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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/07/2017 04:27:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive rule-set clocks in at 430 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page general hyperlinked ToC (kudos for the added comfort!),4 pages extra-detailed ToC (again, hyperlinked for your convenience!), 4 pages of general index (again with hyperlinks and at the front of the book for easy navigation!), 4 pages of spell index (you guessed it – with hyperlinks, at the front of the book, for comfortable navigation), 2 pages of SRD, 1 page character sheet, leaving us with a massive 412 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This book was provided by a patreon (not sure if the gentleman wanted to be identified) and requested as a prioritized review. My review is based on the pdf-version of this massive book, since I do not own the print version and therefore cannot comment on the merits of the print version.

Okay, so this is, in general, an OSR-type of game; it is suffused in the aesthetics of old school roleplaying. But this is not just a rehash. To contextualize this book: We do not have a system that tries to be too close to the original versions of the game; unlike Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or, for example, OSRIC, this moves a bit further from the established base. At the same time, it does not assume a d6-style gamplay like AFG or VSD6 and, while more “modern” in several aspects, the game is not as radical a departure from the old framework as NGR. But how does Fantastic Heroes & Witchery fit into the OSR as a whole, how does it work?

Well, among the attributes, there are no surprises: 6 attributes, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Human range is usually 3 – 18, with 19 being classified as superhuman. Modifiers range from -4 (at 1) to +4 (at 19) for the attributes and maximum spell level is similarly capped by attributes. Very high relevant spellcasting attributes can provide a very limited amount of bonus spell slots. The system assumes a superhuman attribute cap of 25, akin to older editions of the game.

The attribute modifiers similarly should not provide too much surprises: Strength mod is added to melee attack + damage and physical skill checks like running, swimming, etc. and is used in saves vs. physically impeding obstacles, for example. Dexterity modifier is added to ranged attack roll (not damage!), used for Stealth etc. and may be used in saves to avoid e.g. a dragon’s breath etc. – you get where this goes right? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll realize at this point that saves. Saves are denoted by a fixed value on the respective class table, and quite a few of the options herein further modify that. Still, as provided, there can be saves associated with any of the attributes, which means that, in this aspect, the closest analogue would probably be D&D 5e.

Races in the system are not necessarily treated as a class, but instead…well. As a race. As such, though, there is a balancing aspect applied to them – we have maximum levels for the non-human races to balance that aspect. A handy table collates these caps, just fyi. However, the races do have minimum attribute requirements AND maximums; when you’re a dwarf, your maximum Dexterity can’t exceed 17, for example. Now, I did write “necessarily” above, since there are actually racial classes for the non-human races; in these, they generally have unlimited advancement and this, ultimately, provides an out-game motivation to choose these. In-game, this makes the races more culturally relevant.

Important note: The race does determine the racial hit-die; this hit-die denotes the wound capacity; class-levels provide hit dice as well; these are vitality hit points. You will note at this point, that the system requires a distinction between character level and class level – and that, by virtue of the racial hit points, 1st level characters are not wet towels in a world of razors. Personally, I consider that to be a pretty elegant solution. Movement rates are denoted in both 1e/2e and 3e-style notation – default would be 12’’ (30 feet). Interesting among the racial write-ups: Instead of 3e and the follow up’s distinction between low-light and darkvision, we retain the classic infravision, but make distinctions in how exactly it works, from race to race. We do get the classic races, including half-elves and half-orcs. Humans are set apart by an experience bonus…but there is more. Beyond these usual suspects, we also add rules for tieflings – who are treated more as a template race here – there could, e.g. be Halfling-based tieflings and dark elves, to note one example that is depicted in full, would be considered to be a tiefling race.

Upon completing this section, you will immediately notice that this book, familiarity nonewithstanding, seems to be a bit…different. For after the traditional fantasy races, we get weird tales races – a whole chapter. This is not an afterthought, either – this section is pretty much the equivalent of another rule book’s whole racial chapter. Now, unsurprisingly, this section is deeply infused by Appendix N-aesthetics; we get rules for exotic humans (you could use the rules presented here to make Carcosan human species, for example); there are rules for Earthlings (humans from Earth, particularly suitable for planes-hopping and Sword &Planet, obviously), who actually gain some abilities that are WEIRD – what may be common here may well be uncanny in another world and we can’t fathom the effects alien worlds might have on us…so personally, I liked that. Tainted humans are those that have been tainted by radiation, exposure to the entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, etc.; there are rules for Planet of the Apes-style Primates; for Reptilian PCs (with subtribes based on chromatic dragon colors for the dragonborn fans), revenants (yep, playable undead, who offset their power with the need to consume life and vulnerabilities) and there even are winged folk. While I am not a big fan of low-level flight, the weight-based restrictions imposed on their flight and the other modifications do offset this significant advantage somewhat. Finally, witchlings are humans that devolved (or evolved) into another race via constant exposure to the occult and potent, black magic.

Okay, after this massive section, we get a couple of general backgrounds to choose from; Alignment is less important in FH&W; most people are assumed to be, basically neutral; the only other axis that is relevant is the old one – Law and Chaos. That being said, exemplars of these are probably rarer than in comparable games.

