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Our Next Game System

By Shamus
on Monday Jan 28, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games


My gaming group is about to wrap up a campaign, our fourth and final in this setting. The homebrew setting I came up with three years ago is about to be retired for good. It’s been added onto as the setting changed hands. It started out with a group of level 1 characters working to save a small group of towns. Then escalated to saving an island, then the region, and finally – assuming we don’t all snuff it in the next couple of sessions – the world. I think it’s time to hang it up and begin a new tale.

But now the question comes: What do we play next? D&D 3.5 is all this particular group has ever played, although a couple of the members have played other games elsewhere. I’m not actually huge on the standard D&D fantasy setting. In fact, among the eight people in the group, only one of us prefers fantasy. The problem is, the rest of us all want something different. Star Wars. Pirates. Cyberpunk. Superheroes. The giant robot stuff. Vampires. Werewolves. Everyone has a different “favorite” that is despised by the rest of the group. We play in our homebrew fantasy world because it’s our only common ground.

If I had my choice I’d play some sort of space opera. It could be Star Wars, but it wouldn’t have to be. (Although if I ran a Star Wars game, I’d set it on my own made up worlds rather than dragging the party through the locales we keep visiting in the movies. Too often Lucas’ universe feels like a galaxy of a hundred million stars and eight planets. Sigh. I’d want to go somewhere new where we wouldn’t have Star Was canon dragging behind us like so much baggage.) Although for me, the game system itself is more important than setting. Great stories can take place in any genre. Great stories can’t take place if you spend all your time deciphering and fighting about The Rules.

So what should we play? What setting? What game system? It’s a tough call. We all have different goals and reasons for playing the game, so the challenge is to find some middle ground where we can all be content.

I’m at least as eccentric as the next guy, so I’m not going to pretend that this list is in any way reasonable. Having said that, in a perfect world my gaming system would have:

* Bell curve. I dislike the chaos encouraged by the flat d20 system. The bell curve formed by rolling two or more dice together appeals to me a great deal. It makes “special” events more special.

* Fun dice. I don’t like systems which rely on huge handfuls of boring old d6’s. The seven piece dice set is amusing and fun. There is a tactile appeal to using them. Yes, I realize that this conflicts with the previous item, as most bell-curve systems use two or three d6’s.

* Roleplaying over Strategy. Mechwarrior is not a bad thing, but it’s not for me. Any game where combat takes more than twenty minutes is a game where I’m going to get bored. I’m there to play a character and weave a story. If you want to play Risk, just say so and we can play Risk. But don’t ask me to develop a deep character and then funnel me through a series of long fights where the only use for my backstory is as a dice-rolling surface. Some players see the story as an excuse to chain a bunch of battles together, because that’s why they’re there. I see combat as a natural, emergent result of the goals of the player conflicting with the goals of NPC’s in the game. I can handle “arbitrary” fights in moderation, but if the fight isn’t directly related to the overall goal, I’m not going to be excited about it.

* Easy to learn rules. See also the Great Debate on Attacks of Opportunity. I can see why people write rules for grapple, overrun, AOO, etc. If you don’t have those rules, then the game will have lots of exploitable holes. A fighter will be able to run past a hedge of guards and attack the King in a single turn without risking harm, which doesn’t make sense. The problem is that plugging these holes requires twenty pages of rules, rolls, guidelines, and exceptions, which is just more crap to memorize and argue about. The whole system becomes an anchor around the neck of people who want to finish with the combat and get back to the game itself. I’d rather encourage players to respect the limits through in-game thinking rather than beating them into line with a bunch of pedantic regulations.

* Simple combat system. I can enjoy a system where I roll 1d20, and add my related skill modifier, then compare it to target number X. A system where I roll a die, add a modifier, then subtract some other modifiers, then divide by something and round up or down to hit a target number determined by the GM rolling the dice and doing similar calculations? This is not a game for me. It harkens back to the Mechwarrior players. Some people live for that number-crunching strategy. Nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to play that sort of thing on the computer and let the software handle the details for me. If I’m at the table with other human beings, I’m there to roleplay, dangit.

One player wants deep stratetgy. (Mechwarrior.) Another plays to amass loot and power, and prefers epic-level gaming. A couple of us really just want to play interesting characters in a compelling, believeable setting. Another one wants to be the strongest character in the group, and would really like to have PvP.

It’s amazing things go as smoothly as they do, considering our cross-purposes. The group is too big for my taste. It’s hard to roleplay in an eight-man gang. I’d suggest we split the group, but I don’t have time for two games at once, and since we meet at my house “splitting” the group would feel too much like “kicking some people out in favor of others”.

As tired as I am of D&D, it looks like it’s the only system that can be all things to all people. The other systems mostly specialize in ways that would alienate one or more players.

Comments (182)

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  1. John Callaghan says:

    Well, Over The Edge might be worth a look. It does use d6s but is elegant and fast. GMs and players are encouraged to let their imaginations go a bit wild in a familiar (-ish) setting and it may cover the miscellaneous ambitions of the players you’ve described above. As a setting, I’m also a huge fan of 2nd Ed. Mage (although I haven’t read the new version).
    Neither of those is very space-y, though, although the OTE system is very adaptable for new genres. My inclination would be to work out the game world and the system separately.

