One of the most fun things for me to do at GenCon is to wander the Dealers Room and check out the new stuff. GenCon is a natural place for RPG Publishers to launch new books and this year was no exception. One of the books that caught my eye was Fantasy Craft by Crafty Games. After the con, I received a free copy of Fantasy Craft for this article, courtesy of Crafty Games and Atomic Array.

 Crafty Games is best known for its stewardship of Spycraft after Alderac Entertainment Group ceased supporting it. Originally published in 2002, Spycraft was the d20 Modern of its time, offering gamers a modern supplement to the Dungeons & Dragons system. A few years later, Spycraft 2.0 was released as a standalone system using the Open Game License (code for “using the D&D rules but without the need to lug around a copy of the Players Handbook or d20 Modern”). Fantasy Craft was conceived of as a way to do for the fantasy gaming what Spycraft did for modern gaming.

With Wizard of the Coast’s official abandonment of the OGL, a few games have stepped in to feed the cravings of gamers that prefered the Third Edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons. Some have been around for years, such as True20 and Anime d20, while others, such as Pathfinder and now Fantasy Craft, were born out of the ashes of D&D3.5 (although, to be fair, I believe Fantasy Craft began development before the announcement of D&D4e).

Today’s article takes a look at Fantasy Craft from the POV of a D&D3.x and Spycraft GM. What does it bring to the table that makes it distinct from D&D3.5? Does it still have a Spycraft feel? I like D&D3.5 just fine, why should I give this a look? I’m a D&D4e convert; does Fantasy Craft have anything to offer for me?

1. All-in-One

Unlike D&D3.5 (or D&D4e, for that matter), Fantasy Craft contains everything you need to play in one 400 page book. It includes all of the rules for character creation and advancement, adjudicating conflicts, Game Master advice, and monsters. You literally don’t need anything else to play (although a grid and miniatures is almost a must).

I was pleasantly surprised by this, especially as most of the “all-in-one” RPGs that I’ve read give short shrift to monsters, spell lists or GM advice. Fantasy Craft includes 12 races (including multiple “subraces”), 12 classes (not including 6 more expert classes), 288 spells, and 94 unique monster entries (with multiple versions in some of them and not including monster templates). At a glance, it doesn’t feel like Fantasy Craft gave any section the short shrift.

2. Lights, Camera, Action (Dice)!

Like Spycraft, Fantasy Craft is designed to be a fast-paced cinematic game with lots of story-telling in between the monster-bashing. One of the ways it accomplishes this is through Action Dice (also familiar to players of d20 Modern and other games that have hero points and the like).

Action dice enable a player to negate a bad roll or otherwise manipulate a scene. She can boost an attack roll, her defense, confirm a critical hit, force a critical miss, or heal herself). And yes, GMs get Action Dice, too.

One benefit of Fantasy Craft‘s Action Dice over d20 Modern is that spending Action Dice is encouraged. Rather than give each character a pool of Action Dice at each level, Fantasy Craft gives you a pool of Action Dice for each session and they don’t carry over. You have every incentive to burn through your pool, which supports a cinematic game.

Optional rules allow a GM to gain Action Dice for offering hints, or allow players to have greater narrative control of the game, including avoiding a character death.

3. Familiar Terms, New Meanings (Character Options)

Fantasy Craft is not just a retread or update of the D&D3.5 races and classes. Everything has been broken down and rebuilt from the ground up. This is not to say that you couldn’t build an elven barbarian or a halfling rogue, but their Fantasy Craft versions are going to look very different from their spiritual predecessors.

Let’s start with the basics. In D&D3.5, we’re used to thinking in terms of race and class. Fantasy Craft adds a third, “specialty.” A specialty describes what your character did before the campaign (similar to d20 Modern occupations). This species (race)-specialty set-up should be familiar to Spycraft fans, except that talents are now grouped under the human species description.

