Why Play Fantasia?
Why play Fantasia indeed?
What our game of Fantasia suggests, indeed reinventing role-playing games, is not easy for many to accept, that there is a better way to play the game than has been established. Most people are content to buy hoards of rulebooks, spend days making a character, and then go on whatever adventure the GM has cooked up. Sounds fun, sure, but ask yourself, can it be better than that?
Of course a GM likes to design his own scenarios, even his own world. One should do that. But how often does a scenario seem contrived our outright unfair, not just by the rules, but also to the kind of story you like? How many times do you have to fight the same thing over and over? How many adventures feel like video games rather than the rich stories and far away worlds that hold us in awe and give life to our dreams? How many bar brawls, political snafus and silly side trips are preventing you from having a real, memorable, fantasy adventure? Thats where we come in. Thats why we take the time and the trouble to challenge ourselves to create innovative, imaginative and even inspiring adventures in a classic vein. Thats what we want to bring back to gaming, the sheer fun of it all, the products once again encouraging more adventure than mere character construction or mindless dice wars.
Provided below is a ten-step sample of how a Fantasia game plays versus that of the dogmatic standard that has been in place for too long. Wait, am I going to 'compare ours with the other leading brand?' Yeah, I'll use that overused tactic and so create the proper feeling of the role-playing rut that game companies have trapped us all in, but I'm at least going to make it entertaining. The hope is that you can see what has been missing from so many RPGs, including the delicious details, the innovative encounters, the twists, the turns, the truths, and the classic themes that we at New Dimension Games have been practicing and producing for a long, long time, honing our craft to deliver to you the best possible role-playing game experience . . .
Photo by Jessica Bamburg
Dogma: The GM says "There is a parchment on the tavern wall, asking for adventurers to slay the 500 goblins in the woods. Pays well. See King Guido for your gold, but you cant have it yet, not until you bring back the head of the goblin boss, as the king needs to pay for his new streets."
Fantasia: One Character may be at the inn, another at the church or the smithie, but most will be sharing a bonfire dance in a glade outside town. Then the ceremonial leader has a vision, of Orcs coming to raid the town, and you will be the first victims! Seeking out your friends at the inn, the church and the smithie, they each have heard different rumors of the Orcs. The king has limited funds, so you band together for your own sake, and decide to take the Orc Kings head to demoralize and confuse the others. Thus begins a mission of stealth . . .
Dogma: The map shows two ways up to the forest, an old road that leads to the castle that crowns the hills, and through the thick of the forest itself. The party opts to go through the forest.
Fantasia: The townsfolk speak of a haunted road that leads to the old castle where the Orcs gain strength of fear, but there is also rumored to be a cave in the forest that was once a secret exit . . . now its an entrance. The party decides to try the forest.
Dogma: You follow a hexagon map, marking empty space after empty space, until the GM rolls ten initiative dice, counting the hit points of the 30 goblins that somehow saw your rogue, heard your ranger, are not the least bit afraid of your five warriors all wearing goblin hide, and managed to smell your wizard in his astral form. No time for trivial questions, they know you're there, and the battle is on! 2 hours later, a few experience points are dolled out, while you wonder if of your characters statistics mean anything outside of how much damage they can do.
Fantasia: The GM reads a prepared narrative summarizing your exploration of the woods, following the markings of a standing stone, and then catching the foul odor of a nearby Orc camp, roasting some butchered elk. He waits while the Players decide what to do. The description said that all 30 of them were all carrying swords, so the party starts an attack with arrows, cutting them down to 20 before they can reach the party. 5 minutes later, fast-paced rules brings the entire battle to its conclusion, and the Warriors raise a level from their XP awards (Orcs are feared for a reason), while the Sorcerer and the Thief receive XP only for their Skill Checks, reminded that their prowess is not in battle, and that their time to shine will come soon enough.
Dogma: The loot of the goblin camp spills out of the pockets they dont have and into a bag of holding that can be bought at any shop in town (even though the king still needs to improve the roads for merchants who for some reason still use wagons to haul their goods).
Fantasia: The party must make a Searching Check (from which they all gain XP) to discover that what little wealth the Orcs have plundered since leaving the hills is in a bag buried under their firepit. Its counted and divided, not burdening one enough to have to recalculate movement, as coins weigh in by the rounded hundreds to save time. On with the game!