As you could glean from the existence of racial classes, there is bound to be a HEFTY chapter on classes; a handy table in the beginning groups classes by type/race and then lists them.

Classes provide a BtH – the Bonus-to-Hit, basically the attack bonus. BtH can be classified as full, ¾ or ¼ - generally, spellcasters will be REALLY sucky at hitting things; worse so than in even d20-based games. New vitality hit dice are gained each level, up to 9th; for the remainder of levels (as classes range in levels from 1 – 13), we get fixed bonus hit points. Classes do have requirements, feature the equivalent of proficiencies regarding weaponry and armor, and sport class features; classes may also provide bonuses to specifc saves – fighters, for example, get +2 to saving throws to Strength and Constitution saves. In general, you can assume each odd level to provide a class feature. In this way, the classes presented herein are indebted to new-school aesthetics – and, in my mind, they’re better off for it, as even fighters allow for a bit of customization and player agenda. Now, before the grognards out there start hissing and booing: The respective features, in general, remain well beyond the rules-complexity of e.g. 5e, let alone PFRPG. Speaking of which: The berserker and knight, to take two variants, would be the stand-ins for barbarian/paladin; Nice: knights per se are NOT per default paladins or antipaladins/blackguards; instead, there is a chance to gain this status in play, but it remains rare; considering that paladins were historically known as the 12 peers, foremost members of Charlemagne’s court defined by larger than life and mostly fictitious propaganda denoting the superiority of Christian martial arts over that of the Sarazens. I digress.

A big departure from traditional depictions of classes would be the lack of a divine caster – instead, we get an elegant little class that, to me, feels much more “divine” that the god-coated cleric ever did – the Friar. Armor up to chain-mail, d8 HD…and basically, the main draw of the class is the prayer mechanic: You roll dice, depending on your level, as a full-round action. This generates an effect: Countering magic, blessing allies, dispelling charms – you know “magic” stuff that is actually ascribed to the devout. However, each subsequent use of prayer actually adds to the chances of not getting the aid you prayed for. You begin with rolling 1d6 + Wisdom modifier and increase that to up to 3d12 base dice at 13th level; the second prayer only succeeds on a 2+; the third only on a 3+…and so on. This is dead simple, easy to grasp and flavorful. Oh, and at higher levels, they can ask for divine intervention. Seriously, seriously love this class. The mystic would be basically a monk class and is a subset of the friar; the templar would be the hand of god, the martial, blessed soldier. Assassins, bards and acrobats would be subsets of the thief.

Wizards would be the primary casters, gaining spells of up to 6th level, with warlocks and wise man/woman as subsets; before you’re asking: No, warlocks are not all-day blasters, but rather casters that dabble in forbidden magics, traitors to their kin by virtue of the knowledge they crave, if you will. You know. Closer to the actual meaning of the word. I digress. The base array of classes, as a whole, struck me as well-balanced. The rules-language is surprisingly precise and definitely takes a cue from the crisp and precise old-school books and the codification strategies employed by current systems.

Onwards to the racial classes! The clansdwarf would basically be the dwarven specialist fighter; the gothi the armored, dwarven spellcaster who can cast in combat while wielding a weapon; their spells are also not automatically ruined by being hit, making them pretty strong – they get a Constitution save. They are, however, restricted to white magic Elven eldritch archers can, bingo, enchant arrows and their fae-mages are gray magic specialists who may place spells in objects etc. The class comes with subsets – druid-y nature priests called forestalls that can exclusively nature spells and wardens, basically rangers with limited fighting prowess. I’ll give you three guesses what the specialty of gnomish Illusionists is; you’re correct, of course, though their spell-list is called “Delusion”, not illusion in a conscious departure focusing on effect rather than description. Tricksters are basically a hybrid of that class and the thief. Halflings can choose to be the lucky folk champion underdog fighter or the thief-y scout.

Now, there also are weird classes – if I had to codify these fellows in the terms of another rules-system, I’d call them occult classes, perhaps more fitting for early modern/Edwardian/Victorian gameplay; the necronimus, for example, can sense the spirits and gains a degree of awareness of them, though they are, perhaps surprisingly, white magic casters. Occultists would be the black magic side of the coin, defined by corruption and dark lore, but also uniquely suited to defeat fiends and demonic entities – basically the antihero trope.The psychic would be the equivalent of FH&W’s adaptation of the classic old-school psionics: We get the classics like mind blast, Id insinuation, etc., a point-based psi-engine, etc. – but also the attack and defense mode engine. I’m gonna earn some boos and hisses by saying that, but here goes. Old-school psionics suck. I always loved the idea of psionics to death, from the moment when I first read it. However, psionics only got good at 3.5 and onwards, courtesy of Dreamscarred Press and later, Paizo’s psychic spell engine as an alternative. The attack vs. defense mode system, while sensible on paper, never ever played well. It was always exceedingly clunky and frankly, I wished that this class had deviated further from it. Anyway, if this works for you: Cool, I don’t judge, more power to you. Playing with it, I consider it just as clunky as the old-school psionics.

The rifleman would be the gunslinger, the dashing space-opera hero with great aim, defensive rolls and tech-use; the savant is the Doc Brown-style mad tinker/inventor and is a class for the player who enjoys a bit more freeform: While concise guidelines for devices are provided, the engine presented is pretty open. The sky-lord would be the ace pilot, while the wild brute is basically the savage/Mowgli-type character.

