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Review: F8tes – Fantasy of Eight System Primary Rulebook

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Adam D’Amato-Neff

Writers Club Press 2002

 

I had a gift card!

I had to use the money somehow!

And this one was cheap!

Don’t look at me like that!

Also I bought this 5 years ago and I meant to post this review for just as long.

The Fantasy of Eight Roleplaying Game, or F8te if you want to confuse people who heard about Fate system before, is pretty much a pure fantasy heartbreaker. It mostly seems to serve as a ginormous ego trip for the author.

Frankly I doubt that it was supposed to be bought by anybody but the author and his players, but then a guy in Poland decided to spend the last bit of money on his gift card for something RPG-related. So now I can talk about it online.

According to the back cover

This is the F8S (FATES) role playing game designed by the author of the Pleides Series (Za’Varuk’s Stone), The Moonweaver Memoirs, and Pleidian Tales. It has all the information needed to begin play, including 20 character classes, a huge list of monsters and races, and example characters.

The book is thin (100pgs.), and over a fifth of it is pre-generated characters.

Which the author found necessary to include.

A further big part of the book is tables upon tables of monster stats. The approach to their stats is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand Nymphs are split into a table with 3 entries of Nymphs of various powers. Elementals just have 3 entries as well, and aren’t even split up into different elemental classes. On the other hand there are the tables for ogres, where one can find a whopping 75 entries, diligently listing the stats for ogre axemen, priests, and necromancers up to level 25.

I kind of see what the author was going for, but I think he missed the mark somewhat.

The actual rules to play the game are surprisingly short. In fact they make up most of pages 1 to 32 of the book, and in between you find another few pages with characters from one of the author’s stories.

The rules are definitely inspired by D&D, and try to mostly improve on the model set by that game. It allows and encourages mixing and matching of classes to create just the hero one wants for a game. And it boasts 20 classes and 15 races for that. Of course in the limited amount of space it has, the difference between a Warrior, a Karateka, and a Barbarian is explained in a single paragraph, with maybe a sentence for each.

Alignment is still present, but instead of the classic model we now have Caliginous, Neutral, and Luminance. What either of these means is not explained and can only be inferred through some comments in the section on races.

Equipment is limited to a page of weapon descriptions, and a short paragraph on treasure. Interspersed between those two is the section on attacking enemies, and this is followed by the section on religion, which just tells us that the number of gods in the campaign world would be too big to list, so it lists a few of the bigger gods (including Thor, Demeter, and Orcus).

The section on attacking by the way does not contain any further explanations than the terse rules mechanics. Further explanations are provided, in two more sections a few pages further, one called “Basics for the game, Taken from the short story Nightmares Born of Bliss”, the other simply “Tomb Adventure”. Interestingly enough the second part decides to reiterate the rules on attack darts for clarity, despite the fact that these rules are at the bottom of the same page and were not mentioned beforehand.

“Tomb Adventure” also seems to be what goes for a sample scenario in this game. It is nearly 2 pages long, half of which is explanation how combat works, the rest of which is a description of a tomb in text form:

Stairs lead downt.

Landing has a hallway leading off.

Thief must make check to notice trap door in the floor.

And after “Tomb Adventure” we have the three paragraphs [!] on Attack Darts, creating Undead, and Character Death.

The book also contains one dedication, one epigraph quoting Shakespeare, a list of abbreviations, 2 pages of introduction, an afterword that promises a forth coming expansion to the tomb adventure presented in the book, a bio of the author with his msn.com email address, 4 pages of advertisement for at this point not-yet published fiction and non-fiction by the author.

Oh, and then a section headed “Bibliography” that reads

A thanks to the mythmakers of old, for without them this book would not be what it has become!

Uhm. I don’t think this word means what you think it means.

OK, this book is charming in its way. A wonderful example of DIY rpg stuff of the early 2000s. I bet the author and his players had lots of fun in their campaign. So that was good for them. I love to see this stuff sometimes.

I also love some of the design ideas here. The whole system is pared down and streamlined to allow for a quick and eventful game. E.g. it acknowledges that people will use spell components, but when playing the game this should just be ignored. It also is intended to allow a maximum of character customization… but forgets that D&D is not the only game there is and that other games might have better ways to do that. And you can still see the traces of D&D in there anyway.,

But the bad points are overwhelming: there’s no structure, no real sense of place (the author assumes you have read his novels, not all of which might have been published), and the game is barely understandable. There are barely any explanations as to how rules actually work, and lots of far-reaching assumptions on how things are supposed to go in a game.

TLDR: As a game it is basically unplayable, mired in barely understood D&Disms, structured like a Jackson Pollock painting, and completely full of itself. It’s a fantasy heartbreaker.

