Amtgard Rules of Play.

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Rules Review
[11/08/2004] [Randall]

The last version of the rules came out in 1993. Back then, we only had six kingdoms and the Internet was in its infancy. The committee to bring the game from 5.0 to 6.0 took eight months to accomplish its goals. As you can see, Amtgard was a much different game back then.

Despite the decade of differences between 6.0 and what will become the 7th edition, there’s a lot that’s still the same. 6.0 was designed with compromise in mind, and so were the rules we were given on October 11th. The committee to upgrade the 5th edition wanted to implement a conservative update rather than a total rewrite, and that’s what we’ve been given in 6.5. And their goal back in 1995 was to make the rulebook more professional, clarify confusing areas, standardize magic, and make the game easier for new people to learn. The new rulebook unquestionably meets the same standards. Both the game and the rules have been streamlined in ways that reflect how Amtgard has grown since 1993.

If you’re looking for nitpicks of individual rules, you’d best go hunting in the forums. The people there have done a far better job than this review could manage. What you’ll find here is a look at the new rules in broad strokes and general ideas – if the forums are concerned with the trees, this article is about the forest itself. This, then, is the review of the 7th edition of the Amtgard Rules of Play.

The first thing you’ll notice is how good the new rules look. There’s a professionalism of appearance and layout that does Amtgard proud. The art, which was decent in 6.0, has been upgraded. The arrangement of the rules makes them easier to learn. There’s a clear-cut table of contents that makes things easier to find. And the abilities and spells themselves, arranged alphabetically rather than by class, resemble the elegance of the newest D&D d20 and GURPS roleplaying games. The standard applied to the layout and appearance of the rulebook is at least as high as those used to write the rules themselves.

The second thing you’ll notice is how much the game has been sped up. This is a streamlined, smoother, faster version of the game we all love. Most of this was done by tweaking magic, which we’ll get to later in the review.

The classes themselves have received a face-lift. Abilities have been standardized across the board. Immunities have been organized; no more listing off what spells someone is immune to – they’re just immune to groups like Death, or Control, or Charm, and all magic has been explicitly assigned to one of them. Balance was also pushed in assigning class abilities. Barbarians, with their Powerful Blows power, are no longer useless against many monsters; Assassins can now Assassinate people and know that no magic can resurrect them.

Most changed are the knightly classes, Paladin and Anti-Paladin. Their immunities were changed dramatically so now, rather than an arbitrary immunity to most wizard magic, they are immune to Subdual and Control magics, respectively. Greater immunities can also be acquired at the higher levels. The neatest additions to these classes are their Awe and Fear powers. Although the knightly classes were changed significantly, their flavor and usefulness have been enhanced.

We’ve also got Peasant and Raider classes. The first limits folks who don’t wear garb; the second gives new members a few advantages while they learn the game. Raider in particular is in interesting concept that makes sense. Few new members can figure out the magic system, so giving them immunities to it works. Ironically, they are vulnerable to the somewhat confusing Swords into Plowshares spell, but you have to start learning somewhere.

Perhaps the weakest area in the classes is the lack of balance in Druids and Barbarians. These classes are very popular among newbies, yet they only get three lives. Would it really hurt the game if they started with four? The idea that a class is internally balanced – in other words, it starts off weak because it gets to be so strong – is a discredited idea that should’ve died with 2nd edition D&D. Remember 1st-level magic-users with their one spell? That’s what we’re doing to newbies by sticking ‘em with three lives.

We can’t finish talking about classes without thanking the rules committee for ending the monk cruise missile. You can’t run in sanctuary anymore. Thank goodness.

One of the most welcome changes in the new rules is the attention paid to armor. Armor in 6.0 was structured in such a way that it punished people who spent months making chainmail and rewarded someone who stuck bits of metal in between shoddy leather. Why wear a shirt of rings when you can wear brigandine? The new rules, however, boost chainmail to a level where it’s worth making and wearing it. A high-level warrior wearing a padded gambeson under a well-made suit of chainmail could walk around with 6 points of armor. Sweeeet. The standards also solve the pickle-barrel dilemma. Plastic most resembles leather (2 points), and since it’s non-authentic and artificial in appearance, it’s worth a grand total of zero points of armor. Genius.

