Thursday, January 17, 2013

RPG Review: "The Willow Sourcebook"

I'm not what you'd call a massive fan of the movie Willow but when I came across this relic sitting on the el cheapo RPG rack at "The Comic Hunter" in Moncton, I just had to have it.  Even though Willow didn't result in a mainstream fantasy genre breakthrough (that would have to wait thirteen years for the release of The Fellowship of the Ring), the fact that something called The Willow Sourcebook exists really speaks volumes about how omnipresent RPG's were in the Eighties.


Hmmmm, let's see here...$35 million dollar budget and a $57 million dollar domestic gross.  I'd say "hit film" is a tad optimistic.  How 'bout "paid in full film"?

Anyway, one of the coolest things about the book a two-page map of Nockmaar and Galladoorn drawn by John M. Ford:





At least this gives you some idea as to how much real estate the characters traversed during the course of the film.  If I was Willow and had been told to shlep all the way from the Nelwyn village to the Crossroads, I would have been bitchy too.        

After the map we get two-and-a-quarter pages worth of gaming notes which are designed to explain the concept of "role-playing game" to neophytes.  I can only assume that "Hit Points" was a licensed term since they're simply referred to as "Hits" here.  





What makes the book fun is seeing these film characters rendered into Dungeons & Dragons terms.  For example, here's the star of the show:

WILLOW UFGOOD
1'st (later 4'th) skill-level magician

STRENGTH 8
CONSTITUTION 13
INTELLIGENCE 17
DEXTERITY 16
WISDOM 12
CHARISMA 8 (OooOoo, harsh)

Hits: 20

SKILLS

Farming, stagecraft, being a parent.  Like all Nelwyns, Willow is better then the average human in moving quietly, hiding and climbing.  He has no weapon skills, but in front of Nockmaar Castle he showed a native gift for military tactics.  During his adventures Willow learned horseback riding.  

Beginning as a novice in Magic, Willow grew quickly in skill because of this native talent and Fin Raziel's expert instruction.  By the end, Willow had become a 4'th level mage (or the equivalent in your game system), and knew all the spells of good or neutral nature appropriate to that level.  He will undoubtedly rise even further soon.  

EQUIPMENT 

For Willow's magical possessions, see the entries for ACORNS, THE BOOK OF MAGIC and CHERLINDREA'S WAND.  During his adventures, Willow carried a papoose to hold Elora, and at the end he was given a fine white pony.  

Here's the movie's answer to Han Solo on amphetamines, Madmartigan:  

MADMARTIGAN
20'th skill-level fighter (or 3 levels above the best fighter in your campaign)

STRENGTH 14
CONSTITUTION 16
INTELLIGENCE 13
DEXTERITY 18
WISDOM 9
CHARISMA 17
(I'm pretty sure the book's author Allen Varley isn't the sorta DM that lets you roll 4d6 and drop the lowest result)

Hits: 70

SKILLS

Madmartigan is the finest swordsman your players will meet.  Treat any sword as magically accurate (+4 to hit) when he wields it.  He is also a skilled archer and horseman.  His other shills include climbing (as a thief of his level), acrobatics, stealth, fast-talk, seduction, and, when all of these fail, running.


POSSESSIONS    

Sword (usually), armor (varies), occasionally a luck charm or a gift from his latest female companion.  

And here's the specs on the exquisitely eeee-vil Queen Bavmorda:

BAVMORDA
36'th skill-level magic-user

STRENGTH 10
CONSTITUTION 18
INTELLIGENCE 18
DEXTERITY 16
WISDOM 17
CHARISMA 18
(Okay, maybe Allen Varley is the sorta DM that lets you roll 4d6 and drop the lowest result)

Hits: 75

SKILLS

Bavmorda knows all spells in your game system (Jesus, does that include the Compendiums!?), except for those unknown in Willow's world (resurrection, etc; see MAGIC).  She can cast them with minimal cost to her endurance, repeatedly and with near-perfect accuracy.  She can also fight hand to hand, as shown in her final battle with Raziel.

