Thursday, July 22, 2010

help me out here, folks

There's this one Strong Bad email where the president of a fraternity asks Free Country, USA's greatest criminal mastermind to come to a kegger he's putting together.  In the space of a few sentences Mr. Bad goes from "Look fratty, I'm not comin' to your party." to "So I guess I'm goin' to this frat party. That's pretty hilarious."  That self-directed disbelief is kinda how I've felt this week.

Monday night's 3.5 game didn't happen as planned.  Half the party couldn't make the game and Carl and I were unprepared to assault the kobold fortress without additional backup.  I just don't trust those wee bastards to stand still while we make a steep cave ascent to the entrance to their lair.  So we ended up talking through Carl's idea for a round robin fantasy campaign, the kind with rotating GMs.  I've participated in that sort of think before and with the right people it can be highly satisfying.

The catch is that after almost 3 hours of knocking this campaign concept around, we can't come up with a better system choice than 4e.  I don't loathe 4e.  It's just not my bag, baby.  Since the PDF fiasco I'm not exactly a fan of Wizards o' the Coast, but I don't feel that obligates me to hate their product.  Heck, I've been kicking around the possibility of getting the new D&D Essentials boxed set when it somes out later this year.  Still, I feel like we painted ourselves into a corner Monday night.  Are requirements are basically that we need a fantasy system for buttkicking adventure in the D&D tradition AND it has to be in distribution such that all participants could get copies through our nifty local game store.  And here's the kicker: Exalted, Pathfinder and the new HackMaster have all already been voted off the island.

I'm not averse to playing 4e if it comes to that.  By my lights good folks can trump system choice in lots and lots of cases.  But I feel like there's got to be some more options out there that we are missing.  Anybody got any ideas?

EDIT TO ADD:  Thanks for all the great responses!  To clarify, we're looking at print products only and the rest of the gang doesn't seem too keen on using an old school game.  They're happy to play in my LL game, but want to do something else for this campaign idea.


  1. Legends of Anglerre from Cubicle 7 - - may fit your needs.

  2. There's always Palladium Fantasy...

  3. Ok:

    1-Armored Gopher's navigation ain't easy to figure out what games they've got.

    2-Are games with downloadable rules off the table? I'm going to assume they are.

    3-GURPS? Savage Worlds? 3.5 (It's still on the shelves here. Maybe nixing Pathfinder is the same as nixing 3.5)

    4-I assume there's some reason Labyrinth Lord is unavailable.

    5-I also assume your FLGS hasn't ordered LOTFP:WF

    (wow that sentence would make no sense to a non-gamer)

    6-Dragon Age?

    7-Palladium fantasy?

  4. One would assume that you've already crossed the retroclones off your list, in which case, I would suggest the Dragon Age rpg. It feels a lot like Red Box D&D, but a bit more clean and modern, and it's readily available too.

  5. Isn't Labyrinth Lord in print distribution? Or Sword & Wizardry? Or are those already voted off the island as well?

    Mongoose Runequest has gotten some decent reviews - I haven't played it myself though.

    For a more high-powered game you could consider Mutants and Masterminds + Warriors and Warlocks. Might be an expensive buy-in, but I think you could share a copy of the W&W supplement. But then, M&M is going to 3rd edition so I'm not sure if that fits the "in distribution" angle.

    Sorcerer & Sword? It looks solid if you're into a more narrative-focused sword and sorcery game.

    GURPS Fantasy? True 20?

  6. I guess it depends how flexible you are in your definition of 'in the D&D tradition.' One of my current favourite non-D&D games is Savage Worlds, which is a class-less, level-less system, so it may not be up your alley, but the price is right - the Explorer's Edition is $9.99.

    For D&D-esque type systems, I have a soft spot for Palladium Fantasy. I'd never run it, myself; it shares too many of the things I dislike about 3.5, namely it requires a lot of prep time. Since monsters are treated like characters you need to 'roll them up' just like creating a character. I'm also not keen on keeping track of my armour's hit points. However, if you're okay with 3.5 you might not mind Palladium, and I've got to say: it has to be one of the most flavourful rpgs out there.

  7. Oh, and while Dragon Age is tied to a specific setting, it's easy enough to convert; there are some notes on running Freeport with it in Kobold Quarterly #13.

    I really think it's a great game, and the natural heir to basic D&D, but I can't get anyone to play it. :(

  8. Anonymous3:45 PM

    Everyone has already mentioned the few options I think are left to you.

    As pdf printouts, downloads, etc are out. . .

    Why not just take the bullet and go for 4E? Come up with a few agreeable co-GM rules with what you like & don't like, tweak it to your preference and just go with it. There's not a system out there that you can't make your own.

    Roll steady!

  9. BRP?

    I'm not sure what your FLGS has, but between Elric and Rolemaster and Cthulhui and the downloadable rules there's mus tbe some kind of BRP stuff available.

  10. Savage Worlds
    Can't recommend it enough. It's fast, furious, translates well onto a battlemat for miniatures play, and can be as "rules-lite" as you want to make it. It's powered my own fantasy campaign for almost 2 years.