  2. MintSkittle says:

    You could have your friends write down the three games they want to play the most, giving each one 1, 2, or 3 points, based on which one they want to play most. Gather the results from everybody and tally the points. The game with the most points is the next game you play.

  3. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I definitely think we should go for star wars. If not 7th sea for pirates and Dark Heresy for warhammer 40k space head exploding goodness. Of course I’ve already given my two cents earlier about it.

  4. Turgid Bolk says:

    QAGS (Quick Ass Gaming System) seems to fit the bill, except for the bell curve. It uses d20 only, for ease of use. But it is very easy to learn, can be used for any setting, and combat can be run based on description alone instead of on a mat, if you like. It tends to go quicker that way. It’s also pretty cheap ($15 dollars at the QAGS site, even cheaper at some other sites, especially if you get the pdf instead of the physical book.) You can take a look at http://www.hexgames.com/main/qags2e and also check out the simplified quick-start rules here: http://www.hexgames.com/main/qikstart

    The book is hilarious, but your game can be funny or serious as you like. It might be a little too light for the number-crunchers, but for anybody else it should work well :)

    I find it a breath of fresh air after playing D&D.

  5. Yera Meyahu says:

    I always loved Alternity for space/future, but it’s pretty old and very defunct at this point. Still, it has ‘fun’ dice, more than a single control die, and a comprehensive skill system.

    (Below: isn’t *every* GURPS game a dimension-and-time-hopping group of fools?)

  6. Strangeite says:

    GURPS. I know of no other system that allows such a wide range of possibilities for both characters and settings. GURPS would fit every single criteria that you have set out above with the exception of using lots of cool dice. The source material for different settings is EXTENSIVE. Also, almost all of their printed material can be bought in an electronic format for far less money than buying the actual printed book. The combat system is scaled so that it can be very simple but also has the components to scale it up to allow a very detailed tactical campaign.

    I had a very similar situation with a gaming group, where one wanted a fantasy campaign, another a horror, another a sci-fi and another a conspiracy setting. With GURPS, I just created a campaign where the party was a dimension and time hopping bunch of fools. I can’t describe how much fun it was the first time the near-future para-military bad guy felt the wrath of the fantasy era wizard. Or the time that the Roswell-esque aliens had to deal with the minions of Cthulu.

    And you can download the Basic Rules from Steve Jackson’s website for free.

    Edit: Also you garner a lot of geek cred points when you add Gurps to your Geek Resume.

  7. Mike the ExDragon says:

    My current infatuation is Spirit of the Century, which is built on the “Fate System” which is based on the “Fudge System”… It’s got the bell curve. Fun dice? iffy on that one, it uses modified D6. Roleplaying over strategy? 100%! Simple to learn? Absolutely! Simple combat system? Yup on that too. If you haven’t seen it, pick it up and see if it’s your kind of thing.

  8. Patriarch917 says:

    I had the exact same criteria as you about a year ago when trying to pick a new system and setting. I did a lot of research, looked at every system and setting I could find, and even toyed with designing my own.

    What I landed on was the Serenity Role Playing Game, and I’m very happy.
    Bell curve? check.
    Fun dice? every roll. This was a huge factor for me, because I just loved dice. Even the d20 system wasn’t enough for me. With Serenity, you will hardly make two rolls in a row that use the same dice.
    Role playing over strategy? the “assets”, “complications”, and “plot point” system strongly encourage character development in such a way that a well played character does better in combat than someone who just has high stats.
    Easy to learn rules? the system was so intuitive several player never bothered to read anything but the two page rule summary and the flavor text.
    Simple Combat system? Attack roll – defense roll weapon roll = damage dealt.

    The setting allows you to slide easily from western to space opera to horror whenever you want, and it all makes sense. There’s dozens of planets and characters with simple one or two paragraph descriptions that are just enough to inspire without constraining you. The technology level can be any range you want without feeling arbitrary. Insulting people in Chinese slang is hella fun.

    I ran this game for six players, and it never felt like anyone lacked spotlight time. It’s perfect for big groups who like to mix in a little intra-party friction. The ship-and-crew setup is optional of course, but it’s such a fantastic way to put a group of diverse characters together that I’m tending to use it in other settings.

    If you haven’t checked this out yet, I suggest it. I’d be really curious to see your reaction to it.

  9. Shawn says:

    Savage Worlds!

    I almost mailed you a copy for Christmas, but I’m freaking broke.

  10. Davesnot says:

    GURPs… hands down… the problem?? all the fancy dice go away… so you have to come up with some other reasons to roll the other polyhedrals.. but the stuff that really matters… the bell curve of 3d-6 is it…

    plus.. you can use any of your gaming stuff.. just mush it into the system (or painstakingly convert it)..

    so.. if I haven’t said this yet.. GURPS.. .. toss in some world books to start with so you don’t have to convert stuff until you know the system better ..

    and if I haven’t said this yet… GURPS.

  11. Tom says:

    When I was in college, a group of friends convinced me to try playing Call Of Cthulu after being a die-hard D&D player for years, and as far as enjoyability and role playing, I’ve still found it to be an exceptional game when well-run. It also gives you a ‘believable’ setting with just enough weirdness to make it exciting and fun.

