Adventures in Adventures in Fantasy…

Adventures in Adventures in Fantasy… after the break…

Adventures in Adventures in Fantasy…

Let’s be clear from the start – I started writing this post because I wanted to win a prize. The contest was simple: Write a blog post about an old-time fantasy tabletop role-playing game (“RPG” for the uninitiated) and that blog post would be entered into a drawing to win a prize. What’s the prize? Who knows. I’m a sucker for competition, though, and as Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.”

My strategy was fairly straight-forward: Get an old-time RPG, peruse it, then decide on whether or not to make a character, a new creature, a new mini-adventure… Or just heap praise onto it as though it were the second coming of Christ Himself. Or Allah. Or Buddha. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I decided to use an RPG titled “Adventures in Fantasy” for my entry. Have you ever heard of it? Unless you’re deeply into old-time classic RPGs, I’m betting that you haven’t. I knew of it previously but had never taken a real deep look into it until now.

Everyone has heard of the tabletop RPG “Dungeons & Dragons” (otherwise known as D&D). Dungeons & Dragons was designed by two people: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. In the world of classic RPGs, there is a body of opinion suggesting that the relationship between these two gentlemen was more then a bit ungentlemenly and that credit for the D&D creation was quite a bit unfairly skewed in favor of Gygax. It’s sort of like crediting Bob Kane with the creation of the character of Batman: Yes, technically, he did create the character Batman but, realistically, another man named Bill Finger gave Batman all of the qualities that would make Batman “Batman.”

I won’t repeat the history of D&D here except to write that Arneson & Gygax went their separate ways when it came to ever creating another RPG together. The history of RPGs is relatively clear and decisive that neither of these two gentlemen would have any great success besides D&D before their deaths, which happened a few years back. Such a reality has made me wonder who, ultimately, was the better RPG designer: Gygax or Arneson? The RPG Intelligentsia seems to suggest that Arneson was the unsung hero of D&D, much like the nerd war between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla with Tesla being the darling of the Internet because… Well, “Tesla” (supposedly).

“Adventures in Fantasy” was a tabletop RPG written by Arneson & a man named Richard Snider. Snider would later go on to create an RPG called “Powers & Perils.”

So, was “Adventures in Fantasy” the D&D that all Arneson fans wanted? After trying to wade through it, all I can say is that it looks as though the only people who would enjoy this game are aspiring mathematic majors.

Right off the bat, there are problems.

First, there are six player characteristics, one of which is stated as “optional” (Stamina). Fine. Yet the instructions state that you must roll 2 20-sided dice, one presumably for the “tens” place and another for the “ones” place.

Huh?

A lot of people know 20-sided dice with having the numbers 1 through 20 on them. Rolling 2 20-sided dice to presumably get a result anywhere between 01 and 100 makes absolutely no sense to the uninitiated or the barely-initiated. Yes, as it turns out, people used to make 20-sided dice with two sets of 0 through 9 on them.

Therefore, where the instruction manual states roll 2 20-sided dice to obtain the characteristics, here is what you should do instead: Roll 2d10.

That was an easy problem to solve but we’re not even done with Page 2 yet (the first page was the title and the forward).

Why aren’t we done with page 2? Because the manual states (and I quote), “Do this for each of the five basic player characteristics and for the two optional characteristics…”

TWO? Where’s the second one? OK, there’s Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Stamina (the optional one) & Health. What am I missing?

Oh, yes… “Knowledge.” It states that characteristic in the first paragraph and then the book never addresses it ever again. THAT’S how optional it is! It’s not just optional, it’s the stealth characteristic!

Page 3 is pretty self-explanatory until we get to the explanation of what the Charisma characteristic does. Then, mysteriously, it adds something called a “Social Status number” when determining if Charisma succeeds or not. Social Status, as it turns out, is introduced later on… But why not introduce it before you need it to check to see if your Charisma succeeds or not? To be completely fair, the instruction manual gives a detailed example of how the Charisma characteristic would work.

Page 4 continues our algebraic adventures with the introduction of Hit Points which, according to the manual, is “(A/2 + B/3 + C/4) / 5” and rounded up to the nearest whole number. There are no examples or explanation to augment this equation. To this equation, I ask… Why? Why is it so complicated to determine hit points? A = Your Stength number, B = Stamina & C = Dexterity. Also… Wasn’t Stamina supposed to be “optional” according to page 2? Yes, yes it is. So, if you DON’T use the Stamina characteristic, then you can’t determine your hit points because Stamina is a part of the hit point equation! Stamina also determines how many rounds of combat you can perform before getting tired (I guess that is optional as well)…

Page 5 is where that Social Status number comes into play (Remember? Page 3?). Unlike rolling your player characteristics when they specified rolling 2 20-sided dice, you’re on your own in figuring out how to roll for your social status. Admittedly, it’s not too difficult to figure out (4D10) but the omission in detail is a bit odd considering how the manual goes into obsessive detail about everything else concerning your social status.

