Game Review: Fantasy Craft by Alex Flagg, Scott Gearin, and Patrick Kapera from Crafty Games – Chapter 7

This is it. The last piece of the puzzle. The final chapter of Fantasy Craft from Crafty Games. And what does it cover? World building and running games. Like all major RPGs, there has to be a section to help gamemasters figure out what they’re doing. Whether they’re GMs experienced with other games or this is the first time they’re trying to GM anything, there’s a lot of information required. Most of it’s pretty common sense, but when rules questions arise it’s good to have a set of examples to call upon.

The first thing “Chapter 7: Worlds” focuses on is… world building! Some GMs will first decide the spirit of the world they’re running (violent, dark, political, light-hearted, exploration, etc.), which will flavor all other decisions down the line. Others will use genre (sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, traditional fantasy, etc.) and era (primitive, ancient, feudal, reason, or industrial) to do the same thing.

While reading through this chapter, I was intrigued by the section on belief systems early on and how those affect the alignments available to PCs and NPCs. Unless you’re a beginning roleplayer or someone who likes knowing the “white hats” from the “black hats,” the traditional good/evil/order/chaos structure may be a bit bland for your tastes. In my case, I think they’re great to a point but how many “lawful evil” people have you met in real life? Instead, I think alignment should be a bit more of a gray area. One of the examples in the book focuses on the four elements – air, earth, fire, and water to help guide character paths and their oppositions… The discussion of how alignments affect not only philosophical and religious aspects of character choices, but society as a whole is a great way to explore some interesting aspects to a particular world. But it goes beyond that, also offering insights into whether miracles exist and how divine magics come into play and how “the gods” affect matters in the material
realm.

Also interesting to me was the concept of a “path” that divine casters progress through as they gain in experience. Each path is broken into five different steps, which gives a character one or more abilities or spells. If I go back to the elemental alignments example for a moment and look at Air, it has two paths available – Air and Travel. The Air path offers abilities like electrical resistance and redirection, wind abilities, and weather control. The Travel path grants faster movement, the ability to cast Knock, Jump, Freedom of Movement, Find the Path, and Phase Door as you increase in experience. These are the “miracles” such characters would gain as they become stronger and more devout to a particular alignment.

Next up are the racial/species questions – which ones are available in the world. Which are the heroic species and which are the monsters? You can truly end up with some interesting campaigns if you flip the traditional notion of good and evil, taking the perspective of a band of goblinoids as the side of “right and good” and the humanoid races as being “wrong and evil.”

And then you get into concepts like nations, different organizations, way of life, trade, languages, gear, geography, crimes, history… All the things that go into defining a world. If you’re just getting into worldbuilding, this chapter has numerous good points to ponder. You can find numerous resources on the web and from other publishers seeking to add pieces to the puzzle as well, with examples and such. So I’d encourage you to keep your eyes open, define what you need up front for wherever your players will start and be adventuring initially and leave the rest open. You never know where a session will take you, where your players’ creativity might lead, and what might pop up as inspiration along the way. Remember that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters!

Before I move on to the rest of this chapter, I have to mention the idea of “Campaign Qualities” which comes up here. Campaign qualities are those little tweaks, whether permanent or temporary, that can add some intriguing twists to character development and the world. They can be applied broadly to the campaign or to a single encounter. Now I’m still a bit hazy on the whole “GM Action Dice” thing, but some of these qualities require the GM to spend a few – 0 to 4 depending on the quality. For example, if you want your players to rise in levels quickly, you can apply the “Fast Levels (Permanent)” quality, which cuts the XP required for each level increase by 1/2 and PCs can go up 2 levels in a single bump. Or the “Monty Haul (Permanent)” quality which means there are no encumbrance penalties. Or “Beefy Heroes (1 Action Die)” which gives special characters Lethal and Subdual Resistance equal to their Strength modifier. Those heroes are tough!

I really like this concept and wish more games had it. The balance issues would be offset by the extra control the GM would have on a micro and macro level of the campaign…

The next major section focuses on adventure building – from seeds and motivations to locations, adversaries, and more. Fantasy Craft seems to take a much more cinematic approach to adventures than I’ve seen in other games. There are the usual things like defining the what, where, and who of the adventure to structuring particular scenes with a classic beginning, middle, and end. The list of guidance about scenes itself is impressive, focused on promoting story and challenging the party, offering transitions between scenes, and even introducing cut scenes like you might see on TV or in the movies. Along with the scene tips are guidelines on setting up objective XP rewards, traps, more complex tasks and resolutions, and so on. Plus, the treasure tables are here to tempt your players with enough gems, gold, and magic items to make them drool in anticipation.

The “Running Fantasy Craft” section reads a bit like “GMing 101″ – offering tips and techniques for remaining impartial, keeping the players (and yourself) on track, balancing encounters, and the like. Though it’s a shorter chunk of pages (only eight), it summarizes the high points of the “art” of running games in general. It’s more of a skill than anything else and you can definitely improve over time, so don’t get discouraged if the first session devolves into a mess. Learn from the experience and you’ll find that GMing is not only fun, but rewarding, and you get to see how the players get into your worlds and adventures along the way.

The last big section I’ll tackle is “GM Action Dice.” (There are other sections on skill difficulties, managing downtime, disposition, morale, subplots, and cheating death but this is already getting long and you can read the rest.)

Like for players, the GM gets action dice at the beginning of each session. The number is computed by taking the number of PCs present and adding it to twice the adventure’s Menace score. I’m honestly not sure what the “Menace” score is (I may have very quickly skimmed the adventure design section), but it seems to be ranked similarly to other aspects in the system. So if you have five PCs and a Menace IV adventure, you end up with 13 action dice to start. You get more when you award PCs action dice and offer the players hints.

This is a sample constructed-world as seen fro...

Image via Wikipedia

So what can you do with GM action dice? You can do any of nine actions which cost anywhere from 1 to 4 or more action dice to perform:

  1. Boost an NPC die roll
  2. Boost an NP’s defense
  3. Activate an NPC’s threat
  4. Activate a PC or NPC’s error
  5. Heal an NPC
  6. Promote a standard NPC to a special character for the duration of the adventure
  7. Cheat death for a villain
  8. Add a temporary campaign quality
  9. Prompt a dramatic scene

Again, I like this approach. It codifies what most GMs do anyway, which is adjust the adventure in different ways based on PC progress or a lack thereof.

Beyond the seven chapter chock full of Fantasy Craft goodness, you get a solid 4 page index, a player character sheet you can use, a NPC sheet you can use, and if you bought the PDF, you get a fully bookmarked file that can get you everywhere very quickly. I would have liked to have seen the Table of Contents and Index be hyperlinked to the actual pages in the book, but you can get nearly everywhere from the list of bookmarks.

There’s a lot to like in Fantasy Craft, including several great mechanics and ideas that I wish we would see in other games like D&D Next. That probably won’t happen, but hey a guy can dream can’t he?

In case you missed any of the other chapter reviews, you can find the following prior articles here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 and Chapter 6. For more information, check out Fantasy Craft at the Crafty Games website and at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

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