Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Wizards & Gunslingers

During the last summer sale on DrivethruRPG I picked up a few less known game systems, one of which was "Wizards and Gunslingers," by Trevor Banister from Avalon Games. It is possible to find a couple of reviews of the game if you scour the web for information, with statements related to good ideas and poor execution.

The 199-page standalone rulebook contains information on character creation and advancement, combat, magic and other resolution systems, reference of creatures found in the game, game mastering advice and the setting of Westrue. The book is set in grayscale, with text in two columns. The quality of the illustrations range from inspiring down to amateur. At the end of the book there are also several maps, quick reference tables and the mandatory character sheet template.

Character creation is based on allocating points to three main attributes and then deriving several secondary values. After that, skills are also purchased by using points. There are six skill categories and, in an interesting twist, the character's class is determined by the category with most skill points. It took me about 40 minutes of reading through and, at the same time, creating my character for this playtest. If you already know the rules or have someone to guide you, I'd say that a character can be created in 10 minutes.

Ronnie - Adventurer

Strength 41 / Speed 41 /Intelligence 18
Charisma 55 / Alignment 0 / Morale 29

Attacks 3 / Initiative bonus +4
Damage bonus +3 / To hit bonus +3 / Roll w/ strike bonus +3
Mana 18 / Health 41

Main Skills
Blade weapons 20
Firearms 20
Identify item 10
Tracking 20
Wrestling/Boxing 30

Death save 16 / Magic save 1 / Poison/toxin save 16

Maximum weight (carry) 164
Maximum weight (lift) 246

Starting money: 300 gold

Note: the starting money seemed good until I read the equipment lists. A simple short sword will cost you 120 gold and a six-shooter is 2,760 gold. Despite the game's name, obtaining your first firearm might as well be quite the quest.

Most task resolution is percentile-based, either against an attribute, skill or save value. Skills improve through use, reading books or training with NPCs. Characters rise in levels by accumulating experience in their adventures. Personally, I prefer percentile systems in games where characters start well-developed and aren't expected to change a lot (Blue Planet and Call of Cthulhu come to mind.) Otherwise you often find characters that start out absolutely incompetent and yet somehow manage to survive and improve.

Magic is based on a mana pool and requires a skill check. These mean that it's not as reliable as in many fantasy systems, especially for beginning characters. The mana point recovery system states that sleeping six hours replenishes all mana, but all spellcasters recover their mana naturally faster than that. Maybe the mana recovery table should be read as mana points per 10 minutes.

Combat lies on the "crunchy" side, with to-hit, damage and hit location rolls. The initiative system is quite complex, with a standard initiative roll at the beginning being modified by weapon speed on subsequent actions. The game also has some quirks, like using the term "attacks" to refer to the number of actions a character may do in a combat round, or "roll with strike" to mean an attempt at actively defending from an attack.

The chapters on NPCs and game mastering are interesting. The former contains a very complete system to generate NPCs that fit in the game world and the latter includes a list of adventure seeds or scenarios that may also be adapted to other games. One aspect that feels underdeveloped is religion in the game world. Being a thorny and sensitive subject, I understand that some games avoid it. However, once the game states that when characters die their souls are left to wander the world and they may be resurrected as long as their bodies remain whole, the proverbial damage is done and you may as well elaborate. Furthermore, it feels weird that the game includes preachers but doesn't state what they preach.

Wizards and Gunslingers delivers a detailed game world along with a reasonably "crunchy" game system. Note that this is not "weird west" but more closely related to the Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura computer game or the Dark Tower series by Stephen King: a fantasy world where magic and technology exist together.

It is evident that the author of the game wanted to create a fictional world that felt complete. The book is very rich in details, from the crafting skills system that even describes how a character with the Carpentry skill can build a chair or bookshelf, to the impressive list of cities, towns and settlements of Westrue. While it's not a "sleeper hit" waiting to happen, it is a good read with some interesting ideas.

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