Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fabled Lands RPG review

The first of many  Fabled Lands source books has been released.  This one concerns the rules for character creation and role playing.  It also has details on the city of Yellowport, the sulphur choked city that most players of the original solo gamebook series would find themselves in.

The RPG introduces new rules to the system that the gamebooks never had.  There are two new characteristics - muscle and intelligence, two new classes, skills (abilities that all characters could possess), powers (abilities that only players of certain classes could possess), rules for multiclassing and spell lists.

The system still retains its simplicity whilst being incredibly versatile in terms of character creation.  Since its world is based on the sandbox gamebook series, the flavour of the classes and the description of many aspects of the Fabled Lands - its history, its geography, its religions, its animals and monsters and its civilisations - are all immensely detailed.  Finally, it contains an in depth look at Yellowport and some of its personalities.  Hopefully, these descriptions of this rich and varied lands that is the Fabled Lands will continue in its future sourcebooks.

Fabled Lands gamebooks

Fabled Lands was a series of gamebooks written by Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson.  The idea behind the books was to create what is now known as a sandbox  setting.  Twelve gamebooks were planned but only six were published.

However, the gamebooks have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with beautifully designed apps, reprints of the first four books and now an RPG version.  Now, Greywood Publishing plan on releasing a sourcebook for each of the twelve Fabled Lands books with the Sokara (the land from book 1) book out in September and the Golnir (the land from book 2) book out in December.

Ease of Reading

A sample page from
Order of the Eternal Knight
I found the sourcebook a very easy and interesting read.  Game information is presented in a clear systematic way so it is pretty easy to find on a page.  The contents page is very detailed, listing all of the headings in the book, so it is easy to see what the chapter is about.  It is also easy to see which chapters you may want to miss out if you are anxious to start a game and don't want to read what the setting is all about.

The game rules are very simple but they are still very well explained and examples are given for combat (the only vaguely complicated part of the rules.)  Those of us who have already read the Fabled Lands gamebooks will already have a good knowledge of the background of Harkuna and the basic rules.  You will just need to learn the new rules made for the RPG.  Also, those of us who have used a D20 system  will find some skills and rules familiar.  Those of use who have read both could start up a quest or two in next to no time.

One of the cons in the books is that it uses terms before they are defined and  that it lacks an index or glossary for you to look them up.
This means that you will have to read all of the rules before you get a good idea of how they work.


The map of Harkuna (it is black and white in the source book)
This is taken from the Fabled Lands Blog.

I'm the sort of person who just wants to get the information, but aesthetics are important to a book, so I will give my inexpert opinion.  The book itself is about the size and shape of A4 (it is a bit shorter and a bit wider.)  It is softback with a colour illustration on the cover and black and white illustrations inside.  There are a few full page illustrations of scenes in rooms and bits of buildings.  There are plenty of smaller illustrations though, including pictures of a member of each profession, a picture of each monster (unfortunately, they are behind their description so we can't see them in their full glory) and other scenes.  I prefer the sketches to the computer generated images, but that's a              personal preference.

The double page map (above) is both very detailed and very pretty to look at.  I enjoy looking at maps, especially world maps and I thought this was the best piece of art in the book.

Now I will go through the chapters of the book and what they cover.

Chapter 1 - Character Creation

A character sheet
Character creation is a five step process:

1)  Choose your character's background.

There are several backgrounds that you can choose from with a short description of what your life was like in that particular background.

Choosing your background gives you access to a skill or some equipment or money.

2)  Generate your character's description.

Here you randomly generate the physical description of your character - age, height and build.  Extreme values have a small effect on your stats.  For example, being extremely small gives you +1 on hiding tests and -1 on jumping tests.

You also have a good and bad personality trait to prevent you character being a set of numbers on a page.  Role playing to them gets you extra experience points.

3)  Generate your character's ability values.

The abilities you have in Fabled Lands are:  Charisma, Combat, Intelligence, Magic, Muscle, Sanctity, Scouting and Thievery.

Those who have played with the Fabled Lands system will be familiar with all of the abilities apart from intelligence and muscle which sound quite self explanatory.

