Fight! The Fighting Game RPG is a new role-playing game written by Christopher Peter for Divine Madness Press. As the name implies, the RPG is designed to capture the feel of 2D and 3D fighting games, and this RPG takes a very "metagame" approach to making that happen. How does that work? Well, we'll take a look.
This review specifically covers the PDF version, available at RPGNow.com for $15.00. The download comes in two files, one being the full color cover, and the other being the book itself, an impressive 247 page black and white PDF. The PDF is searchable and allows copy and paste, but does not have bookmarks, which disappoints me as I have come to lean on those more and more as I've gotten used to using PDFs for gaming purposes. Let me put it this way: I vastly prefer physical books for my purposes, so if I'm buying a PDF, I want utility from it that I cannot get from a print product, or I want a deeply reduced price. The PDF for fight is nearly $10 cheaper than the print book, available through Lulu.com, for those interested.
The cover art is vibrantly colored, and drawn in an anime style like many of the games that provide Fight! its inspiration.
Table of Contents
The table of contents spans a whopping six pages, covering every subheading over six chapters, six appendices, as well as a character sheet and contributor bios.
Unfortunately, its not a clickable table of contents, but it is still an extensive one. That plus the searchability of the document help make up for the lack of an index. Some folks think I'm being sarcastic when I talk about this stuff, but I truly appreciate a good, strong table of contents.
The introduction spends more time on the fighting game genre than it does RPGs, and I think that's wise. Fight! probably isn't anyone's first RPG. Not saying that to be mean, just saying. While there is a paragraph about the basics of RPGs, the author spends the introduction talking about the big story tropes of the fighting game genre, such as the human body being the most dangerous weapon in the universe, how every situation is resolved with combat and more. While not every fighting game, or combat anime follows those tropes, they are common enough to be worth noting. The author also has a sidebar about "metagaming", which the RPG is specifically designed to encourage.
Its a good introduction, one with its priorities straight, covering the ground it should and letting you know that there's a lot of "game" to this role-playing game. A good start to the book.
I should note a couple of things here. The pages are two columns of text, with black and white art interspersed here and there. The book isn't a pretty one, but it is chock-full of text...it is not 150 pages of filler and the rest rules. If Fight! had been formatted to be more aesthetically pleasing, I can hardly imagine how large it would have wound up.
The main character generation chapter falls in under twenty pages, and it is a point buy system, with points broken down by category. However, it is larger than it sounds, because different steps of character generation reference the next three chapters of the book. Character generation starts off pretty straight forward, with the selection of non-mechanical details like name, appearance, background...even fighting style is largely a flavor issue and not a mechanical issue. Dig as deep as you like, even specifying favorite food if you must. One thing noted here is Blood Type, which has a huge significance in Japan apparently, and is believed to help determine people's personality traits.
Mechanically, people are defined by three traits: Strength, Stamina and Speed. Each trait is rated on a scale from 2 to -1, with one always being a 0, and 2 only being achieved by dropping one of them to -1. Next come Qualities, Weaknesses and Quirks. Qualities can be used to provide extra perks and bonuses, as well as additional depth for the characters, while Weaknesses are penalties. Quirks are like very minor weaknesses, and enough of them taken can add up to a full Weakness.
Skills cover combat applications and non-combat applications, while Special Moves and Super Moves are the wacky things your fighter can do that no one else can, like leap in the air and spin like a top, unleashing a torrent of kicks, or hurling a mass of blue energy at your opponent. There is no set list to choose from. Quite the opposite, you have a list of modifiers, and you build your special move yourself.
Glory is essentially experience points, while Fighting Spirit is a metagame feature to model one player being better than the other, even if the character he's using isn't.
A handy checklist provides all the points you have to spend at a given location, with Weaknesses and Quirks available to give you points to buy more Qualities, skill points or Fighting Spirit. There are some useful sidebars here, such as figuring out what KIND of game your players might want by the qualities chosen, or what each Combat Skill means at Level 1.
