Hi everyone,

I’ve decided to launch a Patreon campaign in order to get more support for the blog. As you might know, I’ve been in the midst of a lot of personal changes that have had long-term financial implications, and I figure it would be a good idea to open new opportunities to let my blog work for me.

You can find the details over on the Patreon Campaign Page, but let me first say that I’m not about to put my Let’s Study Series posts behind a pay wall. Patrons will receive exclusive content and voting rights on which games to review next, but all the Let’s Study content will still be free and readily available on the blog.

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fageThe AGE system first came to my attention when it was released with the Dragon Age RPG. I’ve had some opportunities to read about it, but I never really sat down to go over it in detail.

So when I heard that the system was being decoupled from the license and being re-issued as it’s own thing, I was immediately intrigued. The fact that the system was being used for the recently concluded Blue Rose Kickstarter (which I backed) didn’t hurt either.

Fantasy AGE is technically a generic fantasy RPG that will let you play the heroic characters in the well-known adventure fantasy style of play made popular by D&D. If you’re familiar with the 3.X era of rules of D&D, some of the concepts and ideas used in Fantasy AGE will be familiar to you, as the AGE System draws much of it’s inspiration from True20, which in turn was an offshoot of D20.

The book itself is beautifully illustrated, and well laid out in an easy to read fashion. As a generic fantasy ruleset, it doesn’t come with a setting, so those looking for a new game with a complete world might be a bit disappointed.

That said, what IS here is a complete ruleset for running fantasy, with a few innovations that break away from the norm, while sticking to a few sacred cows that could use a bit of simplification.

Basic Mechanics

The Resolution system for the AGE system is a 3d6 + Ability roll against a set difficulty. The twist here is that one of the three dice you roll should be a different color, as it serves as the “Stunt Die” which serves several different purposes.

If a player rolls doubles, then the value of the Stunt Die determines how many Stunt Points is made available for the character for that action. The Character may then execute any number of Stunts that they can pay for with that pool of Stunt Points.

It’s a neat mechanic, and the addition of Stunts certainly adds a bit of dynamism to an encounter.

Character Creation

Making a character in Fantasy Age is pretty straightforward, and might trigger some deja vu from D&D players. The first step is to determine a character’s Abilities. These are:

Accuracy
Communication
Constitution
Dexterity
Fighting
Intelligence
Perception
Strength
Willpower

Unlike D&D, there’s no need to derive further stats from these, as the values in your Ability are the ones you’ll add to your 3d6 roll. I appreciate how this cuts out an unnecessary step and just keeps the useful bits.

Abilities can be rolled and assigned in order, rolled and assigned by preference or bought in a point-buy system.

Ability Focuses are an area of expertise within an Ability. This is the “skill” system of Fantasy Age, and each of the Abilities has at least 4 different Focuses in them. For example, Strength Focuses include Climbing, Driving, Intimidation, Jumping, Might and Smithing.

There are six races to choose from in Fantasy AGE: dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, human and orc. Each one has it’s own package of Modifiers to the character, as well as a small table of randomly determined additional Benefits. It’s a nice touch as it makes certain that two characters of the same race will still have something to make them different from one another.

Once you have your Abilities and Race squared away, you move on to Backgrounds. This trend of adding backgrounds with mechanical impact is a good one, and I’m glad to see it here.

Backgrounds are determined by making a couple of rolls and a lookup in a table. Backgrounds are sorted by Social Class, which ranges from Outsider to Upper Class, and each of those has a smaller list of Backgrounds to come from. Each Background bestows an Ability Focus to the Character.

Finally we get to Classes. There are only three Classes in Fantasy AGE: Warrior, Rogue and Mage. Each of these Classes has a package of traits, including recommendations for primary and secondary Abilities, starting Health and Weapon groups that the character can wield. Each Class also has a large list of powers, that expand with every additional level up to the cap of level 20.

Each level either bestows new abilities or gives opportunities to learn Talents, which are like D20 Feats, though each having a 3 tier progression from Novice, to Journeyman and Master levels.

The only derived stat I could see in the entire character creation process would be the calculation for the character’s Defense value, which is done by adding up 10 + Dexterity + Shield Bonus (if applicable.)