  11. I should also mention, the Savage Worlds book is still in print, and its only $10.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Savage Worlds is fun. If you want something more D&D-esqe (levels, classes, etc.) you might take a look at Castles & Crusades.

    Though I am also curious if there is some reason AG can't get LL

  14. Ah yes, if you want something that feels like D&D, then I'd go for Dragon Age, but BRP and Savage Worlds are both really good choices.

  15. Twilight: 2000 ...with swords.

  16. For another old school feel, the European way, I'd recommend Dragon Warriors (Magnum Opus Press/Mongoose Publishing).
    I could describe it myself but it would never be as enthusiastic and true as Robin "Microlite 20" Stacey's hymn to the game:

    Dragon Warriors
    Dragon Warrior of your very own
    Dragon Warriors Week

    The game is available as hardcover reprint collecting most of the material of the six paperback books from 1985, with the missing parts (adventures) reprinted in softcover supplements.



  18. I vote for Savage Worlds! I also like Fantasy Craft, but I can't vote for it (yet) because I haven't actually played it. Go SW!

  19. Castles and Crusades?

  20. I second Dragon Warriors. I don't know much about the new edition, but I am a BIG fan of the original paperback version.

  21. If you want to use Labyrinth Lord they should be able to get LL and AEC through ACD and/or Alliance, as well as some other smaller distributors. If you have trouble drop me a line and I can find out what the problem is.

  22. Isn't Tunnels & Trolls still in distribution? A couple 5.5 boxes are sitting on my FLGS' bookshelf.

    How 'bout Munchkin rpg by SJG?

  23. If the rules you guys set up aren't taking you to a place you want to go, then change the rules! How about something nice and downloadable, like Barbarians of Lemuria, or Dungeonslayers? Hell, throw Encounter Critical on the table! Your enthusiasm for that game, would sell me in a heartbeat!

  24. Savage Worlds is pretty widely available and with a $10 buy-in for the ENTIRE GAME, it's probably the cheapest corebook that I've ever purchased. It's definitely geared towards pulpy, cinematic adventuring and the Powers are all generic (Bolt, Blast, Armor, etc...) but with the option to reskin them. It's been my go-to game for a while.

  25. why not try something really retro . . .

    Dave Arneson's Blackmoor

    I would enjoy hearing the game write ups

  26. -Castles & Crusades
    -HARP/Rolemaster Classic (OH YES)
    -Shadow, Sword, and Spell (not quite out yet, but it's awesome)
    -Dragon Warriors
    -Palladium Fantasy
    -Cortex System

  27. Spot on as usual, Clovis. Not only is Blackmoor not a game in itself, but it has been out of print for decades. Unless you are talking about the 3.5 and 4.0 write ups, which would for sure make it NOT retro. But thanks for playing, Edward.

    But Jeff, for a retro feel, and something easy for multiple DM's, I would recommend S&W White Box. I've used it recently as a reference in my current OD&D White Box + Greyhawk dungeon crawls and it is fun as hell and is fast moving game play. The only downfall is the lack of many class choices. You should be able to include thief and Paladin at least with ease using your own houserules.

  28. Using 4e in print (dead tree) format would be a large monetary expendiature for your group. The minimum cost for each player would be $40(phb), but if someone wants to play a minotaur bard, he'd have to get a phb(basic rules), phb2(bard class), and phb3(minotaur race), plus the greater selection of bard powers from Arcane Power. That's easily $150. As a DM, you'd most likely spend $150-$250 to get the rules, a few monster books and a larger selection of magic items, and that doesn't include any of the extra classes or powers books, which easily doubles that price range.
    Then, since WotC doesn't bother to proof, edit, or play-test 4e before publishing, you'll have to go through 50-100 pages of errata, changes, and updates.
    If you must go 4e, do yourself a favor and retrict your pc options to one or two books ONLY. My 2nd 4e campaign was phb1, phb2, dmg1, and mm1 only, and I never thought anything was missing.
    Or, if you have no problem spending $200+ on books, browse lulu or some online re-sellers, find a game you like that might be odd (dark dungeons) or out of print, and buy 15 copies and pass them out. I bought everyone in my group a copy of exalted 1e for xmas 2 years ago for $10 a head.

  29. In fairness to D&D4, the upcoming Red Box edition is supposed to be more streamlined, so a lot of the issues Sovereigneternal highlights shouldn't come up.

    That said, i still wouldn't pick it. ;)

  30. I suggest Dragon Age too. It has a very D&D feel and is a very good and streamlined system.

    Also Barbarians of Lemuria. Although that one might be more difficult to find in your local store.

  31. As far as the d20 system goes, Conan by Mongoose Publishing is really good. I don't know if it still in stores anymore, as there was some talk about the licensing ending. I also highly recommend Barbarians of Lemuria - if you can find it.

    I wish I could give you a better answer, as all the game stores in my area closed over a year ago, leaving only the shelves full of 4e books at the big store chains, and the older ('90s-ish) games at used books stores - and no miniatures to be found anywhere! :(

  32. Anonymous6:37 AM

    I for one am looking forward to Goodman's Games " Dungeon Crawl Classics" rpg

    (dang it cant remember my google account password :/ )

  33. So instead of playing a fantasy game with an old school D&D feel you're going to try something diffferent...a fantasty game with an old school D&D feel?

