Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fight On! has plenty of old-school spirit

The very first article in Fight On!--"A fanzine for the old-school renaissance"--details a method for quickly and randomly generating colorful details for fleshing out dwarf PCs. It's a fun little article and a pretty good indication of the contents to come, and refreshingly, there's no mechanics or feats to be found.

Fight On! is a new quarterly print magazine published and edited by Ignatius Umlaut. You have to order it through lulu.com , an on-line self-publishing outfit. It checks in at a slim 30 pages, but I can honestly say it feels like there's a lot of content between its covers. It costs $6.00 plus shipping and it took about a week to arrive in the mail after I ordered it--not bad for processing, printing, and shipping.

Although Fight On! caters to original three-book D&D (OD&D) players, its applicable to any of the older versions of the game. I would imagine that 3E players could also find lots of inspiration and ideas here as well. I myself never actually played OD&D, having cut my teeth on the excellent Tom Moldvay basic edition and later AD&D 1E, but I experienced an easy familiarity (and a strong bout of nostalgia) as soon I started reading.

Overall I found Fight On! to be a useful, fun publication. Although some articles falter a bit, throughout it remained very true to old-school campaigning in heart and spirit. The articles have imagination and depth to them, and it's easy to see why--they are taken from the contributors' own detailed campaign worlds, many of which are mentioned by name. The writing style of many of the articles has a Gygaxian ring, incorporating vivid descriptions and language and a Dungeon Master's air of authority and whimsy. For example, in "The Devil's in the Details," the author points out that players should add character to their PCs by using moderate bits of flavor, but no lengthy, complex backstories, lest the "weight of history collapse her into a scripted doom." I miss this style of writing in the 3E manuals, which are far too text-booky and staid for my tastes.

One notable change is that, presumably for copyright's sake, Fight On! does not use obvious D&Disms. Therefore, levels become "ranks," hit points "wounds," armor class "defense class," and so on. I found this slightly jarring at first read but barely noticed it thereafter.

The contents include:
  • Dedication to Gary Gygax. A most appropriate way to kick off the publication.
  • The Devil's in the Details. Adding detail to dwarven PCs. Includes tables (a staple of old-school RPGs) from which players can generate personality traits, unique equipment, and background details.
  • The Swanmay. A new character class, the swan maiden. While this is a bit too high-fantasy for my tastes, I enjoyed the free-wheeling writing style of this article. Example: "I don't begrudge people who want to try an interesting character with a few extra abilities, but if balance is an issue for you or your players you might consider levying a 10% penalty to rank advancement." A perfect example of rules as suggestions, not a straightjacket.
  • Flexible Sorcery. Probably my favorite article in Fight On!, this describes ways to make mages feel more magical, including spontaneous magic (granting mages the ability to summon small spells at will, more for flavor and creativity); counterspelling (a method for negating an opposing magic user's spell as your action); and magical duels (a fun, easy-to-use system for resolving mano-y-mano wizard duels). Includes another fun table that the loser has to roll on, with the results ranging from smoke pouring out of the losing wizard's ears to encasement in amber or outright annihilation. How cool is that? This piece was accompanied by a fun wizard-duel cartoon reminiscent of some of artwork in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide.
  • The Ruined Monastery. A fun little drop-and-play dungeon crawl that seems like a fun afternoon of gaming.
  • The Tomb Complex of Ymmu M'Kursa. I didn't know what to make of this. It's a description of a tomb with tons of flavor and horror and weird touches, including deathtraps and sci-fi elements, but it's presented without any adventure hooks or level suggestions. This is old D&D at its most extreme--a simple location description at your disposal.
  • Setting up your Sandbox. A great DMing advice article for novice/intermediate DM's about running a free-wheeling, player driven campaign. Ends with a great line that gets to the heart of old-school RPGing: "The stuff of pure gaming joy isn't always what you might encounter in a well-written novel." Amen.
  • Puissant Priestly Powers. New spell-like abilities for clerics. Some cool ideas but some of these effects seem a bit unbalanced (yikes--the dreaded balance word).
  • Enchanted Holy Symbols. Great little sidebar about magical holy symbols.
  • Nature's Nasty Node. A mid-level adventure. I wasn't wowed by the adventure but there's some nice ideas to mine in here, including the Node itself, a corrupted dryad pool.
  • The Space Wizards. A high-level campaign seed that was a bit too crazy for my tastes (space wizards, end of the world scenario, etc).
  • Creepies & Crawlies. This article fell a bit flat for me, unfortunately. The monsters are nothing to write home about and I didn't find its tounge-in-cheek style all that funny. Oh well.
  • In the Time of the Broken Kingdom. A very nice closing editorial by the editor that looks back with fondness on the old days, and discusses the future of old school gaming and its possibilities with optimism.
  • Aftifacts, Adjuncts, and Oddments. A page of magic items. Wyrmdread--a sword forged in the elf-dragon wars--was particularly cool.
There were a few other small, nit-picky things I didn't like about Fight On! Most of the artwork was evocative, although some pieces didn't work for me. I also thought that layout could be improved (the headlines were too small, and a few articles break at odd places). But frankly, these criticisms are small. Fight On! was a blast to read and a refreshing infusion of creativity. Here's hoping that it continues to wave the standard of old-school gaming.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice review, Brian! Issue 2 is already shaping up with some amazing stuff, and we're pumped to keep going with this project. Maybe you can scour some of your old campaign binders and come up with a contribution or two of your own!



Anonymous said...

Excelente review my friend! Very honest and sincere.

Hi, I'm the author of Pussuant Priestly Powers.
Yes, the spells are strong indeed. But when compared with the spell power of OD&D by-the-book, they are quite well balanced, but obvioulsy that not the mayor and ultimate concern. The seem very strong in the context of other editions, but in OD&D they are just fine

In OD&D casters get to cast less spells per day, but they are much more deadly!

Thanks again for the review!


Santiago Oría (Zulgyan)

Brian Murphy said...

Hey guys, thanks for stopping by to comment. I hope that you take my few criticisms in good spirit--I truly think that, as a whole, Fight On! was a wonderful read. I commend you for your creativity and determination in getting this done. In spirit and enthusiasm it reminded me of Dragon and White Dwarf back in the good old days.

I'm very much looking forward to issue #2.

Anonymous said...

Sure, I really liked your review. I was just expanding on the content of the article for your better enjoyment!


Santiago Oria