Monday, April 22, 2019

Introducing Lark Fantasy - the ULTIMATE rules-lite FRPG

Obviously the title of this post is exaggerating things a little, but don't let that put you off; I've got a good set of rules to share with you.
Whimsy and magic!
The game is called Lark Fantasy (click for enlightenment). It was created with the following goals:
  • A character sheet is almost immediately comprehensible to someone with no prior role-playing experience.
  • The core rules can be explained in 20 minutes or less to absolute novices - to the point where they can participate as players.
  • Action at the table can be resolved quickly, without the need to consult tables or hair-splitting rules.
  • The mechanics scale well enough to represent everything from weak peasants to fearsome mythological monsters.
  • Statistics are simple enough that the GM can quickly improvise content as needed.
  • Supports intuitive rulings with ease.
  • The mechanics are fun to play.
  • D6 only.
So did I succeed?

First, a little context. I came up with Lark a couple months ago in a rush to create a role-playing game suitable for a large group of first-time role-players. We're talking about folks who didn't all know what "D&D" stand for. Not that there's anything wrong with that - OK there totally is, but it's not their fault and we're going to change this.

Anyway, I wanted a simple game where I could hand them a character sheet and they would easily be able to tell what that character was good at. And the mechanics should be simple, obviously.
This guy better be good at lion-fighting
Fortunately, I had already put some thought into this, and I had some mechanics that were almost there. I took one look at the rules and decided that they were trying too hard to be realistic; the injury mechanics added complexity with different classes of wounds. Simple: replace with hit points of some kind. Everyone gets those because they're in all the video games. Done.

I had some magic rules that I liked, but they were also a little too complex, allowing a high degree of customization. I got rid of that and replaced it with two types of magic: sorcery and mysticism. Done.

I sprinkled a couple other simple ideas on top of that, and I had what I needed. Lark is barely more than that and a pile of tiny obsessive edits.

Allow me to explain some of its features.

Character stats

I've basically merged abilities, class and level into a small set of statistics I called attributes. There are six of these, and the average human value is zero for each. Positive values are good and negative values are bad. Plus-or-minus one is significant, and the maximum value of any attributes is +5 for human beings.

Here are the attributes:
  • Fighting: Aggression, fighting skill, aim and physical ability.
  • Brawn: Size, strength and toughness.
  • Agility: General athleticism, including stamina.
  • Guile: Perception and deception.
  • Wisdom: Intelligence and knowledge.
  • Psyche: Magical potency, will and focus.
Everyone's got Guile
To further round out characters, they have skills. A skill describes something they are trained in, and the scope can vary from vocations to specializations. Usually, they are unrated - if you do something that requires one and you don't have it, either you can't do it or there is a -2 penalty. If you perform a common action and have helpful training, you get +1.

A few skills can have a mastery rating of +1 (master) or +2 (legend). But these are the exception and not the rule; very few PCs start out with any mastered skills.

Finally, there are a couple derived stats. Health Points (HP) are equal to 8 + Brawn + Fighting, and Will Points (WP) are equal to 8 + Wisdom + Psyche.

Basic resolution

A test is an environmental challenge, while a contest is opposed to another character. Identify the relevant attributes for the test or contest - in the case of a test, the GM assigns a Difficulty as the opposing attribute value.
Reading - critical success!
Then, the player rolls a die and adds their attribute value, while the GM does the same. If a six is rolled, the die is re-rolled and its value is treated as the new roll plus five.

High roll wins. A margin of five or more signifies a critical result.

Health and injury

Sources of injury typically involve a test to avoid or a contest to defend. If that fails, then a set amount of damage is caused. However, the amount actually inflicted is modified based on the victim's endurance test.

The victim relies on an appropriate attribute; this is usually Brawn for physical damage, but Agility would be used to endure falling damage, for instance. This can be modified by armor Protection, and the final value is called Toughness.
Ill health abounds
The attack attribute is called Power, and for something like a melee attack, it would be equal to the Brawn of the attacker. For other sources, it might be a fixed value (like a trap, spell or ranged weapon).

If the victim wins the endurance test, the damage is halved, but full damage occurs on a failure. On a critical success, the damage is quartered, and on a critical failure, it is doubled. All fractions are dropped.

Damage reduces HP. When HP are 0, the character is incapacitated. At -3, they are critical and start to deteriorate, and at -6, they are dead.
What, there's already a caption...
One more thing: almost all hand weapons do 2 base damage, and unarmed attacks from humans do 1 base damage. Different types of weapons have small quirks, but they are all fairly homogenized.


There are five spell levels, and you can learn spells of level equal or less than your Psyche. Anyone can learn a spell, but the mere act of doing so subjects the character to its Price. 

The Price is randomly-determined drawback that comes from learning a spell. A Price can be like corruption in DCC, but it can be a lot more varied. For instance, the Price of learning a powerful healing spell might be prohibition from killing others! The exact Price is randomly determined, but its nature depends on the type of spell, and the severity is determined by a test of Wisdom.
Looks tempting...
There are two types of spells that a character may learn: sorcery or mysticism. The same spell could theoretically come in either form; the difference is not the effect, but the Cost. For sorcery, the Cost is time: it takes one hour per spell level to cast a spell. For mysticism, the cost is energy: the mage suffers WP fatigue from casting spells, but they take only two rounds to cast.

Sorcerers sound unplayable, but they have an indispensable trick: the creation of foci. Foci are specially prepared wands, amulets, rings, etc. A given focus will hold a certain number of spells for the wizard who created it. These can be cast in a single action, but there is a Cost for this: HP must be spent to create a focus, and they are not regained until that focus is decommissioned.
Never argue with a tree
Otherwise, I basically took the spell effects from B/X and related old-school clones (especially Lamentations of the Flame Princess). With a little adaptation, I was able to prepare a list of 80 spells.

In summary

When I created Lark Fantasy for that group of novice role-gamers, I had to created an adventure, too. I stuck with one I knew well: The Magician's House. I converted that old standby to the new system without much work. And when I ran it, it did exactly what I hoped.

So now that I have these two fine works of gaming content, in my munificence, I decided that I should release them to the teaming masses. Go in peace, children. You have been blessed.

In all seriousness, along with editions for DCC, LotFP and 5e, I'll be releasing The Magician's House for Lark Fantasy, bundled with the rules, and I'll distribute the rules alone for free. Check it out, enjoy.

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