This is a difficult post to write because my fingers don't really want to be on the keyboard. They keep twitching towards the beautiful object at the side of my desk - to wit, the core rulebook and first volume in Greywood Publishing's epic Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game series.
I remember getting starting in role-playing. Dungeons & Dragons came as three little booklets in a white box. You didn't need any more than that. It was a Narnia wardrobe, a Tardis, a Cavorite sphere to convey you into endless worlds of the imagination.
For many, though, rules quickly got in the way, spreading like traffic signs and one-way streets through the landscape of fantasy. I remember one Sunday afternoon at Jesus. (Yes, that was our church.) I was playing D&D or EPT with Mark Smith and Oliver Johnson. We went into the next room, where another group were playing Chivalry & Sorcery, to borrow the kettle. "As you enter the tomb, the sarcophagus lid starts to slide back," their umpire was telling them. Fifteen minutes later, tea brewed, I took the kettle back. "So, two of you are now adjacent to the sarcophagus, you others have readied arrows, and the wight is now standing up in the sarcophagus..."
The Fabled Lands RPG cuts away all the unncessary stuff. You want adventure. You want to create a character without having to use Excel, and you want to get stuck into a fun story without the need for calculus to resolve every situation. Shane Garvey and Jamie Wallis have delivered exactly the balance of ease-of-use and detail that the freewheeling, fast-paced, limitless vista of the Fabled Lands demands.
Of course, nobody in their right minds wants to turn the role-playing clock back to 1975. These days players rightly demand more than hack and slay. You might be creeping through the shadows of your enemy's castle, walking in disguise under the noses of temple guards, struggling to keep your ship afloat in a storm, trying to charm your way out of a fight, desperately weaving spells, or gambling with faerie folk for your very soul. And the Fabled Lands RPG has nicely streamlined rules to cover all of that and combat too.
You start by creating a character with all the familiar FL characteristics and a bit extra in the background. The best characters are "this but that", so you get to choose both positive and negative personality traits. You could be brave but selfish, for instance, or supportive yet an inveterate liar. It's up to you how to play those, and how to use the detailed background rules too. They're there to give players something to get to grips with right away.
The core system is based off the FL abilities (Charisma, Sanctity, etc) and you need to roll two dice, add your ability score, and beat the difficulty of the task. But with a few deft additions, Shane and Jay give a lot more scope to that basic mechanic. Skills modify your abilities for specific tasks. So if you have Navigate 2, for example, you can add +2 to Scouting rolls when plotting a course.
On top of that are the powers. These are unique to each profession: Primal Rage for barbarians, Cure and Bless for priests, and so on. Each profession has four special powers and as you rise in rank they can be taken multiple times for extra benefit.
The rest of this beautifully produced and laid-out book has sections on the gods, equipment, magic, monsters, world background (Yellowport is covered in detail, including maps and personalties with stats) and a very useful long section to guide the umpire (or GM if you must) in running adventures. And Greywood has marshalled a first rate art team, led by the undisputed master of fantasy Martin McKenna, to help evoke the Fabled Lands visually.
Further books are planned - in fact twelve sourcebooks, each zooming in on one part of the Fabled Lands and providing quests, treasures, characters, cities, lore and everything else you need for a long-running FL campaign. And yes, that does mean you will get to visit Chrysoprais and Atticala and the Forbidden Realm.
I am sure some of you will be saying, "That's all very well, but I like gamebooks. I'm not a roleplayer." But actually, you are. Just as most gamebooks were multiple-choice forms of a novel, the original six Fabled Lands books are a multiple-choice form of role-playing campaign. What Greywood have done is take all that material and rework it so that the world can be opened up for groups of friends to adventure together. And you don't need weeks to prepare a game nor a law degree to understand the rules. If you have read any of the Fabled Lands gamebooks, you'll be able to pick up the RPG, gather some friends together and get started.
Now, if you'll pardon me, my fingers are reaching for the rule book and they will not be denied. I'm going to be running an FL game in the near future, and I hope you will too! Oh – you want to know where you can get it? From Cubicle 7 right here and shortly (we hope) from Amazon.