Sunday 5 September 2010

Warrior, Rogue & Mage, so good I nearly proposed to Michael Wolf

Don’t bother reading my drivel, go and download Michael ‘Stargazer’ Wolf’s splendid Warrior, Rogue and Mage. If you can still remember this blog exists after, come back.

Back? Good. Warrior, Rogue and Mage (WR&M) is a complete, light fantasy RPG. It has everything you need to play in a beautifully produced bundle.

Now and again, I get to review something by people I respect and admire. I try not to get too gushy and propose marriage. I wrote a foreword for WR&M and I would not have done that if I thought it was toilet. Secondly, it’s worth noting this this review was written over the course of two weeks and I am completing it after a tiring weekend and a glass of white wine.

Are you Warrior, Rogue or Mage? Yes.

A character is congealed around three core attributes: Warrior, Rogue and Mage. You assign 10 points between them, none starting higher than six. Each attribute represents skill groups and by assigning points you define your own personal class. Want to be a ostentatious warrior trimmed in silk that can wave a wand? No problem, Warrior of 6, Mage of 4, nothing in Rogue. How about a sneaky kleptomaniac wizard who enjoys pilfering people’s internal organs while they are still in use? Go for it, Mage of 5, Rogue of 4 and 1 in Warrior.

Three skills are splattered on next and are learnt abilities - such as Swords, Thaumaturgy and Basket Weaving (alright, not Basket Weaving). Talents add a special ability, for example Dual Wielding, Blood Mage or Weave Iron Baskets (or maybe not). Hit points tell you how many swords can be sticking into you before your head pops off; Mana records how much ethereal power you can lob and Fate allows you to grab hold of the narrative at a crucial moment to save your character from a horde of irate middle-aged craft fair ladies.

There are lists of example skills and talents, and the offer goes out to create your own (such as Basket Weaving). Everything is beautifully explained and should be a cinch to rock up a few characters in 15 minutes or so. Or, if you are one of the Buffy-esque villains that crouch slavering around my game table then its two hours to each craft identical rule-brutalising and setting-slaying characters.

Have at you!

To do anything, you roll a D6, add relevant Attribute and Skill and compare with a target number (between 5 and 13). If you can think of something that might help, you can add two. If you roll a 6, the die explodes. Not literally, you get to roll again, adding the score. And again. And again. And again. If you’re going up against someone then the higher score wins. It’s a no frills, no shocks, no tree-deforestation game system.

You can burn your Fate points to change minor details in the game world, ignore an attack or re-roll a die, or add 2 to the score. All handy things. You get Fate back for being a hero. Legolas would have Fate pouring from his effeminate pointy ears.

Combat starts with initiative to ascertain order, and then an opposed action roll to hit - but using a weapon skill. If you are wading into a gaggle of goblins wielding a charming wicker chair then you’ll need Warrior + Basket Weaving. Damage is done by weapon type (wicker chair is 3 points).


Spells are retained in a personal book, each spell burns a certain amount and Mana and the more Mana it needs, the more difficult it is to cast. Spell are handily grouped by difficulty into four Circles, fourth Circle being the most potent. I rather like that the effect of the spell can be improved if the player wishes - as long as they burn more Mana and accept the higher difficulty level. The spell list has a good solid feel to it - plenty of variety without going mad.

It really is a complete game

By this point, you’re less than halfway through the book. Most light fantasy games are curling up their tootsies and slipping off their mortal coil to join the choir invisible. This was written by Michael Wolf and that is not his style. There is an equipment list (with weapon and armour details), a GM section and a setting. As settings go, it’s light but there is enough there to get the juices going. The appendix has lists of things for quick acess, there’s contents page, optional rules (included rules for Races), a bestiary, a quick character creation summary and character sheet. There’s even a back page.

Something, Another Thing and Something Else

When reading WR&M, a nagging realisation is bound to coalesce. Using classes to represent attributes is a stroke of genius and applicable to any genre. Michael alludes to this with an optional variant Warrior, Rogue and Scholar (for settings bereft of Magic) but I think the system could be made generic. I’m not suggesting it would be better to have WR&M generic (goodness, no!) but if you were looking for a core system for your Post Apocalyptic / Cyberpunk / Sci Fi / Modern game then change the name to Something, Another Thing and Something Else, replace the collateral (skills, talents and so on) and you have a solid system.


Michael has cleverly managed to sidestep my usual complaints about not following my Guide to Organising an RPG by following it. The scoundrel! I will need to dig deeper this time. If Michael were ever to update WR&M, there are a few things he might want to expand.

Firstly, I would give a couple of examples of character generation - one of a stereotype to help those steeped in more classic fantasy RPGs and one that would not be possible in D&D. I would include more skills that were less combat oriented and not list them on the character sheet as there is little room for GMs wishing to provide an expanded list themselves. Although there is a section for optional rules (I approve!) there are still optional rules scattered amongst the rules - I would certainly move the Warrior, Rogue and Scholar rules there. Exploding die should be optional, it isn’t really core to what WR&M is about and every 1 in 6 dice roles may explode. Finally, I would like to see more in the GM section about the pitfalls of running the system, how to set appropriate difficulty levels and so on. That sort of information is normally readily available after you have played it awhile.


WR&M is the holy grail of light fantasy systems: it provides novel principles that are combined to produce a variety of outcomes. Michael wisely packed the game by licensing beautiful artwork from The Forge Studios and he clearly has a talent for layout. The prose is crisp, devoid of extraneous material and excellently laid out. Michael has set the standard that the rest of us now have to meet.