Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (XII)

Character generation in FW is definitely “old school” — 3d6 in order for the attributes, with random rolls for additional features of your character. Regarding “class,” there are essentially three classes, but by default every character starts as zero level in all three. Depending on player preference and social class, a player may elect to start out as a warrior, clergy member, or magic user, or a combination, depending on social class and to some extent on choices.

The ability scores are (explanation in parentheses): Physique (strength), Agility (dexterity), Endurance (health and ability to absorb damage; there are no hit points), Charisma (personal charm), Greed, Selfishness, & Lust (lower means self-control over the vice, so higher is generally bad), Bravery (courage and anger, so higher is generally good but high bravery can lead to berserking), Intelligence (reasoning and ability to learn), Faith (understanding and awareness of the Ethereal Plane), Social Class (the most important of all in hierarchical societies like the dark and middle ages were). Leadership is derived from a formula where charisma and social class count a lot and bravery, physique, intelligence count some). After rolling these stats, you roll for star sign and optionally apply modifiers for that (there is no obvious balance among the modifiers, and some star signs affect social class!). Then roll 2d6-7 (“Aspecting”) and apply the result as bonus or penalty points (reverse these for greed, selfishness, and lust, and no ability can be raised more than 2 points, and abilities of 14+ can only have one pint added). The abilities will also go up as levels are gained, so crappy starting abilities don’t necessarily doom a character.

Next, you roll 1-3 times (d3) on the infamous “Bogey” table. About 1/3 of the rolls will be no result, which we re-rolled but the rules don’t say to do this. About 1/2 are good (the even numbers) and 1/2 bad. They generally apply a +1 or -1 to an ability, or have some other minor effect, ranging from quirks that may not matter much in a game (e.g. sexual perversion) to fairly significant powers (healing hands once per day) or disadvantages (heretic, persecuted & shunned by all right-minded Christians). Some readers have taken deep offense at these but really they just reflect the rather intolerant and “backward” cultures of the times. Likewise the penalties for playing a woman are severe: -3 to Physique, Endurance, & Social Class, -2 Bravery and Charisma, offset by -3 to Greed, Selfishness, and Lust. But again these reflect a society that sheltered women and taught them to be submissive. I think these make more sense for the upper classes, though, considering the terribly hard labor peasant women would do. I’ve seen a house rule that grants female characters two free levels to offset these and that is what I’d do too.

At this point you need to decide whether to belong to a rural dweller, townsfolk, landowning/warrior, or clergy background. Social class, if very low or very high, may limit the choices — a 3 or 4 social class may only be a rural-dweller, for example.

Next you consult various ability scores and your background and social class to determine whether you have any of six skills, and whether you just have the skill or do it “well.” These are : Riding, Swimming, Climbing, Tracking, Stealing, and Singing. Characters with the Stealing skill at “well” are professional thieves for purposes of the game but this is not a separate Thief class.

Warriors choose a warrior type from the army lists (“Warrior table”) later in the rules, which determines starting arms & armor, and mages choose to be a mage type based on their social class and background, though the table they need to consult is buried deep within the magic section.

Height and weight are determined by Physique and Endurance, respectively.

Social class determines starting wealth, and the equipment list is painstakingly researched from the middle ages, although it includes a bit of standard dungeon-delving stuff like 50′ ropes, torches, etc. despite the anti-dungeon comments earlier. Also, the list does not necessarily correspond to what is on the armor and weapons tables, although prices are given there too, so that is not too much of a problem.

And there you have your character. I’ll roll one up for for example.

