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[Let's Read] Fantasy Wargaming (seriously)

Old Geezer

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Banned
I ran this back around 1986.

It actually worked pretty well. Remember it was written when the paradigm was still "Dick around with the rules until you get something you like." As one player put it, "The guy with the best armor, the best weapon, and the best training wins! It's not fair!"

Even at the time, I got rather tired of the smartass voice of the authors.

The magic system had its good points, but players quickly learned how to manipulate it. After about six sessions I dropped all the plusses and minuses and just gave everybody a +2, because that was overwhelmingly what we got when we did all the work.

I dropped it because magic took longer than I wanted it to. I really like OD&Ds "memorize, fire, and forget" magic.

Style 3, Substance 3.
 

Sangrolu

Social Justice Ninja
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Most roleplayers have probably never heard of Fantasy Wargaming. Those who have probably think of it as the game which stats the Virgin Mary and Balder. (She's level 10 and a Virgo; he's level 12 and a Cancer, if you're curious.)
As with many small press fantasy books of the day, I remember this book more for what I was temped to rip off (or minmax if I ever played) or other quaint features rather than actual details about playing it. A few things that stand out in my memory:

- Sun signs give you modifiers. I actually thought that was sort of cool.

- It had a pretty nifty little piety system for priest-type characters.

- The magic system was open ended. I remember a quote, noting this, said that you could theoretically summon a whole elemental plane, but the odds of succeeding are rather low.

But it did have some munchkin little bits like "self-summoning" or somesuch. Basically, if you succeeded, you'd get a slug of power making you munchkinly awesome. If you were Christian, this was a sin, but it was a-ok if you were Norse, because Odin like people who kick ass. Or something. (I guess Odin is the god of Munchkinism.)

- Oh yeah... playing female characters is Not Good[TM]. No Xena-esque lesbian stripper-ninjas in this game. Female characters got a slug of negative modifiers owing to their slight physical build and low station in society.
 
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committed hero

nude lamia mech
Validated User
There is no list of playtesters[.]
I know there is at least one actual play story within its pages.

This book always struck me as the first game to tackle pre-Renaissance history as it was perceived by contemporary observers - the way that Ars Magica does.
 

Felix

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I ran this back around 1986.

It actually worked pretty well. Remember it was written when the paradigm was still "Dick around with the rules until you get something you like." As one player put it, "The guy with the best armor, the best weapon, and the best training wins! It's not fair!"

Even at the time, I got rather tired of the smartass voice of the authors.

The magic system had its good points, but players quickly learned how to manipulate it. After about six sessions I dropped all the plusses and minuses and just gave everybody a +2, because that was overwhelmingly what we got when we did all the work.

I dropped it because magic took longer than I wanted it to. I really like OD&Ds "memorize, fire, and forget" magic.

Style 3, Substance 3.
I could see it working well under that paradigm. Though I also think the 'play around until you get something you like' philosophy is hard to grasp without the proper background. As I said, I got the impression it was written for their friends, who already knew what they were doing. I'd hate to try to pick up what an rpg is from this.

I haven't actually looked at the rules in depth. (Part of why I'm doing this Let's Read is to get myself to read them.) But I can see it would get manipulated pretty easily. It seems as though it would be great for a more freeform thing, rather than lists of long, fiddly modifiers. ("That seems pretty tough. Roll on the -4 table" instead of "It's a steep wall, -1, and your agility is real low, -1, and it's raining, -2, and the moon is in the seventh house, which is... okay, -4")
 

rstites

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This book always struck me as the first game to tackle pre-Renaissance history as it was perceived by contemporary observers - the way that Ars Magica does.
I'm pretty sure Runequest predates it by several years and it does exactly that with the default world of Glorantha. However, it's ancient, not medieval.
 

Felix

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Cool. I'm surprised (and glad) there's so much interest in a game printed 26 years ago.

Chapter 1: City, Court and Country (or "God is Groat")

The chapter starts out with line art of soldiers walking through city. All chapters start with full-page illustrations like this. I don't think this one is particularly good or bad, though the emaciated beggar in the corner is an effective touch.

Chapter 1 gives you an overview of what life was like for people living in the Dark and Middle Ages. What rural areas were like, urban areas were like, and how the nobility lived.

I'm going to cover this chapter in two posts (trying to do a post a day). The first part of the chapter is the sort setting information I hate. There are a lot of facts, but no explanation of how you might use them in the game. (I also prefer my setting chapters after character creation, since I think the game is about the players, not the world they inhabit. Why give me a lot of facts about the world which neither I nor my character will ever think of using? But that's just me.)

Also, the later you get into this chapter, the more I see campaign ideas and useful advice for a GM. If Fantasy Wargaming 2.0 ever gets made, I'd put the sections in reverse order, starting with nobility and ending with background on peasants.

