Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: Fight On! #3

 The first issue of this magazine opened my eyes to how to actually implement this sandbox thing that so many bloggers have been posting about; it also supplied a straight-ahead dungeon level suitable for first level adventurers. The second issue had a detailed outdoor adventure map that provided a setting for that starter dungeon, but the Wilderness Architect articles and the material about Dave Arneson provided an invaluable look at the earliest days of the hobby. This third installment contains 150 pages of material– far more than the previous ones. There are no tiresome custom character classes in this issue, no tedious “let me tell you about my character” type articles, and fewer house rule oriented articles that re-engineer for old school D&D the sort of things that GURPS has been doing for years. But everything that was awesome about the previous issue comes back in spades.

First… I have never seen a Judges Guild supplement and nobody I gamed with in the eighties did, either. So until this issue, I had no idea who Bob Bledsoe was. Not only do we get accounts of what the man did and what he was like, but this issue also provides extensive samples that develop and illustrate what his company was all about: random tables in “Ready Ref Sheets”, a detailed take on a single hex of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and even a complete break down of the 5th circle of hell by the same author that created a Judges Guild supplement covering the first four. Altogether, this is some extremely enlightening material.

But there’s more. The contest winning adventure “Spawning Grounds of the Crab Men” is almost unbelievably well done. The notes on how to run a great convention game are spot on. The overview of Gabor Lux’s Fomalhaut setting are essential to understanding the adventures set there which appear in so many of these old school fanzines. And if you ever wanted to know just how to make magic far more creepy and frightening in your game, the article that describes “The Least Demons” should give you a lot of ideas. This issue is packed. I came in expecting that maybe one or two articles would really grab me, but there’s just so many. For a five dollar PDF, this is a steal. Recommended.

Classes and Hirelings:

  • The Devil’s in the Details — A set of tables: “Many Halflings…”, “Some Halflings…”, and “Some Common Travelling Gear.” Altogether, you can use these (and the tables for Elves and Dwarves from previous issues) to put a slightly different spin on the non-human races of your game. All and all, this is a neat idea– I’d kinda like to see this done for the races in Star Frontiers.

Dungeon Design: 

  • Tables for Fables — Fantastic! NPC Parties Met in a Dungeon [d6] and Prisoners of Evil [d12]. I really should collect a mess of these things, sit down at the game table, and see what happens.
  • Dungeon Detritus — Another keeper. Keep this handy when stocking the dungeon or else keep it handy when running adventures that are light on nuance and treasure.

Wilderness Design:

