Azamar Core Rules Review

This is part 1 of the review. It mostly covers the options available to players. Part 2 will be more for the GM.

I have been waiting a long time for products built on the OpenD6 rules. Some time ago, a group of folks got together and formed Wicked North Games. From the beginning, their stated goal was quality products based on the OpenD6 rules. Their efforts led to their own set of base rules called Cinema6 with the promise of many worlds yet to come. The first of these worlds is a high fantasy setting called Azamar.

History

Readers are introduced to a group of friends traveling together. The vignette provides a look into the world of Azamar. It features half of the races, magic, beasts, and much more. Instead of explaining what an RPG is, it demonstrates an introductory story before moving into the world's history.

After providing a sweeping history of the past 5000 years, the reader is directed to information about why Azamar works the way it does. In addition to the history that set the stage, the nature of the realms and magic are explained.

I appreciated that the introduction wasn't the standard "this is an what an rpg is". The world of Azamar is introduced like an example of play. In a couple of pages, the how and why the world works is explained quite well. The rationale of magic is important to the feel and rules of the game. It was explained clearly and concisely. When I get a chance to play this with someone, I will probably print out the how and why section for the players as a mnemonic aid during play.

Rules

The core mechanic is simple, roll a number of six-sided die against a difficulty rating. If you roll the difficulty rating or higher, you are successful.

Players also get Cinema Points to use as a measure of experience, perseverance, and personal growth (quoted from the book). They are used at character creation for purchasing skills or features, during the game to activate a character feature and/or improve rolls and between game sessions to increase abilities, skills and features.

After this comes the list of skills by attribute. The list is comprehensive offering lots of choice to players. The descriptions are pretty straight-forward. I didn't get the sense that a GM would be weighed down by trying to remember what each skill would do. Character wants to use a skill, assign a difficulty rating determine the number of die to use (attribute plus level of skill) and roll for success.

Races

Azamar features eight new races. This is an area where Azamar shines. One of the measurements of a good RPG product for me is whether or not there is inspirational material I can use right now. In a page and a half, each race is described by their Homeland, Main Attribute, Restrictions, Background and Outlook. The background provides just enough information to help a player get into the role of playing one of these races. The Outlook section demonstrates how other races view a specific race. The unique aspect of the Outlook section is that the other races are described in a series of quotations instead of block text. I found this a refreshing way of describing a race's place in a given world.

Characters

The next section details character creation. After the nine steps are listed, the text goes into more detail about the effects of magic, rules for rolling for background and options for starting play as a more experienced character.

After this, we get the meat of the book, lists of character features categorized by features available only at the time of character creation first. After that the categories cover features by types of magic. Character Features include spells, something I didn't pick up on at first. However, I understood later why spells are treated as a feature instead of its own separate entity.

Magic is described as rare and potentially dangerous - the effect is maintained in the rules by requiring a Cinema Point to be spent to activate a spell. This focuses players to use magic only when necessary, a stark contrast to the fire-and-forget spellcasting in other systems.

Gods

The Gods and other powerful spirits are presented as something for all characters. Worship of a particular deity provides one or two benefits activated like a character feature. Worship of a deity does, however, require some behavioral guidelines. In other words, if a character is not faithful and staying on the path, the benefits won't work.

I like this because it provides a "Hail Mary Prayer" for a character that may result in a game action. The benefits aren't game-breaking, but a few of them could keep a character going during critical parts of the game. This isn't just combat abilities, but things like withstanding supernatural amounts of pain, escape through a trans-dimensional gate or inducing temporary madness against a target.

Conclusions

If you like games that provide a lot of choice to a player, Azamar has it. I enjoyed thinking of the myriad types of character that can be created. There are eight interesting races, various forms of magic, numerous skills, even a meaningful benefit to choosing a deity. If that isn't enough for you, there's even a  free mini-campaign and expansion that adds more options.

There are pre-generated characters at the end of the book. For a quick session, a group could use them to get started quickly. It's true that lots of options can make character creation an hours-long chore. If you're concerned about this possibility, create a few archtype characters to serve as models in addition to the pregen characters in the back.

