Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 18 February 2023

Towering Trials

It has been over thirty-five years since the publisher of Britain’s longest running Science Fiction comic, 2000 AD, dabbled in the field of roleplaying. Both times, it was with solo adventure books, first with the Diceman comic, and then with You are Maggie Thatcher: a dole-playing game, but that all changed in 2021 with the first release in the Adventure Presents series. Published by 
Rebellion, best known as the publisher of 2000 AD, this is essentially a complete roleplaying game and scenario in a magazine format. The first issue was Tartarus Gate – A Roleplaying Game of Sci-Fi Horror, from the designers of Spire: The City Must Fall, a full Blue Collar Science Fiction Horror roleplaying game. Each entry in the Adventure Presents series a simple roleplaying game and a full, three-session scenario designed for up to six players and the Game Master for which everyone will need three six-sided dice and some pencils. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the second entry in the Adventure Presents line is Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying.

Adventure Presents Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying is a fantasy roleplaying game and scenario all in one, in which a group of courageous adventurers is employed by Azra Zathra to investigate the disappearance of her wife, Zura. Zura Zathra is a wizard and has not returned from her tower for the last two days. Her wife is thus worried, but cannot investigate herself because the tower is full of volatile and dangerous magic. Fortunately, being braver and more capable, a stalwart band of adventurers can! Unfortunately, when the adventurers enter the tower, things go terribly wrong for them. They are shrunk down to a diminutive size, which gives the adventure a whole new dimension! The adventurers must negotiate their way through an environment in which almost everything to them is a threat where previously they were the threat or anything other than a threat! Can they find they find a way to complete their towering trip, avoid the hazards of a world made both big and small, avoid or least find a way to confound the curious cat, and lastly, discover the means to restore themselves to full size, let alone discover what happened to  Zura Zathra?

The format of the Adventure Presents series and thus Tiny in the Tower is important. The centre twenty-two pages are intended to be pulled out. These include six Character Sheets, the Allies booklet which details all of the adventure’s cooperative critters, all of its antagonists, two Map handouts, and both the How to Play booklet and the Special Rules booklet. Zura Zathra’s wizard’s tower is mapped out across seven floors in lovely detail with full illustrations of each.

A character or Protagonist in Tiny in the Tower is simply defined. He has four Abilities—Toughness, Agility, Smarts, and Wits—each ranging in value between one and four. He has a value for his Health and his Resolve—his willpower, the former as high as twenty, the latter as high as twelve. He also has three Drives, for example, Calm, Swift, and Heroic. Each character has a background and a given role, such as The Daredevil or The Knight, and an excellent illustration. It is left up to the player to name the character.

Mechanically, Tiny in the Tower is simple and straightforward, its key mechanic, known as the ‘Adventure system’, best described as ‘roll three and keep two’—mostly. For his Protagonist to undertake an action, a player rolls three six-sided dice and removes one die. Which die depends upon the rating of the Ability being tested. If the Ability has a value of one, the highest die value is removed; if two, the die with the middle value is removed; if three, the lowest die value is removed; and if four, no die is removed, and all are counted. Either way, the total value of the remaining dice needs to equal or exceed the value of a Target Number to succeed, the Target Numbers ranging from six or simple to twelve or extreme. The Game Master can adjust the difficulty of a task by temporarily increasing or lowering the Player Character’s Ability value. A supporting Protagonist can help another and so temporarily increase the supported Protagonist’s Ability, whilst the acting Protagonist can spend Resolve to also increase his Ability value. Resolve can be regained by a Protagonist pursuing one or more of his Drives and at the beginning of each chapter, as can Health.

Combat, or conflict, in Tiny in the Tower consists of opposed rolls. The lower roll is subtracted from the higher roll and the remaining value deducted from the losing combatant’s Toughness. Conflict resolution is designed—much like the rules in general—to be fast and in the case of combat, dangerous rather than necessarily deadly. The special rules for the adventure primarily cover movement up and down the tower since this will be a major challenge for the Protagonists because the tower being a wizard’s tower means that it is missing one important feature found in other towers—stairs! How exactly the missing wizard gets up and down the tower, and more importantly, how her cat gets up and down the tower given that the Protagonists are on the same scale as the cat, are an important aspect of the scenario. Consequently, the Protagonists will have to find their own way up and down the tower and the Special Rules provides rules for climbing and falling, and suggests routes the Protagonists can take between each floor.

Tiny in the Tower is essentially a chase and investigation story. The Protagonists are chasing the Wizard to determine where she has gone and consequently find themselves in the same predicament. Their journey is on a grand scale, almost like scaling a mountain, complete with rooms which represent the different stages and base camps, although far more detailed and interesting. Along the way, the Protagonists will have the opportunity to confront enemies and dangers, overcome obstacles, make allies, and ultimately thwart the ambitions of a would-be dictator who wants to take over in the absence of her wizard mistress.

Physically, Tiny in the Tower is very nicely presented. It is well written, but what really stands out is the artwork—which is as good as you would expect from a publisher which puts out 2000 AD each week. If the illustrations are good, then the maps are even better. Overall, the production values, for what is just a ‘magazine roleplaying game’ are stunning. The format does mean that the roleplaying game and scenario requires a little extra preparation, in particular physically as the Game Master pulls it apart, and she will also need to find a means of storing it all together afterwards.

In addition, Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying comes with an extra adventure, a prologue called ‘The Burglar of Brackwood’. This takes place in and around the village of Brackwood, which over the previous three nights has been beset by a series of burglaries and thefts. Careful questioning of the villagers and examination of each break-in will garner some clues, but ultimately the trail will lead into the nearby forest where the Protagonists will find and confront the culprit. The situation is stranger than the players and their Protagonists might imagine, gives them a big problem to solve (which could go very wrong), and in being linked to Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying, serves as a straightforward, but enjoyable introduction to the ‘Adventure system’ and prologue to the full scenario. Plus, Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying comes with its own set of ‘Mice Dice’, bright yellow, cheese-themed six-sided dice. These are very cute and whilst mice do appear in the scenario in this issue of Adventure Presents, Rebellion Games should definitely do a mouse-based scenario in a future issue specifically for these dice. Similarly, there is scope for further adventures in the fantasy world that Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying presents, a classic fantasy roleplaying world.

Scenarios involving Player Characters being shrunk down to the size of insects or mice and expected to explore what is now a gigantic world are nothing new. Mechanically, what changes in such scenarios is not the Player Characters, the creatures they will face, and the environment they must overcome, but the scale at which it takes place. Jim Bambra’s ‘Round the Bend’, an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition scenario published in Imagine No. 15 magazine (June, 1984) is a classic example, in which half-orc thieves are punished by the wizard they attempted to steal from by shrunk to two inches in height and then made to recover a magical item that the wizard accidentally dropped down a drain. Then again, there are roleplaying games such as Mouseguard and Mausritter which do a similar thing, but with the Player Characters cast as mice in a world which is much larger than them. Tiny in the Tower does a similar thing to ‘Round the Bend’, but here the Protagonists are definitely more heroic and the story approaches the ‘shrunken adventures’ theme from a different angle.

Adventure Presents Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying lives up to its description. It is cosy, but not without its dangers or its obstacles. It combines a simple, straightforward plot, set-up, and quick mechanics that are easy for the Game Master to run and easy for the players to roleplay and play. Adventure Presents Tiny in the Tower – Cosy Fantasy Roleplaying is an engaging and friendly all-in-one one-shot package which takes a classic fantasy situation and makes heroes of the Protagonists in letting them explore that situation and solve problems at a different scale.

No comments:

Post a Comment