So, let us talk about the Advanced Fighting Fantasy trilogy.
First up, the technical aspects. This book contains a simplified set of rules for quick play, and then goes on to expand those rules later to give a more comprehensive option for when the players and DMs are ready to get their teeth into it. The system is simple enough, with easy and accessible methods to it, requiring a simple roll of two dice to determine success or failure. Players can grasp this without any real learning curve.
You're also provided with a collection of spells, of which a few are quite useful, but there are a whole swath of which that are simply generic. You're also given a rather hefty collection of weapons that, in practice, only resulted in my players using it as a list to determine which weapons to avoid (namely daggers, short swords, and anything that dealt only a couple of hit points of damage per turn). Additional rules even out the imbalance later on, but we'll get to that as the seires progresses.
I never had this book when I was a kid, but I did have a copy of its sequel, Blacksand. This series tries to do something that a lot of 'intro-level' gaming products do, and coax the players in by comparing tabletop RPGs to something else. Recent editions of D&D compare the game to video games, explaining that the DM is like a developer. The biggest problem I had with these books is that they sell themselves as teaching you how to make a Fighting Fantasy movie.
So naturally, I took it at its face value. Perhaps it was because I'd missed the part that explained that it was only 'like' making a movie. Maybe Blacksand never had this paragraph. But as a result, here are a list of problems that this particular "Tabletop RPGs are like a..." that this series inflicted upon me as a child.
- I was a kid who reads books. That, by default of having grown up in the 80s, means that I have maybe two friends at most. How am I supposed to coax the kids who don't want to beat me up to dress as a wizard and stand in front of cameras?
- Where do I get a wizard costume?
- How do I coax my grandad to let me borrow his very expensive camcorder whilst I went trapsing around in a dark cave.
- Where do I, living in the middle of one of the big cities in the UK, find a cave? This wasn't an Enid Blyton countryside here!
- Although it may have been conceivable that I had been able to acquire a few swords, the question of what I should say to the police when they questioned me about why I was carrying a load of them through the middle of said city looking for a cave was something that still hasn't even been answered in my adult LARPing days.
- Much as I try, and much as I would wish, during my days working customer service in a call center, I have yet to learn how to throw a ball of fire at someone. How would I film such?
At the end of the day, it may have simply been better to describe it as a game of let's-pretend.
The adventures that accompany this book are pretty decent, the first of which is a basic intro-level dungeon crawl, complete with gryphons and giant lizards, whilst the second is set in everyone's favorate port city, Southampton. Nah, it's Blacksand, which is actually a slightly nicer place.
Our first playthrough of the opening adventure featured my friends being sent on a mission to rescue a princess from the evil warlock Xortan Throg, who my friends quickly renamed. Throg = Throb = Great throbbing penises. I'm sure you see the logic there. If you haven't seen my previous misfortunes in running Advanced FF games, please do. Technically this is a new gaming group, though. This lot are worse.
The adventure begins with the motley crew being assembled by the prince of Someplace to rescue the princess. The players are promptly told "This cave will lead you to the wizard's castle. We'll wait here with the army while you lot go and die horribly, kthnxbai" and shove the group into a cave full of goblins. The moment that one of the players starts to 'defile' the bodies, I know that this is all going to end in tears.
Three hours later, said player's character has had his reproductive organs fed to the gryphon. This is entirely appropriate to the crimes he had committed. Another player had since taken to opening every door by means of a fireball spell, which was actually a very smart idea, so long as you didn't care too much about saving any prisoners locked behind the doors.
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Four dead prisoners and many broken doors later, the crew has worked their way through the wizard's tower. There they encountered many dangerous things. My personal favorates were two giant metal swinging swords that swung back and forth across the entire hallway, which the crew were able to jam with the body of a dead goblin.
After having outwitted Throb, uh, Throg's guards by killing all of them when they opened the door via fireball, I decided to introduce them to the evil wizard entirely. Due to unfortunate implications in terms of the artwork, Throg has a very odd beard and a skullcap that makes him look a bit like a Jewish man in a piece of 1930s German artwork. It's... yeah...
The players then trample over Throg without breaking a sweat, only for the prince from the start of the adventure to step out from behind a curtain. He announces "Aha, it was all a trap! Now I will-" before he gets hit in the face with multiple fireballs. The players then find the princess tied up in Throg's bedchamber and - yeah, I put an end to that right away. The princess escapes, kneeing one of the adventurers in the crotch in the meantime. In a cunning twist, the REAL Throg's face emerges from the fireplace, where he taunts the players until they get bored of his monologue and walk off, leaving much of his required dialogue unread. The second adventure will have to wait for another time, though.
For all its flaws, this is a pretty nice intro to Advanced FF. It's significantly better put-together than their earlier attempts, and feels far more cohesive. Each encounter is laid out with possible outcomes, which means that you have plenty of range to account for what the players might do, whilst still having enough freedom to accomodate for the unexpected bouts of insanity.
The only question that remains is where you put the cameras.