  12. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Oh boy a Serenity game for Shamus…that could be bad. From what I’ve heard though it isn’t all that bad a game. The people at our local comic book shop just prefer other games over it.

  13. Uninverted says:

    M&M is my personal favorite. I like it because it gives you loads and loads of freedom; you can make just about anything. But because of this, there’s a lot of loopholes and exploits. You can literally summon five million monsters in one turn. This might satisfy the last guy a little too much. But if your group is mature enough, it can be a pretty good system that stays out of your way (And bonus points for being easy to change to from regular d20).

  14. wererogue says:

    Our group’s favorite trick is that people can run whatever game they like, and people will play whichever game they like. That way there’s no arguing over the setting – the DM has picked it. And we (sometimes they) are glad enough that there is a game being run that we think the GM deserves to be able to explore her/his choice of setting.

  15. Nilus says:

    First, the games you have on the right. Friends don’t let Friends play Rifts. I don’t think you can legally play Rifts if you are over the age of 16. Its the Law.

    That being said, I agree that your group might like Savage worlds. Its a simpler system then D20 but it still has a lot of crunch factor. If you guys are thinking Star Wars, I recommend the new Saga edition. Its a refinded version of D20 that strips a lot of more confusing rules out of itself to make the game run quicker.

  16. Nephele says:

    My group alternates between Call of Cthulhu and Runequest. We play the old school Chaosium versions. D100 skill checks, no character classes, base stats don’t (often) change but skill levels can go up with use, DEX based fight sequences with attacks and parry or dodge. Once you’ve created the character it’s easy to play. We’re a long standing group (some of us have been playing together for 25 years) so we long ago threw out any rules that annoyed us (fatigue) and have a few minor homebrew add ons.

    The basic rules system works pretty well in any genre. Are Cthulhu games have run in 1600s, 1800s, 1900s and modern day without any real problems.

  17. Ghoul says:

    I’d second Spirit of the Century for a big old pulp funtime or push for Dogs in the Vineyard”, though the later is not a good fit for a large group. It’s on the more edgy side of things, with some hard moral choices unavoidable (after all, they’re the object of things), but if you’re up for that, there’s hardly better. Religious circuit judges in a demon-haunted Old West… Very thematic, very fun. But not to everyone’s tastes. Certainly uses lots of funky dice, though (more d4 than you’d ever imagine, plus d6, d8, and d10), and offers lots of role-playing focused strategy (the two are rather elegantly mixed by the way the system works).

    And, while support has dried up except for one book just recently, there’s always the amazing cool action movie vibe of Feng Shui that simply isn’t to be missed. Yeah, just 2d6, but makes up for it in extremes of butt-kicking.

  18. Eric says:

    Earthdawn? It’s got fun dice, bell curve, a pretty straightforward system. I’ll be able to testify to ease-of-learning in a couple of weeks — I’m about to start running it for my group, none of whom have played it before.

    Earthdawn is usually described as fantasy/horror, but the horror part can be dialed up or down based on what kind of adventures the GM runs.

  19. You might want to check out Scion from White Wolf which is set in the modern world and features PCs of extraordinary power.

    Bell curve – Kinda. You roll huge handfuls of D10s looking for 7s and up, the number you roll depends on your skill + ability.

    Fun dice – D10s. Lots and lots of D10s.

    Roleplaying over Strategy. Combat does tend to take a while, but is spiced up by rewarding players who do fun and dramatic things with bonus dice. It is rare that you end up in a “I hit him with my sword” moment.

    Easy to learn rules – yup, they aren’t too complicated

    Simple combat system – it doesn’t really hit this spot I’m afraid.

    Regarding comments from other people. Spirit of the Century looks awesome, and I’m looking forward to playing my first game next month. You can listen to some actual play from the Rolemonkeys. Call Of Cthulhu also rocks.

  20. Strangeite says:

    Regarding all the posts suggesting Call Of Cthulhu, while I love this game and it holds a very soft spot in my heart, I don’t think it works very well with large groups. What really makes that game work is the atmosphere and when you have groups over about three or four, you tend to lose that necessary horror atmosphere because of group dynamics.

  21. Shamus says:

    My gaming collection is still quite small: D&D 3.5, Star Wars (d20) and GURPS.

    I’d love me some Serinity, but I wouldn’t want to play unless everyone at the table was a fan. Some people give the show a big shrug. It has that “everyone else loves it so much that I hate it” effect going on, and those people aren’t going to have any fun.

    My worry with Star Wars is still the same:

    * It sucks being a regular guy in a party with Jedi.
    * Some people don’t see the point of playing the game if they can’t be Jedi.
    * Running a game of ALL Jedi would be… uninteresting to me.

    I’d prefer we were all just regular dudes, and save Jedi characters for Sagemaster / Elrond type NPC’s.

    But that’s just me, and I know of at least one player who will be very frustrated if he can’t be a Jedi.


    I have a setting I’m working on for fun. We’ll see where it leads.

  22. Mike says:

    BESM d20 – Big Eyes Small Mouth. Yes, it’s anime, but you don’t have to play it that way. It is more flexible than D&D or GURPS while more fun to play than most other games based on d20, simpler rules, etc.

