About two weeks ago I got to go to the San Antonio GaMExpo. I got to play a lot of fun board games and RPGs and I was able to pick up Fantaji. I was really into the game when Calvin played it with us and I had to pick up a copy and tell as many people as I could about this experience. The reason I use that word is because it was a total and absolute treat!
Let’s Talk about the dice mechanic first because Fantaji’s dice system is the crux of the game. There’s an interesting dichotomy between the fact that the dice are very important and the other fact that this game is focused on the narrative gameplay. In all forms of conflict the players must think creatively and do one of four things. Players can activate their abilities, create conditions, roll for drama, or roll for combat. This statement is an oversimplification so that the reader can understand the dice behind the actions. Powers can be activated with drama tokens, cost drama tokens, or are free to activate but either way they are things your players can do. Players can create conditions with combat victories or by rolling a d10 that applies to themes (more on those later). We’ll talk about those later too. The next thing players can do is gain a drama token. Drama tokens will be talked about later as well, but they can be won in a tie on combat and also by players rolling to themes. The last thing to do is roll for combat. The combat roll is built off of the themes available on the table plus any drama tokens or powers that the players can draw from.
Fantaji is based on players overcoming obstacles. These obstacles can be literally anything. You can be trying to get a good deal on a new sword, trying to convince a king to send his armies, or even just trying to beat up a giant monster! No matter what the players will be facing obstacles and overcoming them.
Now that we have that established let’s talk about drama points. These are tokens that represent how amped up a situation is. For example, if a group of heroes must fight a supervillain the GM may say that the villain has destroyed a bridge and it is now close to falling down. The level of danger will be judged by the drama tokens to the “bus hanging over the edge” obstacle. Once the obstacle reaches 7 drama tokens the bus will fall and the heroes will have lost that obstacle, even as they fight the bad guy. Who is getting amped up by his drama tokens, and the players are also working up their power by generating drama. On top of that every drama token adds a d10 to combat challenges. As you can see things in our little fight are really adding up. If the bus has six drama tokens then without touching the themes you are already rolling against six dice! What is a player to do?
That’s the where conditions come into the game. That poor child filled bus has hope now because players can use conditions to drop that pesky drama down, but players better be careful or they may end up hurting themselves. Conditions are established facts in the narrative and exist to handle drama. For instance (and this one is from the book) a player spreads caltrops around themselves to sap the drama from NPCs trying to attack him. He sets the condition “surrounded by caltrops” and any player moving through that condition has their drama sapped. The only problem now is that the character that made the condition is now trapped in his own ring of caltrops and if he leaves then he will also lose a precious drama token. The conditions are such a necessary part of the game because of how they force roleplaying as a mechanic. The condition drama token economy is what allows player and obstacles to make serious mechanical moves based on role-play creativity.
Next to cover is the themes. Players get to choose personal themes that outline character moods and tones, conflicts also have their own themes and even obstacles can have themes. Themes are the driving force of Fantaji and a good GM will use them artistically to create the tone that a party is looking for. There can be anywhere between one to four themes depending on the scale of the conflict and they are used to drive these conflict and drama token economies. For any actions the first step a character takes is deciding the theme for their action, then the GM and players work out if the themes are being used and determine difficulties from there. Playing to the themes is the only way for characters to grow in strength and power. This works in the long term as well because character leveling is based off of themes spent. The player who is most faithful to a scene is awarded that theme and after they get enough then said player will spend them to complete their own story arcs and to upgrade their powers.
Fantaji treats its GMs like they are adults and honestly that’s a breath of fresh air. You will not see a chapter on GM player interaction, or on how to solve inter party social conflicts. I’ve had a few chances to talk to Anthropos Games and they have expressed time and again that everyone who plays RPGs are adults capable of normal human interaction and can take care of their own problems. The great next great thing about this game is that you will get exactly what you want out of it. This game can be played as a quick one shot or a grand expansive overarching campaign. Obstacles can stack and work off of each other in a way that can be incredibly meaningful and smooth. Let me explain… There are multiple ways to organize the thoughts and directions of a GM in Fantaji. The easiest way to play this game is when a GM creates a deck of obstacles, themes, and challenges to create a random outcome of events. The GM and players work together to rationalize the obstacles and the challenges to make a continuous story line. Another way would be to make a real grid where every room has obstacles and conditions where they clear the space one by one classic dungeon crawl style! Another way to play is to create a planned deck in order to bring characters through a planned adventure allowing players to solve solution creatively and maybe even create obstacles themselves in order to fulfill plot points and level themselves up.
