Ok, so really, where to begin? I guess a bit of history first: Fantasy Craft is a d20 OGL compliant RPG by Crafty Games, makers of Spycraft 2.0 (which as many of you know, is my self professed favorite RPG on the market). Following the success of Spycraft 2.0, Crafty began work on both Fantasy Craft, and a street crime/police game called 10,000 Bullets, both of which were slated to be Spycraft 2.0 products, with 10,000 Bullets due out back in 2007. 10,000 Bullets was pushed back, however, to put it on a new system which was being developed for Fantasy Craft, deemed MasterCraft, and is still scheduled to come out soon now that Crafty has finally released the flagship of this new game engine. So, for both a D&D fan, and a Spycraft fan, how does Fantasy Craft stack up? Well I'm glad you asked.
Now, the hardcover version of the book isn't due out until October, but I was able to purchase the PDF through drivethrurpg.com. I had a bit of trouble with the purchase, but that wasn't Crafty's Fault, so I won't ding them for it, and I've never had any trouble with drivethrurpg.com for the three years I've been using them, so I'm willing to write it off as a fluke. The cost was 30$ on sale (normally 50$ I believe), and for 6$ more (normally 10$ I believe) I also picked up the first official campaign. I'll review that at a later date, but for now let's focus on the core book.
For 30$ (or heck, even 50$), what you're getting is quite extensive. There's over 400 pages here, so it's not QUITE as think as the 500 page Spycraft book, but it's still fairly intimidating. Take heart, though, for in this one book is everything you need as a player, or as a GM, which is nice, and helps counterbalance the slightly above average price tag.
First, let's talk production value. Firing up the PDF, you're greeted by a quite impressive bit of cover art. It's got quite a bit going on, and perhaps more than most covers (aside from probably the WoD core book) sets the tone for the game. There's blood and guts, monsters, violence, treasure... all seen from the apparent perspective of the inside of dragon's gaping maw.
One disappointment I have in the production value side of the house was that most of the pages aren't in color. Sure, there's the occasional bit of text highlighted in red, but that's it. One of the benefits to Spycraft's PDF was it was completely colorized with colored art and (in a stroke of genius, imo) things such as they highlighted sections of the example character sheet, so you could see what parts were related, and at a glance look up what was supposed to go there. No such luck with Fantasy Craft.
That said there is a ton of neat artwork in the book, so I can't complain. The game has a very stylized look that I am quite fond of, highly reminiscent of older D&D, and Warhammer.
So let's go over the basics of the system. Character creation is very similar to Spycraft 2.0 in that you begin with your concept. From there you assign attribute scores (via point buy). You then select an Origin, which is a two parter: Race (of which there are 12), and Specialty (of which there are 36). Race is who you are, Specialty is what you have been trained to do. If you select human though, as humans are the most versatile race (per the standard fantasy trope), you have another list called Talents (of which there are 24), which replace your Race selection. Non-human races have some big advantages, but they also pick up some drawbacks. Human talents, on the other hand, are fairly universally positive, but not to the degree of the bonuses other races may receive. Specialties are all always positive. As far as races go, there's your standard humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits (called Pechs), Goblins, Giants, Ogres and Orcs, as well as Drakes (what the Dragonborn SHOULD have been), Rootwalkers (think like Ents in LotR), Unborn (mechanical constructs), and Saurian (think Lizardmen from Warhammer). Some of these races are Large creatures, too. However, the versatility of humans and the descriptions of the other races leads me to believe it is expected for MOST players to play humans. There may be another race or two represented, but for the most part, humans are going to be the staple race of the game. It's good to see humans being worth a damn in a fantasy RPG though... you always have to wonder how they tend to dominate the realm other than by GM Fiat, but not so here. Also of note, each Race has several subraces, which are accessed by the proper feats, only purchasable at creation.
Level, independent of your class now steps in to assign action dice (which you can use to attack, damage, heal, defend, turn threats into critical successes, and turn enemy's errors into critical failures... I've discussed the basics of this system elsewhere, but if you're interested check here, and throughout this thread where I discuss them in terms of Spycraft They remain largely unchanged here), as well giving bonus weapon proficiencies (which you can use to purchase either proficiencies, or "Tricks", which are basically melee powers), and extra Feats, and Interests.
Now you select your class. There's 12 Base Classes and 6 Expert Classes (attainable at level 5) included in this book, and a statement that more classes (and Master Classes, attainable at level 10) will be available in future supplements, so let's look at what we've got. There's your Soldier, your Mage, and your Priest, a combat leader style character called a Captain, and a really interesting sounding mounted combat specialist called a Lancer. Also, wow did the author of this book love him some rogues (There's an Assassin, Burglar, Explorer, and Scout, all of whom are focused on different elements of what you usually associate with rogue type characters). However just as Spycraft (contrary to its name) is not just an espionage game, but truly a replacement for d20 Modern, Fantasy Craft isn't content to be just a combat/dungeon crawler game either. There are several classes geared around conversation, such as the manipulative Courtier, or the crafting and loremaster called the Keeper.
Next is skills. Skills operate much like they do in 3.5 D&D. The primary difference is that some extra uses of a skill are more codified than they are in D&D... for instance Intimidate has two codified uses: Browbeat (for use in getting someone to change their opinion of another), or Coerce (for use in getting someone to change their opinion of you and your actions). The benefit of this system is that you can have different error and threat ranges for specific sub skills (and the inclusion of more charts to assist the DM in rules arbitration), but the downside is a tad more book keeping for all. There's also a system in place for dividing your time between multiple skill checks (such as having to keep your balance while performing a heal check). There's also a retread of Spycraft's cooperation mechanic, and a simplified knowledge check. Other than that though, nothing TOO special here. The only other thing of note is the Spellcasting is a skill for arcane casters. More on magic later.
