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Thread: Fantasy Craft
Monday, 23rd November, 2009, 05:10 AM #1
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Fantasy Craft is a fantasy game derived from Spycraft 2.0, itself derived from the Third Edition D&D-based Open Game Content. Like True20, BESM d20, and other d20 variants, it departs in notable ways from the core D&D design. However, Fantasy Craft is, in my evaluation, an evolution of D&D rather than a counter-argument. Although more mechanically dissimilar, it is alike in spirit to Pathfinder in that both games seek to improve the core experience without breaking from the game's central premises.
Much of Fantasy Craft will be familiar to any D&D Third Edition player, including ability scores (renamed to attributes), saving throws, and skill check DCs. Although it uses a vitality and wounds system distantly related to Star Wars d20, hit point attritition remains the core mechanic of deadly combat. It departs in a number of minor ways and a few major ways. Most important, it includes Action Dice, a pumped-up variant of Action Points that are a renewable resource available to both the players and the GM to confirm criticals, activate special abilities, and boost die rools. Action Dice are the currency of heroic action. They are explicitly a meta-game resource, used by players to help succeed at tasks when they really want to succeed and by the GM to influence events when they really want things to go a certain way.
Several changes might startle the player coming from a D&D background. For instance, the core D&D classes, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk (Fist), Ranger Sorcerer, and Wizard have been redefined as Specialties, along with many other choices, such as Cavalier, Merchant, and Swindler. Specialties are somewhat equivalent to d20 Modern Occupations in representing a basic package of feats and special abilities. A character's Class, by contrast, is explicitly a party role, a particular way of solving problems. For instance, the Soldier is an expert in combat who is skilled in many weapons and armor. Class is fairly divorced from cultural or personal background. Thus, recreating a D&D fighter or ranger would entail a different Specialty, but both would be primarily a Soldier. A character is allowed to define two skills as Origin Skills, which always count as class skills. To tie it all together, you could, for example, make a Fighter Soldier with Influence and Ride. He would be an armored and armored warrior, deadly with almost any implement, who is also a skilled rider and good at face-to-hand interactions. He does not have the specialized abilities of the inspiring Captain or the silver-tongued Courtier, as the Soldier class explicits defines him as someone capable at combat. Weapons, while having various unique characteristics, get much of their flavor from specialized Feats and Tricks tailored to various weapon types.
Equipment is very similar to what is offered in other games, though Fantasy Craft focuses on pricing items with obvious utility. Strangely, although armor weights look pretty reasonable, many of the hand weapons weigh three times what they should, such as the 25 pound zweihander greatsword. Fantasy Craft handles magic items as a sort of Prize. Prizes include not only magic items but Contacts and Holdings (property). Taking a page from Swordbearer, your Prizes are limited, in the case of Fantasy Craft to a number based on your Renown. As you adventure, your Reputation increases, allowing you to improve Renown, purchase Prizes, acquire Favors, and pay for expensive and rare magical requirements. Your character has a Lifestyle rating, divided between Panache (stylish appearance, comfort, and casual influence) versus Prudence (your ability to hold onto coin). This clever mechanic cuts down on gold piece bloat, while at the same time, not punishing the player who wants to amass a fortune. It definitely offers something for the wandering adventurer campaign, where each session begins with the PCs strolling into town, well-armed and possibly carrying a legendary magic sword or two, but fresh out of coin thanks to their big-spending adventurer habits and the vagaries of fortune.
