Fantasy Craft Review
by Dan Repperger

At some point during childhood, I’d wager everyone reading this article played with modeling clay.  For me, it was Play-Doh.  I’d spend hours squishing the stuff into a variety of shapes with my siblings.  Believe it or not, Play-Doh got its start as a wallpaper cleaner, receiving its new name only after it caught on as a popular toy.  As of today, very few people have wallpaper, but lots of people have Play-Doh.

Obviously, the primary draw of Play-Doh is its edibility.  Its second draw is its near-infinite flexibility.  You can shape it into anything you can imagine.  But let’s be honest: most of us aren’t artists.  So over the years, they’ve released a variety of molds and presses to help you get started on your creation.  I don’t think those tools were meant to replace your creativity, but rather give you a needed boost.  For example, we had Star Wars themed presses for making Darth Vader and R2-D2, but that didn’t stop us from modifying the squishy sculptures, building props to pose them with, or making them out of really peculiar colors.  In other words, we already had a finished product in mind, and those molds helped us speed up the process and bridge skill gaps on the way there.

The d20 system is a lot like Play-Doh.  It’s a generic system you can reshape to fit any setting you have in mind.  Many people have done so quite successfully, releasing a variety of custom d20 settings and rules variations.

Continuing my analogy, along comes a product for the d20 system that’s something like my Play-Doh molds.  It doesn’t give you a finished product, but instead gives you a jump-start in the process of building your own RPG setting.  It’s a toolkit designed for people that are creatively minded but feel more comfortable working with tools that will help them keep their creation consistent and balanced.  The kit in question is Mastercraft, which is meant to work in a variety of settings and time periods, just like the d20 system it’s derived from.  The incarnation I was given for review is Fantasy Craft, which is the book for (duh) fantasy-themed games.

There are a lot of options in the game. Character creation starts by picking from one of twelve races and twelve character classes.  You’re also allowed to pick a Specialty which describes your character’s background or the “spin” on how he approaches his class.  For example, you might be a human lancer (a horseback soldier), but whether you’ve spent your life wandering the world, sitting around a castle, or living amongst a tribe will modify your stats a bit.

The monster section gives a small set of sample villains, and you’re also provided with an easy-to-follow system for creating your own.  If you can describe a monster’s abilities, how it moves, and how hard it is to kill, the game will give you an XP value and challenge rating.  There’s even some help for randomly generating names.

The world building section has a lot less charts and math than the monster section, but it asks useful questions to make sure you’ve thought your world through.  It asks you about the technology level, governance, religion, economy, and the impact of magic upon society.  It also offers a few tropes you can consider using as the basis for your setting.

Perhaps the part I appreciate most is the amount of questions the writers keep asking in every single chapter.  You’re not just told how to construct something, but you’re challenged to first think about how and why a character, monster, or town works a particular way.  They really want you to think beyond the numbers.

The book is over 400 pages long, and it’s not bloated with half-blank pages or filler art, so you’ll get your money’s worth in that regard.  And since it’s the first thing I look for in any RPG book I pick up, I’m pleased to say this bulky fellow does have an index in the back.

For anyone that’s an RPG veteran, I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot of breakthrough ideas in this book.  Like the Play-Doh molds, Fantasy Craft is not going to do much for the experienced sculptor, but it will help someone that’s new to roleplaying — or even a veteran that would rather focus on storytelling than minutiae and math — leapfrog right into game play.  And that’s where this book really shines.  It asks questions, gives examples, and (where necessary) provides charts to make sure you’ve given detail and depth to the components of your world.

Want to learn more about Fantasy Craft? Read on…

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Comments (1)

Roy AndersonFebruary 8th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Thanks for the review. What I would have liked to see is a comparison against other systems so there’s a frame of reference, but overall, well done.

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