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baixiwei
2012-04-03, 12:48 PM
I haven't played a fantasy game for a while and am thinking of running one this summer. So I'm in the market for a gaming system. Can anyone here recommend one?

I think I can summarize what I want as "True20 that works and has a more spell-like magic system", but here is more detail.


First, my priorities, in order of importance:

0. to not have to spend time making changes to an existing system in order to satisfy the other requirements below

1. either a flexible system for creating balanced character classes, or no classes at all (I lean slightly towards the first)

2. the class system should encourage or even require characters to be have a variety of options in a variety of settings. For example, there should be either strong incentives or even rules against minmaxing ability scores, having no skills usable outside of combat, having no skills usable *inside* combat, etc. I want all characters to have something useful to do, preferably more than one useful thing they could do, all of the time.

3. and yet, different character classes should be genuinely different from each other in terms of rules mechanics. I don't want a bunch of characters who actually have essentially the same or similar mechanical abilities and are only distinguished in that we describe them differently.

4. a level system, or possibly some other way of measuring how powerful characters are, which can be used to ensure (1) that characters are neither much more nor much less powerful than I want them to be, despite the flexible class system, (2) that characters of different classes are approximately equally powerful, (3) that characters have a formalized way of getting more powerful

5. a moderate amount of crunch (more than FATE, probably less than D&D 4E, maybe around the same as M&M or WoD, but a bit more than WoD for combat)

6. an interesting, non-bland magic system with a very large range of qualitatively different effects, aka spells, but hopefully a fairly simple set of underlying rules


Second, some systems I've considered and the reasons why they're not perfect for what I want.

- some version of D&D, or Pathfinder (I haven't played D&D much in a long time, so I don't really know how these versions differ from each other) - fails requirement 1 (rigid class system) and 5 (a bit too much crunch)

- Mutants & Masterminds - fails on requirements 2 (nothing prevents focusing entirely on any respect whatsoever - for example, you can put 0 points into skills), 3 (characters end up being a bit generic due to heavy reliance on descriptors), 4 (the power level system fails to achieve the goals I stated), and 6 (magic system based on powers looks a bit bland)

- True20 - actually looks VERY close to what I want, seems to fail only on 6 (magic system based on powers results in a moderately small number of qualitatively different effects - caster power mainly increases intensity, not variety, there are no interesting effects only available at high levels). Baduin's variant maybe better in this respect, but has too much D&D holdover for my taste, and online reviews of True20 suggest it does not play as well as you'd think just by looking at the rules.

- World of Darkness - also very close to what I want, mainly fails on 4 (no level system, seems hard to make characters really heroically powerful) and 5 (not quite enough combat crunch). Nice magic system, rather close to what I'd like.

- Dresden Files - fails on 5 (not enough combat crunch, too much reliance on description, different combat actions tend to have the same game-mechanical effects) and 6 (magic system doesn't quite grab me, not sure why, maybe I need more focus on spells)

Any suggestions? I'm completely open to a player-created unofficial adaptation of an existing game, but only if it's tried and proven in the field.

Greyfeld85
2012-04-03, 12:57 PM
Honestly, some of your "requirements" are superfluous. As the GM, you can take a system you enjoy using and add a couple house rules to make it fit what you need. I'm not sure the system you want actually exists in RAW form, tbqh.

hamlet
2012-04-03, 01:21 PM
Perhaps try HMB. New version of Hackmaster.

The Basic book is something like 150 pages long I think and the system is great. Crunch medium (i.e., fairly crunchy up front, but once you understand what's going on it is very easy and doesn't get in the way). Strong skill system and option system that doesn't quite penalize over specialization, but invokes a strong law of diminishing returns that curbs it effectively. Strong class archetypes, but lots of room to breath within them.

Mark Hall
2012-04-03, 01:28 PM
As Hamlet suggested, take a look at HMB (you can, for a limited time, buy 5 copies for $25 from Kenzerco, as they make room for the new Player's Handbook). The four classes are each distinct, but with a lot of customization. There are two different types of spellcasting (Clerical and Mage), with slightly different mechanics (mages being far more flexible in their spellcasting, similar to 3.x psionics... spells you can enhance via extra spell points). Thieves have a boatload of skills. Fighters fight, and there's enough options within the game to keep the interesting.

Furthermore, on the "incentives against min/maxing", stats are rolled straight down the line (Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Looks, Cha). You CAN move them around to make whatever you like... but keeping them as-is gives you an additional 50 BP, giving people a lot more incentive to "play what they roll". Also, most races have very big penalties to certain stats to go along with their bonuses, meaning choosing an elf is a big choice.

