Actual Play review of Faeryís Tale
For some reason, my gaming group consists entirely of people with kids. Weíve got little ones ranging in age from two to ten, with most of them focused at the bottom end. Recently, I had noticed that the ten year old girl had been blowing off game days, in favor of hanging out with her friends; basically, anything to avoid spending time with grown-ups. Okay, thatís pretty typical for a pubescent girl, but she also told me that she thought gaming was totally incomprehensible, and reserved for high-minded geeks. Naturally, I couldnít let that stand. I spent a few moments talking to her and one of her friends about what gaming really is: itís a fancy version of Letís Pretend, where we get to play out the roles of the storybook and movie characters we all love. That got their attention, and I promised that Iíd run a game for them at the earliest opportunity.
The problem here, naturally, was that she found their parentís preferred gameóShadowrunóto be far too overcomplicated. I spent a bit of time digging around, searching for a rules-light system that would be appropriate and would have a nice setting. Wushu was an immediate favorite, but it seemed to be a tad too untraditional, and it didnít have a core setting.
As luck would have it, Faeryís Tale from Firefly Games happened to be released just as I was winding down my search. Intrigued, I immediately downloaded a copy, and started reading. It appeared to be exactly what I was looking for; on this girlís wall were multiple posters of Tinkerbell and other faeries. The only question was this: would it work in practice?
Letís start with the technical aspects. Faeryís Tale is a 66-page pdf file, small enough for easy portability. However, every time I tried to print it out at home or at my college, or even at the library, it jammed up the works. The production values are excellent, but I suspect that the layering really clogs any non high-speed printer. The artwork is mostly simple black-and-white line drawings; nothing fancy, but it perfectly suits the childrenís tale atmosphere theyíre going for. Thatís why I found it to be so confusing that it apparently requires so much processing power to resolve; nothing in the book really demands that level of graphic intensiveness. We eventually did two copies: I went to Kinkoís, and the girl used her fatherís laser printer. In her case, it took about 45 minutes to print out a full copy; so from a technical aspect, I canít say that itís going to be very printer or computer friendly.
Setting-wise, you are a faerie in the mythical land of Brightwood, dedicated to fighting off the depredations of evil faeries and monsters. You have a choice of four basic types, with suggestions on how to create other types. However, the default four are: Sprites, faerie warriors who ride dragonflies and bees; Brownies, household spirits who help humans in the home; Pookas, trickster spirits who can take the form of animals; and Pixies, the classic butterfly-winged fairy. There are lots of sources for Sprites; Tom Thumb is one possibility, but there are many others. Pookas come more-or-less straight out of classic mythology, so you can give players ideas right out of old folklore. Brownies can be described as Leprechauns, although the story of the shoemaker and the elves also fits. Unfortunately, the most recent example of a Brownie would be Dobby, the house-elf, from the Harry Potter books. And Pixies are Tinkerbell; you really donít need to go any further than that, and the description stays pretty close to what she was like in the Disney movies.
Naturally, youíre not the only faeries in the forest. Thereís all sorts of evil monsters and dark fae roaming around, and itís the job of a good faerie to block them at every path, and try and protect humans. The local Faerie Queen does her best, but ultimately she relies on her subjects to protect the woods. This leaves a very rich setting for adventuring, without overloading it with detail and metaplot; new players, and kids in particular, can pick up on it quite easily. Optional setting rules allow you to switch things over from the Good-versus-Evil plotlines geared for smaller children, to more complex moralizing in an adult-oriented game. In short, the setting is very versatile and complete, without even coming close to overload.
Rules-wise, the game is a three-stat system, where you roll dice equal to a stat, and count successes. The odd thing is that evens are successes, odds are failures, and sixes are both successes and explode. This proved to be a bit more complex than I really wanted, and a bit of a slowdown in actual play. Even as the game progressed, the adult had trouble separating out the odds and evens, and the kids had a constant low-grade struggle with it. This might have gone better as a high-low system, or something similar. Fortunately, thereís rules for diceless in one of the sidebars; since even/odd is basically a binary system, you can replace it with coin tosses, draws from a bag, cards, or what have you. If the die system just isnít working for you, thereís lots of ways of replacing it without hurting the game in the slightest.
The other important thing to mention here is Essence. Essence is, all rolled into one, a power point pool, Drama Points, hit points, an incentive system, and a Light Side/Dark Side mechanic. Thatís an awful lot for one stat to be carrying, and there isnít any easy way of separating it out. Luckily enough, the specter of running out of Essence never managed to come up in my playtest, but I can see resource-management rapidly becoming a problem in a longer or more involved game. Given that this is supposed to be a kids-focused game, Iíd think that avoiding complexity would be a goal; by shoving so much into the Essence rules, it becomes a complexity all by itself.
