A first look at the Fantasy Age Bestiary

The Bestiary for Fantasy Age has been released in pdf now, and it really was about time. When the game came out last year it was the most demanded addition to the rulebook, which only provided ten or so sample creatures to show what their stat blocks look like. Which is really not much as a basis to easily get an introduction in how to effectively make new monsters for your campaign. Now a dedicated monster book has finally arrived.

GRR6004_450_1024x1024The big downside that immediately stands out is that there are only about 60 creatures in the book and the majority of them are pretty generic stuff that you find in every D&D Monster Manual 1. On the other hand, every creature has a full double page of description, which is more than I’ve ever seen in any other monster book. The description consists of a basic summary of the creature, usually a few paragraphs on making special customized versions of them, and three plot hooks as ideas how the creature can be used in play. This is something that I very much approve of. Unfortunately most of the creatures are not really interesting at all and so it all ends up being pretty uninspiring.

In Fantasy Age all the special abilities of a creature are in its stat block and usually it’s not too many of them to get too confusing. Often just four or five, with the creature’s natural armor and the ability to see in the dark being one item each. Most abilities are stunts which the creature can activate when it rolls two same numbers on its attack roll of 3d6 (if I recall correctly). Which in many cases makes a lot more sense than having them be special actions that are done instead of an attack and is one of the big features of the rules system. The downside is that the creatures have almost entirely only abilities for combat. That’s a bit too much needlessly imitating D&D in my opinion.

All in all, the Fantasy Age Bestiary seems like a book that is both necessary and unsatisfying. And like the rulebook itself it seems to be overpriced. There are so much better and bigger monster books out there which are much cheaper or even free and 15€ seems to be really too much. If you’re a huge fan of Fantasy Age and desperately waiting for a monster book to help running your campaign then this book seems like a necessary purchase. But if you’re looking for new monsters and inspirations for any other kind of campaign I very much recommend against it.

Licensing options coming for AGE system?

According to comments made by Jack Norris and Chris Pramas on various forums, Green Ronin publishing is having plans to introduce a license next year that will allow others to release material for the Fantasy Age system with their official permission. The intention is to use something similar to the licensing options for Savage Worlds, which after a quick lookover seem very similar to those offered for Numenera. The approach is quite different to the d20 OGL in that it requires each product released under them to make it very clear that it is an extension to the official game, something you are explicitly forbidden to do for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. They also don’t allow you to replicate the entire rules in either unaltered or modified form. You can create new rules and even have them override regular rules of the standard rules system, but either way there is no legal way to make a stand alone product.

How the lincenses for Fantasy Age will look specifically we’ll have to see once they are publically announced. But I already consider this very good news. Fantasy Age really feels like a system that is perfectly suited to be released to the crowds and modified and adapted to a wide variety of creative ideas. People have criticized the Basic Rulebook for being a bit too generic and lightweight, which is not entirely unjustified. But as a basic rules system to expand upon it really seems quite perfect. Having it be just the bare bones actually seems beneficial for that purpose, as adaptations for specific genres and settings mostly only have to add new rules instead of removing or overriding existing ones, which would be a lot easier to manage and less confusing for readers.

The OGL was a huge boost for the do it yourself crowd and small business publishers of RPG, even though in my oppinion the d20 system is really quite terrible. The big mistake WotC made was probably to force publishers big and small, as well as fan creators, to clearly renounce any kind of association with the company or the Dungeons & Dragons game. Because they did just that and did their own separate things. What did they expect to happen with a license like that? The Savage Worlds and Numenera licenses are much more sensible in that way and not only require any buyer of these products to buy official rulebooks as well, but also constantly promote the main game. The AGE system seems so much better suited as a generic system than the d20 system (and also Savage Worlds, in my oppinion), and I am quite excited to see what we might be getting if these plans for licensing agreements come true.

I, for one, welcome our new green overlords. I’ve been working on my Ancient Lands campaign setting for four years now and have very determined plans to eventually release it to the public in one way or another. The big question has always been whether to make it completely system independent or to provide a section with rules specific material for some open system or another. As I said before, Fantasy Age is very close to what I would have wanted to make if I were to make my own game and it really seems quite a perfect fit. Being able to release the Ancient Lands as an AGE system campaign setting would be a dream come true, and even if the license were more restrictive than those for Savage Worlds and Numenera, it would still work for my purposed. I don’t expect anything to happen for another year or so, but it’s still exciting to see an announcement of the plans that are currently being considered at Green Ronin.

