Adventure Companion for Fantasy Craft
If you’ve read my review of Fantasy Craft, then you know that I am a fan. I honestly appreciate what the folks at Crafty Games have done to expand d20 in other directions. Thus, it should come as not giant surprise that I recommend the Adventure Companion. However, I honestly believe that the Adventure Companion has excellent merits of its own to share as well.
First, a quick mention of the physical product: Adventure Companion is a soft cover, glue-bound book with medium weight paper. The art is once again black and white ink drawings from various artists. The art serves to spice up the pages without being overwhelming. The layout is serviceable; it follows the Crafty style of not wasting any space without leading to some odd layouts like were present in the main book. There’s no index but the two page table of contents is surprisingly detailed. So much so that sidebars are often called out. Mine has been in and out of my gaming back and seen use in planning as well as at the table and is still holding up. That said, I may switch to a spiral winding for longevity at some point in the future.
A casual glance at the soft cover, glue-bound Adventure Companion might cause you to assume it is simply a Fantasy Craft “splat book;” however, such an assessment would do a disservice to the effort that went into it. This is not a small amount of additional content quickly or poorly produced as a money-grab.
So what is Adventure Companion? Let me start with a very light touch of history first. Given that there’s only one book which is a combination players guide, GM handbook and bestiary, core might not be the right word; however, that’s the word I’ll use. The Fantasy Craft core book has no setting. That’s right, no setting. While some ranted and raged about that, others – myself included – found the toolbox approach to be a better fit. Thus, Adventure Companion provides settings, yes, settings. Not one but three unique settings that give your heroes someWHERE to do heroic things with a backstory to go with the world they inhabit.
Chapter 1: Cloak and Dagger
Try to imagine your favorite spy character transported back in time to a crumbling Roman Empire where magic and monsters were real and you have some idea of where this setting is heading. Weighing in at 40 pages Cloak and Dagger provides room for human characters to be specerus – or perhaps the plural is specerum. I don’t speak Latin and, as far as I can tell, most of the words in this chapter aren’t really Latin anyway – given that specerum is Latin for “cave.”
Point being, this is a human centric setting where magic is slowly dying off, the gods don’t really interact with humanity, and the older, more dangerous monsters can still be found in the wilderness or, occasionally, the gladiatorial pit. However, all of these elements are still present. Beware of the monsters in this setting as they are the ones that survived the great monster purge and thus, are the truly frightening specimens. Besides, the bread and butter of this setting is spy work – politics, assassinations, back alley or rooftop chases, etc. It is unlikely you will be fighting monsters unless, perhaps, the route to the drop point takes you through a supposedly deserted salt mine.
The first several sections take the form of an in-character discussion between a specerus and a functionary. It is well written and serves to open the setting with much needed exposition. It is followed by a rules collection that includes the tools of the trade, new origins, feats and tricks. It also provides new Renown tracks, new explanations of Panache and new Holdings for use in this setting. The rules even include setting specific artifacts and a targeted mini-bestiary.
Chapter 2: Epoch
Imagine if Conan had been a Native American and had been fighting the Aztecs. It’s the traditional Swords and Sorcery setting turned on its ear. Everything is viewed through a vaguely pre-Columbian lens where magic is a blight and civilization is wickedness. You are a warrior from the Children of the Dawn. You are striking back at the Keepers of the Gate who have invaded your land of Tuwa. These invaders come from the west to slaughter and enslave your people – all while consorting with demons. You must fight the rising tide of corruption and try to strike a blow for freedom in the growing darkness.
As in Cloak and Dagger, there are setting specific modifications to the various sub-systems (Renown, Panache, etc.) to reflect the Primitive Era of this setting.
I must admit that this is my least favorite setting. However, I think that’s due to the fact that only 28 pages were devoted to explaining it. Since I haven’t studied much of the various Mesoamerican cultures, I could have used a more in-depth discussion that left me with fewer unanswered questions. Nonetheless, in the right hands this could be an excellent setting.
Chapter 3: Sunchaser
I wish I knew who said this so I could give him (or her) credit since this explanation is the best I’ve heard for this setting: “It’s Tolkien on the Mississippi River.” I feel there’s a Tolkien vibe to the core book; however, that vibe is overwhelming in this setting. The humans of this setting have only recently escaped from the Crone – a Sauron-esque figure – and find themselves in The Thousand River Valley. Many of the races have been here for some time either leaving each other alone (the Dwarves were pretty much ignoring everyone else) or fighting (lizardmen versus sentient trees) over a patch of swamp.
Adventurers in this setting are Sunchasers – men and women who, for whatever reason, “chase the sun” from one end of the valley to the other. Generally liked – or at least tolerated – Sunchasers are employed to remove pest infestations (Beggar Beetles are the size of dogs and eat everything they can) or to guard a riverboat caravan to a Sharos monastery.
A helpful little bit of built-in hand-waving is the sun pool. The sun pools are where the Sunchasers really get their name as anyone brave or foolish enough to wade into a sun pool at the right time of day is transported to another location within the Valley. This also the GM the freedom to play out an area and have his heroes walk off into the sunset and appear somewhere else with new problems. Most of the pools are unpredictable on both the timing and destination; however the few stable ones are highly prized – for obvious reasons.
Again, we are treated to more setting specific tweaks.
Even though it only has two more pages than Epoch, this setting works for me.
We’ll get to Chapter 4 in a moment. I wanted to point out why I think these settings represent such a great value. Each is unique, each is a relatively fresh take on older ideas and each uses the Fantasy Craft rules to bring them to life. Even if you never use the settings as written, they provide some templates on how to use different Campaign Qualities and some window dressing to create your own vibrant worlds.
Chapter 4: A Hero’s Journey
This chapter is a collection of new Specialties, Classes, Feats, Tricks, Paths, NPC Qualities and Campaign Qualities that will enrich your Fantasy Craft experience. All this without rehashing the new material presented in the first three chapters. When I GM a game, I normally make all of Chapter 4 available to my players. Why? Well, one of the strengths of this product is the fact that the Crafty folks used the same math to balance all of the new options against those in the core book. There may be a corner case that allows some degree of abuse but I’ve yet to find a game where those don’t exist.
A quick note about the classes included in Chapter 4. Many, of these classes are reprints of previously released PDF’s so if you are only interested in Chapter 4, you’ll want to cross reference what you’re interested in against what’s already out there.
Emissary (Base Class)
Martial Artist (Base Class)
Bloodsworn (Expert Class)
Deadeye (Expert Class)
Force of Nature (Expert Class)
Gallant (Expert Class)
Monk (Expert Class)
Monster Slayer (Expert Class)
Dragon Lord (Master Class)
Regent (Master Class)
Spirit Singer (Master Class)
Wind Knight (Master Class)
Hopefully Lev Lafayette won’t mind my borrowing his system for rating products. I’ve found it very useful for thinking through the rating process.
Style: a very strong 4
(1 + .7 (layout) + .8 (art) + .8 (coolness) + .6 (readability) + .8 (product) = 4.7)
Substance: a just over the line 5
(1 + .9 (content) + 1.0 (text) + .7 (fun) + .7 (workmanship) + .7 (system) = 5)
You could do far worse than picking up this book.