Aug 242010
 

This weekend I had an opportunity to sit down and play a new game you might not have heard of yet, but it is definitely something to put on your radar.

Background

Warrior, Rogue and Mage is written by Michael Wolf of the Stargazer’s World Blog for Stargazer Games.  About a month ago he released it as a 100% free RPG product complete and ready to play at download.  Since then, he has also released a companion document which expands on the magic items available in his fantasy world.

How it Works

This game has taken a unique approach to a classless system, taking one great idea for baseline character generation and melding it with some of the better parts of both Savage Worlds and Dungeons and Dragons.

At the root of this system is his mechanic for base abilities, using the titles Warrior, Rogue, and Mage to describe the attributes of all characters, as opposed to the standard system of using Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence or some variant on those themes.  In effect, the concept is not new but is interesting when looked at through the non-typical label “Warrior”.  It’s not “How strong is this character?” but his strength, combat prowess, and ability to take a hit all rolled up together.  Add this to his very basic Skills mechanic of trained or untrained, and finish the system off with Talents that serve as the final piece of the puzzle to customize your character.  These can give you stand-out features such as the ability to use the character’s blood to fuel magical rituals or a re-roll that can be used once per combat.

What the system does well may actually turn away some otherwise interested parties.  The goal is to keep things very simple, but Warrior, Rogue and Mage might just be too simple.  There are few opportunities for deriving a truly unique character, at least not in the vanilla system as presented.  Michael suggests that readers consider this system to be a baseline and that house-rules and additional content should be added as needed, but I worry that he might have just too little to really build on from what is there.

Perhaps it just comes down to what kind of gamer you are, if you prefer the points on paper to just get you from point-A to point-B, with descriptions and imagination driven from within, this game has what it takes to get the job done.  The battles are quick, deadly, exciting, and easy to manage.  In my play-testing I couldn’t believe how many encounters were covered in such a short period of time.  But if you demand more detail from the system, and are less open to interpretation or discussion, this probably isn’t for you.  Concepts are very basic and it can often lead to some confusion if the game master isn’t quickly decisive.  For example, hoping to honor the system and play it rules-as-written, when a player cast a spell blinding a particular monster, I struggled searching through the PDF for any definition of what a blind condition could be in game terms.  Sadly, I had no luck and simply made a ruling of a rather hefty penalty to rolls where it made sense.  There’s just not much to the 41 pages of RPG, and a lot has to be determined during play.  That’s a fine way to game, but can cause some frustration for players if the GM is inconsistent with modifiers or situational effects.

One of the things that struck me as odd with this game is that the assumed setting seems to be very familiar.  An empire, divided amongst the ruler’s children, collapses to civil war, in a world of high magic and wide-spread magic technology such as golem servants.  This all rings far too close to Eberron.  Although historical examples in the real world of broken kingdoms of course do trump a fantasy setting, I think this is cutting it just a bit too close all around.  I’m sure Michael has some wonderful ideas that will set his fallen empire apart, but even the equipment supplement From the Imperial Forges, written by indie game designer Colin Chapman, lacks anything that truly makes even this partial setting stand on its own.  Most of the items in the expansion are simple conversions of standard D&D magic items to show how simple it is to bring them into this setting.  That said, with setting and system put aside, there are a couple of gems that make it a worthy download.  I am hopeful that given time and a few more releases, the Imperium of Vaneria can grow to segregate itself in my mind from Eberron or other steampunk/magipunk settings.

To make one final complaint about this system before giving my final verdict, I have to say the equipment/coin system needs considerable work.  Michael has stated online that he did not set out to make a balanced game, but the starting coin at a whopping 250 silver pieces when all items are priced so cheaply (the best armor you can buy is 120 silver pieces) is just too much money.  Because all character are encouraged to have some Mage ability and thus be able to cast magical spells, it is understandable that the balance should be high to allow spell purchase at the start of play, but I have to imagine a better way.  The problem posed by having a Warrior garbed in the indestructible Heavy Plate Armor, was that anything powerful enough to hit him will absolutely and without question slaughter a character that chose to have a High Mage score and not wear comparable armor due to spell interference.  This can certainly be accounted for in play by either matching battles with appropriate opponents or simply forcing the heavily protected character to regularly remove his gear to prevent fatigue.  I can easily see using a towering brute and a score of minions to keep the encounter exciting and relatively perilous for all without overwhelming one, but that pattern can grow repetitive as well, and if the character can buy the armor, I don’t believe in taking away the toys the player wants to have.  There are certainly workarounds, but as-is I believe the system should likely be reworked.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some pricing for magic accouterments as well.

Afterword

In the end, there’s nothing you should be able to read about this game that will prevent you from taking a moment to download it and read the 41 quick pages for yourself.  Michael has the ability to accomplish two things with this game, and I think he’s succeeded at one already.

