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I’ve been a fan of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG since I first got my hands on Dungeoneer in the 80’s. These are the games that scream “OSR” to me – games like Dungeoneer and Dragon Warriors. The epic coolness that came out of the UK in the early 80s. I’m glad it got updated and reprinted, but the update is so very bitter-sweet for me.

Mechanically, the game is a big step up from the classic rules. It takes the issues I had with the game and fixes them quite neatly – especially the issue of the geometric superiority of the Skill stat (every point of Skill you had in the original let you have a skill point to spend on a special skill, which were rolled as “Skill + Special Skill”). Now you get points to spend on your ability scores (Stamina, Skill, Luck, Magic), and to spend on Special Skills. The balancing job is excellent and means that a single d6 roll doesn’t decide whether your character is an epic 12-skill with 12 skills character or a pathetic 7-skill with 7 skills character. The magic system has been expanded, armour does more, and everything just works.

In fact, the rules set works almost PERFECTLY for my own campaign setting. In fact, that’s why you don’t see a copy of TITAN up in that photo – if I use this game it will definitely be in my Sorcerer-Kings campaign setting instead of the game’s assumed setting.

But then we come to the art and layout. And it makes me very sad. The original books were printed at paperback book size, and I think that these books would have REALLY done better if they had stuck to that size or a similar size (6 x 9 for instance). Instead we end up with under-sized art spread through the books (and in the main book I found the art assets to be grey instead of rich black), and an incredibly lack-luster layout. In the end, it’s a story of missed opportunities.

The original Fighting Fantasy character sheet is part of the inspiration for my own sheets:

Original Fighting Fantasy Sheet

Original Fighting Fantasy Sheet

But the new sheets end up feeling like a pale imitation of the original

New AFF Sheet

New AFF Sheet

Out of the Pit is the original version’s text and art reformatted for a two-column letter-sized book. It has all the information, all the art assets, and all the awesome of the original, but the new layout is weak. But not as weak as the layout in the Heroes Companion. This book has a bunch of new magical traditions in it that are quite cool and useful, but the layout is so weak – a boring 2-column layout (with excessive margins and gutter) with repeatedly overused small art assets and some amazing larger pieces that would be a hundred times better if they were somehow fit into the text better, or even better put on their own page at full size. These two books really disappointed me purely from the aesthetic side because of the layout and misuse of awesome art assets.

But aside from the art and layout, this game rocks on toast. It remains about as simple as the original version, but comes with a better choice in magic systems, better character creation, a new balance for magic vs combat characters, and retaining the neat d6-based weapon damage system. I love it. I want to play it. But the books pain me to look at them – they make me sad. But from this edition of this awesome game I could definitely see launching into something truly fun, simple and excellent.

Hell, the real reason I wrote this review is so that the disappointment I felt on my last read-through of the Heroes Companion didn’t overwhelm the awesomeness of the game itself.