Races are given an overhaul and offer more options than the “traditional set.” In addition to the usual dwarves, elves, and halflings (now called “Pechs,” which keeps making me think of the movie Willow), there are more unusual choices such as drake (essentially a “large” quadripedal dragon), rootwalker (living trees), and unborn (animated matter- anything from Frankenstein’s Monster to steampunk). Each race has options for splinter races (or what we old-schoolers call “subraces”), which are created through the selection of a species feat.

Obviously, this website has a gnomish bias, so it was initially alarming not to see gnomes listed as a playable race. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that they are now a splinter race (a demotion, to be sure, but hey, at least they’re still in the corebook) of pech rather than the dwarf (sigh…).

One immediately noticeable thing about the races is the number of playable large races. Fantasy Craft offers four (and several more than that if you count splinter races) which will certainly change up the tactical habits of PCs used to parties made up exclusively of small and medium creatures.

Another immediately noticeable thing is the lack of cross-breeds. No half-elves or half-orcs are listed. While I haven’t read anything that explicitly rules them out, they aren’t supported in the core book. You could easily house-rule them in, though, perhaps as new splinter races.

Moving on to specialties, the first thing that strikes me is that most of the D&D classes are now specialties, including the iconic four (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard).  This means that the traditional “I think I’ll play a human ranger” still leaves you with a class choice. Interspersed with these are more background-y (I know that’s not a word) specialties such as Aristocrat, Artisan, Merchant, and Tribesman, along with other “would be playable classes in other d20 games” specialties like Archer, Corsair (Ahrr!), Gladiator, and Shaman. Each specialty grants the PC a bonus feat and other abilities.

Curiously, given that the Introduction states that PCs “can go from stable hands,” many typical backgrounds, such as farmers, fishermen, and stable-hands, aren’t offered as choices. To be fair, most players aren’t going to choose “farmer” over cooler choices like “criminal” or “dragoon” (or substitute a specialty like “corsair” for “fisherman”), but I’d like to have that option.

Also, many species have “iconic” restrictions that bar a race from getting the specialty bonus feat if particular specialties aren’t chosen. This has a chilling effect on “thinking outside the box” for certain species/specialty combinations. Again, this is only a house rule away from not being an issue.

Moving on to classes, they are about what you’d expect from a later D&D3.5 or OGL variant product. There are no empty levels and there’s a considerable amount of variation within many of them (a Courtier, for example, can choose abilities from a class menu every third level).

None of the old D&D3.5 core classes are represented (having been incorporated into specialties), although many follow similar niches. One might say that the “iconic four” are largely represented by Mage, Priest, Scout, and Soldier. Other classes include the Assassin, Burglar, Captain, Courtier, Explorer, Keeper, Lancer, and Sage.

One interesting point is that, unlike D&D3.5, the majority of classes are non-spellcasters. This makes “sword & sorcery” campaigns more diverse in terms of class selection as, absent house rules, D&D3.5 limited you to three non-spellcasting classes (or four, if you’d still allow the monk).

Fantasy Craft also includes a number of “Expert Classes,” which can be multi-classed into at 5th level, so long as prerequisites are met. These include the Alchemist, Beastmaster, Edgemaster (essentially a martial specialist), Paladin, Rune Knight (arcane warrior), and Swashbuckler. Expert classes only have 10 levels. “Master Classes,” which PCs can start taking at 10th level, are explained but none are provided. In d20 Modern terms, Expert and Master Classes are akin to Advanced and Prestige Classes.

Each class contains a core ability that can only be gained if the class is chosen at first level (similar to both Spycraft and True20). Expert classes and Master classes also have core abilities, which you only gain for your first Expert or Master Class chosen.

Players of Spycraft will also notice a few familiar columns on Class Advancement tables. Each class offers a defense bonus (as in d20 Modern) that adds to your character’s Defense (Armor Class). Each class also offers an Initiative bonus, a Lifestyle bonus (see point 4 below), and a Legend (or Reputation) bonus.

There are a couple of expert class design choices that I found a bit jarring. First, the Paladin, Rune Knight, and Swashbuckler have worse Base Attack Bonuses than the Beastmaster and the Edgemaster. While the downgrade of Rune Knight doesn’t bother me, I felt that the Beastmaster should have a lower BAB while the Paladin and Swashbuckler should have a better BAB.