Character Specializations

Here’s the fun part. I know I said that there are only 3 classes in Fantasy AGE, but they get to add back a lot of variation by adding Character Specializations. These are micropackages that are tacked onto an existing character, bestowing benefits at certain levels. Again these benefits are ranked as Novice, Journeyman and Master and have certain requirements for a character to obtain.

Equipment

The Equipment chapter of Fantasy AGE feels surprisingly… old. There’s a lot of bean counting, with perhaps only the absence of encumbrance and weight as the only improvement from the classic D20 stuff.

That said there’s an audience for this kind of stuff, so if you’d like listings for mundane tools, services, goods, food and lodging, the game has those too.

Magic

The Magic system for Fantasy AGE works on the basis of 12 Magic Talents, each covering a different Arcana. Mages begin with 2 of these (each one granting 2 spells each), and they advance in rank as they level up.

Spells require Magic Points to cast, which are calculated by a simple formula: 10 + Willpower + 1d6. This value goes up every time the Mage levels up as well.

Mages learn multiple Arcana, making them surprisingly flexible.

Stunts

Perhaps the biggest mechanical highlight in Fantasy AGE would be the Stunts System. It’s neat and easy to remember, and when used outside of just combat, it lends to some unpredictability that can be a lot of fun. The book also includes tables for Exploration and Roleplaying related stunts, which should help jog the imaginations of the players as they go through their adventures.

The GM section

The rest of the chapters goes into some very thorough GMing advice, and covers all the important bits from running the game, to coming up with your own setting, to a chapter on monsters and a sample adventure. It’s a great template to follow and the kind of content that I’d love to see in more games of this kind.

Conclusion

The Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook is beautiful, well-laid out, accessible and sits on the lighter side of rules complexity. There’s a lot to like here, much like in 13th Age, as it improves on an existing ruleset but doesn’t innovate where it doesn’t need to.

It feels solid, and the Stunts are a nice touch. I can certainly see introducing this game to new players and getting them started with little trouble. With new Settings coming out soon, it’s definitely worth your money.

Also, given that this is “Fantasy” AGE, I’m quietly hoping that there will be a “Sci-Fi AGE” “Modern AGE” or even “Supers AGE” somewhere on the horizon too.

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The Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook is available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG for only $15.99 or roughly Php 720.


Now that we’ve had a chance to brush up on the 4 different tiles and how the system of Fantaji works, let’s move on to Character Creation.

The process of creating a character takes six steps:

Roll Niche
Roll Two Powers
Choose Two Traits
Set Health
Choose Milestones
Decide Starting Equipment

Niche

A characters Niche is composed of three different components that define their place in the game world. This is divided into Political, Social and Personal axes.

Each of these is given a table that you can roll a d10 to reandomly determine each component, and you string it together in a concept.

Example:

For this article I’m going to go for the default rolling option for character creation. I’m pretty certaint hat there’s nothing wrong with just selecting the components for a niche but there’s a bit more exercise of creativity if you try it randomly.

So, I roll 1d10 three times and get the following: 6, 10, 10

That gives me the following:

Political Aspect – Sympathizer, Hates the current structure, but loyal to leaders
Social Aspect – Religious
Personal Aspect – Pervert, Individualist, Misfit, Bitter

Ooookay, that’s a little harder than I thought. But let’s roll with it.

So, essentially my character seems to be some sort of priest who has issues with the current social structure, but believes in the legitimacy (and possibly the benevolence) of the leaders. He is also a non-conformist, and possibly nearly a heretic given his opposition to the structure.

Overall, not bad!

Powers

With it’s default rules, Fantaji allows characters with two Powers each. Fantaji provides several charts to roll on, and for powers you roll 1d10 for a category and another to get your specific power. Fantaji powers are Effect-Based, meaning that you get the mechanical stuff first, then the player gets to skin it accordingly.

Example:

Now that I’ve got my Dissident Priest, let’s see what powers I get. For the first one, I roll a 4 and a 9.

That grants me an Asset (Can move Drama from hero to Asset or vice versa “At Will,” All start at 2[1]. The asset in question is a Minion.

The second power roll gets me a 4 and a 6.

This gives me another Asset, and A Dynamo: Check @5: Generate DT+ for Asset (At Will)

For some reason I have a mental image of Gru from Despicable Me.