Rolling in order, Physique: 4, Agility: 8, Endurance: 8, Intelligence: 14, Faith: 8, Charisma: 11, Social Class: 10, Bravery: 13, Greed: 8, Selfishness: 13, Lust: 13. Just my luck — I haven’t rolled well on 3d6 for at least ten years. That’s never going to make a warrior, and the vices look kind of high for a cleric, so I will aim for a magic user. I rolled Cancer for Star Sign, and got a -3 on the Aspecting (doh!), so the final scores (opting to raise Greed and Selfishness rather than reduce anything for aspecting) will be Physique: 4, Agility: 8, Endurance: 6, Intelligence: 17, Faith: 8, Charisma: 11, Social Class: 11, Bravery: 13, Greed: 10, Selfishness: 15, Lust: 13. Rolling for Bogeys, I got three rolls, but the first was a “no result.” The other two are Fear of Snakes or Spiders and Beauty (+1 Charisma). With a 12 Charisma, my Leadership calculates to 11, not too shabby. I’ll fear snakes instead of spiders, and say he’s Irish, and name him Brendan. Looking at the mage chart, an 11 Social class is not high enough for Sorcerer or Cabalist, so I’ll be a Wizard. If I raise my Social Class to 13 (and this can be done by paying a bunch of gold and gaining levels) I’ll qualify for Sorcerer later on. I’ll go with Townsfolk (rather than Rural Dweller, Clergy, or Landowning/Warrior) and say his father is a Guildmaster. Brendan isn’t joining a guild though, and I’ll say he’s a bastard, so his father is Social Class 11+3=14! At SC 11 I get 14 Gold Sovereigns, but won’t need much money, since I don’t need weapons. I’m literate (I had a 60% chance based on my SC, Int, and the fact I’m a mage) and also have a 30% chance of knowing any human language I come across. I guess you just roll when you encounter them, but you could just as well make a list and roll for each one ahead of time. Rolling for skills, I have (Int+SC=)38% chance to ride but miss that roll. I’ll say he lives near a river so he has (Agilityx5=)40% chance of swimming (missed again) and only an (Agility) 8% chance of climbing but make that roll and can Climb! I’m not noble or a rural dweller, so I can’t Track, and I’m too high a SC to be able to Steal, but everyone has at least a 33% chance to Sing (clergy get a better chance) and no, can’t sing either.

And that’s that! I start with no mana or piety, but as a wizard I can accumulate mana by chanting or ululating… except your maximum mana appears to be Magic Level x 16, and I’m zero level… That is either an oversight of the rules (there will also be division by zero problems for combat/adventuring experience, so maybe we assume all characters are 1/2 a level? Or just use 1 for the maximum mana and effective level for experience gains. Otherwise there is no way to get off first level as a mage, because that experience is only for casting spells and accumulating mana. One could gain adventuring XP for overcoming obstacles but mathematically no combat XP until first level either. I haven’t looked at he religion rules recently enough to recall if that is a problem. I totally forgot about this problem. I don’t remember how we handled it back in the day.

Anyway Brendan looks like he has a hard road ahead of him. His high intelligence will partly offset his low faith when it comes to magic but he’ll probably need all the help he can get; luckily he can get a lot of bonus to his magic calculations if he takes advantage of all the astrological influences he can. If possible he’d better try practicing some spells to “master” them too. But that all comes later in the rules. (In fact his best bet will be to practice divination and the interpretation of dreams, since his Intelligence is so high.)

If I were to run this game, I think I’d let players arrange their scores as they wish for the most and just require Greed, Selfishness, and Lust to be rolled in order. That would make it a lot easier to make a viable character, and also give players the option to make something like the character they want to play.

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Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (14)  
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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Do the rules specifically say you start at zero level? Because every class/level game I’ve played (and I haven’t played one since 1984, which is still after this game came out), you started at 1. Zero level was an NPC level.

    • Yeah, actually it does specify that the default is zero XP in every category and zero levels. Reading deep into the rules, I think you could strictly adhere to the rules and manage to gain levels in all three categories, it would just take a very long time for the magic level (you’d be gaining xp for detecting influences, having & interpreting visions/dreams, resisting spells, and doing magical preparations, but some of these would require a Faith of 12+ for a zero level mage) and the first combat/adventuring level could come from a series of strenuous hikes; after that fighting would speeding things up. Religious levels are comparatively easy to gain, if you attend a lot of religious services.
      That said, the rules also suggest giving PCs a level or more to start, and I’d certainly consider going that route to help mitigate crummy ability rolls (since AD&D 2e and especially 3/4e, everyone expects to start out heroic anyway).

