A review of Blacksand (Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG Book 2)

I’m running Fighting Fantasy for elementary/primary school age players, so that’s the starting point for the review. This is the cities supplement for the ‘Advanced’ Fighting Fantasy role playing game, and you’ll need a copy of Dungeoneer, the preceding book in the series, to run it as written. 

The book is not great, partly because it’s dated (getting on for 30 years old), but partly because it was not that inspired to start with. This is strange, because being based on the choose your own adventure books they should have been aware that all the material should be useful in play, but we end up with a lot of padding. 

Here are the useful bits:

On the section on designing settlements we’re given a lot of tables for randomly rolling businesses or local people. For example, rolling randomly on these tables gives me a one-eyed elderly net maker who is both very religious and a little paranoid. It’s interesting that old school renaissance games have gone back to these random tables – they are a lot of fun, and take the games in interesting new directions. Relying on the games master’s brain all the time can end up with things looking too samey. 

The adventure, A Shadow Over Blacksand, has a couple good set pieces. The opening murder mystery with the Silent Death made for a memorable fight, as is the ending with the giant brass golem wrecking the city, but the actual wandering round in the middle was not that interesting. Could do with heavy rewriting. For 10, 11 year olds it seems dungeons are more fun than city adventures. 

New rules – There are a few new Spells which are good (including Assassin’s Dagger which relentlessly pursues its victim, and a few extreme weather spells including your own personal Hurricane). The best bit is Minor Magics, which are much more fun in actual play. Minor Magics are one point spells like Attraction (a love spell), Hold (fix an object in place, like a gold coin to the street or a sword in it’s scabbard), and Pied Piper (lead away a pack or rats or swarm of beetles). 

A few new Special Skills and an FF cleric with priest spells. But the cleric is disappointing – over half the spells are taken from the regular wizard’s spell list and following a particular god doesn’t give you any unique powers.

The bits to skip:

The guide to Port Blacksand is not great for what could be a fantastic setting. Blacksand, the City of Thieves, is a town of pirates and cutthroats. There are a couple interesting locations, but they get drowned out in padding, including 40 near identical taverns, I can’t see using much of this. The adventure does a much better job of presenting a vivid, interesting city, just use that and skip the city guide.

There is a whole new attribute added called Social Scale, which ranges from 0 beggar through 10 king, with PCs being rated between 1 to 6. This acts as a modifier to social skills, the example given is if a master blacksmith (Social Scale 5) was bargaining with a merchant (Social Scale 3) the blacksmith could add +2 to his bargain roll. This seems a pretty nonsensical system that takes away from actual role playing, and I’ve never used it. 

Overall, I wouldn’t bother with it – stick with Dungeoneer and pick more interesting locations and adventures. 

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