Fantasy Craft by Craft Games. Tagline: Your Dungeon, Your Dragon, Your Way. This review is of the second printing (it’s still the only aka original edition).
This is a toolkit system for pretty much any fantasy game you can dream up. There is no official setting in this book (though the Adventure Companion has three) though there is a bit of a Lord of the Rings vibe – but doesn’t most generic fantasy have that vibe?
First Things First or, Disclosures
To say that I’m a fan of this system is a little like saying John Lennon was a musician – technically true but lacking the depth of complete truth. I feel it’s important to let everyone know that up font so you can account for any bias I may leave in my review. It might also interest some of you to know that I have also written a previous review of Fantasy Craft on another site that was far more critical and it’s probably still available for those that want to search it out. Two things: 1) that review was based on the first printing which was full of typos, unclear rules and a host of now errata’d items AND 2) at the time, I had never played it, only completed a read-through of the rules. I am re-reviewing the game with a much more complete understanding including two years as a player and GM (mostly GM).
Who Will and Won’t Like It?
If you despise crunchy system and prefer the lightness of things like FATE, this is NOT the game for you. If you dislike (or have grown impatient with) d20 systems due to empty levels, irrelevant class, power creep *cough*arcane spellcasters*cough* or other rule silliness then you should give Fantasy Craft a closer look. If you like d20, then you’ll enjoy it.
A Quick Note on the Book
This is a hardback book with a solid binding and thick, non-glossy paper. The artwork is black and white throughout. However, the feel of the paper and the amazing quality of the art make black and white the perfect choice that only adds to the charm of this book. The layout isn't completely perfect in a few places and some may complain with the lack of color but it is gorgeous.
A Little History
Fantasy Craft is brought to us by the same folks who brought us Spycraft (both the original and 2.0). The second printing (notice printing, not edition as I have read around the net a few times) allowed the Crafty folks to correct typos, clear up rules and issue errata on either an as-needed or fan-demanded basis. Also, the second printing allowed them to get free of Mongoose publishing. If, at the end of this review, you’re on the fence and find the first printing in the bargain bin, go ahead and pick it up. The document with errata is a free download on the Crafty site. Otherwise, I would advise the second printing.
Another D&D Clone? or, What’s Different?
The Crafty folks started with the d20 SRD and asked what a modern fantasy game using that toolkit should look like. In the process they ditched over three-and-a-half decades of accumulated history. The result is a fantasy game powered by what is arguably the best known RPG engine in our time. Yet, it is one that is still not beholden to the establishment. Consequently, there are times when an old hand playing Fantasy Craft will stumble a bit with the rules but those moments quickly pass. In fact, I now have trouble dealing with more traditional d20 games because the FC rules make more sense to me.
What’s Under the Hood?
Like most modern games, Fantasy Craft has the seemingly obligatory, “What is a Role Playing Game?” section at the very beginning. Then we get into character creation.
Chapter 1: Hero
Fantasy Craft uses a point-buy system to create attribute scores ranging from 8 to 18 with the corresponding modifier you would expect from d20. There is no obvious system influenced dump stat. That’s not to say that you can’t have a dump stat for your character, only that the system isn’t going to point out to you which one it should be. Of the twenty skills, Dexterity, Intelligence and Charisma claim four each, while Wisdom claims six and Strength and Constitution round out the list with one each.
Your hero can chose from most of the races we have come to expect in fantasy gaming; the Dwarves, Elves, Humans and Pech (Halflings) are present, along with Orcs and Goblins. (The rules in this book don’t include the “half-X” races though you can get those from Adventure Companion – one of the published splatbooks.) Also making an appearance are Drakes (think small dragons), Giants, Ogres, Rootwalkers (basically the Ents for LotR), Saurians (lizard men) and the Unborn (magical war machines, clockwork golems, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.)
For once, Humans don’t get the whole “more adaptable, blah, blah, extra skill points, blah, blah extra feat” to make up for the fact they don’t have modifiers. Humans get Talents which are basically Race packages (just a little smaller). This makes it possible to play Fantasy Craft as a Human only game and not have everyone feel the same. It also makes Humans more unpredictable. A few examples: Gifted, Ruthless, and Vigilent.
All Races get a Specialty which can be thought of as how they see themselves. This is separate from your Class – which is what they can do. That orc over there with the giant sword? Yeah, he could be a Cleric (Specialty) but yet, not a Priest (Class). Of course he could also be a Criminal (Speacilty) Mage (Class). You just never know. A few examples: Acrobat, Druid, Ranger, Warden.
The Classes are:
Assassin (think more James Bong, less Altair)
Burglar (more Altair, less James Bond)
Captain (war-leader, extremely dangerous in a group)
Courtier ("I never get my hands dirty." "You have much to learn about the Court.")
Explorer (Indiana Jones. "I know a guy in the next village over.")
