by Brian "Kuma" Hollenbeck
Published by Firefly Games
Written by Patrick Sweeney, Sandy Antunes, Christina Stiles & Robin Laws
Released August 2006
64 b & w pages
$14.95 (print); $9.95 (PDF)
(Full disclosure: One of the authors, Sandy Antunes, is publishing a Game Chef piece that I wrote in the upcoming Game Chef 2006, vol. 2. The submission was open-sourced, and so I am not being compensated by Mr. Antunes.)
In the colophon of Faery's Tale, under "About Firefly Games", is the following: "[...] Firefly Games publishes quality family- and child-friendly games providing dynamic fun for all ages." This pretty aptly describes Faery's Tale, a well-written and illustrated roleplaying game suitable for kids and adults alike.
The PDF version of the game (reviewed here) is 64 pages long (66 with covers). The interior is black and white, with the majority of the illustrations being line art, mostly done by Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall, who is the cover artist as well. The illustrations are all excellent and well-done, and put me in the mind of Tony DiTerlizzi's work. The typesetting is flawless and quite legible. Overall, one of the most professionally put-together PDFs I've read.
The game itself starts out looking like the Tri-Stat System (three central attributes of Body, Mind and Spirit), but diverges wildly from there. For any challenge or task, dice equal to the attribute are rolled. Even is a success, odds are not; the number of successes is measured against an arbitrary target number set by the Narrator.
Successes can be boosted by expending Essence (the fairies' life force), and each fairy also has a few Gifts, which round out the character and allow the player to perform some feats simply by expending Essence.
The economy of Essence is at the core of the game, not only in the mechanics but in the play of the game. As a nominal 'story-telling game', the Narrator is advised to award Essence for good storytelling and brave (or ingenious) play on the part of the players. There's no limit on the amount of Essence a player can collect for his or her choices in the game, but in practice it seems that there should be a rather heavy flow of Essence around the gaming table - almost everything in the game relies on this one resource. Getting a handle on how much Essence to hand out would seem to be the central challenge facing a Faery's Tale narrator.
Gaming with Kids
Another aspect of Essence that intrigued me (and ties to another main feature of the game) is the suggestion that it be used as a reward system for teaching children. One of the suggestions is: if you have a child who's learning the value of truth, reward truth-telling in-game with massive Essence reward. This sort of direct address towards play with children is the other main feature of Faery's Tale - it is meant to be played with kids.
Throughout the game, tips are provided on how to mold your typical RPG experience into one that's suitable for grade-school children - a wonderful idea. The text does grate at times, however, as the tone becomes a wee bit too saccharin. While playing the game with children is a noble goal, the odds that the kids are going to be doing the reading and learning of the game is small - the game text shouldn't be quite as... gooey... as it is at points. Reading it straight through can be a chore, but the text is also crystal-clear, so a quick skim over the rules section should be enough for any seasoned gamer or dedicated parent.
For the post-elementary set, there are optional rules for 'Dark Essence', which introduces a mixed morality into the game. The rules are essentially identical to those for Essence, but the deed that the Essence aids must be naughty instead of nice. This sort of ambiguity gets a big thumbs-up from me: the Wee Ones are rarely the creatures of marshmallow and sparkles that they're made out to be in modern times.
Along with the basic system, game also includes a mini-monster-manual with stats for animals and magical creatures, and an adventure based on 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. In the adventure, the characters lend a helping hand in Jack's escape from the giant. The adventure, as presented, is very short and should make a very good introduction for younger players.
One shortcoming in the book is a lack of advanced options, such as creating new kinds of fey (the book comes with four basic types - pixies, sprites, brownies and pooka). Keeping the options small is a good idea for younger players, but some guidelines for making new kinds of fey would be a good web-enhancement for the game. There is a point-buy system, but no reference material is provided for finding more on fairy lore.
Overall, Faery's Tale is an excellent light-weight game which does what it sets out to admirably: creating a simple game that can be played with children at the drop of a hat. It encourages creative thought on behalf of the players, and shows a lot of creativity itself.