Okay, so that would be the class roster; I already touched upon wound hit points and vitality hit points; this distinction is btw. only usually made for PCs - no need to track it with NPCs. Transition from saves of other systems, be that 3.X or old-school games, is btw. dead simple and further facilitated by the handy tables; transition from 5e is a cake-walk that probably doesn’t even require any brain-power; I’m confident I could manage it while horribly drunk. Petrification and polymorph, for example,a re translated to Strength; Death, paralysis and poison to Constitution; Charisma is used to resist spells that do not have a listed attribute noted in their description. Dead simple. Characters heal 1 + Con modifier hit-points per day, 3 + Con modifier for proper rest; characters are dying from -1 to -9 and -10 = death. For every wound hit point lost, characters suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to ALL DICE ROLLS. This means that, even if you have a high racial Hit Die, you won’t necessarily work well longer; it just means that you’ll be more likely to be able to limp away. Skill-checks work pretty much like in current games: d20 + bonuses vs. DC. An average task is DC 10, nearly impossible is DC 30. There are rules for opposed checks, characters may be aided – here, the emphasis on teamwork and assistance provides a nice bit of detail.

Now, let us take a look at the equipment: The system assumes a gold standard and provides both ascending and descending values for armor class notation. Default is, btw. AC 10. Armors impose a skill penalty and a spell failure chance. Exotic armor like dragon armor, samurai armor etc. is included. The weapon selection is massive, provides examples for further weapons, and base damage types are differentiated: Bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage. A metric ton of kits, outfits etc. can also be found, and yes, there are rules for early firearms, should your game include them….and then, we get something I did not necessarily expect.

A whole chapter on science-fantasy equipment. Whether you’re looking for rules to play fish out of water/time anachronistic adventures, want to do some steampunky reskinning or go full-blown space opera, this chapter provides items from revolvers to laser guns, noting how technology differs from magic in its capabilities. And yes, from zeppelins to hover cars, this section is neat and shows that this type of gameplay is not just a fire and forget afterthought.

If required, a massive table collates item saving throws and substance hardness. Combat should provide no issues for veterans of the game: Initiative is rolled with a d6, adding casting duration or speed factor of the weapon to it; low scores go first. Surprise is btw determined by a d6 roll in scenarios where it’s not clear. The larger the creature, the higher the speed factor of natural attacks. Interesting: The further you walk, the higher the initiative segment, and receiving charges, for example, can decrease the initiative segment. If this sounds weird, it’s not: The roll determines when the action begins, the modification how long it takes. This sounds complicated on paper, but is dead simple in gameplay and can yield some surprisingly rewarding, tactical situations and also allows you to play really cinematic boss fights. Now, the combat system per se is similarly easy – I already covered how attacking works; actions are similarly simple: There are primary actions (basically like standard actions/5e actions), secondary actions (move actions/move/bonus actions) and free actions. The game assumes a critical hit/fumble engine and sports a couple of combat modifier, but not excessively many. Further emphasizing tactics, the game knows multiple defensive actions: Choosing to evade applies +4 to AC versus ONE attack; parrying nets you +2 to AC versus 3 attacks. Apart from fleeing in a panic, there is no real attack of opportunity system in place, but from strangulation to putting a blade against a target’s throat etc., the whole array of combat maneuvers is covered and pretty much available. TWF and unarmed fighting rules are pretty concise as well. Due to the simplicity of the system and the relatively easy math, even called shots tend to work as intended. Morale checks for creatures are also assumed to be part of the offering, just so you know.

Vehicle combat rules are included; turning/rebuking undead is based on creature HD and character level; psionic combat…okay, it’s not bad per se…but it’s indebted to the classic attack/defense mode paradigm. Next. We do also briefly mention duels of rhetoric, which was a nice touch. Exploration, overland movement by terrain, sea- and airborne travel (with trails, wind etc. influencing speed), becoming lost, chase rules (including chases in the wilderness and at sea, dungeons, etc.) supplemented with random hazards/obstacles.

Now, there is one component about the health/hit-point mechanic that I’m not too fond of: Not only do wound hit points influence the rolls of the character, they also decrease speed – which means that dwarves, with their low speed, can theoretically be still in fighting shape, but RAW unable to move. While easily remedied with a minimum value, this is still a surprising guffaw in the otherwise, as a whole rather impressively precise book. While we’re on the subject: I am rather happy that the Constitution-based percentile chance to not being able to be recovered from death makes a return – death should mean something and some of my most nail-bitingly intense moments were the rare resurrection rolls in my earlier games. But I digress.

Among the conditions known, we have the usual suspects like blindness/deafness, diseases, etc. – and 5 levels or drunkenness (YEAH!), 4 levels of fear (you guessed it: shaken, frightened, panicked, cowering)…but it should be noted that both starvation and losing limbs are their own things here. Ability loss persists while the condition that instills it does; ability damage heals at a rate of 1 per day; ability drain needs magical fixing. Energy drain, lycanthropy and petrification are as deadly as the old-school crowd wants them to be. Be afraid. Rules for high altitudes, suffocation, toxic air, smoke, corrosive atmosphere, extreme temperatures, deep snow, avalanches, instant freezing, falling (yes may go partially straight to your wound hit points…), rain, storms – you note it. The chapter on these environmental and terrain effects is massive, exhaustive and pretty much amazing.

