Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/01/10/tabletop-review-advanced-fighting-fantasy-quickstart/
I am a huge fan of the Fighting Fantasy line of game books, even though I have only made it through the first ten and am working on the eleventh. All told, there are fifty-five of them in the original series, with most books after the tenth being written by authors other than the two that started it all: Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. I have eyed the Advanced Fighting Fantasy core books before, but could not bring myself to actually purchase them as I was unsure of what they did to the system to make it worth building a full game around. You see, the strength of the books lies on the way that the decisions play with the reader’s mind.
A book will present you with an innocuous peasant merely asking for a coin, and if you give this peasant a coin something awesome might happen, or they might turn out to be the lookout for a group of brigands behind the trees ready to rob you blind. Most of the time, you just never know. The weakness in the system, being more or less finalized as it was in 1984, was (is) its simplicity and reliance on die rolls. Most rolls in the game books are simply based on one of your character’s three attributes: Stamina, Skill, and Luck. Even your attributes are determined by adding a die roll to a base number, so it’s possible to start out with ridiculously low scores.
So, when I saw these sample rules up for free I grabbed them in order to get a picture of what Advanced Fighting Fantasy has to offer.
There are no character creation rules in this booklet, you simply get a handful of pre-gens (five) at the end to work with. As those who read my articles may know, this is totally fine with me. I would rather look through pre-gens and pick one that I like most of the time than roll up a new character. So, since there is no need to create characters, a group can just pick up these rules, read through the basic explanation of combat and tests and then start playing the introductory adventure included. This adventure, titled “The Well”, was the first adventure in the original Fighting Fantasy role-playing game (also from 1984, not a solo game book) and I have played it a few times with people just for kicks. This new version of the adventure is different, and missing some of the interesting mind games and social encounters of the old version, which is a shame.
Combat is as basic as ever, except there has been a change made that I really like. Let me explain how combat works first: you roll two six-sided dice and add the number to your Skill score, then the GM (the Director in this game) rolls two six-sided dice and adds the number to your opponent’s Skill score. Whoever has the highest number hits the other. Sounds simple and logical right? Well, in practice this simplistic and die-dependent mechanism can be really frustrating in combat. There are simply no tactical choices to make in a fight, it’s just die roll after die roll and hoping you come out on top (hint: you are much more likely to win and easily if your Skill is even a point higher than your opponent’s). So, besides the sad fact that this has not changed with the “advanced” version, they have introduced one interesting aspect. When someone hits with a weapon, they now roll a die and consult a table to see how good the hit was. If you roll a “6” after hitting, your weapon will do its best damage, the opposite with a “1”. In addition, the recipient of the blow will be able to roll a die for their armor and prevent an amount of damage depending on how well they roll. In the universe of Fighting Fantasy mechanisms, this is huge!
Another improvement they added is the attribute of Magic to characters. In the solo books, this was an additional attribute in The Citadel of Chaos, as well as being wonderfully implemented in the Sorcery! series in a very ingenious way. In Advanced Fighting Fantasy it seems that they have more or less opted for a standard magic system, using utilitarian descriptive names and costing the wizard Magic Points that will be replenished the next day. Seems like a necessary addition, I just really like the way it was implemented in some of the solo books and wish they could bring that ingenuity to this game. Looking at the character sheets, one can see that now heroes also have “Special Skills” that differentiate them from other heroes. Ah, but it’s starting to look more like a retro-clone all the time…
Advanced Fantasy, Simple Game
As I said earlier, the real magic in the solo books came from the brilliant writing and difficult adventures with a gritty feel. In Advanced Fighting Fantasy the game master has to become that brilliant and imaginative writer, or this will be just another simple fantasy RPG. Simply adding in more complex elements will not a great RPG make, but there is also a wealth of setting information in the source books Out of the Pit and Titan, which contain creatures and information about the world Fighting Fantasy is set in respectively. I love the world, I love the stories, and I really want to love Advanced Fighting Fantasy, but I would like to have seen some more innovation in the combat mechanisms, which are quite antiquated. If I do pursue this game in the future, and I plan to, then I will do some tinkering of my own to see if I can come up with a solution. Other than that, I do recommend these quick start rules, especially if you are looking to jump into a fantasy adventure right away with a small to medium group. Further to my delight, who else publishes the books but Cubicle 7 Entertainment?