Social Status is a HUGE deal in Adventures in Fantasy… Why? I have no idea. At this point, my eyes began to glaze over. You have the possibility, though, of being a King. That’s right… I am Valkar, King Adventurer! How is it that a King will join a band of Yeoman, Townsmen & Squires is beyond me. Imagine that scenario…

“Hi. I’d like to join your party of adventurers.”

“Oh, sure. You seem like a nice cha… Hey, wait a minute…”

“What?”

“You look like the King.”

“Um… No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No, I’m not the King.”

“You are totally the King. Falfador, does he look like the King to you?”

“Totally. What’s with coloring your beard?”

“I am NOT the King!”

“You also sound like the King.”

“I am not the King…”

“Why would a King be joining our party of humble adventurers?”

“I… Um… Well…”

“Did the Misses throw you out of the castle again?”

“Maybe this is an episode of ‘Undercover King’ and we’re not supposed to realize that he’s our King…”

To be completely fair, Social Status affects your yearly income and your yearly income affects how much money you start out with in order to buy supplies. So there’s that.

Age also affects your yearly income by raising your status level. And yes, they don’t specify how you determine that but the corresponding table goes from 1 – 100, so, it’s another 2D10.

You know what? I’m going to skip the following sections… Natural Death (but I have to mention that they have a table labeled, literally, “The Table of Death”), Sickness Effect on Health (which is supposedly optional, just like Stamina, Hit Points and how many rounds of combat you can have before you have to sit for awhile and cool down) & Starting Funds (which you can’t even calculate until you get to…)

Education! Congratulations… You have made it to page 8. Now, prepare for the happiest formula that you have encountered here at Adventures in Fantasy…

((T / A) * C) – P

The above formula determines your chance for acquiring any given skill that is available on “Table B, Courses of Instruction.”

Oh, to heck with it. I’m done with trying to review this game…

Except for the calendar. Now, to be completely fair, this RPG comes with it’s own 13-month calendar, complete with names for each month, their corresponding dates on our calendar (Although they mistake “Gregorian” calendar with “Julian” calendar for some reason) and even the days of the week (although it’s hard to tell if #1, “Chaoda,” is Sunday or Monday). They apparently have no need for Leap days (Maybe in their world, they don’t need Leap Days?) which is fine by me.

So, for instance, today is Od’Dida, Chalkydri 28, Week of Earth! Honestly, though… One of the names of the month is “Demon Lord.” No joke… “Demon Lord.” And can you guess which days that “Demon Lord” falls on? December 4th through December 31st. That’s right… Christmas. Talk about your awkward naming schemes…

I have to stop right here and wonder if anyone… ANYONE… Has ever attempted to seriously play this game beyond the internal playtesters. I’m guessing that answer is “No.”

In conclusion, I must admit that “Adventures in Fantasy” really surprised me but for all of the wrong reasons. A lot of people in the tabletop RPG hobby talks up Arneson as the advocate for Laissez-Faire role-playing but Adventures in Fantasy reads like anything but. I’ve come to understand that Richard Snider, though, is regarded as the master of the Math Equation when it comes to his take on role-playing games and so I’m guessing that all of the “((T / A) * C) – P” were his creation.

Even still, the rules, even as read, appear broken. The “Knowledge” characteristic looks as though it was stripped out of the book at the very last minute. “Stamina” is listed as an optional characteristic but how optional can it be if it contributes directly to your Hit Points and ability to fight?

Sometimes, you have to write it like you’ve read it. There are reasons why you’ve never heard of “Adventures in Fantasy” and, after reading it, it’s not hard to imagine any of them.

Advertisements

9 Responses to “Adventures in Adventures in Fantasy…”

  1. Catac Lib Says:

    thank you, i enjoy reading this.
    Can i ask, you own an original or pdf copy of it?

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi Catac Lib and thanks for reading my blog.

      I think that the safest, most legal way to answer that question is… I take the fifth? 🙂

      In all honesty, I’ve followed your blog for quite a while and I appreciate the work that you perform with promoting various tabletop role-playing games of the classic era. While I might have been a little young to have “been there” during that era, I certainly played Dungeons & Dragons (I know, I know… You’re not the only one who detests that game) and a whole host of other RPGs back when it was still very fashionable to do so. While I’ve known about a lot of the RPGs that you have featured on your blog through my own research, your blog is a wonderful resource that goes into a level of detail about those RPGs that I could never otherwise obtain.

      If it means anything to anyone, my original plan for the contest was to completely revamp the “Education” portion of Adventures in Fantasy and performed quite a bit of work on it (additional trades, a simplified formula, etc.). However, I grew increasingly frustrated when I attempted to create a character (so that I could demonstrate the usage of the “Education” revamp) and a lot of that frustration eventually wound up in the blog post that I wrote. I was really surprised, upon a close reading of those initial pages, how poorly edited the character generation section truly was.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  2. Catac Lib Says:

    Thank you Lutonaut for your kind words of appreciation.