Your stats are determined by rolling eight six sided dice and assigning a value to each of your abilites.  You may re-roll if the total value of the dice is less than 20.

4)  Generate your character's stamina value.

Roll 1d6 and add 6.  This is your character's stamina value.  If it reaches 0 or less then every round, the character must roll 1 die.  On the roll of a 1, they die.

5)  Choose a profession.

There are now eight professions in the Fabled Lands RPG.  Each one has a primary ability assigned to them.  That is, you can only be part of the profession if that ability is 5 or higher.  The professions with their primary ability values in brackets are - barbarian (muscle), druid (intelligence), mage (magic), priest (sanctity), rogue (thievery), troubador (charisma), warrior (combat) and wayfarer (scouting).

Professions get a range of skills that they can choose from and a list of powers that are unique to each class.

The professions are flavourful and there is a description of how they fit into the Fabled Lands.  This is better than having a generic fighter.

Making a character is quite a quick, simple but versatile and flavourful process.  It is made more versatile by the fact that when you advance rank, you can either get a new power or train in a new ability.  You also get more skill points and you could also take up a new profession.

Chapter 2 - Skills

Those of us who have played D20 will find this chapter very familiar.  There is a list of 30 skills, the ability they require and the professions that make use of them.  There are simple modifier tables for the skills.

The skills section is quite simple and straightforward in the description and mechanics of the skills.

Chapter 3 - Spells and sorcerers

In the Fabled Lands gamebooks, you did not have to choose from a list of spells.  Instead, you were given the option of using your magic skill in the sections of the book.

The RPG has produced eighteen schools of magic, each with three spells although the number of schools and the number of spells in a school can always be increased.  Some of the schools of magic are:  aeromancy, beastology, divination, healing and telepathy.

Spells are cast by performing a test against magic with a difficulty set by the spell.  You can expand on some spells such as the duration or the number of people that they can effect if you increase the difficulty needed to cast the spell.  However, you cannot  cast a spell with a difficulty higher than 10 + your rank

Chapter 4 - Equipment

Here, you find a list of weapons (both ranged and close combat.)  Each weapon is given a combat bonus value, a cost an encumbrance value and its type (is it basic or military - some professions are only trained in basic weapons.)  Ranged weapons are given a short, medium and long range.

Chapter 5 - Combat

Combat is quite simple to learn.  You roll 2d6, add it to your combat value then subtract your opponent's defence value to calculate how much damage you have done.  This was how it was done in the gamebooks.

There are some additions to combat rules in the RPG.  Every combatant now has a strike value which is determined by rolling 2d6 and applying modifiers (for example, small light weapons increase strike value whilst large cumbersome ones decrease it.)
This is the order of who takes their actions.

Each combatant also has a number of action points (usually 2) per round.  The chapter then describes some actions and how many action points they cost.  All of the actions are pretty standard and anyone familiar with D20 combat will recognise a great deal.  For example, moving costs 1 action point, striking costs 1 action point and charging costs 2 action points.

Chapter 6 - Deities and religion

Here you will find a description of the Gods of Harkuna, how you become and initiate into their religion and the powers that priests of each particular god can obtain.

Chapter 7 - City services

This short chapter gives you the details involved in buying, maintaining, manning and sailing the different types of boats and the ins and outs of being a merchant - the price fluctuations of cargo and the elements of banking, investments and buying a house.

These rules are similar to the rules in the Fabled Lands gamebooks, but they are more detailed so, as with the rest of the rules, even if you know the gamebook rules well, it will do you good to read the RPG rules.

Chapter 8 - Harkuna

One of the great strengths of Fabled Lands is the detailed World in which it takes place.  This had to be created due to the fact that the premise of the gamebooks was that you could explore every corner of Harkuna.

I admit that I'm the sort of person who cares more for gameplay and stats than the mythos of a fantasy world. However, I found reading about the history and geography of the Fabled Lands very fulfilling.  The world map in this chapter is extremely detailed and well drawn.  The descriptions of the different countries are very informative and evocative.

