Review: Fantasy Age

In the beginning was D&D, and D&D (eventually) begat D&D 3.5, and D&D 3.5 begat True20, and True20 begat Dragon Age, and Dragon Age begat Fantasy Age…

In a Nutshell: Basic, generic fantasy RPG rules aimed at new players and Game Masters; expect a range of settings (Titansgrave, Freeport, Blue Rose, etc) to follow. Requires only six-sided dice rather than the usual set of polyhedrons. 145 page PDF in my case, $16 at time of writing; lead designer Chris Pramas, published by Green Ronin.

CONTENTS

Introduction (5 pages): Fantasy Age is very friendly to the new Game Master and new players. I won’t dwell on the contents because jaded grognards such as I (and, I suspect, most of you) already know what a roleplaying game is and how to play one. If you don’t, you could do worse than starting with this.

Character Creation (21 pages): This is familiar stuff if you have ever played anything D&D-like; choose a character concept, roll for abilities (9 of them), choose a race (there are 6, Tolkien’s usual suspects and a couple more), social class and background, and character class, pick starting equipment, calculate Defence (more on that later), choose a name, goals and character ties.

Now, I’m going to skip ahead here, because character generation makes more sense if you understand the game’s basic mechanic, which is this: When your character tries to do something, you roll three ordinary six-sided dice (one of them a different colour to the others, called the Stunt Die) and add the relevant attribute to your score; you can add +2 if you have a relevant focus – more on those later, but for now note that focuses don’t stack, you get either +2 or nothing. If the total meets or beats the target number set by the GM, you succeed. If you roll doubles, the score on the Stunt Die shows how many points you have for stunts – I’ll explain that in a minute. Back to Character Creation then…

Abilities (Strength, Intelligence etc) are determined by rolling 3d6 and looking up the result to give a value between -2 and +4. Races each give the PC a number of mandated benefits and two random ones, typically either a stat boost or a focus. Your background gives you another focus. Your class determines what armour and weapons you can use, how many hit points you have to start with, and class powers, which might be more focuses or talents; a talent unlocks a capability rather than giving a bonus on test rolls, for example an alchemist can create grenades.

As far as equipment goes, everybody gets a pack, a waterskin and some clothes, and weapons and armour determined by their character class. They get some money too, determined by dice rolls and their social class.

Goals and ties are pure roleplaying elements; what’s important to the PC, why they are adventuring, and how he or she knows the other PCs. These give no mechanical advantage or disadvantage, just story hooks.

Basic Rules (11 pages): I explained the core mechanic earlier, except for target numbers. These are set by the GM based on how hard the task is and the specific circumstances; in an opposed test, your target number is the other guy’s result. If you succeed, the Stunt Die shows how well you did – 1 means you only just made it, and 6 is flawless execution.

Combat follows the familiar pattern of roll for initiative, act in descending order of initiative, make either a major action and a minor action (including attacks) or two minor actions. Casting a spell might be major or minor, depending on the spell.

Your Defence is 10 + Dexterity + shield bonus, if you have a shield. This is the target number for anyone trying to hit you, with attacks being a normal attribute and focus roll. If they hit, they roll for damage, you deduct your armour value, and anything left over reduces your Health (hit points). At 0 Health you are dying, and have 2 + Constitution combat rounds to get healed, or else.

Combat stunts (bought with the points on the stunt die if you rolled doubles on your attack) include things like pushing the target around, disarming him, doing extra damage, bypassing armour, and moving yourself to the top of the initiative order. Like the random attribute generation, this simplifies and speeds up creating a PC, because instead of digesting pages of rules to work out how your character could (say) do extra damage and adjusting the build to do that, you just buy the effect of your choice on the fly whenever you get lucky enough. This is a very clever rule.

Character Options (13 pages): This covers talents and specialisations your PC can learn as he or she levels up. Talents are available to a character who meets the requirements for class and abilities, and as mentioned above unlock special capabilities; each talent can be taken up to three times, unlocking a different ability each time. Specialisations are more powerful and have a minimum level requirement as well.

