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Let's Read: Fantasy Craft!

Neal

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I recently managed to get my hands on a copy of Fantasy Craft (apparently, the far superior second printing). I've heard a lot of good things about it, but over the past few years I've gone from being a regular gamer to a game reader to a game hoarder. I have a ton of books (and pdfs) in my library that I've barely cracked the covers of. It's a far cry from my old days of patching overused books together with duct tape or three-hole punching them into binders.

So, mostly in the interest of forcing myself to give Fantasy Craft a real chance (and to answer the questions of anyone who still has questions about it), I'm gonna read through a few pages every day, and record my thoughts here. I hope you'll join me! Let's get started!

Initial Assumptions
As I mentioned above, I'm not the roleplayer I used to be, and I'm hoping that this book (and this project) is what I need to get me back on track. My personal heyday was during the 2e-3e changeover. I've played some 1e, and even some Basic, but late second edition and third edition were my sweet spot. I absolutely devoured whatever material I could get my hands on. By 3.5, I had mostly transitioned to "armchair" status. I still picked up and enjoyed the books, but I never converted the core (the sticking points that I still remember were that horses became "round" and Critical Hit and Bow/Arrow bonuses no longer stacked). By fourth edition, my interest in roleplaying had become purely theoretical. I picked up the books, gave them a cursory glance, and followed some of the conversion and comparison discussions, but my heart was no longer in it.

Outside of the world of D&D, I've played 2e GURPS, 2e Shadowrun, oWoD, CoC, West End Star Wars, and, in more recent years, Fiasco. I've read (but never played) Fate (specifically the Strands variant), HotB, WFRP 1e, Mythic, DitV, 7th Sea, and surely a few others I've forgotten to mention. That's a lot of words that probably won't come into play, but if they somehow become a point of contention, I figured I'd put them out on the table beforehand. In terms of personality, I have an unfortunate tendency to consider myself smarter than I really am and nod my head through things I think I already know. So if I miss something vital, feel free to point it out.

Table of Contents
First off, let me say that I dig the overall art style I'm seeing so far. The cover feels very "Third-Party d20" (in a good way), while the interior art and the borders have that stark black-and-white style of first edition AD&D modules or even (dare I say it?) GURPS.

Naming the chapters the way they did (Hero, Lore, Grimoire, Forge, Combat, Foes, Worlds) is a flavorful way to add some spice to the otherwise dull headings without obscuring their meanings overmuch. Well, at least for the first four chapters. 5-7 are pretty standard.

Taking a sneak peek at the Classes listed in Chapter 1, it seems like a fairly short list, with some oddly specific niches, especially in the Expert Classes. But I don't want to speculate overmuch without getting to the section proper. The Spell list goes from pages 115-151, so that seems fairly concise. And I notice that Black Powder Weapons are listed in the "Forge" chapter. Good to see that those are at least allowed. The chapter I'm most looking forward to is the "Worlds" chapter (I've heard a lot about the ability to tweak things), and it is of course the last one. Well, that'll give us a goal to look forward to.

Introduction
This section opens with the usual "what is roleplaying" paragraphs. They are kept short and to the point, which I consider a good thing. I wonder how many copies of this book have sold to first-time roleplayers that need things spelled out to that degree. Anyway, the book then launches into three sets of choices which can be used to define a group's dynamic: Social vs. Tactical, Storytelling vs. Combat, and Safe vs. Risky. Basically, how much extraneous banter is appropriate? Are we playing at improv theater or killing things and taking their stuff? And just how "gritty" are things gonna be in terms of death and consequences? All of those are great questions to ask and answer before a single die hits the table. I prefer to think of "Social vs. Tactical" as "Light-hearted vs. Serious," but that's just semantic quibbling.

The second page of the Introduction lays out the origins of the Mastercraft system (being very careful to acknowledge its debt to D&D without actually naming D&D) and the influences of Fantasy Craft itself. Tolkien and Howard are obvious, and George R.R. Martin is a sensible modern author to cite. What I found interesting was that C.S. Lewis' Narnia books got a mention. I'm interested to see where that influence pops up. Here we also see the expected sidebar on pronouns (they're going with the masculine) and laying out which chapters are most important for players and GMs. We'll be reading the whole book, thanks.

Next time, we get into the nitty-gritty with Chapter 1!
 

Neal

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Chapter 1: Hero
Chapter 1 begins with a very Conan-esque illustration of a mighty-thewed, wild-haired warrior casting down a grotesque statue upon a throng of sinister, vaguely foreign cultists.The first sentence is equally stirring: "The heroes of any great adventure epic are frequently not the most powerful figures, but they're always the most pivotal and the most involved." To me, that immediately conjured images of a tiny hobbit offering to venture into hell, though he "do[es] not know the way." So there are two of the listed influences checked off right there. Good stuff.

Character creation (the focus of this chapter) is obviously an involved process, so this is going to take a couple of entries to fully cover. The listed steps are Concept, Attributes, Origin, Career Level, Class, Skills, Feats, Interests, Character Sheet (which seems to be "miscellaneous"), and Starting Gear. Tonight, I'm going to knock out Concept and Attributes. I'll save the heftier stuff for when I have more time to write.

