FolkLore: A Rules Light Roleplaying Game (REVIEW)
Reddit is probably my central hub of information currently. Take from that what you will. It is there that I came across FolkLore: A Rules-Light Role playing Game by Seth Zaloudek. He had posted his game blog on the /rpg subreddit, as well as the purchase link from rpgnow.com. It gained a little attention, shooting [...]
Reddit is probably my central hub of information currently.
Take from that what you will.
It is there that I came across FolkLore: A Rules-Light Role playing Game by Seth Zaloudek. He had posted his game blog on the /rpg subreddit, as well as the purchase link from rpgnow.com. It gained a little attention, shooting to the first page of the subreddit, and soon became purchased enough to gain the ‘Popular Silver’ badge on RpgNow. Becoming interested in what others had to say about the very small game, and enticed by the one dollar price tag I purchased it for myself.
Those who play role playing games will notice how very small the rule set is. A mere four pages, as compared to tomes of text for DnD or World of Darkness. It is certainly ‘rules-light’. Is this a good thing? My first impression was yes, for this particular game it seems like it’d work well. It was set up more for a free form role playing experience, much more an improvisational game than one of strategy. So how does the game work?
The main mechanic of the game that you should know about before making you character is the dice pool. This is how you character achieves things. Generally any time you try to do something that has a variable chance of success, you would have to roll a dice pool to achieve it. The dice pool is made up of a number of d6s based on your stats, traits, items, and relationships. For each 4-6 that gets rolled, you get one ‘success’. You need a number of successes to succeed depending on the difficulty of the task you are trying to do. An Average task, for instance, would require 3 successes.
Creating you character is easy. First you divide up fifteen points between three statistics: Body, Mind, and Social. Every roll in the game will use one of these statistics, so they will provide you with most of the dice in your dice pool.
From there, you assign yourself traits. This is where it gets interesting. Generally in role playing games you assign yourself a class or pick abilities from a list and this will tell you who your character is and how it plays in the game. In Folklore, you make up every trait. Anything you can think of, presumably with a bit of refereeing from your GM(Game-master), you can write down. Each of these traits is then assigned a number, and whenever you make a roll using your Body, Mind, and Social stat, you can then add extra dice if you think that your trait would help you in whatever thing you are trying to accomplish with the roll.
You also assign yourself up to five relationships, which means you make up other characters that you have some sort of relationship with, or you could choose the other players as some. Since you care about this person in some way, any roll you make involving that character gets a bonus dice.
Finally, your equipment will add bonus dice to your rolls depending on it’s quality, with an average item granting you 1 dice.
I made a knight as a sample character, for instance. I wrote down Melee Training as the first trait, to represent the training he would have received as part of his ascent into knighthood Then I wrote down Chivalry, something I think would be an important aspect to him. From there I wrote down sword mastery, shield mastery, diplomacy, and first-aid. So if I say try to attack someone with my sword, I would roll 6 dice because I gave myself 6 in the Body stat, then I would add 3 for my Basic Melee Training, and then an additional 1 for my sword mastery (because I had put 3 in Basic Melee Training and 1 in Sword Mastery.) If that person was attacking my wife, I would add 1 more dice because she is a Relationship that I chose. And, finally, I would add 1 for m Average quality sword; that is a total of 12 dice for my dice pool.
All in all it is a very simple system, opening a very large window for your imagination. However, it seems to me that this could leave the system open for a lot of abuse without the adjudication of a very firm Game-master. Because of this, in my view this game would be perfect for beginning role players, so long as they had an experienced game-master to keep everything in line.
He is also keeping a blog, and though it looks to be in it’s infancy, it looks like he’ll be posting advice and resources for the game on the blog itself. There is currently an interesting entry about the usage of Relationships in the game. And, if you don’t feel like making your own campaign, he has available an adventure ‘module’, a pre-made scenario that you can run for your players. It is, of course, a dollar. The adventure module centers around defeating a monstrous Basilisk.
What excites me most about this system, and systems like it, it how they put role playing at the forefront. In this game, you and your game-master are cooperatively creating a story, stopping to roll whenever what you are trying to do might fail. There are no breaks in the story for combat like in DnD, no battle mats or searching through a glossary. All you need is your character sheet, a four page pamphlet, and some dice. Oh, and a big imagination.
After reading the rules, I was very excited to get a game together and play. So I got some friends together and took the product for a spin! I used the supplement Basilisk!, also created by Seth for use with FolkLore or any other game. Well, how did things go?
A good thing about the rules is that you can print out a pamphlet version that contains both the rules and the character sheet in one, so every person at the table has access to the creation of characters and the rules of play. They look nifty too!
Basilisk! itself is more of a story seed rather than a full adventure, so I came up with a small story and a couple of situations to hopefully challenge the players. When the game begins the story is thus: The party (the player characters) are adventurers sent at the behest of the king of their land to find and rescue his missing son, the prince. The prince came up missing while secretly traveling a neighboring enemy kingdom in the east that they were at war with. He was in fact trying to contact a marginalized tribe of rebels in that country to help with the kingdom’s war effort.
So the party had to maintain their secrecy while traveling the desert kingdom in search of the prince, so as to not give away the fact that a member of the royal family was within the clutches of the Sultan.