Dogma: Goblins are mindless hordes to be slaughtered for easy XP, so the party just leaves them there to rot, knowing full well that the GM has no prepared notes for what else might be done at their camp, or indeed that the 600-page rulebook has no rules to cover anything past the point of combat. So they just march deeper into the forest.
Fantasia: The treasure of the Orcs is described as bearing a strange device (medieval terms are used frequently), but the sigil of the black skull is a mystery to all . . . except the Sorcerer, who back in town made a good roll with his Supernatural Lore Skill to know that the black skull was once used as the crest of a headless Knight. Now he is awake, mustering troops for revenge on the local Lord. He has kept this information to himself because rumors may be false or misleading or only partially true, and he did not want to confuse his companions needlessly. An Orc is still alive, so hes questioned. The Thief understands the Black Speech, and learns that the Orcs are slaves, more fearful of the whip of the Supernatural Knight than they are of death. From here on the party continues warily.
Dogma: Exploring more empty hexes, merely duplicating the map that the GM has with no real chance of becoming lost anyway, until the party finally comes to a cave. Somehow the goblins have mastered a lightning bolt booby-trap because nothing less would offer a challenge. But the party makes a few rolls and goes inside. No worries.
Fantasia: Another prepared narrative, polished with the care and foreshadowing of a detective novel, describes the deeper forest as the party explores it, offering hints and clues in every sentence, including how the bark of the trees bear disturbing features, almost like faces. Then they strike a river that leads them to a cave mouth. It looks to have once been a ceremonial hall, and runes are still graven atop its weathered threshold. No Character, not even the Thief, can understand these runes, so the GM passes the Players a prepared Handout that displays them, and using some simple deciphering and code-cracking skills, they translate the runes to read None may pass who sees the Light. Considering the tale of the headless Knight and the melancholy mood of the forest, the party closes their eyes as they enter, avoiding a curse wrought by the Knight to force them to witness their worst nightmares and so cause a Fear Check. But they solved this puzzle, and earn some good XP for it, and enter with both their steel and their wits sharpened by their adventure thus far.
Dogma: The GM has a detailed map of the cavern system, far more complex than the forest map without offering any challenge thereby, save for the test of patience and sleeplessness required for mindless mapping. One person maps while the others casually spin dice over and over, waiting for something to stimulate them. The first room they come to, and theres more goblins! Another battle.
Fantasia: The GM asks what source of light the party is using. They tell him a torch, and so he follows the booklets instructions to replace light in the all boxed descriptions with torchlight. For purposes of a balanced game challenge and dramatic effect alike, Encounters are pre-determined in the order they are met. The first one turns out to be a pool of dark water swimming with blind fish. Intuition Checks are called for, and are successful, and the party notices that in their reflection on the surface of the water their torchlight burns with a blue flame. Real-life superstition suggests that fire burns cold colours when the dead or the Undead are near at hand, but no one is aware of this. Yet the Encounter accounts for the knowledge of the Characters as well, and the next description contains an otherwise unread addendum for those who made their Intuition Checks, saying that the partys shadows move of their own accord. A battle? A puzzle? Whats coming now? Then they hear whispering voices, their own shadows speaking to them, giving them vague clues, perhaps to deceive them, perhaps to help them, and the party begins to wonder if all the death and darkness here is wrought by their enemy or if some were victims also and thus strive against him? As the Thief points out, not all creatures, living or dead, are necessarily enemies. The party heeds the advice of the shadows and moves on. But the Thief realizes that nothing in a Fantasia adventure is thrown in for no reason, and goes back to look at the blind fish. Making a Poisons Skill Check, he determines that the pool is an evil water. He probes it with his sword, and finds a jeweled ring on the finger of a submerged skeleton, the XP all his own because he did this by his own initiative. He then hurries to catch up to his companions.
Dogma: The party was pretty skinned up in their last battle, so the GM decides to skip a few more rooms stuffed with goblins and throw in something interesting; theres one room in the tunnels with a lever set into the rough, natural cave wall. Hardened by the mentality of endless battle, the party thinks that they must disturb everything they find in order to be victorious, so the rogue pulls the lever. It sounded an alarm! Here comes more goblins.
