Friday, 1 November 2019

A Positively Light RPG

Fairyland is a roleplaying game of heroes, where everything is possible, and even the ordinary is extraordinary. It is a roleplaying game of ‘Once Upon a Time’, of being a brave knight fighting dragons, rescuing princesses from evil stepmothers, and of taking the first steps into a world of magic, whether that is as a mouse or robin, squirrel or leprechaun, princess or nymph, farmboy or dwarf, pegasus or cow, fairy or donkey. It draws on sources as diverse as Aladdin, The Hobbit, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, Arthurian and Norse myth, and of course, Grimms’ Fairy Tales to present a light roleplaying game of magic, adventure, and wonder. Published by Rogue Games , this marks it as very different in terms of tone and mechanics to the publisher’s other roleplaying games like Colonial Gothic: A historical supernatural role-playing game and Shadow, Sword, & Spell.

A Hero—for that is what each player characters is—in Fairyland is defined by five abilities, ranging from one (Weak) to six (Awesome). These are Strong, Quick, Tough, Smarts, and Stubborn. A Hero also has Health and Luck, as well as Size. The latter determines how much damage the Hero does and what special abilities he might have, though a player will decide what the source of the damage is. So a Hedgehog with a Size of Tiny does one damage, which his player describes as a ‘spiny wrestling move’, whilst a Small Dragon is Huge and inflicts five damage, whether that is stomping on an enemy, a tail swipe, or breathing fire. A Hero also has a special ability depending on his size and species, so a Tiny-sized Robin can fly, but an Elf, Nymph, or you, with a Size of Medium, can wear or use anything. As to who a Hero is, he can be a Fighter, Friend Maker, Rascal, Trickster, or Wizard Apprentice. A Fighter is a warrior; a Friend Maker turns enemies into allies or gets his allies to fight for him; a Rascal is anything from a thief to a pirate; a Trickster is a mischief maker—either clever or magical, the former using his wits to get by whilst the latter uses Tricks; and a Wizard Apprentice casts Spells. 

To create a Hero, a player decides on who and what he is, then distributes sixteen points between Hero’s Abilities. The Hero’s Size determines his Damage, whilst ‘What I am’ sets his Health, Luck, and Stuff, the latter his belongings and the number of Eggs—the currency used in Fairyland—as well as the Hero’s Other Things. These include Spells, Tricks, and so on. Lastly, he decides upon his Hero’s ‘6 Things About Me’, which may or may not be true, may or may not have a game effect (if the Storyteller, as the Game Master in Fairyland is known, allows it), or may just describe the Hero.

Who I am: Oleander Tanglefield
What I am: A Pooka, a Magical Trickster

How good I am:
Strong: 1 Health: 5
Quick: 4 Damage: 3
Tough: 2 Luck: 1
Smarts: 5 Size: Medium
Stubborn: 3

Other Things
Trick—Invisible
+1 to Smarts Tests for escaping

Stuff
Silk rope, 45 Silver Eggs

6 Things About Me
I am six foot tall, white rabbit (when not invisible)
There is nothing better than fine wine (or ale) and company
I cannot shapechange into other animals, but I should be able to
I have an infinite supply of waistcoats (not all of them mine, but they always fit)
Happily gives lifts to strangers, but throws them off when they are annoying

Overall, Hero creation is simple and easy. The rules enable the creation of a wide range of character types, especially with the use of Tricks. Take the ‘Live Like a Fish’ Trick and a player can create a Nymph or the Trick ‘Good Advice’ and he has the basis of a Fairy Godmother type character, whether that is an actual Fairy Godmother or a Lobster helping out a Mermaid Princess. Alternative rules allow ordinary folk, essentially versions of the players as their ten to sixteen year old selves, to cross over into Fairyland and have adventures, whether that is via a spell, a wardrobe, or another item of furniture. 

To do anything in Fairyland, a Hero’s player attempts a Test. The player rolls three six-sided dice and add an Ability to equal or beat a Target Number. Target Numbers range from Feeble (2) and Poor (4) all the way up to Holy Cow! (42) and No Way! (48). When a player rolls, his Hero either succeeds or fails—there is no degree of success or failure, thus reflecting the black or white, yes or no nature of Fairyland as a place. Lots of examples are given, some of them really quite complex, such as running downstairs and chewing gum whilst avoiding traps and thrown objects with its Target Number of Monstrous! (22). The advice for the Storyteller though is to pitch the difficulty for any task somewhere in the middle. So not too high, not too low, but just right. Plus there are scaling rules which allow the Storyteller to adjust both tasks and foes to equal or just exceed the Power Level—equal to their total Ability points—of the average Hero.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but when acting a Hero gets to do one thing, that is Attack, Defend, cast a spell, or use an Ability. Even if a Hero defends, which requires a roll against a Test Number of Remarkable! (12), he can only defend—Dodge, Defend, or Parry—against a single attack. Whether it is better armour or bonuses to attack with Strong Tests, when it comes to the fight, Fighters do have the advantage, but first they have to get there. In keeping with the genre—and much like the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game—talkers act before combatants, so it is possible for Heroes to talk or charm their way out of a confrontation. Certainly the Friend Maker is best placed to take advantage of this, but whatever role Hero has taken, it is always the better option, since although combat is not necessarily lethal, it can be deadly.

