Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (XIV)

OK: combat and adventuring rules.

First we find that of the kinds of activities that a character may earn experience for, combat and adventuring are considered similar enough to be combined in one pool. The text rather sourly rejects “XP for gold,” a reminder that FW is solidly “simulationist”* in certain respects. Anyway combat nets experience by calculating the opponent’s Combat Level (CL) or Monster value x 100, and dividing this product by the character’s level. This presents some problems. First, a starting character has zero levels, and so we will be dividing by zero! I think the obvious solution is to just use the raw 100xCL figure and skip dividing, but hardcore rules lawyers will probably want to make sure this gets mentioned in the next Murphy’s Rules.** More problematic is that “Monster Value” is never mentioned again in the text, as far as I can tell. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. I assume monsters with special powers count as higher CLs?

Adventuring XP comes from successfully making rolls to overcome obstacles of various kinds; take 100 minus your % chance of success and divide by two. No XP at all for failure. Since your level will increase your chances of success, this slowly diminishes unless you take bigger and bigger risks, trying more and more difficult tasks.

It takes 1000 XP to advance a level, so that’s a lot of adventuring or 10 CL1 opponents. I guess zero-level opponents aren’t worth anything either!

The actual rules for adventuring activities generally follow the pattern of a series of factors for relevant attributes, situations, and so on to yield a number from -5 to positive 10, and each number is indexed as a column on a table with percentiles listed to give chances and “degrees of success.” This is a fairly common mechanic in 1980s games but it was the first like it I saw outside of Rolemaster. Rolemaster may have come first, I don’t know. The specific activities listed with detailed factors are:

  • Identifying secret doors/compartments
  • Opening locks
  • Recognizing and escaping traps as they spring
  • Negotiating obstacles
  • Picking pockets

All use the same table, labeled “Secret door identification,” and success, partial success, or failure is possible in each category. So there really is a “System” hidden in all these lists of factors. I’ve seen it suggested that the lists of factors may in fact have originally been submitted as charts or at least columns and that the publishers, to save space, collapsed them into the paragraphs they are presented as now. That may be true. Certainly it seems like there should be a way to extrapolate a more concise “base” factor for these activities and a shorted list of situational ones. The mechanic usually involves the GM setting a “required” Physique and/or Agility to accomplish a task, and this could be re-imagined as a difficulty with a set factor. That’s how I’d approach rewriting this, anyway.

Next time: The combat rules!

*I pretty much can’t stand reading about that “three-fold model” of games but I can see the utility of making the distinction between different emphases. If only the “indy/Forge” crowd wasn’t so dogmatic about “proper” games and gamers really belonging to only one type.

**I used to love that cartoon. It was in the Space Gamer magazine, I think, & it migrated to the Pyramid when that was being printed on paper, but is it still being drawn?

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t think the ‘three-fold model’ was really invented by Ron Edwards. I remember reading an article with a similar idea in an old White Dwarf magazine.

  2. PS I’m pretty sure it used the term ‘simulationist’ as well.

    • Yes, I am fuzzy on the whole history of these “theories.” I remember originally thinking in terms of “realism” versus playabilty (GURPS being the one to hit the sweet spot for me!)

      I stumbled onto this:
      yesterday, which fills in some gaps too. (I wrote this post a week ago or so though, in hindsight I guess the so-called three-fold model is distinct from GNS. The above linked series just focuses on online discussions. It’d be interesting to see the WD article and any followup letters. I remember when WD had some serious discussions in its pages!)

      Another thing I’ve wondered about is the origin of the idea that rules do or don’t “support” a given style of play or approaches or actions. I see that a lot when people argue about games and don’t fully get their point. Is that derived from GNS or similar?
      And of course the idea that a rule can be “broken”. I’ve only heard that criticism in the last five or six years –maybe when D&D 3.5 came out. Where did that come from? Does it mean “unbalancing” or unplayable or unrealistic? Does anyone even talk about realism anymore?

      Anyway when I refer to FW as simulatioist, all I mean is that it is more concerned with simulating all the factors that might influence success (in FWs case, also all those factors people thought influenced things, like the stars!) than it is concerned with providing a simple or fast or “balanced” mechanic. Unlike the GNS crowd, if that even exists anymore, who I take it would mean something very different (and very negative).

      • I think the concept of ‘broken’ rules might come from collectible card games, where it makes more sense, since there’s no ‘rule zero’.

  3. There’s actually quite a lot of theory about games that seems to be pretty solid, for example the online course at

    Sadly, this body of ideas seems to be have little or no crossover with ‘role-playing game theory’ (not just the Forge, but the ideas of actual commercial designers).

  4. Man, I never caught that bit about XP at zero level!

    I’ve owned both the large and small cover versions of the book – it might be worth mentioning that the (original?) larger book is missing a whole page of weapon stats due to a printing error.

    • That’s right, but only some printings have that problem. Dave Trimboli’s site has a pdf of the missing page.
      I have the 4th printing of the US (Stein & Day) edition of the large book and it is complete.

      • Phew, I just saw this after reading most of the book, but my 2nd edition Stein and Day has the weapons present.

  5. Regarding division by zero for combat experience: You don’t want to ignore the part about dividing by your own combat level. Since experience levels are always separated by 1,000 points, you would get the same 100 points for a level 1 warrior whether you yourself were level 1 or level 10. A level 10 warrior shouldn’t expect to go to level 11 just by wiping out 10 level 1 warriors.

    Columns with different percentage distributions under each were common in wargames. That is where this comes from.

    The “Monster Factor” obviously refers to the “Combat Factor” listed for each monster. The Combat Factor is (also) obviously the combat level of the monster, plus any modifications for agility, etc. Only situational modifiers should apply to a monster’s combat factor.

    Murphy’s Rules is still being published in Pyramid Magazine.

    • Good point about the division by level.
      I agree that CL must be intended by monster factor. This is likely an artifact of different authors doing different sections.
      Thanks for the murphy’s rules link!

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