    For instance, our current party is composed of a vampire, a sorceress from D&D, a jedi knight, a cybered-up warrior from shadowrun, a faery from , a princess from some anime world, a half-orc, and a fire-powered cat-lady from a world based on ancient egypt.

  23. Lebkin says:

    “* Fun dice.”

    This request wouldn’t have anything to do with those new beautiful dice your wife bought you, would it?

    As for your next game, I second Ghoul’s suggestion of Dogs in the Vineyard. My limited experience has been absolutely wonderful. It uses a lot of different size dice, and you get to use them in large numbers as well. The resolution system is extremely flexible and full of role-playing content.

  24. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Actually I think he is the only one that wants to be a Jedi, Shamus. I personally want to play the pansy that gets himself in trouble and leaves the Jedi with no choice, but to pull me out of the fire.

  25. Calle says:

    Since others have already suggested GURPS a number of times, I’ll drop in a mention of “Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game”. It’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you want rules-light over-the-top (usually waaaaaay over) multi-world action, few systems and backgrounds deliver like Amber DRPG.

  26. Shamus says:

    Bogan: I’ll bet you’re right. But he’s set on it. I’m worried making him a Jedi will make him stand out even MORE from the rest of the group. It’ll be like having a party of Aragorn, Boromir, Sam, Frodo, and Captain Kirk. Everyone else will be trying to roleplay and discover the nuances of their chosen character, and he’ll be trying to chain-lightning the shopkeeper for a 10% discount on body armor he can’t even wear.

  27. Woot Spitum says:

    If everyone in your group has a different first choice as far as next system to be played, you could ask them to list three to five systems each that they would be interested in playing to find some more common ground. As far as systems I’d reccomend, I have yet to see anything I seriously dislike about Star Wars: Saga Edition. And of course D&D 4th Edition promises to shake things up when it comes out.

  28. Tango says:

    Have you considered Ironclaw, Jadeclaw, or Albedo from Sanguine Productions?

  29. pffh says:

    I can recommend the star wars saga edition it fulfills all your points except the bell curve one and is quite balanced. Only the jedis are a bit more powerful then the other characters but that can easily be fixed with home rules or just tiny bit more work for the DM to plan encounters and such.
    And for the person wanting to be a jedi you can always use my approach make him a jedi, as in not only the class but also all the restrictions, codes and whatnot that jedis have.

  30. Adamantyr says:

    When no game system meets your criteria, create your own!

    The FUDGE system is really good for that, and it does have unique dice… albeit they’re really just D6’s with symbols instead of numbers. The real value of the system is that it’s as complex or simple as you want it to be.

    My personal approach would be to come up with some rough character guidelines and let the players do the legwork of designing the system FOR you, by letting their own characters define what it means to be a “wizard”, “superhero”, and so forth. A time/dimension hopping setting would also let you satisfy all their genre desires.

  31. Chris says:

    You might look at Monte Cook’s World of Darkness. It’s set in modern times, and has humans, vampires, werewolves and demons in it. It does not use a bell curve, though, and I think that combat may, at higher levels, take too long for you taste.

  32. EK says:

    One system I played, and always wanted to go back to, was The Prince’s Kingdom (TPK). I’ve been told that it’s much like “Dogs in the Vineyard”, but I’ve never played DitV, so I don’t know.

    But TPK has a lot of the things you’re looking for. It was designed to get kids into RPing, so it’s pretty darn simple to learn. Everything, even combat, is centered around role-playing and thinking up new ways to handle problems. There’re enough dice (d4, d6, and d8, with maybe 10 in use, total, at a time) to satisfy the need for that clickity-clack, and to balance out the occasional 1; once rolled you have to use the dice strategically.

    The game-world that’s included is intentionally sparse, so no worries about having to adhere to canon you didn’t conceive of. It’s also open-ended enough that you can throw in pretty much whatever you want, or mutate it to your own needs.

    So, I like it. And I don’t remember the PDF being terribly expensive either. Full disclosure: I’m not affiliated with anyone affiliated with TPK in any way, but it’d be cool if I was.

  33. Shamus says:

    The thing about Jedi isn’t really their power – although that can be a problem – but their nature in relation to the story. We can get involved in smuggling, spying, intrigue, and what-have-you, but the moment “Luke” shows up the story stops being about our group of guys and starts being about what our group of guys is doing for and with the Jedi. Jedi are by their nature major players on the galactic stage. They bring about major events. They attract major players. They get involved with major politics. They don’t slum around on the edges of the galaxy taking odd jobs and mucking about with low-level crap. It’s like Elrond hanging around Hobbiton and getting involved in squabbles with the Sackville-Baginses. He’s supposed to be above that sort of petty crap.

    You can get around this with writing, by setting up a situation specifically to anchor the Jedi to this group of nobodies. It could work, but it would feel like an odd hack. I’d just as soon keep Jedi in their proper place – powerful, mysterious, and distant. Not following you around and taking a cut of the loot.

  34. Lynx says:

    Well… I don’t think you’ll play this, but I would like your opinion on this:

    Warhammer 40,000 Role Playing Game: Dark Heresy

    Percentile system, and base on the older Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. I’ve only been recently introduced and I’m not totally comfortable with the system (particularly since it seems to be very easy for the GM to trip up and accidentally kill a PC..) but the 40K universe is very rich and a lot of possibilities are available.

