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.  


  1. I've never thought of SKILL as being equivalent to level, but there's something to it. Now I'm thinking of a stripped-back version of D&D that uses level as its only statistic, and uses it for task resolution.