I'd grab HMB while you can get copies for a gaming group for $25, then decide if you want to upgrade to the PH (which contains rules for more classes, more races, and for going up to 20th level).

hamlet
2012-04-03, 01:48 PM
Also also, for Hackmaster, they now have what I think is the objectively coolest monster manual of all time out there for the full game (excepting a few glaring ommissions). Just a beautiful work of art it is.

baixiwei
2012-04-03, 08:42 PM
Thanks for the Hackmaster recommendations. I hadn't considered that system, but now I will. Having glanced over their website, samples, and reviews, my immediate reaction is that nothing looks especially bad but nothing looks especially good either. If you all feel like it, could you give me some more info about specifics in the system that would meet my needs well?

Also, reading it, I had slightly the concern that it would be hard to break out of a D&D-like mold using this system. What I mean is that I DO want a sort of D&D-like feel in the game mechanics, but I don't want a D&D-like feel to the game world (specifically, I dislike the whole idea of a "cleric" class, I don't like the alignment system, I don't like the attached mythology, etc. and I really hate "spells per day" - this is a game mechanic but I dislike it more for cultural than for practical reasons). Do you think my concern would be justified (i.e. would it be hard to play a culturally non-D&D-ish game with this system)?


Honestly, some of your "requirements" are superfluous. As the GM, you can take a system you enjoy using and add a couple house rules to make it fit what you need. I'm not sure the system you want actually exists in RAW form, tbqh.

If I were to take a system I like and add on to it, I could go either (1) World of Darkness plus a level system and more combat crunch or (2) True20 with a more spell-like magic system and generally improving problems with the system, which (as far as I can tell from others' reports) was not well playtested. Also, neither system comes with a fantasy bestiary to my knowledge. I really don't see how either of these could be done without fairly significant time and effort on my part, which I want to avoid. If you think I'm wrong here, could you give me some pointers?

Raum
2012-04-03, 09:15 PM
Any suggestions? I'm completely open to a player-created unofficial adaptation of an existing game, but only if it's tried and proven in the field.Have you looked at Savage Worlds? In particular the Hellfrost and / or Earthdawn settings. Earthdawn's native setting is another good option if you don't mind a bit more crunch. Earthdawn is D&D with a reason for everything. Dungeons, circles, how spells work, etc - the mechanics and fluff fit very well. (Speaking of the native Earthdawn system, the Savage Worlds version is new - don't have an opinion on it yet.) Hellfrost is an excellent dark fantasy with detailed setting info, a variety of cultures, and a magic system based on success / failure rather than power points or spell slots. Failure can burn a mage out.

Unisystem may work for you also - and it is reasonably close to d20 mechanically. However, it doesn't have a native fantasy setting. It does have urban fantasy and post apocalypse though. On the positive side, Witchcraft, it's urban fantasy setting, is free.

Some of the older D&D clones may also work. Castles & Crusades or Altars and Archetypes come to mind.

Ninjadeadbeard
2012-04-03, 09:22 PM
This system may just be the ticket (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=231615). I found it a while back, and it seems to follow your criteria closely.

Knaight
2012-04-03, 09:42 PM
0. to not have to spend time making changes to an existing system in order to satisfy the other requirements below

1. either a flexible system for creating balanced character classes, or no classes at all (I lean slightly towards the first)

2. the class system should encourage or even require characters to be have a variety of options in a variety of settings. For example, there should be either strong incentives or even rules against minmaxing ability scores, having no skills usable outside of combat, having no skills usable *inside* combat, etc. I want all characters to have something useful to do, preferably more than one useful thing they could do, all of the time.

3. and yet, different character classes should be genuinely different from each other in terms of rules mechanics. I don't want a bunch of characters who actually have essentially the same or similar mechanical abilities and are only distinguished in that we describe them differently.

4. a level system, or possibly some other way of measuring how powerful characters are, which can be used to ensure (1) that characters are neither much more nor much less powerful than I want them to be, despite the flexible class system, (2) that characters of different classes are approximately equally powerful, (3) that characters have a formalized way of getting more powerful

5. a moderate amount of crunch (more than FATE, probably less than D&D 4E, maybe around the same as M&M or WoD, but a bit more than WoD for combat)

6. an interesting, non-bland magic system with a very large range of qualitatively different effects, aka spells, but hopefully a fairly simple set of underlying rules
0. Qin: The Warring States handles this beautifully.

1. There are no classes, but there are broad suggested archetypes.

2. The balance between ability scores actually improves power - min maxing can and will directly hurt you, and can kill a character flat out as secondary scores that are helped by balance between ability scores include health.

3. Different weapons play different ways, each of the four magical schools (Internal Alchemy, External Alchemy, Divination, and Exorcism) plays very differently.

4. The quantity of total experience basically handles this, and Qin is built for mechanical growth of characters.

5. Qin is in the ballpark of M&M for mechanics.

6. Each magical school operates under somewhat similar principles, and the basics are easy - however, spells from all four are highly variable, highly flavorful, and fun.

meschlum
2012-04-03, 10:36 PM
I haven't played a fantasy game for a while and am thinking of running one this summer. So I'm in the market for a gaming system. Can anyone here recommend one?