Fantasia: The next Encounter area the party enters begins its description with a summary of their exploration, picking up the game less than a minute since the last Encounter. It finishes by explaining why they stopped in an ongoing tunnel, that their torchlight falls on the skeleton of a long dead adventurer. Now, since it has not had last rites, it may rise and attack if disturbed, as the dead are known to do that from past adventures. But a Warrior who is a man of faith (by creative description only) kneels and prays over the fallen. By the rules of the game anyone can give last rites, but his Wisdom Check fails, the Character uncertain of the proper rights, and the skull fills with flame and rises into the air, laughing hideously. It asks a riddle, which the GM provides on another prepared Handout so the Players stand no chance of misinterpreting it when scribbling it down. Not daring to hope that they get more than one guess, the Players debate the riddle for about 5 minutes. They know that puzzles are worth great amounts of XP, but they are becoming frustrated. The Thief opts to make a roll to solve it rather than figure it out, thus forfeiting the XP, but rolls too low, and so by the rules gives an incorrect answer. The skull says the party has two guesses left before it screams and calls to all their enemies! The party debates again. A flash of inspiration (helped by having mentally stimulating encounters in quick succession), the Player of the Sorcerer gives the right answer, and the skull spews all its flames out of its mouth, which are caught by the Sorcerers staff, and it begins to glow, not burning him, but becoming endowed with greater power, and then the skull crumbles to ash.
Dogma: The party finds an ascending stairwell, which takes them up to the next level of the tunnels, limited to such design by maps. The GM is a little perturbed that they accidentally found their way past ten other rooms he worked so hard on, but bites his tongue and reads on. At the top of the stairs, the party finds a storage room, filled with chests and barrels, the plunder of the bad roads in the kingdom. The players groan, realizing they are in for such exciting encounters as sleeping areas, bathrooms and wells, since maps demand realism, thus shrinking the true size of caverns and especially the castle beyond where the villain boss awaits. They search the room, waiting for the GM to look up the very popular, seldom used, gets-one-paragraph-in-600-pages rule for searching. They find nothing, and move on.
Fantasia: The next Encounters narrative hints at a rising slope in a very long, winding tunnel, but its difficult to tell. The description mentions all the dead-ends, switch-backs and roundabouts, and suggests that three hours have passed when the party at last comes to an ascending stairwell, the rough-hewn steps stained with patches of black like long-dried blood. Theres no apparent danger, but knowing that in a Fantasia game every Encounter has something to do, they encourage the Thief to scout ahead. The best at searching for traps, he finds a tripwire (and gets XP), deducing that the party is nearing the dwellings of the Orcs, and leaving the ancient, accursed bowels of the caverns behind them. They avoid the tripwire, and move on, weapons ready.
Dogma: The GM realizes that the players are bored, so he just summarizes all the other storage rooms, sleeping areas, bathrooms and wells, and skips ahead to the next stairwell, which leads out of the caverns and to the courtyard of a ruined castle. The gate is sealed, so the party tries to bash it open, but to no avail. Theyre stuck.
Fantasia: Over at the game table nearby, a Fantasia GM has just described the party ascending into a courtyard where the main gate to the inner ward of the castle is guarded by a Black Knight. He challenges the partys Champion to an honorable duel for right of passage. Realizing that only fighters get XP for battle, the party agrees that not only is it a better game move to honor the challenge, but it may spare them a worse fate to come, should their dishonor awaken some darker curse later on. They want to believe in their Champion, but who shall be brave enough to step forward? During their debate, the players from the other games gather around the table, their interest aroused, and they ask about making Characters. The rules of combat simple enough to be remembered, the GM passes the rulebook to the newcomers along with some Character Sheets, and by the time the party has chosen a Champion and defeated his foe, the others are already a third of the way done with their own Characters. Licking wounds and healing gets them up to another third. Then, searching the courtyard, finding another entrance and debating it allows the others to finish up, as all the rules for Character creation are in a single volume, not scattered throughout we-need-revenue supplement books. An optional Introduction Encounter allows the GM to bring the new PCs into the adventure without relying on the teleport, for as it turns out the original party werent the only ones in the city to gather together and set out into the forest. The others came by the main road, and now can join forces, as the greater fellowship wonders what perils await them within the dark castle . . .
And I wrote this page from scratch in about 90 minutes. Now, every Fantasia adventure product has years of development behind it, the individual ideas being playtested time and time and time again until only the best ones are finally brought together for maximum entertainment value. Sure, theres always adventure to be had, for the monster entries can be used time and time again. But can any rules replace imagination? Can rules come up with traps, riddles, puzzles, curses and storytelling? Fantasia is where the greatest adventures await you . . .