Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dreaming the Impossible Dream ...

Decisions decisons decisons ... a choice of three ... hrmmm ... 4 ... 5?

Ok ... I think what I'm going to talk about here might be A) offensive and B) impossible ... but here goes. Is this a quest for a holy grail that doesn't exist? A system that nicely blends the old classic fantasy hack and slash RPG with the new?

I have everything I could ever want in terms of RPG source materials, old settings, etc. I have a veritable bookshelf filled with 1st, 2nd (a massive amount of 2nd ed actually), White Wolf, Rifts, Heavy Gear and on and on. What I'm really hoping to add to my gaming library is a classic style fantasy RPG system that can provide some continuity to 2nd edition D&D. First I won't run 2nd edition D&D ... I believe I am like 3 or 4 books short of a complete collection of 2nd ed D&D.

Its obscene how much stuff I still own. I really have a huge nostalgic feeling for 2nd ed ... but I know the rules are very broken and my player base would not enjoy Thaco, negative AC, etc. I know that is ultra anathema to say to most old school fans ... but those things are just annoying. They get in the way of the game ... if you've played those systems for 20 years its second nature. If you've played 3.x and 4E only and then get tossed into the Thaco, negative AC style games ... its shocking and mildly frustrating ... is the math that hard .. of course not its elementary school level stuff ... yet it just turns some players off and that is the last thing I want.

The worst aspect of old style fantasy RPGs in terms of my current players reactions would also be extremely weak starting characters. When the party has to fear common beasts of the forest ... that is going to be an issue for my current players. 4 hitpoint mages who cast a single spell and stand at the back missing with their sling or darts.  On this point I don't need to hear about strategy for dealing with that ... it can be done I'm not disputing that ... but I know with certainty that it is going to piss off my players and make them really not want to play ... they are used to somewhat robust starting characters without having to cheat and start at lvl 5 or something. I know this and don't care what people have to say about that aspect of my dilemma ... I simply would like a system where starting characters aren't as weak as a house cat or your average 80 year old homeless guy.  The more I look at the classic games I'm slowly resigning myself to the reality that in the near term I'll probably only ever be playing 4E or Savage Worlds modified to run old school style fantasy games. My true preference is a FATE based system ... but that is another matter ... and FATE doesn't do what I'm wanting to do with a classic feeling fantasy game. I'd also never be able to do it with 3.X or 4E (and I like 4E for tabletop videogame style hack and slash but it doesn't have the old school feel and I don't want to get into version wars debate here) clearly as those games have a very different pace and feel to them. I keep hoping to find a modified classic fantasy RPG that feels authentic but is cleaner and more modern in design in terms of being familiar to players who have primarily experienced D20 style RPGs.  In addition to a hybrid between the classic and the new I'd love to be able to utilize some classic D&D content ... perhaps even an entire 2nd edition setting (Birthright ... and before anyone knocks it ... I like it and have immense nostalgia for it) without insane custom conversion issues. 

Right now I've looked briefly at a few systems, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry and Osric (though I guess technically its not a "rule set") ... and all three of those systems are simply cleaned up 1st/2nd ed D&D. I've also strongly considered Tunnels and Trolls ... but I have issue with the balance of the game and really don't care for how magic works in the game ... its actually too simple and streamlined. I'm a huge fan of that system for beer and pretzel style one shots ... but wouldn't use it for a long campaign.   Dragon Age, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry ... are all systems I'd consider if someone could show me the light with any of them. Also the boxed set is so appealing to me ... they just conjure up such strong memory of my first exposure to D&D ... its really hard for me not to just rush out and buy them all just for the sake of owning them. As for Dragon Age specifically I was supposed to get a demo in at the last con I attended but we ran late on the first day and didn't make it in time. So I've heard very little about the system other than just the very basics. Spellcraft and Swordplay is another system I've heard a little about here and there. Any other systems out there that I'm missing?

So is this just a lost cause or what?


Bodlar said...


Really though lost cause currently if you ask me. It sounds like you have the same problem I do. A bunch of players that want to play but are unwilling to do any of the groundwork themselves. To be a player in a good successful RPG campaign requires a little work on the player side to. Familiarizing yourself with the rules and building an interesting story etc. Your quest is backwards, fix the players and you can use any system fluidly. That aside, there is no reason you can't flavor a 4th or 3rd edition game with old school flavor. That responsibility lies on the GM. Your other option is to build your own dream system from the ground up.

The Lord of Excess said...

Very good points and I generally agree. I know I can "flavor" really any system to feel sort of like I would like it to. Really far superior to 3rd or 4th is Savage Worlds IMO and that is why I reference my growing resignation to just using SW. I feel the rules get in the way of the game in terms of 3rd and 4th for the kind of game I'm craving. 4th does video game style tactical tabletop fantasy skirmish as well or better than any other game system in a very balanced way. Regardless of the anti-4E people out there who have mostly never played 4E (so how can they criticize) have to say ... I really like 4E for that. That said ... if you want a classic feeling, dark and gritty fantasy game that has an old school feel to it ... I'd argue that you shouldn't be anywhere near 3.X or 4E.

As for Hackmaster ... love it ... cherish the memories of playing it. Doubtful I'll ever play that game again. Its a major commitment on the part of players to really enjoy. A player down here in my group really likes it and we've talked about playing the newly released Hackmaster Basic ... but I don't think that will every happen again. Also Hack is tongue in cheek, pythonesque, hilarity ... I am craving something with that intangible, hard to put your finger on ... old school feel to it. I'm dubious as to whether that feeling comes from Thaco and negative AC ... but I might be wrong about weak characters vs. the DM ... I am willing to admit that. At any rate the gigantic, simulator systems are a thing of the past in terms of the kind of games I'll play in/run. Also in my true excessive form ... I have Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition that I am going to run over the summer. Perhaps that will suffice. Again I really think Dragon Age has some potential as well.

Bodlar said...

I would kill for another group capable of playing Hackmaster.

I know exactly what you are looking for. It's the same thing we found when I ran that 2nd ed game at your house. True fun, epic, gritty, just awesome game. I feel like they happen when they happen and it's not something you can force. Just keep yourself open to the idea and keep working towards your goal and at some point the planets will allign properly.

Anonymous said...

BFRP uses third ed style BAB and AC. First level characters are still just a tad above normal men in prowess though so don't know what to tell you there. If they are experienced D&D'er you might consider starting them off building a character with 5000 xp. This would put them around 3rd-4th level depending on class/multi-class they choose. One trick there is have them then start play with 0 xp on their character sheet (you still gots to earn your strips :p).

Personally, I LIKE the gritty, death-at-every turne aspect of the players earning their stripes from first level. To each his own, good luck with whatever you decide upon.

The Lord of Excess said...

Thanks man good suggestion! I've actually heard of the Basic Fantasy Role Play System ... but not much detail. I'll check it out now though for sure. If that system alleviates most of my concerns with just the weak starting character issue ... I think there might be a fix or two there. One would be what you suggest and another might be to actually just do several deep roleplay sessions in the beginning and assign bonus exp for the parties performance there ... then after 3 to 5 sessions basically get them up to that 3rd to 5th level area and let them get out and get into the type of combat they are more accustomed to. Hrmmm ... I'm going to take a look at that system. Thanks again man!

Anonymous said...

Happy to help :)

It's a nice cleaned up reworking of Basic/Expert D&D. Biggest changes are dropping 'race as class', level limits and ascending AC.

Also, Version 2 is also available as a free .pdf download at (as well as BF1 "Morgansfort" campaign setting/modules and some others).

It's available as softbound, coilbound and hardbound from Lulu.