Step 0: Concept
This is obviously more "fluff" than "crunch," asking the general questions one should know the answers to in order to properly roleplay a character. It's smartly divided into Description (blue eyes or brown?), Methods (bruiser or sneak?) and Motivation (why do you do what you do?), followed by a paragraph encouraging characters to be different enough to be unique, but not so much that they won't fit in.

It's mostly a matter of preference, but these sections at the beginning of character creation have always bugged me a little bit. Especially when I'm dealing with a new game with a new world and new expectations, I've always preferred to get the mechanics in order first, then ask questions of background and motivation. It's like building the skeleton first, then fleshing it out, rather than putting together a lovely skin and then figuring out how to cram the bones in there so they'll fit. Having a fully-formed idea before starting just seems like it'd be doomed to a series of awkward kludges to make Mechanic A fit concept B. But Fantasy Craft is supposed to be a versatile toolkit rather than an established setting, so this criticism doesn't necessarily apply so much here. Let's move on.

Step 1: Attributes
The first two things I noticed upon glancing at this section were that a) the classic D&D attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma) were kept, and b) attribute generation is done via point buy. Point buy's always felt a little cheaty to me. Whether that's my preference for procedural, bottom-up character generation over conceptual, top-down methods or simple geriatric grognardism setting in I cannot say. You get 36 points, and starting attributes go from 8 (free!) to 18 (a whopping 22 points!). If you want identical stats down the line, you can have straight 13s (those are 6 each). The modifiers are what I'm used to: plus or minus one for every two points the stat is above or below 10-11. I'm hoping that there's something else that the stats do that makes odd numbers more than an "empty level" between modifier bumps.

There's also a tantalizing table listing what each statistic modifies. Most of it is old hat: Strength affects melee combat; Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom affect Reflex, Fortitude and Will saves, respectively, which apparently also made the cut. But instead of "Hit Points," Constitution affects "Vitality" and "Wounds," and Charisma affects "Lifestyle." Can't wait to see how those mechanics work.

This section is also where the rules for Attribute Impairment are listed. Pretty standard stuff. As usual, don't let your stats drop to 0.

Next up: Origins!
 

MoogleEmpMog

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I don't have Fantasycraft, but do have Spycraft 2.0 and followed FC's development closely. It is very much intended to be a concept-first game, hence Concept being step 0 and point buy being not just the default but the only option presented. It's a game where you decide on a concept and then mix and match mechanical components to match that concept, and probably wouldn't work at all for any other way of creating characters.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing a detailed readthrough, since it's one of the games I've considered picking up over the years. :)
 

Flexi

The Solitary Knight
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I love the page frames in FC. They remind me of the the illustrations of the adventurers going through different areas of a dungeon in the 1st ed AD&D DM's Guide. If only the ones in FC were different on every page but I know that would have been unrealistic.
I am not running a FC game at the moment and don't see myself in one, well at least until Spellbound comes out (Come on Crafty! :) ), but FC always impresses me when I crack it open and have a look inside it. The supplements are very good too.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
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Point buy's always felt a little cheaty to me. Whether that's my preference for procedural, bottom-up character generation over conceptual, top-down methods or simple geriatric grognardism setting in I cannot say.
It is very much intended to be a concept-first game, hence Concept being step 0 and point buy being not just the default but the only option presented. It's a game where you decide on a concept and then mix and match mechanical components to match that concept, and probably wouldn't work at all for any other way of creating characters.
Yeah, look at the number of options to choose from: this game is clearly intending that you can't tell what character you are going to make just from some attribute numbers.

Also the conventional wisdom seems to be that every attribute is important, so FC could never get away with the usual 3-4d6 method of D&D because there would be no dump stats and a high score is pretty potent.
 

Neal

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It is very much intended to be a concept-first game, hence Concept being step 0 and point buy being not just the default but the only option presented. It's a game where you decide on a concept and then mix and match mechanical components to match that concept, and probably wouldn't work at all for any other way of creating characters.
You're right, it is. And if you're making a character based off of a human or most stock fantasy tropes, that'll work. But (looking ahead to the races a little bit), how are you to know that you can make a treant PC, but not, say, a ghost? Or a faun? Of course, all of this is assuming that the players are given the book and told to "just make whatever." A GM that makes it known what is and isn't available will obviously make things easier.

I love the page frames in FC. They remind me of the the illustrations of the adventurers going through different areas of a dungeon in the 1st ed AD&D DM's Guide. If only the ones in FC were different on every page but I know that would have been unrealistic.
I agree. The frames are awesome. They kind of remind me of the border doodlings in old Mad magazines (or was it Cracked?), but the repetition is a little disappointing. Maybe new frames for each chapter would have been a good compromise?
 