I had four players, and at first at least a couple were thrown off at the freeform character creation, though they took to it quite quickly. Creating the characters with each other was enjoyable, as we discussed who they wanted to be and how best to do that within the rules. We ended up with a swarthy blacksmith, a dragon tamer type, a dragon-mage, and a rather homicidal alchemist.
Their first encounter was at a border village into the kingdom. There they searched for clues of the prince, and eventually found a seedy merchant, fat and drunk, who offered to help in exchange for coin and patronage. Rather than pay him, however, the alchemist successfully made a truth telling potion and slipped it into his drink, thus forcing him to spill all knowledge he had, which ended up being exactly what they needed. The prince was last seen riding for a village to the East and North, along a caravan path through the barren sands. They ended up buying camels from the confused merchant and took to the road.
It was traveling the sands that they came upon their next encounter. At the turn of the path, as it went north, they were attacked by sand bandits, charging them upon their agile steeds. Here the party shone brightly. The dragon mage threw balls of fire, knocking men from their horses. The alchemist had created potion-bombs, exploding and doing much harm. The dragon tamer was a master archer, and the blacksmith had the strength of a bear, and so they killed aplenty between them; though the blacksmith threw a hammer and killed a horse, causing an outcry from the players, even as they spilled the blood of human enemies.
Eventually they had routed their enemies, save the one whose horse had met a tragic end. This one they questioned, and he had reiterated what the merchant had told them; from here the prince had ridden north with his small company of men. A long discussion about what to do with the prisoner (some wanted to let him go, some wanted to take him with them), was cut short when the dragon mage simply parted his head from his shoulders. Strangely enough, that isn’t the worst of what happened during this session.
So they finally came upon the village, and were surprised to see that everyone here were blindfolded. (It is at this point that the story from the Basilisk! supplement begins) After questioning a guard, who was not blindfolded but actually blind and thus used to not being able to see, they learned that the village was beleaguered by basilisks, and thus everyone bound their eyes. Asking him why everyone didn’t simply leave, they learned that the village was also the site of a holy site and the citizens the caretakers.
They also learned that the prince had come here, and trying to face the basilisks was turned to stone by their gaze. They found him as a statue on the outskirts of town.
Here the party discussed what to do. Their quest was to rescue the prince, which they could not do by simply dragging the statue back home. They also did not want to face the basilisks in their nest, north into the mountains, and so they made plans for when they came at night. The dragon tamer could make traps, and created noise traps along various paths in the town, and the alchemist created the alchemical analog for mines. The dragon-mage glamoured some of the statues of victims throughout town to give off a reflection, and the blacksmith forged a mirrored shield, having learned that even reflected the gaze was effective and hoped to use it against them.
They also learned that basilisks hate and fear the sound of birds, especially that of the rooster. So they gathered the roosters of the town, in hopes of using them to herd the basilisks as they came into the town. They then hid the prince’s statue in the tavern (with a rooster). Thusly arranged, they waited for night to fall.
It was… interesting to say the least. It can be guessed at how it went down. Explosions, broken statues, basilisks turning to stone left and right. Traps were set off, and all the while the dragon tamer rode a blindfolded camel around town, squeezing a rooster. Meanwhile, while everyone was distracted, the alchemist, who I didn’t notice had taken Homicidal as one of his traits, and slipped a vial of deadly poison into the town well.
As dawn came and the prince came around, they ignored the carnage and hurried away.
So, it certainly went a different place than I thought. The heroes seemed more opportunistic vagabonds, but that is also fun. The players certainly enjoyed it. So did the game match my impressions?
The game definitely was fun. The freedom of so few rules was very fresh. However, I do feel that this can also be a weakness, especially where things like Magic come in. The dragon mage had a difficult time figuring out what his magic did, or could do, within the confines of the game. Since it was magic, could he simply not add that trait to every roll? In this I feel the game does require a certain amount of self arbitration.
The freedom of creating whatever you want I think was popular among the players. Even though they didn’t get to actually use many of the traits and things that they took, they enjoyed creating a unique character.
The supplement itself, Basilisk!, I am a little less sure of. I feel it might have been better used as a blog post on the FolkLore website. Not because of the price mind you, at only a dollar I will not complain about the price, simply that I personally would have preferred something a bit more substantial.
Role playing has always, for me, been about the improvisation. You create stories and encounters beforehand to be sure, but the best laid plans always go awry, and it is in the adaption to the players decisions and the interaction with them that I revel as a game master and a role player. Folklore makes sure that rules do not get in the way of this, making room for your story to grow. The dice pool system is simple to use and easy to understand, and I feel that the game could definitely be one to bring new people into the hobby, or even be used as an imrpov tool for children or young people.
I will say one quick thing about the art: Seth is a great sketch artist, and I love seeing all the different characters on the game pamphlet, the supplement, on the blog, and on the Facebook page. I really hope he continues doing the art as he makes things for the game, it definitely adds to the whimsical feel of the ruleset.
I will admit to a bias when it comes to independently created products. I love an underdog story, so whenever something like this comes along I eat it right up. Seeing a game like this succeed, even if only a little bit, really warms my old grognard heart. Who says you need three one hundred page books to play a good role playing game? Folklore certainly doesn’t. You probably won’t get the depth of strategy that DnD brings to the table. You also won’t get the rich fictional back story of the World of Darkness. What you will get, however, is a set of keys for the vehicle that is your imagination, and an invitation to try something a little different.