Traits

Characters begin with at least two Traits. Traits are phrases so we’ll have a free hand at coming up with what these might be. For the sake of time, I’ll use a few Traits from the list they’ve provided in the book.

I choose:

Hungry Like the Wolf
Silence is Golden

Somehow the idea of him being ambitious and yet very careful with his words fits the concept.

Health

Starting characters are recommended to have the following Health track:

[3]O
[2]OO
[1]OOOO

Milestones

Fantaji keeps track of experience with Milestones. In this case I don’t have a default setting to work with, so let’s just get something generic:

“Get invited to participate in the political arena”

Starting Equipment

For my character starting equipment should be things that would make sense for him. I suppose that given his nature, having a Dagger on hand would make sense, as well as some Flashy Robes that reflect his standing in the Church.

Character creation in Fantaji is quick, and I couldn’t help but be amused at just how it shares a little bit of DNA with Early Dark, especially with the Niche. It didn’t take very long to make this character, and I appreciate this kind of approach as it means we can get started with running a game right away without wasting an entire evening character creation.

The Fantaji Universal Role-Playing Game is available from DriveThruRPG in PDF format for $15.00 or roughly Php 675.00


CSR-Cover-Free-Preview-386x500It’s not a surprise that I am a fan of Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System. Having done two series of Let’s Study articles for both Numenera and The Strange, I was very interested to see what the upcoming Cypher System Rulebook had to offer.

Thanks to the generosity of Monte Cook Games, I was given an opportunity to take a peek at a pre-production copy of the CSR! Needless to say, I was pretty stoked about it, which explains this First Impressions review.

What is it, and what is it for?

The Cypher System is the name of the rules that power Numenera and The Strange. Designed to put story at the forefront of gameplay, it kills a few interesting sacred cows to promote a much more dynamic style of play.

This makes it a prime candidate to be the baseline for a generic rpg product that people can use to spin off their own games. And now, Monte Cook Games makes it possible with the Cypher System Rulebook.

The Basic Mechanics

I’ve gone over the basic mechanics before in my Let’s Study articles for Numenera and the Strange, but I’ll try to give a quick summary here.

Basic mechanic is a 1d20 roll against a set target difficulty that ranges from 3 to 30. This difficulty is set by the Level of the obstacle or opponent. This allows the game to function without the GM having to roll, resulting in a much faster game.

Other fiddly bits involve the expenditure of a finite pool of Effort to reduce the difficulty of the task, and the use of set damage to further streamline play.

Rolling a 1 is always bad, while rolling a 19 or 20 results in getting a minor or major effect that further improves your success.

I’ve gone and said it before, but it’s fast, elegant. Furthermore, the focus on speed and offloading rolls from the GM’s duties allows for a much more interesting game as the GM can focus on the story.

Character Types

Previous games using the Cypher system featured three types with different names appropriate to their settings. The CSR gives them much more generic-sounding names for the sake of clarity: Warrior, Adept and Explorer.

However, the CSR also adds a fourth Type in the form of the Speaker. The Speaker fills the niche of the social character. While this has been folded into the other types in the previous games, I’m very happy to see them get their recognition with the CSR ruleset, as it is meant to cover more than the usual Action-Adventure genre, which is something we’ll come back to later.

The Types section also introduces Flavors, which are separate sub-packages of new abilities that can be traded into an existing type on a 1:1 basis. Meaning you can give up an ability pick from the Type in exchange for an ability from a Flavor. I’m all for customization, so I’m very happy to see this.

Character Descriptors

I’m glad to see that there’s a hefty serving of fifty different character descriptors in the CSR, all of which are geared towards being generic enough to fit any genre.

There’s something for everyone here, from Dishonorable to Perceptive, Vengeful to Noble. Negative-sounding Descriptors are particularly interesting as they give benefits while placing a great amount of personality to your character.

Character Foci

The third building block of characters is the Character Foci. Again, there’s a ton of different foci in the CSR, but what really stands out for me is the fact that they took the time to provide several tables of suggested Foci that work in the context of different genres. They have a list for fantasy, Modern / Horror, Sci-Fi and Superheroes.

Genres

Here’s probably the most exciting part for me. As a fan of the HERO system, I’m always delighted when I read through rules that twist an existing ruleset to work with a given genre.