  2. See, this is part of what I like about this game. All the little details and random generation. I think it makes for believable and interesting characters, though not necessarily very playable!

    Looking through what FW expects of your character and suggests as a world background can really shake you out of the typical “rut” of thinking where everything works the way it does in D&D. It’s a whole different set of assumptions, and seems very well thought out.

    • Yes, alot of this depends on assumptions. I’m still sort of looking a this a D&D replacement, which some early chapters suggest it is, but reading between the lines it is not. It is a simulation of Beowulf, Viking sagas, Arthurian & Celtic legends, and medieval romances and hagiographies. It’s not “you play Conan, I’ll play Gandalf, and we’ll go fight Dracula” (to quote Jeff Rient’s succinct explanation of D&D). More like “You play St. Patrick, I play Harald Hardrada,and we team up to fight Fomorians in Ireland.” Or maybe “You play a friar, I play a knight, and we try to survive the winter.”

      I think that especially if this were run like the early D&D games (i.e. more like a wargame campaign) starting characters wouldn’t look so bad. There are many small things a character can do on a daily basis (magical preparations, religious services, etc.) that garner XP, piety, and mana. There would be a fair amount of “down time” between adventures, or more likely before the first adventure.

  3. I would be interested in seeing a “retro-clone” of the game just to have it better organized and easier to jump into the game.

    • Well that’s four votes for a FW retroclone, counting mine! I wonder if I can’t rope in some volunteers to assist.

  4. More like “You play St. Patrick, I play Harald Hardrada,and we team up to fight Fomorians in Ireland.” Or maybe “You play a friar, I play a knight, and we try to survive the winter.”

    And that’s what I am digging on. It’s got a vibe that’s more in line with what I wanted out of Pendragon.

  5. Or maybe “You play a friar, I play a knight, and we try to survive the winter.” That *could* be quite dreadful. “Roll to see if you can start a fire . . . umm, nope” 🙂

    • Well, yeah, and I was being a little facetious, given the ‘simulationist’ bent of the rules. After all the text pretty clearly says the point is to play heroic stuff. Still it sometimes seems more like the movie Jabberwocky than say Excalibur. Maybe a mix of the two. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

      • I see it more as Excalibur. Magic and Relgion are very pwerful. It might work for conan as well but not LoR

  6. Chello!

    Your review has inspired me to get my copy off of the shelf. I’ve been a Deryni fan for decades now and was somewhat disappointed in the use of the FUDGE system for the RPG that came out a few years back. It just didn’t seen to capture the grittiness of a “real” medieval setting very well.

    I’m wondering of I could pull off a Deryni campaugn with FWG. hmmmm….

  7. A good summary. You made one small mistake, though: when looking at the magic-user table to choose what kind of mage you’ll be, the social class figure is that of your father, not yourself. Work out your father’s social class first, then use the table to determine what sort of mage you can be based on your father’s social class. If you’re the Social Class 11 son of a Social Class 14 Guildmaster, you can be a Wizard if you’re a rural dweller, or a High/Runic Sorcerer if you’re from any of the other sectors of society. To have other choices (like a Wizard son of a landowner), you’d have to change your relationship to your father first.

    Starting at level 0 is obviously intended, but it definitely screws up some of the calculations, as you’ve discovered. I would do what you suggested, pretending your level is “1/2.”

    • Aha! That makes it a lot easier to be a sorcerer, huh?
      In fact, I think I got the 1/2 level idea and spotting females a couple levels from your site, or maybe the other one I put up the link to (are there any other FW sites?).
      I love what you did on you site, BTW. I’m thinking about going even further and putting together a document that has all the character generation stuff in one handy place, and making it printable as a digest-sized booklet. Then a second booklet on combat, and a third on magic and religion, to ease reference and “entry.” I was thinking about simplifying the whole thing but I don’t know if it is possible (or desirable, really).

    • The “Rural Dweller” column for Wizards seems to have a typo, since according to the main Social Class table, there is no SC 14 for Rural Dwellers. 13 is “(Lord’s Agent) Reeve”, and nothing is listed higher.


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