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Author Topic: Urban Faerie  (Read 1481 times)


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Urban Faerie
« on: September 29, 2006, 03:33:58 PM »

Today, a review of Urban Faerie, again by Postmortem Studios, aka Jim Desborough.  I should note that although the last two games I've reviewed from this publisher received somewhat mixed criticism, on the whole, I liked Urban Faerie a lot more. This is both a book that is useful and a game that I can see people wanting to play and having fun playing, a short little game about modern faeries.

Well, sort of. Its also sort of about the collapse of the old British Victorian society/class structure.
You see, the Faeries in this game, the Faeries you play, are no longer the happy pastoral faeries of the Victorian and Edwardian children's tales, living in their lush sylvan faerieland and visiting pleasant little British rural villages to steal bread or play tricks on humans. As that British society collapsed, so too did the Faerie society, and now the Faeries find themselves having to live in large stinking human cities trying to eke out a living in a world that no longer believes in them.  Even the old faerie nobility, who used to live off the theft of the humbler brownies and pixies, now find themselves having to work for a living!

So this is really a game about the collapse of the idyll of British country life and the aristocracy. So what? That's what Lord of the Rings was really about, too.

If it was good enough for Tolkien, its good enough to rip off from Tolkien.

A bit about the book: this is the first Postmortem book I've reviewed that actually has a colour cover, with a picture of a wall grafittied with a grinning goblin wearing a baseball cap backwards. The rest of the book is in black and white, and with relatively few illustrations. Though what illustrations there are seem appropriate to the book and the feeling the book tries to convey.

The intended purpose of the game, as stated, is to create a game you can start playing in five minutes, and that is basically a silly game made for laughs. Indeed, the setting information is mostly a humourous updating of faerie society, taking all the old standards from the fairy stories of the turn of the century and turning them on their ass to fit the modern urban world.
Like I said, without enough humans living in the old country villages, the faeries were forced to move to the cities, and shared some of the revolutionary ideas against the upper classes that human beings held in the same process of urbanization.  So there are still faerie kings and queens, but most of the "faery nobility" has to work for a living like everyone else now, some of them often in rather undignified professions since they lack other skills.  Even the Royal family (Oberon & Titania) have fallen on hard times, with Oberon having a midlife crisis, buggering off to L.A. and starting up an internet porn business after marrying a faery girl several centuries younger than him. Titania, meanwhile, waits in her castle trying to keep up the appearances of the old traditional dignified fairy nobility, and pretend that everything hasn't gone all to shit even though it has.

This has led to the division into the two new fairy courts: the "Seedy" and the "Unseedy" courts, divided into those fairys that are willing to do pretty much anything to earn a living, and those who are still trying to maintain the illusion of decorum.

The first ten pages of the 40 page book are about Fairy society, including the rules of the Fairy, conventions about fairy life, and details of how things are now, in the new post-industrial fairy world. All of these create a number of potential for adventure ideas, especially regarding the rules of fairy society and interactions with humanity.

After that, we get to character creation: true to their word, the rules are set up so you can easily make a character in less than five minutes. The character creation is done by choosing a fairy type, first of all.  There are over 25 different fairy archetypes, each of which will come detailed with a set of stats (and you can choose to raise a single stat by one and lower another by one, but that's the only change you can make), a single "thing they're good at" (the equivalent of a specialty skill), and a description of how they get and use charms (more on that later).  To that, you add one more "thing your good at" (or give the current thing you're good at an extra +1), and detail a bit about where your character lives and what he does.

And your done.

As for the archetypes themselves, they're highly creative. You have everything from the old standards of Pixies, Goblins and Dryads, to some new (to me at least) and very different kinds of faeries.  The "standards", though, have a lot of updates about how they've changed. For example, the Banshee, which used to inspire terror in the hearts of men, now finds itself faced with a world where no human believes in them. So instead now they must wander the streets of the city dressed up as homeless guys with the "End is Near" billboard signs, and earn their charms by waking people up at night with their shouting and noisemaking. Dryads are still the spirits that guard trees, but now those trees are in city parks, and they take the guise of teenage girl-gangsters hanging out in the parks at night, smoking and drinking, and trying to convince people to get them more beer and smokes.

As for the new faeries, we have such as the "beer monsters", who are loudmouthed violent little naked green creatures that hang out in bars and try to get drunks (who are usually the only people who can see them) to switch to their preferred brand of beer. Then you get the midnight monkeys, who are faeries that look like the monkeys used by organ-grinders, and who's job it is to mess up people's hair and do other things to humans while they sleep.  There are lots of others too, including one fairy that looks like a turd and who's job it is to mess up public toilets.

So what do you do with your faeries? That's where the charms come in.  The charms are the currency of the faery world.  Each archetype of fairy has a different way to earn a charm, based on the job they have to do in the fairy society. Each archetype also has different special powers they can only access by spending a charm. There are also a few things any fairy can do with charms, like enter or leave the fairy dimension.  Charms are the "stuff" of the game, the goal being to accumulate the charms and use them to get your way in the world.
Noble fairies, which are another archetype, can never get charms themselves, they have to bargain, order or coerce other fairies into giving them charms like the good social parasites they are.  But they do usually have some good magic item or other to help them along.

After the archetypes the game has a nice long list of possible fairy names, including some fairly unusual and often-crude ones (like the name of Oberon's new "may-december" younger girlfriend, Vaginia).

As to the game system itself, its radically simple, based on rolling a d6, adding your appropriate stat, and your bonus if its one of the things you're "good at", and comparing that either to an opposed roll or to a difficulty number.  The back cover of the book promises that the system is "easy enough to play while drunk", and it delivers on that promise.  The system is radically straightforward for ease and non-seriousness of play, and combat plays out like any other check, with each successful hit causing a level of damage to the fairy in question (the levels of damage ranging from none to "fine" to "disabled" to "squished" (dead)).

After detailing the system, the book gives a list of fairy magic items, which may be found or traded for in the game (or you might start with, if you're a fairy noble). All of them are very creative, with names like "box o' moths" (a box that when a charm is spent will open and fill an area with moths), elf booze (drinking it will make one stinking drunk and lose all memory of recent events), or the gremlin screwdriver (a rusty old tool that can take just about anything apart in a matter of minutes). There's also Pixie Crack (the stronger more toxic version of good old pixie dust), and the dreaded Red Hat of Patferrick (from the Fry and Laurie comedy series).

The book finishes off with a few adventure seeds and a brief bestiary, including such potential dreaded enemies of the fairy kingdom as "dog", "pigeon", and "filthy human child".

In all this is easily the best of the Postmortem Studios games that I've reviewed thus far.  I can see it being a game that is a lot of fun for a night's laughs.  Its not really made to be serious or for long-term campaign play (given that there's no experience system, for starters), but its very good at what it does, and offers a wide range of potential adventures in the hilariously depressing world of the post-industrial urban fairy.

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