Next is Feats. Like Spycraft before it, Fantasy Craft features a dizzying array of feats, and you acquire feats at a much faster rate than standard D&D. Many feats chain into others. One thing to note as a plus for Crafty: Feat chains are named so that they appear next to each other, in order in the alphabetical descriptions. X Basics, X Mastery, X Supremacy is the typical naming scheme. Feats provide one of the biggest ways to differentiate your character from others of his class.
Lastly comes Interests. Interests mark your intellectual pursuits. They can be used to gain languages, or Studies, which help with related knowledge checks. You do not have to take all the Interests given to you, but you forever lose the slot if you forgo it.
Now you derive your additional statistics. Then you're off to gear.
Gear acquisition was always a weak point in Spycraft. It was unweildy, and though robust once you got the hang of it, it was certainly difficult to grasp for newcomers. Fantasy Craft makes some significant changes to the system, probably because your gear in Spycraft was a combination of your personal gear and issued gear, but in this game it is all personal gear. To illustrate this, there's a mechanic called Lifestyle. Lifestyle is made of two stats: Panache, and Prudence. Panache represents your ability to present yourself fashionably and acquire nice things. With a higher Panache, you receive bonuses to your Appearance, and Panache represents additional money you begin each adventure with. Prudence represents your ability to save money over time. Between adventures, characters are assumed to spend most of the money they made on the last one during their downtime. Prudence shows how much of that money you spend. For instance, say a party of two each receives a 1000 silver piece haul at the end of an adventure. Member 1 has a Prudence of 0, Member 2 has a Prudence of 5. After the adventure, the characters spend their month of Downtime until they decide to set off on their next adventure in a city. Member 1 will, at the end of the month, be down to 15% of his haul, leaving him with only 150 silver pieces. Member 2 would have 40% of his haul left, leaving him with 400 silver pieces.
One thing about armor in this game... heavier armor can actually make you EASIER to hit. Armor's primary function is damage reduction.
Gear is worthy of continued mention because, in a similar vein to how magic items in 4E D&D are templates over the standard weapon types, magic items in this system are also templates applied over standard weapons, though not quite in the same manner as 4E. Here, each individual bonus is applied bit by bit... This Longsword has, say, a fire aura, and boosts your Vitality by 10, and grants you the Quick Draw feat... each of those being an individually assigned template.
So now we get into the nitty gritty, the game mechanics. In many ways, it's similar to 3.5 D&D, but in some key ways it's different. There's no attacks of opportunity, for one. Within your melee range you simply stop enemy movement unless they tumble past, or move slowly past in 5ft steps. There's several status effects as well, about on par with 4E, though fewer than Spycraft's over 40. Fantasy Craft also does not feature distinct move actions or standard actions.... there's simply full round, and half actions, and free actions. Some spells may take longer to cast than a full round as well. One neat thing is that you don't have to do a full round action as your whole turn. Say you make a half action move, then decide to make a full action skill check... the skill check simply takes your remaining half action this round, and your first half action next round.
There's an enormous list of combat actions anyone can take, though they've fortunately included a summary of them all on the character sheet. There's also about 2 dozen "Tricks" which are basically melee powers that can be acquired by anyone who wants to learn them. There are also ranged and spellcasting tricks to be had as well.
Magic. Here goes. Magic is fueled by a spell point system. Spells are gained mostly at character creation if you can cast them. Arcane Casters learn a number of spells equal to their Wisdom + Spellcasting Ranks (which, if their spellcasting improves, they gain more spells), however their Level indicates which of these spells they can cast. Based on the campaign type, the DM may let them select your spells, or may require them to roll for them. Magic is a skill check for Arcane Casters.
Magic is quite different for Divine casters. Divine casters have Paths, which basically dictate their spells for them, and they have far fewer spells at a time than Arcane Casters. However, their spells are not their own, they are granted by a higher power, and as such can NOT fail.
There are around 300 spells included in the book.
Now the GM section. For GMs, the game is designed to be easy to create new and interesting things. NPCs are made in a similar manner to how they were in Spycraft. You assign Roman Numeral values to about a dozen stats, showing the person or creature's relative competence or ability. This is done without regard for player level. You then assign qualities to the character, such as "Flying", or "Treacherous" (which allows them to be capable of critical strikes).
Now, when players reach this creature, you take into account their average level, and use that to guide you through a series of charts converting the Roman Numerals into actual number values for use in the game. While sounding clumsy, it is something that once you're used to, allows you to create an encounter without being sure what level the players will be when they get there while still knowing approximately how difficult it will be for them when they get there.
There's a decent size bestiary included full of fantasy staples, and most brilliantly, a chart explaining how to convert monsters from any d20 or OGL supplement to the MasterCraft system.
Also present is Spycraft's distinction between minions and special characters. Minions are supposed to be easy to kill, though they can pose a significant damage threat to the heroes. Special characters, however, are not nearly so easy to kill, and are a very significant threat to players.
Campaigns are also managed via a slew of Campaign Qualities, which can be used to ramp up the grit or the high-magic heroism of your game, set the time and technology level of your world, and many other things. There are subplots which can be used basically as side quests for character development.
There is also a very well written section, perhaps one of the best I've seen, on how to design a convincing world, how to create fun and interesting social and combat encounters, and how to create compelling games.
I definitely give this game a hearty endorsement. I obviously haven't gotten a chance to play it yet, but I'll rectify this soon enough. Could this pull me, a long time D&D stalwart away from D&D? It looks probable, actually. I'm very impressed with the game all around. Forget Pathfinder, forget 4E. THIS is what D&D should have been.