On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
Brant Guillory, 25 October 2018
For a while, Better Games had the rights to the name Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer magazine. And they did it justice. I have about 75% of the issues – the magazine lasted only 10-12 or so, but these little gems should definitely be tracked down.
1. There’s a complete game in every issue.
Usually it’s one based on Better Games’ Free Style Role-Play engine, such as Rogue Swords of the Empire or Where Fools Dare to Tread but occasional other greats pop up, like the Trojan War game that uses a deck of cards for generating random encounters. These games are at least as complete as Barony, usually more polished, and certainly a better value for your money.
The FSRP engine is basically a cinematic storytelling engine, where many of the lists & charts of normal RPGs are left behind. If you want to sneak up behind someone and attack them in the back, does it really matter whether you have a dagger or a deck hook? The important part is the way in which you make the attack… at least, according to FSRP rules.
The games themselves cover several genres – Superheroes/Supervillians (Nice Guys Finish Last); conspiracy/horror (Where Fools Dare to Tread); straight-ahead fantasy (Rogue Swords of the Empire); and fantasy with a twist (Arabian Sea Tales).
What makes these games such a great deal is not just that they are complete, coherent, and fun, but that they include some great little mechanics that can be lifted into almost any game you want. FSRP is a customizable system – if you don’t wnat to use a certain set of tables, then don’t. The beautiful side-effect of this is that the mini-systems, such as the character background generator in Where Fools Dare to Tread is perfect for Dark Conspiracy and could even be adapted to the Storyteller line without much difficulty.
2. Quick & Dirty Systems
Similar to, but not identical to those little “systems” are the Quick & Dirty charts of randomizers for use with all sorts of things. Cantrips, military leaders, ale available in a bar, you name it, it’s here – and not just for fantasy genres, either – Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer was an equal-opportunity magazine, with little add-ins for everyone. They almost invariable use 2d8, which is odd, but offers a good spread of numbers without taxing the authors’ imaginations.
Most of the scenarios/modules/adventures are generic, meaning that you could lift them into Tales from the Floating Vagabond just as easily as you could Traveller. More often than not, at least one of the scenarios was a support for the game in that issue, but the superhero ones would work for Champions just as easily as the enclosed game.
4. Other Contents
The letters column is more congratulatory than confrontational, but does occasionally bring up some interesting stuff. The magazine met its demise right around the time of (or because of) the ascendancy of M:tG, so there is very little addressing the CCG realm. There is a Map of the Month that usually has some interesting pieces – a starship, an adaptation of Neuschwanstein, a pirate frigate, among others. The editorials and columns are interesting, but nothing spectacular.
5. Layout & Appearance
Maybe it’s because I work in desktop publishing, but I was disappointed with the layout. It is obviously produced with either Quark or Pagemaker on the Mac at the office, and most of the art looks like it was pasted-up by hand rather than scanned and placed. Don’t get me wrong – it is well-done small-press layout, but obviously small-press nonetheless. The entire time you’re reading it you can’t help but get the sense that the guys that gave you Barony just went out and hired some layout flunkies for eyewash. Admittedly, this is a small nit-pick, and it doesn’t really affect the information, but it’s not a slick as you’d want. The color covers are very good. After about issue 4 or 5 the binding shifted from saddle-stiched to perfect bind, which makes for a more professional-looking and durable product.
Go find these magazines. They are worth the dough…