Sample NPCs, hireling rules and an easy to grasp monster/NPC-notation – simple, handy, no complaints. Now, beyond the friars mentioned, we take a look at priests and gods – several takes on gods and how they may or may not exist, are provided before we get EVEN MORE class options, like the witch-hunter fighter, the crusader berserker. The preacher bard variant or the inquisitor thief sub-class. A MASSIVE array of deties and potential subjects of worship is provided, remaining setting-agnostic throughout – elemental water, fertility deity, fortune – you get the idea. Basically, you get the rules and then can apply the template provided to your setting of choice. A class for champions or law and chaos and one for the guardians of neutrality complements this section. While we’re at it: We do not stop there. We receive a massive, detailed discussion on the matter of the immortal soul, petitioners, as well as on the planar cosmology assumed (including discussions on positive/negative energy plane and plane of shadows!!) etc. - kudos for going the extra mile here!

Now, magic. As briefly touched upon before, FH&W does not per se assume an arcane/divine divide in magics; instead, magic is categorized in white, gray and black. I am not going to insult your intelligence by explaining these notions, so let’s talk about some of the other components that set the magic engine presented within apart: Beyond even more variant/sub-class options, we actually not only get rules and guidelines for spell-research, but also for incantations. In case you are not familiar with the concept: Think of these more as sword & socery-esque magic, as ritualized forms of magic that can have benefits ranging from a folk magic charm to the calling of a demon lord. The notion and concept has always been exceedingly dear to my heart, so big kudos for providing the like. It should also be noted that the creation of pentagrams and protection circles against entities is provided in its own brief sub-section, once more providing a level of detail and coverage that rather baffled me, in a good way. Speaking of which: The optional rules for severe sorcery put a smile on my face: Obsessions gained from study, true names and their power, inherent danger of preparing spells, ley lines, rules for ritual sacrifice – here, we have a massive selection of rules that can dramatically tweak how magic feels in your game. We get spell-lists by school…and then a MASSIVE grimoire of magic. Spells are listed alphabetically, with class level, casting time, save, target, range, duration, and SR, if applicable, noted in the beginning. I love this. You get the meat of the spell’s effects at one glance, sans having to skim through the whole spell’s text. Kudos for going the detailed route here. Oh, and guess what: Some spells are reversible. How many are there? 666. Yes, that’s A LOT. And there are some pretty cool ones: You know you want to cast zombie stooge ,or time mirror right?

Even after this HUGE chapter, we are NOT YET DONE. The appendices collate ability score in a table; you get age, height and weight tables, personality descriptors; a system to pledge allegiance to causes, nations, organizations, etc. to gain benefits; a system to track cultural origins and language and literacy (OH YES!!!) in THREE categories (primitive, default medieval, advanced (OH DOUBLE YES!!)! We get sample names by race and culture; an optional social origin system; alternatives to determine hit points; a quick and dirty one-page insanity-system; an appendix that collates all skills and provides sample DCs for them as well as conversion guidelines (YEAH!). Want further differentiation between fighters? Combat styles are provided; fencers can feint and deflect arrows, boxers can flurry…you get the idea. Want to adapt your favorite class? Conversion advice for 1E, 2E and 3.X classes is provided.

Oh, and guess what? MORE CLASSES. I am not kidding you. We get basically a Zorro-style adventurer; a druid-y animist; we get scary monks (all those creepy killer monk tropes rolled into a class), a pirate and a naval mage…and the thick brute. For when you want to play the rather dumb, but really strong character. Oh, and guess what – while the default system goes to level 13…there is an epic level appendix that expands that range to frickin’ level 25!

Now, if you want, you can also take a look at the saving throw appendix and take a look at the cool tweaks the system proposes for reactive and active saving throws: Foregoing your action to prepare for an incoming spell or effect would constitute, for example, such a case. This sounds complex, but in play, it is quite the opposite and rather self-explanatory. We close this massive tome with a list of spheres associated with particular domains, should you prefer spellcasting priests, and a critical hit table further expanded, with class specific effects.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting may be the one aspect that some people might grumble about. While the rules-language and formal language is generally precise, there are a couple of instances where it is evident that the author is not a native speaker; not through malapropisms, but via a couple of slightly rough verbiages. These instances are surprisingly few in number, though – I can literally rattle off a list of books with a lower rules-density, penned by native speakers, that did not fare as well as this tome. Layout is surprisingly gorgeous for such a tome: It is crisp, black and white and sports a LOT of nice graphical elements: Scrolls, original and stock art – all comes together rather nicely. The book is incredibly easy to navigate, courtesy of the indices, the hyperlinks and the massive array of nested bookmarks. My one criticism regarding the organization is that, personally, I would have preferred all classes and class options in one place; that is a personal preference, though – I get the decision to group them next to the respective optional rules.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is pretty much the “eierlegende Wollmichsau” among the OSR-systems. In case you’re not familiar with the term: It literally means “egglaying woolmilk(-giving)pig” and figuratively denotes a jack-of-all-trades. This book is perhaps the ultimate example of kitchen-sink modularity in OSR games…and beyond.