Equipment (13 pages): Here are the usual suspects for ancient, mediaeval and renaissance armour, weapons, camping gear, clothing, and so on. Slightly unusual are the focuses and equipment for crafting in the videogame sense, building your own gear from animal parts and other things you find on your travels.

This chapter jarred a tiny bit; I know it’s aimed at beginners, but explaining to me that a skirt (for example) is "a loose garment worn around the waist and draping down to billow around the legs" is taking it further than strictly necessary.

The lists of trade goods and raw materials could be useful for unusual treasure items or actual trade. As well as the usual food and lodging prices, there are prices for things like furniture and crockery. So this is an unusually thorough equipment chapter, underlining the game’s focus on beginners.

Magic (11 pages): Magic is divided into 12 talents, which would be called schools of magic or subclasses in most games. A mage begins with the lowest level (Novice) in two magic talents, two spells for each talent (four in all), and 10 + Willpower + 1d6 magic points, which are expended to cast spells – casting is a normal ability test using Intelligence and any appropriate magic focus. Spellcasting has its own stunts as well, such as increasing spell duration or doing more damage.

Each arcane talent has four spells, for a total of 48 in the basic rules. Again, we see the game’s focus on supporting beginners by reducing the amount of stuff they need to know before making a decision; if you have the Fire arcane focus and advance it from level 1 (Novice) to level 2 (Journeyman), you unlock the Burning Shield spell, case closed.

Stunts (5 pages): The Basic Rules chapter explains combat stunts, and the Magic chapter explains spellcasting stunts, but there are more, and this is where you find them; specifically, exploration stunts and roleplaying stunts. Exploration stunts are useful when searching for things or getting into an advantageous position, while roleplaying stunts are about talking to NPCs and allow you to sway crowds, make a witty remark or insult, flirt and so on. These types of stunts give benefits which are less mechanical in nature, and more things that can be woven into the narrative or provide story hooks – enraging NPCs so that they storm out of the room, seducing an NPC, and so on will all have ongoing repercussions for good or ill.

The Game Master (14 pages): So far everything we have seen could be shared with the players, but now we move into the covert realm of the game master. Again, this is aimed at a novice, with a series of short paragraphs explaining what the GM does and advice on how to do it; running a session, creating an adventure or a campaign, play styles, handling problem players, things to do or to avoid. There’s nothing new for veteran GMs, but if you are just starting out this is solid stuff.

Mastering the Rules (7 pages): While the previous chapter was about how to be a GM in general, this one gives advice specific to Fantasy Age; how to decide which abilities and focuses are relevant, what target numbers to set, major and minor NPCs, considerations in combat, handling hazards like fires and traps, that kind of thing. Again, nothing a grognard wouldn’t be able to figure out for themselves, but things that a novice GM might want help with.

Adversaries (12 pages): Here we have some 16 NPCs and monsters, with advice on how many to throw at the PCs, how to make them tougher if you need to, and what special abilities they might have. You’ve got everything you need to do Lord of the Rings or Conan, and probably Dragon Age as well (though I never finished that, so I’m guessing here).

Rewards (7 pages): The GM is offered a choice between rewarding the PCs by advancing them a whole level when they do something worthy of that, or awarding experience points and levelling up when they accumulate enough. New levels bring the PCs more hit points, focuses, talents, specialisations and in the case of spellcasters more magic points as well. Additionally, the PCs can be rewarded with treasure, there being six levels of treasure hoard to be found. Finally, PCs can acquire magic items, ranging from the common (might be for sale, fairly easily acquired, typically give a temporary effect – potions or similar) to the legendary (unique items worth a king’s ransom, consider yourself lucky if you find even one in a character’s career). A magic item might give you a bonus on some ability, weapon damage or armour rating; let you perform a specific stunt for fewer points, grant you immunity to a specific effect, and so forth; example items are given.

The Campaign Setting (6 pages): This being a generic rules set, there is no default setting specified. Instead, this chapter speaks to whether you might want to use a published setting, something based on real world history or a fictional world, or one of your own devising, then follows up with best practice on building a world from scratch. So again, nothing revolutionary here, just a solid explanation of the basics for someone new to the hobby.

