Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tommy's Take on Arrowflight 2nd Edition

I have no prior experience with Arrowflight, no preconceived notions, anything...in fact, I'm only vaguely sure I've heard of it before. The second edition was released late this summer, and it's been sitting in my review queue for a bit.

The PDF is fully bookmarked, but is black and white and not very high-end production-wise. At $19.95, it seems a bit pricey, but it is 203 pages and seems to cover a lot of ground, as apparently several of the rules sections from 1st edition sourcebooks got rolled into it.

INTRODUCTION

This is pretty standard stuff, intro to roleplaying, etc.

We also get a brief overview of the setting as well. Nothing bad, nothing good, it is what it is. We do also get the cliff's notes version of the main game mechanic: Take a Stat and a Skill, add them together, that's your target number. Roll 2d6 and get equal to it or less than it to succeed.

CHARACTER CREATION

Eight races are included in the rulebook, featuring your standard fantasy fare as well as cool stuff (to me) like intelligent apes.

Characters have 8 Primary Stats: Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, Willpower, Mana and Spirit. Characters are built on a point buy, using a 30 point budget capped by racial maximums.

Then it gets really cool, in my opinion, because you get the Lifeline, which is a randomly rolled Lifepath that further modifies your characters, such as giving them the basic skills they wound up with from their upbringing.

You get another 30 points to further flesh out your skills, so you aren't just limited to the Lifeline.

After that, you finish out the character with some Derived Stats, take a Destiny point (which lets you modify your die rolls. Use it selfishly or in an evil manner, and it doesn't come back. Use it heroically and you may earn an additional one), and take your starting gold to buy up your initial gear.

Every race gets a page, with images and background, their stat caps and any special abilities. In addition to the humans, elves, dwarves, orcs and earthfolk (kinda like halflings), we get Montaka (apes), Shal'taka (lizard people) and faeries.

LIFELINE

The Lifeline Tables include Social Status, Apprenticeship, Environment and the like. For instance, a character from the Wetlands gets a free point in Swimming, Natural Sciences, Lore and Survival.

You can get an inheritance that can let you start off with land, an heirloom weapon and so on. Good stuff...I like me some random tables.

SKILLS

Skills have a handy table for ranks, with Professional landing at Rank 4 and 8+ being Legendary. Character Advancement is included right here as well, and Stats are made far more expensive than Skills, so get used to your Stats and be prepared to advance skills.

The Skill List is a little larger than I like, but this is a decidedly skill-based system...with about twenty skills being combat skills (though they are generally very specific - such as elven unarmed technique, etc.).

PERSONALITY

This is actually an Advantages/Disadvantages system...with assets such as Charimsma, Insight and Quick being bought with Liabilities like Enemy, Frail and Ugly. Behaviour Tags are personality quirks like Driven, Petty and Optimistic.

It's a simple system, but has a ton of choices built in.

QUICK START TEMPLATES

These are 13 occupational templates to use as your base for making your characters, making sure you hit the recommended skills for occupations like Combat Mage, Monk and Pistolier. Very handy if you're looking at the skill list and not really sure what you need.

THE ART OF COMBAT

Combat is fairly important in this game, as you probably noticed from the previous comment about the combat skills. This chapter starts with a discussion about knights and armor, freeing them from most of the agility type penalties, as well as providing a nine point Knight's code.

Where the chapter gets really meaty, though, is in the explanations of the Combat Skills, most of which give you bonuses at various levels. For instance, dwarves can - among other things - learn a battle cry that rattles their enemies for the round, possibly giving them an opening. Gladiators can use anything from the sun to dirt in the eyes to temporarily blinf an opponent, while Sharpshooters can learn ricochet shots.

SYSTEM

Here, we get the game system in more detail, but the basic mechanic is straight forward, as mentioned: The player sets their own target number by combining their skill and stat and trying to roll that number or less. Options are included for the GM making something more or less difficult, applied as a bonus or penalty to the target number, for those situations in which the basic mechanic doesn't show the proper weight of the situation.

In an Opposed Check, both sides roll and the person that got the higher margin of success wins out. Rolling a 2 is a Critical Success, rolling a 12 is a Critical Failure.

Fear has a basic chart that you use, with the nice rule that a Critical Success on a Fear check basically makes the character immune to that type of Fear check. You can either roll on the Fear chart or use the margin of failure.

The "insanity" table isn't the most appropriately named, but has a ton of interesting results: You can become shellshocked, have a creative burst that compels you to make a work of art (taking 1d6 days), you can become compelled to wear fancy clothes, lose control of your bladder, develop hallucinations or become an alcoholic.

