November 4, 2013

TFT - Modular System Rules

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) really began with In the Labyrinth in 1980. It had an odd system of rules distribution. D&D has followed the format of main rule book (Player's Handbook), advice and additional rules for the DM (Dungeon Master's Guide) and monsters (Monster Manual). While TFT was also divided into three books, they followed a different system. In the Labyrinth was the core rule set which outlines the basic rules such as character generation/advancement. Melee is the combat rules. Wizard is the spellcasting/magic rules. A person really needs all three books to be able to play the game. Why did they take this approach?

While Melee and Advanced Melee is part of TFT, Melee actually came out 3 years before TFT (in 1977). Originally it was designed to be a supplement for any fantasy rpg game, including D&D. It was a very tactical and simulationist approach to combat. It was meant to replace the combat system of whatever rpg a group might be playing. Likewise, Wizard (released in 1978) was also meant to provide a separate magic system, though it was also meant to work smoothly with Melee. Thus both books could be used in tandem to replace systems in other games. In the Labyrinth, the character rules, came later and was built around the combat and magic rules.

This is an interesting approach to rule systems. Most modern day rpg games have highly integrated characters rules, combat rules and magic systems. In addition, most systems these days also have a heavily integrated world setting that is also tied into the game system. Shadowrun is an excellent example of this level of integration. With most modern games their rule components are designed for that specific system and integration into another game is often impossible, or certainly not worth the effort.

I'm not sure such modular rule systems is something that is viable in the current rpg marketplace. As I already mentioned most systems are heavily integrated within themselves. Adding or replacing rule sections can be a nightmare. And, really, most gamers rate a game system as a whole. Seldom do they choose a system with the intent of cobbling together separate systems. Sure they may alter some rules but most groups keep the core rule components and only tweak things slightly.

One thing that I have mention on the topic of modular rule systems is Rolemaster. Originally released between 1980 and 1982, they also presented a series of modular system rules similar to TFT. Arms Law (combat rules), Spell Law (spell rules), Claw Law (monster rules), Character Law (character generation/advancement) and Campaign Law (GM rules) were all designed to replace existing rules systems in other games (again specifically D&D). It eventually grew into its own rpg game. The main difference between TFT and Rolemaster is that Rolemaster proved to ultimately be far more popular (or more supported) and continues to this day (there is a playtest going on right now for the next edition of the rules). However, this version of Rolemaster is being presented as a complete rule system and not as modular system rules to be used to replace other game system components.
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