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

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