Sunday, October 03, 2010

Review: Pantheon Press' Fortune's Fool

Ok, well this is not so much a Review, actually, as much as my recollections and impression of Fortune's Fool, based on my brief and engaging encounter with the Game Designer, Jay Stratton, and the Editor-In-Chief at Pantheon Press, Jason Keeley, over at the Complete Strategist in NYC on October 2nd. I have not, I should say up front, reviewed the rules in any sense of the word. However, I did sit in on a short session where the rules were basically demonstrated, and so I got the gist of things. I am going to simply convey my impressions, such as they are, in the hopes that it may help people to at least get a basic idea of the game and it's virtues and vices.

So to set the scene, I showed up late to the basement game-room of the Complete Strategist, where I found a large crowd of gamers gaming away. There was one table at the front set up for a demonstration of Fortune's Fool, and there I found the elfish and animated Gamesmaster / Game Designer, Jay, regaling the group around his table with the tale end of their game session. Apparently, things had not gone so well, and the ending was a sad affair. Poor Pinocchio! But more on that in a bit. The group seems quite happy with the game, and broke up, and so I introduced myself and took a seat. Jay and Jason were kind enough to give me an overview of how the game works.

Basically, Fortune's Fool uses a Tarot Deck for Conflict Resolution. The rules book looks very handsome, and comes to about 250 pages. I took a brief gander at the rules, and they seem quite easy to pick up. I asked Jason what inspired the idea for the game and he explained that he's always been fascinated by the Tarot, and so he decided to create a game that uses it as it's primary conflict resolution mechanism, and after two years or so of trials and travails came up with the present system, and that the game has finally pleased him. There are some interesting aspects to the game in addition to the Tarot Deck mechanics and those have to do with the coloring of the world with such things as Languages such as Latin and Hebrew which have particular magical effectiveness in the world setting. The setting is Renaissance period, and has something of a fairytale, or story-book atmosphere, though that is partially due to the particular scenarios that were selected for the demonstration. I would imagine that enterprising GMs willing to fiddle and fudge with the rules could derive quite a variety of setting-genres from the basic concept of the mechanics. The website describes the setting as follows:

"Fortune’s Fool is set in a rich and flexible time period called the ‘Fantasy Renaissance.’ This time period is rife with story lines and themes for your group to mine. The Renaissance is the time of man, but many other races flourish during this new age. Your character might be an Orc from the Russian Steppes or a sturdy Bavarian dwarf. You might play a wooden-shoed Halfling from the cobbled streets of Holland. You might even pick an ancient and immortal Elf straight from the courts of France."
The mechanics are pretty simple. You draw from the Tarot Deck whenever you resolve any kind of conflict. Your character has attributes that relate to the deck in a simple, yet effective manner. For example, when building your character you get to select which Major Arcana are favorable (I think - I was not quite 100% clear on how this part works as we were rushing along a bit), and when you draw those cards they give you bonuses of various sorts. There is a charming set of Fate Twists, such as "The House of Misery", "Fool's Errand", and "Premonition" (among many) which allow you to take certain kinds of actions with the cards to influence your chances of success. The rules are reasonably tightly tied to the genre, and while in many cases that is a limitation, in this case I think it works to the game's advantage. Just reading the book is fun, or the bits of it I've had time to read so far.

Then, as these things were being explained, another interested person showed up, and then a third. We had enough people to play a quick and dirty game, but not a lot of time to play it in. So we just jumped in feet first and gave it a whirl. Without getting much into the mechanical details I think it might help to hear the story as it was played, so I'll give a brief outline.

I played Geppetto, Pinocchio's father, and with me were Turchina a fey-like blue skinned young lady with magical powers, and my Geppetto's faithful assistant Figaro. We were together at the toy shop making preparations for Pinnocchio's 7th birthday. Geppetto was reflecting on the wonders of the boy puppet... and the sinister deal with Olga the witch he had to make in order to bring life into the wooden creation. For seven years Pinnocchio would be a normal boy, but then the spirit that animated him might rebel, and who knows what might happen then. She didn't know. Neither did Geppetto.

After a while it became apparent that Pinnocchio was not coming home. We sent Figaro to the market to see what became of the boy, since he should only have been gone for a half hour or so. Figaro came rushing back with news that Pinncchio was seen being taken away by a rival puppet-master named Mangiafuoco, the owner and director the The Grand Marionette Theatre, a gluttonous, mountain of a human. Horrified, Geppetto, Turchina, and Figaro hitched their wagon and made a mad dash to the next town to follow after Mangiafuoco. We almost fell off the edge of the cliffs along the way, but with the luck of the Tarot we managed to hold course, and only Turchina lost her horse. We made it to the town where Mangiafuoco's theater was located, and obtained enough information to form a plan. It seemed that he was advertising for a special show in which he was going to present a rare and astounding sight: A giant puppet-boy. Hmmm... Since things were dire, Geppetto explained to his friends the sinister truth regarding what exactly was lurking inside Pinnocchio. (*note: I don't think I should give too much away about the scenario for those who might play it.) We sent Figaro to apply for a job at Mangiafuoco's theater, and again with the luck of the cards he made his way in, and we got some idea of the layout of the theater, and determined how Pinnocchio would be presented on stage. Geppetto meanwhile bought three balcony seats with a view of the stage above. He hired a body guard to stand at the door. When the time came and the horribly deformed and giant Pinnocchio appeared on stage, Turchina integrated herself into the performance with a special Latin Prayer... Once more the luck of the cards was with us, and with a pretty good bit of teamwork and the careful use of the Fate Twists we maximized our odds, and won the day. Pinnochio was saved, Mangiafuoco was quelled by Geppetto's oratory (he being Pinnocchio's father, after all) and so he offered Pinnochio a job as his new Star, and so it was that Pinnocchio had a wonderful birthday after all, and secured a promising future for himself, Geppetto, and Figaro. Turchina, after gracing us with her presence and powers, vanished off to her next adventure.

All in all, it was quite fun! The only downside to the system that I could see was that it requires searching through the deck to find cards at certain points so that they can be placed in accordance with the particular ruling. That does not take long, but in the heat of battle you have sudden suspenseful gaps... which may not be the worst thing in the world.

I give the game high marks for it's excellent use of period flavor, and it's rather charming aspect. It was fast and fun, and in the right hands I think it can make for some very good RPG experiences. It did for us. The adventure of Pinnochio (of which we only played the last scene due to time constraints) can be downloaded from Pantheon Press in PDF form. It was a well designed scenario, and gives enough of an example for GMs to get the idea and follow suit with their own scenarios. Also, the Pantheon Press website is very attractive, I must say. Lovely artwork! Congratulations to Pantheon Press - Nice Job!
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