What do I mean by this? As many of you know, I really like BOTH super-complex games like Pathfinder, slightly simpler ones like 5e, old-school games AND really rules-lite games. Here’s the thing, though – ultimately, for longer games, you require two things to stave off boredom, or at least, I do. I need options and the capability to depict multiple types of gameplay. Sure, I love a good GUMSHOE investigation! I absolutely can get behind an amazing mega-dungeon hackfest! I adore really bleak purist horror! But know what I cherish about both the complex systems and the OSR-movement as a whole? Both provide a gazillion of ways to modify and tweak the game. Sure, I can play, e.g. LotFP as the designated quasi-historical weird fantasy game…and add some Stars Without Numbers etc. But this meshing, at one point, becomes a bit more complex than it needs to be. As “simple” as most old-school rules are, they quickly become less simple once you start getting into the heavy tweaking; that’s not bad for short games, but I prefer longer campaigns, and thus a sense of consistency in that department.

Dominique Crouzet's Fantastic Heroes & Witchery delivers just that for me. It’s a masterpiece. It’s like coming home. This game manages to walk the tightrope: You can play it as a rather simple, classic game on par with the big OSR-systems…or you can make use of the massive wealth of options presented. The combat, as depicted herein, is dynamic and incredibly fun and tactical – it rewards player brains and forethought. Moreover, it does not fall prey to them “I hit it with my sword”-syndrome, where the martial characters just stand around and bash on things. You can literally run a combat, where a gigantic Kaiju tries to squash the PCs as they hurry from cover to cover. I have rarely seen a system that is so simple, yet rewarding and complex, that lets you create such cinematic moments. The simple skill-engine nets a ton to do beyond killing things.

And better yet: Much like 3.X and PFRPG or 5e, the system sports an incredible flexibility: You can literally tie in almost anything into it with minimal fuss: Want to add in full-blown horror? No problem, the framework’s already here; expanding it is a cakewalk. Do you still have your favorite module from such a system lying around, the one you never got to run? Well, conversion is ridiculously simple. For 5e, you can basically do in on the fly as well. Want to include spacecraft rules? No problem. Heck, you could even translate a really complex combo-based martial artist class to this system, provided you have a bit of design skill. This system is not only compatible with regards to other OSR-games, it extends that compatibility to the new school systems and creates what may well be the absolute apex of system modularity I have seen so far, all without losing its own identity and touch. The magic-classification, the friar class, the way in which races are handled (which btw. also makes race –class conversion ridiculously simple), the excessive attention to detail provided for things like vehicles, travel, etc. – I have rarely seen a book that made me, time and again, smile so much. NGR, in comparison, is a glorious system as well, but conversion takes more effort, particularly when converting from newer systems.

The biggest achievement of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, to me, however, would be that it manages to capture the nostalgia and simplicity of old-school gaming with the wealth of options (emphasis on optional!) of current games; all but the most number-crunching and min-maxing players will adore this book; it provides tactical and strategic depth without being mired in it. In case you haven’t noticed: This may not be as crisp as LotFP or S&W, but it is incredibly encompassing. I can pretty much take any book from my library of adventures, setting sourcebooks etc. and run it in FH&W without much fuss. Depending on your skill, you may even pull of such a transition on the fly. I deemed that to be an impossible feat. This book accomplished it.

And yes, I am SO going to get this in print.

If that has, by now, not become abundantly clear: I adore this book. It is a masterpiece in its encompassing nature, in its tendency to embrace what is good about a system, in how easily you can customize it.

If the idea of going old-school with simplified, quicker combat without losing the excitement provided by tactical combat even remotely appeals to you, if you look for a system that can easily handle PFRPG, 5e and OSR-conversions (heck, even 13th Age/4e, but that’ll be more work), then get this right now. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and while this was released in 2014, I make it a candidate for my Top Ten – after all, I only was pointed towards this masterpiece this year.

All right, only one thing left for me to do, and that is to thank the patreon that requested this book. I have rarely had so much fun with a book and FH&W is going to accompany me and influence my gaming sensibilities for a long time to come.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2015 11:46:57

Full Disclosure: I have worked with the author, Dominique Crouzet, in the past on a couple of projects. I think Dom is a great guy and I love the work we had done together. I am going to review FH&W on it's own merits.

For this review I am looking at the PDF copy found at DriveThruRPG and the print copy hardcover from Lulu.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery Reto-RPG (FH&W hereafter) is a newer "retro-clone" of the classic D&D rules.

The book itself is a massive 430 pages. This includes the table of contents (4 pages), index (4 pages), spell index (4 pages) and OGL statement (2 pages). The PDF also has a "quick click" index to get to sections in the book faster.

A while back I referred to this as the "Rosetta Stone" of OSR games. It still works like that, but this really more of an meta-analysis of OSR RPG elements put into a cohesive whole. The game feels like Basic era, BEMCI, D&D, but it also has the options of both 1st and some of 2nd Ed AD&D. Other games like Swords & Wizardry have also contributed to the DNA of this game. A quick look at the OGL statement in back makes it clear that this game is very much a product of many, many games. This is not a slight, there is an absolute ton of new and original material here. It takes the best and develops more to make it all work well. In fact this book is a good point of translation between the various clones and 3rd Edition. Not that translation is difficult, this helps smooth out the "local idioms" to some closer to normal.

