The name’s Davenport. I review games.
So the other day I was in my office, mindin’ my own business — funny how often these stories start that way — when a fella in orange robes comes teleportin’ in. And I gotta tell ya, this guy was a total blockhead.
No, seriously. His head was an actual gray cement-lookin’ block.
“Greetings, human,” he says. “I am Bob the Blonin, blessed of the Glorious Cube. I bring to you this review copy of Far Away Land: Tome of Awesome.”
He hands over the book, and I give it the once-over. Big book. Funny art. Funny name.
“Is this game some kind of a joke?” I says.
“No, indeed,” he says. “True, it describes a frequently humorous world, but a world nevertheless ripe for awesome adventures! And with an equally awesome light system!”
“Huh,” I says. “Okay, you’ve got my interest.”
“So you will give it a fair review?” says the blockhead.
“Yeah, I’ll give you a square deal.”
This it the core rulebook for Far Away Land (hereafter “FAL“). As you can probably surmise from the title, it isn’t exactly serious. Then again, it isn’t completely farcical, either. It might best be imagined as a semi-whimsical blend of Adventure Time (including the dark bits) and Dungeons & Dragons. (Yes, I realize that’s at least somewhat redundant, given D&D’s influence on Adventure Time.) It’s epic and lighthearted… until the limbs start flying.
For a seemingly whimsical game, FAL boasts a remarkably complex and in-depth cosmology involving (among other things) an omnipotent multi-eyed rabbit and its worldbuilding children, the Cosmic Wanderers.
The world the PCs call home exists in the Materiosphere, one of nine spheres of existence and the only one to linking to the other eight.
Humans aren’t native to Far Away Land, having been pulled from their native “Urth” during the Boom War, a catastrophic failed high-tech alien invasion that resulted in fissures in the space-time continuum. As a result of the Boom War, Far Away Land features a generally medieval fantasy world with many bizarre sci-fi aspects, among them giant robots with laser weapons and psionic superhumans from the future.
To be honest, I can’t really do justice to the full setting of FAL without just relating all of it. I can tell you that the book relates the history, gods, cults, locations, heroes, and villains of the world in an always compelling and often humorous manner. (I’m a particular fan of Undead Apocalypse I. And II. And III-XI.)
FAL offers a prodigious bestiary of over 70 creatures, including a separate section for the various breeds of dragon. Many of these entities are familiar fantasy tropes, such as elves, dwarves, fire giants, liches, zombies, fairies, and, of course, dragons; others are more humorous, such as bear-riding nuns, vicious clown plants, a race of Sean Conneries from Zardoz, and hive-minded clones of Abraham Lincoln. Then there are creatures like the balbergulbs, molomoxors, nubyebs, as outlandish as their names.
I love the fact that the chapter lists the “loot drop” for each creature… even if it’s just the fact that the creature is tasty.
FAL exclusively uses six-sided dice. Characters have only three attributes (stats) — Brute (BRT), Dexterity (DEX), and Wits (WIT) — with a human scale of 1-3. To attempt a task, the player rolls a number of d6 equal to the attribute, keeping only the highest roll and adding +1 for each 6 rolled after the first. Boons and Flaws add or subtract from the number of dice rolled. The system could hardly be easier or more transparent.
Human PCs begin with Action (ACT) points per round equal to DEX + 3, and different combat actions cost different numbers of ACT. Moving normally costs 2 ACT and attacking costs 3, so the average starting human PC can move and attack in the same round. PCs gain +1 ACT every five levels.
Characters use BRT for melee attacks and DEX for ranged attacks. Normally, I don’t care for systems that equate brute force with melee accuracy, but I’m willing to give that pass here given the system’s overall simplicity.
The margin of success plus weapon damage determines total damage. Light human-sized weapons do 1d6 damage, while heavy human-sized weapons do 1d6+1. (I’m not a huge fan of this, as both daggers and one-handed swords of all types count as “light”.)
Giant-sized weapons add an additional 1d6 to damage but are harder for human-sized creatures to wield. In addition, larger creatures get flat bonuses to damage. I’m fine with that. The only problem I see is that size is the only way to get that damage bonus, meaning that the only way for human-sized creatures to do greater than human-scale damage is to have attacks that are superhumanly accurate.
Armor subtracts from damage, as is always my preference.
As previously mentioned, PCs have three stats: BRT, DEX, and WIT. Human PCs have 6 points to divide between these stats and can have a score of no higher than 3, so the core decision here is to have scores of 2, 2, 2 or 1, 2, 3. Once again, nice and easy.
Human PCs have Hit Points equal to BRT + 10, with an additional +1 per level after 1. I’ve never been keen on ever-increasing Hit Points, but this level of increase doesn’t seem too extreme.
PCs start out with 2 Luck Points that may be spent to add extra dice to a roll per point spent. That seems a little stingy, but then, I tend to err on the side of cinematic when it comes to such mechanics. PCs gain +1 Luck Point per level.
