When I first cracked open Fantasy Craft, I expected to find a rehash of Dungeons and Dragons in some form or another. I was able to keep up this illusion throughout the opening chapter by telling myself that while the classes were different and there were a few unusual races in the lineup, this was still basically the game that I was already familiar with. The further I read, the more I knew that what Crafty Games had put together was actually something very different than ye ole D&D.
Nestled within its four hundred pages, you will find everything that you need to play the game, including eleven playable races (with a boatload of splinter races), twelve base classes, six expert (prestige) classes, a gallery of NPCs, a bestiary, and all of the rules you will need to start playing the game. Since Fantasy Craft is built on top of the d20 Open Gaming License, the core engine of Fantasy Craft wonít be anything new to anyone who has ever played an OGL game. Where Fantasy Craft noticeably departs from the usual mold, though, is the way that it merges concepts that are seen more typically in modern genre games, such as a system for reputation, contacts and allies, looser management of character wealth, and an all around more cinematic approach.
Races of Fantasy Craft
Fantasy Craft has a respectable list of playable races, including ones typically only thought of as monsters, such as ogres, orcs and giants, along with some that are alien enough to provide an interesting roleplaying challenge to the hardened fantasy roleplayer, such as rootwalkers (treants), drakes (smaller, less powerful kin of the dragons), and unborn (living constructs such as golems). Each of the races have has its own unique list of advantages and disadvantages to playing them that goes beyond the simple plus two to this attribute, minus two to that. Even humans got a lot more attention with a generous list of "talents" to choose from, making them a lot more attractive to play than I have seen in other d20 based games.
In an era of RPGs where other systems encourage GMs to find a way to say "yes," to their players, banned actions seem a little harsh. This rule makes it difficult or impossible to play a character that goes against its racial stereotypes. For instance, ogres can never attempt to take a diplomatic approach and make influence checks, and dwarves can never learn to swim. I would have preferred to have seen a system that gave them a penalty to skill checks instead of banning the race from making an attempt outright. The player experience could also be improved by giving the player options to effectively buy off the penalties with feats.
[float=right][/float]Classes of Fantasy Craft
Core classes include the assassin, burglar, courtier, captain, explorer, keeper, lancer, mage, priest, sage, scout and soldier. Right away, it is evident that these arenít simply reprints of the d20 SRD classes. In fact, the only classes that strongly resemble a 3.5 SRD counterpart are the mage and burglar. Each class also features a "core ability." For instance, the assassinís core ability, "Heartseeker," improves the assassinís base attack bonus when he is attacking what is known as a special character -- basically, this is anything that actually has hit points and isnít part of the masses. These core abilities are only gained from your first level in your first class. This is an effective mechanic that allows Fantasy Craft to provide a nice boon in a class right from level one, without opening it to being abused by acquiring multiple "core abilities," via multi-classing.
Other than the cover art, the rest of the book is completely illustrated in black and white. Nonetheless, the artwork is high quality and compelling with lots of little subtleties to hunt for. (Did you notice the dwarf with what looks like a dragon tooth for an axe head, or the goblin shooting him the "V" sign? How about the weeping cherub beneath the boot of the looming assasin?) The bestiary section, however, could have used more art and would have ideally had a visual representation for every monster listed.
The MasterCraft Engine
Fantasy Craft is the first game to feature Crafty Gameís new adaption on the d20 engine called MasterCraft. MasterCraft is described as a lighter, faster, and sleeker version of the Spycraft 2.0 mechanics. Having never looked over the Spycraft game in any detail, I canít really comment on how complicated Spycraft was. What I can say is that the system in Fantasy Craft brings a lot of great innovations to the gaming table by doing away with things that complicated or slowed down play in d20, and simplifying other things that were always confusing to players and GMs alike.
Armor Works Like It Should
Although this is a subtlety of the system that few might consider to be all that important, one of my gripes with d20 has long been the way the system handles armor. It doesnít make sense that wearing a heavy suit of armor somehow makes a character more difficult to hit. In Fantasy Craft, armor works more like I would expect by providing its wearer with resistance to certain types of damage instead of helping the character avoid damage outright. Instead, the game gives every class a new "defense" score right alongside of the typical saving throws that represents the characterís skill at avoiding physical attacks. Perfect!
