Hello everyone, and welcome to the first installment of a brand new Let’s Study series tackling the latest title to come out of Athropos Games: Fantaji Universal Role-Playing Game.
You guys might remember Anthropos from their previous RPG, Early Dark, which I’ve covered in a different series. Fantaji is a different game that has a (vastly) different mechanic. I’d put it in the same category as FATE in the sense that it looks at the game from a narrative framework, something that will be more apparent as we go through the details.
First off, I was aware of this game when they were pitching it as Mazaki no Fantaji, with a kickstarter campaign that didn’t quite make it to their goal. Undeterred, the Anthropos team kept working on it, finally releasing the game as a corebook to power several upcoming settings that we can look forward to seeing in the future.
Wanting to draw more publicity to their release of the Fantaji RPG, I asked if I could get a review copy for the blog, and that’s what I’m going to be using for the purpose of this series.
Fantaji doesn’t really waste time setting a high bar for itself. In just three pages, it promises a game where the Mechanics encourage role-playing within your character, and where a “good” action is one that fits the story, builds up a character, invokes the themes and addresses the conflicts in a scene. The better the action taken fits with these criteria, the more effective it is in terms of “damage” or “rewards.” It’s an interesting pitch, and one that certainly has my attention.
I’ve been dabbling with FATE lately, so I’m curious to see if this one manages to win me over.
One of the bigger concepts that form the characters of Fantaji are the Traits. While they sound similar to “Aspects” from FATE, they differ a bit, as they are designed to inspire creative roleplaying. Rather than being invoked as in FATE, the Traits should instigate your hero to act. Each action is an interpretation of the Trait.
Traits are also meant to represent the core of what a hero is, rather than a facet of his being. The game takes care to call out that Traits should be open-ended and figurative.
It’s a bit fuzzy in my head right now, but hopefully this will be made much more obvious when I’m building a character, so I’ll reserve judgement on this.
Checks and Challenges
Taking actions in Fantaji involves “playing to” the Traits and Themes of a given scene. This simply means that the action has to allude or reflect the Traits and Themes in play.
A Check is usually performed to determine a “pass or fail” outcome, and is done by playing to a single Trait or Theme. This is done by describing what the character does, and rolling against a chosen difficulty with a d10. Difficulties for checks are always either 3, 5 or 8.
By succeeding, the character can use that success to generate Drama (which I assume we’ll get to later) or alter a Condition (again something that we’ll probably hear more about later.)
A Challenge on the other hand, involves multiple dice, each of which plays to a different theme or trait. The more traits or themes invoked, the more dice are rolled. Challenges often take the form of an attack.
As a challenge, the opponent also assembles a pool of dice to resist, playing to the themes and traits that they have. The two pools are then rolled, and each die that rolls beats the highest die of the opponent counts as a success.
Successes are used to deal damage, deploy status effects or alter Conditions.
Drama serves as the “Momentum” value of a character in Fantaji. As conflicts occur, the characters gain more Drama (via Checks) and spend them during Challenges to deal damage. This is similar to how combat is rumored to be handled in Exalted 3rd Edition, and it certainly does have some charm. I’m curious as to how it will work in play.
The opening chapter concludes with a quick example of play, giving a short snippet of a combat encounter to show how the Check and Challenges rules work, as well as how Drama is gained and spent.
Overall, the mechanics are pretty basic. Checks and Challenges are easy enough to understand, and the Drama “resource” as a measure of momentum is a concept that most people will understand readily. In a nutshell, Checks are used to set up Conditions or gain Drama by escalating the scene, while Challenges are used to resolve the encounter by dealing damage to the target.
My struggle lies with the Traits. Much like in FATE, there’s a lot of talk about what Traits aren’t, with precious little about what Traits should be like. Ultimately, it falls to the group to come up with a consensus on what makes a Trait a good or a bad one.
The idea of Playing to Themes and Traits is neat, but some of the justifications in the example of playing to a Trait feels more than just a little forced, to the point that it might devolve into “Narrative Symbolism: the Game.” Fantaji has a solid mechanic, and it’s clear that the designers were onto something. I feel that if Traits and Themes had more solid guidelines then it would be much easier for people like me to get into. Maybe I’ll find those guidelines later in the book.
Up next, we’ll take a look at the 4 different “Combat Tiles” that come into play with the Fantaji Engine.