Please note that this review first appeared on my blog "Stargazer's World" (http://www.stargazersworld.com/2011/09/07/r-
It’s hardly a secret that I have a soft spot for the FATE system. I think over the last months I have acquired and read almost every FATE game I could get my hands on. Recently I decided to use Cubicle 7’s Starblazer Adventures to run a Mass Effect campaign. We haven’t actually played yet (the game is still in scheduling hell), but character creation was a blast.
When I was trying to convert Mass Effect Biotic abilities to FATE, another of Cubicle 7’s FATE games was a great help to me: Legends of Anglerre. Legends of Anglerre is – like its “sibling” Starblazer Adventures – based on the 1980’s British Starblazer comic series. Both Cubicle 7 FATE games use a version of FATE which is pretty close to the one used by Spirits of the Century. The one major difference is that both SBA and LoA use the d6-d6 dice mechanic instead of Fudge dice. This leads to more extreme roll results, but is otherwise not that different.
Legends of Anglerre, which was written by Sarah Newton and Chris Birch, is to fantasy game what Starblazer Adventures was to space opera: a toolbox that allows you to run games set into almost every campaign world within the genre. If you are a fan of the FATE system, 388-paged tome might actually be the last fantasy RPG you ever have to buy!
I don’t think I need to explain the basics of the FATE system in this review. Most of my readers should be familiar with the system and if not, you can check out the official FATE RPG site, which gives you a great overview of how FATE works.
The book starts with an introduction that gives the reader an overview about roleplaying games. the Starblazer comics, FATE and what you need to play the game. If you already own SBA the introduction also gives you some tips on how to use stuff from the one game in the other. The differences between both games are small and LoA is fully compatible to SBA.
The “How Do I Play This?” chapter is a great introduction to FATE. On seven pages you get almost everything you need to run a FATE game – from Aspects to how to run conflicts. These few pages make a perfect introduction to new FATE players.
Let me give you a word of advice before I continue with the review. FATE rulebooks tend to be huge. Don’t make the mistake of believing you have to read the whole book from cover to cover in order to run a game. Start with the “How Do I Play This?” chapter and then read up on what you need to create characters. Use the rest of the book as a reference and don’t try to understand everything at once.
The Character Creation chapter gives a step-by-step explanation of how to create characters in LoA. Like in most other FATE games you have to go through 3 to 5 phases dependent on the campaign’s power level to create the background story and Aspects for your character. Phase 1 describes the character’s early days, their apprenticeship for example. Phase 2 is the character’s Legend, his or her first major adventure. Beginning with Phase 3 the character is the Guest Star in another character’s Legend. That way the characters in a party already start with a common background. Alternatively players may chose the “On-The-Fly” method which allows them to add Aspects and Skills during actual play.
After having picked the character’s Aspects during the 3 to 5 phases, the players buy skills and pick the appropriate number of stunts. After that you can write down one piece of relevant equipment per Aspect and Stunt. Last but not least the player has to calculate Stress and Fate points and write them down on the character sheet.
In my experience coming up with the Aspects and a backstory takes the longest in any FATE game. But I also believe that character generation gets significantly faster the more experienced players and the GM are.
But even if creating Aspects takes a while, it almost assures that the players have put some thought into who their characters are. LoA actually helps players with coming up with Aspects by providing tables to generate random character lifepaths. This is a nice touch.
The next chapter explains how player races in LoA work. LoA actually uses a very elegant solution. In order to be a member of a certain race you just need at least one racial Aspect. That can be something like “Noble Elf of the Deep Woods” or “Greedy Dwarven Blacksmith of the Hammer Clan”. Each race description lists several example racial aspects and special Stunts only a member of the race may pick. Aside from the standard fantasy races, LoA also lists Centaurs, Dragons (!!!) and Fauns. Last but not least the book gives tips on how to create your own custom races.
