Monday, April 28, 2008

Faery's Tale Actual Play:
Liza and the Jewelled Brooch, Part 1

I recently reviewed Faery's Tale, an RPG geared toward the young and/or light-hearted roleplayer. For the last couple weeks, I've been running an adventure for my wife. Certainly, running an RPG for a single player is not the ideal situation for a GM, but this was the only way I could test the system, and I really don't mind it at all - it's gaming, and therefore, it's fun. The only other people I play with are my gaming group from work, and we're always playing Fate/SotC.

This has been a great time for me because my wife's only previous experience roleplaying was years ago, when I was trying to create my own RPG. She was graciously willing to playtest it with me. That was some 4-5 years ago. So, to have her playing with me again has been a joy.

I wrote up the basic plot points and NPCs for an adventure, prepared some other materials for her, including an overhead picture of the house where her PC lives (drawn using Inkscape) and a player cheat sheet which includes all the different types of actions she can take. Game night arrived, we got the kids in bed, pulled out the ol' dice bag, dumped a handful of d6s, and launched into the adventure.

This post is the first in a series of actual play posts where I will record the happenings of the adventure, which I titled, "Liza and the Jewelled Brooch". I will include a few insights and technical details for the players and GMs out there who care about those things (designated with [ ] brackets).

Here are my wife's character's stats:

Liza the Brownie

Body: 4

Mind: 3

Spirit: 2

Starting Essence: 4

Innate Gifts:
- Household magic
- Invisibility

Individual Gifts:
- Alert: perceptive and observant
- Fortunate: +2 to Spirit in tests of luck
- Lore: Well-versed in fairy lore

Because I knew it would be somewhat difficult for my wife's PC to handle an entire adventure by herself, I created an NPC to accompany Liza.

Cherry the Pixie - Liza's good friend

Body: 2

Mind: 3

Spirit: 4

Starting Essence: 8

Innate Gifts:
- Flying
- Pixie Dust

Individual Gifts:
- Inspire: spend 1 Essence to add +2 to another faery’s Attribute score in a challenge
- Sneaky: stealth, silence, concealment, sleight of hand

To begin the adventure, I read the following out loud:
After a good evening’s work, you fell into a deep, restful slumber. The spring air gave you refreshing energy for all of your usual tasks. You left the kitchen properly tidied, having cleaned up spills and dust left by the newlywed Togberts. After a dinner of dark wine, red meat, and sweet-smelling breads, the young couple had hastily set the dishes in piles by the wash basin and headed off to bed. Only last week you had discovered the Togbert’s new home. Sneaking in and finding them in need of a Brownie, you took the opportunity to move in. Having given your last home over to another Brownie as the result of a boon the week before, you were relieved to find the walls of the Togbert home roomy and relatively dust-free.

Now you are sleeping peacefully.

You wake up with a start. You are almost certain you heard a sound out in the kitchen.
Liza races to a hole in the wall where she can see into the kitchen. [I made this an Easy challenge, which has a difficulty of 1, requiring 1 success on the dice, that is, one even number.] She rolled 4 successes, getting to the hole with plenty of time to get a good look at an intruder heading for the open front door. The intruder is a faery for sure, carrying a large bag over his back. As much as her brain tells her it's impossible, she's almost sure that this figure making his escape from the dark kitchen is Markle, the kind brownie who lives in the Blacksmith's shop! Markle is a well-liked faery who makes weapons for noble sprite warriors. Liza can't understand why he would be sneaking into the Togbert home to pilfer items.

Liza scrambles through passages in the walls and exits to the exterior of the house just to the side of the front door. By the time she gets there, the mysterious brownie is gone. Suddenly, some sparkling dust falls down in front of Liza. A moment later, Cherry, Liza's dear friend, lands next to Liza and says, "I was out flying around and saw the front door opened. I thought it seemed strange, so came over to see if everything was all right."

Liza notices a trail through the dirt leading away from the front steps, headed away from the house. This trail was undoubtedly created by the large bag the brownie intruder was toting. Liza asks Cherry to follow the trail and see if she can find the man she thinks is Markle. Cherry flies away and returns saying that she couldn't see him within a few yards.

