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Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook Hardcover – November 11, 2015
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I like Fantasy AGE. Quite a bit, actually. It fills a niche for me that is between the rules lite systems and the "everything including the kitchen sink" systems. It's core system is simple and easy to understand and for experienced players is familiar enough that learning it is very easy. However, there is just enough complexity that it doesn't seem like choices in character creation are just window dressing. So, if you're looking for a generic fantasy system that is simple enough to learn and even hack easily while being rigorous enough that it doesn't feel like free-form, I highly recommend Fantasy AGE.
More In Depth:
Production value is excellent. The hardcover book is sturdy and feels like it will stand up well to repeated use. The artwork is good. The writing is not some inspired deviation from standard gaming fare but is clear, concise and easy to follow. Editing and layout are very nice. All in all, the value of the physical product is very reasonable at the price point.
The system itself is a standard class-based, task resolution game. That may not seem very inspiring or ground breaking. However, it is a nicely streamlined system with enough complexity to make it interesting. Each character has 9 Abilities that define their physical and mental aptitude. These Abilities are represented by numbers generally in the range of -4 to +4; although, there is technically no limit on how high an Ability can be. Abilities provide a bonus or penalty equal to it's value on all rolls related to that Ability. Abilities have associated with them Focuses which are very much like skills in other systems. If a roll is related to a specific Focus and a character has that Focus then the player gets an additional +2 to the roll. Characters also have Talents which are analogous to feats, stunts, or powers in other systems. They provide bonuses in certain situations or allow you to break the rules in some way. Spells are essentially a special class of Talents.
There are 3 classes in the game: Fighter, Rogue, and Mage. Fighters are force based characters. Rogues are finesse based characters. Mages are magic based characters. Class determines which Talents are available and which Abilities get more focus. They are very broad and generic classes. Characters find their uniqueness in their choice of Talents and their Abilities. For example, a Rogue could be built easily to look like either a Ranger type character or a Con Artist character. Both are characters that rely more on finesse than brute force and so are Rogue class; however, in Abilities and Talents they may not be similar at all.
The base mechanic is simple. Roll 3d6 and add Ability and Focus bonuses (or penalties) to the total. Compare that total to a Difficulty (ie 13). If the total is greater than or equal to the Difficulty the roll is a success. If not, then it is a failure. The 3 dice create a bell curve probability that keep results from being wildly unpredictable, which I like. However, there is still enough variation that rolling the dice can create some tension. The game uses only d6 dice.
One of the very cool systems, is the Stunt system. When making an Ability check, the player rolls 3d6. One of the d6 should be of a different color. This die is the Stunt Die. If the roll results in doubles, then the value of the Stunt Die is the number of Stunt Points generated. Depending on whether the roll was for Combat, Exploration or Social situations, there is a list of Stunts and how many points they require to be used. Stunts allow the player to gain some advantage or break the rules in some dramatic and interesting way. I have found it to be a very elegant and enjoyable system in play.
There is a good bit more that can be said about the system but you might as well read the book at this point. In play, I've found Fantasy AGE to be fun and engaging with just the right amount of rules complexity for me and my group. I recommend it.
First, I love the flavor and writing. They are both excellent.
Also, I appreciate the use of 3d6 bell curve rather than the linear d20. And the stunt dice is a cool option that comes in to play about as often, if not a little more, than the natural 20.
Did I mention that this book is only 120 pages long? That's an important point. Without any setting or background info, there isn't a lot of fluff here. If you're a Game Master looking for a set of rules to power your original campaign, this book is perfect, because you won't need to disentangle any setting information from the rules provided as you build your campaign from the ground up. On the plus side, it can be very liberating to work from a blank slate when you're creating a campaign from scratch, and the AGE system is so simple that it's easy peasy to create scads of unique obstacles, opponents, and NPCs for your players to vanquish; on the other hand, though, Fantasy AGE doesn't provide you with a setting which you can use right out of the box.
So what do you get in this book? As mentioned earlier, the AGE system is extremely rules-light, and almost every rule in the game is summarized on a single page of this book (page 6). Without any background information, and without needing to dedicate much page count to rules systems, the Fantasy AGE Basic Rules still pack a lot into 120 pages. There's a chapter on character creation, a full chapter going into more depth on the rules (which, as I mentioned, were previously summarized on page 6), a chapter on character options, a chapter on money and equipment, a chapter explaining how magic works in the AGE system, a chapter on stunts (really the best part of the game-- see below), a chapter about how to Game Master, a chapter with suggestions for the GM about how to implement the rules in the book, a short selection of adversaries/monsters (with advice about how to create/modify entries for original adversaries in your game), guidance on player rewards, advice on adding setting to the game, and a full adventure-- plus a glossary of game terms and an index.
For 120 pages, that's a lot of terrain covered.
The system itself is really easy. Characters have 9 different ability scores, which are generally rated from -2 to 4. For any test in the game, players roll 3D6, add the appropriate ability score, add any modifiers, and compare the result to a predetermined difficulty number. The 'meat and potatoes' of the game are in its "stunt" mechanism; one of the three dice rolled should be of a different color than the other two, and whenever a successful 3D6 roll results in doubles (on any of the 3 dice), that player gets as many "stunt points" as the odd-colored die's result. These "stunt points" can be spent to purchase a variety of special game effects-- perhaps knocking an opponent prone in combat, or gaining an extra attack, or doing additional damage. Since players get to spend their own "stunt points" to achieve whatever effects they desire the most-- and if they have enough points to spend, they can even select more than one-- this mechanism gives players a degree of agency within the game's narrative.
As of this review's date, there are two supplements in print for Fantasy AGE, with a third supplement in the works. The Fantasy AGE Bestiary expands upon the selection of monsters from the basic rule book, and the Fantasy AGE Game Masters Kit includes a sturdy GM screen, a couple of durable reference cards for players, and a dry-erase initiative tracker. See my reviews of each of these items. The Fantasy AGE Companion, which is tentatively scheduled for an April 10 release date, is going to expand upon character options even further, with rules for chases and a mass combat system.
Fantasy AGE is a great system for fast, rules-light roleplaying, particularly for GM's who want to create their own unique campaigns without getting bogged down creating complicated stat blocks. Well worth checking out!
It is a great starting point RPG.