Adventures in Highfalls Swale (12 pages): Here is a small, portable setting – a single valley with lakes, rivers, woods and villages – and an initial adventure, in which the PCs take part in a coming-of-age ritual involving camping out overnight on an island formerly occupied by a sorceress. What could possibly go wrong?

…and we close with a glossary, an index, and the obligatory character sheet. Which has a typo on it ("Interlligence").

FORMAT

Two-column black serif type on a white background, restrained use of colour, full-colour illustrations every couple of pages. Simple, straightforward, gets the job done.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There are a few things that would be nice extras. Layers in the PDF, making it more printer-friendly; some pre-generated characters for various classes maybe (although the rules are so simple one could argue they are not necessary); a few more monsters.

CONCLUSIONS

This is a good introduction to roleplaying for the neophyte, and a perfectly viable fantasy RPG for the experienced player. If my grandchildren were old enough to start playing, I might well this use to entice them in.

I was hoping it might be simpler and faster in play even than Savage Worlds; but I don’t think it is, as near as I can tell without playing it for a while. It has hit points, which in my opinion do slow things down. It isn’t simpler than SW, but it feels more mechanically consistent – some of my players have problems with the Wild Die in SW even after five years’ play which I don’t think they would have with the FA Stunt Die.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. This is tempting enough for me to try it at some point, but not tempting enough for me to drop my current campaign(s) in its favour.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Fantasy Age

  1. What a coincidence! I played this — or rather the Dragon Age variant — for the first time yesterday. It did remind me of Savage Worlds quite a bit, but as you say, more consistent somehow. I liked it a lot and I’m pondering investing in Fantasy Age but I am already a big fan of 13th Age, WFRP2, and LotFP, and I don’t know if there’s enough room for another fantasy rpg, even one as fun as this. More play need, I think!

    • I know – so many games, so little time! But, neither SW nor FA is linked to a particular setting, so I’d be tempted to run a “guest session” using the new rules in one of the existing settings, whichever you’re most comfortable with, and see where that leads. I think either SW or FA would work well in the Warhammer World; I’ve not played LotFP but I understand it’s more about tone than setting; and the 13th Age setting is essentially the Icons and the PCs’ relationship to them, which looks easy to apply to any other game. I do occasionally think about trying something other than SW myself, but so far inertia and a dislike of tracking hit points have won out. 🙂

  2. I’m running a Fantasy AGE game right now with session number 3 is coming up soon. I’m a newbie GM for traditional RPGs, running for a newbie group of ~7-8 players. When I made the choice, I compared F-AGE directly against SW.

    Here’s some of the stuff I’ve found helpful:

    Standardizing on the D6 makes things incredibly easy to improvise. Low grade weapons, no matter the type/group, are 1d6 and may have a modifier from 1-3. Medium grade weapons are 2d6 with rarer modifiers of 1-2 points. A few heavy grade weapons are 3d6. So making strange weapons and spell damages is painless for a newbie like me.

    Ranges for weapons and movement speeds are in yards, not squares. Since we play in theater of the mind style that makes it very easy to teach the players. I have done map sketches just to help the players out, but have intentionally left the ranges abstract.

    Players have an easy time understanding that tests/checks are just 3d6 + Attribute + Focus vs TN. They don’t quite grasp the power of the bell curve, but I’ve thought about printing out a chart from AnyDice to illustrate the point.

    Players love using stunts, and will tend to use them effectively. As a GM, I use them thematically with how the NPC’s M.O. works—or use them to power special abilities. It kinda blew my player’s minds when I used a spell stunt to cast 2 different spells (defensive and offensive) in the same turn.

    Building adversaries isn’t hard. At first I was miffed that there were hardly any, but then over the past 2 games have learned that it really isn’t hard to take and re-theme one of the stock adversaries with a couple of tweaks. So far my players have faced variations of F-AGE goblins, bandits, orcs, and demon-soldier (used as a boss)—which took maybe 5-6 minutes to whip out apiece.

    Some things I didn’t quite expect:

    The 10-point character creation alternative, assign 10 points to attributes of your choosing, still makes very powerful characters. The players have all stuck with my pre-gens so far.