    The added benefit is that you (and your group) probably won’t know anything about the universe, so that sets everyone on an even footing.

    Just tossing out ideas, but I would really like to hear what experienced gamers think of the system.

  35. Shawn says:

    Ok, with more time and words:

    Savage Worlds is what you want to play. Listen to me, I know.

    First off, go ahead and download the Quickstart rules to get a feel for the system:


    All of your stats are based on die types. So if you suck at something, you might have a d4 in it. If you’re the best ever, you have a d12, plus bonuses and stuff.

    They just put out a digest sized version of the core book, for only $10, so you can get a few copies without breaking the bank.

    There are a number of setting books, each with a built in campaign, so you can run a high seas pirate adventure or super villains or fight cthuloid monsters in vietnam or zombies in the old west or whatever. This will be handy for the comic when you want to tackle different genres in the future.

    The system is built to handle fast, action packed combat. Seriously, D&D 3.x combat seems painfully slow now that I’ve played Savage Worlds. Painfully slow. At the end of my big steampunk/fantasy campaign, we had a big battle with the bad guys, with I think 80 minis on the table, that went by in an hour and a half. A typical fight can take just minutes. This means you can either pack in more and more combat, or you know, use the rest of your game session doing plot and character development stuff.

    Anyway, it hits every single one of your points. (The bell curve is a bit hidden, between your trait die and the Wild Die, but it’s there, for the main characters (PCs and major npcs) at least. Mooks are well, mooks.)

  36. Shamus says:

    Man, I was at the comic book store and had the Savage Worlds book in my hands yesterday, but then got distracted when I started talking to the owner about Understanding Comics*. I put it down and forgot about it. Yeah, that sounds like what I want.

    * He didn’t have it. Neither did the bookstore. Or the library. Sigh. The evil bastards at Amazon.com win again. I keep saying I’m not going to shop there, but I keep running into situations where they are the only ones who can get the job done right.

  37. Dan says:

    Try a one-night game of Dread to cleanse the pallette.

    A guaranteed showstopper – lots of psychology and roleplaying and a certain climax. The drawback? Newton’s Law of Gravity will be employed.

  38. Shawn says:

    So you’re saying a book I suggested you buy kept you from getting a game I suggested you buy? I’ve foiled myself!

  39. Roam says:

    Admittedly, I am rather new to roleplaying, although it has intrigued me for years. It just never caught on much where I live, and thus I lacked any ability to get acquainted with it in my youth.

    Thus when I noticed the ability to join a roleplaying group on a local forum I visit, I immediately grabbed hold of the opportunity.

    Now, the reason why I mention this is because we use quite the interesting system. The setting is called Syndicate, I believe, and the game is essentially almost entirely depended on the GM. You build your character by spending Character Points on certain attributes that are then used by the GM as an indication of the likelihood of succeeding actions.

    The entire thing is extremely cinematic. Instead of rolling dice for damage on an enemy, it’s all about trying to use the situation at hand and roleplaying within the scenario given. The GM will then decide (By rolling dice, or whatever other means) how the world reacts to the actions taken by the players.

    Currently, we are playing a Cyberpunk setting, set maybe 50 years in the future. Implants and Biomechanization is common within military applications, but normal ballistic weaponry is still the norm. The world is largely governed by large scale corporations through economical manipulation.

    I enjoy it immensely, mostly because I care more about roleplaying than I do about extensive combat dice rolling and calculating damage modifiers etc. In that regards, I get the sense that you and I are similiar in that, Shamus.

    On my very first session, our party was engaged in a parking lot by a number of corporate thugs. In my very first roleplaying session ever, I got to roll across the hood of a moving vehicle while pulling a gun from its holster and giving the driver the middle finger (Natural twenty for the win!), then managed to screw up my landing, and had to sprint after the car as it gained speed.

    The car had to turn, giving me the chance to try and leap through the open side window (My character was an extremely agile acrobat kinda guy), as a result of which I rammed my head into one of the seats, leaving me momentarily dazed and dropping my gun. I struggled with the driver, and in the process got shot twice, grazing the side of my chest.

    As this occurred, a friend of mine managed to dispatch his foe, saw me struggling and decided to throw a smoke grenade into the vehicle, seeing as how I had Eye augmentations that would give me a significant advantage. However, the struggle in the car continued, and the smoke grenade ended up hitting me in the head, but I just managed to plant a knife in the driver’s throat before passing out.

    While this occured, the rest of the group had their own similiar struggles, ranging from a traumatized 9 year old cancer patient(The parking lot was an underground hospital lot) who was protected but traumatized for life to a gunfight of epic proportions between two marksmen.

    All in all, the players had the freedom to roleplay, while the GM had a list of everyone’s character sheets and used dice to predict how things would occur. It requires a good GM, I would presume, but I highly recommend it. :)

    Let me find the link…


    There we go. :) That’s the website of the guy who created it, he’s a Real life friend of my GM. :) I hope someone enjoys it.

  40. Andy P says:

    I’d also mention Dark Heresy, we’re about to start our first campaign and it looks like it could be fun. (It may help that we’re mostly 40K players to a greater or lesser degree, though).