Through accumulation of Glory, your character advances from Power Level 1 up to Power Level 8, and a handy chart shows you just what each level allows, including your Life Bar, maximum Fighting Spirit, number of Super Moves and more.
Options exist for trading off Super Moves for skill points and Fighting Spirit, depending on what kind of campaign the GM is running, for maximum flexibility, and a baseline table is provided for Glory awards for various actions, such as defeating an opponent, scoring a “Flawless Victory”, and bonuses depending on how much time is left in the fight. As well, a sidebar is provided that discusses altering the rate of advancement, for longer or shorter campaigns.
I think the character generation is pretty clearly written, but I do have one small issue. It directs you to different chapters for Qualities, Skills and Special Moves and that's fine...except it references them in that order, but the book places them “Skills”, “Qualities”, “Special Moves”. For ease of reference, the chapters should have been placed in the order they are needed for character generation. Not a HUGE knock, but annoying.
As mentioned, Skills come in a few flavors: Combat skills, Non-Combat Mechanical skills and Non-Combat Narrative skills. The default skill mechanic is 1d10 + skill rank vs target number, and the target numbers are provided at the beginning of this chapter. When the Director feels its relevant, Basic Qualities (Strength, Stamina, Speed) can modify the check as well.
Optional rules are provided for Critical Successes (rolling a 10 on a d10), Critical Fumbles (triggered by rolling a 1) and Mixed Successes (rolling precisely the target number), as well as Skill vs Skill situations, in which there is no static target number.
The five Combat skills are Defense (blocking), Evasion (dodging), Tactics (outsmarting the opponent), Combo (stringing moves together) and Ki (harnessing your internal energy for flashy moves, although this can be Gadgetry for more mundane ranged attacks).
Some of the Mechanical Non-Combat skills include Magic, Psychic, Thug Thrashing (the art of beating up tons of mooks at once) and Realize Potential which is a very cool little ability that lets you get the crap kicked out of you by the bad guy, only to rally back tougher than ever for the rematch.
The Narrative skills include Lockpicking, Grim Determination, Lost in the Crowd (which lets you melt into a crowd to avoid detection), The Fighting World (knowledge of the top fighters and such), Endure Great Hardship, Intimidation and more.
Every skill gets at least a small entry explaining its use, with full examples in some places where the author felt further elaboration was needed.
Action Sequences are not unlike D&D4e's Skill Challenges, and an extensive discussion is provided for how to handle those in the game, including setting up the useable skill list, the target numbers and the Glory reward for successfully completing an Action Sequence.
I like the skills. For a game with a “large” skill list, I didn't feel like it was a chore looking through them for character generation. For flavor purposes, there are catch-all skills like “Occupation”, as well as more genre-appropriate skills.
Qualities, Quirks and Weaknesses
This section has proved to be somewhat controversial, due to the inclusion of gender-specific Qualities and Quirks. This, it seems, is a Bad Thing. I, personally, have no problem with it, and I won't be placing any strikes against the author for it, as I see what he was trying to accomplish with it.
You begin with four Qualities, more if you select Weaknesses and Quirks. At Level 2 and every even numbered Level, you can either gain another Quality or remove a Weakness. These are generally used in-game to either gain “Story Points”, or (in the case of Qualities) use Story Points to power them.
Some of the controversial Qualities include Tomboy (female only), Dashing (males only), Sexy (female only), Bishounen (male only) and Buxom (female only). Now, I truly believe the author was just aiming for genre emulation and nothing more. That said, a few of those can be handwaved into gender-neutral Qualities, and the rest can be omitted, still leaving a good number of Qualities to choose from, like Great Destiny, Followers, Lucky, Reputation and Powerful Item.
Weaknesses include Amnesia, Curse, Fragile Self-Image, the metagaming Poorly Drawn and Unlucky.
Some Quirks are Dead Serious, Scarred, Rivalry and the again controversial Fan Service, a females-only Quirk that sometimes leads to bits like underwear exposure in fights and so on, and can generate Story Points.