    Players at levels 1-2 are more powerful than even their FATE equivalents (minus FATE points). If you compare what the average FATE PC can accomplish versus what a F-AGE PC can accomplish, the broad “attribute-as-skill” makes them very competent. Because I was so uncertain about exactly how much punishment the players could take, I reduced hitpoints and armor. The results were spectacular: only 2 hits landed in the first game, across 2 encounters. So I beefed the NPCs up and tried again: a near clone of the bandit was aced in one 3d6 sniper shot (through a magical 10-HP shield wall), and the only one that worked the way I’d hoped was based on the orc stats—the demon-soldier inspired assassin golem didn’t survive the first initiative round.

    Odds for tests are harder to calculate because of the bell curve, and so I’ve had trouble making a challenging encounter. The included table (which I promptly added to a cheat sheet) helps, but doesn’t give much of an idea of odds. Here’s a suggestion: a PC with 2 in an attribute plus a focus can beat a TN 14 test 62.5% of the time. Increase that attribute by 1 and you have a 74% chance. Also, damage can be hard to predict. Calculate the average damage and add the modifier, then add about a 10-15% margin for stunts like: lightning attack (chance of 2x attack), dual strike (hit 2 targets), pierce armor (halve armor), mighty blow (+1d6 damage), and lethal blow (+2d6). The PCs will stunt more often than you first expect—and that’s great because they love it.

    Newbie players keep thinking that they can only do what their focuses list. I’ve tried to dispel that, but I’ll have to try much harder next game. The focus just adds a bonus—it does not dictate PC capabilities.

    Why I chose F-AGE over SW:

    Consistency. Using the same dice for everything increases the accessibility, even if it made encounter design a little harder for me. It also made adaptability easier, in my mind, so I think it evens out.

    Secondly, writing and organizational quality. There’s a lot I could say about the editing quality of the F-AGE rulebook, but I’ll refrain from that. When reading the SW core rules I was rather disappointed. I like the freedom given, but hate the disorganized nature of the book. For instance, there’s hardly a summary of anything. What are all the actions? Well, if you don’t read the whole chapter, you just don’t know. And since I can’t find cheat sheets, I can’t give them to players. It is time consuming to have to constantly cross reference the rules when just reading it to learn it, as a GM … when picking up F-AGE was a matter of reading, copying a few tables into a cheatsheet, hitting print, and then running a game. I’ve only consulted the rules once during play that I recall (for grenades, which came up with an NPC). I read the F-AGE rulebook once (skipped the setting and campaign), and then reviewed a couple core chapters. I’ve read SW twice, the combat/actions chapter a third time, and one of the other chapters a third time as well. I feel like I’d be consulting the rules more often had I run the game in SW. By far and away the biggest reason for me.

    I’ve lurked for quite awhile, and appreciate your blog, Andy. I’m curious to see what you think of my opinions and experience thus far.

    Also, the look on my player’s faces when the realized that after saving the king from carnival-disguised assassins and saving one for questioning… why did they pick the mime? That was so priceless! I barely kept a poker face till the encounter ended and they tried interrogating the NPC. I made the mime a mage, which was very entertaining because everything she did was “imaginary” yet did stuff.

    • Hi RK! Glad you like the blog.

      Interesting to see some actual play insights… I intend to run a tryout at some point, but likely not until Christmas now. It’s a game designed for newbies, and given that many of my players go 6 or 12 months between sessions, they are effectively newbies each time.

      The things that appeal most to me about FA are the mechanical consistency and the way it defers player choices until they actually matter (e.g. Stunts). The thing I like least is the idea of tracking hit points again.

      SW makes a conscious decision not to repeat itself, which means you have to read and internalise the whole book before you get some of it. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve done that now, and I’m still finding things I’m doing wrong. I make a habit of writing cheat sheets for every game I run, which I have always found very helpful – a lot of people do these but I find that what I need rarely matches what other GMs think is important. There is an Attack Options Summary in the rulebook, but I have found the most useful cut-down version of things to be the test drive.

      I’d be interested in what you make of FA after a few more sessions, and I’ll write up our test session when it happens. Meanwhile, I’m waiting to see if Sci Fi AGE comes later on… It wouldn’t be hard to do, I suspect Titansgrave is halfway there.

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