Thursday, October 15, 2009

RPG Review: Wayfarers

Wayfarers (“WF, hereafter) is a recently-released fantasy RPG from Ye Olde Gaming Companye. In addition to a complete set of game rules, the final 100 pages or so is a lengthy rules-light description of the campaign world of Twylos, making WF, after a fashion, “two books in one.”

Accordingly, I’ll be breaking this review down into three major aspects: Physical presentation, rules, and setting.

Full disclosure: In a happy first for me, co-author Jimmy Swill was kind enough to volunteer out of the blue via email to send me a free paperback copy of WF just because he liked my other online reviews. That’s pretty excellent when you consider that this very well-produced 400+ page tome normally retails for $35.00. So keep on writing those reviews, everyone: A treasure trove of glorious free gaming products awaits you! Maybe.


Physical Presentation

My copy of WF is an inch-thick standard dimension softcover with some attractive color cover art depicting a bloody battle between a motley crew of fantasy types (most prominently a woman in a cloak and humanoid bear swordfighting in the center foreground).

Inside art is B&W/grayscale and seems to be a combination of contributions from several dozen artists. They’re good, on average, although I have seen a couple of the pieces before (the “fighter versus orc” on page 199 was actually available as cover art for the last edition of Labyrinth Lord, for example).

Pages are non-glossy. Text is clearly presented in two columns, is well-written and seems well-edited.


WF is pretty much D&D-but-not.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. Some of the oldest, most revered fantasy RPGs, such as Tunnels & Trolls and Runequest, seem to have started out with one or more designers who really liked D&D except for… The “except for” could be character classes, experience levels, magic based on the work of Jack Vance, or any number of other things.

So-called generic game systems soon got into the act, and countless systems, to include GURPS, Hero System, d6, Fudge and many others have published fantasy supplements available.

On the most basic level, the equation might look like this:

WF = classic (A)D&D - character classes – levels – alignment + point-buy character creation + robust skill system.

Utilizing a point-buy mechanic, you determine your attributes (Agility, Endurance, Intellect, Presence, Strength) and modify them by race (+1 Presence for elves, and so forth).

After that, you determine your HP (Health Points), your Physical and Mental Resistances (saving throws), Dodge score (take a guess), and movement rate (based on encumbrance of gear carried).

Next, you use your remaining points to purchase Disciplines like Hermetic Magic Potential, Precise Shot, and Feint. These are directly analogous to the Feats in certain other popular fantasy games.

Next you buy Proficiencies, which are classic skills like Climbing and Animal Handling.

Finally, you select your starting equipment and starting spells for spellcasters.

So no surprises at all during character creation, but it all seems to work well enough.

In play, WF uses all of the “typical” gaming dice, d4 through d20.

For skills, you roll a 1d20 for each skill “rank” you have and keep the best result, trying to beat a GM-set target number.

Each 10-second combat round is basically:

1. 1d10 per character initiative roll, modified by Agility bonuses.

2. To hit with physical attacks: Modified 1d20 roll attempting to equal or exceed the target’s modified Dodge score.

3. Spells can be interrupted and disrupted, especially since they generally take an initiative penalty proportionate to their overall power level. Once successfully cast, their effects are usually opposed by Physical or Mental Resistance, when applicable.

4. Along the way, damage is deducted from HP, with characters dropping below zero HP falling unconscious and possibly dying.

Anybody surprised yet? I know, I know. Just stay with me here.

There are four types of magic in WF. Hermetic Magic is your classic wizardly teleporting and blasting suckers with fire, lightning, and occasionally fiery lightning (just for a change of pace). Faith Magic is that sissy heal/cure/protect stuff scary religious fanatics do. Hedge Magic is phantasmal/mind-affecting magic similar to what illusionists employed in AD&D. Finally, Ritual Magic is a sort of hybrid between Hermetic and Faith Magics in terms of its effects.

Spells are divided into Circles (levels) and magic is mostly “Vancian” memorization where each caster can prepare and use a certain number of spells of each given Circle per day depending on their magic skill levels. Faith types can ask their divine patrons for any spell, but other types are limited to choosing spells from the formulae recorded in their magic tomes.

The one exception is Ritual Magic, which works on a classic spell point system. Spells of a given Circle cost a certain number of points from a master pool to cast and need not be chosen in advance.

There’s also some experience rules, two big chapters packed with magic items and monsters, a chapter of optional rules, sample characters, and even a pseudo-screenplay format “example of play.”

Apologies if I sound like I’ve been being unduly flippant in the preceding paragraphs, but it’s a real struggle for me to find anything to say, good or bad, about WF’s rules.

They’re exactly what you would expect. Exactly. Nothing less and nothing more. Perfectly serviceable.


Now we’re talking! The “World of Twylos” section is where WF truly comes alive in grand Framptonian style.

You might call it a “typical” fantasy world, but a careful reading reveals it to be a truly excellent example of such; perhaps one of the all-time best I’ve ever seen.

Twylos is, in the authors’ own words, “a synthesis of seven different campaigns” that “ran almost continuously between 1988 and 2006.”

Frankly, it shows. Twylos has “handcrafted labor of love” written all over it and is positively dripping with vivid atmosphere. This is clearly not the product of some marketing department’s X-month “development cycle.” Would you like to hear the fables of Paedra and the Ogre King or Timmorn and the Apple Tree? How about some poetry? Or you could read a scene-by-scene summary of “Gardens of Zil”, described as “a short play in three acts that was written by Rogan DuLaine, the Mad Priest of Ixus, when he was wandering Saethos, searching for Rhauxen.”?

This material is both ample and utterly charming, and it’s layered on top of a detailed world with many adventure seeds, convincing fantasy religions and societies, and scary-cool NPC antagonists like Lord Ixondr of the Hall of Faces.

Most importantly, for me, the authors seem to have resisted the temptation to use their own favorite PCs and NPCs as “movers and shakers” in Twylos. Players concerned about being upstaged by the antics of pet NPCs (a criticism that’s been leveled, rightly or wrongly, about certain other campaigns) need not worry; the world is the star here. Nor is there any impression that all the truly epic, important quests have already been completed.

There is a well-drafted map of Twylos included in the book along with a character sheet, but grayscale does not do it justice. I’d recommend one of the larger color versions on the YOGC website.


So what can I say about WF?

If you want a complete classic fantasy game that’s mostly in the D&D mold, but excludes some of its more perennially controversial mechanics like firm character classes and alignments, WF’s rules will fit your needs. I, for one, am not, but ‘different strokes’, I guess.

If you want one of the coolest, most richly and lovingly-detailed fantasy worlds ever presented for an RPG, WF has this in spades. And it’s mostly system-free to boot.

If you want both, just stop reading and go get WF now. There’s no possible way you’re going to be anything less than overjoyed.

On a scale of 1-5, I’d give WF a 4 for style and presentation, a 3 for its rules, and a 5 for its setting material (average those last two to a 4 if you like).

It’s a quality product, and I recommend it highly. I’m looking forward to more from YOGC in the months and years to come.


  1. Cheers, thanks!

    This is Greg Vrill, author of the Twylos section of Wayfarers. Swill and I both appreciate the review and the kind words you have for the book.