In fantasy characters often conform to certain archetypes like warrior, thieves, clerics or magic users. While the character creation system in Chapter three allows you to create characters any way you want, some people prefer their characters to be closer to one of the common fantasy archetypes. Chapter four “Occupations and Character Types” provide exactly these!
The chapter provides players with sets of several sample builds from the Agile Swashbuckler to Holy Warrior or even a Vampire. Each build contains an example Aspect, a set of key skills and several stunts. I am pretty sure that players coming from games like D&D might actually appreciate the concept of character builds to help them create characters. The occupations might also come in handy when you don’t have that much time to create characters.
The sixth chapter is all about equipment. As you probably know the FATE system doesn’t put a lot emphasis on mundane equipment. The same is true with Legends of Anglerre. There are basically five types of armor (three mundane and two magical) and five types of shields. Weapons are a bit more detailed, but not much. Some weapons have Aspects of their own that can be tagged like any other Aspect in the game. In addition to that players are encouraged to pick “tasty weapon aspects” for the weapons their characters have been using for a while. Examples may be a special fighting style you’ve picked up or a special move the character can perform. The possibilities are endless.
Chapter Seven is focused on Aspects. The chapter starts by proving tips on how to come up with Aspects for your characters and later explains thoroughly how to invoke, tag and compel them. What I especially liked about this chapter are the examples. If you have trouble understanding how Aspects are actually supposed to work, the examples given here should make things much easier for you.
Chapter Eight is called “Skills and Stunts” and it’s one of the highlights of the book. In FATE stunts are usually directly tied to Skills, so it makes a lot of sense to list the available stunts directly under the respective skill’s descriptions. Or so you would think. Not so in most other FATE games where Skills and Stunts are in different chapters. In Legends of Anglerre you get the description of the skill, a short list of trappings (these are basically like stunts, but everyone who has the skill can perform them), followed by the Stunts.
This chapter definitely shows that Cubicle 7 has listened to their fans, because the not-so-great organization of SBA was one of the few complaints. LoA can really shine in that department! Don’t get me wrong, I love Starblazer Adventures but sometimes I wish it was a bit better organized. But I digress…
The chapter concludes with some guidelines on how to create your own stunts and skills.
Chapter Nine is all about Powers. Powers are basically special stunts that need an appropriate Aspect as prerequisite. Powers can be everything from innate magical abilities, superhuman talents or spells. In the case of spell magic additional Power Skills like Alchemy, Divination or Telekinesis are used. Basically all the powers you know from other fantasy games like D&D for example are listed here, so it should pose no problem using LoA for games set in almost any fantasy campaign world. And if there are certain powers missing, the chapter provides you with guidelines to create your own. These guidelines were actually invaluable when I tried to come up with Biotic abilities for my SBA Mass Effect game.
No fantasy game would be complete without artifacts and magic items and chapter ten is all about those. Rules-wise special items work like Aspects or Stunts and the book gives you numerous example improvements the GM can add to mundane items to give them additional “oomph”.
But the game doesn’t stop there. It also provides rules for easily creating traps, magical items, magical allies like Familiars and artifacts. More complex magical constructs follow the rules for characters for example.
That’s one of the strengths of the FATE system: if needed everything from an item to a kingdom or even the campaign itself can be described with Aspects, Skills and Stunts like a character, without adding an additional layer of complexity to the game.
The chapter also lists numerous example magic special items like Potions, Talismans, Spell Books, Traps and Miscellaneous Magical Items. While the list could definitely be longer it contains enough examples to give you inspirations for items of your own design.
Chapter Eleven focuses on the use of Fate points. While some of these rules have already been mentioned in the Aspects chapter, the chapter doesn’t feel redundant. Fate points are pretty much at the core of the FATE rules and their usage can’t be explained often enough.
From other games that use similar meta game currencies I know that players tend to hold those back until the last minute. That’s something you really shouldn’t do in Fate. This chapter helps players to understand what you can do with your Fate points and why you shouldn’t save them for too long.