Keeper ("I know a few things, if you stick around, I might teach you.")
Lancer (has an animal companion; knight and horse, goblin and warg, etc.)
Mage ("Even Creation obeys my command!")
Priest ("No, I am not a fighter, brother. May I bless your crops while we wait for my more militant brethren?")
Sage (Jack of All Trades)
Scout (tracker, hunter, the stereotypical backwoods guy)
Soldier (a death dealing machine)
Thus, you could have a Ruthless Human Criminal Soldier who has seized control of the streets by force of will and is running his criminal empire.
OR, an Orc Bard Priest who travels the land using his voice to preach the end of days. (And laying the smackdown on the wicked, if needed.)
OR, a Pech Sorcerer Mage with just a touch of dragon in him.
Expert Classes – which can be started as early as fifth level (assuming pre-requisites are met) – include:
Alchemist (He’s a potion making machine.)
Beastmaster (Well, the Beastmaster.)
Edgemaster (It slices, it dices, and yes, it blends!)
Paladin (She’s the epitome of a particular ideology. Lawful Good not required.)
Rune Knight (The merging of magic and martial power.)
Swashbuckler (Errol Flynn, Zorro, Wesley from Princess Bride)
Before we leave this chapter it should be noted that the number of weapon proficiencies is granted by class (modified by race and specialty) but that the selection of which weapons one should be proficient with is left up to the player.
Chapter 2: Lore
The skills in Fantasy Craft have been whittled down to 20. This makes it easier to keep track of what does what and why. For example, the skill Prestidigitation (yes, skill) is the ability to open locks, perform sleight of hand and stash a small item for later retrieval.
One of the points of contention about skills comes in the form of Blend/Sneak and Notice/Search. The first in each pair is passive and by RAW, rolled by the GM. The second is active and normally rolled by the player. Even then, they have slightly different functions. The division bothers my players more than me but it hasn’t broken anyone’s fun.
By RAW, certain classes literally don’t get access to non-class skills. However, the system balances this somewhat by allowing all characters to choose two origin skills that count as class skills no matter what class you pick. (There is an optional rule for using cross class skills if you feel it is a must for your group.)
The Feats are divided into multiple categories such as Basic Combat, Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Unarmed Combat, Chance (great for lucky people or Priests), Covert, Gear, Skill, Species, Spellcasting, Style, and Terrain. The Species feats allow you to tweak (normally only at level 1) your Race a bit. A Human might take Angelic Heritage if great-great-grandpa was an angel while an Orc might take Eastern Horde and lose his penalties in bright light.
Chapter 3: Grimoire
Mages cast spells. Priests get miracles. This is an important distinction. If you want to be the healer, play a mage or grab extra ranks in Medicine. Priests gain miracles based on their Alignment and the Deity may not include Healing in the deal. Miracles can usually only be used once per scene or for the really powerful ones, once per adventure. That may sound harsh, but they don’t use any spellpoints, always work and will get through any form of spell protection the target may have. After all, it pays to have a deity on your side.
Mages start at level 1 with level 0 spells. They alone get access to the 21st skill: Spellcasting. Each spell requires the expenditure of spell points and a Spellcasting roll to see if the mage properly cast the spell. Level 0 spells are not terribly powerful, but they are free. First and Second level mages can use their spell points on tricks and other goodies (larger boom, anyone?). Mages won’t reach the all powerful 9th level spells until 19th level. (This cuts down the mage being the swiss army knife solution to everything.) Spell points completely refresh at the end of a scene – determined by the GM – so there is no more 15 minute day problem.
Mages can wear armor if they like and by RAW don’t take any penalties to Spellcasting while doing so though that seems to be a fairly popular house-rule in my experience. Keeping with the theme of non-traditional mages, Crafty Game’s iconic mage wields a greatsword. During a demo, one play-tester said, “She’s a rather scary little bitch isn’t she?”
Chapter 4: Forge
This is the gear chapter; however, it also covers coinage (silver if you’re curious), lifestyle upkeep (not even in fantasy land can you escape the tax man), magic consumables, rules for mounts and vehicles along with rules for magic items and other prizes.
Yes, magic items are only one type of prize that a PC can have. The other two are Contacts (people who can do you a solid are wonderful) and Holdings (Who doesn’t want their own keep?). However, one must increase his Renown (bought with Reputation gained through Adventuring) before his prizes will be safe. Think of it this way: if your Renown is high enough, the bandits won’t mess with you (it’s not worth the risk) and the king won’t demand that you relinquish that sword you found – after all, he knighted you as protector of the realm so why would he deprive his knight of a magical blade?
Translation: magic items are not essential to the game. Let me repeat that: magic items are NOT essential to the game. Indeed, magic can be turned off and the system clicks along just fine.
