Genre: Fantasy – Low Fantasy – Sword and Sorcery
Rules Weight: Light to Medium
Where To Buy: Cubicle 7
Advanced Fighting Fantasy is a simple system. So simple, in fact, that I was in half a mind not to buy it because I could probably work out the rules by reading a couple of reviews and applying a little mental acrobatics. What got me to make the dive, though, was really the weapons and armour system.
It’s a unique system that really solves the shortcomings of using a d6-only system. Instead of having fixed weapon damage and armour damage reduction, you roll your d6, where other games would specify different sized dice to roll. You then compare your result to a handy little chart unique to each weapon that you copy to your character sheet. Higher rolls correspond to more damage but not necessarily equal to your result. For example, rolling a 1-5 while unarmed scores 1 damage, while rolling 6 scores two. Bigger weapons may have minimum damages of 2 or 3 and higher potential damage for higher rolls.
You do the same for damage reduction. I like it, because it makes the d6 more versatile and allows for randomness and minimum damage without having to mess about with multiple dice. I’ve always liked games that allow for variable armour, because it allows the possibility that a character strikes you in an unprotected place. I also like that it puts action first and memorisation second, because instead of consulting your sheet to see what dice you roll, you just roll one die every time and then consult the 6-figure chart.
Actually, I lie. It wasn’t just the damage system that drew me in. Anyone who played Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as a kid probably knows that the world of Titan in which they are set has a uniquely dark, grim and weird atmosphere. Considering that it’s written by the minds behind Warhammer, you can see the resemblance. That unique feel is something that I’ve always missed in games such as Dungeons and Dragons, which emphasise high fantasy settings filled with idealism and romance where the worst thing that ever happens is the caravans not getting through (which is economically unsound when you think about it; if the caravans aren’t getting through, traders will go elsewhere and the bandits will leave, having no more loot to feast on, and then the caravans will be able to get through again).
It’s with this in mind that I turn our attention to the included adventure. After a short introduction to the rules, we’re thrust into an adventure, before we’ve even been told how to make a character. Many have complained about this, but I think it’s a perfect illustration of just how easy the rules are to grasp, and that was probably the point of this layout. What bugs me about this adventure isn’t where it is in the book, but where it is in the game world.
Many people reviewing this 2nd edition of AFF use Dungeoneer — the core rulebook of AFF 1st edition — as a reference. But I don’t own a copy of that. What I do own is Fighting Fantasy: The Introduction Roleplaying Game, which is a halfway house between single-player FF and AFF, basically adapting Fighting Fantasy rules to multiplayer combat and nothing more. Included in this book was an enjoyable adventure called The Wishing Well. The adventure we have here in AFF 2nd edition is called The Well, and as the missing word demonstrates, it’s nothing more than The Wishing Well with all the insides torn out. Where The Wishing Well is a weird, dangerous affair that clearly demonstrates the gonzo style of Fighting Fantasy, The Well is significantly tamer, and plays more like a Dungeons and Dragons Basic Game boxed set with an 11+ rating and a light salting of Fighting Fantasy weirdness. The map is the same, but every room has been rewritten and all the nasty and unique monsters removed.
I just don’t feel it sets the right tone, and I don’t understand why Graham Bottley decided to strip a perfectly serviceable adventure down to its core and rewrite it. Why didn’t he just write one from scratch? Is he that uncreative?
Judging by the rest of the book, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Unless I interview him one day, I’ll never know his reasoning. Considering my propensity for tracking down game designers and harassing them for explanations, I’ll probably end up doing that.
Back to the book, we move into character creation. A points-buy system has been implemented, which I’m told is for balance, and I agree. There’s an optional random generation system for those who want a bit of old school. Characters have four basic stats: Skill (or SKILL, as AFF stylises it), which governs all skills, including combat; Stamina, which is your hit points but also your constitution; Luck, which is your saving throw; and Magic, which is new to this edition and is self-explanatory, but I’ll go into it in more detail.
Magic was a necessary addition to bring balance to the game. In Dungeoneer, I’m told, magic-users used SKILL to determine their magical prowess, and this made them incredibly overpowered, because SKILL also governs not only combat prowess, but every single skill check. I’ll get back to magic later.
