September 25, 2009

Questing with Fantasy Craft

When I heard about FantasyCraft, it had piqued my interest for some reason. It was one of the few names that were mentioned during the GenCon season that was not Parhfinder. I was curious of what FantasyCraft could be and gladly volunteered to review a copy that I had managed to acquire.

FantasyCraft, if the name hadn't given it away, was build by the team that brought you SpyCraft. This was Crafty Games' attempt into trying to fit their MasterCraft rules for a fantasy-based setting. Although I had not read SpyCraft before, I had heard of its reputation for being a daunting and overly complex rules system. However, while daunting might be the impression at first, I find FantasyCraft a ruleset worth mastering.

FantasyCraft places a heavy emphasis on concept and the strength of roleplaying over its mechanics. The mechanics are more towards reflecting the benefits of roleplaying as a character rather than having sub-systems that appear to look smart for the sake of it. The foundation of these rulesets are built by creative processes on the player's part than his mathematical crunching ability.

Coming from a D&D background, character generation seems lengthy at first. In addition to the usual picks of races (or species) and classes (career), FantasyCraft also wants the player to consider his specialty (and talents if you are playing as humans). Each specialty is very much similar to an occupation from D20 Modern which grants its own mechanical benefits but it also adds flavor to the career level that you picked.

This removes class defined functions of each character base on their choices and wants the player to consider what type of character he really wants to play as. Although there may be the archetype combinations to make the perfect rogue or fighter or spellcaster, the amount of specialty available to you encourages you to go for a more diverse and unique character.

There is more to that as well. While D&D might incline players to play a more combat worthy sort of character, FantasyCraft doesn't make that discrimination by giving players careers and specialties to play as social or skillful types of characters. Effectiveness is not always proven on the battlefield as there are more areas to excel.

This is where the second strength of FantasyCraft comes in. It has a sandbox approach in dictating characters' abilities. Every specialty and career choice is rewarded with mechanical backing that would come into play eventually. A soldier might strive to gain the feats and combat abilities to take out the enemy but the courtier seeks greater renown so that he could call in more favors.

In fact, there is a resource management element in the ruleset that mostly happens outside of combat. Characters have to think about what do they want to do during their downtime and this can be used to pursue different sorts of resources by using non-combat related skills and abilities. Gold and treasure which are the staple rewards for defeating monsters in their lairs cannot buy the reputation and renown that may be needed to call in a few favors for the next adventure.

It should come as no surprise that for a ruleset that puts quite on emphasis outside of combat has quite a simple combat system. However, the deadliness of the field, is far from friendly. Using the WP/VP system for tracking combat damage, it also does track for serious damages that could cripple characters which will be reflected to mechanical penalties. This could range from battered limbs to head trauma or injuries that have to be treated during downtime.

Combat is also not boring with the amount of basic actions that a character can perform, further expanded if the character can do combat tricks which are granted by combat feats.

Now all this extensive rules would be for nothing if it doubles the load of the GM running it. Under the GMing chapter, you would mainly find great advice that are generic enough to be used for other game systems. The GMing chapter refocuses the emphasis that a good concept/story from the GM is more important than the rules. Under the worldbuilding section, you will be asked a series of questions of how each element in the world interacts with the world populace and the PCs.

It also tells the GM that the rules are flexible and it should be up to the GM to use the ones that he wants accordingly. A GM can decide what rules he wants to use by deciding on his campaign qualities.

Want to run a gritty world with no spellcasting? Then don't put in the sorcery and miracles qualities and add Fragile Heroes to make your PCs have half their vitality point.

You can even run a speed campaign by adding in all the Fast qualities which grants your PCs a much faster rate of leveling up, getting feats and attribute bonuses.

One of the few mechanics that I really love in GMing FantasyCraft is the shared narrative control. Players and GM are given a certain amount of action dice per session that they could use to enhance or set a certain tone for an encounter/scene during an adventure. A GM may use his action dice to 'fudge' the defenses of his NPCs while a PC could use his action dice to gain double XP from completing their character's personal subplot.

FantasyCraft takes a more tool-kit approach and it is not for everyone. I would take FantasyCraft and compare it with True20 rather than Pathfinder. The amount of sandboxing preparation, creative work and rules mastery that usually comes with these kind of systems equals to an amount of work than some GMs and players might not be able to cope with.

However, the kudos that I give it to is because it is a very self-sustainable system contained within its 402 pages which is less than the Pathfinder Core Rulebook anyway. FantasyCraft provides you with all the tools suited to a fantasy RPG that can translate into many years of fun.

If the day of Fantasy RPG apocalypse ever comes, I will be taking FantasyCraft into the underground bunkers and leave my 4E D&D books to the nuclear holocaust any day.

Want to learn more about Fantasy Craft? Read on...

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