Tuesday 30 June 2009

Fear the Roleplaying Game? Yes, you should because it's bigger than all of us. By Paul Jeffcoat

Flexible Easy And Realistic (Fear) has everything except a kitchin sink monster. Paul has created a truly epic fantasy roleplaying game. The system has medium crunch (around a nut based breakfast cereal) and has immense levels of detail to delight and enthrall. Paul has included things I would never have imagined in a fantasy RPG. Is it too big? Can a game be too big? Let's find out.

Character Creation

In the spirit of the roleplaying games of yesteryear, Fear enforces a random character generation. The process is lengthy and table heavy: pick race, roll statistics (there are 9), pick gender (the fairer sex are weaker), pick skills, work out skill values from statistics, check birth sign... let me halt my own inevitable progress there to investigate this. Birth Signs, you say?

Birth signs are the product of an evil genius. A vindictive GM with acid for blood and a heart of granite could use Birth Signs. Oh yes. Every character has a Birth Sign, randomly rolled, and because they are PCs and thus special, the all just happened to born during a planetary conjunction. As such, they all get a super-ish power (I think there should be a super-ish hero film with a super-ish villain - the diet coke of super hero films). For ten months of the year, you have this super-ish power. In your birthday month, it blossoms into a suped up version. In the opposite month to your birthday, it becomes an utter burden. Cue evil GM chuckles, cackles and guffaws. Take one of the Light powers, for example. Under normal circumstances, killer beams of light come out of your eyes. Pretty cool. In your birthday month, you get to see dead people and invisible things. Cool. In the opposite month, you become almost blind. Bugger. It's as if every character has 'a time of year' for a month. This doesn't sound too evil until you realise that the GM controls time. Yes. Classic. My players take a year to play through a month of game time. Fear finally gives me the tools to win! Yes! I can beat them! Have them all born in the same month and then have the game run through the opposite month, debilitating the lot of them! HA HA! In all seriousness, it's a lovely idea and well executed.

Status determines social position, and Calling is a sort of loose class that determines what sort of skills you learn quickly. Either Magic, Martial or a bit of both. Then you get more skills, this time with shiney points for the spending. Character creation doesn't end there. You have a clutch of secondary statistics, such as run speed and so on. Luck re-rolling makes an appearance as does a bit on background and posessions. With the options available, it is an involved process.

Characters development occurs on the hoof. If you roll well, regardless of whether you pass of fail, you get to roll to see if you improve. Making a complete gaff a learning experience. You do it there and then.


A target number is chosen by the GM between 11 and 30. The player chooses the most appropriate skill or statistic, rolls a d20 and adds his skill or statistic to it to try and beat the target number. Modifiers can help or hinder (such as being nearly blind for a month makes it difficult to notice someone thrusting a sword up your nose) and if you're encumbered, things get more difficult. Being injured isn't helpful either. In amongst the Actions Chapter is a whopping load of skills too. Attacks are performed by rolling a die and adding attacker's attacking skill and the defender's running-away-like-a-big-girl skill. This is augmented by a bag chock full of modifiers, armour, fatigue, wounds, fighting off-hand, fumbling, disarming and so on. Damage is taken from the level of success of the hit. And yes. More modifiers and caveats. Damage comes in different flavours too: acid, cold, crush, electricity, puncture, heat, being talked at by the mother in law and so on. You could make a wealth of 70s metal band names out of the damage types. Each damage type reacts differently to each armour type under varying levels of damage. Bring on the tables!


Magic comes in two flavours. Pious and Profane. I like the idea of Profane magic. Involves turning the air blue by uttering every grandmother unfriendly expletive in quick succession. Spells comfortably portioned into levels and grouped by a discipline. Warm, friendly and comfy like your favourite booth seat in your local pub. What is slightly unbelievable is the


Each detailed to an eye watering level. If you love your magic systems, you'll love Fear. There are some great spells in there too, especially at Level 20: Summon Disaster, Control Light and Awaken Trees popped out at me.