    All the convoluted formulaes found in “Adventures in fantasy” probably stems from the hand of Richard Snider, as you suggested.
    In any case, though i read AIF, i never had the chance to play it so i cannot tell how is it like to actually try the game.

    As for Dungeons & Dragons, it’s true i despise it but not as a thing in itself (i like so much, for instance, to delve into Dragon magazine articles which i hold in great esteem). What i can’t stand, basically, is the fact that it overshadowed other fantasy rpg’s which are better than it under many perspectives.

    cheers
    CL

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi Catac Lib and thanks for reading my blog.

      Format domination occurs in all industries and there are several famous examples: VHS vs. Betamax, HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, etc. so forth. D&D was no different; It was the “iPhone” for it’s industry and everyone wanted to make an “app” for it. Perhaps the best event to occur to the tabletop RPG industry was that other products eventually arrived (the rise of the computer RPG, for instance) that created valid competition to D&D and allowed for people to take a fresh look at existing RPG products and encourage new RPG products to emerge. With the rise of the Internet and, subsequently, the falling cost for distributing products, other lesser-known RPGs have had a chance to capture an appropriate share of the RPG market and diffuse the D&D dominance. It won’t erase the history but, as often is the case, you take a re-balancing wherever you can find it.

      While I don’t have the same level of authority to write about tabletop RPGs as others have, this entire episode has made me consider writing more about obscure tabletop RPGs in this blog. So there’s that.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  3. gmccammon5 Says:

    RE: the “2d20” thing –

    Back in the day (1980 or so), if I remember correctly, most d20s didn’t HAVE 1-20 printed on them but the numbers 0-9 printed twice and you had to either color in one set a different color or use a d6 to determine whether or not you added 10 to what you rolled.

    Sometimes your d20 would have a little plus sign next to one of the sets of numbers – Zocchi dice were the innovators in this, I think.

    I can’t remember when I saw my first real d10 (the prism-shaped ones) but far as I remember they weren’t common then. Maybe Chessex or someone sold them but I don’t remember seeing them at stores.

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi gmccammon5 and thank you for reading my blog.

      I apologize for not approving or replying to your comment sooner.

      Yes, I figured as much that the d20s of old had two sets of 0-9 after a bit of research. Like all products, Adventures in Fantasy is a product of it’s time. However, upon reflection, their rules could have been a bit clearer in many regards.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  4. Havard Blackmoor Says:

    Hi, I just came across this. Interesting analysis of the game and its problems. For those interested, we have some discussion of Adventures in Fantasy and how to adress some of its more confusing issues over here: http://blackmoor.mystara.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=88

    The references to twenty sided dice are indeed confusing, but we have reached the same conclusions as you have. This basically means roll a d%.

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi Havard Blackmoor and thank you for reading my blog. My apologies for not replying to you sooner.

      I have an interest in older tabletop (otherwise known as “pen-and-paper”) RPGs as I lived through that era. I can not claim to be a historian in tabletop RPGs to any significant degree as others are far more well-versed in the history of that industry then I could ever hope to be. My observations have been that Dave Arneson is now more well-regarded amongst tabletop RPG enthusiasts as an RPG designer then Gary Gygax. Again, there seems to be a drive to find the “pure” Dave Arneson RPG, unfettered by any influence from Gary Gygax or some other RPG designer. As you most likely know, there is a “Beyond This Point Be Dragons” (“The Dalluhn Manuscript” as it is sometimes known) manuscript that may-or-may-not-be a Dave Arneson playtest version of the original Dungeons & Dragons or may-or-may-not-be one of the hundreds of house rules versions of that game that so many high school and college-aged players created back when typewriters and photocopy machines were used before computers and printers took over.

      I have to be honest that my enthusiasm for “Adventures in Fantasy” has waned after I took a critical look at the mechanics. While I can not claim RPG design proficiency, my observations were that the system, as presented, is broken almost beyond repair. My blog post concerning the game probably wandered a bit farther into “snarkasm” (Hey, I just created a new word!) then I would have liked but only due to my frustration at how confusing the game turned out to be for a game designed by “Rules-Lite” Arneson himself.

      “Adventures in Fantasy” seems to be much more Richard Snyder’s RPG then it was Dave Arneson’s RPG, given that Arneson is considered to have a more rules-lite approach to game design while Snyder enjoys including a free algebra textbook with his. Therefore, unless someone makes the Dalluhn manuscript open to the public to peruse, it looks as though enthusiasts will only have Arneson-inspired RPGs such as “Dragons at Dawn” or the Dalluhn-laced “Champions of ZED” to utilize.

      The early history of tabletop RPGs is certainly fascinating and I enjoy the fact that there are so many people now engaging in this historical research that is revealing all of these wonderful details for everyone to observe. My foray into writing about tabletop RPGs is most likely not over as I enjoy those types of games and comparing various systems in how they express certain aspects of game mechanics.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: