All posts by Stargazer

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

First Look: Simple Fantasy Adventure

Retro-clones are all the rage nowadays but most of the games from that category are based on the grand-daddy of all RPGs: Dungeons & Dragons. Recently a few retro-clones of other games have appeared including Zweihänder which is heavily inspired by the original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game.

Today I want to write about Simple Fantasy Adventure by my friend Audrey Grace Winter. It’s a modern simulacrum of LOR, Iron Crown Enterprise’s “Lord of the Rings Adventure Game” which was itself a simplified version of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) which was based on Rolemaster. Since LOR was heavily steeped in Tolkien’s lore, Audrey decided to take out all the protected IP, and split the character archetypes into race and class which can be freely chosen by the players.

Simple Fantasy Adventure comes in the form of a very beautifully laid out, 18-paged, free PDF. Instead of the game it’s based on, it doesn’t come with its own setting, but is meant both as a modern recreation of this classic ruleset, as well as a simple generic system for use with your own world.

Character creation in SFA is a simple process of picking a race and a class. After that you get to distribute 6 points among your character’s Attribute (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Speed) and Skill Characteristics (Physical, Subterfuge, Arcana, Melee, Ranged, Defense, and Vitality) within some restrictions. For example you can’t put any points into Vitality and only two among the Attributee.

The available races are humans, elves, halflings and dwarves. Each race gets a bonus and a penalty to differentiate it from the other races. From their descriptions and abilities the races definitely have a Tolkienesque feel which is probably no surprise given the fact that SFA is a clone of LOR.

The available classes are fighters, rogues, rangers and mages. Classes provide bonuses to skills and determine a character’s starting Vitality points. If you have played LOR in the past you may have noticed that SFA deviates from LOR in a couple of aspects, but these changes were mostly made to keep the lawyers at bay. Mechanically SFA and LOR are pretty close, but SFA has definitely a clearer presentation.

SFA’s standard task resolution mechanic is pretty simple. The GM sets a target number (like 4 for routine tasks, 8 for moderate ones, or 18 for truly epic feats), the player rolls 2d6 and adds the relevant characteristic. If the result is equal or higher than the target number, the character succeeds. Simple, but efficient.

SFA’s lineage back to Rolemaster shows in its Combat Chart. When attacking you take the attackers attack skill (Melee or Ranged), roll 2d6 and look up the result on the chart. A number denotes the amount of damage caused by the attack, while C or C+ are critical hits. A critical (C) causes your roll result plus 10 damage, while a “double critical” (C+) causes twice the damage of a regular critical.

SFA includes a small number of magic spells and GMs are encouraged to create their own. Unlike D&D’s Vancian magic, mages in SFA can cast as often as they like, but each spell causes Drain which is damage. So a mage can easily knock themselves out by casting too many spells. The spells included are also not as flashy as in other games (like D&D for example). This fits very well with the feel of the game its based on.

Even though SFA is only 18 pages long, it is a complete game with all rules needed to play, including an extensive bestiary, a handful of pre-generated characters, and a list of common equipment.

The big question remains: is it worth your time? In my opinion it is. It’s a rules-light game, written with new players in mind, and with an undeniable charm. It’s also totally free and released under a Creative Commons license, so you are allowed to create your own material based of SFA as long as you share your work freely under the same license. Regardless whether you’re looking for just a simple game to try out or if you’re actually a fan of the game SFA is based on, I recommend you give it a closer look. You won’t be disappointed!

On the History of D&D

Today I read an interesting post on Kotaku, called Dungeons & Deceptions, about the role Dave Arneson had in the development of D&D. According to Rob Kuntz and others, the commonly told story that Gary Gygax was the main influence behind the roleplaying hobby is not the whole truth. In fact it has been Arneson who actually came up with what we now know as “role-playing”. The article gives a lot of interesting insights into the early days of the hobby and shines a light on some of the unsung heroes. The article also mentions the recently-released documentary “Secrets of Blackmoor” which tries to basically answer the same questions.

Dungeons & Deceptions is actually the third in a series of posts on Kotaku about the history of D&D. If you are interested in delving deeper into this mystery, you should check out these articles as well:

Aside from these articles I can also highly recommend checking out Shannon Applecline’s Designers & Dragons which is probably the most comprehensive picture on the RPG hobby from the 1970s to the 2000s. In my opinion it’s a must-have for everyone interested in learning more about the people and stories behind our favorite games.

Less well-known OSR Games worth a Look

Over the last decade or so, playing older editions of D&D or their modern simulacra has been pretty popular. Back in the day people wanted to play like in the old days, but since most older editions were out-of-print this was much harder than it is today. So eventually D&D fans started to make use the OGL in order to recreate their favorite editions of D&D.

Early examples where OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and to a lesser extent Microlite20, which had an old-school variant called Microlite74. Over time the focus moved away from meticulously recreating old editions of D&D to creating something new. People put their own spin onto things, included house rules, or rebuilt the whole game from the ground up. Today I want to have a look at two less well-known OSR games worth your time.

The first game on my list is James Spahn’s “The Hero’s Journey”. It is based on Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, but deviates a lot from it. The first major change from regular D&D-based games is that it uses an additional attribute, Appearance, and changes Wisdom to Willpower. Armor doesn’t change one’s armor class (only shields do), but reduces damage caused. The game also uses variants on the standard classes, which helps to give it a different feel from most other D&D-based games. Last but not least “A Hero’s Journey” has an interesting mechanic to create magic items. Weapons and armors can get magical properties if used in heroic deeds! As a cherry on top “The Hero’s Journey” is an extremely well put together product with great art (including art pieces from Larry Elmore!).

A game I’ve actually mentioned before on this blog is Runehammer Games’ Index Card RPG. Even though my experiences with it were mixed, I still think it’s one of the most creative and interesting old-school-inspired titles out there. Check out my posts about the Index Card RPG here and here.

Both games are pretty inexpensive especially if you get the digital versions. Both games are also great examples on how you can take 40+ year-old concepts and still create something new with them. Both deviate from what people usually expect from a D&D-based game, but both do it in different ways. If you haven’t done so, you should definitely check out both games. I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.