Chapter 9 - For the gamesmaster

Once again the writers of the Fabled Lands RPG make it clear that they haven't created it for 'roll playing' and bog standard dungeon crawls, but that the gamesmaster should be there to bring the world to life.  There are tips on creating a quest and story telling which will help do this.

The chapter then goes into awarding experience and common situations such as listening, bargaining and eating.    Situations have a difficulty rating set to them which the gamesmaster can use as a guideline.  There are also rules for weather and sea travel in case the players want to take up being merchants or want to explore the Violet Ocean.

At the end of the chapter, there is an in depth description of the city of Yellowport complete with statistics of important personalities who live there.  I anticipate that the Sokara sourcebook comes out

Chapter 10 - Monsters and enemies

Harkuna is a human centric world where intelligent non humans such as faerie inhabit out of the way places.  The book does not encourage any race but human for the PCs (it does not give any option to have a non human character in the character creation chapter) but it does give stats for several faerie folk which a smart DM can extrapolate from (however, this will not be in keeping with the flavour of the Fabled Lands)

Each monster is given a threat level, but the book points out that it is to only compare the monsters with each other as different characters with different powers will find different monsters challenging.

The chapter contains some Fabled Lands favourites such as the Scorpion Man and the Ratman.  It also mentions that ghouls can be repelled with a mixture of iron and salt (a reference to the quest in The War Torn Kingdom.)

Appendix - Lair of the Ratmen

This is a short quest adapted from a quest in The War Torn Kingdom where the characters have to descend into the sewers in Yellowport to kill the king of the Ratmen because they are stealing from the merchants' guild.  It is a good example of how a quest could look.


The Fabled Lands RPG is simple, versatile and easy to learn with good explanations of rules.  It gives you everything you need to start a simple quest.  If you have read the Fabled Lands gamebooks, you could use these rules to adapt some scenarios from the gamebooks in order to run as RPG quests.  This could keep you going until September when the Sokara sourcebook (based on The War Torn Kingdom) is released.  I am looking forward to it as I enjoy reading about the world of Harkuna.  I believe the reason why I like this world so much is because I could actually go to every obscure corner of it in the gamebook.  Fabled Lands has plenty of source material to work from and it can be used to create endless quests.

You can buy all of the new Fabled Lands products from Greywood Publishing or from Amazon.

For more news on Fabled Lands, you can visit the blog, here.


This is the second review of an RPG sourcebook and I intend to review the Lone Wolf RPG in the future.  Please tell me if I have missed something out, or written too much.  Should I go through every chapter?  Should I list good and bad points?  What do you look for in an RPG review?

Also, what do you look for in a gamebook review?

Please leave a comment.  I like comments :).


  1. Nice review and very detailed! I was waiting one of Fabled Lands.
    By the way, I found funny the fact they use "Game master", when Dave aparently hate that expresion. “Umpire” is more suited in his own words.

    I really don't like the spell list. Nevertheless I think I’m going to buy the PDF when it’s released. Thanks for all Lloyd!


  2. PS: About the Kindle gamebooks (in your Previous post), remember to look for those who have “Active content”. Otherwise you have to search for the pages manualy

  3. @Ikaros That is a good point about the Gamesmaster thing. I hope Dave didn't mind.

    What was it about the spell list that you didn't like?

    That's a good point about Kindle books needing active content. I've played pdf gamebooks on my Kindle and spent some time trying to work out which page a particular paragraph would be on. It got very frustrating.

    Thanks for all of your posts?

  4. Great review! Thank you very much for that. I hadn't heard of Fabled Lands in any way, shape or form before. Now I'm really keen to check the franchise out.

  5. Great and very comprehensive review - thanks, Stuart!

    I didn't mind about the term GM - it's still umpire or referee in my games, but I accept that the style of roleplaying has changed over the years, and now most players do wait to be "mastered" :)

  6. @GamesAndBiz - thanks very much. The gamebooks are awesome. You can spend ages exploring the Fabled Lands. The RPG does a great job of making it possible for many people to do so.

    @Dave - thanks for the comment and thanks for clearing up the GM thing :).