The Devil is in the Detail

If anything about Fear scares you, it will be the depths of detail. And it's not really detail you can skim over like I did at first (this review began in February and I keep coming back to do a bit more). There are sparks of delight that you simply can't skim. There's a damage table for throwing small rocks. There's a table for injuries caused by tiny creatures. There is a section on damage from sleep deprevation and one of the option PC races is the Dragon-Newt. There is a Chapter on Psychoses, many of which I recognise in the chittering malcontents I tentatively call my players. The Bestiary groans in weight, poisons, diseases - even the plague - is covered. Good grief, there is a treasure section - stay with me - firearms, grenades, explosives, Amulet of Willow-The-Wisp, an appendix of tables and AN INDEX! Breathe. Breathe. Calm.


Fear is not easy and should not be labelled as such. This is not a game for the quick one-shot when the GM is in rehab from all the horrid things his players have done. This is a fantasy game system for campaigns. Don't download Fear thinking it will good for a filler game. It's not. It's a full fat, high calorie, enormous roleplaying game. Treat it with respect. Don't make eye contact. Never turn your back. Bow as you leave the room.

Fear is 502 pages. That's a shade more than a ream and although that can be a good thing, I think a lot of space could be saved with a smaller font and two columns. Paul is also guilty of rule fluff - a kind of fluff I've never seen before. Rule fluff are explanations I consider to be extraneous detail not suitable for the target market - which is experienced GMs. A new GM would find Fear inpenetrable. The contents page is 24 pages. It should only include two levels, the Index should do the heavy lifting, which is does already. I'd like to see some graphics, as this is such a huge game, that should not be too much to ask. That's a small point compared to the others, I don't really need graphics but it would help the reader to digest.

Too big?

One criticism that's often levelled at Free RPGs is their half baked feel. They could be beautifully written, illustrated and 100 pages of sheer adoration but the game still feels somewhat empty. That before-breakfast feeling is because part of the fun of being a GM (and a player but less so) is delving into a monster of a game and finding those delightful nuggets that you can throw at your hapless players. Lite games do give you more freedom and that's cool too but there is fun to be had and imaginations to be lit by a meaty RPG. And as meaty goes, Fear is half a cow. It could be better organised (now I've written that blog post, I'm never going to shut up) but its size allows Fear to move away from the endless stock D&D clones that appear to be the default choice of Free RPG writer philanthropists.


If Fear was the only book to survive the apocalypse then a society could be built upon its teachings. One shot this is not. I don't care if you've played every single form of fantasy roleplaying game. I don't care if you were the first to snatch up D&D as it passed into your local shop. I don't care if you've designed thousands of games and sold them across the globe. Fear will still have something you've never seen before. It is epic. With a big E. Epic.


Jack Badelaire said...

Madness, sheer madness. I wonder how long it took the guy to write it? Was he unemployed for a year or something?

Gotta say though, it's always great to see someone who can put that sort of time and effort into assembling a truly - as you say, Epic - free RPG.

ambrose said...

It's not that bad... I wrote the STTRPG in about that time while I was in school and working. Granted, I still haven't finished the monsters, but it can be done.

BTW, I really enjoyed FEAR. Even though it was hard to learn and huge.

Anonymous said...

Wow 502 pages? Damn. At this point in my life, it would take me a few months to read it, just read it!
No thanks, I will stay away from this one for sure.

Paul said...

I checked Amazon – the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Core Rulebook Gift Set has 832 pages. FEAR's a lot slimmer than that. And, yes, I was redundant for 11 months a few years ago, which helped...

Unknown said...

Also note quite a bit of the crunch can be skimmed off the top for those who do not want such a great level of detail.

Plus, 4th Edition is out now, and I have to say it is a lot better than before.

Rob Lang said...

Psykie - I love it when new editions get released!

Crunch, by the way, is something many people look for in a game. Many don't want light, they want crunch. Since I wrote this, Fear has been quoted to me as the sort of game people really WANT to see.

Anyway, great news on the new release. I'll stick a news blog post together soon and include it. :)

Have you thought of joining us over on http://www.1km1kt.net ? We'd be really glad to have a designer of your energy and vision on there!

Paul said...

5th edition is available for free download now at www.fearrpg.net
Try it out...

Rob Lang said...

Paul, great news! Thanks for the update. I see it's still a weighty mother! How about a nice back page for those people who like to print?