I recently mentioned that I had been watching Geek & Sundry’s Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Besides being a very well produced “watch people play RPGs” show, it’s also a very good illustration of the Fantasy AGE role-playing game system. What I find really impressive about that the Fantasy AGE RPG did not exist until Titansgrave. As I mentioned in the podcast, the game was based heavily on the Dragon AGE RPG published by Green Ronin Publishing, which was (of course) based on the very popular video game by Bioware. I did not spend a lot of time talking about what Fantasy AGE brings to the table during the podcast. Instead, I thought I would take a moment and do that here.
Although there have always been other rule sets distinct from Dungeons & Dragons, including those of Palladium Books and Steve Jackson’s GURPS, it is safe to say that various versions of D&D have always dominated the market. This began to change in 2001, and the proliferation of RPG systems has become sort of a defining aspect of this era of tabletop role-playing. The creation of the “Open Game License” created the widely accepted notion that it was okay for third parties to develop content for existing RPG systems. Some companies even started flirting with the idea of developing their own derivative rule systems for gaming. The alledged “fall of D&D” with the release of D&D Fourth Edition and the resulting “Edition Wars” opened the door even farther. Suddenly, companies like Paizo, Goodman Games, and Green Ronin were able to penetrate the market and find their own space.
The Stunts of Fantasy AGE
After watching the entire season of Titansgrave, what I took away from the Fantasy AGE system was that it brought something new and different to the table. What I really liked was the stunt system. Using similar mechanics as the Dragon AGE RPG, it inserts opportunities for the spectacular into every die roll. D&D players are familiar with the idea of “critical successes,” in which the player rolls a 20 on the 20-sided die which results in a novel effect. Fantasy AGE kind of captures that feeling with “stunts,” in which any time doubles are rolled (out of three dice), the player gets “stunt points” to spend on cool things. When you consider that nearly 45% of all rolls of three six sided dice contain at least two matching dice, this means that the prospect of using stunt points can happen with some regularity. Suddenly, it starts to feel like your player characters can do awesome stuff like you see on the cover of every RPG rulebook. That’s a neat feeling that nearly every combat-heavy tabletop RPG has tried to address for years.
The Characters of Fantasy AGE
How the players build their characters is always a fundamental part of any tabletop role-playing game. In part due to its basis on the original Dragon Age: Origins, Fantasy AGE take a slightly different approach to characters and classes than your typical tabletop RPG. Although it is a class-based system, it draws that spectrum down to only three: Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. However, these basic classes get differentiated by abilities, specializations, and other options. For those who watched Titansgrave, it’s worth mentioning that Aankia and Kiliel were both rogues, but that isn’t immediately apparent to the viewer. As somebody who has sat at a table of Dungeons & Dragons and felt like the two fighters at the table were only distinguishable on the basis of the players, it’s nice to see a system that tries to create mechanical distinctions between different characters.
One thing I’ve seen when poking around Fantasy AGE-themed webpages is the ease with which players are adding their own content to the character system. New types of magic, new specializations, and other character options add further depth to the game. I’ve even see one online game master adapt the original Dragon Age RPG system into a Star Wars game. It appears that the relatively straightforward specialization system allows people to throw together a new variant that further expands the depth of field.
The Flexibility of Fantasy AGE
One of my greatest weaknesses as a tabletop RPG player is that I am never content with existing settings as provided. More often than not, I decide that the setting is too restrictive or somehow doesn’t meet my interests. Generally, this means I’ve always been attracted to “generic” role-playing game systems. Of course, as I get older, I learn to disregard things that I don’t like, but I still retain a soft spot for games designed to give you serious freedom of setting. And Fantasy AGE does that.
If it’s not clear, the Fantasy AGE presented in the rulebook is a generic fantasy setting. Sword and sorcery stuff, mostly. Titansgrave, on the other hand, is different. It’s that weird “sci-fi meets fantasy” Thundarr the Barbarian thing. Beyond that, the Fantasy AGE rulebook provides guidance on black powder weapons, providing the mechanical underpinnings of an Age of Sail game. At the end of the day, the game provides some basic rules for interaction, battle, and other gameplay and then lets the player’s imagination do the driving.
Bringing Something New to the Genre
I haven’t played Fantasy AGE yet, so everything I’m saying should probably be taken with a grain of salt. But, having played a lot of different tabletop RPG systems, I really like that this one brought something new to the table. It comes across as very free-form, allowing players to do what they want to do, while still providing something with a little bit of weight. Character options are wide and flexible while still giving players interesting development choices to make. Stunts give players a way to do cool and interesting things besides just “roll to hit.” I’m excited to try throwing the game into my normal rotation of tabletop RPG systems.