    Not to be as jerky as that sounded but I really, really don't see the different in play Palladium Fantasy, Dragon Age or even 4E instead of Labyrinth Lord. File off the numbers and won't the feel and style of the campaign be pretty much the same?

  34. Anonymous8:56 AM

    4E is easily your best possible bet when you consider other potential players are out there who might be interested who you haven't met yet.

    One thing to consider: if you can meet people who are interested in playing 4e, maybe you can then convince them to try other games. That's a lot easier than cold-selling people on older games who don't have the background or interest to pursue them on their own.

    I recommend getting a single month of DDI and downloading the Character builder and the Adventure tools. If you want to hand-fill character sheets, they are also available for free on the site.

    But the Character builder gets you all of the player content and rules updates baked in, and the monster builder is just totally useful if you are creating encounters.

    And then after that, it's just a matter of building dungeons and filling them with monsters.

    Good luck!

  35. I'll throw my lot in with the folks who say Savage Worlds, since it sounds like your group is looking for something fairly crunchy. (Unless that's why they took the other suggestions off the table?) On thing that hasn't been mentioned is the "butt-kicking" part; if that means that beginning characters should be capable of kicking butt and having larger-than-life adventures, SW does that very well. The Fantasy Companion supplement would be helpful for a D&D-esque campaign.

  36. Well, despite my long stretch of nerd rage against 4e, I'm afraid it's mostly won me over. Sigh. I'd note that a subscription to DDI is cheap, and you get Character Builder, which means you don't NEED to buy every damn book, and having the Compendium online is wonderful in play if you've got a laptop and a net connection. If you want another system, I'd push HERO, because it's the singly most flexible (IMO) game out there; if you want lighter rules, Tristat DX is fun, playable, and OGL. But I have a selfish motive for pushing 4e; if you get into it, you might also DL Earth Delta, because I'd love your take on if I'm getting the right Gamma World *attitude* despite the different rules.

  37. I can't believe I left Dragon Warriors off my list of recommends. Definitely worth looking at.

    As I thought about this more, though, I realize I don't know what you mean by "a fantasy system for buttkicking adventure in the D&D tradition" because that phrase means different things to different people. I mean, I think I know what you mean by that given how much of your blog I've read over the years, but I don't know what it means to your group.

    For example, it could mean "sword and sorcery adventure where life is cheap, death hovers around every corner and your purpose in life is to scrabble for gold coins for wenches and quaffing" - the type of D&D tradition that many folks think of when they think of OD&D, low-level AD&D 1e, or Moldvay Basic/Expert. If that's the case you aren't going to find a much better system than one of the earlier D&D variants. "Life is cheap" is tough to do when it takes you an hour or more to make up a character. You could also check out Dragon Warriors or Savage Worlds - though I think Savage Worlds character creation is just a bit too complex for such a system.

    OTOH, it might mean "knights in armor and high-powered wizards on epic quests against epic monsters to save the world, and traveling the planes to find artifacts and fight the gods" if you are thinking more of a AD&D 2e or 3e tradition of D&D, or a Metzner BECMI tradition, or if your tradition of D&D centers around high level AD&D 1e characters. In that case 4th edition D&D is actually probably a really good fit, as might be Savage Worlds or Mutants & Masterminds.

    Across the various editions D&D actually covers a lot of ground, and the shift in attitude between 1st edition and 2nd edition AD&D, (as well as the shift between Moldvay Basic and Metzner Basic) means that you should really try to figure out what your group means by "D&D" before narrowing down to a system.

    One of the key elements I think is actually "how cheap is death" - and I mean that at a logistic level of the game, not as a setting issue. Character death in old versions of D&D is really cheap - you spend about 15 minutes or less making a new character and you're ready to go again. Character death in later version of D&D (and most games on the market these days) is much more expensive - you can spend hours coming up with a new character and fleshing it out before you hit the table. And that can mean frustration if expectations of how deadly the game is supposed to be are crossed.

  38. "we're looking at print products only"

    If this is because of the hassle of printing it out, what about microlite20?

  39. A note of consolation from a current old school DM that DMed 3.5 for eons and has played 4e.

    Mechanically, 4e will get in your way a LOT LESS than 3.x/Pathfinder/Exalted/Fantasy Craft.

    I second those that suggest WotC's digital subscription (DDI) as an alternative to the 'buy every book' thing. They even let each purchase of DDI do 5 installs a month. That means a group can share a subscription. (This is against the EULA but not only do they not check or have any way of checking, they heavily nudge and wink that they think this is cool.)

    Myself, I would play an old school game or try Savage Worlds (I don't know Dragon Warriors) but given the other choices 4e is not bad.

    Just remember: not having a rule for something (4e's rules are all about encounters, primarily combat encounters) means you are free to do what you like.

  40. If you want something somewhat different, based around the idea of shared story telling instead of tactical problems, you could do much worse than give Seven Leagues a try...

  41. Actually, a game like Microlite 20 or True 20 might be a really good compromise!