Why Chainmail?

One of the first topics I would like to address about the design of Faerie Tales & Folklore is why I choose to move back further into the roots of modern roleplaying then what has become common in most OSR, or Old School Renaissance, titles. It would seem to many that the evolution of the hobby has taken us beyond its more humble beginnings and that should be a beneficial process, right? Well, the truth for me was not that simple. There are many factors that influenced this choice, each valid for very different reasons. First, I hoped to create a game, which through its very system of rules, helped immerse its players in anachronism and wonder. Second, many of the common ideas presented in more familiar roleplaying titles started with an old set of wargaming rules known as Chainmail and they have lost much of their meaning over time. Lastly, I myself wished to not only explore the history of our species and our myths, but of the hobby which has consumed such a large portion of my life. In the following paragraphs, I hope to expand upon each of these reasons, as it may shed some light on some of the oddities present within Faerie Tales & Folklore.

When I set out to write this tome, I had originally chosen a more modern set of OSR rules, largely in the hope that in so doing, I would make the game itself more universal in its appeal. It quickly became clear to me that such a desire was truly disingenuous to my original goal of presenting a historical exploration of mythology through what is now a popular hobby. Many “old school” titles had taken a more safe approach to their design through using more commonly played versions of the most classic roleplaying game. Editions such as 0e, 1st edition, and 2nd edition were common, and there is nothing wrong with such rule sets, nor the games which employ them. I also came to the understanding that by using a rule set which was the very genesis of the hobby itself, I could create a game that by its own presentation could aid in transporting the player back into history. By using anachronism as a tool inside the game, I could aid in that sense of suspending one’s disbelief. This idea, when coupled with art at least a century old and typefaces from the early printing, could cement the ideology of the game within its players on a deeper, more fundamental level. The idea has always been to create a tome which when sitting on a shelf, is inviting, intriguing even, in a way similar to pulling an old copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a dusty shelf. (Continue below)

Modern roleplaying, especially of a sort based largely upon those early editions of the aforementioned “classic” title, use language and rule ideas drawn from miniature wargaming. The system of rules it drew most heavily from was a game written by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren known as Chainmail. This game included ideas such as “armor class”, initiative, and many others. As the editions passed through the inevitable process of evolution however, many of these concepts lost a great deal of their original intent. In the case of armor class, for example, the value represented actual combinations of armor type and shields that were not mutable. Each armor class value was specific to a certain combination and any additional bonuses or penalties modified the roll, NOT the class of armor. This was originally done so that certain weapons would be more, or less, effective then others when used against certain classes of armor. This original system improved the realism of combat and created a definable place for each type of armor a combatant could wear, as well as a reciprocal value for each type of weapon they might carry. Initiative, or who struck first in any given engagement, was determined by the type of weapon used: ranged weapons would make their attacks first, then melee weapons. During the first round of a melee, longer weapons of a higher class struck first and during later rounds, shorter quicker weapons struck first. Initiative was, in those early rules, only used to determine which player described what they were doing and how they were moving first and not what was resolved first. This itself is an important distinction, as initiative was more for order at the game table then it was used to determine the advantage of timing.

In many of the older sets of rules, magic was handled in a format that has come to be called “Vancian”. This system of magic was based upon the writing of Jack Vance and is based around the idea that a magician, of one form or another, memorizes a series of spells which are forgotten after they are cast. This system has often been criticized by players as being “unrealistic” and falsely limiting. Chainmail however uses a system of casting complexity which allows spells to be cast over and over provided a casting “complexity” roll is successful. This system, which was drawn from the earliest days of tabletop roleplaying, already dealt with the issues of Vancian casting and it dealt with it in an elegant and simple way. Once again, the system originally penned just before the onset of proper roleplaying had resolved issues created by later “evolutions” of the rules as they moved from wargaming, to roleplaying.

One aspect of game design which I personally feel is often overlooked is the ability for the game itself, through its presentation or the rules themselves, to evoke a greater sense of the environment in which that game takes place. This simple fact can have a major impact upon the “suspension of disbelief”, or the sense of immersion, that is often so sought by writers and filmmakers the world over. When the very book a player holds in their hands conveys the intent of the setting contained within its pages, it speaks in a gestalt whole which is more capable of capturing our senses and transporting us to another time or place. For this reason alone I choose the typefaces and art of the tome I penned. This was also a huge defining factor in my choice of a basic rule set. By going back before even the advent of proper roleplaying, I hoped to evoke a sense of the lost history and arcane wonder that I believed would have been impossible outside of that decision.

For all the reasons discussed above, Faerie Tales & Folklore was crafted using old rules, old artwork, and old type. It is for these reasons I choose to create a game which stepped outside of the more traditional OSR stereotypes. There are a great number of titles that will offer a player a more familiar feel from rules themselves, if that is what is sought by a player or narrator, I would suggest such titles be sought out in place of this one. If however, you seek something different yet familiar in its setting, Faerie Tales & Folklore is worth a look. The game will take a bit of getting used to as the rules, though familiar at times, will be quite different from its contemporaries. This fact is what makes the game unique in a crowded field, and is why it was designed with the ethic it holds to. It will be polarizing for some, natural to others, but it will always be unabashedly what it is– A vast and unique venture into our collective mythology through the pages of a tabletop roleplaying game.

Morgan T. Corey

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