  7. @Slloyd14
    Hi Again Stuart!
    I think the spell list is a problem that comes with D&D and the firsts RPG. I found the "spell list system" it's a utilitarist way to explain and resolve magic, and doesn’t give a chance for improvisation nor randomness. After all, Fabled lands itself is not a game of predefined spells. It just improvisation!.

    I’m more fond to Mage (from White wolf) or Ars Magica (the 4th edition is completely free. I really recommend it) spell system. Maybe ther is still hope. You could take the 8 schools (8 schools! just like AD&D!) and instead of working with spell list you could work it as Magic skill. For example Telepathy 5. You could try to improvise all the simple spells with Telepathy 5, but cannot acces the more complex until you advance your Telepathy skill. If the spells has a target number, is actually really easy to transform a “spell list system” to a “improvised spell system” Actually Mage the awakening give a nice difference between improvised and rote spells. Well, just my humble opinion.


    PS: By the way, I just realize that in previous post I called you by your surname instead of your name. I hope i didn’t offend you in any sense. English is not my mother language and I actually don’t now if it was rude from me. :S

  8. @Ikaros - Thanks for your comment. I am not offended by being called Lloyd. Thanks for your consideration. Maelstrom has a similar system to what you suggest but goes even further. You state what you want to happen and the gamesmaster assigns a difficulty to that effect which you have to beat to cast the correct spell.

    It seems that the use of magic in the book was more versatile, but it was also controlled by the author. I expect the writers of the RPG wanted to create a tighter magic system in order to give some control. Your system could be used as an alternative system. It would require a list of things you can do with each school and what their difficulty would be. I agree that it would be more versatile, but it would need some guidelines (maybe you could just use the current spells as guidelines)

  9. Good that I didn't offended you! No diplomacy skill on my CS :P
    Hey, That sound to me like the first "unofficial suplement" for FLRPG. As soon as I put my hands over the manual, I'll write something about.


  10. I thought I read somewhere that weapons don't add to damage, but rather add directly to your Combat value. Based upon your description of light vs. clumsy weapons, that doesn't seem to be the case. Can you expand upon that a bit?

  11. @Anonymous - thanks your post. Weapons do add to combat value. When you attack someone in combat, you add 2dy to your combat value and subtract your opponent's defence value to calculate the damage you deal, so adding to your combat value does add to damage as well. This is how it works in the gamebooks

    Light and clumsy weapons are part of the RPG. These weapons modify a new characteristic called strike value. This has nothing to do with damage but rather it determines who attacks first in combat. Light weapons increase strike value and make it more likely to attack first. Heavy weapons reduce it and make it more likey to attack later.

    Hope this helps.

  12. @Dan - Muscle does not add to weapon damage. It is sometimes used in special attacks such as knockdown.

  13. Catherine A. McClareyJuly 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I plan to pick up the FL RPG core rulebook at Gen Con Indy next week (and I expect more than 1 vendor will be selling it in the Exhibit Hall there). Looking forward to reading this!

  14. Hi,
    very good review! The RPG systems sounds and reads nice. It's a good base for own conversions of the old FL game books to a playable World.
    I like the detailed description of Yellowport and the Ratmen Quest, but I'm really amused about the the Sokara background. Grieve Marlock, former bodyguard of Corin, seems to be an nice Lord Protector in difference to General Grieve Marlock in the gamebooks. I understand that the authors head to build up a convincing story about the Civil War and rise of Grieve Marlock, but I don't like his nice touch. Could be a false first impression, which will change with the Sokara Sourcebook...

    I really like the Core Rule book, don't missunderstood me and I will play the FL RPG system with these rules. But I've to base the world's background on the game books and own ideas. This doesn'nt mean I won't buy the Sourcebooks for the realms, because I like the City maps and descriptions.

    Hope, you understood, what I wanted to say. Sorry, English isn't my mother tongue.

  15. Please tell can i play in Fabled Lands in solo mode?

    1. If you want to play it in solo mode, I would recommend the gamebooks.

      If you want to play the actual RPG in solo mode, you would need some kind of randome generator. I would suggest the Solo Nexus blog.

  16. Can you make a review on Epic Adventure Dungeon Crawl?It's a board game,but it awesome.