The Fantasy Trip - Random Drawbacks

Gustave Doré, illustration from Ludovico Ariosto’s  Orlando Furioso , 1877.

Gustave Doré, illustration from Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, 1877.

After paging through my copy of The Fantasy Trip Companion, I started noodling around with creating a table to randomly generate “Drawbacks” for beginning TFT characters. It’s hard now to appreciate just how innovative character disadvantages were in 1982, but I remember being bowled over by the concept when I first read The Space Gamer article where they were introduced. Of course, I was then a scrawny kid who’d only been in the RPG hobby for a couple years, so it wasn’t especially hard to knock me down.

But character disadvantages were then a tangible game changer.

I’ve lost quite a few artifacts from my gaming youth, most of them in a basement flood in the 90s. I managed, though, to hold on to several issues of The Space Gamer, including TSG 51.

I’ve taken my preferred TFT character disadvantages from TSG 51, TSG 57, and from John Leising’s website, Imaginaerie Media and created my own random table and applicable house rules for generating one of forty-eight possible “Drawback” options for new TFT PCs so that players can purchase additional Talents and Spells for their characters using the framework provided by the Legacy Edition of the rules. As far as I know, “drawback” is Lesing’s nomenclature. I prefer it to the “handicap” term used in TSG 51 & 57.

This table won’t be of much practical use for those without either the original magazines or without The Fantasy Trip Companion that was available through the Kickstarter, but perhaps Steve Jackson Games will make the Companion available down the road. There were enough backers of the TFT Legacy Edition that I thought I might as well throw it up here for others as I’d gone to the trouble for my own use.

The Fantasy Trip - Setting Out

I spent most of the weekend familiarizing myself with the new Legacy Edition of The Fantasy Trip, making characters and beginning a run through Dhallak m’Thorsz Carn’s Death Test, a gauntlet I faced at least a dozen times almost forty years ago.

Arthur Rackham,  Untitled  from  Hansel & Grethel & other tales , by Brothers Grimm, 1920

Arthur Rackham, Untitled from Hansel & Grethel & other tales, by Brothers Grimm, 1920

My contact with TFT’s new rules was a bit like my experience running games I’ve playtested through their alpha and beta stages into publication; blending my memories of how the game worked in the past with its final iteration causes some hiccups and rules mistakes. In this case, it’s more because most of my experience with the original game comes from 1980-1986, (and much of that with various house rules I can no longer find), than because the game itself has been much changed. I’ve observed referees coming to a final game fresh are often in a better position than playtesters or even the designer with respect to recalling particular rules. Another of many reasons new players are so great.

What I did not yet find time for was to dig into any of the five new adventures which have been released (in pdf only so far) for the new Legacy Edition. My abbreviated time with Death Test suggested that while it’s a great solo adventure for teaching and for re-learning the rules for Melee, it leaves some understandable opportunities on the table with respect to the In the Labyrinth rules which would come two and now forty-one years later.

Death Test, along with the five new adventures, will naturally be the way many new players first experience the game at their tables. So before I take the time to dig into the initial published adventures I thought I’d pause to consider a couple things I’d hope to find in them & which I might incorporate into my own TFT adventures as I introduce the game others.

1) More for Mages

I’m going to put things into my adventures that provide opportunities and advantages for wizards. I’m going to think both about the spells players are likely to take (e.g. Fire ) and the spells they’re not likely to gravitate towards (e.g. Clearheadedness). For the spells they’re likely to take, put something in the adventure that says, “thank the gods Gwydion was with us!” Until they have Manastaff (Staff II) and some experience under their robe’s rope belt, beginning mages are in a tough spot in TFT. New adventures should have some things in them that make a new TFT player happy they didn’t simply opt for an ST 12 DX 12, IQ 8 Hero with a broadsword, light crossbow & large shield. For spells they’re less likely to take, I want to see things in adventures that suggest to players, “Geez, maybe I should pick up that one weird spell when I ‘make 33’ if I’m going to be running into these kinds of things.” At the end of this post I’ve added two foes I might incorporate into an adventure which demonstrate this principle. Other examples off the top of my head: a) an encounter with several illusions that higher IQ characters can “disbelieve pop” far more effectively than could a typical IQ 8 starting hero. b) a gem worth $1200 as a reward at its conclusion. Do the characters sell it and divvy the funds or do they invest in their wizard by keeping it to make a Powerstone? Gods only know when they’ll again find such a jewel.

2) Play with the Forms

This occurred to me while reading through the new edition. Monsters in new adventures should not be bag-o’-hit points bare bones stat blocks. As brilliant and seminal as Gygax, Arneson & others were in creating the hobby, modern shoulder-standers have been at their best when they play with the forms, add flavor and innovate. I’m glad Jackson’s entry for ghouls is unchanged from the original. The ghoul’s description is gratifyingly unpleasant, and some of the old guard would complain if numerous unnecessary changes were made to the original. But the game mechanics for these eaters-of-the-dead leave opportunities. Anyone writing an adventure for TFT in 2019 will do a disservice to the project of building upon this game’s great legacy if they create an adventure that indicates simply that a chamber has two ST 15 DX 11 ghouls in it. My “Dusk Ghouls” below provide a draft of the kind of thing I’d hope to discover in the new adventures.

