Sunday, November 14, 2010

PARS FORTUNA:Basic- my first look

John M. Stater of The Land of Nod has released Pars Fortuna: Basic.
Pars Fortuna is OSR-compatible fantasy RPG based on the Swords&Wizardry rules. The roots of it's development are intriguing: what would an RPG look like if many of the elements in it were randomly generated? Player classes, spells, monsters and magic items are in the main randomly created as the author has of course contributed ideas from elsewhere and used his own fertile imagination to give detail and life to the randomly created ideas.

Pars Fortuna:Basic is of course a basic set (and freely available as a PDF). It provides all the rules necessary to get a look at the larger game (to come as of this blogging) and to play with a subset of features (it's a pretty extensive subset).

Characters ability scores are created in the classical OS manner: 3d6 are rolled for each of 6 attributes. They are the standard mix of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Most scores provide a simple penalty for a attribute of 8 or less and a bonus for a score of 13 or higher with Intelligence and Charisma getting more detail.

Character Classes are actually Character Races in these rules and players get 4 to choose from. Each character race is presented as a racial character class with enough information to fit them into a campaign and with 1-4 level of stats. The races are unusual and diverse: The Bo'al are a race of Engineers where adventurers are primarily students driven to seek out the architectural and engineering secrets in ruins and dungeons. Carkol are a small race pangolin like chanters that seek adventure to gain security and comfort from the profits they gain in adventuring. Caledjula are a race of tall statuesque tricksters witt he ability of flight that are drawn to adventure by fancies and impulse. Ilel are a race of militant human-like clone warriors. A diverse mix to be joined by 8 more in the full version of the game.

To flesh out characters and give each a little individuality every character has a boon which provides them with unique abilities, knacks or skills. Knacks and Skills are the simple skill system used in pars-fortuna: a knack makes one a little better at a task and a skill allows one to make a saving throw to possibly succeed at a task or perhaps to avert disaster when attempting something. At this point in the reading I'm a little fuzzy on who gets to cast spells.

Next up is equipment which characters get to select by spending their 30-180 gp. Armor is divided into broad and clearly defined as of light, medium and heavy armor and along with shields they range in an ascending AC score of 10 for an unarmored man to 17 for one in heavy armor with a shield. Melee weapons are presented in a broad fashion as well but some weapon types get an extra mechanical advantage over their damage score. Some of the weapon rules are curious but in the main they provide a range of reasons for choosing one weapon over another.
Missile weapons go from thrown axes to bows and handguns. The equipment section includes a pretty typical assortment of dungeoneering gear and there is an unusual mix of riding beasts included. Hirelings are accounted for and given brief but useful treatment in this section.

The next chapter covers Playing the Game. Characters earn exp for defeating foes and discovering treasure. Challenges and Saves Throws are briefly covered and then we get the Combat Rules. Combat resolution uses a stepped phase to determine resolution based on relative speed of combatants and declared action. In a round: The ref determines if anyone get's a bonus attack or move, magicians decide what spell they are casting, missile attacks are made by both sides, Quick combatants move and attack, normal speed characters move and attack, slow characters move and attack, magicians cast spells, second volley of missile fire, those who "held actions" get to go and repeat. When two groups ae acting in the same step a roll is made for first strike with advantage going to those with longer weapons, those of high dexterity and winners of the previous round. there are a host of simple modifiers to combat that will allow players to engage in a variety of tactics and maneuvers without getting weighed down by the rules. Grappling which is a bear in many games is adequately described in one paragraph. There's a list of defined conditions so folks will know what's up when a character is aged, blinded, exhausted , etc ... . Death, Healing and Morale are all briefly and clearly covered following the combat section. If one rests for a full turn after a combat they regain half the hp they lost in the combat thus regaining the luck, divine favor, fighting prowess that is often wound up in HP.

The Magic section includes a new spell casting system where magicians risk harm to themselves by frequent casting of their more powerful spells. Magicians keep spell books of those spells they learn and must refresh their memories with a hour of study a day or casing their spells is difficult, otherwise they retain access to all the spells they know and may cast them. Material components are required to cast spells with all low level spells (called "cantraps") of level 1-3 using a focus for each spell that isn't consumed in spell casting. All magicians are able to dispel their own spells at will and may attempt to dispel another magicians spell with effort. Lot's of magic could be flying in Pars Fortuna but it's risky to the spell caster. There are 60 spells of levels 1 to 3 presented in the basic rules and these are a diverse and creative lot that provide a lot of meat and potatoes to this OSR variant. Curiously 3rd level spells are detailed but characters must be 5th level or higher to learn them.

Monsters follow and we get a number of unusual low level monsters. A few seem borrowed from elsewhere but the majority are unique. They are presented by monster types of Beast, Construct, Folk, Magical Folk, Monsters and Spirits. Some are silly some are rather good definitely useful and not all just barely warmed over leftovers of older games.

Treasure and Magic Items is a real gem in Pars Fortuna basic. We get coins and jewelery for common treasures followed by three types of common magical items: potions (the least unique thing in the game), Talismans (one use protective items), Writings (a really superior and simple treatment of books and scrolls). Then there are the other magical items each of which is meant to be a unique one of a kind item. In the basic rules we get 4 each of Magic Armor, Baubles, Cubes, Rainments, Shield, Staff, Sword, Magic Melee, Magical Missiles and miscellaneous. A character may have but 4 of these unique items at one time. The magic items are evocative, some have a downside along with the benefits they provide. This treatment of magic items is a delight and really sets Pars Fortuna apart from the magic item giveaway show of many RPGS where a +1 sword is just another +1 sword, in Pars Fortuna that +1 sword may be "Bennai, the Leper's Blade" and has powers unique to itself.

I really enjoyed Pars Fortuna:Basic on my first read. There are some matters of confusion I have and there is a little bit of sloppy editing (part of that clearly being a sole author working on a basic and full rule-set at the same time), there are a couple spots where the rules and tables conflict but nothing game breaking. Some of the weapons tweaks are of dubious reality (you can throw an axe with one hand in the real world,I've done it competitively) but do provide playable differentiation. The magic system looks prone to abuse in one shots and better written for campaign play. The races are odd and this will throw some folks off but I really can't understand folks looking for something new being thrown off by something new. Pars Fortuna started as a fun experiment and it looks like the John M. Stater has certainly breathed a lot into random dice rolls and given us a lot to add to campaigns. Pars Fortuna has provided something an OSR game has to in my opinion "a whole lot of new". I know I'll be picking up the full rules when they become available and can't imagine why any fan of D&Desque/OSR games wouldn't give the Pars Fortuna:Basic pdf a look (it's cool and free).


  1. The caledjula (tricksters) are the only ones who normally cast magic. Iwas going to write a review of basic, but you pretty much cover everything I was going to, so I'll just refer people to here.

  2. Thanks for the review, I really appreciate it. If you don't mind, could you send me an email with the mistakes you found so I can correct them before I release the complete rules.

  3. I'll be linking to this one Matt over at AD&D Grognard. Congrats on this. I can only hope that when my beast sees the light of day it can live up to the fine work being done by folks like Matt and all the other designer/authors who are making this a golden age for gamers :)