Prepare yourselves. What follows is a lengthy review of the OGL roleplaying game Fantasy Craft, by Crafty Games (www.crafty-games.com). Fantasy Craft is a mutation of the ubiquitous D20 System put forth by Wizards of the Coast ... many moons ago. I have done my best to format this in such a way that it does not read like an impenetrable wall of text.
I have been reading Fantasy Craft almost non-stop in my free time since I picked it up when it hit the shelves. This tells me that The Awesome is all over this game.
There's so much to like about this game that I will probably miss a few bullets in what follows!
Production Value: It's not shiny, colorful, and all that good stuff. Fortunately, for me, it doesn't need to be! The Fantasy Craft hardbound core rulebook has a color cover that most should find 'passable'. Personally? I love it. The cover combined with the excellent black and white ink art throughout the book gives a great old-school feel. It appeals to the grognard in me. The selection of font is easy to read and the book is sturdy. Trust me: I have put this thing through its paces in only a few short weeks.
Modular Character Design: The character creation portions of the book will seem daunting to a new player. I don't really qualify as a 'new player' as I have been gaming for decades. The Fantasy Craft methods of character design have grown on me and I can make a solid character in about an hour.
The combination of descriptive character origins (with mechanical values to be used in play), great core classes that appear to be nicely-balanced, the excellent feats system, and systems for managing PC economy and reputation should give every 'type' of gamer the old warm and fuzzy.
Gone are those pesky ECLs! You can play the race you want and it scales as you gain experience levels. The feats system for building up your species abilities is very nicely done. Want to play a dragon? Go for it. Troll? Yep. Zombie wizard who gains power from the lords of death? Have at it. If your GM doesn't like it, they will tell you. But it can be done with a minimum of fuss and number-crunching. I read in another review that the reviewer could finally play that gelatinous cube assassin! Such would require a bit of fiddling, but yes. You can get that crazy with Fantasy Craft!
Magic (Both arcane and divine): WOW. In this reviewer's humble opinion: holy did it right, Batman! The spell points system for 'traditional' spell-casting is well-defined and highly mutable using feats, 'paths', campaign options, and other bits of crunch that are a spellcasting character's dream. Divine magic? 3.x cleric and druid players will note one thing right out of the gate: you are not the walking god you once were. This is not to say that playing a divine character isn't fun by any stretch of the imagination. I, on a lark, created a 'divine' character who is essentially a death-cultist that would give any assassin a run for his or her gold pieces! He has powers and skills that fit with his concept and his 'faith' and I can't wait to play him. Absolutely NOT your traditional cleric.
Combat: Much of the time-sink of D20 combat has been removed in favor of making combat encounters fun to play with just enough crunch to keep the number-slingers happy at the same time. The systems in place for weapon training through feats, class abilities, proficiencies, and combat tricks will turn the old 'sword and board' character into a dynamic party member that even non-fighter lovers should enjoy. These systems mesh very nicely and are useful for 'non-fighter' classes as well. Gone are the typical mace-wielding clerics and the wizards who play exclusivly with daggers, sticks, and darts. Want to sling spells and swing a sword? You go for it, Gandalf.
Another point of note: the backstabbing thief sort still exists, but the ranger is easily as capable with the traditional sneak attack. In fact, ANYONE can gain sneak attack bonuses. Remember my death-cultist from above? You guessed it: he likes to sneak attack and he does it well. Pick some weapons, some maneuvers tailored to those weapons, and go beat something until it gives up the loot!
Tinkerness: This game will probably not break if you make new things for it! I say 'probably not' because you can break any game if you try hard enough. That being said, the Crafty Games wiki has some great guidelines for creating new origins balanced against the NPC/Monster design system that has been included.
Speaking of which, this game is a GM's dream! You can EASILY custom design any sort of creature or personality you can imagine either completely from scratch, using the provided templates and stats, or even mixing the two methods. The best part about this? You can make any monster or NPC scaled to your own party! Want to play H4: The Throne of Bloodstone with a 12th level party? No problem. Just convert the monsters over to Fantasy Craft stats, season to taste, assign each of them a threat level (the stats will fall into place, you can do that part manually or use one of the tools found on the Crafty Games site to automatically figure everything for you), and then start playing! I converted the Shrine of Evil Chaos portion of Keep on the Borderlands over to Fantasy Craft in just a few hours. No more fiddling with challenge ratings and other arcanely-cobbled systems that require a degree in quantum algebra to make work!
I simply cannot sing enough praise about this game. Crafty Games has an absolute hit on their hands.
I can't really find anything 'awful' about this game. Very little sticks in my mind as something I don't want to have to deal with.
The system for economy seems ... overdone to me. A lot of 4e folks complained that 4e did not allow for strong role-play because it lacks non-combat systems. It may simply have been included to ensure some level of compatibility with their other outstanding line: SpyCraft. As written, it works for Fantasy Craft and my initial reaction to it may well be unfounded. Playing the game more will be the tell.
The other issue I have with the book is the rules layout. It can be confusing finding how certain important things work. For example, I dug around in the rules for a day trying to figure out how sneak attacks work. Fortunately, the forum-goers at Crafty Games are awesome, answering all questions I have had and with a quickness. The community there doesn't feel large and unwieldy and I have yet to see anything like an edition war or people being nasty in general. Also, while the index isn't perfect, it does its job for most things.
This game has no gray areas for me. Most of it is phenomenal and the rest I can work with and will probably become second nature as I gain more experience playing this gem.
I highly recommend this game to the fans of OGL that are looking for something a little different. There are enough changes to make Fantasy Craft an entirely new game without alienating those who know how D20 works.