As has been discussed here previously, Gary Gygax originally approached The Avalon Hill Game Company about publishing Dungeons & Dragons. Avalon Hill declined the offer and would later (at least according to legend) regret having done so, especially as RPGs came to rival and eventually surpass the popularity and sales of wargames. It's against this background that I recall Avalon Hill's late entry into the roleplaying field with games like James Bond 007, Lords of Creation, and the third edition of RuneQuest, all of which were fine RPGs that had to overcome their publisher's seemingly monumental ignorance of the new market they were entering.
There's probably no better Exhibit A of Avalon Hill's misunderstanding of the state of RPGs than their release, in 1984, of Powers & Perils. Designed by Richard Snider, who'd been a player in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, Powers & Perils reads very much like an expanded version of his earlier Adventures in Fantasy. Whereas Adventures in Fantasy feels (to me anyway) like an idiosyncratic house rules document to OD&D, Powers & Perils feels far more sterile, as if it were an exercise in "Ivory Tower" game design divorced from actual play. I don't know that that was the case with P&P, but, as presented, the game is complex, poorly organized, and largely lacking in charm. I can forgive the first two flaws, as they're commonplace in the hobby, but it's hard to become enthusiastic about a game when its designer's writing conveys as little enthusiasm as this one does.
P&P came in a large bookcase box, like those of many Avalon Hill games, and included five rulebooks of between 24 and 60 pages each. The first book dealt with character generation, which was largely determined by random rolls and modified by both race and gender. Characters could be humans, elves, dwarves, or "faerries." There are a large number of derived scores as well, which contribute greatly to both the complexity of the overall game system and the length of time it takes to create a character. P&P has a skill system that covers both non-combat and combat skills. Of course, calling it a "system" is a bit of a misnomer, since there are few common mechanics to these skills, most of which have individual resolution and experience systems. And when I say "individualized," I mean it: some skills, for example, have a simple rating/level, while others have a percentile score.
The second book covers combat and magic. Surprisingly, it's not as complex or convoluted as one might expect. Combatants have an offensive and a defensive combat value based on their skills, abilities, and weapon. Comparing the two results in either a positive or negative number that's then cross-referenced on a combat chart. Percentile dice are rolled to determine if the attacker hit and, if so, how hard. Armor decreases damage taken. There are a number of other wrinkles to the system that are confusingly presented in the text, but, overall, the system is strangely straightforward if "heavier" than I like. Magic is powered by mana and the system for using it seems to have been modeled on that of melee and missile combat. Spells are divided into several categories (law, chaos, sidhe, etc.) and cover most of the usual effects one expects in a fantasy RPG.
The third book presents over seventy creatures, divided according to the plane of existence from which they hail, as Powers & Perils has an interesting cosmology that divides reality into an Upper World, a Middle World, and Lower World. Many of the monsters are mundane or fantasy staples, but others are either wholly original or intriguing variations on old standbys. The third book also provides lots of random encounter tables for different terrain types. The fourth book treats human encounters, which is intended to help the referee in creating NPCs. The fourth book also presents treasure and magic items. What's interesting is that P&P places a greater emphasis on the variety of non-magical treasures than does, say, D&D, with plenty of options for works of art, furnishings, etc. Equally interesting are the large number of "natural" magic items, such as herbs and minerals that have magic effects. The fifth book presents a sample setting, the County Mordara, including a sample adventure set within it.
Looking at Powers & Perils now, I am struck by the same feeling that I had when I first read it back in the mid-80s: it's a poorly organized and unnecessarily complex design given that it contains so little that's genuinely new or imaginative. Had the game come out in 1977 or thereabouts, it might have made some sense, when it could have appealed to the growing legion of gamers disappointed with some aspects of hobby leader Dungeons & Dragons. But in 1984, that wasn't enough. Despite flashes of brilliance here and there, Powers & Perils is no RuneQuest or Chivalry & Sorcery. It has neither a compelling setting nor a complex rules system that pays dividends in terms of (pseudo-)historical realism.
I find myself wondering if the game was ever played even by its designer or whether it was purely an intellectual enterprise, because it certainly feels more like the latter than the fruit of design informed by actual play. Powers & Perils isn't a bad game so much as a needless one. There's very little to recommend it over almost any other significant fantasy RPG of its era (or before), because it brings almost nothing unique to the table. Given that it didn't get much support, I suspect I wasn't the only one who felt that way.