Second, of the three “rogue” classes, Assassin, Burglar and Scout, only the Scout has multiple increases for Backstab. I’d assume that the Assassin would have the best backstabbing capabilities of the three, but that’s not the case here.

That aside, Fantasy Craft gives you a much better developed character than D&D3.5 out of the gate, and throwing specialties into the mix offers some intriguing combinations, such as a giant tribesman courtier or an unborn wizard captain (boy does that just sound disturbing!). The choices could be a bit overwhelming for a quick pick-up game or beer-and-pretzels style game.

4. Skills, Feats, and Proficiencies?

As in Spycraft, weapon proficiencies are separated from feats and new proficiencies are gained separately.

Skills are also given a different treatment. Like D&D3.5, characters receive quadruple their number of class skills at first level and a fixed amount each level thereafter. Unlike D&D3.5 (or Spycraft, for that matter), you can no longer purchase cross-class skills. At any given level you can only put points into class skills or origin skills (two skills that you select at the beginning as well as any gained through species or specialty).

One of the more intimidating sections of Spycraft was its highly detailed skill system, which included 30 skills that had multiple uses. Fantasy Craft cuts this down to a more manageable 20, although I’m not sure why Blend (which includes Stealth rules) and Sneak had to be separate skills.

Like in Spycraft, feats are grouped into themed feat trees, such as Basic Combat Feats, Ranged Combat Feats, Gear Feats, Species Feats, and Terrain Feats, making it easier to find an appropriate feat when you’re leveling up. The only thing that I found missing in this section was a master list of feats. Given that every other section includes a handy reference chart, this seems a bit like an oversight.

5. It’s a Kind of Magic

One bugbear about D&D3.5 is that it treats arcane magic and divine magic as essentially the same, with the only significant mechanical difference being the arbitrary grouping of spells as arcane or divine (this bugbear also rears its ugly head when a new power, such as psionics, doesn’t use the same system).

Fantasy Craft addresses this rather well. Spells are spells, and a mage can cast a Cure spell as easily as a sleep spell. The difference is how paths are treated. Each priest learns a certain number of paths that grant special abilities or spells as the priest increases in level (in essence, making it a stronger version of D&D3.5 domains).

The spell list is pretty extensive and covers all of the common spells found in most fantasy games. Spell descriptions are kept brief and don’t take up a lot of space, but occasionally crucial information gets left out (magic stone, for example, gives no guidance on damage).

6. Clean Living and a Good Cup of Coffee

Those of us who are in the old school (fine, I didn’t get started until 1982, but that’s “old school” to you young ‘uns!) remember how we spent a lot of time picking appropriate gear for our PCs, largely to overcome the many traps and obstacles that we might encounter in the dungeon. As the hobby rolled forward, these lists tended to get stuffed into “adventurer packages” or otherwise glossed over. I also remember the days when my treasure hoard would be chipped away by training fees and castle-building (although D&D3.x gave us something new to spend our cash on: magic items).

Once again, Fantasy Craft borrows from Spycraft and makes gear important. Your character’s wealth is divided into two pools, cash in hand and stake. Cash in hand is what your character carries and Stake is what’s socked away at home. Your PC also has a lifestyle stat, which improves with level and allows you to upgrade two stats, panache and prudence. Panache enables you to gain bonuses on Charisma-based skills (provided that your appearance is higher than your opponent’s) and cash on hand, while Prudence enables you to actually sock away more of your money at the end of an adventure (Fantasy Craft presumes that PCs, just like their owners, tend to fritter away a lot of their income on frivolous things).

Spycraft’s influence is also strong in the Gear lists. In addition to the usual weapons (including early guns), armor, and common items, Fantasy Craft offers some interesting stuff. Don’t want to buy a standard horse? The Mounts list includes elephants, llamas, pegasi, mastodons, war-raptors, and giant turtles. Are you a thieving type? The Locks & Traps list includes crushing traps, explosive traps, fear traps, and jaw traps.