While I’ve never had a player who didn’t want at least one item, I have had several who only wanted one. The one that sticks out in my mind was a Rune Knight who wanted a cloak with animal patches on it. If needed, she could pull off a patch and summon the animal.
Chapter 5: Combat
Not much to mention here if you are familiar with d20; however, I’ll hit the high points. Armor makes you easier to hit but harder to hurt. Shields are weapons. Your charcter’s defense score increases in level. Attacks of Opportunity have been done away with. The Grapple rules are easy enough to remember without going crazy. Combat options includes feints and trips and bull rushes as well as a system of specialized tricks (purchased with those extra weapon proficiencies) that allow for extra options. Examples: Arrow Cutting and Ragged Wound (who doesn’t like a bleeding opponent?)
There are more conditions than most people can shake a stick at. I printed up condition cards for my demo games. And have used them in home games as well. It adds a bit of extra realism but also a lot of crunch.
Vitality represents your ability to roll with the punches and take some nicks and scapes with minimal damage. Wounds (equal to your CON score and modified by size) represent the real danger of death. Critical hits deal damage directly to your wounds bypassing Vitality.
Speaking of critical hits, you don’t roll a bunch of times for those. If your attack hits and the number on the d20 is in the threat range, you simply spend an Action Die to make it a critical hit.
I’m leaving out a few things but I don’t want to drone on forever about Combat. If you have a specific question, send it my way.
Chapter 6: Foes
This is the NPC chapter and NPC’s are very different in this system. First off, there is no CR for NPC’s. Second, there are no stat blocks for them (well, not that have numbers in them.) NPC’s are created using a system that assigns a Roman numeral between I and X to various traits such as Attack, Defense, Health, Resistance (thing saves), etc. This allows the creation of an NPC that can be updated with game-useful numbers based on the party’s level at the time the NPC is used. Thus you can recycle that old warband of orcs from level 2 at level 14 and they will still pose a challenge to your heroes. Assuming you’ve bothered to update the game stats that is.
Some people find this NPC system to be a snap to use and others find it to be a painful chore. I fall in the middle. I can use the system to whip up anything that strikes my fancy and more or less know how my PC’s will do against said thing. However, the bookkeeping is a bit higher than the rules seem to indicate. However, there is an independent website – with the Crafty folk’s blessing – that automates the process. It is my friend when doing game prep.
There are also rules for convering iconic monsters from other d20 games into the I to X system if you are so inclined. I’ve run a few monsters through it and the process is pretty smooth but GM instinct will still play a role here.
Chapter 7: Worlds – Part 1
This chapter includes GM advice, the available Paths and their associated miracles for creating Alignments, the random treasure tables, etc. One interesting part contains the rules for Cheating Death if your setting allows for such a thing. They are excellent and while some are cliché, the mechanic is very useful.
The Importance of Attitude Within the Rules
I wouldn’t normally include a section like this in a review; however, I feel that it is important to understand at least some part of the vision of the game creators. First and foremost, Fantasy Craft is a narrative game. That may sound odd for a game so crunchy, but the rules are really there to help bring out the heroes’ stories. The Action Dice mechanic – cosmic luck, divine favor, whatever you may call it – helps seal the deal. It allows the players to help write some “awesome” into the story as needed.
Overall, it might be best to think of RAW Fantasy Craft as covering the journey of newly made heroes. Yes, they gain experience and, consequently, new abilities; however, they will always be fighting against the world. They can face a dragon at level 1 and again at level 20 and the fight will be epic both times (using the same dragon “stat” block no less; adjusted for level, of course) but the level 20 heroes will have that much easier time as they have more capacity.
Chapter 7: Worlds – Part 2
Let’s not forget that Fantasy Craft is a toolkit. The developers wanted it to be the best it could be for as many people as they could. Included in Chapter 7 is a discussion on Eras of Play: Primitive, Ancient, Feudal, Reason and Industrial and how to adjust the game for each. The three in the middle are easily accommodated; however, the ends of the spectrum are much harder to do. The Adventure Companion has an excellent Primitive setting but had to add several types of gear to make it better. I tried to run an Industrial game and had to back it off to Reason.
One of the nicest features are Campaign Qualities. Think of these are pre-tested house-rules that are baked in. They allow you to include magic (yes, magic is an option, not a requirement) or miracles, as well as ways to make them feel different. You can make the game more deadly if that is your style (try “Fragile Heroes”, “Hewn Limbs” and “Dead means Dead”), or more cartoonish (try “Beefy Heroes”, “Bold Heroes”, and “Wire Fu”). You can flip on “Monty Haul” to keep those prizes coming or perhaps “Paranoia” to ramp up suspicion between, well, everyone.
I found that Fantasy Craft made d20 fun again. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing and GM’ing with this system. Is it perfect? No, but it’s damn close.
A just over the line 5
A solid 5