  • The Wild North — Robert S. Conley  includes a brief overview of the political situation along with a massive key to the many lairs, castles, towns, dungeons, and situations that he has stocked in this large wilderness area. Many entries tersely list the monsters and treasures at the location. Towns are listed with population, “Civ” rating, and Outlook rating, which are not explained here. Some of them are encounter situations presented in the present tense– a minor faux pas from what I understand. The scope here is so large, it’s going to take some work to flesh out a piece of it for adventuring. Nevertheless, it is a perfectly good example of a stocked wilderness and is much more detailed than the sample that came with the Cook/Marsh Expert rule set. While it is less table-ready than, say, Isle of Dread, it nevertheless achieves somewhat of the epic sweep of Traveller’s Spinward Marches and Solomani Rim supplements. The map is presented in a one page format and also in an expanded four page version. (If used with the rest of his material, this map is placed north of map 5 (Valon) and to the West of Blackmoor.)
  • County of Haghill and Environs — This takes an old supplement (Wilderlands of High Fantasy) and expands a single hex of it with fairly detailed random encounter tables, characters, locations, lairs, and so forth. The extensive article demonstrates how a subhexing system can zoom in fractally. This tends to have much more detail for a much smaller area, so it should in theory be slightly more gameable than the section on The Wild North. Nevertheless, it still has sort of D&D census type feel… and doesn’t strike me as being the sort of thing you could just pick up and play.
  • Fomalhaut — I have read many of Gabor Lux’s adventures and have usually been terrified, befuddled, and impressed in equal parts. This article explains the background for the world, the gods, and the technologies. A wilderness map is provided and each of the regions and city states are detailed. When I hear people talk about how OD&D dungeon masters were supposed to go their own way and develop their own worlds… this is what I imagine that people were supposed to come up with.
  • The Fomalhaut Oracle — This looks to be a set of tables for stocking a Fomalhaut style area. (These are excerpted from Gabor Lux’s role playing game which is in a language I cannot understand.)
  • The Wilderness Architect, Part III — This is a worked example of how to design and stock a setting with a lot of additional advice. It is far more extensive and practical that what you get in the Cook/Marsh Expert rule book. With all of the already-done wilderness examples just in this issue, it is hard to get up the will to tackle the project of developing my own, though. Also, the plain-vanilla nature of these rules seems to pale in comparison to Gabor Lux’s Fomalhaut. (The implied setting of these instructions is very much in line with Tolkien’s works.) This particular article would be more useful for fleshing out the main continent that is described in Expert D&D, but you probably would not end up designing something like The Isle of Dread if you were using this.
  • The Wilderness Architect, Part IV — This is more general advice about the role of the wilderness in your campaign. Many pointers and pitfalls are detailed, along with several references to Appendix N literature.

House Rules:

  • Special Maneuvers in Combat — This is one of those things that Old School GM’s are supposedly going to just know to do. (Matt Finch in particular made the point in his primer that OD&D combat isn’t just rolling the D20 over and over and over.) Calithena’s far less mysterious here and breaks down a fairly clear set of attack options… several of which could be easily plundered for GURPS or Heroes & Other Worlds.
  • A Magicians Miscellany — A grab bag of magic rules that distill some of the nuance of AD&D down into something that might fit in better with B/X. My favorite of the bunch is “Be Good to Your Mentor”, which greatly personalizes the faceless “guild” that supplies new spells and so forth to characters that level up.
  • Ready Ref Sheets — Death’s Door [d6] (roll when at 0 hit points or less) and Random Reincarnation/Polymorph [d100] with Beast and Fluke subtables. The Table of Despair [d10] is another death table tailored for Empire of the Petal Throne.

Adventures and Settings:

  • Knights and Knaves — Lee Barber details an unusually useful pair of mages that could serve equally well as foes or patrons. The article is rounded out with a new spell, magic items, and maps of their “lairs”. This is a really good resource for helping you stock a few corners of your wilderness map. This is a huge improvement over the last issue’s column.
  • Khas Fara: Village of Fear — This was an honorable mention in the Fight On! adventure contest. In my opinion, it is a model of good situation design. The location has six areas with just enough detail so that you can take it an run with it. It has a good initial scenario to throw at the players with a really good curve ball to toss at the players to ratchet up the complications. The system strikes me as very unusual– it’s an indie role playing game from the Forge called The Shadow of Yesterday. It’s odd to see this in the pages of Fight On! because I’ve gotten the impression that indie gamers are sort of natural enemies to the Old School Revival people.
  • Spawning Grounds of the Crab Men — This took first prize in the adventure contest… and I have to say, it deserves it. Everything about this piece is infused with the quintessential Old School ideas that (to me) were best articulated by Michael Curtis. There’s lots going on here… and most of the important bad guys can be randomly positioned based on what they’re up to. This gives the situation a lot more verisimilitude– it isn’t just a bunch of monsters waiting in rooms for the players to come in. This is one of those rare adventures that I read and– instead of plundering it for ideas– I end up wanting to just play it exactly as is.
  • Oceanian Legends: Holiday Bargains in the Reavers’ Sea — Would players be so stupid as to take a vacation among pirates? Probably…. This sales pitch is done entirely in character and includes oodles of things for the players to get involved with.
  • Inferno: The Fifth Circle — This was a big score for the fanzine. One of the old Judges Guild supplements detailed four circles of hell. Presented here is the fifth circle by the original author. While the image of “a paladin in hell” is emblazoned on my cerebral cortex, the pitiful boring adult incarnation of myself cannot conceive of why or how a group of player characters would actually go into hell. The amount of detail in this article is astounding. I think not having access to this sort of supplement as a child means that my AD&D days were effectively impoverished, but I don’t think there was anyone among my set of gaming friends that could have actually handled running something like this.