Characters get four Boons (skills) at +1 each at character creation. These skills are kept very broad; e.g., Melee covers all hand weapons. I’m good with that. I’d generally prefer to have an option for specialization, but that seems too crunchy for this game’s design.
Flaws, on the other hand, subtract 1-3 dice depending upon the situation and involve disadvantages like Bigot, Perfectionist, or Smelly. For some reason, the number of Flaws is a random 1d3. I don’t follow the thinking there, but this is a minor point.
As mentioned, this is a level-based system. Interestingly, the game separates level from experience points. Characters level up based upon the number of sessions played — generally 2-3. Characters earn experience points based upon their actions (or the actions of their players, in the case of just showing up to play). Experience points go to gaining or increasing Boons, increasing Stats, or (for whatever reason) increasing Flaws. This split seems unusual to me, but I like the fact that it makes leveling up more… organic, maybe?
The game includes 15 nonhuman species that can serve as PCs. I’m happy to see that, especially given the fact that humans are a small minority of the population. I do have to note, though, that not all of these species are balanced, with some simply being pound-for-pound better than humans.
Spellcasters must have the Arcane Boon and can have spells of a level no greater than their own level. The game leaves the number of starting level 1 spells up to the GM but suggests 2-3.
The game uses a spell-per-day limit on spellcasting, which is probably my least favorite sort of spellcasting limit. On the other hand, PCs can cast their level + 3 spells per day, which at least gives more flexibility than does the Vancian magic of a certain other fantasy game…
Spells have levels from 1-10. For perspective, the level 1 Heal spell restores 1d6 Hit Points, while the level 10 Resurrect spell brings the recently dead back to life.
In FAL terms, “Abilities” are somewhat akin to limited superpowers — limited mainly because those that must be activated can only be used a number of times per day equal to the PC’s level. (Other Abilities, like Night Sight, are always on.)
For PCs, one Ability costs two Stat points. That’s a steep, steep cost, especially for something you can only do once a day at level 1.
Frankly, this section seems a little sloppy.
For one thing, some abilities lack sufficient detail. Hydrokinesis, for example, lets the user control water, but to what extent and to what end? The only thing we know for certain based upon the ability’s description is that it doesn’t cause damage.
For another, there are some Abilities that are simply better at doing the same thing as other Abilities. Energy Blast, for example, does 1d6 damage at close range, while Hellish Rainbow does 2d6 damage at close range. Why would anyone ever take the former? Likewise, Harden makes the user immune to slashing and piercing attacks, while Invulnerability makes the user… well, totally invulnerable.
And while many Abilities seem fairly weak, at least a few are staggeringly overpowered. “You know everything,” the text blithely states regarding the Omniscience Ability. Yeah, that’s not going to cause any problems… And Resurrect Self has the PC automatically returning to life 1d6 hours after being killed, with no limitations whatsoever.
I should also note that some Abilities, like Summon Demon and Animate Dead, seem like they should be spells, not Abilities.
This is basically a section consisting of several mini-games. The rules for mass combat and for building adventures, scenarios, and settlements offer obvious utility. Other mini-games are a bit more esoteric, involving the players taking on the rolls of gods, architects, or historians of FAL and collaboratively building the setting.
The rules for training montages are a nice touch, having the player of the training PC describe the stages of the montage to the other players, who then rate their level of amusement and thusly determine the length of time the training takes.
The author/artist describes his style as “cartoony, colorful, imaginative, like Simpsons meets Adventure Time meets D&D with a little blood and some occasional amputations” — a very accurate assessment. Like the game itself, the full-color art is quirky, whimsical, charming, and often quite violent. If there’s any drawback to the style, it’s that I can’t quite manage to visualize what FAL “really” looks like. In my mind, it just looks like the art to me, period. And I suppose that’s fine. After all, it’s not like Mickey Mouse is meant to represent an actual mouse.
The writing presents even the most ridiculous aspects of FAL with a straight face, much to my amusement. More surprising is the degree to which the author is able to evoke a sense of wonder and beauty alongside the humor, reminding the reader that this isn’t simply Slapstick Cartoonland. No typos stood out to me.
While the text seems a bit dense in places, the overall layout is very clean. Like all good roleplaying books, FAL includes an extensive index.
As should be obvious by now, this isn’t a game for everyone. It’s not a totally comedic game, but it’s a long way from being a serious fantasy setting. So, who is it for? Well, for one thing, it’s for gamers looking for one Hell of a bargain. At 300 pages, this jam-packed volume is currently going for $4.99 PDF/$25 softcover on DriveThruRPG. It’s also for gamers looking for a light but robust system. And most of all, it’s for gamers who want to have epic adventures with some good laughs along the way. If that sounds like you, the GMshoe says check it out.