A first look at the Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook

Fantasy Age has been out for about two weeks now and while I have not yet had the opportunity to get real experience at how well it runs in longer campaigns, I’ve been spending a lot of time examining the system and trying out various things with it. Trying my hands at creating some of my own custom content and seeing how the game behaves in actual combat situations and what differences different numbers make in practice. You could say I did extensive lab testing, but no field testing yet.

GRR6001The Adventure Game Engine started six years ago with the first release of the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin. The first set was followed up with a second one two years later but for some reason unknown to me the final third set kept being delayed for a very long time. Being split into several sets that were released at a snails pace and being a licensed game for a specific setting probably were major factors why the game never become a huge success, but even despite these circumstances it became quite well known and pretty highly appreciated. With the Dragon Age game wrapped up, Green Ronin decided that the basic rules system of the game is good enough to use it for other games as well. The new edition of Blue Rose will be using it, as well as the new Titansgrave setting. And finally, there’s also a generic fantasy version of the game, which has been released as the Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook. For which, unless I am mistaken, there will also be a Freeport campaign setting book.

The AGE system is pretty much the RPG I always wanted. If I would have made my own roleplaying game (and I’ve given it some thought for quite a while), this is pretty much what I would have wanted to make. The game uses a simple base mechanic of 3d6 + Ability Score + Focus and other modifiers. It’s very similar to Barbarians of Lemuria and also the d20 system in this regard. But I think using 3d6 for the dice part works best. Since rolling very high or very low is very unlikely, even small modifiers of +1 or -2 make quite a signficant difference; much more so than when using a d20. The result of that is both a bit more predictability (which always works in favor of the players) and also that you’re generally dealing with much smaller numbers. In d20 games it is not uncommon to end up rolling 1d20+37 as you’re regularly heaping one another +1 here and another +1 there to make a real difference. The AGE system is much more small scale in that regard and you only need to keep track of a few major factors that change things in your favor or against it, instead of lots of tiny modifiers that are irrelevant by themselves and only really matter if you have lots of them.

Like the d20 system, or more accurately, similar to the d20 system, the game has three character classes. Warrior, rogue, and mage. This provides some useful structure during character creation and character advancement and makes things a lot easier on the players, especially new ones, than games like Runequest, Shadowrun, GURPS, or Atlantis. But the three classes are also very open and only losely defined, which is in clear contrast to Dungeons & Dragons where your class usually sets you on a pretty straight track. The base classes in Star Wars Saga Edition are a good comparison, except that AGE has no multiclassing or prestige classes. Much more important than your character class in defining your character are the nine ability scores. These are mostly the same as in the Dragon Age RPG, with Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. However, the Magic ability from Dragon Age was removed and a major change between the two games, perhaps even the biggest, is the addition of the Accuracy and Fighting abilities. One problem that became apparent with Dragon Age was that it is very easy to get your Strength or Dexterity scores pretty high. If you were using a weapon that uses Strength, you both get a high chance to hit and deal a high amount of damage. If you concentrate on Dexterity you get a very high chance to hit with your weapons and also become very hard to hit at the same time. It also meant that any monster that is really strong also keeps hitting almost all the time, which often is not what you want. Many huge monsters would best be given stats that makes them very clumsy but extremely strong in those rare cases where they do happen to hit you. Creating the Accuracy and Fighting abilities accomplishes just that. These two abilities determine the hit chance with light and heavy weapons while everything else is still covered by Strength and Dexterity. Some people have said that it would have been sufficient to just make a single Fighting ability and that having Accuracy as a second one wasn’t needed, and I can see the reasoning behind it. But I also don’t think having nine abilities instead of just eight is a bad choice either. Having tried out how the game performs in actual fights, I think this change was really an excelent idea.

