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The 52 Pages: Illustrated rules outline for refereed fantasy adventures
December 19, 2013 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Does the world really need another “fantasy role- playing game”? Why take yet another try at improving those old-school adventure rules? Good questions. People who run such games and write about them online tend to kit-build their own rules. On these grounds I decided to present my own game notes in modular form, that people could choose from and use.
52 Pages 1.0 (PDF) by Roger the GS. [via]
posted by griphus (26 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I confess that I remain nonplussed about the resurgence of OD&D style fantasy heartbreakers.

I'm all for the odd old school dungeon crawl, but that's what games like Warhammer Quest are for.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:24 PM on December 19, 2013


I read that as The B-52's rules for fantasy adventure games (I was probably primed for this after watching Adam Ant fight evil in the previous thread), and I thought: yes, the world does need this. Or at least, wants it really badly.
posted by kanewai at 12:59 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You are in the basement, learning to print.

[rolls dice]

You encounter a gnoll.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2013


Let's not conflate the "Fantasy Heartbreaker" with the "Retro-clone."

Retro-clones attempt to recreate 1970s-80s era D&D or some variation thereof, usually with the help of D&D content released under the Open Gaming License. They're self-consciously archaizing. Kind of like the Society for Creative Anachronism except instead of the Middle Ages they're recreating people's basements during the Carter Administration.

Fantasy Heartbreakers are more like outsider art. They're "the next big thing after D&D" produced by people who only know D&D, and have no idea that there have been a thousand Next Big Things after D&D already. They are often lavishly produced at great personal expense that will never be recouped, and often contain bits of brilliant creativity along with a whole bunch of unnecessary baggage that comes from not realizing other people have been designing other games besides D&D for several decades.

(Those descriptions are both of the quintessential Retro-Clone and Fantasy Heartbreaker; there is a lot of fuzzy area around the definitions of each. But they're nothing like each other in intention; Fantasy Heartbreakers are created by people who don't realize they're living in the past, and who are reaching forward to forge a path into the future (not realizing it has already happened). Retro-clones are created by people who are living in the present and are reaching backwards to re-capture the past.)
posted by edheil at 1:17 PM on December 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


Kind of like the Society for Creative Anachronism except instead of the Middle Ages they're recreating people's basements during the Carter Administration.

Posting this FPP is now officially Worth It for me thanks to that sentence.
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've been seeing people creating their own D&D-alikes and intentionally calling them "Fantasy Heartbreakers". They are in essence heavily house-ruled versions of D&D of various editions, often combining ideas and adding ones of their own. 13th Age and Radiance RPG would be examples of these that have been more successful. Often the individuals who use the term do so because they know the game they have is really just for them and maybe a few interested others.

The OSR was originally born of retro-clones and many assume it is all about nostalgia but there is more to it. There was a simplicity of play back then and the OSR has come to include games that are retro in feel or play but not necessarily in old edition fiddliness. Games like Adventurer, Conqueror, King that take more modern mechanical approaches to achieve that older, looser feel. This is also why fights break out in OSR threads about Dungeon World - in some ways it captures that old, loose feel but leaves out a LOT more than some people feel is necessary (resource management, etc). Also see Torchbearer.

Where things like the FPP come into this that we've really gotten to a point where people are just taking shit from all over D&D (and other fantasy game) history and rolling their own stuff. In the 52 Pages I see a combination of mechanical elements from 3rd edition (ascending attack and AC scores, three saving throws), OD&D (race as class, simple classes, general effect) and even some 4th edition (cards for spells that you play as you use them).

I think this is why 5th edition is looking like it does. Whether this will be good or bad we'll see, but I've already seen the few things I've liked from the playtest packets and walked off with them as I'm sure many others have, too.
posted by charred husk at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like going into second-hand bookstores and smelling the RPG rulebooks. AD&D 2nd edition books are probably my favourite, but the first edition of the same game, as well as the second editions of Shadowrun and Vampire, are also worth a sniff.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:57 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


...people are just taking shit from all over D&D (and other fantasy game) history and rolling their own stuff.

Yeah, rather than a Fantasy Heartbreaker, which is defined by a certain amount of ego and lack of self-awareness, I see freely-released retro-clones like this as analogous to writing your own elaborate campaign setting. That is, the impetus is creativity and not an attempt at a coup d'etat on the tabletop gaming establishment. Kit-bashing existing rules and adding your own and smoothing them over (but not too much) is how we got to OD&D in the first place and it's nice to see a revival of that as a hobby.
posted by griphus at 2:01 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


No *true* author of a Fantasy Heartbreaker would ever use the term to describe his (of course it's a "him") work. But... life is complicated and boundaries are fuzzy. Lots of people have intentionally written something they think of as their own Fantasy Heartbreaker. I think that's where _The Shadow of Yesterday_ came from, for example. It was C.R. Nixon writing the game he imagined his younger self wanting to create, but with all the knowledge & understanding his present self had.

So it's a metaphorical Fantasy Heartbreaker, a self-conscious Fantasy Heartbreaker, an idealized Fantasy-Heartbreaker-that-might-have-been. If it breaks your heart, it breaks it in a happy way, not a sad way.

There are a bunch of those, I think, and I didn't mention them in my original post because I was talking about the idealized form of each category, not all the possible variations.

I might have been a tiny bit mean-spirited about the role nostalgia plays in the OSR too. :)
posted by edheil at 2:52 PM on December 19, 2013


This is a nice piece of retro-fetishistic graphic design, but if you're going to go compact give us an rpg in two pages (there are loads of them out there). Personally I think playing something like Dungeon World, which conveys the feel of old school dungeoning with a bare minimum of rules, is a better pick than trying to emulate late 70s Lake Geneva style D&D.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:56 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not bad. I'll have to see about converting it to Fate...