“How to Do Things” is the title of chapter twelve. This chapter provides you with all the rules needed to do things in LoA: how to use shifts, how to take action, how contests and conflicts work. Like in other FATE games conflicts in LoA can be either physical like Melee combat or social like a heated discussion. The side that lost the conflict usually gets stress that can be avoided by taking consequences. And again Legends of Anglerre manages to shine here. One of the problems with FATE is that inexperienced players and GM have trouble with deciding what kind of consequence is appropriate. Is a broken leg a Major consequence or a Severe one? LoA provides a list of sample consequences that should solve this issue once and for all!
The chapter also contains rules for minions and an extensive example of play. The next section of this chapter is about how to do things with powers. On six pages the book provides an overview on what you can do with powers, how the DM can determine difficulties, how to resist powers and so on.
The last section of chapter twelve focuses on all the remaining issues a GM is commonly facing, like setting difficulties for general skill checks, handling time in your game, and how environmental hazards like dragon’s breath work in Legends of Anglerre!
Chapter thirteen is all about “Creatures Great and Small”. In it you’ll not only find all the rules needed to create and run creatures, but there are also special creature stunts, as well as rules for swarm creatures and “sum of parts creatures”. The latter type you might know from various video games where you have to destroy a creature bit by bit.
What really amazed me while reading LoA how much stuff they managed to cram into the book without it feeling totally overwhelming. SBA for example is approximately the same size but feels huge compared to LoA. Perhaps it’s the fact that LoA is much better organized than SBA and the fantasy genre itself is much narrower than space opera.
Chapter fourteen focuses on “Gods, Guilds and Empires”. Basically it shows how your can use the FATE rules to describe organizations (like guilds or whole empires) using pretty much the same concepts you use for characters. Organizations have Aspects, Skills and even special stunts like Strongholds, Conspiracy or Libraries. This allows you to resolve conflicts between organizations easily. Mass combat using armies of fleets is actually handled much in the same way combat between characters is. This allows for empire-building campaigns where the player characters become powerful enough to influence the fates of whole baronies, guilds, religions and even kingdoms.
Chapter fifteen called “Sailing Ships and War Machines” explains how to use and create constructs in your game. Again the rules are not so much different from the ones used for characters or organizations. In construct conflicts the zones used have of course a bigger scale than in character combat and the chapter provides a couple of examples. I especially like the effective use of zone diagrams in that chapter. You immediately get a good idea of what the encounter scales are.
Chapter sixteen called “Fog of War” provides rules for unit-level combat. In this kind of combat the players take on the roles of Generals who control several units like infantry, cavalry, artillery, or even ships.
Even though you might get the impression that each of these chapters adds another level of complexity to the rules that’s not the fact. The basic rules are always the same. You just get new stunts, skills and aspects for every scale of play. Usually when I ran fantasy games I avoided large scale battles and empire-building campaign because I didn’t want to turn the roleplaying game into a strategy one. Or I just used hand-waving and GM bias instead of focusing on the rules. But after reading Legends of Anglerre I am actually pretty sure that you can run a campaign with all those aspects (no pun intended) in it without having to fear that it breaks immersion – provided you use the FATE system.
Chapter seventeen is called “Templates” and provides the GM with examples for organizations, constructs and units. The list is far from exhaustive but should give you a great overview of what is possible with LoA.
“Epic and Mythic Gaming” is the focus of the eighteenth chapter. If the standard game is not enough for you, this chapter gives you guidelines on how to run an epic game, where the characters are the shakers and movers of the campaign world. Epic occupations like Warlord, Divine Champion, etc. shall help you to create truly larger-than-life characters.
Instead of an epic game you can also choose the mythic play. In mythic play atmosphere is more important than rules. While epic games are about larger-than-life conflicts, mythic games are usually more subtle. Player characters interact with cosmic forces and fulfill quests for deities and demigods. Again the book provides players with a short list of mythic occupations to help them during character creations. Examples of Mythic Occupations are Dancer of the God Court or Promethean Hero.