 

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Review: Venârivè: Northwestern Lýthia

venarive_cover_2By Jeremy Baker and N. Robin Crossby

Kelestia Productions 2007
PDF 35$ (250 pages, large scale map, etc)

Venârivè is the larger region Harn is situated in. Previously the setting description of HarnWorld focussed mostly on the island Harn itself, and a few areas in the general vicinity. This publication changes that and pushes the known world up to the borders of the cultural region Venârivè. Some of these places were already mentioned in the Lythia article in HarnWorld, a lot of others are mentioned here for the first time.
That includes the name of the publication. The copy of HarnWorld I own just mentions the continent of Lythia, and doesn’t have a specific name for the subcontinent.

But at least Venârivè sounds like a real name.

Venârivè is the region between and around the Ivinian and the Venarian seas, and defined more by cultural coherence than geographically*. This region has been settled for a few thousands of years, and there are traces of older, most likely alien civilizations (the Earthmasters).

The predominant race in this area of the world are humans (oh, really?), splintered in thousands of smaller tribes and nations. There are some other, older races (Elves and Dwarves) that have been in decline for a long time. They used to influence human civilization, but now only a few scattered realms in remote locations remain. There also are a few other non-human races, often scatted and marginalized. The largest group here are the Gargun of Harn (the Harnic orcs), which are an economical and ecological disaster just waiting to happen.
Most of Venârivè is wilderness, with few pockets of civilization huddled around larger villages and towns, and sometimes even actual cities. Many states only effectively control the immediate area around their towns, and maybe a few strategic highways (read: wilderness trails) to other civilized areas.
The religion of the region is diverse, but the region is locked in the protracted struggle between the cults of two different war gods: the protective Larani/Varani (a goddess of chivalry), and the aggressive Agrik (with a might-is-right philosophy). The conflict between these two philosophies informs a large part of the religious and political conflicts in the setting, although other religions have their own issues.
The technology of the setting is somewhere between 10th and 15th century (so basically standard fantasy fare), with some areas more developed than others. Most of civilized Venarive is very much in the feudal, manorial mode of living. So there is not too much change for seasoned Harniacs.

Nations and states, tribes and cultural regions are described in loving detail, even if most likely no-one ever will play in these parts. There are lists of rulers, historical personages, ports, and so on.

As always with Harn products this book describes this setting at one specific point in time (the year 720 of the Tuzyn calendar), so there is no metaplot to go against, besides what is described in the book itself.

The setting veers away from the usual RPG everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setting that has become the standard over time; the setting does not go out of its way to fit one genre or another into it; the authors clearly went for internal coherence rather than actual playability. I do not really see many people wanting to play a power struggle in Quarphor (Scythia?), or courtly intrigues in Dalkesh (quasi-medieval Egypt?). Some people, yes, but not many.

This book is both one of the best RPG supplements I have come across so far, as well as one of the most frustrating. I absolutely love looking at this book. I enjoy the worldbuilding, the additional detail, the insane amount of information I can get out of it, but the setting doesn’t make it easy to put it into a game.

But maybe I should just come to grips with the fact that I did not buy this book to use it. I bought it because I enjoy reading about a well-crafted world.

Summary:

  • Venarive is a highly detailed and coherent RPG setting intended for simulationist low-magic campaigns
  • It is an extension of the classic HarnWorld setting
  • The book is rules-agnostic (a few non-essential references link it to HarnMaster Gold)
  • it might be way over the top for anyone who prefers settings to be more readily accessible

——

* if Venarive was Europe it would include not only mainland Europe but also large parts of the middle East and the parts of North Africa directly influenced by it, as well as large swathes of Asia

Review: Zombies of the Gene Pool

876676The successor to Bimbos of the Death Sun, and the second Jay Omega “mystery” from 1992.

After this the author ran out of steam for this series and now focuses on a rather more dark series, which is understandable. Both this and Bimbos are less mysteries, and more satirical meditations on science fiction fandom with a weak murder plot tacked on. It is maybe quite telling that Mrs. McCrumb barely mentions these two books anywhere on her website, despite winning an award for the first one.

The murder in this book happens after the 2/3rds mark, and Jay solves it by going to a chat room and asking people to look up stuff in their local phone directory.

Before that happens he has to be told to switch off caps lock.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

I guess in ’92 talking to people over the net seemed rather futuristic.

Not that it matters so much, there really isn’t a reason for our power couple to be involved in the plot at all. A fact that is even recognized in the story itself.

So…

In the 1950s a small commune of science fiction writers and fans that lived together on a farm in Tennessee. At one point they decided to bury a time capsule with stories written by all of them. Then they drifted apart, and a few years later the area of the farm was flooded by a dam.

Decades later some of the people who lived there have become famous, burned out, died, or all three together. And that’s when the dam is drained for repairs. A small media spectacle follows. The time capsule is to be unearthed, and the rights to the stories contained therein to be auctioned off.