Fantasy Craft handles Species in a similar fashion to D&D races. In addition to elf, dwarf, pech (halfling), goblin, human, and orc as core choices, Fantasy Craft also offers the drake (a fire-breathing winged creature kin to dragons, not a draconic humanoid), ogre, giant, saurian, rootwalker (ent or treant), and unborn (constructs, like a golem or clockwork person). However, Fantasy Craft introduces the innovation of the Splinter Race Feat. Rather than defining a half dozen types of elf, orc, or human, you would select a Feat to make your character a member of a subspecies with distinct abilities. Thus, the Spider Nation Feat makes an elf into a drow, while Angelic Legacy makes a human into something like a planetouched (aasimar). Species feats are included that allow a character to have Angelic, Devilish, Elemental, or Faerie Heritage, encompassing the sub-races and hybrids of a Forgotten Realms-like world. Farstride Folk turns a pech into a "hairfoot," while Quick Finger Folk makes a pech into a small but clever gnome. Saurians have swamp-dwelling frog-like variants, chamelon-like jungle variants, draconic bloodlines, and the default assumption, the common "lizard man."
Another mechanical innovation worth mentioning is the NPC design system. Rather than using PC rules or abbreviated stat blocks, Fantasy Craft uses a focused system that defines monsters and NPCs using a number of traits, purchased with an XP budget. The creature's final numbers are based on applying the NPC design to a particular threat level. Thus, an orc bandit could be a relatively dangerous threat to a PC of any level, although you might base whether he was easy, average, or hard on your own estimation of the threat he should pose. This means that NPC design is reasonably quick, like other systems like Pathfinder or D&D Fourth Edition that have stated explicit numeric values to shoot for in a design for a particular challenge level. It also means that encounters can be designed independently of PC level of experience. Published Fantasy Craft adventures could be suitable for a very wide range of levels, as in most cases, only the final numbers would need to change. The NPC design system focuses on giving you what you need from a GM standpoint, rather than replicating a player characer's abilities, while still offering the flexibility to add any particular trait you think is important.
Overall, I would describe Fantasy Craft as an exceptionally good design. Although it suffers from its share of quirks and a few first edition stumbles, I think this is a product that can be readily used to do some great gaming. If you are coming from D&D Third Edition or Pathfinder, it offers a robust skill use system that can enhance roles such as the scout, trap-finder, trickster, or craftsman. If you are coming from Fourth Edition, it offers toned-down PC exploits while still offering a wealth of dynamic and colorful tactical and skill options. Fantasy Craft emphasizes social roles, making the founding of a castle or the building of an information network something that can be accomplished by the PCs using the Reputation system. Nonetheless, the system is not too cumbersome for a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. As an added value, it would be very easy to add many Fantasy Craft subsystems to a 3.5 or Pathinfinder game piecemeal, whether you are looking for Action Dice to rev up dramatic scenes, a mechanic to discourage PCs from carting around dozens of magic items, or a good noncombat class. The price to be paid for this flexibility and well-defined mechanics for heroic adventure is the level of detail that goes into PC design and maintenance, as well as a modest learning curve for the use of feats and Action Dice. Fantasy Craft would be a difficult game to schlep through.
Fantasy Craft encourages an active play style, and it offers interesting abilities for PCs of all archetypes. If you are looking at leaner, more general resolution, True20 might be more your speed, while Pathfinder is a good out-of-the-box game that follows in the tradition of D&D 3.5 for classic dungeon delves, exploration, and campaigning. In spirit, Fantasy Craft reminds me of Rolemaster, although in this case the desire to provide robust resolution systems has been tempered by a healthy fear of complexity for complexity's sake. Likewise, it has a D6 Fantasy-like flavor of roll-your-own. Taken together, Fantasy Craft occupies a solid niche all its own. Fantasy Craft probably comes closer to any game I know of to being the perfect Lankhmar roleplaying game, ripe with swordsmanship, daring skills, wit, and a pinch of magic. It also serves as a sort of generic alternative to Ars Magica, if you want to focus on guilds, orders, or other arenas of social play.
If you like the core d20 mechanics, and are a fan of adventure fantasy, I definitely recommend this book. It is ideal for those who like to tinker with world design and customizing a game system to fit that world. The only caution I make is that this is a big, thick book for big, thick play, and this is a game for grown-ups who are willing to lean on consensus and the occasional GM fiat to cover unforseen situations.
Last edited by pawsplay; Tuesday, 24th November, 2009 at 04:58 AM.
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