COMBAT

Combat is interesting, as the margin of success between attack and defense is multiplied to the weapon's rating and applied as damage to the defender. Rather than Hit Points, damage is applied as Wounds, if the damage went above and beyond the defender's SHRUG stat, with 7 levels of damage (with 7 being death).

Special rules are given for using blackpowder weapons in bad weather, as well as reloading them. Using weaker weapons to parry stronger ones can lead to them being shattered, using similar rules to the ones for characters sustaining damage.

Arrow-fodder (or "mook" rules) are given, a simplified version of the damage system, allowing PCs to wipe out less important opponents. Mass combat seems like it might not work as smoothly as the rest, with units abstracted into "characters".

And, of course, we have to have fire/falling/drowning rules.

VEHICLE COMBAT

Vehicle combat in fantasy games? Yes...Arrowflight has a variety of vehicles that can be used, including airships and automatons. There is a Vehicle Damage chart like the Wound chart for characters, and a helpful list of vehicles is provided as well...three pages, with two columns worth, in fact.

MAGIC & DIVINITY

Magic is performed by manipulating Mana, and if a wizard dies, his spell effects fade away. Spells themselves are created from a list of modifiers, though several sample effects are included.

ARCANE THEORIES

Here, each Arcane Theory is laid out, with modifiers and sample spells. Combat magic is both offensive and defensive, letting you inflict damage or toss up barriers in defense. Divination allows you to see the future/past/etc., like usual, but it also has some combat applications, allowing you to affect your opponents and allies. Elemental magic pretty much does what you would think, while Glamours allow you to do things like jack with your opponents' senses, change shape, control animals, etc, being the purview of faeries. Healing heals, Illusory magic brings about illusions, and Necromancy has all kinds of cool effects: It can raise the dead and it can bring the dead to peace. Primal magic has interesting effects involving plants and animals, and is all very nature based, Summoning lets you - um - summong people and Folk Magic lets you do very minor effects.

Additionally, rules are present for performing sacrificers in order to harness the mana of the victims, as well as creating familiars.

LAB MAGICKS

These include rules (and examples) for making disposable magic items like potions through Alchemy, as well as Enchantment rules for making new magic items. Runecraft (often used by dwarves) is present, as is making non-magical mechanical items.

Everything is a list of modifiers that set the difficulty, the time to create and the cost. I assume that the difficulties here work the same as Spell difficulties, acting as penalties to the target number. An example of actually making the rolls on an item would have been helpful.

CHAOS

This is an unusual study of magic that compliments the other Theories (kind of). It allows you to take damage and boost your MANA for a spell, but it also tears a whole in  the "Web of Life", reminiscent of Defilers from the Dark Sun setting. Any mage can use this, for better or for worse, and the deeper you go into calling Chaos, the worse the effects get across the board.

PRIESTLY VIRTUES

We have magic and we have science...now we have the power of Prayer. The Devotion skill and SPIRIT stat work together to set the Target Number, with failure possibly equaling damage from the deity refusing the prayer! However, a truly devout priest can gain bonuses to their prayers, helping to alleviate the chances of failure here.

Several sample prayers are included, with the tables for making your own, falling under Communion, Healing, Protection and Wrath.

RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD

Here, we cover the seven major religions of the world, along with their subsects. The Church of Marg stands out as kind of a "Chaos" cult, and its followers are generally to be feared. Every church is broken down with subsects of note, with some (like the Elementalist Church) broken up into several subsects.

In a nice change of pace from most fantasy games, there are very few race-specific religions, as even ones like Nyeh O'Deain, which is primarily a dwarven religion, has notable non-dwarven followers.

DEITIES, SAINTS & HOLY PLACES

Deities are not to be messed with, no stats to be whittled down in combat or anything. Every deity is given a name (with pronunciation), appearance, symbol, what they embody, their persona, who worships them, invocations and the lessons they tend to impart.

There is an "impersonal and distant" Creator, as well as The Dark Moon (which sometimes eclipses Mun (moon) and Rai (the sun)). Tothas is an old elf who gathers the dead after battle and takes them to the Underworld, while The Gatekeeper is a corpse that comes to life to demand a toll from those looking to pass into the Underworld.

There are dozens of deities and saints for your characters to worship, or just to use as flavor in the campaign.

WORLD OVERVIEW

This tells how Marg came to the world, how dwarves acquired rune magic and how an elf named Rellian died a martyr, hiss message of compassion spreading across the land.