All Heroes have access to another resource—Luck. This can be used to ensure a Hero automatically succeeds at a Test (before or after the roll), force an enemy to fail at a Test, allow him to take another Action, and to restore his Health or that of another Hero to one should have taken too much damage. (A Hero is probably definitely dead should he suffer damage sufficient to reduce his Health to a minus value equal to its starting value. Maybe.) A Hero has one point of Luck per session, but if not used, is lost… but then reset at the beginning of the next session. Now if a Hero is ‘out of Luck’, he can ‘Press his Luck’ in an attempt to regain the used Luck. A Hero can do this as often as he likes, but he is literally using up his future Luck. Which means that in a number of future sessions, the Hero will not have any Luck…

Magic in Fairyland adheres to a simple set of rules. Casting a spell counts as an action, spells can be cast as often as a Wizard Apprentice—or some other spellcasting type—likes, spell duration is always equal to the caster’s Smarts Ability, require a Smarts Test to be successfully cast, and so on. Overall, spellcasting is kept simple and obvious. Fairyland has just five categories of spell—Change, Charm, Enchant, Help, and Hurt, with just a few spells listed under each. In comparison, Tricks only fall under three categories—Enchantments, Pranks, and Curses, though the latter typically falls outside of the Heroes’ purview. Unless, of course, one of their number is subject to such a Curse.

A good half of Fairyland is dedicated to helping the Storyteller set up and run a story. So there is advice on building Villains and making them villainous, focusing on their Power Base—influence, wealth, position, and so on, Goals and Motivations, and Charisma. Now Charisma is not necessarily personal magnetism, but can be allies, sidekicks, and the like. Now of all the elements that go into making up a Villain, this is the least well explained, and here perhaps, the roleplaying game could have done with some actual examples. In comparison, several ideas are suggested under Goals, but none under Charisma. Similar advice covers the creation of background characters and monsters, including a guide to possible stats and traits. It is supported later in the roleplaying game with a range of classic fairy realm beasts and monsters, from Dragons and Ghosts to Skeletons and Unicorns. The advice on the tone of Fairyland nicely pulls from a handful of examples, from Aseop’s Fables to Hans Christian Andersen, whilst that given for handling travel in the realm of fairy stories is a gentle dig at the sort of fantasy roleplaying game which requires bookkeeping (though the anti-example given as an exception, East of the Sun and West O’the Moon, makes me want to go read that).

Instead of just giving a campaign, the author works through an example of building a campaign, tailoring it to a group of players and their varying demands and play styles. This is a rather nice job of rather than telling the prospective Storyteller how to set and run a game of Fairyland, showing them instead. This is actually the best part of the roleplaying game, not just showing the Storyteller the author’s mind at work, but providing her with a worked example that she can use, adapt, or draw inspiration form as is her wont. Lastly, the author provides an example Fairyland, neither big nor small, here or there, summer or winter, night or day… At its heart lies Forever City where wizards and heroes dwell and all roads lead, whilst to the west stands Glass City, the most beautiful and delicate place in all of Fairyland. The Swamp of Darkness to the south is said to be home to the Licorice Witch, whomever she may be, and even further south is found the Mouth of Darkness, a source of great evil. Home to Centaurs, Dwarves, Elves, Fairies, Fauns, Gnome, Goblins, Merpeople, Nymphs, Ogres, Sprites, and Trolls, this Fairyland is sketched out in just about enough detail for the Storyteller to get a feel for it and run a tale or two across its lands.

Physically, Fairyland is a twenty-one centimetre square hardback whose look is that of a long-lost tome left in the forest for trees to grow around it. Inside, it is decently illustrated with a range of full colour pieces, all of a fantastical nature. It needs an edit here and there, and the writing feels initially tentative. Thankfully, it settles down as the author finds his voice when giving advice for the Storyteller in the latter half of the book.

Fairyland suffers from one half being better than the other. That is, the first half is not as good as the second. In the second half, the writing is better and the author feels much more engaged with the subject matter. Now this is not say that the rules to Fairyland are poor or that the various Hero types—Friend Makes, Tricksters, Wizard Apprentices, and so on—are terrible. They are not. They are decent and do a good job of handling the relatively simple demands set by the roleplaying game and genre. Rather that the lack of blurb on the back cover and the all too short introduction at the start of the book before it leaps into an explanation of the rules means that Fairyland undersells itself and its elevator pitch. 

In terms of roleplaying, Fairyland offers a palate cleanser, an opportunity to run and play something lighter, more direct in its style and tone, a change from the doom and gloom, shade of grey of other roleplaying games and is all the more welcome for that. Once it finds it voice, Fairyland is a charmingly positive roleplaying game and an engaging treatment of the fairy tale genre. 

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