After our exploration of Cepheus Atom, let’s look at another system that uses two six-sided dice.
Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd ed. by Steve Jackson1, Ian Livingstone, and Graham Bottley expands rules from the Fighting Fantasy game books by Jackson and Livingstone into a complete and official RPG. (Unofficial expansions exist, such as Troika! which I’ve discussed before.)
Like the game books before it, AFF2 requires only two six-sided dice per player, although more dice, particularly of a distinct color, would be helpful.
Making a Character
Player Characters in AFF2 have four basic Attributes:
- how well a character does nearly everything.
- how much punishment a character can take, usually in combat.
- how easily a PC avoids danger through random chance.
- how well a character casts magic spells.
In addition, PCs have points in one or more Special Skills, which add to SKILL in specific circumstances. For example if a PC with SKILL 7 attacks with a sword, but they have a Special Skill of “Swords 2”, their effective SKILL is 9.
Rather than step through each part of character creation, I’ll just summarize and paraphrase:
- Come up with a rough character concept, and eventually a name.
- Pick the character’s Race: Human, Elf, or Dwarf.
- Start with SKILL 4, STAMINA 8, LUCK 8, MAGIC 0.
- Distribute 8 Creation Points (CP) among the four characteristics, but no more than 3 in SKILL and LUCK, no more than 4 in STAMINA, and no more than 7 in MAGIC. Each CP increases STAMINA by two and other characteristics by 1.
- Raise three different Special Skills listed in the rules by 2 points, and six more Special Skills by 1 point.
- Pick one Talent from the list, except Dark Seeing.
- Make the following racial adjustments:
- Human: +1 LUCK; Special Skills: World Lore 1, City Lore2 1, Religion Lore 1, another Movement- or Stealth-related Special Skill 1, Language - Common Speech 4.
- Elf: +1 MAGIC; Special Skills: Forest Lore 1, Magic - Minor 1, Language - Elvish 4, Language - Common Speech 2; Talent: Dark Seeing.
- Dwarf: +2 STAMINA; Special Skills: Underground Lore 1, Crafting 1, Language - Dwarfish 4, Language - Common Speech 2; Talent: Dark Seeing.
- Record the following Equipment:
- 2d6 Gold Pieces
- One weapon that the character has a Special Skill in.
- A leather cuirass if the character has the Armor Special Skill.
- 1 lantern
- 1 flask of oil
- 2 meals worth of provisions
- 1 Potion of Stamina, Magic, or Luck (choose at start of play), which will restore STAMINA, MAGIC POINTS, or LUCK respectively to its starting value.
- any other equipment mandated by a Special Skill or Talent.
- 1 backpack to store all the above.
Normally I skip the equipment step, but I’ll refer to it later, particularly in the Combat section. However, I will skip the following steps from the rules.
- Determine Social Class (0-10) based on character concept, in collaboration with the GM. Honestly I can’t find a reference to Social Class anywhere else in the main rules3.
- Calculate MAGIC POINTS and choose spells based on the Special Skills (and therefore types of magic) the character knows. Magic is complicated, and addressed below.
Name: The Red Ratter, a.k.a. Red
Concept: second-story burglar
Special Skills: Language - Common Speech 4, Jump 2, Sneaking 2, Thrown Weapons 2, Acrobatics 1, Armour 1, Awareness 1, Bargain 1, City Lore 1, Climb 1, Evaluate 1, Locks 1, Religion Lore 1, World Lore 1
Talents: Crack Shot
- 6 Gold Pieces
- leather cuirass
- 1 lantern
- 1 flask of oil
- 2 meals worth of provisions
- 1 Potion of Luck
- Lock picks
- 1 backpack to store all the above.
Playing the Game
In an Unopposed Test, a character attempts some task that depends only on his own abilities and the tools, materials, and/or conditions they currently have. To determine whether the task succeeds, the player rolls two dice and tries to get a number at or below their effective SKILL number. The effective SKILL is the character’s SKILL adjusted by an applicable Special Skill and/or other circumstances.
In an Opposed Test, two characters compete directly against each other. Both characters roll two dice and add their SKILL, Special Skills, and bonuses or penalties for circumstances; the higher total wins. (Presumably most circumstantial modifiers would apply to both parties and so would cancel out.) Combat is a special case of an Opposed Test.
When success or failure at a task depends primarily or wholly on fickle fate, a character makes a Luck Test. Examples from the rules include avoiding a trap or finding an unusual item in a shop.
