Warrior, Rogue, and Mage–a Critical Review   4 comments

Open mouth, insert foot–that’s a capsule history of my life.  I made an offer on Twitter to review any game that came back to me from the Essen international Game and Toy show, and Michael Wolf, who is European in spite of his incredibly American-sounding name, took me up on it, rightly pointing out that he made his game, Warrior, Rogue & Mage, free right from the beginning and that I could have it by simply wanting it.  In fact, I did download it when it first came out, and had simply never done anything with it, but now I’m reviewing it.

We need to get a few things out in the open right from the beginning including such things as designer’s bias.  It is my considered belief that any game can be an excellent game if the game master is skillful and the players have fun. Heck, I’ve even had fun playing Dungeons and Dragons once or twice.  (And I have been bored out of my skull a few times with it–I lay it all on the GM.) I am biased against games that are overly complicated, and I consider every form of Dungeons and Dragons to be prime examples of overly complicated games.  For those of you who have long experience with D & D, those of you who don’t consider it to be complicated at all, I will seem like a simple-minded buffoon.  Well, perhaps I am.  Remember, that what I say is my opinion, and it’s colored by my own experience as a game designer and player.

I warn you right now, that though I like Warrior, Rogue & Mage, I intend to criticize this game.

Before I go any further, let me say that Michael Wolf set out to design an epic fantasy role-playing game that would be simpler and lighter than other games in the field.  He did an excellent job, and his basic concept for a classless rpg is brilliant and innovative.  He got rid of the bell curve model of character design, and he  made a game where the player truly creates the character he wants to play.  Every character is defined by three components: a warrior component, a rogue component, and a wizard component.  The player has 10 points to spread among the three areas.  One could put all 10 points in warrior and have a peerless fighter, but be totally helpless in the other two aspects of life.  Or one could put it all into Mage.  Or, a wiser player who wants to be able to cope with all situations might choose a 4, 3, 3 spread for balance with the 4 points determining the character’s overall tendencies.  Be as balanced or unbalanced as you wish.  That is a brilliant conception for character creation.

Except that Michael didn’t do that.  He waffled and stated that no attribute could start with more than 6 points assigned to it.  Damn!  There goes the idea of pure warriors or pure wizards.  He came up with a brilliant system based on three archtypes of fantasy, and then immediately shot it down by putting his own ideas of play balance on it as restrictions. While it could be argued that there aren’t many pure archtypes in fantasy fiction, i have to say why not?

After stating that he was going to keep the game simple, he can’t keep from creating unnecessary complications.  All characters have Hit Points, Fate, and Mana.  From three numerical attributes, he’s gone to six.  Six isn’t a lot, but he makes some arbitrary decisions that introduce complexity.  Hit points are equal to 6 plus the Warrior attribute. Fate points are equal to the Rogue attribute.  Mana points equals the Mage attribute times 2.  If Fate points would be zero, the character still gets 1, but if mana points would be zero, it gets zero.  Three different systems and as unbalanced as possible, giving maximum advantage to warriors and wizards.  Why, Michael?  You have the same mechanic in play for assigning the three basic components of character–why not have the same mechanic in play for the three secondary characterisitics ?  Hit points could be Warrior plus 1D6; Fate points could be Rogue plus 1D6; Mana could be Mage plus 1D6.  No exceptions needed. I guess that’s my first house rule. Simple, elegant, consistent, but not what he did.

There are also Skills and Talents.  Each player starts with 3 Skills and 1 Talent.  There are fairly short lists of both Skills and Talents in the rules, but Michael did say that players and G.M.s could make up new ones if they wanted to.  Skills and Talents aren’t quantified by level.  Either the player has the knowledge/ability or she doesn’t.  Those Skills and Talents add modifiers to the Conflict resolution rolls, usually a straight plus 2.  Turn to the Appendix to see what the possible Skills and Talents could be.  I have a feeling that the game might bog down with the Skills and Talents with desperate players arguing that their Basket-weaving skill really pertains to their ability to catch fish in the wild. Etc.  Maybe not.