A note about the art. Dom is not just the author of this game he is also one of the primary artists and graphic designer. The art is reminiscent of both B/X D&D and AD&D, on purpose. In fact there are a few tongue in cheek references to old AD&D books. To further this feeling there is also art by Jim Holloway.

Chapter 1 deals with character creation. Here we are given the details about Ability Scores (OSR standards here) and then we get into races. The usual suspects are here, but some of the newer folk as well like tieflings, and some new ones. The new races include tainted humans, primates, reptilians, revenants (undead), winged folk, and witchlings. I love the idea behind the primates, intelligent apes and wonder why we have not seen more of those in other fantasy games. A personal aside, the Witchlings are very much something I would expect out of Dom. I am very intrigued by the race and plan on exploring in more. The next section of the chapter is Character Backgrounds. These are more role-playing options with suggestions of mechanical advantages (Foresters are better at climbing trees for example, but no pluses are given). This is a nice section that does better than it's inspired materials but doesn't quite go as far as the newest edition of the D&D game. That is likely a perfect sweet spot for the types of games that are going to be played here. We end with a discussion on alignment.

Chapter 2 discusses character classes. We have the expected list and then some more. Again since this is a merging of Basic and Advanced ideas there are some "racial" classes here. I like the idea myself and will discuss those in a bit. There is also a section on "Weird Tales" pulp-era classes. Classes are divided up into groups much like 2nd Ed or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. We have Warriors which include Fighters, Beserkers, Knights and Ranger. Rogues which include Thieves, Acrobats, Assassins, and Bards. Divines which consist of Friars, Mystics and Templars and the racial classes. Dwarves include Clans-dwarf and Gothi. Elves are split into High and Sylvan they include Eldritch-archer and Fae-mage (High) and Forestal and Warden (Sylvan). Gnomes get Illusionist and Trickster. Halflings get Folk-champion and Scout. Finally there are the Weird Tales classes; Necronimus, Occultist, Psychic, Rifleman, Savant, Sky-lord, and Wild-brute.

Like editions 3.x and beyond, all classes use the same Experience Level chart. So 2,000 xp is 2nd level for everyone. This has a number of nice benefits including easier multi-classing. Like newer editions each character class has a base to hit modifier. So for fighters this goes up +1 per level. Each class has HD, Base to Hit, Saves and abilities per level. Saves are standard Sword & Wizardry style, but there is an Appendix for conversions later in the book.

An note about levels. Like B/X, AS&SH or Adventurer, Conqueror, King, FH&W assumes that 13 is the max level. There are XP values given for 14 and above, but the abilities stop there.

I will discuss the Wizard classes later when I talk about the spells, but for now I want to say that racial classes are really some of the nicest new classes of the book. It is easy to create a bunch of human centric classes, but these different cultures would naturally produce some professions or heroes of their own.

The Weird Tales classes are an interesting bunch. Some would fit right in with the Ranger or Knight, others, less so. The Necronimus is basically a spiritualist or speaker of the dead. The occultist learns spells as the find them from old tomes, the psychic is what is says on the tin. Others like the Rifleman or the Savant (aka Weird Scientist) could work with some good role-playing and a lot of help from the GM. The Sky-Lord...is a great class, but it is very Sci-Fi or at least Sci-Fant. The wild-brute would work anywhere to be honest.

Hit-dice and hp are discussed in the next section as well as saving throws. The model of saving throws in the Swords & Wizardry one but also it could be said the D&D 5 one or the Castles & Crusades one. Conversions and notes are given for how to translate a Fortitude save or a Breath Weapon save over to this system. Honestly this is a gem and worth printing out these pages for any game you play. Next are skill checks and how to handle them.

Chapter 3 covers Equipment. This is what you expect but there is a lot to choose from here. In fact t might be one of more comprehensive collections. Worth the price of the PDF to be honest to have all of this in one place. The section on Sci-Fantasy equipment is an added bonus.

Chapter 4 details Combat. There is your garden variety melee and missile combat, but also vehicle based combat and psionic combat (for the psychic class). Stuffed in the last paragraph is the very interesting Duels of Rhetoric. Basically, combat of words. There is a lot of potential here and something I want to use in my next D&D5 game. Yes it works with any version of D&D or OSR game.

Chapter 5 is Moving and Exploring. A lot of what becomes a goo dungeon crawl is more than combat. This also details carrying capacity. What you expect is here, but there is also a nice section on "Chase rules" to go with your vehicle based combat. Suddenly I want to do a Stephen J. Cannell-style chase with chariots or even dragons!

These two chapters have a logical conclusion found in Chapter 6, Hazards and Injuries. This includes a Wound and Vitality system for use in any D&D-like game. Other topics include massive damage (like AD&D 2), subdual (a feature of my Basic D&D games) and healing. There is a section of Threats and Hazards. This details a lot of conditions PCs can find themselves in; Blind, Fearful, Drunk, Poisoned and so on. Congrats, we just worked in the best parts of D&D4! Beyond that the Conditions/Afflictions also extend to the Supernatural. So Energy drain, Lycanthropy and so on.

