In a world where D&D exists, one of the questions I often find myself asking when I read fantasy RPG systems is this: Why am I playing this when I could be playing D&D? It’s a simple question, and not every game system has a satisfactory answer. Fantasy Age, however, is one system that not only do I like a lot, it also has two answers to that eternal question. Firstly, there are three classes in the game, and none of them are a cleric. It is a system that from the ground up has no plans for the divine world and the player character world ever touching. You can make that happen obviously, but again it’s not baked in. Secondly, Fantasy Age reminds me a lot of the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia. It is a complete RPG system in one book, which is helpful when you want something a little lighter.
Fantasy Age is the core rule book of the AGE system, which stands for Adventure Game Engine. It is the system that was first used for the excellent Dragon Age RPG. They have been talking about separating the system out for years, but sadly it was released just after D&D 5th edition, which meant it got over-shadowed by the big kid on the block. Luckily, Fantasy Age got a boost when Wil Wheaton used it for his own YouTube series Titansgrave. So soon after release, the game had a long adventure campaign that you could run. Plus, Titansgrave is set in a science-fantasy world, so you get the added bonus of playing a game with some robots and blasters thrown in, which was a nice change of pace if you have been playing traditional high fantasy D&D for a while.
Fantasy AGE by itself is a generic high fantasy game. The overview of it covers all the bases you will probably want. You got Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Humans, and Orcs. The three classes are Mage, Warrior and Rogue. It has a short section on monsters and how to make more (sadly the book doesn’t come with enough monsters on its own, but fortunately the internet has more than made up for this). Plus there is a small intro adventure in the back. All of that in one hardback book for $29.95 MSRP… that’s a lot of value in-between those covers!
One of the biggest draws for me for the Fantasy Age system is that a lot of “fantasy” stories out there are difficult to translate to D&D. The main reason is that one of the core classes of D&D the cleric class, but very few popular fantasy stories feature clerics (at least, D&D clerics which have direct links to known gods which are also the source of magical power for these clerics). Fantasy Age is a very solid and simple game engine. So settings where the gods and religion are much more a matter of faith rather than gameplay, such as Dragon Age or Game of Thrones, you have a rules system that is much easier to for it to plug into. I explored this concept for D&D in my very first article for the site (Do you want to know more?).
Characters are created using a similar system to 5th edition D&D, including picking a Race, a Class, and a Background. Also, much like D&D, early in level players pick a specialization that gives them extra powers and focuses them around a particular sub set of abilities. Unlike D&D, players eventually learn two of these specializations, so mixing and matching these can lead to some very interesting combinations. We have dabbled with these specializations in the past (Do you want to know more?), along with making some fantasy age races (Do you want to know more?).
Characters also get “talents” as they level up, which in D&D terms can be thought of as feats. What I like about this system is that talents have three levels of mastery: novice, journeyman, and master. It’s up to the individual player how their character will progress. They can focus on and master a few talents, or spread out the points and be novices in many, random talents. So even though there are only three initial classes to pick from, they can be customized to be different in a myriad of different ways.
The dice mechanic in Fantasy Age is different as well. Instead of rolling a single dice, you roll 3d6. Two of your dice should be the same color, and one of them should be a separate color to symbolize the Stunt Die. Whenever you roll, if you roll doubles on any of the 3 dice and the total roll equals a success, you generate Stunt Points equal to what you rolled on the Stunt Die. For combat rolls, this allows you to add riders onto your attacks. For skill checks, this allows you to add different dramatic effects so you complete a skill with particular panache. I’m also a fan of this system as it makes figuring out the difficulty level of tasks easy. Because you’re rolling 3 dice most of the time, the most common roll result is 10. So if you ever find yourself needing to roll a number higher than 10, especially 12+, you should probably spend some resources or use a class ability to get yourself a bonus, or just use a different tactic to solve the problem.
Finally, in D&D, the Strength or Dexterity stat gives you a straight bonus to your hit and damage rolls. In Fantasy Age, the stats are more nuanced, resulting in the stats Accuracy, Dexterity, Fighting, and Strength, among others. This means you can have the stats reflect the fluff of a character, such as a creature that is super strong but has a hard time hitting things, like a Ogre. But when one stat affects both those aspects, it means you can’t have a character with a low attack bonus but with a high strength stat. So this system allows the Game Master more creativity when creating monsters for the players to fight. For instance, you can make something very skilled at applying weapons to adventurers but also with weak strength (like say a Sprite) so the little sword hits don’t do much damage. Or you can make a big giant that will hit you like a truck but has a hard time connecting with the humans that only come up to its shins.
This is a really great book, and I have a fondness for any game system that manages to fit everything you need in one volume. The game system itself is much more rules-light and narrative than D&D, but still has enough crunch to make things interesting. It is definitely on my list of games I’d like to play or run, either by running Titansgrave, or by converting it to another setting. Anyone looking for a similar game system should give it a try.
If this game sounds interesting be sure to check it out at your local game store, or on Drive Thru RPG.