It's probably written somewhere that I should recommend using Fair Folk (from Exalted), except it's insanely hard to balance and doesn't really match your goals. Besides the 'do absolutely anything' part, but eh.

Instead, I'll suggest another odd game I'm fond of, namely Reve: the Dream Ouroboros.

The setting's premise is that everything is a dragon's dream. Well, many dreams. Some dragons dream landscapes and towns, others dream individual people, more dream animals... And it's possible to travel from one dragon's dream to another, shifting between worlds in the process.

The magic system works by having spellcasters project their awareness closer to the conscious minds of the dragons, allowing them to reshape the dream (and thus reality) to varying degrees - at the risk of awakening the dragons, which is a Bad Thing - since when they stop dreaming, there is no one and nothing left. In fact, there are hints that such cataclysms occurred in the past, and the world(s) as we know it contains remnants of past dreams...

On to priorities:

0: The system is there. It exists.


1: No classes, sadly. Or two classes (mage and non-mage). Or five (non-mage and four very different flavors of magic). Non-mages get to be better at physical tasks and have more odds of surviving Bad Stuff.


2: The system has a lot of skills and attributes, with a few tradeoffs involved if you want to minmax. There is one godstat for magic use, but that's a balancing feature in some ways - it only matters for mages, and means they're less competent at anything else.

The skill system is nice, and keeps the variance down in terms of stats. Someone with much better attributes than you can still be defeated if you're more skilled, and there are interesting mechanics involved in the process. This also serves for magic: it's nice to have your magic stat (Dream) as high as possible, but it doesn't make much difference overall.


3: A plethora of skills means people can be specialized in lots of different things. Getting yourself to 'competent' in terms of combat aptitude isn't too expensive (the system is sort of point-buy), so once you can defend yourself you have a wide range of different skills you can take for flavor and utility.

Time to discuss the four types of magic.

Oneiros is the magic of the world, allowing you to reshape your environment. Turning weapons into water, creating teleport circles, and other fun things.

Hypnos is the magic of the mind, allowing you to affect thoughts and expand your own awareness. Illusions, scrying, and even summoning servant beasts all fall in this category.

Narcos is the magic of matter, allowing you to imbue items with power. From healing potions and other useful alchemical mixtures to enchanted swords and animated brooms.

Thanatos is the magic of awakening, which means death and transformation. Curses, binding dark spirits, turning people into newts...

It's worth noting that using magic too much (or, if you're unfortunate, at all) has some risk of temporary insanity. The effects are minor and entertaining for the most part, so it's RP fodder rather than character destruction. And sometimes the random factors align and random but awesome Good Things happen instead.

On the other hand, most mages, by willfully miscasting their spells (not that hard to do) can open up holes in reality. With no control as to where the holes lead, how long they last, and whether they go out (meaning you can escape) or in (meaning more trouble has arrived). It's a fun panic button, though.


4: Advancement is fairly simple to do, and is neat. Most of your advancement comes from remembering what other dreams of you were capable of doing, and developing those skills in turn - meaning you have some skills for which your potential is exceptional and others which you'll struggle with. It is possible to advance any skill, though (and under rare circumstances and excessive exposure to magic non-mages can develop magical skills of their own).

In terms of evaluating power, it's fairly easy to do because most things are skill based. If the party has similar high skills, the minor details of their lesser skills adds flavor but does not impact their ability to deal with the threats they run into.

Extreme world shaking power is not accessible in the system per se, though Narcos abuse can get you to a fairly impressive amount of power if combined with mastery of other magics as well.


5: Crunch-wise, combat is on the simple side, with a few tactical choices to make but much less so than in D&D. Magic is slow to cast, so you need to be ready for trouble ahead of time if you want to use it. Otherwise, getting in a fight can be fairly nasty, as being hit is dangerous - even if you're in armor.


6: I've babbled enough about the magic system above, I believe. Mechanics-wise, mages get a map showing different dream realms, and can cast spells only if their 'dream self' is in a suitable spot. It's possible to store spells on the map, but they go off as soon as you return to the realm where the spell is stored, so it pays to be careful. And you can meet things there, making for some risk to your (temporary) sanity each time you do magic.

Spells themselves are fairly simple in terms of how they work, but have a wide range of effects.


So probably trouble with 1 and 4, but still something I like to chatter about when I get an excuse.

baixiwei
2012-04-03, 10:44 PM
Thanks for all the references! This is incredibly useful. I am reading the rules for Legend right now and so far it looks excellent. From the first page, I had this feeling that the authors were thinking along the same lines I am and so I have faith that their design decisions will make me happy. I really like the idea of having a designated quota of magic items at each level, and the idea of multiclassing by swapping out "tracks" of development ... brilliant! I'll check out Savage Worlds and Qin afterwards. Thanks again!

dsmiles
2012-04-04, 04:58 AM
My $0.02?

Dungeon World. It's not a d20 system, but it offers everything you're looking for. (There are updated rules from what's on their website. You can PM me for more details, if you like.)