In the interest of disclosure, I would like to state that this review is made possible by the generosity of Patrick Kapera of Crafty-Games, who provided Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer with a PDF review copy of the Fantasy Craft Adventure Companion, the latest product from their excellent Fantasy Craft series.
If there was one thing about Fantasy Craft as a toolkit, it would be that while they gave you all the pieces to put together your own Fantasy Campaign, the book didn’t really get to show a sample that people could follow. In a sense, it was sort of like being given all the parts to build a car, but without any plans or instructions on how to proceed. Some GMs took to it like a fish to water, hammering out campaign settings within hours of reading the book, while other GMs felt lost without a sample to guide them. And of course, there were a few GMs that felt that they really shouldn’t be doing this sort of work at all and would much prefer a complete setting to work with instead.
The Adventure Companion addresses that issue by providing no less than three different settings that are ready to use right out of the box, each of which addresses a different genre, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of the Fantasy Craft toolkit. Each of the three are fairly unique, each one showing a different spin on Fantasy.
Today we’re looking at Cloak & Dagger, the first Campaign Setting (and Chapter) of the Adventure Companion.
When I first heard of it, I was intrigued at this pitch. When I think of Fantasy, what first comes to mind is the D&D / Tolkienesque traditional fantasy. Since Fantasy Craft shares a heritage with the D20 system, I was admittedly skeptical about how they’d pull off espionage. Sure Fantasy Craft had Assassins and Courtiers, but would it be enough?
Cloak & Dagger presents a Human-only Campaign Setting that is strongly influenced by the recent popular media centered on Ancient Greece and Rome. 300, Rome, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Clash of the Titans, Gladiator… just rattling off a list of the inspirations for the campaign setting already paints a vivid picture of what kind of feel Cloak & Dagger is going for.
Kicking off with an interesting history of the setting, Cloak & Dagger is a campaign setting that really plays up themes of deception and heroism. Born from a time of desperation, the Golden Empire is born from disparate nation states that rallied together to fight off a foreign threat. Though united in name, each of these nations struggle against each other as well as the external threats that want to bring the days of the Golden Empire to an end.
The player characters take the role of the specerum, a group of clandestine agents engaged in what they call the Silent War. They’re heroes and villains, doing what they have to in order to further the goals of their cause. Most of the specerum are loyal to a single Nation (which is, honestly how I’d run this campaign setting) but there can occasionally be individuals who sell their expertise to the highest bidder. The specerum use any means necessary, deception, violence, seduction and manipulation are all fair game, which leads to a whole spectrum of possibilities for adventures that the GM can send the Player Characters off to.
I’m definitely happy about the fact that the Cloak & Dagger setting has a very complex setup, with each of the Nations that compose the empire having their own motives for having specerum under their employ. Aside from the infighting, the other threats presented were all formidable and interesting, from rebel soldiers, rival empires and barbarians at the gates.
As a GM, the wealth of opportunities provided by this sort of opposition is a very big plus on my book, and Cloak & Dagger doesn’t disappoint in the setting aspect. The Chapter continues with a discussion of life in the Empire, including the class system of the society, the economy, naming conventions and religion.
I feel that Cloak & Dagger could be expanded much further than what the chapter can discuss (and I suspect that this may be true for Epoch and Sunchaser as well) given the restrictions in page count. The entire fluff piece of the Campaign Setting takes up only 22 pages, with the rest of the 44 pages dedicated to Cloak & Dagger committed to campaign specific rules on Character Generation, Campaign Qualities, Feats and even a discussion on running the setting followed with a Rogues Gallery and a Bestiary to boot.
Cloak & Dagger is given the rather difficult task of proving that Fantasy Craft can do non-standard fantasy by means of an example and pulls it off wonderfully. While it does do away with the other Races in the Fantasy Craft toolkit, it presents a very tightly focused game with strong themes, and potential for very interesting stories. The focus on character interaction and social challenges will prove to be refreshing to groups who are starting to get tired of the usual fight the big bad monster pattern.
I can’t help but feel that Cloak & Dagger is more of a preview, a sneak peak of something much, much greater, and I can’t help but pine away to see the rest. I can already see that this is going to be one of the things that will hang over my head as I read through Epoch and Sunchasers… given the pagecount, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the broad strokes and fill in the details ourselves.
I’m very happy with Cloak & Dagger, and can certainly see myself running this for my gaming group. I’m looking forward to checking out Epoch next as it lists the works of Robert E. Howard (of Conan fame) as an inspiration.
The Fantasy Craft Adventure Companion PDF is available now at DrivethruRPG for $14.99