If you had to pick the biggest change in the 7th edition, you’d have to pick magic. As we’ve already mentioned, magic is now grouped into schools and listed alphabetically so it’s easier to find a spell and who is immune to it. The game’s also been seriously balanced by weakening the way some overpowered magic works. Entangles and iceballs last half as long and you can’t carry as many of them. Stun was brought down from point-and-click death to a well-balanced spell that’s still very effective. You’re now limited in the number of spell balls you can carry and the higher-end fireball was raised in level. This is all good stuff.

And it’s not just offensive magic that was adjusted. Defensive magic received a downgrade. You can only simulcast them twice now, which thankfully erases the old juggernauts with four points of stoneskin. Stoneskin itself has been finessed to be a point of armor and a point of protect. This produces interesting results depending on what hits you. A fireball to the chest takes away all armor in that location plus a protect. A sword to the chest takes away a point of armor and leaves the protect, since the protect is considered to be under all your armor. A two-point sword to the chest takes away the point of armor and the protect. It’ll take some getting used to, but it seems like it works.

Druids can now use short bows and still have spells, extension is per life but goes away the moment its used, and bards were rebuilt so they get their spells progressively rather than all at once at the high levels. Plus they get hold person now. Even though dance is a little useless, getting a fun spell at first level that you can cast while moving makes bards very, very cool for newbie spellcasters.

Sphere still kind of sucks. Mostly, it’s just an enchanted shield (or, as we say in 7th-edition parlance, ‘Imbued Shield’) killer. So does acid bolt, a new spell given to druids. A red weapon you can throw? At third level? Why? Now, if it had the same effect as an enchanted weapon, this would be a bad-ass and very useful spell, and a welcome addition to the druid arsenal.

And finally, Heimdall’s Horn? Why the change? If we’re afraid of offending people with Odin’s Hammer (which really ought to be Thor’s Hammer), then we should remove resurrection because it offends the Christians and the Druid class because it offends the Wiccans.

Now, despite a few misgivings presented so far, this is generally a rosy review of the new rules. We think they’re a good set of rules. There are, however, a few controversies that should be examined.

The most minor of them is the dagger problem. Keeping daggers stab-only is dangerous and doesn’t reflect the way the game has been played for the past ten years. This problem, however, is resolved in the 7.0 draft by letting you slash with a dagger but do no damage to armor unless you stab.

Explicitly banning head-blocking is problematic. Lots of folks get accused of head-blocking because of some clumsy fighter who always hits in the head. Giving the clumsy fighters a rule they can point to that shifts blame away from their clumsiness to the guy who got hurt isn’t a good idea.

The rule on white belts – banning white entirely from non-knights – provoked a firestorm of a response. 7th-edition compromises on this by letting non-knights have some white in their belts. Based on e-Samurai’s poll on the topic as well as the discussion in the forums, this seems like a good way to settle the issue.

The question of who can wear a Phoenix is still up in the air. With it being restricted to kingdom heraldry, knights and warlords, there’re people who have used it as a symbol of Amtgard who will have to change their garb. Far better, says this reviewer, to leave it as a symbol of Amtgard and restrict specifically-colored phoenixes – white, black, and gold with a red background – to those who have earned them.

The new rules also define a man-at-arms belt as black with silver trim. Now, this doesn’t say that folks who aren’t men-at-arms can’t wear black belts – silver trimmed or otherwise – so it’s really an unnecessary clarification. Lots of men-at-arms just wear a black belt. Nobody’s demanding that folks who aren’t men-at-arms take off their black belts. Anybody can still wear a black belt, trimmed or not, and they might be a man-at-arms and they might not. Having a standard is nice for future reference, but it still seems like a non-issue.

It’s been a long journey from the 6th edition to the 7th. After many years, we got to see 6.1 back in 2002. It was generally well received and caused a lot of positive discussion on the Internet about how it could be made better. Over two years later, we got 6.5, the fruit of that discussion. If e-Samurai’s polls are any indication, the committee has done a stellar job in sifting through the advice of Amtgard and making the well-received 6.1 even better. We’re almost at the end of that road and the finished product – the 7th edition – is worthy of the game that produced it. The years of work have given us a set of rules, and the hope that they’ll be upgraded continually as times goes by, that will last us well into the future as Amtgard continues to grow.

Read the rules. Playtest them at your park. Post your comments in the forums. And then encourage your king or queen to vote to approve them. The 7th edition is a fine offering; it’s the sort of good rulebook Amtgard deserves.

Version 6.5 of the rules can be found in the Downloads section of this site. The 7th edition final draft will be publically available in the near future.

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