Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fight On! Review in Brief

Now that I have seen the first issue of Fight On!, I wanted to do a quick review of its contents, both to advertise the 'zine itself and to use the contents to highlight some important points about old school gaming. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • Issue one is dedicated to the memory of Gary Gygax. 'Nuff said.
  • I quoted Ignatius Ümlaut's introduction in an earlier post below. He hits a lot of important points there.
  • The Devil's in the Details by Kesher is the first in a series of random tables intended to generate little details about characters' backgrounds and outlook. The first installment covers dwarves and is far more inspiring than you might expect from a mere three tables, each with between 16 and 20 details. Random generation is a cornerstone of old school gaming, as is the acceptance of the "oracular" power of dice. Both have long since fallen into disrepute in modern gaming, particularly the latter.
  • The Swanmay by Calithena is a new playable race inspired by Poul Anderson's seminal Three Hearts and Three Lions. The race is evocatively presented and its associated mechanics are elegantly old school. Also of interest is the author's preference that the gender of characters match the gender of the player, a sentiment I largely share but that I suspect is politically incorrect in this day and age.
  • Flexible Sorcery by Jeff Rients, with Jason Cone and Calithena presents several ways to use OD&D's magic system that aren't covered by the rules. Examples include spontaneous "minor" magic of the sort I discussed in my "pulp fantasy D&D" entries, counterspelling, and magical duels. What I like about all these options is that use lacunae in the existing rules to develop new ideas rather than replacing those rules entirely. This is commendably old school.
  • The Ruined Monastery by some hack is an introductory adventure set in an abandoned monastery dedicated to Saint Gaxyg the Gray. The less said about this here, the better.
  • The Tomb-Complex of Ymmu M'Kursa by Gabor Lux is a positively charming adventure locale that simultaneously conjures up memories of Judges Guild's best efforts and the weird fantasy of Clark Ashton Smith -- how can you go wrong?
  • Setting Up Your Sandbox by Calithena is a very useful article on "sandbox" style play -- another evocation of Judges Guild and one of which I approve. It's a positive contribution to the fight against the notion that old school gaming means simply dungeon crawling.
  • Puissant Priestly Powers by Santigao L. Oría introduces some new spells for use with the OD&D cleric class. They all are nicely flavorful and go a long way toward make the class more "priestly" and less like proto-paladins, which is a good thing in my opinion.
  • Enchanted Holy Symbols by Jeff Rients offers up a collection of magical holy symbols. Simple yet evocative.
  • Nature's Nasty Node by Makofan is an extensive wilderness encounter and for that alone I approve of its inclusion. Not to sound like a broken record, but I think the over-emphasis on dungeoneering has been a constant bane to D&D in general and OD&D in particular. Well presented and interesting wilderness encounters show that the game's focus need not be that narrow and this one does just that in spades.
  • The Space Wizards by Paul Czege isn't technically an OD&D-related article, being system-less and included because the editor thought it evoked some of the weirdness of high-level old school play. I'll admit that I'm unconvinced on that score and found it a bit like those interminable falling damage articles in Dragon issues of yore: undoubtedly interesting to somebody but that somebody wasn't me.
  • Creepies & Crawlies by Andrew Reyes and Jeff Rients is a mixed bag of new monsters for OD&D. They tend toward the "whimsical," which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I will admit that, with a couple of exceptions, I probably wouldn't use them myself. Mind you, I'm probably more straitlaced than most, so do not view this as a criticism of the article itself.
  • In the Time of the Broken Kingdom by Ignatius Ümlaut is an editorial that discusses the meaning of old school gaming and the place of Fight On! in preserving and promoting the traditions of that style of play.
  • Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments is a grab-bag of unusual items, some magical, some not, for inclusion in your game. It's a solidly diverse collection of items and thus quite usable in a variety of campaigns.
All in all, Fight On!'s first issue is successful in what it set out to do and nicely sets the stage for future issues, which I have every reason to expect will not only be better but also more widely read. As I've noted elsewhere, I honestly do feel there's a renewal of interest in old school gaming and I think Fight On! will play a role in this renaissance. Goodness knows I intend to keep submitting to it and purchasing it. I haven't been this excited by a gaming product in a long time and both Calithena and Ignatius Ümlaut are to be congratulated on a job extraordinarily well done. I'm sure Gary is smiling down on them right now.

2 comments:

  1. Hi James! Thanks for the review and we're very much looking forward to 'that hack's' wilderness submission for issue #2!

    You liked some of the articles I was less charmed by and vice versa, which I think is great - means we covered a spectrum of tastes.

    I do want to emphasize that none of the articles are 'for' OD&D, that being the property of Hasbro and all. Most of them are usable with OD&D though, as with any number of other generic fantasy systems of the seventies and to some degree eighties. Even Paul's article does have a D&D-compatibility article Calithena wrote and the idea there is sort of like that Monte Cook "When the Sky Falls" D&D 3 book - it's a wild new situation that could twist a campaign around when you've gotten to high levels and the players are looking for a twist on the usual dungeon fare.

    Anyway, thanks for being such a great supporter of the mag. Fight on!

    - Ignatius

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  2. True enough on the point about the focus of Fight On! system-wise. It's not an OD&D 'zine, although it's probably more consonant with that game than it is with any either, both in terms of mechanics and general "philosophy." Still, it did grow out of discussions on the OD&D boards and most of its contributors are OD&D focused, so I hope I can be forgiven that little elision.

    Rest assured that the hack is hard at work on his second submission. He plans on being a bit bolder and more ambitious this time around, so it'll be interesting to see how it all turns out.

    Thanks again for doing this; Fight On! really is the shot in the arm that I needed for my fantasy gaming.

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