GEOGRAPHY

Here we get into the world, with the empires and nations within.

Each nation gets a paragraph or so, with a "motif" that kinda summarizes the "feel" of the land, such as Harkilon being a cross between the Mayans and the bronze-age egyptians.

Places like the D'Junn Empire have unique dynamics such as a warrior class of elves ruling over (and protecting) humans, and Zeah, which a xenophobic land of elves, earthfolk and faeries that is currently free from any of the effects of Chaos.

Obviously, there is room for expansion, and there's not even a "starter" area that is given greater detail, which is disappointing, and means that GMs will be taking outlines and building from the ground up, essentially.

BESTIARY

Not only is this full of monster stats, but stats for using several of the creatures as PCs is here as well...(with a warning that you should never use giants as PCs).

Goblins, Trolls, Cyclops, Gorgons, Minotaurs and more are here under Non-Player Races, so if the eight choices given early in the book aren't enough, the playable choices more than double.

Animals include chimeras, unicorns, manticores, dragon-bats, gryphons and giant cave spiders...but nothing playable as a PC, so you know.

Carnivorous plants are treated less as monsters and more like traps, with target numbers and damage ratings. The Drop-Trap Tree, for instance, has trap doors in its roots that drop open and suck victims in to digest them.

Dragon-kind includes basilisks and thunder lizards (yes, the T-Rex), as well as nine varieties of greater dragons, with multiple stat blocks that they all share, based off of age categories. By the time they hit "Ancient", you REALLY don't wannt to screw with them.

Supernatural creatures begins with ghosts and werepeople, which tend to be too varied to truly lock up in a single stat-block. Undead are treated as templates, essentially, so you can turn a goblin into a mummy if you feel like it, for instance. Nearly a dozen types of undead are present, from old standards like zombies and ghouls to The Damned, which are guys that are now an undead/demonic hybrid.

Thirteen demons are also here, from succubi to the tempters, who show up offering you your heart's desire. Shades and spectres, commonly classified as undead in fantasy games, are demons here, and Dark Lords are the towering, bat-winged demonic types in this setting.

Only four Angelic races are present, but my favorite has to be gargoyles, who are reformed demons that watch over holy places...I dunno, I think that's one of the coolest twists on an old standard that I have ever seen.

For as light as the geography section is, the bestiary is amazingly comprehensive.

EQUIPMENT

Normally appearing earlier in corebooks, this is the big list of equipment. The currency listing, followed by prices for common equipment and services. There's not a lot of art on the weapons, but there are a LOT of weapons. Magic items get a cursory treatment here, while a handful of "equipment packages", with prices, are listed for the purpose of quick purchasing.

GM SECTION

This is a pretty straight forward GM section, nothing you haven't read in a dozen other books...except for providing an alternate game mechanic, instead of using 2d6 versus a stat+skill target number, you roll the stat as a die pool, using the skill as the target number...(although this makes unskilled checks impossible, by my count).

Nothing to get excited about here, but it is also kept pretty short.

ARROWFLIGHT SCENARIO GENERATOR

Yes...random tables for scenario generation. People reading my reviews know how much I love these. This is a series of tables to roll from, with terms to plug into a randomly rolled sample plot skeletons.

Example:

Tribal Woman, a family friend of one of the party, invites the party to [a] laboratory to participate in a festival of ale. The festival is disrupted by cursed priests and wild animals.

Well, alright then. Other than the laboratories part, I could see it working for a simple session.

APPENDIX

This is an extensive listing of the common animals of the world, covering all kinds of animals from bears and dogs to jellyfish. Creatures that can typically be purchased have costs associated with them here as well.

Seriously...crabs and songbirds are included here.

INDEX

An impressive index is present as well...between this, the bookmarks and the search feature, the PDF should be easy to use. For the print version, the index will be a huge boon.

A character sheet, vehicle sheet, mount sheet and spell/prayer sheet are listed, along with a world map.

CONCLUSION

I love reviewing RPGs.

I probably would have overlooked Arrowflight 2e completely, and that would have sucked.

Simple, yet robust is something that came to mind throughout the book. There is a LOT of ground covered here, but the world is probably not for a newbie GM, considering the light approach to detail it was given in this book. Character options are available like crazy, and the extensive bestiary is very awesome as well.

I still think the price is probably a bit high for a PDF, but not excessively so. I've seen books that are 100 pages larger that don't feel like they cover as much ground. If you're looking for a fantasy game, Arrowflight 2nd Edition seems to do a lot of work with a little lifting.

Simple, yet robust.