As mentioned before, the CSR provides chapter for each of the following genres: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, Horror and Supers.

Each of the chapters goes into a quick summary of the genre, and how the GM can run it. To further assist, they include charts on which Types (and Flavors), Foci and even Creatures are appropriate for a game. In addition, genre-approriate equipment and artifacts are also covered here.

Some of the Genres also add further Racial Descriptors to denote non-human creatures. Further modifications for genres include special optional rules such as Shock for Horror, and my personal favorite: Power Shifts for Superheroes. I don’t want to spoil too much for this, but the rules for Power Shifts is a suprisingly elegant means to simulate the incredible ability superheroes without becoming needlessly complex.

Game Mastering Advice and Running the Game

The last section of the CSR is devoted to helping GMs run the game. From a collection of varied monsters that could fit various genres to the Cyphers that provide one-shot powers, the books gives all the toys that a GM would need, and the advice necessary to use them properly.

It’s not often that you get to say that a Generic Ruleset would be suited to a new GM, but the Cypher System Rulebook is definitely an exception. There’s enough here to give even fledgeling GMs the confidence to get started.

Overall, the Cypher System Rulebook is a master-class product that manages to become one of the most accessible generic rules I’ve had a chance to see. While I wish there was more pagecount dedicated to providing even more options for the various genres, I think that’s a holdover from my expectations as a HERO system GM.

As is it’s a brilliant product and one that is definitely worth having in your library.

The Cypher System Rulebook is now currently available for preorder in PDF format in the Monte Cook Games website:


Now that we’ve gone over the basics and the Combat Tiles of the Fantaji System, we’re going to spend this installment talking about how it all works.

Fantaji games are composed of Scenes, which are set up by having the following required tiles: Character Tiles, Obstacle Tiles and Theme Tiles. Condition Tiles are not a requirement, but some Scenes might start off with a few to denote key features of the environment or suggest a given strategy or approach.

After the tiles are set, the Judge then informs the players of how much Drama each of the Obstacles has. Most action scenes with opponents as Obstacles mean that they start off with some Drama to begin with.

Fantaji describes the actions in a game as a puzzle that the players have to solve. In some ways having a visual to rely on helps a lot in giving the players an idea in terms of how to tackle the various obstacles and just what was happening.

The Game in Motion

In Fantaji combat, each side takes turns until all Obstacles have been overcome or the heroes die. In a Round, all Tiles on one side takes a turn. As for the specific order by which the players act, that is left to the Players to sort out amongst themselves.

During a turn, a character can perform a Check or a Challenge. As discussed in our earlier article, checks build momentum or generate an advantage, while Challenges are direct actions or attacks against Obstacles.

Speaking of Obstacles, I think it’s a good time to go over each kind of Obstacle in further detail. Passive Obstacles are situations or hazards which do not include living beings or active agents. The important thing to note is that the challenge has no living will of its own.

Examples of these would be: Locked Door, Sunken Antidode Vial, Runaway Melon Cart or Impress the Local Crime Lord.

The Judge takes turns to build Drama for the Obstacle, representing the “countdown” I mentioned before, the point at which the Obstacle resolves unfavorably to the players.

Speaking of countdowns, Abstract Obstacles are those that make Checks specifically to build Drama, representing a rapidly escalating situation. Situations like a Crashing Ship. The Obstacle itself isn’t taking an action, but it does represent the progression of the situation towards a worse outcome.

Conditions are the most fiddly part of the game, and Fantaji spends a good amount of time discussing how to create them, as well as eliminating and Tripping them. The most interesting part are the guidelines on Skirting and Surfing Conditions. If a Condition can be tripped to trigger negative consequences, Skirting a Condition is taking an action that shows how a character takes care to avoid the Condition. Surfing a Condition is when a character takes an action that allows them to take advantage of a condition that was intended to do them harm. It’s a neat acknowledgement of player creativity and I expect to see that a lot in actual play.

This section is littered with examples, much to my relief. The mechanics of Fantaji are tactical, while still remaining rather abstract, so the examples are very helpful in keeping track of how things are supposed to work.

Next up, we’re taking a look at character creation!

The Fantaji Universal Role-Playing Game is available from DriveThruRPG in PDF format for $15.00 or roughly Php 675.00