Character advancement is not a mechanical thing in W, R & M.  The Game Master gives surviving characters a point or two of advancement at the end of an adventure or campaign. (There are other options, and the skillful GM can make the reward process very sweet if he/she decides to do so.) In a way that’s brilliant. No one has to keep track of experience points.  In another way it doesn’t seem fair.  A mechanical system of character advancement bases progress on the player’s actions during the game. Merit is proportionate to reward.  Letting the GM hand out advancement at will is wide open to bias.

There’s one thing in the rules that rubs me the wrong way.  At chapter six Wolf tells the reader to stop reading unless he is going to be the Game Judge.  The remainder of the rules and understanding of how the game works is reserved for the Game Master.  That’s futile and naive, and smacks of the kind of one-sided publishing that WotC and TSR have been practicing for years. Players manuals, Game Master Manuals, other books to be read only by certain gamers!  Phooey!  What gamer worth his salt is going to stop reading the rules just because the designer said to?  This kind of dichotomy between GM and Player is foreign to my nature. Everyone should be able to do both.

And there’s one thing that I totally agree with.  I’ll quote it directly, as I believe it is Mr. Wolf’s finest moment in this set of rules:  “MAKE IT YOUR OWN. Ican’t stress this enough: make WR&M your own.  GMs and Players are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table. Add new lands. Create new monsters. Change the rules. Whatever suits your fancy, do it. A lot of creativity went into the creation of this game, but it definitely shouldn’t end there!  This book contains several optional rules, but you can add your own house rules as well. If you think there’s something critical or very cool missing from the game, let us know!”  Bravo, Michael!  Empower the players! Well done!

I have two technical quibbles.  I believe that Michael chose the wrong font for the text of his rules.  While the booklet is attractively laid out and illustrated, the font is angular and crowded.  It shows very poorly with contractions like “can’t”.  The apostrophe appears above the n, and the t can barely be seen.  This is true for all contractions and wherever the letter t follows the letter n. I found myself guessing instead of reading in places.  I also don’t like having the game available only as a pdf.  That makes it impossible to copy and paste from the document.  I would have included more art and more quotes from the text if I had been able to grab them and paste them into this review.

Warrior, Rogue, and Mage already has 5 supplements, all of which are available for free at Drive-Thru RPG.  This is an act of philanthropy unprecedented in gaming history.  Get Warrior, Rogue, and Mage!  Read it!  If you like it, by all means follow up with his other publications. 

There are many aspects of the WR&M rules that I didn’t discuss.  I haven’t actually had a chance to play the game, so I don’t know if Michael’s task resolution system really works.  It looks like it should.  Parts of the game feel rather Dungeons and Dragons to me with plus modifiers for weapons and spells and ability checks. I never liked that system, but that’s just me.  D & D players may love it.

Finally, since I intend to post this review at Drive-Thru, let me give WR&M a star rating.  I give it 3.5 out of 5.  Download a copy and read it.  Play it if you get a chance, or can make one.  You have nothing to lose by doing so, and some interesting new perspectives to gain.


Posted October 23, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

4 responses to “Warrior, Rogue, and Mage–a Critical Review

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  1. Why aren’t you able to cut and paste text from a .pdf?

    If you wanted to show images, you could just copy your screen’s image into any image-editing software and crop as desired.

  2. The Foxit pdf document that I downloaded will not let me select any text or pictures. If I can’t select it, I can’t copy it. Nor can I save selections from the file. I can read and look at it all, but can’t modify in any way.

  3. Thanks for the review, Ken! And it’s right that WR&M is still a bit rough around the edges. I will consider the points you made in that review when I’ll ever release a second edition.

    By the way, the PDF should have copy & paste enabled. Perhaps it’s an issue with Foxit reader since the WR&M PDF user layers. Try Adobe Acrobat reader instead. If the problem persists, please let me know.

  4. I’m intrigued by the idea of, “Hit points could be Warrior plus 1D6; Fate points could be Rogue plus 1D6; Mana could be Mage plus 1D6.”. It sounds great on paper, but how well does it translate to game-play? Seems to me that there would be an overabundance of fate points to me.

    Another house rule that I have come up with is using the Armor Penalty as a modifier for all ROGUE Task Resolutions. This way, both mages (mana) and rogues (checks) get penalized for using heavy armor.

    All in all, I really like WR&M!

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