PCs roll two dice and attempt to roll at or below their current LUCK score. Whether they succeed or fail, their LUCK diminishes by one. LUCK points only return between adventures or as the result of certain magic, e.g. a Luck Potion. NPCs have no LUCK score; they use SKILL when the rules require a Luck Test.
Players can successfully Test Their Luck in combat situations; if successful they effectively roll maximum damage or force their attacker to roll minimum damage. NPCs cannot Test Their Luck in this way.
In each AFF2 combat round, all combatants act simultaneously7. Each player rolls 2d6 simultaneously, adds SKILL and the Special Skill for their weapon, and adjusts the total based on battle conditions. The GM rolls for each monster or NPC and adds their SKILL. Most monsters can attack more than one target at a time. If a character’s (or monster’s) total is higher than their target’s, they hit, otherwise they miss.
During each combat round, the rules suggest players roll a third die of a different color. If they hit, the third die indicates how much damage their weapon does. If they are hit, the third die indicates how much damage their armor blocks.
While this works well for multiple PCs vs. a single monster, it does make the GM’s job comparatively8 harder when they run multiple NPCs. Three solutions suggest themselves:
Instead of rolling sequentially, the GM has one color-coded pair of dice for each NPC. (Damage and armor dice are rolled afterward.)
A group of similar enemies counts as one creature, with one die roll and as many attacks as members of the group. Or the GM rolls four dice and drops the highest and lowest, to reduce the likelihood that a single lucky or unlucky roll would give the PCs an unfair advantage or disadvantage.
For a large(?) number of enemies, the GM simply assumes all NPCs roll a 7, and calculates their total from that.
To determine weapon damage, the player or GM rolls one die. Sometimes the player adds to the damage roll, or takes an automatic 7 when they Push Their Luck in combat. The Red Ratter’s Crack Shot Talent, above, would add +1 to the damage die for his Sling. (And bows and crossbows.) The player or GM then cross-references the column for the final value (1-7) with the weapon they’re using, usually entered on the character or NPC sheet.
So if the Red Ratter hit with his Sling, his player might get 3 on the die, add 1 to get 4, then look up the damage for 4 with a Sling, which is 2 points. Presumably it’s faster to do than to describe.
When a character wearing armo(u)r takes a hit, the target rolls a die and looks up how much STAMINA damage to subtract. Shields add to each column, so if the Red Ratter had a Small Shield, he’d have the following protection:
So a die roll of 1-4 would offer no protection, 5-6 would block 2, and a 7 (only possible if Red rolled 6 and added 1 for some reason) would block 4. Red would subtract any remaining damage from STAMINA.
Wearing armo(u)r effectively requires a Special Skill in Armor. The weight of armor one can use without penalty depends on the sum of SKILL + Armor. Wearing Armor beyond this limit imposes a -1 penalty to SKILL for all physical activities for each point over. The Red Ratter, above, has a total of 8; he can wear a Leather Hauberk9 without penalty, but would suffer penalties with Chainmail, let alone Plate.
There’s also a Talent called Swashbuckler which, when combined with the Dodge Special Skill provides protection comparable to armor, but only when the PC has no armor or shield. (This may have been a better option for the Red Ratter, but I wanted to show how “normal” armor works.) The level of protection increases with the Dodge skill:
AFF2 defines four distinct magic systems:
Minor Magic consists of “cantrips” which have minor effects, like creating light, extinguishing light, creating momentary illusions, souring milk, etc. Each effect is a distinct spell, and costs only 1 MAGIC POINT.
Wizardry is the “grown-up” verison of Minor Magic: spells take concentration and time to prepare, cost more MAGIC POINTS, and have greater effects. Each spell costs 1 or more MAGIC POINTS proportional to their effects; the more points it costs, the harder it is to learn.
Sorcery, based on a system from the Fighting Fantasy game books, appears to be as powerful as Wizardry but costs STAMINA points to cast. Sorcerers know all spells but often require material components like a bamboo flute, a gold coin, or a green wig to cast them.
Priestly Magic requires the character to dedicate themselves to one of the listed gods of Good, Neutrality, or Evil. Their god grants them a specific power plus some general powers like Bless, Heal, Good Luck, Ill Luck, or Smite vs. Undead. Priests can use each of their powers once per day, or twice if they succeed in a LUCK check.
Each type of magic has an associated Special Skill: Magic - Minor, Magic - Wizardry, Magic - Sorcery, and Magic - Priestly. No character may know more than one of Wizardry, Sorcery, and Priestly Magic.
