AFF2e (November 2014)

HWWJD: More on AFF2e Skill Tests (November 2014)

AFF2e: The Virtues of Asymmetry (June 2015)

AFF2e House Rule: Capped 'effective' SKILL (August 2014)   

These posts preempt much of what I have to say with regard to the 'Game Rules' chapter of the rulebook, in terms of simplifying (and, in a some senses, expanding) on how to handle Skill rolls in AFF2e.

Next up: Talents.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

AFF: Your Adventure Starts Here (Part One)

I picked up the Advanced Fighting Fantasy (AFF) 2e rulebook with a view to, as promised, write a 'review'. I could write a chapter by chapter description of the content, but that wouldn't be all that much help. And I realised that it is actually quite difficult it is to write a 'review' of a book with which you are intimately familiar, as surprise and novelty that highlights in your mind the distinctive features of the book have long faded. 

So let's start at the beginning. 'Fighting Fantasy' is the name of a series of gamebooks. You know this. But keep it in mind when thinking about the mechanics of Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e. A Fighting Fantasy gamebook character sheet looks like this:

Just a handful of characteristics, SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK, a space to write down your characters' equipment, their gold, and their Provisions. And that's enough for perfectly usable 'lite' multiplayer game, especially back in 1984 when 'Fighting Fantasy: the Introductory Role-playing Game' was released. As the gamesbooks had introduced a generation (in the UK and beyond) to fantasy gaming, chances were that anyone up for playing Fighting Fantasy as a tabletop RPG was already familiar with the rules and jargon. 

Advanced Fighting Fantasy adds to character complexity. Obviously. When I'm flipping through a rulebook in my friendly neighbourhood hobby shop one of the first things I do is find the example character sheet. I'm of the opinion that character sheets are a good proxy for complexity/crunch, especially the degree of complexity that is 'player facing'. I tend to play with players who don't have a background in RPGs, so this matters to me.

Let's begin this series proper - a review of everything AFF2e - with a discussion of character creation. What makes an Advanced Fighting Fantasy character? 12 pages; character creation takes up 12 pages of the AFF2e core rulebook. Character creation in AFF2e is a process of design, not random generation[1]. There is an alternative method offered in Chapter 11 - Optional Rules that involves rolling and allocating dice to generate the basic stat-line and the number of Special Skill points available. Given the granularity of each step up in SKILL (or SKILL+Special Skill) I would hesitate to recommend this optional rule.

Starting characters (Heroes in AFF lingo) have a SKILL of between 4 and 7, STAMINA between 8 and 16, LUCK between 8 and 11, and MAGIC between 0 and 7. What do each of these mean? Well, putting it in terms familiar to players of the original fantasy RPG, STAMINA are equivalent to Hit Points, LUCK is something like a (finite) Saving Throw resource, and SKILL and MAGIC are... 

...well, it is best to think of these two characteristics as fulfilling the same role as the concept of 'Level'. Especially SKILL. A Hero with SKILL 7 is just much better at everything than a Hero with SKILL 4 - on an unmodified test the former succeeds 60% of the time and the latter just 20%. This applies to almost everything risky that the Hero might do. This strikes some people as being quite odd, even as their Level 7 Wizard has more Hit Points, a greater chance to hit, and far better saving throws that the professional soldiers they might hire as retainers. SKILL is a game abstraction, a measure of overall adventuring competence, and in my opinion AFF2e works better when you 'lean into' this idea.

MAGIC can be understood as something skin to 'casting level', acting as a measure of a Hero's competence and, depending on the type of magic, determining the size of the Hero's reservoir of magical power in the form of Magic Points (MP). It can also be used in place of SKILL when the test is of a Hero's knowledge (p55). If, as a Director (the AFF term for GM) you have players with Heroes with MAGIC higher than SKILL, it is worth thinking very liberally about this, and expanding this to any tasks for which knowledge, intelligence, insight etc. play a role that is as, or more, significant than physical attributes.    

Abstraction. Abstraction. Abstraction. Have I said it enough? MAGIC isn't intelligence, or wisdom, or willpower. SKILL isn't strength, or agility, or reaction speed, or hand-eye co-ordination. MAGIC and SKILL are all of those but also none of those. These scores are not in themselves descriptions of anything precise or concrete about the Hero. They are numbers that allows the player and Director to use an impartial dice roll to determine the outcome of risky situations.  
And LUCK. LUCK is the what I think of as the Fighting Fantasy characteristic. Above I likened it to a Saving Throw, as it is the characteristic that a Hero must test - via the iconic Test of LUCK - to avoid terrible consequences. But unlike Saving Throws (or SKILL, for that matter) it is a diminishing resource, being reduced by one each time it is called upon, regardless of success or failure. Taking a Test of LUCK is a choice made by the player; they can opt to take the consequences rather than tempt the patience of Sindla, Goddess of Luck and Fate. But as a choice, it can also be called upon, to maximise or minimise damage in combat, or in place of SKILL when a player wants to give their Hero the chance of succeeding through 'dumb luck'. As a Director, I encourage clever and inventive uses of LUCK. It is a diminishing resource which, unlike STAMINA, cannot be restored simply with a good night's sleep and chewing on a mouthful of preserved meat[2], so if a player is willing to spend their LUCK, let them.

