Our first game in December and we had to change things up. The season of Winter illness took a couple players out of commission. Rather than cancel the game, I decided to take the opportunity to try out one of the systems that I’ve had and wanted to try, but haven’t been able to - largely because of the unreliable nature of convention GMs (that topic is a whole different blog, though). For future games, when we’re forced to drop to three players, rather than re-tool my planned Savage Rifts session, we will be trying out a one-shot and seeing how we like it. This first session fell to Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE.
My first impression upon reading it was that the core mechanic was very simple, but worked well. I struggled for a several months trying to figure out how to create a higher-level character so I could run a small group through one of Green Ronin’s Encounters (basically, an abbreviated module to set the stage for a wider adventure stage). The book suffers from horrible organization and it’s very difficult to determine exactly what happens when a character levels up. Once I started smaller, just going from level one to two wasn’t so bad, but I still found the community-created Level Advancement Sheet invaluable.
For this session, we played through the Children’s Crusade encounter. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prep, but a couple quick reads through the module, and I had enough to make it work. We used the rules as written from the core book (I didn’t pull anything in from the Fantasy AGE Companion) and had three, second-level characters (two warriors and a rogue).
The play mechanics are very smooth and combat was very dynamic. Using the core rules as written, it’s very much an attrition system akin to Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, but the play is so much smoother and streamlined. We found some play options in the Companion (which I’ll cover at the end) that look like they’ll provide a solid foundation for a more cinematic style.
In this combat, the group encountered a carriage filled with children under attack by a group of what appeared to be bandits. They stepped in to help, one of the adults having already fallen to the marauders. There was a lot of back-and-forth at first, but as soon as the stunting started, the players figured things out.
My players appear to have just had a string of bad luck. They would hit, but not stunt, which made the combat very much a “I hit, they hit back” type of scenario. As the GM, I kept getting lucky and seemed to stunt just about every other roll. It was quite fun, but I also didn’t want to kill the players off in the opening scene of a one-shot. I picked a lot of the lower-point stunts to push the group back.
The best scene which took place, though, was after one of the bandits had managed to get atop the carriage and started it moving. By this round, my players had started to figure out combat and how to make things happen, so it became much more dynamic. The perfect example of what I like about the Stunt mechanics was when two bandits had climbed onto the carriage and two of the players managed to gain the carriage before it got away. He stood against two bandits and one of the other characters was working to get onto the carriage to help. The player, a warrior, took a swing at the bandit driving the carriage, rolling a success and generating some stunt points in the process. He used the Lightning Strike stunt and the Skirmish stunt (twice) to strike once at each of the bandits, then push them both back off the carriage, saving the children inside.
That alone made the game seem so much more fun. They ultimately got the kids to the ship, fighting off another group of zealots in the process and fun was had by all.
In general, the AGE system is great. Green Ronin fixed a lot of the organization issues when they released Modern AGE (it would be great if they’d go back and revise the Fantasy AGE to correct this), but the system itself still felt a bit boring. It fills a niche to provide a simpler set of mechanics to play D&D or Pathfinder, but the stunting makes it a slightly more interesting alternative system. We all would have liked to see stunts generated more frequently and after going through the Fantasy AGE Companion, we think we have a great solution:
- Stunt Pool: this allows the players to all generate lesser stunts even if they don’t roll doubles.
- Action Points: We feel this is a very “bennie” mechanic that will let us run a more cinematic adventure - something we love about Savage Worlds.
Another play option we like, but doesn’t really do anything for the cinematic play aspect, is Wound Penalties. This is something you have in Savage Worlds, but will lend itself the types of fantasy stories we want to tell.
Overall, we liked Fantasy AGE. The core mechanic simple, but allows for very dynamic play. We also found the system very intuitive. A couple times, a question came up and we just made a call to play it out a certain way for the session. After the session was over and I’d had a chance to check the rulebook, we found that was exactly how the mechanic should work.
Will We Play it Again? Absolutely