Monsters:

  • Bogbears! — I’m hard to impress with these monster write-ups… and this one’s sort of a halloween joke… but this one is particularly well done. The frozen with fear ability and the creature’s dislike of like make for interesting tactical situations. It’s origins make for a great many plot hooks and indirect methods of incorporating it into your game. The eerie presence and cause panic of the “great” variety make for a powerful foe without having to overdo the hit dice. Well executed.
  • Mutant Future Monsters — These are pretty good, but the only edition of Gamma World I ever saw was third and as much as people dislike that edition, I just can’t quite stomach a full fledged D&D-ification of those rules. On the other hand, being able to drop Mutant Future monsters directly into your D&D game is not without its utility. The “Broken Men” here  would be a great monster for the mad scientist wizards such as appeared in the Crab Men adventure from this issue.
  • The Least Demons — This is a set of creatures for magic-users to summon. My son has “summoned dragon” many times in Legends of the Ancient World and it never struck me as creepy or weird, but this stuff has very much a forbidden Ouija Board heavy metal lyrics played backward feel to it. The demons are all 1 Hit Dice or less, but many of them are frightening. All of them have unusual abilities and will do neato things in return for specific gifts and sacrifices. Some of them have dangerous side effects and complications and some even require sacrifices and so forth. Some are taken wholesale from other games and settings. Most of them are designed to fit in tightly with the Empire of the Petal Throne setting, which I know very little about beyond its mention in Steve Jackson’s introduction to second edition GURPS and the occasional blog post. This material is so rich it is almost stunning. I am generally put off by most people’s house rules for D&D, but these monsters are just so… specific… unique… detailed… I just never thought someone could do so much with so little system. I’m dumbstruck.

Gamemastering:

  • Running a Great Con Game — This is very much a needed type of article as con games are so different from other types of sessions. The thrust of some of this advice matched up to what I have intuited on my own, but the author goes much further than what I could write on this topic and has several really sizzling ideas.

Unusual Things:

  • TARGA Announcement — This is a little unusual in that it shows all the usual suspects of the Old School Revival getting behind something to promote the scene. I’m not sure what happened to stall this particular effort, but it is interesting that it was worth a page in this issue.

Reviews and Previews:

  • Mazes & Minotaurs — A complete game design that pretends to be an alternate reality OD&D that was based on Greek myth rather that Tolkien and the unusual Appendix N materials. It’s a shame that something like this is unlikely to ever hit the table with me given the already large “to play” pile I have– it’s probably a work that surpasses anything I’m liable to contribute to gaming. But the amount of OD&D oriented nostalgia I can tolerate anymore is expended on other works at this point.
  • Encounter Critical — My first exposure to this game was to adventures for it. At the time, I had no idea that this game was an ingenious hoax. For that reason, I am thankful for reviews like this that help me navigate the massive amount of new Old School games. They’re just so many, I can’t keep up with them. If the nostalgia component throws me off from M&M, then I’d say that the self-parody component of Encounter Critical is the primary obstacle for me here. Nevertheless, the high praise that Jeff Rients bestows upon this game gives me pause.

Magic Items, etc:

  • Artifacts, Adjuncts, and Oddments — A humorous collection of magic items by a mix of contributors. I particularly like the Medium’s hat. It’s a very logical item and not too powerful, but would be extremely valuable to any first level magic-user.