As AFF strives to be a complete RPG, it has rules for non-combat actions like Moving, Sneaking, and Social interactions, hazards like traps and falling, extensive price lists for common goods, lists of monsters and treasure, and the expected GM Advice.
The rules also briefly describe the default world of Titan, which a companion book, Titan, describes more fully. It’s the same setting as the Fighting Fantasy books, with locations from the books like Firetop Mountain.
Assessing the Game
Game Books, Advanced
Many of the quirks of Advanced Fighting Fantasy come from its roots in the Fighting Fantasy game books. The books let readers define their character as SKILL, STAMINA, and maybe LUCK, either randomly generated or with something like the point-buy system above. But that assumed one “player” who also rolled dice for the monsters.
In a multi-player tabletop RPG, player characters have to differentiate themselves with Special Skills and Talents. The rules have to accomodate multiple combatants, player and non-player. Adventures are no longer just numbered paragraphs by professional authors, but more concise linear descriptions – or hastily scrawled notes – administered by a non-professional GM.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! defined a magic system that made sense in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Presumably the other systems came from the authors desire for a more general magic system covering the typical wizard and cleric clichés.
The rulebook, as admirably short as it is, contains a mishmash of simple and elegant resolution mechanisms, elaborations and extraneous rules carried over from game books or the first edition of AFF, and attempts to updaate decades-old material for a modern if retro-friendly audience.
Revising the Rules
If one doesn’t mind cutting whole sections, and rewriting hallowed rules from legendary authors, the systems of AFF2 could make a decent lightweight game. Daniel Sell’s Troika!, for example, rewrote the whole thing from scratch, with necessary simplifications like a unified magic system that treats spells like Special Skills, bases them on SKILL not “MAGIC”, and uses STAMINA instead of “MAGIC POINTS”. Troika! also randomly generates SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK, then uses randomly chosen templates to flesh out Special Skills and Spells. I’ve written about Troika! before; its rules are mostly solid (initiative being a possible exception) but its vague “hipster Planescape” setting can be off-putting.
When discussing Troika! before I’ve also suggested that we could eliminate SKILL and convert to a full Roll-Over die mechanic. This would yield a skill system more like Traveller. LUCK would still use a Roll-Under mechanic. Also, if we used AFF’s point-buy mechanic we’d essentially trade points between STAMINA and LUCK. (And MAGIC if we left it around.)
Requiring a Special Skill to use Armor seems somewhat unintuitive. In real life, well-made armor, no matter how heavy, doesn’t restrict movement. If we want to make heavy armor cost something, we could make it take up two Item slots. Or we could rule that “found” armor imposes a penalty, but an Armorer can tailor it to fit snugly. Or maybe it wears down STAMINA instead if a character doesn’t have a specific Talent.10
What We Can Learn
AFF2 started well, but for a simple system it contains a lot of seemingly unnecessary complexity:
- Four fundamental attributes on varying scales with varying degrees of usefulness.
- Dozens of Special Skills, some of which have unusual functions and some of which require a Talent to fully use.
- A LUCK mechanic that seems at first like a D&D saving throw, but doesn’t jibe that well with skills for Awareness or Traps that also would help one avoid traps.
- A seemingly simple combat system with complexities that emerge with multiple combatants and unusual conditions.
- Four distinct and incompatible magic systems.11
While I really liked this system when I first encountered it, now I’d be loath to run the rules as written. However, there are some ideas worth stealing, such as the Luck mechanic, opposed combat rolls between duelling combatants, and using a 1d6 and a table lookup for more interesting damage distributions.
Not to be confused with Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games. ↩︎
Or Forest Lore, Desert Lore, etc. for humans from elsewhere. ↩︎
Except in the “Knighted” Talent, to note that a knight’s Social Class is always 7. ↩︎
Characters can normally carry only 10 items. Some large or bulky items count as two or more, collections of smaller items like arrows count only as one, and some Talents or Special Skills can increase this limit. ↩︎
a “thrown weapon” as stated in the Special Skill description. ↩︎
Spelled “Armour” in the rules. ↩︎
More or less; all missile weapon attacks are resolved first, then all magical attacks, then all melee combat. ↩︎
Compared to the players who only make one roll per round. The GM is rolling no more often than in initiative-based systems like Cepheus Atom. ↩︎
A Hauberk covers the arms and legs, and so blocks at least one point of damage on every roll but
Later editions of Numenera and Cypher System ruled that wearing armor imposed an additional penalty when spending Speed points, unless characters were Trained With Armor. ↩︎
Five or more, if you count the Psionics system in Stellar Adventures, which is basically AFF2 In Spaaaace. ↩︎