Game Review: Fantasy Craft by Alex Flagg, Scott Gearin, and Patrick Kapera from Crafty Games – Chapter 1

Yesterday with The One Ring, I started my new approach of breaking down some huge books in my review queue into smaller, bite-sized chunks. I’m going to do the same today with Fantasy Craft from Crafty Games. Though I’ve talked with Patrick Kapera a few times in recent months, I’ve had a (virtual) stack of books in my queue from Crafty Games gathering (virtual) dust all that time. And I definitely need to crack them open and see what makes them tick. So this first part of the review will focus on “Chapter 1: Hero” in Fantasy Craft.

The first thing that I noticed when I dove in was the book cover by Ben McSweeney from the perspective of inside some monster’s mouth. Apparently whatever we’re inside has been very busy. Sure, there are a couple of monsters still standing (a wizard and a happy demon with a large bloody axe) – but for the most part it’s a scene of death and destruction. On the ground are several characters, a giant, an armored insect of some type, and who knows what else. The battle must have been massive and yet very one-sided. Something tells me the two combatants still standing are going to come to a painful end before it’s all said and done.

You’re dropped pretty quickly into the table of contents, which just reinforces that this book is huge – weighing in at 402 pages. Two pages of contents give you the tip of the iceberg. The book is broken into 7 chapters – Hero, Lore, Grimoire, Forge, Combat, Foes, and Worlds. Chapters seem to vary from short (6 pages) to long (80 pages).

From there you get a couple of pages of introduction, with the usual type of text about roleplaying games, different types of play, a bit about the Mastercraft system that Fantasy Craft builds upon.

And then you start Chapter 1 – “Hero” – which goes into detail about how to construct a Fantasy Craft character. Considering the size of the book, I was happy to find that the character generation process is broken into nine steps and you start with something near and dear to my heart – a character concept.

Let me take a step back to talk about “character concepts” for a sec. Over the years, I’ve seen many games – from the traditional Dungeons & Dragons and the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game to White Wolf’s World of Darkness, Steve Jackson’s Toon, and many more – and you can go one of two ways with creating characters. You can just wade into the deep end, roll dice, choose abilities, and come up with a story later. Or you can take a breath, peruse the options, and try to come up with an idea behind your character before you start applying any game mechanics to him, her, or it.

Any time I’ve used the first method (including the current D&D 4e game I’m playing now), I’ve felt largely disconnected from the world because I didn’t have a grasp of the context of my character. Sure, it can be fun. But usually it’s not as rewarding as it could be.

On the other side, when I’ve taken the time to ponder the setting and the possibilities a bit, I’ve had better luck connecting. For example, my friend Mike was GMing a campaign in a world loosely based on our own in a place that largely resembled ancient Rome… I created an escaped slave rogue with a few imbalances – Didius Cato (D.C. for short). He was unpredictable, had a nearly uncontrollable rage whenever he encountered slave traders and owners, and was generally a force of nature. I played D.C. first using the HERO System and then in D&D 3.5e and his concept didn’t change.

So the fact that Fantasy Craft starts character creation with a “Step Zero” focused entirely on character concept made my day. My one nit to pick here is that though the section does recommend “speaking with your GM before settling on a concept,” I didn’t see anything mentioned about getting any details about the world, guidance from the GM about any racial or class restrictions, house rules, campaign flavor, and so on. It’s tough to develop a concept in a vacuum. However, beyond that I love the idea of starting with getting some idea of what your character looks like, how they approach solving problems, and what their underlying motivations may be.

Once you have an idea of who or what you’re creating, you can start filling in the blanks on the character sheet to reflect those early decisions.

Attributes are largely the same as D&D – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. But instead of rolling dice for each stat, you get do use a “point buy” method, starting with 36 points. The higher the score, the more points it costs. An 8 point stat costs nothing, but an 18 costs 22 points. If you put 6 points everywhere you end up with 13’s across the board.

Next you determine your character’s “Origin.” I actually like how they combine the idea of your Species and your Specialty prior to choosing a class. You have 12 different Species to choose from – Drake, Dwarf, Elf, Giant, Goblin, Human, Ogre, Orc, Pech, Rootwalker, Saurian, and Unborn. If you’re a Human, you get to choose an extra Talent. Otherwise, most Species have adjustments to attribute scores. There are thirty-six different Specialties – from Acrobat to Wizard, with a wide variance between.

Though you get a nice summary table of the high-level pertinent details on each Species, Talent, and Speciality, there’s about a half a page section on each Species and more description of the Talents and Specialties as you read through the chapter. I’m honestly not sure how you’d play in a party as something as large as a Drake, but I’d be curious to hear if anybody has done so. I might however be tempted to play a Giant!

The benefit of the Talents and Specialties is that you have a bit of a background or past before you started your career as an adventurer. That simple idea of a background or a past can go a long way to lending itself to making some truly unique characters.

After you determine your origins, you then choose a class. Fantasy Craft seems to have some of the same concepts as D&D like multi-classing and “prestige” types of classes (though they call them Expert and Master Classes). Unfortunately there was no high-level table here with Class abilities, but you get classes from Assassin to Soldier, along with Expert Classes from Alchemist to Swashbuckler.

Again, each class has a lengthy description that offers a summary with some suggestions on how to fit in with an adventuring party, class features (requirements, favored attributes, class skills, proficiencies, and more), a core ability that the class does often, and class abilities gained as the character advances in levels. For instance, an Assassin has the “Heartseeker” core ability that offers an attack bonus against special characters. And you get fun abilities like “Cold Read” at level 2 which gives you the ability to ask personal questions about a character you can see and hear – like “What does he do for a living?” or “What is her favorite author?”

The last two steps are determining your characters interests (alignment, languages, and any studies they focus on) and filling in any remaining details on the character sheet.

Though the chapter packs a lot into 55 pages, it’s well organized (except for some kind of a class overview table) and can be blown through pretty quickly if you have a good idea of what you want to create. The artwork is spectacular – line drawings as well as the header and footer – with tons of amazing detail about the various races and classes offering visual cues about how the system designers thought of these character elements.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in the Fantasy Craft tome, so there will definitely be more chapter reviews forthcoming. In the meantime, be sure to check out Fantasy Craft at the Crafty Games website and at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. (By the way, it’s only another week or so before Mistborn the RPG is released by Crafty Games!)

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