Chapter 7 covers Monsters and NPCs. There are no monsters in FH&W. Not that there can't be, but the book does not list them. It does talk about how to use monsters and how NPCs can also work as monsters. By default FH&W assumes an OSRIC style stat block for monsters.

Chapter 8 is an interesting one. It covers Priests and Religions. Different types of world views are discussed. Also the priest classes are mentioned with different "templates" one can use to make the priest feel different. Some concepts of gods are later detailed. One could add names to these from any myth rather easily. Names are not provided though. Each God archetype also has a suggestions for their clergy. After this we get into a discussion of Law vs. Chaos. This includes another class, The Agent of Law/Chaos. If you are thinking Elric or other Eternal Champions (but also I will add, He-Man from the Masters of the Universe media is a great example of an Agent of Law). In fact so engrossing is this concept I might create three agents using this as my outline for Law, Chaos and Neutrality. If you pick this up, really consider this chapter and what it could mean for your game. There is even a treatise on the immortal soul and some details on the outer planes.

Chapter 9 covers magic and spellcasting. There is a lot here. One of the better sections is acquiring arcane spells. There are equally as good sections on getting spell-like powers. Also covered is an optional rule on Incantations, which are spells that anyone can use. As expected the schools of magic are covered, with the different specialists such as Illusionists, Necromancers and so on. Also presented is a War-Mage class. The next section deals with the craft of magic. This includes a lot of information on magic circles, scrolls, and even creating magical talismans! My favorite is part on ley lines and power nexuses.
We get into the bulk of the chapter with spell lists by class. Spells are divided into Psychic, Gray, Black and White magic, Nature and Delusion spells.

Chapter 10 is the Alphabetical listing of all the spells. 164 pages worth of spells, 666 spells in all. Thats 2/5s of the entire book. I know some are new, but I would have to read each in detail to know which ones. There are a lot here in any case. Personally I LOVE that the Mordenkainen's spells have been changed to Morgane's. While many of the spell casting classes stop at level 6, these spells do go to 7th, 8th and 9th levels.

Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. These are: Appendix 1: More About Ability Scores. - Ability scores above 18 to 25. Appendix 2: Physical Appearance. - height and weight by race. Appendix 3: Personality. Appendix 4: Allegiances. Appendix 5: Cultural Background. Appendix 6: Social Background. Appendix 7: Rolling Hit-Points. Appendix 8: Sanity / Insanity. - I am not a fan of sanity in a FRPG. but this is a simple solution option. Appendix 9: Skills in More Detail. Appendix 10: Talents (Custom Abilities). Appendix 11: Fighting Schools and Maneuvers. Appendix 12: Adding More Character Classes.
Appendix 13: Epic Levels (14th to 20th / 25th level). takes the characters into epic levels, in this case 14th to 25th. Appendix 14: More About Saving Throws. - more Saving translations. Appendix 15: Domain Spells. - divine spells by theme Appendix 16: Critical Hits (Complete Table of Secondary Effects).

A bit more about Appendix 12. This is a GREAT section about adding other classes including 3e prestige classes. This includes note on how to add my own Witch to this game. There are also more classes here including: The Adventurer, the Animist, the Scary Monk (the monk from AD&D), the Sea-Dog, the Sea-Witch and the Thick Brute.

We end with the OGL notice and a character sheet.

What can I say at this point really?

This is an awesome resource. It is a great game in it's own right, but it shines when added to other games. Use this to play an OSRIC game while importing some 3.x style classes and as Swords & Wizardry monster book. Or whatever you like. There is so much here that there is no end of what you can do with it. A serious high mark for all OSR products in terms of utility.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Didier I. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/28/2014 13:37:43

Bonjour, le contenu de ce livre est très dense, il n'y a pas de floriture, ce qui en fait une formidable boite à outil compatible avec tout ce qui existe en OSR. Une petite introduction de ce qu'est un JdR, et ce qu'apporte le livre par rapport au autres pointure du genre OSR. Des règles simples (D20) avec de nombreuses options permettant de cadrer avec plus de règles (pour ceux qui aiment). L'originalité c'est de balayer de la Sword & Sorcery en passant par l'Heroic Fantasy et en touchant le Space Opéra. Ce qui permet d'ajouter de l'exotisme dans votre jeux. Ce travail réalisé par un Français est en Anglais. Pour autant cela reste très abordable et fluide probablement parce que ce n'est pas sa langue natale. Du superbe travail.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by James C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/27/2014 11:52:50

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is the Holy Grail of Old School D&D. It takes the simplicity of B/X, the flavor of 1st edition, the multitude of options from 2nd edition, and combines them with the more rational, consistent mechanics of 3rd edition.

Much like Labrynth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery provides a streamlined game engine with a plethora of options that is broadly compatible with any edition of The Game published in the 20th century.

Where Labrynth Lord sought to faithfully emulate B/X (with the AEC providing additional options from 1st edition), Fantastic Heroes & Witchery has taken the same simple, robust base and replaced some less intuitive bits. For example instead of Attack Matrixes or THAC0, FH&W uses ascending AC and BtH. Saving Throws, instead of being the oddly specific five categories, is a single number, modified by an ability score and possibly class or race (depending on the type of threat), best of all the book contains tables that relate the categories across editions of The Game.