Anyway, it starts off with a description of the peasants, and how crappy the land was for farming. I've got to say, the prose can be nice, or possibly over the top. Take a look:

Enormous areas of Christendom were still wastelands; bogs, marshes, fens; windswept upland heaths and moors, rising to snowcapped mountains or dry plateaux; arid deserts and dustbowls, in Mediterranean areas overgrazed during the Roman and Greek domination. Still more potentially fertile soil lay covered by forests, whose size and density would be unimaginable to any inhabitant of the same area today.
Not quite Gygaxian, but not bad.

Then the authors agree with my complaint about this sort of chapter. After saying this information is historically important, they note "It has relatively little effect on adventuring.... Much more important is the nature of the rural society itself." Then why take up two pages with it?

We follow with a description of that rural society: farming, how peasants lived in abject poverty, with a monotonous diet, and heavy infant mortality. (If their research is right, 30 percent died by age 10; the average lifespan for a man was 40-45, 30-35 for a woman.) We get descriptions of the plowing setup, what a typical peasant house looked like and ... well, a lot of things I can't bring myself to care about when I want to just roll up a fighter. I'm fast forwarding a few paragraphs.

They do have a paragraph which notes ways that a low class peasant might get involved with adventuring, since plowing fields is less interesting than slaughtering giant rampaging boars. The military and the Church were two ways. If certain classes of serf ran away, and stayed uncaught for a year and a day, they were considered freemen. I wish they'd put this first; it's an actual adventuring and background hook for players.

The Growth of Towns
The next session is a description of the types of towns which existed in this time period. There are four basic types: market town, county town, city and metropolis.

Market towns have a population about 300-600,depending on the period of history. A place less than than half a day's travel for farmers come to trade and buy. Often part of anoble's estate. Some craftsmen; too small for guilds.

County towns have about 800-2,000. It's like a souped up market town: Good for peasantry, but also served nobles. It may mint own money, and could have a guild merchant.

Metropolises/cities are centers of power. Paradoxically, they have many competing sources of power -- guilds, courts, ecclesiastic.

The description of these places reminds me of D&D 3.5's Dungeon Master Guide section of building communities. Of course, all that had was some brief tables saying what sort of breakdown of nobles/commoners/etc. you'd get, and how much wealth was available. Very different way of putting it, but it gave me a similar feeling.

There's a lot of descriptions of the classes in cities. 9-18 percent were hereditary lower class servants. There were also "sluts and beggars, to say nothing of criminals, whores and the unemployed." Why the word "sluts?" This book is a lot more misogynistic than anyRPG I can remember reading. They could at least provide a table somewhere so I can find out if it I encountered a brazen strumpet or saucy tart. :)

Next comes a section on laborers and guildsmen. A paragraph her almost uses game terminology. It says FW will use the term "Guild Members" instead of the phrase master craftsmen, to avoid confusion with the title of "master of the guild."

There's a few paragraphs about guild politics, and how guilds were often the government for towns. It says guilds could be seen as a change, resisting the aristocracy or the monarchy, but they were often highly conservative. You also have a lot of guild vs. guild conflicts.

This section ends saying the Guild system came into play in the High Middle Ages, what qualifies as a "city" in the Anglo-Saxon period, and some other considerations for when you set up your campaign.

Medieval trade and industry
The next section describes trade during the period. What nations sold what sort of goods. Where the prosperous trade routes were. What places developed what industries. That sort of thing.

I don't have much to say about this section. If you want to know who Vikings traded with, or who dealt with India, for your campaign, it's fine.
 

committed hero

nude lamia mech
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I'm pretty sure Runequest predates it by several years and it does exactly that with the default world of Glorantha. However, it's ancient, not medieval.
How to explain the ducks? I didn't think Glorantha purported to be Earth in the way that FW tries to establish the setting - perhaps I should've made that clearer.
 
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Old Geezer

Active member
Banned
But I can see it would get manipulated pretty easily. It seems as though it would be great for a more freeform thing, rather than lists of long, fiddly modifiers. ("That seems pretty tough. Roll on the -4 table" instead of "It's a steep wall, -1, and your agility is real low, -1, and it's raining, -2, and the moon is in the seventh house, which is... okay, -4")
Exactly. After about three sessions I realized that the players were able to ameliorate the odds such that the mods almost always (at least 90%) added up to "+2", so I simply decided to use that.

One thing I REALLY liked is the "Fortune" die. But I think it should be more important. "O Fortuna, Velut Luna, Statu Variabilis!"
 

Caduceus

Not the rod of Asclepius
Validated User
- It was published by a non-traditional source; the publishers normally worked with non-fiction. I don't know if that lack of experience with RPGs is to blame for the spartan layout, or the fact that Photoshop, Quark Xpress and InDesign didn't exist back then. (How did people publish back then?)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phototypesetting

You create a photographic plate of the text using that machine and paste it up with plates of your images. Then you would make a metal plate for use with offset printing:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offset_printing

Phototypesetting and paste-up were very labor intensive. I used to work as a printer and layout person and the pre-press people had some stories about how crazy it could be.
 

castiglione

Registered User
Validated User
Why the word "sluts?" This book is a lot more misogynistic than anyRPG I can remember reading.

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I think the word "sluts" had a different meaning back in the dark/middle-ages and the authors were using it in that context.
 
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