Liza goes inside and looks around the house, using her Alertness to quickly scan the room. She sees evidence of bits and pieces of moved objects, open drawers and the like, apparently used by the intruder to climb up to a high point on the wall where there hangs a plaque. This plaque usually holds a very valuable jewel-studded brooch - a Togbert family heirloom. But the spot where the brooch usually rests is empty!

Liza leaves the house, closes the door, and suggests to Cherry that they go check the blacksmith's shop to see if Markle is there. She wants to be sure she saw what she thinks she saw. [This event was unexpected. I hadn't thought of this possibility, but these are the things that make GMing fun. So I happily went along to see what my wife would come up with.] Liza asks Cherry if she can spare some pixie dust to make her fly so they can travel more quickly. Cherry agrees. [This was one of those times when I figured this would be the best way to make the story keep moving and I didn't have a problem giving my wife a little help - she was doing this by herself after all. I wanted to make Cherry function somewhat like another player character. So I figured a free sprinkling of pixie dust was a reasonable option.]

The two faeries fly off and quickly arrive at the blacksmith's shop. They try to open the front door by turning the handle. [I gave this a difficulty of Easy (1).] Liza got 1 success. She is able to turn the handle, but it's locked. The gates to the shop are closed, but the faeries slip through a crack and go to access another door into the house. [This also had a difficulty of Easy (1) to turn the handle.] Liza got 3 successes for a hefty turn of the handle, but alas, this door is locked too. Cherry suggests that they go to the hole in the wall where Markle comes out to meet customers. They locate the hole on the exterior of the house and Liza pokes her head inside. She whispers to see if anyone is awake inside. There is no response. At this time, Liza's pixie dust wears off and she can no longer float.

Liza calls Cherry into the dark hallway, carved within the wall, so they can have some light by which to see. They quietly proceed until they reach a point in the hall where another hallway breaks off headed upward. The hall they are in continues forward. Liza climbs up into the upper hallway and sees that Cherry's light just barely illuminates a few articles of a bedroom. Cherry cautiously stays back in the main hallway, keeping watch.

Liza listens before entering the bedroom. Her Alertness tells her that there is no noise from within the room. She now uses her Household Magic to create a small magical ball of light in her hand to see the interior of the bedroom. There is no sign of Markle. In fact, his bed is tidily made and everything seems to be in its proper place, including a number of fancy weapons hanging from the walls.

Liza meets Cherry back in the main hallway and they continue forward until they arrive in Markle's shop. He has this section of the thick wooden wall carved into a tiered workshop. Cherry is still nervous, but Liza is resolved to make sense of things. She uses her light to examine the shop - again, finding no Markle. Liza looks around to see if there is anything she can use as a decoy brooch for the time being, but she sees nothing significant - just a bucket of water, and various blacksmith's tools.

Cherry, cautiously waiting further down the hall insists they be on their way. Liza disappointedly agrees and they return to the exterior of the blacksmith's shop. Liza wants to fly again. [This time, I decided she would need to pay 1 Essence mote to receive more pixie dust from Cherry. It was my way of making her pay to control the NPC to her liking. I'm thinking it might be reasonable to alternate like this - one freebie, one pay. It seems fair enough, especially since Liza is receiving the gift of flight every time Cherry agrees to help her.] So Liza spends 1 Essence and Cherry works up enough pixie dust to share. They float into the air and dart for the Togbert house once again.

Liza realizes that she needs to have the brooch in its place by morning, so she must make haste. The two faeries race north, following the path left in the dirt by the thief's large bag. But then, the trail gets lost as it runs right into a large grassy area. They stop to look around, seeing and hearing nothing. Just then, they hear from overhead: "Hoo! Hoo! Who are you looking for? Who?"

Looking up, they see a black great horned owl who introduces himself as Bwok. The faeries ask if he has seen anyone come this way, to which he replies that, indeed, he has seen someone come this way - a brownie in fact, dragging a large bag slung over his shoulder. But, to the faeries' displeasure, he is not willing to give the information for free. He wants one of two things from them. They must either bring him a mouse to dine on, or, they must tell him a story. He is a lover of fascinating stories. But, he has heard many, many stories, and to think of one he hasn't heard before is quite a task.