Like skills, every entry is given at least a reasonable entry, usually a paragraph, detailing its application to a character, including mechanical effects.
The chapter ends with a discussion of Story Points, starting with how to gain them (miraculously pulling victory from the jaws of defeat is one way, Weaknesses and Quirks are another, and skills like Realize Potential are yet another). Story Points can power certain Qualities, re-roll skill checks and even gain minor creative editing to a scene. Normally, they are not allowed for combats, but guidelines are provided for their use in combat if the Director so desires.
The Qualities are handled similarly to Skills and that's a good thing, but again, the two chapters should have been reversed for maximum effect.
Basic Moves, Special Moves and Super Moves
Here we get into an important part of any fighting game character: Moves. Whereas the Street Fighter Storytelling Game made mechanical distinctions about the basic moves, Fight! does not. A jab is an uppercut is a haymaker. If you want it to be anything different, make it a special move. All basic moves do the same amount of damage and can be used in any round of combat. The exceptions to this are taunts, sweeps and throws, which are not included with a character by default, but options are present that allow them to be added as part of the “basic” moveset.
Special Moves are the next step up, and now we're getting into the Dragon Punches, Spears flying from people's hands and so on. Move Points are spent on building special moves, which must be at least Level 2, and cost a number of points equal to their level (3 point minimum). Once more, we delve back into metagaming, as you are meant to take your controller function into account based on the level of the move. The system is simple, the power level should be equal to the number of button presses on a controller to do the move. The exception being sequences like the “fireball sweep” which removed the down-toward button press from the total since its part of the natural flow of movement.
From there, you add a number of Elements based off of the Power Level+1. A large list is provided, including Liabilities which can be used to gain more “slots” for Elements if you run out of them while designing your move. Again, I won't list them all, but some Elements include Increased Damage, Ranged (which costs 2 slots and bases damage off of Ki), Anti-Air (for those jumping opponents), Temporary Invulnerability (which costs 3 slots and, well, makes your fighter temporarily invulnerable). Move Liabilities include No Combo (can't Combo with the move), Reduced Damage, Non-Finisher (cannot end a fight) and Negative Positioning (which lets the opponent move you after taking the move, often giving them an advantage in follow-up).
The moves enter much crazier territory, including Elements that allow a fighter to transform into another fighter, steal their moves, cause explosions, turn invisible and more.
A second combo system is supplied called Attack Strings, which can replace Special Moves if you want a slightly more “grounded” campaign.
Super Moves are not gained until Level 3, and are big, mind-blowing moves that are often other special moves chained together and require a lengthier series of button presses in order to trigger. Super Moves have a number of elements equal to twice its level, plus an liabilities added, although the rules specify that certain elements must be used in a given Super Move. Before a Super Move can be used, Super Energy must be accumulated, by being beaten on in a fight, hitting successful moves and combos, and a little is usually gained each round regardless.
I have to concede here: The Super Move system is not the mostly clearly written portion of the book. The discussion about using Super Moves when the opponent is using non-Super Moves and so on made my had rattle a couple of times and I'm still not sure I get it. From there, delving into a 3-tier structure in which fighters have 3 versions of the same super move...yeah, not the clearest part of the book for me.
A final sidebar in this chapter discusses fighters transforming into beast forms. I'm much more of a Street Fighter player, but I'm sure this is emulating a certain game or game series, I just couldn't tell you which. Still, it seems like a nice option.
I love the Special Move system. It reminds me a bit of the wrestling move system from the WWE d20 RPG from a few years ago, which surprised me at the time with its elegance. That said, I am less sold on the Super Move system. Should I get a chance to run this game, I have a feeling that as we approach Power Level 3, I'll have a ton of questions about this one.
Combat takes up nearly 75 pages, which probably isn't a surprise that a game focused on emulating fighting games is heavy on combat. Three systems are provided, the first being standard, heads-on combat. The second option is “Thug Thrashing”, for a fighter versus many mooks and the final is dramatic combat.
