Book Review: Warrior, Rogue & Mage by Michael Wolf and Stargazer Games

Warrior, Rogue & Mage: Core Rulebook (Revised Edition) (WR&M) came to my attention a couple of months ago as a lightweight rules system for fantasy roleplaying. Written by Michael Wolf and released by Stargazer Games in mid-2010, its simplicity makes it easy to learn, play, and extend in a variety of ways. Whether you’re playing high magic or low, the system really puts the emphasis on role-playing instead of roll-playing.

In 40 pages, Wolf manages to eloquently present rules for character creation, task resolution, combat, and magic.

Characters boil down to three attributes – Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. Warrior represents strength and toughness. Rogue represents stealth and guile. And Mage denotes intelligence and willpower. Merging these attributes with Skills, Talents, Hit Points (HP), Fate, and Mana, further round out the character description. Each skill is tied to an attribute. Talents provide special abilities like special attack damage, training, or support. HP, Fate, and Mana are derived from the main three attributes to describe how much damage, magic, and power over situations a character has. Defense and Armor then provide an armor rating that figures into combat.

Character creation probably takes 5-10 minutes and most of that is flipping back and forth to the tables in the appendix for Skills and Talents and to the Magic chapter for spells.

Task resolution reminds me a bit of the old d6 system used with the first version of the Star Wars RPG back in the 1980s and many other systems since then. When the character tries to perform an action that can fail, the GM determines the attribute involved (and any applicable skills) as well as a Difficulty Level (DL). The player rolls a d6 and adds the applicable attribute to the roll as well as another 2 points if there’s an applicable skill. If the result is the same or better than the DL, there was success. If not, it was a failure.

There are additional rules for unopposed checks or automatic successes as well as opposed checks, modifiers, and using Fate points. Players can change gameplay pretty significantly by burning points to change the occasional die roll, alter minor details to simplify encounters, and even avoid death by ignoring an attack that might have killed them. Really anything that the GM allows will work. These points don’t regenerate, making them very valuable in-game. GMs can give out these points as “brownie points” for good roleplaying, finishing an adventure, heroic actions, and so on.

Combat works in a similar fashion to basic task resolution but isn’t as clearly described for me.

Initiative is pretty simple. At the beginning of each combat, you have an Initiative check which can be resolved with a die roll, or can be figured out using a bit of common sense.

But the simplified combat system is almost too simple. (I suspect this is resolved in the supplement – The Art of Combat.) It boils down to an Attack roll (resolved against a DL based on the target’s Defense score) and the target absorbing the damage to their HP. If they get to zero, they’re dead or dying and the HP can’t go below zero.

And it appears that resolving combat actions is written up in a deliberately vague way. It’s unclear what Wolf was suggesting in the Combat Actions section how to determine a simple action that can be performed in a turn, but I suspect that it comes down to how the GM interprets the rules. (Though again, The Art of Combat may clear all of this up.)

Where it gets fun for task resolution and attacks in combat is when the player rolls a 6 on the d6. When that happens, they get to roll another d6 and add that to their total. If it’s another 6, they get to do it again. This is known as an “exploding die” and can offer some seriously critical hits and amazing actions in-game, which is great.

Magic follows the same task resolution framework – rolling vs. the DL for spells. Spells cost Mana to cast and can be enhanced or sustained with additional mana for more longer effects or more powerful results.

Spells are split into different “Circles” instead of levels – each requiring more mana to cast. Included in the book are several standard spells such as Healing Hand, Magic Light, Create Food and Water, and so on.

What I really like about the magic system is the way you can build on a relatively simple spell. For example, take the spell “Enchant Weapon”, which provides a temporary attack and damage bonus during a combat. This is a Third Circle spell which costs 4 Mana and has a basic DL of 9 based on the table on page 11. The player can pump more Mana in to enhance the spell to have a higher bonus. Later in the book, there’s also Rituals, which allows a group of casters to get together and pool their Mana to cast more complex spells.

Beyond the rules, the Core Rules
book provides just enough to get you going. Tables of details for Equipment, Magic Items, Armor, and Weapons… Suggestions for GMs looking to run WR&M games, from general tips to handling character advancement… And even a brief description of a possible fantasy setting for GMs to use. The Appendices offer lists of Skills, Talents, Optional Rules, and stats for basic NPCs, monsters, and animals.

Really it’s amazing how much was included in this little book without it appearing TOO full. That owes a great deal to the great layout and use of artwork from The Forge Studios. Occasionally the image they use as a page background can occlude the text a bit, but overall it’s extremely easy to read.

My only gripes with the book are very very minor. As I said earlier, I would like a bit more clarification about the combat rules. And I’d like the Spell details to be summarized a bit better in a table for easy reference – much like Skills and Talents are in the appendices.

WR&M offers a great, simple system at an unbeatable price. It’s available for free via the Creative Commons license. If you’re looking for a new system to give a shot, definitely give it a look. There are several supplements available for magic, races, combat, and more.

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