Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: Fight On! #2

This issue is where Fight On! really establishes its usual collection of features and departments, but it explodes to a mind-numbing ninety pages in the process. The account of the very first dungeon adventure run by Dave Arneson is a treasure. The random inn generator is immediately useful to anyone running a traditional B2 Keep on the Borderlands type game. When you’re ready to progress beyond the standard tavern-to-dungeon-and-back routine, The Wilderness Architect series will prove extremely useful. The “Shields Shall Be Splintered” rule is a pretty good addition to the “Red Shirts Will Be Killed” concept. The Outdoor Map fleshes out a concept that was only partially touched on in the original rules and goes much farther than the example in my Cook/Marsh Expert book.

There rest of the material is varied and colorful even if it is somewhat overwhelming. One thing about growing up with these games… it never occured to me to create material for it this way. I guess if all you had was B2 and X1, you’d start creating your own stuff rather quickly. But I came along when there was a smorgasboard of modules and supplements available. (And every good CAR WARS player was always concerned with the latest official rules for their game.) The old school, on the other hand, seems to create almost reflexively. Reading Fight On! has trained my brain to do the same to some extent… even if I might prefer to implement much of this sort of material with the GURPS system instead.

There is a significant amount of information here about the intent underlying the original fantasy role playing game that is not articulated anywhere else. TSR certainly never communicated any of this stuff in a clear and playable way. It is well worth the price of admission, especially if Lulu is running any kind of sale.

Classes and Hirelings:

  • The Devil’s in the Details — The second in the series, this time featuring random tables for characteristics of “most elves” and “some elves” and also outfitting them with some “common travelling gear.” This article confounds my brain because it is based on the inexplicable OD&D elf class and often contradicts the Tolkienian depiction of elves.
  • The Penguin as Player Character — This is stupid, but it is stupid with a purpose. I usually dislike custom classes, but this one is actually fun to read while providing insight into the history of gamerdom.
  • The Dragon-Blooded — Clever. A breakdown of six dragon powers, each in two levels. Each time the character levels up, a new power is gained– but if he already has both powers, he must roll to determine whether or not he’s become an NPC dragon. So it’s a grossly overpowered racial modifier that’s balanced by an XP penalty, attribute requirements, reaction penalties, and enemies… but there’s also something of a clock on it. While many of these sorts of write-ups are bound up in the concept of class and level, this is easily adaptable to GURPS.
  • Knights & Knaves — Ack. This series should be called “Let Me Tell You About My Character.” Dungeons & Dragons characters are fun to play (and are fun to kill off if you’re a Dungeon Master), but the thing that seems to emerge over the course of months of game play is so far down the Mary Sue path I can barely stand to hear about them. Stats and back story are not the defining element of D&D characters; in-game accomplishments are and they don’t translate well into gaming articles as far as I can tell.

Dungeon Design:

  • Tables for Fables — “What are the Monsters Doing? (3d3)” and “Major Dungeon Locations (2d3)” are nifty and immediately useful.
  • Random Inn Generator — This article includes a random inn name generator and some Traveller-like pointlessly detailed data for the place… but the real meat here is a random visitor table with each entry having additional details and adventure hooks. In my view, there should always be something potentially interesting going on at the Inn whether the players pursue it or not. This material would work well for the Inn and Tavern detailed in Keep on the Borderlands, so this article stands a good chance of seeing play. Some of the adventure seeds will depend on you having already established the more mundane aspects of the place, so go ahead and do the work. This includes an unusual rule for determining who will develop on crush on who based on the wisdom and charisma scores of those involved.
Wilderness Design:
  • The Outdoor Map — The original edition of Dungeons and Dragons assumed you knew Chainmail already… and suggested you use a wilderness map from an Avalon Hill game. (That is just freaky weird if you ask me.) So Rob Conley drew up a map and James Maliszewski stocked it in order to provide an open counterpart of it for the old school scene. The map uses a five mile hex. There are 11 settlements, 17 lairs, and 11 “features” and each is described with a paragraph of text. Points of interest include the ruined monastery (detailed in Fight On! #1), a probably epic megadungeon in Dwimmermount, and perhaps the same chateau detailed in one of James’s PDF products. The tone seems to be consistent with the Cook/Marsh Expert set, but there are no wandering monster tables or instructions for how and when to use them.
  • The Wilderness Architect, Part I — The point of this article is to sketch out the components of wilderness adventures: truly wild areas with wandering monster tables, civilized urban areas, and also “cleared” hexes controlled by powerful wizards, clerics, and fighters. With an attention to nuance rivaled only by biblical scholars, the author delves into the text of earliest edition of Gygax and Arneson’s game while supporting his interpretation with an obscure 1975 magazine article and passages from literature that inspired the game.
  • The Wilderness Architect, Part II — A Traveller-like system for developing a randomly generated wilderness map that is consistent with the research of the previous article in the series. The area map is assumed to be about 10×10 hexes with each hex being five miles across. The system can fill in the terrain in either North European or Middle Eastern style frequencies and includes rules for “triggering” large bodies of water and desert. These rules include detailed tables for randomly placing castles, strongholds, towns, cities, villages, and/or dungeons.

House Rules:

  • Shields Shall Be Splintered — This is the house rule that lit up the OSR blogosphere a while back. I was glad to see there was a touch more nuance here than what I was led to believe.
  • Panicked Mounts and Falls — The need for something like this makes sense, but this is kind of weird to my uninitiated eyes. There’s an elaborate table for a “save” to control your mount cross-referencing class/level and degree of panic… but nothing to determine how panicked your horse is to begin with. There are some dubious percentile rolls (50 – Dexterity%??) and some arbitrary damage roll specifications that are maybe better than nothing. Outside of the Knight in Nethack, I can’t think of anyone ever trying to ride a horse in a game battle anyway.
  • The Entourage Approach — Players can now plan for their eventual adventuring deaths by naming an heir for their stuff. (Dude, taking your mate’s stuff is the only awesome thing about PC death and you’re ruining it!) There are some dubious mucking about with the experience rules, some kind of henchman hiring and reaction system, some more house-type rules, and (probably the best) a system to randomly determine henchman starting equipment. I don’t think I’d use any of this until I first picked over B/X, B2, and X1 to make sure it was kosher, but that’s just me. You’re probably going to have to come up with some of this stuff as the rules are so sketchy….
  • The Magic of Mistworld — This article includes a premise for truly bizarre world/setting and a collection of offensive spells and counterspells. There are a few notes for making them work with an initiative system and Vancian magic, but though it is nice to have something that encapsulates on Dr. Strange magical combat so well, I can’t help but think that GURPS has already dealt with the requisite game mechanics for this type of thing. So this is a cool idea… but (in my opinion) it should probably be reworked into an actual microgame or else adapted to GURPS somehow.

Tactics:

  • Adventure Flowchart — Oh no! The plot of my next fifty role playing game sessions are right here! Don’t let the players see this!!

Adventures and Settings:

  • The Tower of Birds — This is a fairly striking situation that could be placed in almost any desert region of generic fantasy type settings. The premise and the conclusion are gold, especially if an appropriate amount of in-game foreshadowing is done to establish this location as an ominous, forbidden place. What happens after this adventure would be the interesting part– GURPS GM’s will find this scenario to be an excellent adventure seed, as it emphasizes a lot of role-playing. Something gets lost in the translation for the middle portion of this work; my first inclination is to cut out at least half of it, but that may be misguided. I think an abbreviated version of this would work really well for the first third of a 4 hour con session. You’d need an established city location to game out most of the session in… and one other delving opportunity to use either as a red herring or to actually play out depending on how things shake out.
  • The Darkness Beneath — The first level of the Fight On! community megadungeon. Toglodytes and Crabmen fight each other with Leprechaun and his ten evil halfling henchmen contributing to the chaos. Includes random encounters, dungeon trappings, corpse table, old school hand drawn level map, and 24 keyed locations. Aside from the wa-hoo elements, it is a relatively straight-ahead dungeon crawl. (It is still somewhat freaky.) There is some clever use of items and equipment from the other Fight On! articles.
  • The Red Gem of High Cartography — A non-canonical Empire of the Petal Throne adventure for 2-6 3rd-5th level characters. It is in five parts: some kind of weird initiation, an underground journey, and then three keyed dungeon-like locations. This is not a family friendly game.
  • Oceanian Legends — Sort of a faux-scholarly article about some ancient catastrophe in somebody’s campaign setting.