EQUIPMENT

Bavmorda ordinarily carries no magical items or other possessions.  However, she is the most powerful individual in all the kingdoms.  If she wants something, she gets it.  
    
I'll bet.

Okay, here are the details on Bavmorda's l'il girl Sorsha:

SORSHA
36'th skill-level magic-user

STRENGTH 11
CONSTITUTION 14
INTELLIGENCE 13
DEXTERITY 18
WISDOM 10
CHARISMA 15

Hits: 50

SKILLS

Sorsha is a brilliant archer and horsewoman, and skilled with knives and swords.  Treat any bow as a magical +2 bow when she uses it, and any sword as +1 to hit.  She has some skill with a crossbow.  She has no magical knowledge, and refuses to learn any.  (Ah, a girl after my own heart).    

EQUIPMENT 

Sword, bow, quiver of arrows, chain or light plate armor, dagger.  Saddle and tack.  Camping supplies as appropriate.  (Hmmm, I wonder why she's the only one who gets a tent and a Coleman stove?)

And here are those two miniscule French Gungans Franjean and Rool:

FRANJEAN & ROOL
5'th skill-level thieves

STRENGTH 3 (seems legit)
CONSTITUTION 18
INTELLIGENCE 10 (Franjean)
INTELLIGENCE 5 (Rool)  Harsh!
DEXTERITY 21 (!)
WISDOM 3 (three points too high?)
CHARISMA 6 (definitely six points too high)

Because of their small size and nimble movements, any attack on Franjean and Rool is -6 to hit.  For more information, see BROWNIES.  

Hits: 4

SKILLS

Franjean and Rool, like most brownies, can pick locks as well as any experienced human theif.  They excel at stealth, concealment, and climbing.  Franjean can ride his eagle, and Rool can hang on for dear life.  

POSSESSIONS  

Spears, about six inches long - they double as lockpicks.  Franjean and Rool strike as 5'th level fighters (!!!).  For damage, see BROWNIES.  Rool carries a pouch of Dust of Broken Heart.   

And finally, here's medieval Darth Vader, A.K.A. Pauline...er, General Kael:

KAEL
14'th skill-level fighter (or 2 levels higher than your campaign's best fighter)

STRENGTH 18
CONSTITUTION 18
INTELLIGENCE 16 
DEXTERITY 17
WISDOM 12
CHARISMA 17
(Wow, reverse the Intelligence and Wisdom score and you've pretty much got my first grossly over-powered D&D fighter character)

Hits: 75

SKILLS

Leadership, strategy, tactics, politics, and intrigue, all in the highest degree.  Kael is also a master swordsman (treat any sword as +2 to hit when he wields it), and a fine horseman.  He is only an average archer and crossbowman, preferring hand-to-hand combat.  

EQUIPMENT

The heaviest sword and armor available, the fastest warhorse, and the best of everything else that a general of an army can command.  

In addition to the folks listed above, The Willow Sourcebook also lists Attributes, Hits, Skills and Equipment for Fin Raziel and Airk Thaughbaer as well as minor (pun not intended) characters such as  The High Aldwin, Meegosh, Burglekutt (!), and Vohnkar.  Hell, you can even find out how many Death Dog nibbles that Ethna (the chick who smuggled Elora out of Nockmaar Castle) could sustain before giving up the ghost and how much rectal misery the 18-Strength LLug would have inflicted on the cross-dressing Madmartigan if he'd managed to pin him down.

Potential GL's (George Lucases) also have access to generic stats for Nelwyns, Galladoorn Knights, Nockmaar Soldiers, Fairies, Brownies, Trolls, the Eborsisk Dragon, Death Dogs, Bavmorda's Druids and some Cyclops that Madmartigan supposedly tangled with just prior to getting thrown in the "crow's cage" by a bunch of bandits.  It's these little Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead  details that makes the Sourcebook a fun read, even for casual fans like me.  

