We were four motivated participants: me the Adventure Master, D&D Girl, Openminded Girl, and Openminded Girl’s Boyfriend, whom I’ll call Midgard Guy, cause used to play Midgard. The avid and trusty reader might remember that I used parts of „Lost City“ for the first playtest, and two thematically linked Dungeons of my own design for the second playtest. This time around I wanted to test out the random dungeon generator.
At first I was amazed how quickly and easy the corridors were adding up, then I confronted the ultimate bug in the book: doors! Yes, these little things get no less then four consecutive d6 rolls to determine their makeup. This was so tedious, that I was cringeing everytime I rolled for the number of doors and a high result would show. That subsystem needs a rework! Apart from that, there are nice little things in the dungeon generator, but they have a certain nethack flavour. That actually was detrimental to my attempts at rationalizing the results of the generator. Moreso, I was told in the new foreword, that FtA! was meant to be played without a lot of mental hustling involved, so I left things as they were, which would come back to haunt me later.
The players arrived, and after five minutes of chit-chat, we sat down to make characters. Surely, a pick up game needs to be tested for spontaneous character generation.
Midgard Guy kept rolling bad for his stats, until he came up with zeroes and a +4, which he kept to make an Elven Wizard, with the intention of making him a Druid. During the process, we went through all the first level spells, and a lot of giggling and jesting ensued, as the first level spells have a rather low immediate dungeoneering value and need some creativity to put to use at all.
The system was understood by everybody very quickly, but you still have to explain everything, so we could start playing after a little more than an hour. D&D Girl rolled up an Elven Wizard-Warrior with the healing spell list, and Openminded Girl generated a Human Rogue, with the Thief specialization.
They started out downtrodden end burglared in the middle of the Ghinoran Highlands in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. Atmosphere was quickly built up, to heighten the tension for the timely (encounter table) arrival of three skeletons on captured camels. Combat ensued, and it became clear pretty quickly, that the PCs could die in a moments notice, as Skeletons had 9d6+15 versus the players 9D6+10. Even moreso, D&D Girl tried to heal the skeletons, in order to inflict damage upon them, and thusly was out of the combat round.
Quick note: although the combat system was very alien to the players, they understood the tactical implications right after the first round of combat. They talked back and forth about their choices and the most likely repsective outcome.
As the implications became clearer, D&D Girl opted to use the quick casting, in order to inflict her damage before the melee round. A gamble, but she rolled high enough, and even inflicted maximum damage: 7. Sadly, Skeletons have ten HP.
The melee round went pretty badly, and nearly everyone was reduced to very few HP. As this was a playtest, I opted to help the players out, and ruled that one of the party’s horses would be joining the combat. It stood right next to the skeletons, but usually I’d would have it run away or somesuch. Even with another 3D6+n from the horse, the combat took several rounds to finish, and the horse was brutally slain.
Much commotion at the table ensued, as it became clear, that it was only DM fiat how to distribute damage. The argument boiled down to: „We trust you, to distribute damage fairly and sensibly, but we see great potential for frustrating arguments during combat.“
Adventure Master impression:
I also had a problem with it. Because allocating the damage was something I had to think of, but that didn’t add to my fun. I had to be on my toes to be fair and situationally aware. Energy spent on making the game work, not energy spent on fun stuff for me. I don’t have any „Gestaltungswillen“ regarding the dealing of damage.
All in all the combat nevertheless worked out, and everyone was eager to sell the camels and get themselves equipment for the Dungeon under the ancient humanoid Wizard’s Tower. Now the dungeon creation backfired: The players had put ranks in architecture, were meticouisly searching for clues, and the history of the building. Surely, I bullshitted my way through, and the players were jazzed.
It became worse!
All the random stuff inside the dungeon, and the players were totally catious, searching for traps, trying to make sense out of it. I could have hugged them, especially Open Minded Girl was hardcore strategic-survivalist in playstyle, D&D girl was more laid back and a bit jaded but still acting and thinking strategically and tactically sound, Midgard Guy was right in the middle. And I felt so guilty!
There was no sense to the dungeon! All a lie! And I had to DM it. So I came up with a haphazard justification for the stuff inside, on the spot. It didn’t felt like fun, more like being chased by player attributes I adore. Bummer.
They encountered a statue, I bullshitted some explanation for the kind of deity and pantheon. Midgard Guy was enamoured to my described deity and wanted to offer something. Table was rolled on: he turned to stone. „What, not even a PAS check?!“ D&D Girl said.
AM: „That’s just the way it is.“
Time was over by then, and we had a discussion about the game:
– All players found the system to be robust and playable
– It was quickly grasped
– Combat had nice options
– nobody liked the ad-hoc attribute-skill relation that had to be made, AM included. I’m just not interested in thinking about that before every single skill check. I just don’t care as an AM.
– D&D girl said it was a perfect match for the tone and style of the Wilderlands
– Everybody had big objections about the pick up nature of the game. There is basically no difference in playing FtA! organisatorically speaking to playing D&D: You have to have a regular campaign. No pick-up, due to the flat power curve, and high levelling requirements.
– The AM found out he totally hates bullshitting dungeons. It’s lying! To players who were searching for answers honestly and hard!
– at least with only three characters, stunts are barely an interesting option.
There were some minor goofs in my version, which I will notify the publisher of.
All in all, FtA! is solid, it’s fun, it has some interesting combat options, but’s definitely no pick up game. Just time intensive as playing RC D&D or any BRP campaign. You need a regular game schedule and regular prep time for it.