The best part of this game in my opinion was the world building. Fantaji sets up a quick and easy way of putting together a compelling a world. The GM starts a setting by choosing three power structures and characterizing them. With aims and desires of their own. After that the GM is challenged to consider three major social dynamics between these powers. From there the GM characterizes their world with seven themes and uses extra notes to further characterize their world. I had some extra time the other day and spent about two hours to create my own setting that you can read here.
The entire book cover to cover accepts a GM at their speed and as they read and develop those GM skills you can go further and further. The game even has a special aside for kids to play Fantaji! The game goes over basic concepts that are required for certain level of play. Parents everywhere can decide what aspects of the game their children can get and then play the game on that level.
The most convincing piece about the in artistic level of depthness in this game is the creators themselves. I got to speak with Calvin and asked him some questions about his game. You can tell how much love and intelligent effort was put into this book from the get go.
Nick “What was your inspiration for Fantaji?”
Calvin “I was making a resolution mechanic for my dissertation research surrounding emergent meaning, and the basic Fantaji system came about. We didn’t really imagine it as a full game at the time, but during research and testing it sorta grew into the full engine for the game.”
Nick “I was really intrigued by the rules that you made for kids. I know the system has that disclaimer about how y’all were just using observation. What made y’all want to put this into Fantaji? Was it a goal for y’all or did it occur to you when you were making the book?”
Calvin “I was talking with folks at the Bodhana Group, a really great non-profit that uses role-playing and other forms of gaming as a therapeutic tools with children, and so having a kid-friendly game was already in mind. The original idea we ran with for a kid-friendly mechanic actually surrounded another title I was developing, Assemblage I, which will now likely be a stand-alone Fantaji expansion. After playing Fantaji with my six-year-old niece, it just worked so easily we decided to put that small section in the rule book.”
Nick “What is your most memorable experience with fantaji and why?”
Calvin “Most memorable: Well, as with any game, there are dozens of memories that stand out. I think the first design days when we invented “Conditions” (the way players can add literal/objective story elements to the Scene) will always stand out to me, as a designer: seeing a new feature explode the possibilities of the game without adding much complexity is always enjoyable. As a player/GM, I will just stick to some of the most recent highlights.”
“We had a 13-year-old at AcadeCon just last weekend who tried Fantaji for the first time. He plays in one of his father’s ongoing D&D campaigns, and we excited to tell us all about his campaign adventures as a Swashbuckler-Rogue. He showed up to one of our open games and took the role of the Emishi Prince investigating some exhumations that were happening in the borderlands, tombs of long-forgotten lords being opened by military from a neighboring, more industrial kingdom. He was a power-gamer from “Go,” and couldn’t figure out why his role-play style wasn’t getting him the big rolls and big dice he was expecting. About halfway through the second scene, I saw the game “click” in his mind. If he wanted big dice, he had to play to the Themes (the shared qualitative markers created by the GM for each encounter). He suddenly realized that his role-playing and descriptions were beholden to the Themes and his own character Traits. Instead of trying to muscle the actions he wanted to take into the Traits and Themes, it clicked with him that those Traits and Themes will actually guide him along in a role-playing direction. His character ended up apologizing to the mercenary he’d disparaged, began to emotionally tend to a wronged outcast, and make heroic sacrifices fighting the undead ape. It was a night-and-day difference between the power-gamer and the role-player. And the beautiful part is that being that more conscientious role-player got him the bigger, more dramatic rolls he wanted!”
Nick “What are any goals that you have for fantaji later? Or do you have any other games you’re working on?”
Calvin “The top priority is getting Fantaji expansions that were mentioned in the Kickstarter finished and out. It’s been a big graphic design issue with just computers getting old and things, but we are releasing two adventures modules this winter, followed by the two setting expansions in the spring. Future development is going to focus on a stand-alone project that uses the Fantaji engine, and a totally unrelated world-building writing game mostly for the benefit of non-gamers.”
Anthropos games speaks for itself right here with Fantaji the dichotomy between the creation of their game and how the game itself is played. I would suggest to any GMs looking to make that special world that’s been dancing around in their heads to pick up this game, and have fun with it!
Thank you so much for reading my article on Fantaji. If you’re interested in the game you should go to Anthropos Games and check it out. If you liked the article then be sure to check out our other articles and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @nblogcollective. Be sure to check out our Patreon as well, we have some cool rewards like being able to vote on the games we review and talking to us on Discord! Be sure to share our article with the links below and as always,