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A cornucopia of fantasy gaming
gaming
saxifrage00
My gaming group is in a state of flux, what with the unsuitability of 4th Edition D&D as a system for games that I want to run. So, we're considering some alternatives with lower rules handling time, support for fantasy-style play, good potential for depth of setting, and rules that are accessible for new players. I wrote up a list of systems that fit those criteria with a short description of their merits from my point of view, and I wanted to share it here. There's a fascinating variety of games out there for every taste, and some that are really unexpected.

I cut this out of an email I sent to our group's email list and only did a little bit of link formatting on it, so that's why some of it seems like I'm writing to a particular audience at times.

Castles and Crusades (C&C)
A d20 variant. Easy to use (combat chapter is only ~10 pages), old-school swords & sorcery feel, low handling time rules (especially for creatures). Nice and streamlined resolution mechanic. Compatible with OD&D, 1e, 2e, and 3e adventures and supplements.

Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG)
A d20 variant. Streamlined rules for Original D&D style of play. Also compatible with OD&D through 3e material. Free online

Pathfinder RPG (PRPG)
Paizo's evolution of 3.xx rules. Are we curious? We might be. It would mean higher handling times for the rules since they're all changed n' stuff and probably similarly-heavy to 3e, but fans of 3e might be keen on the improvements. I have a PDF copy of the alpha rules but haven't dove into them yet. Free for alpha, with registration at Paizo.

Iron Heroes
A d20 variant that shifts PC competence into their talents rather than their items. Good for players who like their Archer to kick ass because they kick ass naturally, not because they're loaded with magic gewgaws. Interestingly, the system uses 3.x books, only replacing the PHB. (Here's a better description.)

1st edition AD&D / 2nd edition AD&D
The editions that most of us started with. Relatively simple rules compared to what we've got used to in 3e, and quick character creation (especially with the stone-weight encumbrance system I'm using). Moderate handling time rules, and easy to get new players into. Craptonnes of material is available either in my personal library or online. Drawbacks: adventurers are the kind of people who have short life expectancy. On the plus side, character survivability and character depth develop in pace. Variants available: Forgotten Realms, Oriental Adventures, Undermountain, various intriguing free-download mini-settings/modules.

Note too, that Realms, Oriental Adventures, Undermountain, and other D&D stand-bys can be played with C&C, BFRPG, and PRGP.

Orkworld
A simple system that encourages teamwork and personal acts of honour, bravery, and cleverness. PCs are Orks, a simple tribal people, in a world of greedy and violent humans, dwarves, and elves who are out to take their land and lives. Orks delight in outsmarting the evil invaders.

Earthdawn
Baroque fantasy setting. Sorta post-apocalyptic. From Wikipedia:
The peoples of the world built kaers, underground towns and cities, which they sealed with the Theran wards to wait out the time of the Horrors, which was called the Scourge. After four hundred years of hiding, the Scourge ended, and the people emerged to a world changed by the Horrors. The player characters explore this new world, discovering lost secrets of the past, and fighting Horrors that remain.
I have one book that goes up to level 7 or something like that. I really like the flavour, but I've never played it so I can't comment on the mechanics. A good choice if we want to a classic game that is very different in style from D&D, but still about the smashing, treasure, and fantastic locales.

Trollbabe
Extremely simple rules and character creation. PCs are individuals who are worth playing because Stuff Just Happens when they are around; they're skilled, powerful, crisis-precipitating/resolving people around which stories revolve. "Her presence cannot help but destabilize the status quo in any particular situation, which makes for an interesting life." The mechanics emphasise choice and consequence: how far will you go, what will you do or sacrifice, in order to do what you want? Power level is pretty much uncapped, so the consequences of actions limit the exercise of the PCs' power. Also, the name isn't representative of the game: it can be played with the eponymous trollbabes, or any other puissant sort of character. Recommended if people want to try an accessible narrativist game. Free online.

Hoard
Play newborn dragons who belong to the same Fledge. Work together to fend off human dragon hunters, gain territory and treasure, and deal with the problems of belonging to a hunted and dwindling species and society. Short intro and free download of Hoard at Amagi Games. I really, really like the sound of this game, and would love to play or run it. Free online, print copy available for cheap.

Story Engine / Maelstrom
Story Engine is a scene-based game, so conflicts are more free-form and more about roleplaying how an overall aim is accomplished than dicing for all the little actions that go into that. Characters are also free-form, being built around descriptive terms. I've run this before, so I've already learned some about how to run it effectively. Maelstrom is a setting that uses the Story Engine rules. It's a sort of dreamworld where reality shifts according to the beliefs of people. It supports all kinds of play, from swashbuckling pirates to social city games, spell-flinging adventure to protecting-the-homeland sorts of play. Here's a good half-screen intro to the setting.

The Shadow of Yesterday
Another narrativist game. I've heard wonderful things about it, and the Key system of experience I wrote about comes from it. It's a sword- and spell-slinging fantasy game with a focus on the stories that come out of that. I have yet to play it, but if people are intrigued I'd love to try it. Here's a good short description of TSoY.

Wushu
A game where over-the-top and flashy action is more likely to succeed than cautious action. Good for games in the style of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but setting independent so that it works for medieval fantasy just as well. Fast-paced and satisfying action with story-driving mechanics. Also one I haven't played but have heard awesome things about, and would love to try. (Wushu at Wikipedia, home page.) A mechanics-only version of Wushu is available under Open Gaming License.

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I played in a few Earthdawn campaigns and had nothing but fun ... Zach DMed those so you might want to talk to him about it ...

the concept (same basic idea as in the Starwars RPG) about rolling your experience into your items to make the more powerful and building a story about them was very appealing (this isn't a +1 longsword ... the mechanic is that it is a longsword with +1 to hit and damage but it is called Trollnabber ... let me tell you where it got that name ...)

Yeah, I've always loved the bit about Patterns becoming more convoluted and nuanced as the item gains more history. That's the kind of stuff that really sold me on Earthdawn way back when, despite not having a group to play it with then.

Damn, I forgot how much I loved the world of Earthdawn. I just pulled it off my shelf and was looking through it, and it has such style.

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