Beyond the specific numbers, there's also a twelve-page "Gazetteer" section which provides even more esoteric details.  Readers will find in-game interpretations on Magic Acorns, Cherlindrea's Wand, The Bones, The Book of Magic and that laziest of plot devices, The Dust of Broken Heart.  Fun fact: the Dust is made from "powdered fairy wings".  Seems legit.    

Additional chrome is provided for individual Spells such as Transformations and The Ritual of Obliteration.  In fact, Allen Varney's retcon on Bavmorda's slow, inefficient and plot-convenient Ritual does more to cure the film's scripted stupidity then anything else I've read.  "Scholars, wondering why Bavmorda did not simply kill the infant, have come to believe that Elora, as a highly magical being, may have some special power of 'return'" he writes, tongue firmly planted in cheek.           

Finally, we're treated to six pages about "The World of Willow", including brief but evocative write-ups on the Rivers Freen and Troon, the Nelwyn Valley, the Wilderness, Tir Asleen, Nockmaar and the Northern Wastes, and Galladoorn.  Perhaps most intriguing are the "unexplored" reaches of the realm.  Cashmere is descibed as "a far-off and shadowy land...rumored to be ruled by potentates of awesome wealth".  The realms beyond the northern wastes and Nockmaar mountains are also given some scant but inspiring details.     

The book also features eight pages of color stills from the film and additional black and white sketches by Janet J. Kramer.  Even though most of the art is pretty utilitarian (particularly the terrible "portraits" which accompany each character description), there are about three or four decent pieces including this vaguely David A. Trampier / Jeff Dee-esque goodie of Ms. Bavmorda:


If you're a Willow fan this Sourcebook is a must-find.  If you're a Willow fan and you also play fantasy RPG's, this is tailor made for you.  Anybody expecting Planescape or Hârn levels of detail will be sorely disappointed, but anyone who digs the movie will be amused by the additional chrome and fill-in-the-blank backstories.

The last line of the Sourcebook pretty much sums it up for me: "There is room for a dozen kingdoms yet to be found, and for adventures plenty."

The Willow Sourcebook scores four pecks outta six.  




Note: gratuitous Gygaxian plug.  
      




5 comments:

  1. In writing The Willow Sourcebook, I focused on the stories about the characters. The publisher, packager, and I all regarded the gaming stats as a thin but necessary wrapper to comply with the letter of our gaming license. There are still Willow fans around today, and based on the occasional reviews they post, my sense is they liked the fiction quite a bit. This post's strong focus on the gaming stats may mislead people looking for a copy; it's intentionally quite stat-light.

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    1. Allen, The Willow Sourcebook changed my life. I loved every part of it. In my personal opinion I give it a 10 out of 10 rating. It truly is my all time favorite work ever published in any RPG medium. I really, really liked the movie, but I absolutely LOVED this book. Thank you.

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  2. Hi, Allen.

    I felt inclined to focus on the "gamier" aspects of "The Willow Sourcebook" because that's what I assume my readers were particularly keen to see. But as I mentioned in the review the back-stories and world-building that you provide really make for a fun and RPG-campaign-inspiring read.

    Thanks for taking the time to review my review and thanks for the comment! Take care...

    P.S. Was there a specific reason as to why "Hits" were used instead of "Hit Points"?


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  3. I might try to pick up a copy of this just because I enjoyed willow so much. Maybe I'll sneak some of it into my game! Even today, willow has one of my favorite scenes/quotes from a fantasy movie...

    High Aldwin: [throws an apple into the air which turns into a bird] Go in the direction the bird is flying!
    Burgelcutt: He's going back to village!
    High Aldwin: Ignore the bird. Follow the river.

    Good article!

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  4. The nes game was amazing enough but a D&D version, epic!

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