I kid! I kid! It's not my cup of tea, but I definitely appreciate the work that went into it.
posted by happyroach at 5:20 PM on December 19, 2013


Retro-clones attempt to recreate 1970s-80s era D&D or some variation thereof, usually with the help of D&D content released under the Open Gaming License. They're self-consciously archaizing.

It's not that we are doing reenactment, it's just that D&D in the style of the 70s and 80s is actually quite a lot of fun. I've been in the OSR for years, and it's led to a lot of great gaming. I was born in 1981, so the rules I use (B/X D&D) are as old as I am. Nostalgia or recreation is peripheral to it.

The only retro-clone I've played extensively is Swords & Wizardry Complete, which is a nice bridge between the variety of AD&D and the simplicity of the 1974 original. This one follows the rather unique style of the blog, which isn't my cup of tea, but it sure looks good. The funny thing about clones is that a lot of them come out of the desire for some tweaks, and wind up as whole games.
posted by graymouser at 5:28 PM on December 19, 2013


Is this Fantasy Heartbreak? http://www.theonion.com/video/the-onion-reviews-the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-sma,34821/
posted by saber_taylor at 5:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of amazed to see the term "fantasy heartbreaker" being tossed around with this kind of currency. Like "crazification factor," (2005) it's something that was once used in a random blog post somewhere that now gets thrown around like everyone knows what it means. I love noticing things like that, and think we should all pay attention with it happens.

For proper reference, the term seems to originate from a 2002 article here. Another article was published in 2003, here.
posted by JHarris at 5:56 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those blog posts were probably the origin of the term, yes. Of course remember this was back e when Ron Edwards and the Forge were highly influential among the nascent indie game crowd. Also, it really encapsulated a phenomenon people had been noticing. and gave it a simple, vivid term. Sometimes offhand descriptions just click with people- like "The Brain Eater", which appeared in a Usenet post.
posted by happyroach at 6:39 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh, I am not familiar with The Brain Eater.
posted by JHarris at 7:50 PM on December 19, 2013


The world needs more fantasy heartbreakers. This is dope.
posted by chunking express at 8:16 PM on December 19, 2013


When a creator, particularly a genre author, that you liked or at least didn't mind earlier starts to devote more and more of their stuff to self-gratifying expositions of their own theories, predilections and opinions. Late Heinlein is often given as an example. Of course, the more you disagree with the new stuff, the more you'll notice "The Brain Eater".

Also, I feel the most poignant example of the fantasy heartbreaker is "Vulcan resident finally finishes RPG book" from the local paper of Vulcan, Alberta, the Vulcan Advocate (yes, it's called Vulcan). It is the "the most realistic fantasy based role-playing game (RPG) on the market" and "realism means bows are less useful in the rain, armour rusts and horses die if not cared for" and it took 18 years. via this rpg.net thread.
posted by Gnatcho at 8:18 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The ebook of that Vulcan RPG book is temptingly cheap. Not to play, but just to read, mind you.
posted by saber_taylor at 12:45 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So the "Brain Eater" is different than when an author gets too powerful to be edited.
posted by saber_taylor at 12:46 AM on December 20, 2013


So the "Brain Eater" is different than when an author gets too powerful to be edited.

Somewhat, yes. An author who's too big to be edited writes essentially the same books they always did, but now their first draft gets published. The quintessential example being Stephen King's The Stand, original edited and the author's cut.

The brain eater on the other hand refers to writers who start letting their hobby horses dictate their writing. So James P. Hogan was always a bit loony with his ideas about how the moon really was created but could still write a decent sc-fi novel about it, only went full blown Velikovsky in his later works and started to imbibe every kook theory under the sun, from evolution denial to holocaust denial.

Dan Simmons is another case, somebody who post-9/11 became a full blown islamophobic kook and let it dictate his writing.

It's impolite to use the term to refer to writers who actually did have cognitive problems, e.g. Keith Laumer who had a stroke; all his post-1970 work is to be avoided because he lost his writing skills because of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:12 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of amazed to see the term "fantasy heartbreaker" being tossed around with this kind of currency.

I only just learned the term in this thread, but the concept behind it is oh so familiar.
posted by griphus at 5:45 AM on December 20, 2013


And then there is this.

While 5th edition D&D will sell I've been getting the feeling that the fans no longer consider Hasbro/WoTC to be the custodians of D&D anymore. Thanks to what the OGL has wrought it now belongs to all of us not matter what the licensing says.
posted by charred husk at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charred husk, thank you for that list! I've been checking out the OSR for a while, but I've never come across that.
posted by Caduceus at 6:18 PM on December 20, 2013


While 5th edition D&D will sell I've been getting the feeling that the fans no longer consider Hasbro/WoTC to be the custodians of D&D anymore.

I've run a bit of 5E/Next during its long public playtest. It's interesting, and people will play it, but I'm kind of glad the retrogaming trend will continue, as I think that's where the soul of the hobby resides right now. I don't know if it's possible to make a please-everyone version of D&D by this point, since each edition is so different from the others. I mean, fans were upset when 2E changed so much from 1E and Basic, but those changes are piddling compared to the 3E revamp and the 4E wholesale remaking.

Also, that list is awe-inspiring. I knew there were many retroclones, but that's dozens. I think an interesting post could be made that reviews them all....
posted by JHarris at 7:35 PM on December 20, 2013


A bit more on the etymology of the brain eater.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:41 PM on December 22, 2013


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