    It also has a free “introductory scenario” which you can check out on the website which someone linked to above. You can at least get a taster for the rules and setting from it, even if you don’t actually play it before starting your campaign.

    We’ve just finished playing L5R RPG, which was OK, some good things about it, others not so great. I’ll be honest though – I’m first and foremost a miniatures wargamer, and play RPGs mainly for a chance to hang out with my mates (some of whom have neither the budget nor inclination to play wargames).

  41. Nentuaby says:


    Spirit of the Century (I notice it’s been seconded at least already) for the win. It has every one of the elements you noted above (except maybe the dice bit, but at least you use your 6s in a really novel way). It is, by default, a 1920s pulp roleplaying game, but the system is so flexible and story-centric that it adapts like a breeze to just about anything else- It’s been played, and done admirably, with modern, futuristic, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, even Supers. Even “Spirit of the Force,” the Star Wars version.

    Check it out. You will NOT regret it.

  42. khorboth says:

    I recently ran into this same dilemma. My solution is the Campaign Prospectus.

    Come up with 5 things that you’d like to GM for the group. Figure out which system would work best for each, and write a brief description. Try to keep all 5 on one page, but touch on themes, settings, combat level etc.

    Then you pass this out to all your players. Give them 25 points to distribute among the 5 options. No more than 10 in one campaign, and no two campaigns can have the same score.

    This pulls a lot more of the collaborative nature of RPG into the idea process and lets you know what people hate, like, love, kinda-like etc.

    I feel like choosing system before genre is putting the cart before the horse.

  43. Jahnoth says:

    I’ll put in my $0.02 for Savage Worlds. It’s tagline is: Fast! Furious! Fun!

    And I have to admit, it really is. It’s versatile. You can play any genre you want, and Pinnacle has published many settings and toolkits to help you build the world you want.

    If you lived nearby in Ohio, I’d host a game for you just to show you how quick and easy it is to learn.

  44. BlackJaw says:

    I’ve got to say that all the target ideas Shamus has are the ideas I like.
    I’d go ahead and add in:
    * Mook/Minion rules
    * Combat that is fun, not just damage stats.
    * A way to anchor story to gameplay.

    That last one is something I liked about Secret of Z’ran and the Burning Wheel games. Character creation is effectively backstory creation. If you’re a power gamer, you get a minimal backstory as you power build. If you’re a story type, your backstory gives you your abilities. Too bad both game systems are a little wacky otherwise.

    I haven’t played Savage Worlds but it is something I’ve looked at a few times. I think it was the basic system for a few games, including the Army of Darkness role playing game (which had a broken “Chosen one” setup that explicitly made one character more important then the others.)

    Truth be told I’ve been cobbling together my own system for a while now. I don’t know if it will ever be ready to be played, but it’s a fun past time. In the mean time I just play whatever I can get everyone to enjoy.

  45. Kevin says:

    I have to throw in a plug for Unknown Armies here, ‘cos I’d love to see more people playing it. Despite the connotations of the word “plug,” I am in no way affiliated with the producers of the game… I just think it’s a brilliant system in a fascinating setting and not enough people know about it or play it. Let’s see…

    Bell Curve/Fun Dice: The core mechanic of UA is d100/2d10, with some interesting permutations – for instance, under certain circumstances you can “flip” your roll, exchanging the ones die with the tens die. For most opposed checks, you’re shooting for a roll under your own skill but over your opponent’s skill/defense or whatever. I know the d100 roll doesn’t provide a bell curve, but the specific results of a success or failure are keyed to the total of the two dice (hence my calling it a d100/2d10 system). There are also special results for rolling doubles, and for rolling 01 or 00.

    Roleplaying Over Strategy: UA encourages this. The core book stresses repeatedly how lethal combat is, and how you’ll probably want to avoid it as much as you can. Actual combat runs pretty fast and is, as promised, quite lethal.

    Easy to Learn Rules: In the beginning, you’ll probably have to look a few things up in the core book, but once you internalize the mechanics the rules are quite streamlined, and depend a lot on improvisation. There are few hard-and-fast rules for the specific modifiers you get in certain situations, which attacks are privileged, and that kind of stuff. The possible downside of this is that you need a GM who thinks on his feet, and preferably players that do the same. You’ll also, of course, need players who are comfortable with knowing that they can’t maximize all their tactical advantages by memorizing the core rules.

    Simple Combat System: See above. Once you have the mechanics down, most attacks boil down to looking at one stat (or two, if your opponent is putting up an active defense), applying any situational modifiers (which are mostly made up on the spot – the book provides examples, but not an exhaustive list), and rolling the dice once (possibly twice). As I said earlier, there are situations in which you can “flip” your roll, but few enough that it’s easy to remember when you can do this. Sometimes you get a reroll, but not often.

    On top of all this, UA has one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever encountered. It’s a sort of postmodern urban fantasy, where “postmodern” generally means “weird.” Characters who don’t use magic really only need the first section of the book, and the game will be more fun if their players don’t read any further than that. Even if the players read the whole book, there are still plenty of mysteries for the GM to play with.

