Fantasy Craft Review

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 (2)

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.

JonSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 7:56 am

Admittedly, this years after this review …

However, I think somethings were missed or glossed over and it is not hard to understand why. After owning a company of the game since it came out, I am still finding nuggets of gold inside the pages of it.

One of the fundamental cornerstones of FantasyCraft is game balance. This appears not just in the lack of a dump Stat but also in the progression of classes. Unlike in D&D, where the fighter starts off the strongest and then at higher levels gets overtaken by the wizard, all classes are balanced all the way through. Additionally, there are combat tricks designed to enable socially oriented Characters who are not much for combat to still be effective in dire circumstances such as Threaten, Taunt, Distract, and Feint. Also, every Class has a way to work together with the party built right into its class abilities.

FantasyCraft uses Action Dice as a core mechanic and they affect a variety of uses regardless if you are the DM or Player. Some classes gain additional uses for them. The idea of Action Dice started with Spycraft 1.0 (now called Classic Spycraft) back at the turn of the century before the Action Point ever came around. They can activate threats making critical successes for either attacks or skills and activate errors turning them into critical failures. They may be rolled to add to the total for Skills, attacks, damage and saves. They can be spent to add to Defense or to commit a Refresh action and gain back both Vitality and Wounds as an instant heal. They are a finite renewable resource and act as an aid in the Narrative Control aspect of the game.

Instead of hit points, it works on a Vitality/Wounds system where a crit bypasses the Vitality and targets the Wounds which is where the real damage occurs. So that high level Soldier (or Fighter) with 200+ Vitality and 20 Wounds can still be seriously wounded with a crit instead of having to slog through 220 hit points just to try and injure him.

Armor operates on a penalty to Defense but gives DR instead. There is a balanced trade off. You can also do more than just lethal or subdual damage. FantasyCraft also uses Stress damage which can sometimes be more effective in dropping an opponent than lethal damage. By the way, Grappling, which used to be a mini-game of sorts in D&D, is reduced down to an opposed Athletics check in FantasyCraft. Much simpler.

Character creation involves selecting a Race or Human Talent, selecting a Specialty, and then a Class. Another way to look at this is Nature (what you are born with), Nurture (what you were trained to do), and Career (how you chose to use your training). For every selection made, you are giving up other things. An interesting note: all the standard D&D classes are listed as Specialties in FantasyCraft.

The NPC system is simple, extremely flexible, and makes combat traveling that much more quickly. You can take any D20 monster, convert it and use it for yourself. Also, how often have you had to deal with Players who have memorized Monster Manuals and know how everything works and what each monster has for an achilles heel? .. In FC, you can switch all that up or make just small changes, adjust the XP, and catch them by surprise. Additionally, the NPC Threat Levels are fluid so you can a 1st level party face off against a dragon (not what I would recommend) or a 20th level party face off against a horde of goblins and be challenged.

Campaign Qualities are ways to adjust the setting of your game world. Want your Players to gain feats faster? Turn that CQ on. Want Divine magic but not Arcane? or the reverse? or no magic at all? Flip the switches and adjust your game easily. Can you really play a fantasy game with no magic? Absolutely. … Say you are baking a cake. For D&D the magic is in the batter and it is really hard to remove it because it is so ingrained and mixed in. On the other hand, for FantasyCraft, it is merely an extra layer of frosting. You want to run a strictly political or social game? You can do it in FantasyCraft without magic and without magic items even. You can go all Game of Thrones with it and make it work quite easily.

Finally, while not in the book itself, the Crafty Games are highly rated with lots of helpful folks including the game designers who typically stop by at least once a day. There are many people who start playing FantasyCraft and convert other settings for use including Pathfinder’s Golarion setting because it runs more easily in FantasyCraft. Some of their Adventure Paths have already been converted on the forums too. There is even a Play By Post forum where you can jump into a game or just look at the Character builds of other people running FC to see how it is run. As a community, we have a habit of stepping on trolls too.

In summation, Dan, I think you need to look at the book a little deeper and make a couple of Characters with the guys on the blog to see how it all works. You or they may end up suffering option paralysis in the process.

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