This book is not an introductory RPG book, it is intended for those already familiar with D&D. For newer / younger players I plan to combine elements of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery with Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is the product that allowed me to quit trying to build the "perfect" version of D&D. If you are interested in OSR gaming, you will not find a better product.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Chris T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2014 22:21:03

Its a retro-clone. There are hundreds of them. This one, however, is awesome.

You get swords and sorcery as well as swords and planets in the same book. Twists on standard classes, as well as loads of new ones. There is a simple skill system and ... just tons of high quality content.

Production values are very high, and the art really conveys the feel of the rules well.

If you play any D20 style retro-clones buy this book, even if you don't play the game as written there is no end of ideas to borrow from it.

This book is a steal at this price.

The one thing I was disappointed with was the character sheet. The rest of the book is very pretty and then I got to the last page, blah. Functional, thats about it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Matthias H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/12/2014 08:55:26

FH&W takes inspiration from the earlier editions of D&D(most of it is based on AD&D) and blends oldschool mood with more modern design sensibilities(picking some of the better changes from 3E to include) while adding a hefty helping of unique stuff.

The conveniences you have come to expect from more progressive Retroclones, like a unified experience table, Base Attack Bonus instead of THAC0, or a streamlined saving throw system(a single target number, starting high and going down with experience, combined with bonuses/penalties of the targeted attribute) are all there, but what really sets it apart are the changes/additions that go beyond tweaking the base mechanics(the Friar, for example, eschews traditional spell-slot based casting in favor of a prayer system and is much closer to what one would imagine upon hearing the word "priest", than the much more militant and overtly magical Cleric).

There is an abundance of choice, whether you are looking at races, classes, or spells; easily letting you cover different themes(from traditionaly fantasy over steampunk, to post-apocalypse, science fantasy...). You don't just get thrown headfirst into a single list of classes ranging from Fighter to Sky-Lord(basically an ace pilot) though, instead the game presents most themed content in its own section(for example the chapter discussing religions lists various specialty priest types, agents of higher forces and sample gods). As such, it doesn't bloat the list of core classes(which covers the classic staples) while offering extra content for whatever theme you want to focus on or feature more prominently.

There is no baked-in setting, but the wide variety and sheer amount of content makes it easy to plug in an existing one or make up your own without having to do much work as far as having to write up appropriate classes etc. goes. Take note that there are also no monsters or magic items included, so this technically isn't a stand alone book.

However, adapting content from AD&D should be a breeze(in fact, you can probably use most stuff as is, without any changes) and the author is already working on a monster book.

If you are even remotely interested in OSR gaming, you don't want to pass this one up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Mark H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/07/2014 19:47:35

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (herein called FH&W), is a very well thought out OSR product that bridges the gap between many editions of the most popular rpg. It is designed to function so that you can simply plug in what edition features you want and basically play whatever edition or simulations of those editions that you want. A true OSR product that bridges gaps. On top of that, it offers new features, classes, and a totally new twist on "divine classes", while allowing the older style "cleric" class as well if so desired. The demi-human races get their own specific classes to play which makes the game rich with features. On top of all of those features, the book also has classes and equipment for a more futuristic game that would include things like psionics or ray guns. Like I said earlier, it is truly an amazing product that bridges many gaps and allows for nearly any playstyle. Hardcore old school and modern play styles in one book. Truly a next generation product, and some would say better than any official next system. Also, the pdf version is chapter marked and very easy to navigate. I use goodreader, for your reference.

To be fair, there are some grammatical errors here and there. The author's native language is French and there are times when sentence structure may come across as oddly worded to English speakers, but never in a way that causes problems. These are minor things, and many were corrected in this current version 2. This product is highly recommended if your even remotely interested in OSR products and games, or even new school games and want to try different classes.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Lane S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/07/2014 10:42:08

FH&W is quite possibly the most robust OSR game ever written. There's not much new under the hood mechanically - it discards THAC0 and percentage-based skill checks like many of its contemporaries, but beyond that, it's the same B/X-inspired ground that many well-known retro-clones have already tread.

What really sets FH&W apart from other retro-clones is the dizzying array of options available. It allows players to build unique, complex characters in the same way they might with 3.5e and its successors, yet somehow manages to retain its old-school sensibilities while avoiding power creep, arduous character management, and all the other issues that usually come hand-in-hand with crunchy games.

Put simply: in a way, FH&W is almost like having the world's most comprehensive splatbook for OSR-style games. Even if you're happy with your current retro-clone of choice, most of the stuff in FH&W can be dropped into your existing game with zero fuss. This book belongs in the collection of anyone interested in old-school gaming.

Oh, and one more thing: beyond being an excellent game in its own right, FH&W is quite obviously a love letter to the original games it draws its inspiration from. This is by far most evident in the art, much of which is the author's own work. The book contains many pieces that pay homage to folks like Dave Trampier, including an incredible take on Trampier's iconic Magic Mouth artwork (probably my favorite piece of art in the original books). The art alone nearly makes FH&W worth the price of admission, but the content seals the deal without question.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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