Monsters:

  • The Monster Machine — Yet another example of the Old School spinning out their own free-wheeling GURPS-like subsystem. Roll on the materials table, choose your core stats, roll for abilities and select a weakness. From there you can create thematically linked monsters as you wish.
  • Creepies & Crawlies — Five monsters from Jeff Rients suitable for wa-hoo old school gaming. Eclectic, deadly, tongue-in-cheek gaming virtuosity.
Magic Items, etc:
  • The Seven Swords — Trade in your campaign’s ubiquitous +1 swords for these slightly more epic quest-worthy magic items. These are closer in spirit to Tolkien’s approach to magic rings without going to some kind of crazy artifact level.
  • Ye Olde Magic Shoppe — Very nice. Magic shops sell various substances that can only be used as rule benders for common spells. This short article covers fifteen colorful example items that don’t appear to be egregiously overpowered.
  • Unusual & Magical Spirits — Three particularly well fleshed out beverages to add to your campaign, each with their own special game effects. Not my cup of tea, but this provides a colorful window into an old school fantasy world.
  • Barbarian Magic Items — A grab bag consisting of a pretty useful adventuring item, an unusual piece of equipment mostly for a mass combat situation, and a game-breakingly weird monstrosity that is the D&D equivalent of Hitler finding the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Handgonnes & Cannons — These items don’t necessarily do mega-damage, but they do ignore armor at certain ranges. Just don’t roll a 1 or 2….
  • Artifacts, Adjuncts, and Oddments — Eight cruel magic items from the inscrutable Gabor Lux.
Interviews, Testimonies, and First Hand Accounts
  • The First Dungeon Adventure — A first hand account of the very first Dungeon adventure run in Dave Arneson’s basement. Priceless!
  • Dave Arneson, Blackmoor, & Me! — An account of one gamer’s experiences playing in a convention game run by Dave Arneson in 2006. Money quote: “Why  the hell wasn’t all this cool stuff in my freaking books?!”
  • Interview with Dave Arneson — Short and to the point; gosh, I wish this was less cursory.
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2 responses to “Review: Fight On! #2

  1. Brendan January 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

    The Wilderness Architect series (continued in issue 3) is, in my opinion, one of the most useful D&D supplements period. The way you put it: “There is a significant amount of information here about the intent underlying the original fantasy role playing game that is not articulated anywhere else” is exactly right. Fight On! tends to have at least one article per issue that knock my socks off, but I think Victor Raymond’s Wilderness Architect is probably my favorite of the bunch, and I think I’ve read all the issues now. It is like Traveller, you say? Makes me want to get into that book even sooner.

    The crunch articles (“have some magic items”) tend to be forgettable (to me) and I had exactly the same reaction to the Knights & Knaves section.

    The most recent issue had a fantastic module by Patrick Wetmore (of Anomalous Subsurface Environment) called Fruiting Towers. Recommended.

    The compilation of issues 1-4 would probably be in any list of top 10 D&D books I put together, based on my current experience.

    • jeffro January 10, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Hey Brendan, thanks for chiming in on this. I don’t think I’ve read near as much D&D stuff as you have, so I appreciate the confirmation on some of these points.

      The Traveller “wilderness” design system found in Book Three and defaults to a ten hex by eight hex map.

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