  • He has laid the ground work for something that isn’t quite yet ready, but I think can be fantastic as he continues to make additions and revisions to the product.
  • He’s proven himself to be an incredible game designer/author.  On the first read-through of the system I knew fully how to play, and I can’t really think of any other RPG that has done that.  Even one of my favorites, Savage Worlds, is a system that could benefit from a rewrite in this direct and clear style.  I do think that Michael probably has read a fair amount of Wizards of the Coast’s products, because the sentence structure is similar, but it is a time tested pattern that has plenty of merit.

You can find the core book HERE as well as From the Imperial Forges HERE.

Of my group, everyone enjoyed the system during play testing.  One player in particular loves it.  He happens to be an old-school sort of gamer who longs for simpler days.  I think for that kind of player, or one who is new to gaming and doesn’t want to invest but would like an idea of how these things work, Warrior, Rogue and Mage might be the game of choice.  My buddy is considering starting a campaign, so as we play on I might have more to say in time.  I look forward to seeing what else Mr. Wolf has to offer the gaming community.  Having content of this worth online for free means that everyone wins.

[tags] Role Playing, WRM, RPG, Gaming, indie, rpg [/tags]

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About Nick Nundahl

I'm a wild haired demi-viking living on the East Coast United States. I've run games in countless systems and tanked more game nights than I've ever run successfully, but hopefully I learned a lot in the process and I'd like to pass that on. Follow me on Twitter.

  7 Responses to “Play Review of Warrior, Rogue and Mage”

  1. Thanks for the review, Nundahl. I am glad that you guys enjoyed playing the game. And thanks for pointing out the things you didn’t like. I am the first to admit that the game is far from perfect and constructive criticism often helps to improve things. So thanks again for sharing your thoughts and I hope you will continue to enjoy WR&M even though it was some shortcomings!

  2. Something I’ve noticed with a lot of rules light systems(and this one definitely qualifies) is that they tend to require not only more work on the part of the GM to make rulings, but a different mindset on the part of the players as well.

    As an example, large games like 3.5, Savage Worlds and Big Eyes, Small Mouth tend to have page upon page of skills. Each is fairly specific and detailed. You can do X with this skill. WRM(and to an extent Dr Who fits this as well) has only a few very loosely defined skills. Instead of having one skill that lets you sneak, and another to move silently, and a third to pick locks, etc in this system you just have a skill called Thievery. Obviously it lumps all those mentioned above together, but what if I want to fast talk someone? It could be argued that that could fall under Thievery as well. It becomes less about looking at your list of skills and saying “I don’t have the ability to do that” and more about thinking “How could I apply these skills to the task at hand?”

    This also applies to Talents, which I would say are roughly analogous to Feats or Edges. But try to use a Feat that lets you hunt for food in D&D to track an enemy and see how far it gets you! (I was one of the players in the game over the weekend and was able to use my Hunting talent to look for tracks a couple of times).

  3. @Eric: I definitely agree. You have to play games like WR&M and the older editons of D&D for example differently than most modern games. The game doesn’t give you all the possible actions. In the Fast Talk situation I would probably have asked the player to use their Thievery skill as well.
    I think creative use of skills and talents is what makes the game more interesting as if it had a long lists of actions to choose from.

  4. I agree, it certainly makes it more interesting when you have a good GM(I would say we do, but I don’t want him getting a swelled head). I’ve known some GMs who would simply say “It’s not in the book, thus you can’t do that.”

    I tend to prefer rules light systems for just that reason, more freedom to interpret your abilities. Even when we play 3.5 or Savage Worlds, etc I like characters with versatile abilities(illusion spells can be great fun for instance). But you need some ability to think outside the box to get the most out of this type of game, rather than just memorizing all the rules and lawyering your way through the game world.

  5. D’aww shucks Eric, you really like me?

    /swollen ego

  6. OK…I absolutely loved the game!

    I’m the old school gamer who loves to role play without having to become a rules lawyer. Nothing irks me more than having to delve through piles of books just to decide if Player “A” can cast a particular spell while player “B” is causing a distraction by pounding a goblin to a pulp on the other side of the room. I agree that a few more conditional modifiers need to developed….but the rules provide plenty of common sense guidance for old guys like me to quickly make a decision. I come from the “old school” of gaming where situational decisions require the players and GM to simply “wing it” under some very basic guidelines. Have you ever been in one of those situations where you tried to “wing” a decision with a group of book thumping 3.5’ers? I have and gets beyond frustrating….

    So W, R & M was a true breath of fresh air for me….great job Michael. @Nundahl…thanks for running a great adventure and for introducing me to this cool game! I can’t wait to design a few adventures for our group and see how things play out :-)

    Jack

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