[float=left][/float]Quicker Recovery and Less Dependence on Healers
Fantasy Craft features two hit point pools -- vitality and wounds. Vitality is explained to be a "mixture of endurance, luck and the will to fight." This is what your character gains every level as he becomes a more experienced combatant, whereas wounds represent actual physical damage. Although the system provides a couple of sneaky tricks that can bypass vitality and immediately do wound damage, most of the time the character is going to lose all of his vitality first before taking any real damage. This gives the game a more cinematic feel where the character narrowly avoids hit after hit until his defenses are worn down and he finally suffers a serious injury.
Vitality recovers very quickly -- pretty much one nightís rest will recover all vitality. The game also provides a means for players to heal themselves in and out of combat using action dice (the game's currency for cinematic play). All of this means less down time and less reliance on having a healer in the party.
The skill list of Fantasy Craft is noticeably slimmed by combining like skills with each other. Each of the skills then has multiple uses. For example, the skill Acrobatics merges three skills found in D&D 3.5 into one for balancing checks, jump, and tumble. By combining them, it is much easier to have a more diverse selection of skills, especially given that Fantasy Craft is very generous with skill points to all classes. The game also completely does away with knowledge skills in favor of a single unified knowledge check.
Fantasy Craft features a long list of feats that players are sure to enjoy. My favorites among these are the weapon feats, which finally give players a reason to choose a weapon for something other than just whatever does the most damage, but these arenít just a bunch of combat feats, either. True to its theme of supporting everything from a very tactically-oriented game to a heavy roleplaying and social game, Fantasy Craft delivers an expansive array of feats for whatever type of character you are trying to build.
[float=right][/float]Modular NPC Design
Fantasy Craft features a wide array of prebuilt NPCs and monsters to challenge your party, and the game takes a unique approach by making all of the stat blocks modular. In other words, any monster youíll find in this book can be used at all levels of play. They simply plug in at whatever level your group is currently at and are ready to go. Youíll need to do a little math and cross-referencing of charts to determine the NPCís actual scores first, but fortunately, this process is easy and quick enough that you should be able to do it on the fly at the gaming table with only minimal downtime. This also comes with the huge advantage of being able to use modules more easily regardless of what level of play they were designed for.
While youíre perusing the NPC section, youíll also find a rather exceptional NPC Generator for stating out your own cast of NPCs and critters. This system goes way beyond the scant advice typically given in other games and provides a very precise way for building a creatureís attributes, special abilities, attacks, defenses, et cetera, and determining exactly what the experience reward for such a creature should be.
Although this section is a mere five pages or so, it packs a lot of punch. Essentially, campaign qualities are a list of optional rules that the GM can apply to his game depending on the feel he wants for his game. For instance, the "Doomed Heroes" quality makes it far more likely that critical hits will be confirmed against the player characters, whereas the "Iron Heroes" quality makes it much more difficult for characters to die from massive damage. Campaign qualities are one of the things the authors have already mentioned that plan to expand on, so I expect weíll probably see a lot more of these as new products in the Fantasy Craft line are released.
"Your Dungeon, Your Dragon, Your Way"
This is the slogan emblazoned on the back of the book, and it is one of the key goals of Fantasy Craft. It is obvious throughout the book that the designers put a lot of time and thought into providing a framework that could support whatever type of game the game master imagines. With options like campaign qualities, a comprehensive NPC builder, and a book chock full of options for tactical and roleplaying heavy games alike, Fantasy Craft delivers on that promise.
What to hear more about Fantasy Craft? Check out these other articles:
- Fantasy Craft Preview: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/produc...iate_id=175850
- Free Fantasy Craft NPC Builder: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/produc...iate_id=175850
- Fantasy Craft Product Page with links to even more reviews: http://www.crafty-games.com/product_...g/fantasycraft
Want to find out where you can pick up this great game?
- Mongoose Publishing [Hardcover]: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/ho...1483&qsSeries=.
- DriveThruRPG [PDF]: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/produc...iate_id=175850
Disclosure: Crafty Games, the creators of Fantasy Craft, are our partners on the Pen & Paper Games Player Network.