Whereas the original Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Role-playing Game book by Steve Jackson turned the choose your own adventure rules into a role playing game without adding much except advice and a couple dungeon adventures, Dungeoneer fleshes out the rules enough to get you past your third session. This is a complete, self contained rule set, perfect level for primary/elementary school age first-time rpg players.
The Fighting Fantasy game system is very, very simple. Combat is 2d6 plus your Skill score (called Attack Strength) versus the monster’s 2d6 plus Skill score, highest wins. For all other tests of Skill (climb, bribe, detect traps) roll 2d6 under your Skill. Dungeoneer adds to this Special Skills, so for combat this would mean rolling 2d6 plus Initial Skill plus your weapon skill (sword, javelin etc) on top of that – the usual range for Special Skills is 1 – 4, with 4 being ‘master’ level at which you can teach others.
As written only combat is done with these kinds of opposed rolls, everything else is still the standalone roll 2d6 equal or under the Skill number, just that now you can have extra points in a specialisation (locksmith, riding a horse, etc). However, as introduced in the excellent Troika!, a rpg based on Fighting Fantasy (and available as a free pdf), it’s much better to make the Special Skills opposed rolls wherever possible. So if you’re chasing someone roll 2d6 + Skill + Run versus their 2d6 + Skill + Run, highest wins. Or for something like lock picking you can choose a skill level of the lock smith and roll against that. Using the roll under FF rules often doesn’t make sense as it doesn’t take account of external factors; much better to have Disguise versus the Awareness of the person you’re trying to fool, rather than a blanket roll under Disguise, which feels strangely dislocated from the rest of the world, even when applying penalties and bonuses.
And there are lots of lists here penalties and bonuses to Special Skill rolls, but I can’t imagine ever using this level of detail in such a simple system. It’s easier as a games master just to remember -6 for impossible through to +4 for very easy, and use that.
In Dungeoneer new rules are given for player characters to use Magic, and is treated as a single Special Skill (so any spell you attempt will be 2d6 rolling under Initial Skill + Magic), with the penalty that every point you take in Magic deducts one point from your Initial Skill. I think this is to reflect that wizards should be the kind of people that have sequestered themselves in lonely towers dedicating their lives to the pursuit of esoteric knowledge, making them physically weak and incapable. But it’s not much fun (the above mentioned Troika! treats each spell as a separate skill and there is no Initial Skill penalty – this works much better).
Casting a spell costs Stamina (you start with 2d6 + 12 Stamina), and spell costs range from magically locking a chest (Lock, Stamina cost 1) to instant death (Death, cost 10). Starting characters can’t learn spells that cost more than 4 Stamina – this is important, otherwise they’ll be overpowered. Some of the spell Stamina costs are off, Mirror Selves for example is way too powerful.
Dungeoneer does include the Oops table, which is a great addition. On a fumbled Magic roll (rolling a double 6, a 3% chance), roll on the table to find what horrible magical disaster occurs – this could range from the ridiculous (the caster’s hair grows rapidly and uncontrollably) to the deadly (all that’s left of the wizard is a pair of smoking boots). All good stuff. In fact I’d add much more critical and fumble tables, for combat too.
You can also play a non-human now, an elf or dwarf. There are no bonuses to choosing a non-human, but there are restrictions (dwarves must take 1 Special Skill point in Axe, Underground Lore and Dark Seeing, for example).
Weapon damage has been improved – rather than do the plodding 2 points of damage as per the original FF rules, now you roll a die on a damage table. However weapons only usually do an underwhelming 2 – 4 damage, so there’s not much fun in rolling it. Now when you test for Luck in combat you add two to the damage roll rather than doing 4 points of damage total. You are assumed to be wearing armour, if not then 2 is added to the damage roll. Shields reduce the damage roll by 2 but also Weapon Skill (I assume they mean Attack Strength) by 2, which makes them a liability, no one will be using shields.
Often characters fight multiple opponents, a whole pack of goblins or whatever, it’s something that comes up a lot. The rule here for fighting multiple opponents is that you choose one enemy to actually engage with and do damage to, the rest you still roll and compare Attack Strength but only to see if you take damage or not. There is a Skill penalty for each additional opponent, so if you’re fighting three bad guys that would be at -2 to all Attack Strength rolls. If the player is fairly seasoned and competent, and there are multiple low level enemies, this can get really tedious. Troika! deals with this much better introducing a new initiative system – tokens are drawn from a bag, participants have multiple tokens. This means you could be attacked by the goblins three times and not get to act at all, or you could cut down two goblins before they can choose to do anything. This improves things no end.
Dungeoneer also introduces experience points, one to three per adventure. They can be spent on 10 xp per one point of Initial Skill, and I wouldn’t even allow that to be honest – player abilities escalate too quickly and then everything becomes a walkover. Better to keep Initial Skill static, and just let them improve Special Skills (at 1 xp to 1 point of Special Skill). Player character power is already a big problem in Fighting Fantasy – just look at the sample PCs at the back of the book, all bar one have skills in the 10 – 12 range. That means these starting characters have a 92 to 100 per cent chance to succeed before they’ve wandered into their first adventure. That’s just a games master headache waiting to happen, better to scale it all down.
At the back of the book we get six pages of monsters, each given one line of stats and one line description. Nothing exceptional here, but gives a decent framework so you can come up with your own.
There are two adventures included, the first Tower of the Sorcerer is a linear dungeon crawl (single rooms off one corridor), with a twist at the end. Fun. The second one Revenge of the Sorcerer is linked to the first, and in two parts: A city adventure in Port Blacksand followed by another dungeon. Running a city is tough, but they make it workable – there are a few key locations the PCs are led to, and there are a few random encounters (city guards, urchins, that kind of thing) to make the city come alive. It worked fine for us, and has become a base of operations now – Port Blacksand is properly fleshed out in the next book in the series. The second dungeon is not great, and if I ran it again I would completely rewrite it.
There is a little bit on what the adventurers do outside the dungeon, having their own base of operations and getting a regular job, how to design adventures and campaigns. All very basic stuff, but also important. This, along with the new rules for magic, special skills and experience, make Dungeoneer everything the original Fighting Fantasy book should have been – a light hearted bog standard fantasy rpg good for at least one campaign.