Wayfarers is a hefty new RPG from Ye Olde Gaming Companye. Like many d20 products of the last few years, Wayfarers is a fantasy RPG using the Open Gamin License, but that is only a surface similarity and something that Wayfarers goes to some length to distance itself from. This is not a d20 game however.
The first thing you notice about Wayfarers is its size. Wayfarers is a large book, 400+ pages. The second thing is the overall style of the book. It immediately brings to mind some of the 1st Edition AD&D books. While I find this very attractive, it also had a side effect in that I expected this game to be a D&D clone. WF is not. It is a Fantasy RPG and there are plenty of similarities, but it is the differences that I found the most interesting. Similarities include the Standard Player Character RacesTM in the most familiar guises. The art even reminds me of the 1st Edition AD&D PHB, also a plus, but might work against them for some. WF, unlike D&D, only has five attributes, not six. Wisdom and Charisma are rolled into Presence, which I like to be honest. Though I would like to have seen Perception as well. Hit Points remain as Health Points, but levels are gone.
Character creation is pretty straight forward. You have your five attributes, but they are point buys like GURPS or Unisystem, not rolling dice like D&D. I suppose if random attributes are your thing a 2d6+4 for each one might work, but I am not sure if that would throw off any balance. The real changes from its D&D forbearers come in the addition of Skill points which can be spent on Proficiencies and Disciplines which are roughly analogous to Skills and Advantages ala GURPS. Skill points are awarded by the Game Master for adventures and are spent to improve your character. Every 20 skill points or so you gain a "Skill Level" which is a rough means to judge the power of the character. Proficiencies and Disciplines are the feature worth looking into. Proficiencies work like skills in other games. You spend a number of points per "grade". Proficiencies are checked with a d20 per grade. The highest roll is then used to compare against a target number (read Difficulty Class). The Skill system reminds me a bit of the original system used in 2nd Edition AD&D and a bit of Chill. Disciplines are a bit like Feats, Advantages or Qualities, they are spent with them same pool of points and provide extra features that one normally finds in classes; only far more flexible. Want to be a "cleric" then buy Faith Magic Potential, want to be better at it, then buy another Circle of Faith magic. Want to be a Paladin, buy some combat skills and then later some faith magic. Same with wizards, or monks, or thieves, or any combination you can imagine. Here is the true strength of the system. I spent some time putting together some combinations to imagine various character "classes" and came up with nearly everything including ninjas, rangers and a witch.
Mechanics remind me of 2nd Ed AD&D. 1d10 for initiative, some percent rolls here and there. Combat is still a 1d20 vs. Dodge resulting in lost health points. Some neat rules on mounted, two handed and blind combat. Again, I am left with the impression of this starting with the same roots as *D&D, but going in a different, if not opposite, direction than True20 did.
The magic system is also fairly interesting if for no other reason than how something familiar can be re-used. The spells in form and function look like they are taken right out of the SRD, though altered to fit the system, which includes the three types of magic; Hermetic, Hedge and Faith. Spells constitute a full 100 pages. There are also Rituals that can be used. All in all a large magical section that can provide nearly anytime of magical effect or type of spellcaster.
The book could be easily converted to use in any other 3.x d20 product and visa-versa. The system is both familiar enough to d20 to allow these conversions, and different enough to make such conversions interesting, but not difficult.
The art is appropriate for the book's style, the faux-old-school feel. Some of the art is familiar, coming from various publisher resources, but that is not an issue either. It is all black & white, but at 400+ pages it is steal at $39.95. If the art was color it would be far more expensive.
The problem Wayfarers has overcome is simple, why would someone want to play this game and not say, D&D 3.5 or an older version? Obviously the authors of the game would point to their changes over the standard D&D rules and mechanics. Or even their newer magic system or the world of Twylos. Those are a good reasons yes, but is it enough for average gamer?
Certainly a lot of work went into this game. That is obvious. It has a nice clean look and the layout easy to read, if rather uninspired. I hate to downgrade it for that (I find some funky layouts difficult to read, looking at you White Wolf…), so I won't, but some gamers might. I do like the table layouts, much easier to read than ones in typical 3.x books, again more like a 1st Edition book.
Who should buy and play Wayfarers?
Anyone that enjoys D&D-style games but also felt that GURPS like point-buys were what was needed in their games. Levels and classes are gone, which will make some people happy, though Health Points remain, even if they are not exactly like Hit Points. I would suggest Wayfarers would be a good choice for anyone that liked 3.x but did not want to play 4.0 or True 20. Wayfarers is different enough from the retro-clones to be it's own game, but yet still have some appeal to people that like the feel of those games. So I also think it is a good choice for some people that liked 2nd Ed AD&D, but not 3rd Ed D&D.