Interviews, Testimonies, and First Hand Accounts:

  • Tribute to The Invincible Overlord — If the name Bob Bledsoe doesn’t mean anything to you, then this article will fill you in. Bill Webb of Necromancer Games makes the case that Beldsoe was a figure on par with Gygax among role playing’s pioneers. He also describes the niches that Judges Guild filled during the early days: the first fanzine, random tables to help run your game, tournament adventures, detailed cities, and epic wilderness settings. For people that love D&D, but have never seen a Judges Guild product, this is a must-read article.
  • The Origin of the “Flying Turkey” — Bob Bledsoe’s son explains how Judges Guild got its logo.
  • My Time with Bob and the Guild — The co-founder of Judges Guild gives a first hand account of what it was like working with Bob Bledsoe.
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5 responses to “Review: Fight On! #3

  1. Lewis Pulsipher February 25, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Hi Jeff, nice to meet you at PrezCon. Given the title of the blog (Car Wars), I thought I’d ask you what is the essence of Car Wars that so attracts you to that game? I’m wondering idly whether there are aspects of that game, and of Demolition Derbys and Death Races, that can successfully be implemented in a card game.

    Lew

    • jeffro February 25, 2013 at 11:30 am

      As succinctly as possible:

      1) Most people got into Car Wars because of the elaborate design system that created one of the wildest paper-rock-scissors type games around. (Many games with design systems are almost unplayable… and others do not have a real game with which to actually use the designs.)
      2) I note that a lot of Star Fleet Battles and BattleTech players tend to want to do 6-way free for all scenarios, but Car Wars seems to do that better and without contradicting its own theme.
      3) My crew played it (and other microgames) largely because we did not have a Dungeon Master that could really handle running a campaign and organizing a group socially. Not requiring a referee to make scads of rulings was a huge feature in its day.
      4) Car Wars has a rich and accessible setting and also works well as a light role playing game. This aspect of the game helps keep it on the table with groups that can’t get the 5-6 players necessary for a really good arena duel.
      5) The combat rules of the game have a really good “press your luck” component– do you drive crazy and risk losing control to get the perfect shot?
      6) Car Wars is over-the-counter Walmart weaponry– not military surplus. Ongoing campaigns with this mildly post-apocalyptic setting are a breeze compared to ones that require a greater knowledge of how the military actually works. (Consider all that goes into naval culture and the nobility in games like Traveller and Battletech.)
      7) On the table… with an arena designed to encourage particular tactics and situations… with different car designs coming in each gate… and unusual things developing… and players going into a frenzy when one player gets close to being “killed”– kills are everything and people take idiotic risks to get them– I think altogether it has just the perfect balance of chaos and control– sort of like, say, RoboRally.

      • earlburt February 25, 2013 at 4:32 pm

        Another big part of the appeal is that the setting is intensely charming. It’s such a great combination of dark, sort of realistic, campy, and tongue in cheek. Mad Max and Death Race 2000 (the old one) combined.

        The only game world setting that competes in charm is Paranoia.

  2. PeterD February 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I never saw any Judge’s Guild stuff, either. Well, the tiny game shop I went to for some of my stuff may have had it, but I didn’t see any of it. The City State of the Invincible Overlord was something mentioned in Dragon articles or ads, sometimes, and that’s it. I saw RoleAids stuff, but I didn’t like what I saw (still don’t, largely). The idea of special ordering stuff was crazy . . . the first time I found a way to do that, it was TSR’s Mail Order Hobby House.

    • jeffro February 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Yeah, when I was in in school, if it wasn’t on the game store shelf, it effectively didn’t exist. The games mentioned in the introduction to GURPS– they were effectively ancient myth at the time and they were each not more five or ten years old…!

      The rise of ebay, print-on-demand, PDF format, and Kickstarter changes a great deal. History is opened and stuff for the exact niche I’m into is permanently in stock.

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