Sunday 17 January 2021

Rob Conley interview

Here's something new for the blog. It's an interview using a simple framework I'm calling the 5W+H Interview...

Who, What, When, Where, Why plus How?

And our first interviewee is man of the moment: Rob Conley, who has just successfully completed a KickStarter for his Basic Rules for The Majestic Fantasy rpg (reviewed in the previous blog post).

Who... is The Majestic Fantasy rpg aimed at?

The Majestic Fantasy RPG is aimed at new and old fans of the classic editions of the original 1974 roleplaying games. It is designed to expand the life of the setting outside of the dungeon and wilderness. This aspect of my campaign came about because I was a referee who let players "trash" his setting. If a referee does that for their campaign, to make it a plausible challenge you need to flesh it out a bit. At first I made do with the barebones listing found in Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy and then started to fill it out with material from Harn, Ars Magica, and my own stuff. Eventually, so many players came and went, each doing their thing, that it took a life of it's own.

What.. was the hardest aspect of the design/writing of the game?

Keeping it terse but not so terse that needed information was omitted. Another was the decade long playtest. Making sure I incorporated what I learned along the way. Then designing the presentation and writing it up in a way that was useful for kitbashing. There a tension between describing what I did and making that description useful for campaigns with a different focus.

Why... did you decide to publish your rules?

In truth I rather stick to settings and adventures but when you do physical sales you need a rulebook that you can offer. I am on good terms with most of the OSR publishers but it's hard to coordinate. So I decided to take the additional material I developed and turn it into a rulebook. This started out as a series of reference cards combining Swords & Wizardry and my Majestic Wilderlands supplement and proceeded from there.

When... is the next ('Advanced'?) edition due?

Probably in the fall and it will be the Lost Grimoire of Magic. I will start getting the book into its final shape after the Wild North setting is released.

It will detail the different magic-user classes:

-Contain a complete reference for all the arcane spells.

-Useful topics for playing and refereeing magic-users.

-An adventure about magic-users.

-Details about the various magic-orders.

-How to setup and maintain a conclave, workshop, sanctum, etc for a magic-user or a group of magic-users.

-Referee advice about magic and magic-users.

As for the series as whole, there will be about ten supplements including the Basic Rules. One each for Fighters, Rogues, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Monsters, Magic Items/Equipment, Human NPCs, Non-Human NPCs, and one I am calling the Axioms of Sandbox Fantasy Campaigns Each will be more than what one would expect from a corresponding chapter(s) in a traditional rulebooks as what I plan for the Lost Grimoire of Magic shows above.

It a bit of a gamble as it is a non-traditional approach. I think kitbashing is the norm not the exception. While there will be fans of Majestic Fantasy RPG, I aim to be everybody's second choices for material to incorporate into their campaigns.

Where... will any further campaign material be set, your Majestic Wilderlands or Blackmarsh/Points of Light?

The short answer it will be Blackmarsh/Points of Light. I will be calling the series The Majestic Fantasy Realms.

I would love to continue with the Wilderlands but at this point it has to be made open content or something else done with it in order IPwise for me to start working with it again. Disappointment doesn't begin to cover my feelings about this.

The Majestic Fantasy Realms will have all my original content just with the Judges Guild serial numbers filed off. The foundation was laid with Points of Light as at the time I had no idea that I would get JG license. For Points of Light, I sketched out a loose background compatible with my Majestic Wilderlands came up with different names and went on from there.

How... do you see the product's future?

I think it will be solid seller and many will find it useful. It's not a barebones system as those systems based on the 3 booklets of the original edition are. But it also not as detailed as GURPS, Ars Magica, Mythras/Runequest, Fantasy Age, or 5th Edition either. The closest equivalent in complexity and tone is the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System by Autarch.

Until I get the rest of Majestic Fantasy supplements out it will have a tough uphill battle because of the wealth of quality systems available in the OSR. I also hope that the Majestic Fantasy RPG serves as a good example of looking at what your setting needs and then writing and assembling the rules needed to run a campaign using that setting.

Robert, thank you so much for participating in our first 5W+H q&a session.

Thanks for having me do this interview.

Bat in the Attic Games on drivethru:

Rob's blog can be found from here:

The Wilderlands MeWe group:

Wednesday 13 January 2021

The Majestic Fantasy RPG

Review of The Majestic Fantasy rpg (the basic rules) by Robert S

Conley, Bat in the Attic Games, 2020

Rob Conley has been a stalwart of the fantasy role playing game scene for a long time. Always modest about his achievements his work has been published by major names in the field. However, he is probably best known for his work on the Wilderlands of High Fantasy- creating amazing maps and content for both the Judges Guild and Necromancer Games versions of that setting. His mini setting, Blackmarsh, which he created as a free product for gamers and designers alike, has been used as a campaign basis for Delving Deeper, Swords & Six-Siders, Heroes and Other Worlds and probably more.