Standard combat is further complicated by tidbits such as adding a time limit or making a fighter a best 2 out of 3 rounds or the like, both being options commonly found in tournaments, but not necessarily a given. The sequence is pretty straight forward: first, everyone rolls for Initiative and Control. Initiative is how fast you get to act, Control is how complicated of a move or combo you can pull off. Then, everyone acts in order of initiative. Glory and Super Energy are tallied. Time is deducted from the round (if applicable), and then the Director and players narrate the combat. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Base dice for most everything is d6, but this gets modified by Strength, Speed and Stamina. As well, Fighting Spirit can be used to modify the types of dice rolled, or the level of skills. Rules are in place to cover simultaneous combat, with attacks taking priority over movement in the event of tied initiative.
Movement is abstract, covered in terms like “Range 1, Range 2, Range 3” and so on...the game does mention using an abstract grid as a guide, and that may be a really good idea, especially if you have more than two combatants fighting at once.
Attacking is straightforward: 1d6 plus the move being used's Accuracy total, compared to the opponent's defense (based off of a defense skill chosen by the defender). If the attacker hits, the damage is rolled, based off of Strength and the opponent's stamina, which is then deducted from the opponent's Life Bar. If they hit 0, they're KOed.
This chapter gives a detailed treatment of combos and the rules for them, as well as a little metagaming sidebar about why they didn't include certain things.
The author also goes into detail here about the three defensive skills and how they are used in defending against attacks, with extensive treatment given towards the options provided if someone is using the Tactics skill. Instead of just blocking or dodging, Tactics opens up a slew of counter attack options, especially if you have moves with the right Elements.
One issue I saw here is that the “effects of a successful attack” is largely reprinted on pages 132 and 139, lengthening an already large chapter. This, and the sidebar on random damage, would have been fine on page 132 and did not need repeating, or could have been left off of 132, either one.
With the “basics” out of the way, we move to extra effects like Knockdown and Knockback, plus Hit Stun (which reduces the amount of Control available to a given fighter). Finally, other options are discussed such as trying to regain Fighting Spirit, or holding back in hopes of the opponent making a mistake.
This chapter also discusses Environmental Hazards, which can include pits, fire or what have you, as well as walls and ring barriers, for those hoping to emulate “Ring Outs” commonly found in 3D fighters.
By default, Fight! takes a very cinematic approach to injury and death, refusing to hard-code death into the rules under any circumstances, or even healing rules for that matter, noting that a fighter should begin every round with a full Life Bar anyway.
As RPGs tend to have more than one player in a given game, Fight! addresses the issue of team fighting by providing two options, the first being a “fighter stays until he loses” team fight like in the King of Fighters games, or a tag team type fight, in which fighters can dynamically switch in and out over the course of combat. “Basic” combat concludes with a lengthy example of combat over multiple rounds.
Thug Thrashing is much more abstract, simulating a single fighter versus a group of up to ten “non-fighters”. A series of thug templates are provided, giving the base stats for thugs of a certain power level. As well, thugs have their own Qualities and Weaknesses that can be used to modify them, which is basically the shortened list available for normal characters.
To add some spice, a “Thug Events” chart is provided, which is generally bad for the fighters, ranging from thugs slipping away to fight again, to the thugs coordinating their attack in such a way as to cut the fighter's defense in half. Like with normal combat, an extensive sample fight is detailed, showing the various steps of thug-based combat.
The third version of combat, Dramatic Combat, is meant to emulate anime moreso than fighting games. It deemphasizes special moves in favor of basic moves, and add Action Points, which must be used in order to do things like escape from combat when opposed, hit a Climactic Super Move or even finish off the opponent with a Final Blow. There are a ton of movement, attack and defense options here. The Dramatic Combat system (which can be combined with Thug Thrashing) adds a great layer for climactic battle if you don't want to do standard tournament fighting for a big “boss fight”.
The chapter concludes with a detailed example of dramatic combat as well.
The combat system is just chock-full of options...and some are going to find it too fiddly, I'm sure, but if you wanted, you could bypass normal combat altogether and use a combination of Thug Thrashing and Dramatic Combat.