Remember that I said that SKILL applies to almost everything? We've already seen where the 'almost' is to be found; that in certain circumstances a Hero might rely on their MAGIC or LUCK characteristics. But even when it is SKILL that is being tested, that's not the be all and end all. Not all situations are equal - the book provides a whole series of example modifiers to different types of SKILL tests (I'll discuss these later) - and not all Heroes are equal either. Some are especially skilled at the use of swords, or bows, or sneaking, or bargaining, or have knowledge of law, or religion, or inhuman languages, or, or, or... These distinctions are made by way of Special Skills. Which I'll discuss in the next post.


[1] I'm going to try to avoid getting side-tracked by discussions of the first edition of AFF, which did involve dice rolling in the generation of SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK. While understanding what didn't work well in AFF1e (and this is one thing that didn't) might help us understand certain design choices in AFF2e, it doesn't much help explain why YOU should be playing AFF2e now, in 2019.

[2] Regaining LUCK is not particularly well codified in the rulebook - p48 advises that Directors allow Heroes to regain their LUCK at the end of an adventure, and provides a few examples of exceptional events that might prompt to Director to award a point of LUCK. I have thought about having restoring LUCK during an adventure be dependent on a Hero taking the consequences of a player defined 'flaw' or 'trouble', to take a little inspiration from the appropriately named Fate RPG.  

Monday, 20 May 2019

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Turn to 1

I am a massive fan of Fighting Fantasy. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was my entry point into adventure gaming, Titan was the first 'world book' I ever read, and I could (and do) spend hours poring over the monsters in Out of the Pit. Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roleplaying Game *might* have been (probably was) the first RPG I ever ran, and I picked up the original version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy at the same time I was playing Mentzer D&D and getting into, among other things, WFRP. 

If you search this blog, you'll find all too many entries on Fighting Fantasy - playthroughs of the gamebooks, discussions of how Titan has inspired/coloured my gaming, house rules for AFF2e (including my little 'supplement' Viscera!), and pages and pages of actual play reports.

But AFF doesn't get enough love, as far as I can see, so consider this the beginning of an Advanced Fighting Fantasy love-in. I'm going spend the next few posts reviewing the Advanced Fighting Fantasy books - obviously from the perspective of a (critical) fan. *And* I will start running a new campaign of AFF soon, too.

May your STAMINA never fail, but if it does Test Your LUCK!

First up (probably in multiple parts, as this will involve discussion of and reflection on game mechanics): the AFF2e core rulebook.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Sources of Power

As part of my job - I'm a sociologist - I was thinking about 'power' the other day... and I filed a way a few thoughts as to how this relates to roleplaying games. 

What are those numbers on the character sheet? They are the numbers that determine you PCs capacity to interact with the game world. What is power? Thinking about it (very!) simply, it is the capacity to bring your will to bear on the world. So what a character sheet is, mechanically, is a inventory of the sources of power available to a PC. It really can be that simple. And once you start thinking like that, the sources of power to which you assign a numerical value (or whatever, depending on the resolution system/s of your game) can be, well, *anything*. Give a score to one PC in Strength to exert power in the game world. Give another PC a score in Persuasion, and give a third PC a score in Patriotism, and the way in which those PCs are able to shape the game world, solve problems, approach the situations that you, as a GM place in front of them changes in dramatic and interesting ways.

Which is to say I'm finally working out what many other people have long before me, and is attracting me to games such as PDQ, Heroquest, and Fate (and FUDGE, which has long imagined that different PCs will have different stat lines), and thinking also about the ways in which I can bring this to bear on more 'traditional' games. 'Light' games, naturally - these thoughts are very closely related to the fact that I can't see myself having the time and energy to run 'crunchy' games any time soon.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Products of Your Imagination


Imagine that I had £80-£100 to spend on RPG books. Imagine that Runequest: Glorantha was oh so tempting.

But imagine.

Imagine that I own Heroquest: Glorantha.

Imagine that I also already owned Runequest. Runequests! Runequest 2. Runequest 3. Mongoose Runequest II. Runequest 6.

Imagine that I haven't played any of these Runequests in ages, and that when I have played d100 fantasy in the past few years it has been using OpenQuest and Magic World.

Imagine that this is a symptom of my changing tastes when it comes to the kind of games that I run. That I want to run. That I can *imagine* successfully running.

Imagine if you could sum this developing taste up as 'relatively rules-lite, mostly traditional, but curious about games such as Heroquest, Fate, PDQ etc.' Imagine that my preferred campaign mode is some kind of sandbox play.

Now, imagine that you share these tastes. How you would spend this money - even just some of this money - on RPGs to avoid adding another Runequest to your shelves, and please let me know.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

The Procedural Adventure Game

I'd just like to direct you all to John B's post on what he means by the term Adventure Games, which captures a lot of what keeps drawing me back to classic D&D/OSR based games *even though* I'm not the greatest fan of some aspects of the mechanics. The procedures built into the game create a certain rhythm from which a story of adventure emerges *after the fact*. Of course, there is no reason why you can't 'proceduralise' other games which concentrate most of their mechanical energy not on 'the adventure' but on the regulating PC actions - as John B has done with Mythras. Anyway, here's a passage I particularly liked: 

"The "adventure" then is not the narrative the player-characters flow through towards an inevitable climax and resolution, but the procession of problems, challenges, etc. they face; the decisions and deliberations they make about what to do about each problem or challenge; and the procedures they enact as part of those decisions, and the consequences of all the above interacting with one another."