Being a brownie, Liza has a natural love for mice, so the first option is out of the question. Yet, to Liza's advantage, she has the Gift of Faery Lore - she knows many great stories, old and new. Because Bwok wanted a story he'd never heard, I decided this would be a somewhat difficult task. Therefore, Liza would have to spend 1 Essence mote to tell such a story. [I gave my wife two options: she could actually make up some interesting story and earn an Essence mote, gaining back her spent Essence - or - she could just say that Liza tells him a great story and not earn the Essence mote. Being new to RPing and not in the mood to come up with something like this on the fly, she chose the latter option.] So Liza spent the Essence mote and told Bwok an amazing story from ancient faery lore called "Twilight" [yes, my wife is very much into the vampire book of the same name], which pleased the owl very well.

Bwok tells the faeries that the brownie they are following went west. He also made it quite clear that, if they intended to catch up with him, they would need to hurry.

That ended our first session. My wife later mentioned that she had enjoyed playing. This was good news to me since she is generally not the sort of person who would readily sign up to play an RPG. She loves board games, but RPGs are a different entity altogether. She had a great attitude and actually continues to look forward to each session.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Faery's Tale RPG: a review

This year I came to the conclusion that when it comes to RPGs, I prefer rules-light systems. A few weeks ago, during my RPG-related web surfing, I stumbled upon the game Faery's Tale.

Production: Firefly Games
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Authors: Patrick Sweeney, Sandy Antunes, Christina Stiles, and Robin D. Laws
Artists: Janet Chui, Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall and Jennifer Meyer

There were a couple features which drew my attention to this game. First, it is advertised as a game that works well with kids. My kids have a few years to go before they will be able to grasp roleplaying games, but I'm always preparing for that day, as any eager roleplaying dad should be. Second, the game had positive reviews popping up all over the place, as well as some nominations for various gaming awards. A game this new is only likely to receive this much attention if it is good. The more I read about the game, the more I became convinced of its originality and value. Within the next week or two, I ordered the book.

When this little 96-page softbound beauty arrived, I dove in. After several days of reading in my free time, I had finished the book with a reasonably good grasp of the system and the concepts therein. Because so many of the reviews on the internet give a thorough explanation of the defining mechanics and features of the game, I'll spare you those details and instead focus on what stood out to me, and give you my opinions of Faery's Tale.


One of the first things I look for in an RPG is the production. How much attention was given to the details of presentation? How's the art? How's the layout? Is it easy on the eyes? I was pleased to find that Faery's Tale hit the mark on every count. The credits boast a team of 30-some people who contributed to the project in some way. Why is this beneficial? Because when you have more people involved, you have more give-and-take, more feedback, and more opportunities for imperfections to be discovered and resolved. Such a level of refinement is less likely with a team of only 1 person, or even 5 people.

The first thing that catches the eye is the cover art by Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall. This was a big draw for me. I love professional art in RPGs. Back when I was looking through D&D books, before ever playing, I admired the imaginative artwork decorating the pages. The same holds true today, and Faery's Tale passed the test for me. The cover depicts a little scene where a cluster of faeries look at a piece of paper illuminated by their glowing faery lights. When I received the book, I immediately flipped through to see what kind of art it contained. I was pleased to see many wonderful pencil drawings of fantastical faery scenes. I have been most impressed with the artwork contributed by Jennifer Meyer, who perfectly captures the essence of the theme and setting of the game in her drawings.

The whimsical fonts are a precise match for the theme, and the layout is very easy to follow. The greater part of the book is in a clean 2-column format with additional useful notes and references in gray boxes which span the entire width of the page. Overall, the production of this book is excellent. It feels a bit overpriced to me for a small (9" x 6"), 96-page, black-and-white book, but I'm not experienced enough to know how this compares with the rest of the industry.


The book begins with a clean, comprehensive Table of Contents, which I found very useful when looking back for particular sections. Then you get a brief Preface from designer Patrick Sweeney and it's onto the meat.

Every RPG has it's sample characters, and in Faery's Tale it's the little band of four faery friends: a pixie, a brownie, a sprite, and a pooka. These happen to be the main playable faery types as well. At intervals throughout the book, you are treated to four short chapters of a fictional story involving the four sample characters. This story effectively exemplifies the setting and mood of the game, immersing you in the designers' world of faery lore.