Book Golem

These golems are made of tomes their creator has read, and determined are not worth re-reading but are suitable to protect the remainder of their libraries. A book golem has ST 33, DX 11, IQ 6, MA 6; its voluminous arms strike for 1d+3 damage and any opponent struck must make a 3/IQ Saving Roll or lose 3 IQ points and forget any Talents for which they no longer qualify. This effect lasts a number of turns equal to the number by which they missed their save unless the golem is destroyed, or their IQ is somehow magically restored; the book golem absorbs their talents. A book golem takes triple damage from magical fire and is set aflame, losing 3 hits/turn thereafter. Non-magical fire, e.g. a torch, does double damage, but is not sufficient to set the golem aflame.

Any turn following a book golem striking a foe but doing no damage, it will perform a Paper Cut Burst, rather than its standard attack, (1d occult damage bypassing armor to all adjacent foes) as hundreds of razor-edge pages and bookmarks fly from its form). This attack also triggers the 3/IQ saving roll.

1d-1 usable spell scrolls may be found tucked in the “corpse” of a book golem (1d-4 if burned); roll 2d6+6 to determine the level of any scrolls.

Use the 3-hex template for any book golem. By its nature, a book golem cannot absorb spells as it can talents. They are usually encountered one or two (bookends) at a time.

Dusk Ghouls

Prowling among the shelves in the dust libraries of Saemorn the Maggot are his dusk ghouls, sages who traded their vitality for forbidden knowledge which has now cursed them with undeath and a hunger for the flesh of the living. Strange lines tattoo their leathery hides, verses from arcane tomes they’ve read.

A dusk ghoul has ST 12, DX 12, IQ 9, MA 10; their nailed hands deal 1d-2 damage, (1d in HTH). Their skin tattoos stop 1 hit of damage. Each time a ghoul hits (a damaging blow or not), they inflict a cumulative -1 DX penalty caused by maddening whispers heard inside their victim’s mind. If the penalty reaches -4 DX, their foe loses all motor function and collapses, effectively paralyzed for 1d6 turns or until they make a 4 die saving roll against IQ. Lifting the DX penalty (e.g. with a Clearheadedness spell) is also effective. Paralyzed or not, the DX penalty will otherwise last fifteen minutes.

A dusk ghoul which has recently inflicted its mad whispers on a victim glows with a strange power and has 10 additional points of life force with respect to the Drain Strength spell. Dusk ghouls will often attack in packs, retreating to gift any master(s) with their unholy strength.

The Fantasy Trip - Legacy & Renaissance

Last week I received my “I Want It All” Legacy Edition box of The Fantasy Trip RPG. Work projects and other obligations have prevented me from digging into the re-release as much as I’d like, but it looks like Steve Jackson Games have created a fine product that is worthy of this game’s great heritage. I hope it’s received with enthusiasm sufficient to permit ongoing support, (official and otherwise).

The Fantasy Trip was essentially my introduction into the RPG hobby. I’d been playing Metagaming’s Melee, Wizard, Death Test (1 & 2) and Grail Quest for months prior to cracking an AD&D book with sufficient attention to be able to poorly run it for my middle school friends. It’d be months later still before I’d have my own copy of the Monster Manual, never mind a Dungeon Master’s Guide or Players Handbook.

Sir Alynor sets out on a holy quest at my game table.

Sir Alynor sets out on a holy quest at my game table.

In February, in advance of my Kickstarter shipment, I dug out my old copy of Guy W. McLimore, Jr.’s wonderful Grail Quest, (the 3rd MicroQuest and my personal favorite), along with some print-outs of some of the Legacy Edition’s pdf materials. I mapped my progress and had a lot of fun revisiting the solo RPG’ing of my youth. Sir Alynor fell before he found the grail. Maybe I’ll have a comrade knight try again and make a blog post of it. TFT veterans might note that Sir Alynor forgot to purchase either the Sword or the Shield talents! In my rush to revisit my RPG glory days before I’d even re-read the re-release of my first RPG (I prefer hard copy to pdfs), I neglected to give my knight the appropriate martial prerequisites. My retcon has it that Sir Alynor was not as literate, sexy, nor as good at catching fish as he might have thought. It wouldn’t the first time a man misjudged his talents and, in any case, none of these three came up in the course of his quest.

I have a bit of breathing room now so I’m looking forward to spending more time with TFT’s Legacy Edition & with the pdf copies of The Fantasy Trip Adventures I also backed. More, I’m looking forward to making my own adventures. I ran or played more than a hundred sessions of The Fantasy Trip in the early and mid-80s as a middle and high school student. Since then, I’ve played close to a hundred RPGs. I’m hoping 35+ years of experience will serve me well in creating some fun scenarios, both for people who’ve loved The Fantasy Trip for a long time and for players checking it out for the first time (that will be most at my current table). I think my time creating set piece encounters for 4th edition D&D will be especially applicable.

I have reservations about some of the creative choices and art direction for TFT’s Legacy Edition, but it has otherwise made a good first impression. I’ve no doubt it will find time and place on my gaming table in the years to come. I’m a biased judge, but its appeal should rise above pure nostalgia and find a niche for others as well. Maybe down the road I’ll find time to write more about why that should be.