Some folks may be bothered by the long lists. I didn't find them as long as lists in GURPS. It feels like they are about the same length as Savage Worlds, maybe a bit longer. Features cover 23 pages and skills cover 6 pages. The character creation summary and the core mechanic combined cover less than a page. Skills are listed by governing attribute, so a player won't be poring over all six pages to pick up skills. In the same way, magic skills only cover one or two pages by type of magic. The only place where character creation may get bogged down is in the almost 19 pages of features available only at the moment of character creation. Having said that, the mechanical benefit takes up less than one line of text. My only suggestion for improvement would be to provide a page with the name of a feature, cost, restrictions and mechanical effect of each character feature.

All in all, this is a lot of fun to read. For this part of the book (pages 1 - 85), I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Why Basic Fantasy

To answer the question why, I'm going to start with some background. If you are the kind of person that wants "just the facts", skip to the end. The next-to-the-last paragraph answers the question very succinctly.

When I began writing for Nevermet Press, there was some discussion about creating statistics and details for various game systems. Most of the writers played 4e, so that was the big focus. I wanted to help, but since I have never played 3e, 3.5e, or 4e, all I could do is generate stats for systems in less demand. I had wanted to do OpenD6 conversions because I love the system, but WEG's apparent implosion led me to look elsewhere.

When I returned to gaming about four years ago, I had heard of various retro-clones that used the Open Gaming License to create the feel of earlier versions. Since I have only played earlier editions of any rpg (Marvel, Shadowrun, D&D, Ars Magica, Hero, etc.), these neoclassical rulesets seemed like the perfect place to start. I downloaded several and eagerly read through the rules.

What followed was a tremendous sense of nostalgia. I read OSRIC and remembered all the games my high school group played until 3am. It was great! I also read many others, all with similar feelings. I went into my RPG library and dug out my B/X rules,  BECMI rules, 1e rules and 2e rules. I skimmed through most of them before diving into my notebook of house rules. (Note: It's not this set of house rules, but I like the name.)

Finding the Great Tome of House Rules helped me remember the way my group played the game. We amalgamated rules from almost every version we had. We used 1e stat blocks for everything, we had THAC0, we had no limit to the number of attacks a fighter gained against 1HD or less creatures. We also had certain NPC races as their own character class (There is no good link for were-swans). We never found a spell we didn't like. We loved all character classes as well. We had guns and lasers. All in all, our rule system was best described as founded in 1e, but influenced by the simplicity of B/X & BECMI, using all the settings and kits of 2e. There is no good description for the skill system we used. Please don't ask me to try.

Against this background, I also discovered Microlite20. This was my first experience with anything like the 3e ruleset. Reading the short rules and various add-ons the community posted, I was hooked. M20 has proven to be something between a beer and pretzels rpg and a full-fledged ongoing campaign. I could use my scribbled campaign notes and world creations without too much revision. It allowed me to ditch almost 95% of my house rule notebook. In the anything goes add-ons on the site, it was simple to recreate my beloved Spelljammer and blast off into the ether. It also turned out to be a simple matter to setup some of my previous settings that included so many classes and kits.

I had attempted a Psionics add-on. I helped write a Conan add-on. I had notes for various magic systems strewn about two thumb drives and a few computers. Working through creating these add-ons had inadvertently allowed me to become somewhat familiar with d20.

The other reason that I enjoy M20 so much is the community. There seems to be at least one or two posts a month that start with "I was thinking about creating XYZ in M20." It is possible to make M20 into something very far removed from the world's most popular role-playing game.  More than that, the idea of creating something new is enthusiastically embraced. Many folks, including myself, lurk around the formulas waiting for the next new thing. (Take a look at the new traits plug-in. Feats without the headache.) It's now a part of my Monday ritual.

All of this may be a fun trip down memory lane. It seems to get away from the main idea of this post. In the end, why Basic Fantasy for my fantasy rpg of choice? I want a retro-clone for which I can stat NMP material. I enjoy something that is based in d20. I enjoy that it feels like the games my high school group played. I like the breadth of situations covered in core rulebook. I enjoy the open community that actively embraces new ideas. Most importantly, I have fun doing it.

Next up: Through the Basic Fantasy core rulebook.