Continue reading “A first look at the Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook”

AGE of High Adventure

I’ve been reading the Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook for the last week and I am really quite taken with it. It feels a lot like an expanded version of Barbarians of Lemuria in many ways, being somewhat more complex but using a very similar approach to how to design and run a game. Though the options for races, specializations, spells, and monsters are very generic, the rules and mechanics of the AGE system have really won me over. It’s a fantasy RPG like I would have done it myself, if I would attempt to create my own game. When someone in a forum thread pointed out that Fantasy Age is a game he’d run pretty much without houserules, I realized that this pretty much goes for me as well.

But to run a Sword & Sorcery game with Fantasy Age, there’s still a few tweaks I think work very well for it:

  • Normally in Fantasy Age, characters get training in a number of default weapon groups and that’s it. (Warriors get two additional groups later on.) For Sword & Sorcery I feel it’s entirely appropriate to allow rogues and even mages to become somewhat decent with bigger weapons. So when characters are able to take a new weapon group Focus for either the Accuracy or Fighting ability when gaining a new level, they can instead pick training for a new weapon group. All characters can get both training and the Focus for a weapon group this way (though obviously at different levels.
  • “Magic” weapons and armor of the Uncommon and Rare categories are not actually magic. They are simply made from superior materials and with advanced craftsmanship. Only items of the Legendary category are actually enchanted.
  • In a Bronze Age or Iron Age setting, the Black Powder, Dueling, and Lances weapon groups would not be available. In the Heavy Blades group, two-handed swords might be removed and the bastard sword replaced with a kopis or falcata.
  • When using experience points, the default way to award XP for an encounter is to judge how hard the player characters had to fight for their success. In a Sword & Sorcery campaign, the amount of XP can instead be based on how heroically, impressive, and flashy the players were fighting. This encourages the players to not play it safe but to constantly try to do things that are entertaining and impress the GM, even if they are reckless and foolhardy.
  • Since Sword & Sorcery characters generally have few possessions, are frequently broke, and there isn’t a lot of things to buy with money in Fantasy Age, you can easily run a campaign in which money plays no role at all. However, an exception can be made for unusually and extremely valuable treasures, such as a gold idol or a giant ruby. Since their monetary value has very little meaning to the players, you can still use this classic element of pulp adventures by rewarding them with experience points instead. Whenever the players manage to get their hands on such a special treasure and manage to sell it, award them 400 XP as if they had overcome a Hard (or Heroic) encounter. If they somehow lose it again before selling it, they get nothing. Finding such special treasures and successfully getting them to a town and sold can be thought of as an optional bonus objective that doesn’t have much to do with the main subject of the adventure. This encourages players to still look for valuable loot and break into well protected places to satisfy their greed, and also can make for great side-adventures if they somehow happen to lose one or having it stolen.

Fantasy Age is here!

This one almost completely slipped past me. Fantasy Age has been released yesterday.


I got the pdf, which at 15€ for a new game is okay, I guess. It’s only 145 pages long, but I really rather have a compact game than getting needless clutter to make the purchase “worth the money”. I can live with that.

And after a first reading, I really quite like it. It is a very basic and generic system, and that’s what you’re paying for here. A system. There are three classes (warrior, rogue, mage), six races (human, dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, orc), 12 specializations (4 for each class), 12 magic talents (of 4 spells each), and only 14 monsters. You could play it out of the box, but that’s quite clearly not what this book was written for. This is meant for GMs (and I am so happy that they call it GM and not Timelord or something like that) to take and customize according to the setting of your campaign. Which seems really quite easy, but so far I have not actually spotted a section that would guide new green GMs through the process.

It’s more like GURPS than Pathfinder. If GURPS where a simple and lightweight system. Maybe it’s actually more like Barbarians of Lemuria. While characters have classes and levels, they are really primarily defined by their nine ability scores. A mage with a high Dexterity score and the Focus for Stealth is just as good as a rogue at being sneaky. A rogue with a high Accurace score and the Focus for Light Blades can has just as good a chance to hit as a warrior. And the character level doesn’t really affect that. The level does not determine how high your abilities are, but how many you have. Health and Magic Points are really the only numbers that get bigger at higher levels.

I’ll probably write a full review on this game in a week or two, but so far I already recommend it for anyone interested in a lightweight generic and customizable fantasy system.