The Worlds of Fight
Fight! doesn't include an assumed setting, but this chapter helps guide you through the common tropes of the genre, in hopes of helping you make your own martial arts sagas. A list of common character types are included such as the Hero, the Big Guy, The Old Man, The Ladies Man and The Rival, each of which gets a full paragraph discussed the character type and how to incorporate it. Next is what amounts to a campaign checklist, including location, tone, power level and so forth. The section also discusses incorporating “the tournament” into the game, and you should probably have SOME kind of tournament if you're emulating the fighting game genre.
A handy checklist of common plot elements is present as well, such as the tournament being a cover for some dark scheme, the tournament spanning multiple dimensions and so on.
A section is included on making NPC fighters, with special mention of using the number of fighters to set the “feel” of the campaign, from the dozen or so fighters present in the Street Fighter II to the sprawling number of fighters in the later Mortal Kombat games.
This chapter covers most of the bases, featuring lists of stages to place fight scenes at, more common tropes such as “Mirror Matches”, and pacing the campaign, with some good advice on how to handle Glory awards if you want the campaign to just run the length of a tournament, building to the final fight with the Big Boss at Power Level 8. This advice is combined with the advice about populating the setting with fighters to make for a great primer on setting up the campaign.
Special attention is given to the final boss, including advice on how to have the group battle the last boss, since everyone will probably want a crack at him by then, as well as what to do once the boss is beaten, or even if the boss happens to win. As well, the book provides a few options for continuing past the defeat of the Big Boss, such as a Secret Bigger Boss, starting all over at Power Level 1 (with rationale for why your characters aren't using their famous moves all at once) or even plowing ahead at Power Level 8.
This chapter really ties everything together nicely, giving a ton of great advice for campaigns in the fighting game genre mold.
The first appendix covers sample characters, namely the two from the cover of the book, complete with backstories and full character sheets.
The second appendix collects the basics of everything you need for character generation, including point totals, all the Qualities, Weaknesses and Quirks and even all the Elements that go into Special Moves.
Appendix three is a series of sample special moves that you can swipe and re-skin, or use for inspiration for your own.
Appendix four is four pages of charts and modifiers for combat.
Appendix five is the glossary, while appendix six covers the various source material that inspired this RPG.
Finally, a blank character sheet is included, followed by a list of contributor bios.
This is an odd mix of crunchy and narrative. You can play pretty much any kind of character you can think of, but there's not a huge list of “racial qualities” or so on supporting being a vampire or cyclops or cyborg warrior from the future. The fact that the game both has a list of “narrative skills” and nearly locked my brain up with the Super Move system is almost a contradiction in terms.
I know a large amount of manga is published in black and white, but the black and white art in this book, combined with the walls of text, doesn't do the writing any favors in regards to accessibility. As well, some tighter editing could have gone a long ways, but the worst part I found on the editing was easily the repeating of “what happens on a successful attack”, so that's not a HUGE sticking point...but I would definitely have switched chapters two and three, since the appear in a different order than they are referenced in the character generation.
Now, if that sounds like I'm kicking the book around, I'm not. I'm getting the bad stuff out of the way. On the surface, this book not only appears to be more balanced than the Street Fighter RPG (my main frame of reference for this genre of pen and paper RPGs), but also far less likely to be broken. It is a very complete game, with room for expansion, which the author seems to intend on pursuing. Modeling the complexity of Special Moves after the number of button presses that are “needed” to perform them is one of those things that will have some people terribly excited about it, and others scoffing at it as a silly gimmick. However, the author is very upfront about the metagaming aspects, so if that's something that bothers you, be warned now: This probably isn't what you're looking for. That said, there is a pretty active community for this game at http://groups.go-
e.com/group/fightrpg who have gleefully embraced the RPG and all it entails. A very strong effort at genre emulation. Incidentally, in my run-through with character creation, I went outside the box with a “serial numbers barely filed off” version of Ash from Army of Darkness. It worked out really well, IMHO, a testament to the versatility of the character creation.