One of the more interesting tables is the Food & Drink table. What you put into your body actually has a game effect. Having a cup of coffee with breakfast will grant you a +1 on Reflex saves for 8 hours, while a hearty meal will knock out a fatigued condition (I should note that PCs are limited to the benefits of one food and one drink per day, which is good, as otherwise PCs will spend more time planning their menus than delving through dungeons).

The Services list provides similar benefits. A bath and grooming will grant an appearance bonus for a single scene, while purchasing the services of an <ahem> consort will help a PC relieve stress damage.

All in all Fantasy Craft really brings shopping and downtime back to the fore and makes it interesting. It adds an extra layer of complexity, but Spycraft fans will certainly appreciate that gear gets its due here.

7. The Fifteen-Minute Workday Abolished

One of the largest concerns about D&D games in general is how to get around the “15 minute workday.” After three or four encounters, most spellcasters tend to be low on spells and the characters need time to heal their wounds. This often ends up in bizarre situations such as barricading the group in the room of a haunted house or creepy goblin lair for the night.

Traditionally, the cure has been to pile on the magic items (or, in D&D4e‘s case, create at-will and encounter powers). Fantasy Craft offers a different solution. Spellcasters get a certain number of spell points to fuel their spells, but these spell points refresh every scene. Thus, a spellcaster is theoretically at full power at the start of every battle, depending on how you define a “scene.”

This is an elegant solution as it simulates fatigue while allowing the PCs to continue delving through dungeons. It also places less of a reliance on magic items.

There are some gray areas with this system. How the GM defines the scope of a scene will make spellcasters more or less effective. For example, if a GM declares that the aftermath of clearing a few rooms is a “scene,” and he won’t change scenes until the PCs enter the next room, can the priest only heal each PC once? What if they hunker down and refuse to move until they are healed? If the GM declares that each room is a “scene,” then you’ll have the bizarre circumstance of the PCs stepping back and forth between rooms until the priest is able to fully heal them. Similarly, does a castle siege count as one “scene?” If so, mages are far less effective in large battles than in clearing out dungeons.

8. Combat streamlined-Battlemat Still Required

Like Spycraft, Fantasy Craft places an emphasis on cinematic combat and one of the ways that it does so is by abolishing Attacks of Opportunity (second only to Alignment in terms of D&D gamer nerd rage). I’ve never been a fan of Attacks of Opportunity as they essentially made battlemats an integral part of the game (I’d played without battlemats in earlier editions of D&D).

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you can roll up your battlemats. Fantasy Craft still requires you to know your positioning for purposes of determining who you’re adjacent to and flanking bonuses. Also, part of choosing a large race is the reach benefit you get in combat, which would be negated in a purely narrative combat.

Fantasy Craft also does away with iterative attacks, so fighting types don’t get three or more attacks at higher levels. Instead, every character gets two actions each round. You can move and attack, move twice, or even attack twice.

Like Spycraft, Fantasy Craft divides hit points into Vitality and Wound points (as did early versions of the d20 Star Wars rpg). Vitality is essentially the PC’s skill at avoiding getting hurt, while Wounds is his ability to soak damage. Vitality is much more easily recoverable than Wounds.

A fun treat is the Table of Ouch. If you score a critical hit and do more damage than your opponent’s Constitution, then you can spend two action points to roll on the Table of Ouch, which can cause things like broken limbs and brain trauma. Critical misses, or Errors, can also affect a character.

9. Taking the Pain out of Creature Creation

One of the greatest GM time-savers to come out of Spycraft was its NPC creation rules, which enabled GMs to quickly generate adversaries and have them scaled against the PCs. It also uses a Damage Save mechanic for “standard characters” (read “minions”), that eliminates the need for tracking Vitality or Wound points.

NPCs don’t use the same rules characters do. Instead, the GM gives NPCs competency ratings in a few areas, picks some special abilities and attacks, cross-references his ratings with the threat level, and he’s basically finished. While not quite as fast as the D&D4e rules, it’s still a major time-saver for the GM. To illustrate the point, the new rules enabled the bulk of the D&D3.5 Monster Manual to be crammed into just over 40 pages. This section is helpfully followed by a section on converting OGL monsters to Fantasy Craft.