    Well, that was a pretty exhaustive review for a comment. Point is, I love this system, and it’s definitely worth checking out. The core book is $40 on Amazon, but it’s worth it, especially considering that the core book and a couple of dice are really all you need to play. Seriously – unless you’re playing a specific type of campaign, you really don’t need the supplements for anything.

    Oh, and the magic system is awesome.

  46. Duffy says:

    Sounds to me like you guys need to give Tri-Stat a try. Pretty simple character creation and rolling, but an incredibly high level of customization is available through, get this, role playing.

    It’s a little hard to explain, so just find a copy of the rulebook and look it over, but the basic idea here is that 2 characters could have the same exact stats and abilities, but be entirely different in both combat, ability, and role playing.

    It also facilitates a wide range of game types/settings which can be combined in the same game. You want mechs, superheroes, jedi, modern, and fantasy characters balanced side by side? Done.

    Take a look, at the very least you should be intrigued.

  47. Timo says:

    I know it isn’t a gaming system, but I’m reading Olympos by Dan Simmons at the moment. The setting is a bit strange, since there seem to be to earths, one “modern” (a few centuries from now) earth and one “old” (Trojan war, with gods and all) earth. There are old-style humans, a certain, dumb breed of humans, kept as a “herd” by the post-humans, which are nano-enhanced humans. Then there are some vague (probably something to do with me not reading the first part) entities which play around at being gods everywhere they go. And then there are the ‘Vecs, a sort of servants of the post-humans (bit unclear, probably got something to do with me not reading the first part), which are basically cyborgs, designed to study humans, but all with different abilities, some are good at mining in extreme circumstances while others are better at mechanical stuff. So if you want to create a new (modern/old, mechanical, nano-enhanced, ancient gods (actually enhanced humans) and a whole mytholegy) setting, this might give you some inspiration!

  48. ChattyDm says:

    Shamus have you perused the new Star Wars Saga game from WotC (The coffee table book)?

    They rebalanced the classes and now all archetypes do cool things… And it’s pre-D&D 4e!


  49. Hermes says:

    An elegant system with quickquickfast resolution and good detail is the ORE system. There are various permutations of it, Nemesis(Free), StarORE(free) Godlike, Reign(free supplements regularly), WildTalents.

    The ORE system itself is easily used for any setting.

    Otherwise i’d recommend the rules in NWOD as quick and easy to learn, the setting itself can be ignored(i’m sure you’ve got a few whitewolf haters in your group ;) )

    Setting wise i’d recommend Fading Suns(although the rules arent anything to be excited about)

    For something completely different I recommend Amber(in my experience a great game if you have many players if not the best) or Polaris(4 players only though, no less no more).

    I’d stay away from anything with percentiles or with multiple sets of rules(one for combat one, one for ship to ship combat, one for magic, one for psychic powers, one for everything else etc. )

    If you end up playing D&D anyways try the birthright setting.

  50. Mark says:

    Shamus, I’m not a terribly experienced player with these, so I can’t comment on systems, but as for settings: why not pick the kind of setting that none of you have tried?

  51. Shamus says:

    ChattyDM: I have the Star Wars book pictured here:


    It’s also image #2 in the montage above.

  52. BChoinski says:

    Nephele, if you even find it, yo can go high-tech with “Ringworld”, which used the Chaosium system.

  53. ChattyDm says:

    Just so we’re clear on this, I’m talking about (yet) another version of the game. :)

    This one:

    Which features a lot of upgrade from the one you have and is supposedly better balanced between classes. I heard/read a lot of good things about it.

  54. Taellosse says:

    I’m going to have to put in my vote for GURPS, too. It’s the one I use with my own group, and it really is the most adaptable I’ve run across. Since it’s designed to be generic, you can play it in any setting you like, homebrew or not, and ignore those rules that aren’t relevant for you. Combat can be as crunchy or fluid as you want, really, depending on how granular you want to get–GURPS Lite is pretty minimalistic, but still functional, and there is about a books-worth of combat rules spread over various volumes if you want to get detailed.

    As far as setting–that’s harder, and I don’t feel qualified to give advice other than to say that other’s suggestions about having people vote for their top three and picking the one with the most aggregated points seems reasonable.

  55. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Lynx: Dark Heresy has been one of the ones I’ve started to lean toward to try and convince everyone to play if we couldn’t get the Star Wars thing off the ground. Of course I am also intrigued by the idea that we might want to attempt to role play out of an encounter rather then charge forward with bolters ablaze since you never know when all of a sudden your arm gets shredded off with one of those spiffy chainsaw swords that I see get used.

  56. Marurun says:

    I recommend Action System, by Gold Rush Games. It’s clearly derived from Fuzion, which itself it awesome. By default the combat rules are somewhat tactical, somewhere between D20 and GURPS, but you can easily chuck a lot of the specialized stuff.

    One nice thing is that you can download Action System for free. In fact, you can download basic Fuzion for free, too! They are HIGHLY compatible and easy to change should you need to. Plus, you can play them Interlock-style (d10), Fuzion/Action style (2d6), or just make up your own style (2d8, for example). I seriously recommend looking into it. If you need any ideas or links to resources I’d be happy to post them for anyone here.

  57. food4worms says:

    I’m a slavering fanboi for Spirit of the Century. The cool part is that the rules are available as a SRD:


    So, barrier to entry is just the time to read it.