Our nominal main protagonists are dragged along by s fellow professor. Down in Tennessee they encounter the dysfunctional members of the old commune, meet some colorful Southern locals, and generally don’t do anything.

At one point one of the guys who was thought dead shows up, insults everyone, insinuates dark things, and ends up dead for real.

Sigh.

The worst about this book is that the plot has elements that could make a good, maybe even great book. There are so many elements in there that could have been good set pieces, shocking twists, and colorful characters, but in the end it feels as muddy as the drained lake this takes place at.

Don’t read this. And if you do, don’t complain.

Review: Sharyn McCrumb – Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know any other mystery novel that uses a D&D game as a parlor scene.
This one does.
Unfortunately the parlor scene sucks. It actually does manage to capture the atmosphere of a badly run exhibition game quite nicely. At the the end of the game players and audience are frustrated, and the bored reader is glad that this waste of time is over. It’s just as well the exposed murderer commits suicide, because this mess would haver never held up in court.
In fact the whole mystery part of the book seems like an afterthought, a mere excuse to be able to sell it as some, any genre at least. After all it’s a book about SF fandom, but it hardly is science fiction in itself. So after half the book the asshole victim is killed, nobody really is bothered so much by that, and the only reason the main character finds who killed him is because he is marginally more computer savvy than the police.
But that’s not the reason why this book is readable. It is readable because it’s set on a small science fiction con in the late 80s, written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
There’s trekkies trying to organize a Star Trek wedding, roleplayers having meltdowns over their characters, postal gamers using the con for political scheming in a made up world, cosplayers (before cosplay was called cosplay), etc.
The guest stars are Appin Dungannon, an ass of an author who hates his main character and his fans (guess who ends up dead?), and the main character, a local engineering professor called Jay Omega. Jay is, to his chagrin, the author of a hard science fiction novel that somehow contracted the title “Bimbos of the Death Sun” and a near-pornographic cover during editing. Jay and his fellow professor and girlfriend Marion spend most of the novel being bemused by what is happening. Jay is new to fandom, Marion is an old SF fan who’s seen it all.
The fascinating thing about this book is how it manages to capture SF fandom so well, without resorting to the usual trite clichés. Sure, there are some spots that seem mean-spirited, but even these read like someone wrote from experience.
Altogether: readable, but don’t expect an actual mystery.

View all my reviews

David Robertson: Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the mid-2000s Lego was the bestselling toy manufacturer in the world.
It also was on the verge of bankruptcy.
This was a surprise to everyone, most of all Lego’s management.
It took the work of a group of talented analysts to convince them that while some of their recent business decisions were quite successful to say the least (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Bionicle), altogether the company was losing money on developing and even selling their products.

In the ’90s, when action figures and computers became all the rage in the toy industry, a few bad numbers had convinced Lego’s management to take a new direction. Old people with insitutional knowlege were let go, new people with the best, but often unrelated, qualifications were brought in. Multiple new development units had been created that were not providing any benefit to the company. New toys were created that did not really fit with the Lego brand.
Some created that were successes, like the buildable actionfigure line Bionicle, or the robotics supplement Mindstorms, but others fizzled out unloved and unlamented. A media tie with a TV series and action figures that could not interface with the usual Lego bricks was a non-starter. Classic Duplo bricks were replaced with non-brick toys. And sets started to become filled with specialized parts unusable for other models, but costing enormous amounts of money to produce.
In the end the company arrived at a point where many sets cost more to manufacture than they retailed for, while management was unaware of any issues, not talking to each other.

Spoiler: it helped that they went back to their roots and started creating high-quality, well-designed brick toys again.
Who’d have a-thunk?

This book is about the history of Lego and how they first became famous and successful, but it mostly is about the business decisions that lead to their near-collapse, and what the company did to turn itself around. This means this book has a lot of interesting parts about the company itself and the philosophy that drives it. It also has some long and astute observations about business decisions that are analyzed in how they can affect a company, and how they actually worked out for the company in question.

Unfortunately this is also where the book loses its impact. Maybe it is the fact that I am not an economist, but some of the analysis seems long-winded, overly-laudatory, and oddly contradictory in places. Some of the elements seem to come out of the blue with no explanation (e.g the first time we hear about the success of Bionicle is in the chapter about Bionicle). Sometimes economic jargon is used with no explanation whatsoever. This doesn’t make the book unreadable, but it lost my interest about 3/4s in, when nothing really seemed to happen anymore, and I had to force myself to go on reading. I think the main problem is that while the topic of the book could be framed as an interesting story, after about the half-way point the author just seems to fill it with descriptions of how all those new and awesome product lines were developed.
Definitely interesting in parts, but drags.