For years now, Rob has been playing with his group in an alternate version of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy which he calls, The Majestic Wilderlands. The rules set which he and his group use has been evolving and growing over the years with the campaign. Finally, this rules set is being published and this Basic Rules edition is the first installment.
Taking a lead from earlier starter editions such the Black Box edition of D&D, which takes characters up through levels 1 to 5, The Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules, gives a full rules set to enable the players and referee to run complete and detailed campaigns whilst leaving room for higher level play later. The rules are ultimately based on Original Dungeons and Dragons and are compatible with most, if not all, clones thereof. Matt Finch's Swords and Wizardry is mentioned specifically on the cover and indeed the book describes itself as a supplement to S&W. But make no mistake, this is a complete game on it's own.
But thus is not just another clone. Here, there are refinements and differences which show how Rob has modernised his rules as time and fashions tend to do. For instance, the classic six ability scores (here called Attributes) range from 3 to 23 although the normal human range is still 3-18. First level PCs get max hit points and starting cash is modified by Charisma (nice touch). In this volume we have the classic four main classes but with hints that in the Advanced(?) rules or in campaign supplements, there are more to come. For instance, although Rogue is a class, we are only presented here with the "Burglar" variant and the Cleric here is a "Cleric of Delaquain": presumably there are more cleric sects out there, each with their own specialisms and possibly, spells? (Indeed in his notes for the Kick Starter, Robert has more than hinted at this and there is another 'sect' detailed in the NPC section of the book). We have the four classic races plus Half-Elves. Here is a nod to more modern versions of the game: players of any background (race) can play any class. However, not all professions will be the best choice for each background. Hints at extra backgrounds can be found later in the book by looking at the notes on the cultures of non-human npcs. Look out for orcs, goblins and lizardmen backgrounds in future at least! Old school roots show themselves here- the backgrounds are not balanced, and are not intended to be. Elves in particular are designed to be somethin' else: "created as the shining examples of the potential of life" they are immortal beings, immune to disease and healing twice as fast as other humanoids.
And now we come to more modern twists on the old school warhorse rules: abilities. In this game abilities are not your rolled attributes but a skill system used alongside attribute tests, using a d20 roll. This version of the skill system has but twenty two abilities (although several of these are multi-faceted) ranging from Athletics to Intimidation, Survival to Haggling. These abilities help define or sharpen your character's chosen class. The system is simple and straightforward with one target number. Advantage and disadvantage are handled much like in D&D5e, and there are simple rules on levels or degrees of success/failure. The whole abilities section is only nine pages and feels light and streamlined (so OSR stick-in-the-muds like me don't need to get the heebie-geebies!) Similarly lightweight, but nevertheless there, if you want them, are the combat stunts and tricksie moves that are common in the modern game. Rules for grappling, swapping weapons, dual wielding etc are also present and concisely written. Character's attribute scores can affect surprise, initiative, ranged fire, melee efficiency and more. This has the effect of giving the classes more options which might otherwise 'belong' to different classes. This also means for example the Fighters in this game are beefed up compared with the original game, gaining extra attacks and with more hit points. Being a human fighter in these rules is not a default if your attribute rolls didn't come out too well. Players will actively choose to play one!
The spell casting system has a few extra twists too. Although spells are divided into Arcane and Divine magic, both Magic Users and Clerics need to have spell books to revise from. Both types of spell caster can also perform Ritual magic using their spell/prayer books and the right components etc. This enables spells to be cast without memorising them first. Scrolls therefore take on an extra dimension in the Majestic Fantasy RPG as they can take the place of spell books too precious to take adventuring. Be warned... some creatures in these lands have levels of magical immunity. This extra level of defense is used alongside a standard saving throw. This ability combined with the need to know how many hit dice your enemies might have (for fighters multi targetting purposes) means that players will need to get to know their monstrous enemies in a bit more detail than in other games. Rob justifies this by pointing out that hunters or warriors get a feel for the relative strengths and skills of their opponents as they gain experience with/of them. The final twist I want to mention is one which readers/users of the Blackmarsh setting will have come across before. The mysterious substance called "Viz". This is best described as an element of pure magic. A little like The Force in Star Wars, it suffuses everything, or perhaps more accurately- might suffuse anything. In the Blackmarsh setting it is suggested that Viz came to the world via a meteor or comet strike and became spread around the land and buried deep within it. You can actually dig it up or mine it I suppose. That isn't discussed here. But it's effects are. Viz essentially boosts magic in certain ways the most obvious is that a magic user can physically use up Viz whilst casting a spell and in doing so, the spell is not wiped from his memory. Very handy. Very expensive.
Many of you will have seen the author's Bat in the Attic website and blog. A place stuffed with excellent advice on running campaigns. Rob has cherry picked some choice morsels from there and included them here in the Basic Rules. It's worth saying here something about Rob's philosophy when putting these rules together. He describes the rules as a toolbox for 'kitbashing'. Customisation to you and me. Yes, that's right, the author of the game explicitly states he wants you tear his game up and use it how you will. I can see how lots of things in the book, and especially the advice sections, can be used this way. I could easily swipe the entire Abilities section and stitch it seemlessly into Epées & Sorcellerie for example. However, I'm not sure how well you could run the rules without, say, Viz. But I'm saying that without having played it.
All of the classic monsters are here, lots of treasure (including treasure assortment tables) and magical items. There are some excellent sections on NPCs and information on demi-human and goblinoid types etc which gives you scope to put together detailed tribes of goblins for example, complete with their warrior bosses, sages, shamans and so on. There ready made guards, NPC parties, the local witch, all sorts of good stuff.
The book is rounded off with helpful collections of tables and quick reference guides, combat tables and so forth. Lots of which are also available as free downloads.
The artwork is plentiful without getting in the way. All of it good to excellent. The cover work by Richard Luschek is especially good.
There are lots more lovely little touches I could tell you about- such as rules for using your trusty staff as a vaulting pole! Rob really has done an amazing job fitting all of this into one book. I went for the hardback because that's what I like but it's available in paperback and as a pdf... so what are you waiting for?
Headlines: the Majestic Fantasy rules are a bit like ODD all growed up. But without having it's teeth and complexion ruined by too many candies!