    But, my vote aside. The thing you might consider in deciding on a setting is to play a mini game to come up with the setting. There’s a couple of cool examples of this out there:

    – Leo Balsera’s talk about the Fate fractal on Master Plan

    – Bill Burdock`s Universalis + Fate + PDQ mash up

    – Zero Sum Fate

    – Lexicon RPG

    – and my (humble) untested attempt at setting creation which I intend to try out in a couple of weeks

  58. Robert says:

    Personally, I’d give GURPS a miss. Way too complicated for people who aren’t certain they want to play a new campaign. (And I say this as someone who’s written two GURPS books and almost 100 GURPS Traveller articles.)

    My favourite system is currently BESM (2nd edition). The new 3rd edition (Tri-Stat) is nice, but it presents so many options that the GM needs to do a major pruning job first. (Which is encouraged by the authors, BTW. Just make certain your players know which rules and options will actually be used and you should be fine.)

    Why do I like it? Play is fast, and the rules are consistent. You have two dice to give a bit of a bell curve (I agree with you there). Character creation is point-based with an encouragement to story-telling, but loose enough that it doesn’t take very long. (Unlike GURPS, where min-maxing a character can take a couple of hours, especially for beginners.)

    I’ll be using BESM for my next Traveller game, at least for the play-time rules. (I’ll use GURPS Traveller for background details like worldbuilding, where the extra detail doesn’t slow the game down.)

    I’d also recommend Thousand Suns, based on pre-publication sneak-peaks. No idea when the release date will be, though.

  59. Retlor says:

    With regards to Star Wars. I think a mixed party can be done right, as long as you take care with it. For one thing, if a Jedi character is the only Jedi in the party, then they tend to become the party leader by default. They also tend to make the decisions, and will veto anything they don’t like, which means anything the player doesn’t like. Plus, a lot of their more basic force powers do not allow a defence check, so the Jedi character can throw another character across the room if he doesn’t like them. This happens frequently, and there usually isn’t a damn thing the other player can do back unless he wants to get into actual serious PvPing.

    This makes it incredibly important that the person playing a Jedi understands that the game doesn’t revolve around him. Case in point. In our current campaign, we’d just got done killing a squad of Reborn (stormtroopers who have been dunked in force-heavy areas until they acquire limited force-powers). Naturally, my scoundrel and the Scout/Scoundrel character, wanted a go with those fancy glowy swords that everyone was swinging around. So we both pocket one. The Jedi comes back into the room and says ‘I collect up the lightsabers.’ The GM tells him that two are missing. He force slams our characters to the ground until we give them up.

    Now, I’m not saying that we should be given lightsabers, or that we deserved them as ‘spoils of war.’ It was in character for us to take them, seeing as both of us our characters are in this for money at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that we should be allowed lightsabers. However, what I am saying is that a Jedi characters generally gets what he wants and, depending on the player, will attack to get it.

    I think a mixed group in SW can work, I really do, if the Jedi player is mature enough to understand that he isn’t the centre of the game, and his word is not law. By setting himself up as the leader in that fashion, he makes the game double-plus-unfun for the rest of the group.

    So yeah, there’s my very ranty two cents on the Star Wars RPG.

  60. -Chipper says:

    OK, this probably won’t be helpful, but I’m wondering if it would be possible/helpful to apply game theory to your gaming dilemma. This is interesting because one of Shamus’ definitions of the group ‘winning’ includes no one player ‘loses’ which is why this becomes such a complex problem. One obvious way to chose is one of the players saying, “I am going to GM for and I’d be happy if you all join me,” but that may result in a breaking of the fellowship (so to speak) which is not deemed to be an optimal solution. Maybe a long-term plan where the first game is one that appeals to the most possible, but with a promise that the next be one that appeals more to those that have the least attraction to the first game. The more I think about it, this sort of problem solving should really appeal to your group- maybe a good way to solve it is to solve it in-character. (i.e. Instead of Shamus and his group discussing it, Shamus’ monk discusses it with Joe’s fighter, Tom’s mage, and John’s Jedi.) Make a game out of choosing your next game.

    Oooo! Have a Mechwarrior tournament where the winner decides the next game! And sell tickets. And post sessions on YouTube… OK, sorry. Now I’m being silly.

  61. Casper says:

    My suggestion on the Jedi problem:
    First, does the player wants to play a Jedi Paladin or something? Or only a dude with cool Force abilities? If it is the second, it can be arranged. If the game is set after the old trilogy, there are only few real Jedi. The PC can be someone with Force abilities, but without formal training. Give the PC some abilities, but nothing too overpowered. He can come from any background- and how he uses his powers is his own choice. At higher levels he can become a stronger Force user, even a trained Jedi, but by that time other PC will be quite powerful and influential as well- and it will be just the right time for those Epic Quests.

  62. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Retlor: You see that is where the problem with Shamus’s group lies. The one guy that wants to be the Jedi is the same one that wants the uber powerful character and has been wanting pvp lately. I think he is the only one of us that wants to be a jedi so there wouldn’t be a proper jedi to try and balance things. What you described will more then likely happen at least once with our group. I know cause I wanted to be one of the shady/sneaky types that would gather up lightsabers for the black market.

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