Secrets of Pars Fortuna
Brainchild of the one-man RPG factory that is John Matthew Stater, Pars Fortuna originated as a thought experiment in random game generation, described by Matt on his blog here. It’s essentially a version of the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules (minimal ability score mods, single saving throw, ascending AC, etc.) with some nifty mechanical tweaks and embedded house rules (knacks and skills, weapon categories, morale as a d12 roll versus Challenge Level, etc.), and just a soupçon of later-edition flavouring (a player chooses a “boon” at every odd level to “customize” his or her character). At 115 pages, it’s a bit like a B/X to the AD&D-like behemoth of Stater’s magnum opus, Blood & Treasure. System-wise, Pars Fortuna reads as if Holmes, Moldvay and Cook got together and drew up a really good, streamlined and well-edited successor to OD&D. (Which of course they did in their separate ways.) But then it’s as if, having got the game’s engine running properly, the three of them kicked back and smoked a big bong and then Phineas – er, I mean Zeb – said, “Hey, fellas! Let’s do all-new classes, spells, monsters and magic items too!” And then they did.
So Pars Fortuna is D&D – but different. And not just “a bit gonzo” or “a bit pulp science fantasy” different. Wildly different. Carcosa-level different. Throw out all your assumptions. There are no dwarves, elves, halflings, or even normal humans. No fighters, clerics, magic-users, thieves, rangers, illusionists or bards. You will not be fighting goblins, orcs, basilisks, dragons or liches. Nor will you be casting the spells you know, in the Vancian manner to which you are accustomed. Instead, you might be playing a silver-scaled lion-like Vindlu, whose whiskers make him hard to surprise (or lie to), or a wasp-woman Nif, or a hulking vegetable Jae whose grimoire includes the spells Silver Voice, Ghost Combatant, and I Speak The Will Of Kings. You might be fighting a Ningyo (animated demon puppet), running from a Pyroceros (the clue’s in the name), or sailing with a crew of Zwunkers (black dwarves with golden hair and faceted eyes, who “love nothing more than to feel the wind whipping through their manes” and wield steel rods in melee).
“Enough!” I hear you cry. “We know all this. Or at least we have heard something of the sort. What are these secrets of which you speak?”
Listen, then, and I will tell.
1. Pars Fortuna is a mini-Fiend Folio for the OSR.
You don’t have to be playing Pars Fortuna to use Pars Fortuna. There are 25 pages devoted to describing 140+ delightfully quirky monsters, all statted up in Swords & Wizardry style and ready to go. So the next time you need to inject a little weirdness and wonder into your old-school game, leave the Mi-Go and the Ahoggyá in the box and enjoy the looks of doubt and consternation on your players’ faces when you throw an Armadillox, a Gongthrottle or a Nokt at them instead.
2. Pars Fortuna is a house rules toolkit.
I repeat, you don’t have to be playing Pars Fortuna to use Pars Fortuna. Throughout the book – and especially in the chapters on “Characters”, “Playing the Game” and “Magic” – little ideas are scattered that make it, as Matt says in his introduction (so it’s not really a secret), “a toolbox of interesting rule variants”. For example, swords do only 1d6 damage but grant the wielder a bonus of +1 to hit due to their inherent “attack versatility” (stabbing or slashing). Axes do 1d8 but don’t give a bonus to hit. A wee tactical decision to make, right there. There are also new or modified rules to determine “first strike” (initiative to you and me) and for special manouevres in combat. The spellcasting system too has been altered quite radically. Nonetheless, the game remains pretty rules-lite. When I ran Pars Fortuna recently, my players found these new rules and options to their taste.
3. Appendix C is a retroclone in miniature.
Appendix C of Pars Fortuna, which is all of two and a half pages long, contains conversion notes including character class information (armour and weapon restrictions, special abilities, level advancement tables, all that stuff) for three optional classes more traditional than the game’s default wacky race-classes. The three classes are Adventurer, Magician and Warrior. The Adventurer is somewhat akin to the Specialist class in LotFP. If you wanted to, you could easily ignore the odder features of Pars Fortuna and run a “standard” fantasy game with orcs and dragons and vampires and whatnot using the mechanical elements of the rulebook along with the information in Appendix C. Effectively, you’d be playing a simple, three-class WhiteBox variant with (crudely put) the cleric replaced by the thief. I think it would work very well, especially for sword-and-sorcery settings where the cleric class might be inappropriate. For myself, I’m eyeing it as a potential model for the three-class structure (Fighter, Robber, Wizard) of Alien Orifice. Did I mention, you don’t have to be playing Pars Fortuna to use Pars Fortuna?
You can download a free PDF of the Basic Rules at the link I gave at the start or head over to Lulu for the Complete Rules.