Chapter nineteen is all about “Collaborative Campaign Creation”. While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – some GM’s prefer to have full control over their campaign world – this is something I definitely have to try out when I finally have the opportunity to run Legends of Anglerre. This chapter gives directions on how to create a whole campaign setting from scratch, while every player has the opportunity to add elements that are important to him or her.
Chapter twenty describes the concept of “Plot Stress”. You can make things more interesting by adding stress tracks to the campaign, the group or the character plot. By their actions the characters can inflict plot stress that then causes certain consequences that have been defined by the GM.
This reminds me a bit of the concept of Group Tension from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition. I have to admit that while I understand the idea behind that concept, I am actually not too fond of it. Probably because it needs the GM to plan ahead a lot more than I usually do.
Chapter twenty-one explains how treasure works in Legends of Anglerre. Usually wealth is handled in an abstract way using the Resources Skill, so players are not forced to write down every bronze coin they find in the street. But if you need to know how many coins you’re actually lugging around there’s a handy “Coin Value Rough Equivalent Table”. The chapter gives some guidelines on how to use Treasure Aspects and how much resources players in certain campaigns should have access to.
Chapter twenty-two provides you with all the rules to create a cosmology for your campaign. You can either pick and choose or just use the handy tables to randomly generate how your world works. While the chapter on other planes of existence, planar travel and cosmology is quite short, it’s definitely nice to have. Especially if you want to run games inspired by Planescape.
Chapter twenty-three called “Twisted Tips” is one of my favorite chapters in Legends of Anglerre. It provides the gamemaster with a lot of helpful advice on how to create a campaign and run the game. The chapter starts by giving an overview about the various fantasy subgenres and how they can be played using LoA.
Over the course of the chapter you not only get an overview of basically every game style, campaign theme, fantasy society and fantasy location you can think of, but also gives tips on how you prepare and run a game, how to establish characters and provides the GM with a rough plot framework that helps you to run games almost on the fly.
The section on controlling perspective is also very interesting. Even veteran gamemasters may learn a thing or two about how to frame scenes, “camera” work and how to get information to the players. Even if you think you already know every trick in the book I wholeheartedly recommend giving that chapter of Legends of Anglerre a closer look.
Chapter twenty-four presents a complete ready-to-run swords-and-sorcery campaign setting – the world of Anglerre itself. The kingdom of Anglerre is a kingdom under siege – surrounded by enemies and threatened by magic.
Anglerre is a low-magic setting where magic rare and harder to master than in other settings. People are cautious about sorcery and using magic can be quite perilous.
The chapter contains a detailed gazetteer of the lands and should provide enough material for the GM to run games set into these lands.
Chapter twenty-five presents a second campaign setting, “The Hither Kingdoms”. This setting is high fantasy and contains all the tropes you normally expect from such campaign settings: dwarves, elves, magic, monsters. If you are used to classic D&D settings, I am sure you’ll feel right at home there. The chapter contains a gazetteer of the lands, an overview of how magic works in this world, the gods and the cosmology, as well as a list of the key figures in the world.
Chapter twenty-six is the game’s Bestiary which contains numerous creatures and NPCs you can use in your campaign. Alas most of the creatures come only with short description. Some of the monster descriptions are illustrated with artwork from the comics.
The book concludes with a rules summary, the stunts list, the Legends of Anglerre record sheets (for characters, organizations and constructs), as well as an index.
So, what are my final thoughts on Legends of Anglerre? I have to admit I like it a lot. Legends of Anglerre looks definitely better than it’s close sibling Starblazer adventures and feels much better organized. It contains everything you need to run any kind of fantasy game using FATE and even provides GMs with not one but even two complete campaign worlds. If you just want to run a classic game where the focus is on the characters themselves you can disregard a lot of the rules, but if you want to run mass combats or feature conflicts between whole kingdoms in your games you can do so with relative ease. If you like FATE and the fantasy genre chances are that you’ll love Legends of Anglerre. I know I do.