According to the Bloodchant game, as of 1988, the Phantasm Adventures game was the biggest fantasy game in Japan. Apparently, the Phantasm Adventures game is the revised, English-language publication of those rules.
Physically, the game consists of two books with heavy-paper covers, punched and bound with plastic strips, as done in many photocopy stores. The interior text is fairly large and easy to read, typically divided into two columns, sometimes with a narrow sidebar of auxiliary text. Occasionally, the type becomes much denser, in places where the writer obviously wanted to get a lot of material for one topic onto a few pages. In general, large headings break the text into manageable pieces, with a fair number of illustrations for variety and illumination. Overall, the illustrations are unusual but respectable. (At first, I thought many of them were pieces garnered from a century ago, they have that sort of engraved-line quality and dense shading, but I find them too specific to the text and too fantastic in subject for that to be the case.) A multitude of tables supplement the text, typically collected into sections of their own.
The introduction in the Players Handbook states that the game is designed for incredible developmental possibilities, yet is simple enough to be easily played and expanded. I would agree that the game is very flexible at least in terms of the sheer number of types of characters that can be generated but it is hardly simple or easy. Rather, this is a number intensive product, particularly in terms of character generation, and one that requires quite a bit of rules reference during play.
At first, I found the game to be rather exciting. The idea of rating characters stats both by racial base and by personal variation is interesting. This allows a great degree of personal variance within a race, and when stats are to be compared between members of two different races as in an arm-wrestling match, for instance multiplying the racial stat by the personal stat makes the difference between even the strongest goblin and the weakest giant immediately evident. And some undoubtedly will be glad to know that you can choose characters from fifty-five different races (though as GM, I prefer to keep my bugbears and trolls as monsters rather than player characters).
The general approach to magic is also exciting, with designers of spell-casters deciding what realms their characters casting powers come from such things as a deity, spoken phrases, gestures, special instruments, symbols, components, and the like. In other words, you decide whether your character speaks and gestures to cast a spell, or holds an object while invoking a deity, or gestures with an DRAGON 27 object, to name just a few of the many possibilities. Furthermore, you even choose among options to determine how wieldly or unwieldy the method is, how fast it regenerates energy, how much energy it yields, and what effect it has on casting time and chance of success. Then you decide what circles of magic to specialize in, which determines what spells are available to your character. Note that this all means that while two players might end up with the same spell for their characters, the dramatic effects of casting that spell are quite different nice storytelling element. In terms of flexibility, spells can be modified as they’re thrown, to speed one up at the cost of accuracy, for example, and characters can spend experience on the spot for emergency power points.
This freedom of choice is also evident in terms of the skill system. Players are given beginning experience points with which to purchase desired skills, with guidelines given by a characters chosen clan e.g., a professional club, such as military, religious, crime, trade, etc. Certain skills are required purchases for members of a particular clan, and some list multipliers for the cost of learning magical spells. Magical ability is also dictated somewhat by the race decided upon.
Actually generating a character reveals, however, just how number-, table-, and rules-intensive the game really is. (It doesn’t help that the promised character sheet is not included.) First, you choose a race and write down nine racial stats plus a height base and move rating. Then you begin collecting personal stat modifiers for nationality, town size, clan type, and clan rank. Now you roll 2d10 for each of those personal stats and add the modifiers you’ve noted. Then you refer that number to a table, to determine the actual personal stat value. Don’t throw away the original number, though, because you’ll be spending your experience on it during play, and coming back to the conversion table to convert the new number to a new stat value. Then you determine a god worshiped, if any. There are special restrictions and abilities to be gained from doing so. Now determine exact clan background and resulting age. From clan, you decide upon skills. Just as the numbers you rolled for personal stats are converted to a value using a conversion table, you spend experience to buy levels of skill, which are converted using a table to a numerical value, based upon the skills related stat, the number of levels purchased, and the cost per level as dictated by the character s guild. Decimal values are retained for a slim chance rule: e.g., if you have a success chance of 12.6 and roll a 13 (the game uses 1d20 for skill tests), there is a 6 in 10 chance that the skill actually succeeds.
If your character is to cast magic, age will be affected by that as well, and you’ll need to make the decisions mentioned earlier, concerning realm and the like. (Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to determine the effect levels for the various aspects of those realms.) Then you’ll have to decide which circles to use and roll to see what spells are available to the character.
In any case, you’ll also need to generate starting money and buy initial equipment. Then you choose three personal goals for the character, from a list of samples, which affect how the character gains experience points during play.
Combat is a bit number intensive as well. For initiative, each character has three different PSNs (Phase Sequence Numbers): one for melee combat, one for missile combat, and one for spell-casting. At the beginning of the turn, you decide which type of action your character will take, then roll 1dl0 and add it to the appropriate PSN. Totals higher than 20 allow actions in more than one phase of the turn. The actual course of activity your character performs may consist of one or more action types (draw weapon, go berserk, fall prone, etc.), each of which counts as anything from half an action to three actions, in terms of elapsed time. (Actually, this sounds more confusing than it really is, but it does require a lot of reference to the book during play.) Any attacks are rolled on 1d20, with numerous possible modifiers (again requiring frequent reference to the book). There are also rules for how many attackers of what size may attack a target of a particular size, how to find spent ammunition after combat, chance of missile breakage, equations for damage from falling and throwing, movement and coordination effects of armor, and suchlike, plus a fairly lengthy table of special tactics such as throwing sand in the eyes, etc., adding a bit of storytelling to combat.
Finally, every skill in the game has its own critical success and fumble chart, again adding a bit of storytelling to play but also requiring even more reference to the rulebook. Given the preceding reviews, it should be noted that the Phantasm Adventures game is somewhat more carefully worded than the Bloodbath and Bloodchant games. Nonetheless, it is just as prone to spelling and grammatical errors. Also, while it strives for realism in such things as how much water a character needs per day in a desert, it has significant lapses in logic at other places, such as in its description of the game world’s solar system. For example, while the world nearest the sun is quite reasonably a tiny, barren rock, and the second is a large hot world, the third has a frozen atmosphere, and the fourth is the Earth-like one. I have to wonder how that frozen planet exists in that slot, especially given that the sixth planet, much farther away, is an ocean world. And as for the fifth, it is described as an airless moon. No mention is made of it orbiting any world, however. Again, I’m glad to have had a chance to peruse this game. And I imagine I’ll keep playing with its magic system in particular. But I can’t really recommend it as a finished product.