Pedantic

Idealist
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You're right, it is. And if you're making a character based off of a human or most stock fantasy tropes, that'll work. But (looking ahead to the races a little bit), how are you to know that you can make a treant PC, but not, say, a ghost? Or a faun? Of course, all of this is assuming that the players are given the book and told to "just make whatever." A GM that makes it known what is and isn't available will obviously make things easier.
Well, if you're willing to dig a little deeper, the system for backgrounds and species is based off a point system which makes creating those things fairly easy and there's a dedicated forum for that sort of thing.

But when you get to the Worlds chapter, you'll note it does suggest the DM ought to pick what is available in his fantasy world and indicate that to his players.
 

Stacie.Winters1

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Fantasy Craft... best fantasy d20 rpg ever. :)

The only thing D&D and Pathfinder has going for it is mass support and colors, but both of those games just lack all the Cool and Awesomeness that Fantasy Craft brings to the gaming table.

Just my personal opinion of course. ;)
 

Neal

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Chapter 1: Hero
Step 2: Origin


Time to roll up our sleeves and finally dive into the "Race" half of "Race/Class" combinations. Actually, it seems that Fantasy Craft adds a third crucial aspect, the "Specialty," which is like a background. I like it. This may be an inappropriate connection, but I'm seeing parallels to WFRP's nonadventuring Careers as Specialties, with an adventuring Career as a Class. We'll see. The more obvious analog would be AD&D 2e's Secondary Skills, which I've never used. Thinking back, though, that was a great "rules light" system of incorporating background, skills and motivation all into one neat little evocative descriptor. Though the two Specialties mentioned, "Fencer" and "Tribesman," don't exactly hearken to things like Artisans and Peasants. But anyway, I'm getting sidetracked and I'm not even into the Races yet, much less the Specialties.

Everyone also gets two "Origin Skills," which is a cool little mechanic. This boils down to skills that are always able to be advanced, even if they're not Class Skills. I like it. There's an immediate, visceral difference between a Fighter that can also pick locks and a Fighter that's a scholar in Elvish poetry.

There are 12 species laid out in the main book, with various "Splinter Races" dividing off of Elves and Dwarves and such. Every species has a Type, which maps to 3rd edition (and later). Instead of "Humanoids," though, we get "Folk." Much more flavorful, and appropriate to the medieval mindset.

Drake
Wow. They really start out with a bang here, with possibly the biggest "will this work as a Level 1 character?" of them all. Drakes are presented as better than "lesser mortals," and they act like it. They're big and bad, with flight, natural weapons, reach, and wounds equal to Con x 1.5, which I assume is opposed to a default of Con. They also get two additional Interests (another customizing mechanic, apparently). They have a few drawbacks, though. Their cold-bloodedness renders them vulnerable to cold and they are "Reviled," lowering non-Drake dispositions by 10. I wonder how heavy a penalty that is. Is it "We don't serve your kind around here."? Or more "To arms! It's a dragon!"? The small increase to Wounds doesn't strike me as properly representing the increase in sheer bulk when going from, say, Elf to Drake (especially looking at the illustration), but at this point, between rpgs and World of Warcraft, I can get past Hit Points not exactly matching up with size. Notably, no sort of armor is mentioned, though that might be coming with the Beast Type or racial Feats.

Dwarf
Dwarves are presented pretty much as expected: clannish and industrious. The Splinter Races of Mountain Dwarves (the default) and Hill Dwarves are pretty standard, though I'm excited to see just what "Lava Dwarves" are all about. They have "Darkvision I," which eliminates "the effects of dim and faint light." So no supervision for Dwarves, at least not out of the gate. They also start with Damage Reduction, which I've always considered a fun power.

Elf
Elves are a graceful, long-lived but dying race that tends a bit toward haughtiness. I do like how they're divided up into the Hart, Owl and Spider nations. Guess which one is the Dark Elves? I also like how the elves' detachment and ennui are mechanically represented by a penalty to Impress and Sense Motive checks and a reduction in Vitality-restoring effects, respectively. The description for Keen Sight, going into visual range increments and Aiming mechanics, seems complicated. What are we in for?

Giant
Yet another "How are they gonna make this balanced?" all-star. Giants are, like elves, a disappearing elder race. I like how they are described as "jovial" and "paternal" rather than cruel and stupid, and they notably have no attribute modifiers, so no Intelligence penalty. They share Dragons' Wounds bump to Con x 1.5, and "keen" weapons lose their edge (har, har) against Giants. Overall, pretty drab, but I guess Giants are really just big dudes. Maybe the splinter races add some more flavor.

Next time, we continue on our trek through the species!
 

The Scribbler

A Flash of Hope
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One thing that Giants, Rootwalkers, and Dragons get is a greater ability to carry things: Drakes get +5 STR for purposes of carrying capacity, Giants get +10.

Giants also get all kinds of bonuses against being knocked down or pushed around, and knocking down others, as if they were much bigger, as well as the use of large weapons with the larger damage that means. Most of their cool stuff is in the mechanical implications of a few bonuses rather than individual powers.

Similarly, the many more interesting parts of being an Unborn are under the Construct type description on Page 226.
 
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