This is a long review, as befits an interesting and playable system with genuine appeal.
OverviewThe Fighting Fantasy gamebook series has long been the first, most memorable step into fantasy RPGs for many players, and the Tinkerage has long thought that SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK, and two dice, can encompass an accessible, rules light RPG system. So a true Fighting Fantasy RPG carries a lot of promise. The Tinkerage still has the books of the first version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and though the system is fundamentally flawed, the books are a great resource and a strong introduction to roleplaying. So how does the second edition in one volume from Arion Games, substantially rewritten and revised by Graham Bottley, compare?
Well, for starters, Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2E is an eminently playable RPG, with a fun, evocative setting that can be broadly adapted and simple, direct rules which nevertheless enable plenty of options. The rulebook, however, looks and read more like a dedicated fan project than a professional publisher's product. Though this is part of its charm, that the core book could also stand to be significantly edited only points to its inherent potential.
CharactersAfter a brief introductory adventure in the spirit of the original Fighting Fantasy rules, with incompatible creatures lurking in a magical dungeon complex, the character generation section is the first substantial revision of the rules, and some of AFF 2E's best work. Bottley was absolutely right to make character generation points-driven rather than random (which led to hugely unequal characters in the first edition). The system allows players to select and customise their characters, but the limited pool of points drives some interesting decisions, as well as quite flexible design (as the sample characters demonstrate). Skills, or special skills, have been rationalised and cover a variety of character approaches and pursuits. Although I doubted the value of Talents at first, Talents, as particular character knacks or abilities, allow another level of individualisation. And since they fit within a page and a half, they are hardly challenging to scan and select from. Overall, the character section gives players the power to imagine, build and run a character that fits their intentions, and I can see this working for any number of fantasy styles, from High Fantasy to gritty dungeon-delving.
RulesThe rules of play are simple, based on the roll of two dice with modifiers where appropriate. That tests require a low roll under the governing ability (usually SKILL) and contests require a high roll over the opposing ability (as in combat) does not seem inconsistent as much as a clear way to distinguish the two basic sorts of action (although there is an optional rule to make all checks roll-high). For a rules light system, there is an extensive set of guidelines for the use of skills and special situations, such as sneaking, traps, trickery, hazards, and so on.
Combat is simple and fast, based on an opposed roll. The only weakness in this section is that damage and armour effectiveness are based on a die roll where the results are read from a table. Although it is easy to roll all the dice at the same time, this requires an awkward look up, and the weapon damage lines are the most fiddly part of an otherwise clean character sheet. While it is clear that the designers have wanted to keep weapon damage and armour protection fairly bounded, there is perhaps a more elegant way to do this. Despite the quick resolution of combat, there are several combat options which encourage a tactical approach and situational awareness, and some interesting tactics implicit in the Combat Situation table for GMs and players to explore.
An oddity buried in the combat rules is that shooting attacks with bows and arrows are also an opposed roll, rather than a test. This means that, correcting for range and size and so on, your chance to hit also depends on the SKILL of your target!
MagicIn the spirit of light rules with many options, there are three magic systems: wizardry, a very workable system based on Magic Points and learned spell; the flavoursome sorcery system, based on Steve Jackson's Sorcery series, where magic is fuelled by STAMINA; and priestly magic. Priestly magic uses a new system, which no longer draws on the same spells as wizardry, and introduces unique powers based on allegiance to certain gods. It's an elegant system that gives priests unique powers, and is an excellent addition to the rules.
Setting and adventuresThere are the usual sections on equipment, encounters, world, and notes for designing adventures. The advice on adventures is refreshingly straightforward, running over hooks, locations, enemies, and possible subplots. There is also a random dungeon/location generator system. Shifting focus to locations and encounters, a little like the old gamebooks, means that adventures feel less scripted. The world of Titan is a glorious patchwork: it's meant to be a world of monsters and magic and strange places, not an exercise in faux-Medieval realism.
Other mattersSince the rules are so good overall, it's disappointing that the text is riddled with errors that should have been caught with proof-reading. There are also some larger mistakes in the expression, such as labelling the villain or antagonist in the scenario section the protagonist. And although the layout is attractive overall, with good use of the illustrations from the original AFF series, the justification is a mess, with distracting and erratic spacing between words on almost every page – which makes the text look like it was set in Microsoft Word, even if it wasn't.
Finally, there are some oddities or inconsistencies in the rules which could stand some clarification. For example, the target number for the optional roll-high method is 15+, which is actually harder to reach than the same combination of SKILL and Special Skill for roll-under. And the rules suggest in several places that it is possible to substitute LUCK for SKILL in certain rolls, including attacks in combat, but there is no plain statement or example of this rule. Of course, with such a simple set of base rules, it is easy enough to patch or house-rule the right option, and AFF 2E encourages this. But because AFF 2E really is an ideal introductory game, this is a potentially puzzling to new players.
All this means, though, is that there is an excellent system and game-world here, with genuine scope for a revised edition (not a new edition) that addresses some issues, and gives AFF an even better foothold as the favoured system for beginners or players who first picked up a sword and lantern in the shadowy passages of Firetop Mountain.