Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tommy's Take on Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook



I'll confess, I have no experience with the Lone Wolf game books...though I think I have heard of them...so I don't really have any preconceived notions about the Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook. I did read a lot of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type books, including a fantasy series called Wizards, Warriors & You, but not Lone Wolf. With that out of the way, let's dig in.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook by Mongoose is pretty light for a corebook, only coming in at 112 pages and costs $11.99 at RPGnow. Aside from the cover, it is in black and white, with thumbnails but no bookmarks.

The intro definitely takes the approach that this is a beginner's RPG. That is, not necessarily a KID'S RPG, but very much geared towards first time gamers. It does a nice job of contrasting with video games and the single player books by pointing out that there are generally much fewer limitations in a pen and paper RPG.

Every character in the game is a Kai Lord, who are monk-like servants of the God Kai. The system is pretty simple, with characters statistically defined by their Combat Skill and Endurance, as well as their Disciplines. In fact, the default assumption is that you won't even use dice, instead closing your eyes and touching a number grid with the eraser end of the pencil in order to determine a random number, although the book does wisely mention that you can use dice instead, rolling a d10 and counting it from 0-9.

Combat skill is a random number with 10 added to it, while Endurance is a random number with 20 added to it. You also get five Disciplines, from choices such as Hunting, Healing, Weaponskill and even Mind Blast. There is even a random chart to determine your name, with possibilities such as Wise Dancer and True Helm.

Combat's pretty straight forward stuff. You compare your Combat Skill plus Bonuses to the enemy's, and get a Combat Ratio (which can be positive or negative depending on the spread). Then you roll on the Combat Results table and cross reference the result with your ratio to determine how many Endurance (if any) that each side lost. In extreme cases, one side or the other can be killed instantly. There are modifiers, such as Ganging Up (which can provide cumulative bonuses) and fighting without weapons.

Interestingly, there are ten ranks to the Kai Lords, and you start at Rank 5, gaining a new rank upon successful completion of a quest. Each time you go up a Rank, you add a new Discipline.

The Adventuring chapter covers all of the likely extra rules, like darkness, falling, poison and etc., so the game - despite being so lite thus far - covers that ground, too.

There is also a Tactics section, with the most useful part being a paragraph each on the various Disciplines and ways they can be used (as well as important points such as reminding the GM you have Sixth Sense). It also suggests that the party spreads out the Disciplines so that they aren't crippled if they lose a member.

The GMing section is pretty basic stuff, but given the entire "Beginner's" approach in this book, that's pretty forgiveable.

The bestiary is interesting, as creatures and adversaries (much like PCs) are defined by Combat Skill and Endurance, presented here as a likely range for each creature. Some, like bandits, are given their point range, a description and done. Others, like Doomwolves, have special rules attached to them, like "see in the dark". Others, like Vordaks, even have access to the Mindblast Discipline themselves.

The history of the world begins with creation and runs through present day, when a new leader of the Dark Lords has emerged, and the Kai Lords must venture forth to save the world.

A nice two page map accompanies the gazetteer, which breaks down the four regions in admirable detail, listing rules, cities, populations, resources, currency and allies, as well as relevant game notes.

Finally, an introductory adventure is included. It takes the Kai Lords from the monastery and out into the world, and is a pretty well done adventure. Various points take into account the available Disciplines, such as characters with Sixth Sense having a chance to spot a sneak attack coming, and there are multiple action sequences, including a rooftop chase and not just combat scenes. In what seems to be a growing rarity, the final fight does not assume PC success or failure, even providing flavor text describing the death of a given PC should they fail. A refreshing change of pace, really.

Lastly, the book has an "Action Chart", which amounts to a character sheet, the Combat Results table and random numbers chart.

WHAT WORKS: A surprising amount of ground covered in the rules for such a simple system. The statting of creatures is simple enough that converting one's favorite monsters should be very easy. It would seem to be a very effective, rules-lite starter RPG, with a nice adventure that covers a lot of ground.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Kai Lords are perhaps too limiting, being the only character option and being so "Lawful Good". The system may be entirely too simple, especially for experienced role-players. Kai Lords only having 10 ranks and starting at rank 5 doesn't bode well for long term play.

CONCLUSION: I believe Lone Wolf could make an effective starter RPG, as it does cover most of the basics and allows you to build from there. One of the cool parts about such a lite system is flexibility, which seems to ring true in this case as well. While I doubt I could get a lot of play out of the game, it seems to be a very solid game for breaking a new player in.