Faeryís Tale also includes a Dramatic Editing mechanic, where players can spend Essence to ease their way out of problems, or gain Essence to add difficulties. This proved to be one of the more fun parts of the game, since if someone said: ďOh, this is too easyĒ, you could easily find out what they felt would be a fair challenge, ramp it up to that level, *and* reward them for doing so. This is the first time Iíve ever encountered a mechanic like this, and I consider it to be fairly creative.
But how did it work in actual play? To start with, the group for this adventure consisted of two girls, age ten and eleven, and one adult. Character creation went relatively quickly; considering that one rulebook was slowly coming out of the printer as we drew up characters, the one-book problem reared its ugly head. The big sticking point was in selecting Gifts; thereís a handy chart on the bottom of page 24, but youíll need that page to pick out gifts as well. A combined chart with instructions in the back of the book, just as a quick overview, would have been very helpful.
The second problem that I encountered is what Iím going to call: ďThe Tinkerbell ProblemĒ. Namely, of the four types of faeries covered in the core book, pixies have the most visible representative in the form of Tinkerbell. Both girls elected to play pixies for that very reason; the adult selected a pooka, and we didnít get a chance to test a sprite or a brownie. Game balance wise, the various faerie types seem to be fairly balanced; but the Tinkerbell coolness factor is likely to be an issue in any game; kids, especially girls, are going to be more attracted to pixies than any of the other kinds of faeries. Itís going to take quite a bit of finesse on the part of a GM to make sure that the party isnít mostly pixies.
I decided to run the example ďJack and the BeanstalkĒ adventure from the book, just to see how things would work out. There was a bit of fumbling around with the dice and stats at first; nothing unexpected. However, things rapidly began to pick up.
At first, the girls looked to solve everything with their pixie magic, and didnít want to look for other solutions. It took a bit of work on my part to start getting them to think in character, and to start treating magic as if it were magical. Before long, the two girls quickly became deeply involved in their characters, and started looking for creative ways to use their abilitiesóand *not* just pixie magicóto solve problems.
I decided to throw a riddling contest at them as well, just to spice things up; it helped bring them further into character. Before long, I had them almost completely in-character, to a purity level you seldom see in adults: they screamed when the monsters showed up, got clever gleams in their eyes when they came up with fancy plans, and generally got heavily into their roles. They also freely played off of parts of the faerie tale that I had forgotten: they brought in a golden songbird, in lieu of the magic harp, to put the giant to sleep. That tidbit created an entire subplot for them to resolve, which added even more to the fun. Before long, it became what every GM secretly dreams his games can be: a true shared storytelling experience. When it was finally over, one girl had begged her mom to let her stay an extra half-hour to finish the game; and the other was demanding to know when the next session was going to be. Thanks to this game, weíve introduced two kids to the wonders of roleplay, which is something that goes beyond any price.
Art-wise, the book rates a solid 4 from me. The artwork is simple and childlike; but then again, thatís exactly what they were going for, so itís a perfect match. The only thing preventing it from reaching a 5 was the printer difficulties; youíll either need to go dead-tree or seek out a high-powered printer if you want to have a hardcopy.
Substance wise, Iím awarding this game a perfect 5+. I cannot remember a time that I enjoyed GMing a game quite so much. Part of this is because the kids themselves brought a new element into the game: youthful enthusiasm. Their energy played off of my own, and before long, we were all acting out our roles; totally into our fancy game of Letís Pretend.
The system carries some responsibility for this as well; the game is very rules-light, and resolves quickly, although not quite as quickly as I might have liked. However, that can be fixed readily. But I think itís the setting, combined with the excellent ruleset, that really sealed the deal. Theyíve captured the perfect essence of the fairy tales of our youth, the very stories that secretly led many of us to become gamers in the first place. Yes, the details are simplistic and childlike; but thatís exactly what they were going for, and thatís exactly what they achieved.
This is not just a game good for a trip down memory lane; itís a game that can completely revitalize you, and help you remember why you fell in love with role playing games in the first place. When you bring that joy into a childís eyes, youíre going to remember feeling it yourself. In this respect, Faeryís Tale might just be the perfect game for all of us. You might just rediscover something about gaming that you had long since forgotten, and needed badly to remember.