One design aspect that I quickly discovered and appreciated was that the game seems to be a great entry level game for players of any age. The whole system is contained in this short volume, including an introduction to roleplaying ("storytelling" as they call it in Faery's Tale), thorough and colorful descriptions of the theme and setting, detailed explanations of what types of characters you can play, a clear presentation of the systems rules and mechanics, gamemaster (Narrator) tips, and three adventures to boot. This team certainly did their homework. They close the book with a sizable bibliography, filmography, character sheet, and index.

When I say "homework", I mean, this team delved deep into faery lore before writing this game. Every few pages, you find a gray box teaching you something about faery lore and explaining how to incorporate these details into your game. Every page carefully keeps you immersed in the faery world, where magic is common and faery beings secretly go about affecting the lives of everyone and everything in the forest called Brightwood. As far as sticking with a theme, this design team nailed it.

The game was clearly created with an eye for children. There are tips throughout the book for working with kids as they learn to roleplay, including a page about LARPing (Live Action RolePlay).

As I mentioned before, this system is rules-light. There are some mechanics for resolving conflicts and challenges, creating characters and NPCs, and gaining and spending Essence, which is somewhat similar to Fate points and the like, as seen in other RPGs. These points help to drive the system in many ways as players learn to work with them. There are a few other important mechanics like Gifts (skills), Titles, Boons, and Charms. These features add fun things for players to do in the game. The book includes a good batch of stats for other creatures in the woods as well, which gives the Narrator a solid framework from which to create their Stories (adventures).

I think the system is great for introducing new players to roleplaying. I also think that it would be a gentle system for new GMs to try getting their feet wet. One read-through gives you a solid understanding of the system and it only takes a few seconds to go back and find something you need to review. The system lends itself to ease of use, and I think the freeform and imaginative format will make it easy for GMs to create interesting stories for the players. The system also encourages players to contribute ideas for conflicts and plot points, which I love. Most GMs will probably agree that players often come up with better ideas than the GM, and these ideas can often take the game in fun new directions. Players are rewarded Essence points for doing this kind of thing in Faery's Tale.

The one downside of building a book for new players and GMs is that it includes three adventures. If experienced GMs wish to write their own adventures, these pages may seem like a lot of wasted space: "I spent money on this?!" On the other hand, these adventures are exactly the sort of thing new GMs would give their dice-rolling hand for. The adventures offer examples of conflicts and difficulty ratings, as well as saving new GMs the trouble of trying to create their own Story while learning the mechanics of the game. While I can appreciate perhaps one included adventure, my preference would have been to exclude these pages and lower the cost of the book. But, regardless of my personal taste, I do think it was a great idea to include these adventures for the main audience to whom they are writing.

My only other complaint about this book relates to examples. I find that I often learn best by example. As a result, I find most RPG books seriously lacking in adequate examples for my mind type. Faery's Tale has some brief examples of a few situations, but they are sparse. I would have liked many more examples. I want to know that if I run into any obscure questions, there is an example that deals with that issue. I don't like reading an RPG book and thinking, "What if?" I think any RPG book should answer what-ifs with thorough examples.

I have been very pleased with Faery's Tale and the unique offering it brings to the world of roleplaying. Children and adults who have a taste for faery stories and light-hearted themes should have a blast with this system. Its thoughtful presentation, careful attention to detail, and innovative ideas make it a worthy addition to any collection of RPG books.

Below are some useful resources for fans or researches of Faery's Tale.

Buy Faery's Tale Deluxe:
Green Ronin Publishing (they have special Faery's Tale dice too)
Firefly Games (they have downloadable adventures for purchase too)

Other Faery's Tale links:

Official Faery's Tale forums
Faery's Tale Yahoo group
Faery's Tale information and reviews at RPGnet
Download a free Christmas-themed adventure
Download a free Faery's Tale add-on about Leprechauns
Download a free Faery's Tale Deluxe character sheet
Download a free Faery's Tale Intro Pack
Download a free Faery's Tale preview

Review by Timothy Pinkham

Friday, April 4, 2008