After generating your stats, you get to pick a race, which gives you certain bonuses. Then you get “special skills”, which in others games would just be called skills, and apply extra bonuses to special applications of a SKILL check. I have to say I actually rather like this approach. In other games, for example DnD 3.5, a skilled character is approximated by giving them lots of skill points to scatter about their various skills; in DnD 4e, the system becomes a little more abstract and applies a bonus to any class-trained skill as well as adding your level to the skill check. AFF, on the other hand, just goes out there and admits what DnD was trying to say all along: a skilled character is skilled at many things.
After the character creation section we get a section on the rules, which all revolve around some core mechanics. If you’re making a save or doing something involving an inanimate object, you have to roll under your relevant attribute on 2d6, modified by difficulty or special skills; one thing I like about this system is that as checks are failed your stats deteriorate, making saves and other actions harder in future. Otherwise you’ll be making an opposed check, either in combat or diplomatically. Combat is more advanced that FF and I’m told it even has a leg over AFF in terms of versatility. There are a few tactical options that make combat more interesting than just comparing opposed rolls, but for the most part combat is fairly abstract. It’s a very narrativist approach in that the rules are designed to be fast-paced and without the use of a combat grid. I like this a lot. Although I prefer my modern or sci-fi games to be tactical, fantasy games tend to get bogged down when they get too deep into the idea.
Despite being simple, there are sections explaining application of the rules in most conceivable situations, including mounted combat. Although the Brawling special skill mentions that it applies to grappling, I was unable to locate any grapple rules. The core mechanics are simple enough and the game abstract enough that I can make something up, but that’s not really the point.
Moving onto the magic section, the thing that really caught my attention, apart from the fact that it fixes the balance issues of first edition, were declarations that it incorporated the magic system from Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! (sic). Now, this is a half truth. It has all the spells and casting affects the character in the same way by draining Stamina, but the determiner of success is now based on the character’s MAGIC stat. In the Sorcery! Fighting Fantasy books, you’d be given a list of three spells, one or two of them being fake, and whether you picked the real spell determined whether it was cast. Although I can imagine it being fun giving my sorcerers a list of fake spells and asking them to pick, I can see this as a much better system for a multiplayer game.
The other classes of magic are Wizardry, Cantrips and Priest, which all do as they say on the tin and are well balanced. I have to say, Mr Bottley did a great job on that front. One last note: if you botch a spell by rolling double-sixes, you have to roll on the Oops Table. I have to say, this table reminds me of a tamer version of FATAL.
These Wizardry spells draw from Magic Points, which are derived from your MAGIC stat and Wizardry special skill. I think a more integrated system would have had MAGIC deteriorate with spell use, making subsequent spells and resisting enemy spell effects harder, much like STAMINA does with Sorcery, but it’s not too big a deal, in all honesty. Wizards are already significantly nerfed compared to 1st edition and the writer probably thought this would make them less playable. It also helps make playing a Wizard a different experience from playing a Sorcerer, and that’s probably what Bottley was aiming for. As it stands, Wizards are fun to play, so I’m not sure what I’m complaining about.
Priests, on the other hand, draw powers from their gods and so don’t use Magic Points.
The last few sections include a gazetteer of the setting, a guide to monsters and some optional rules. There’s also some DMing advice and equipment lists, such as magic items and treasures.
The monsters section provides some pretty standard monsters, a guide on making your own and a conversion sheet from every Fighting Fantasy monster, which are available in Out of the Pit, a compilation of, well, every Fighting Fantasy monster. Arion gained a licence to print but not edit Out of the Pit, so this section is necessary to get around that. If you have an old copy of Out of the Pit, there’s no point buying the 2nd edition reprint because it is just that and nothing more.
Finally, the optional rules section has, in addition to what it says on the tin, a guide to creating weapons, armour and spells.
Overall, I’m happy with the system and look forward to playing it. It’s solid, fast-paced and set in a unique world with an atmosphere that you won’t get anywhere else.
Integrity: **** Very little feels tagged-on about this system. The rules are open enough that they don’t have to be exhaustive. It loses a star only because the opposed checks and unopposed checks are respectively roll over and roll under, which makes the mechanics slightly less consistent.
Combat: *** Combat is great for a narrativist style — fast and easy to use — but isn’t exhaustive or highly tactical. No grappling rules, either.
Speed: ***** Five stars. The rules are simple, combat plays quickly and the high level of integration means there’s little flicking through the book on how to resolve a situation.