The beauty of this section is that it addresses the differing priorities of players and GMs. Players can use the character creation rules to develop complex and nuanced characters, while the GM can quickly churn out NPCs (and, of course, nothing is stopping her from using the full character creation rules for her important NPCs if she wants).

10. Customizability

One question commonly asked when evaluating fantasy rpgs is how well they do sword & sorcery as well as high fantasy, or whether its mechanically feasible to run a “no magic” game and still have plenty of options.

Fantasy Craft covers this pretty well. It gives advice on determining genre (do you want Dark Fantasy or Political Fantasy?) and setting your era (sword and sandal versus dueling pistols and rapiers).  While you probably don’t need to be told this, you can trim the race list and kick the others back into monsters-only territory.

There are also rules for Alignment (ah, you just knew it would be in here somewhere!) and handling Miracles. There are guidelines for eliminating PC spellcasters (to run something more purely historical or even horror, where only the insane NPCs have the kewl powerz).

11. Modularity, or Can  I Use My Old d20 Stuff with Fantasy Craft?

The beauty of the OGL is that games built with it tend to share a common base. While different in many ways, at it’s core Fantasy Craft is still recognizably D&D3.x and many elements can be swapped with little or no conversion. Like Action Points or bonuses for drinking coffee? You can add them to your D&D game with no trouble. The same goes for the NPC generation system. In this sense Fantasy Craft is a very useful optional rules toolkit (like Unearthed Arcana).

Similarly, you can port in elements from D&D to Fantasy Craft. Not a fan of Wounds and Vitality? Port in Hit Points. Still want Vancian magic? With a few tweaks you can bring D&D clerics and sorcerors back into the game.

Equipment is more problematic. Fantasy Craft uses a silver piece standard, but it doesn’t track with D&D silver pieces (it’s closer to gold). Also Fantasy Craft weapons tend to do more damage than their D&D counterparts. Armor is also treated differently, as it offers Damage Reduction and, in most cases, imposes a Defense penalty.

12. Should I Buy Fantasy Craft?

If you’re a fan of Spycraft and have been looking for a fantasy game that largely imitates it, then yes, Fantasy Craft is definitely the game for you! It melds the best of Spycraft with D&D3.x to provide a fantasy experience with a Spycraft feel.

If you aren’t a fan of Spycraft, then Fantasy Craft’s usefulness largely depends on your reason why. If you’d felt that Spycraft had too many rules and options, Fantasy Craft seems to have cherry-picked the best ideas, cleaned them up and slimmed them down. That said Fantasy Craft is still close enough to Spycraft that, if a lot about the latter bothered you, then you might want to test the waters with a pdf first or give it a pass.

If you enjoy D&D3.5 and other OGL games then Fantasy Craft‘s usefulness depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re pretty happy with D&D3.5 then you might find a few optional rules to mine here (and may want to consider the pdf over the print product). If you like D&D3.5 but are looking for a fantasy game that scratches the same itch while providing a fresh play experience, then Fantasy Craft is a worthwhile purchase.

If you’ve sworn off D&D 3.5/OGL games then, again, Fantasy Craft‘s usefulness depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re happy with D&D4e (or another system altogether), then no, you probably won’t get much out of Fantasy Craft. If you’d discarded D&D3.5 for a potentially fixable reason, such as less emphasis on the “crawl,” ease of creature creation, or discarding Vancian magic, then Fantasy Craft is definitely worth a look.

Overall, Fantasy Craft is a well-written product that benefits from lessons learned in Spycraft and holds together well. The artwork is black and white but well-done, and the upper and lower borders harken back to the 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide (although, sadly, it’s the same image on each page, rather than the “mini-comic” of the DMG). It’s a great addition to any OGL gaming shelf.

Want to learn more about Fantasy Craft? Read on…

Drop by Crafty Games today!