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I seem to remember, over the decades of playing, there were one or two RPGs that were both:

  • "High Fantasy" - set in a fantastic other world, with magic, monsters, but not grim, WoDarkness, or Lovecraftian.
  • "Magic Rich" - magic is commonplace, all player characters are magic-users of some kind, and pure fighters were basically looked down on. Basically following a version of Niven's Law where magic becomes a kind of technology.

But my memory is failing me somewhat when I try to remember them. The only two that come to mind are Amber and Elric (the 1st Edition version), and I'm not sure Elric fits.

I would like to start a new campaign of this style of game, so I'm looking for ones that fit the bill even if they're not the ones I remember. Can anyone suggest possible games (or worlds) that fit this description?

My criteria:

  • High Fantasy (as above)
  • Magic Rich (as above)
  • I'm looking for post-medieval worlds, and even non-European ones.
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Possible duplicate with What RPGs treat magic as common –  jsecker Jun 23 '12 at 20:51
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As usual I will caution people to answer according to our guidance on game-rec questions: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1070/… which means you have played that game in that way or have seen it done - not "you have heard of it" or "you Googled it" or any less useful derivative. You did it, and here's how it fit the desired genre. Thanks! –  mxyzplk Jun 25 '12 at 6:07
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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Several come to mind as being magic-rich...

RuneQuest (any Chaosium edition, including the jointly done GW and Avalon Hill 3rd) has most characters being able to use a spell or two. The system is percentile skills, 3-18 attributes, low hitpoints, no levels, and optional hit-points by location. It is, however, premedieval - Bronze age. So it's a rule-out. It is, however, the same base engine as Elric!
Probability of Match: appears Previously ruled out.
Recommend: high. RQ3 can easily be run post-middle ages by adding guns. But see Legend.

Which leads to some other such games.

Legend would be a good choice for what you're looking at; it's Mongoose's flavor of RuneQuest minus the Gloranthan setting. Very workable, but Guaranteed not what you played, as it's a 2011/2012 game.
Probability of match: Nil
Recommend: Moderate to strong. If you liked Elric, it is close enough to be familiar.

Also related to RQ is Hero Wars also know as Hero Quest. Being Gloranthan, it's low-powered but all-pervasive magic. It's also bronze age, but that can easily be missed or ignored. System is purely d20's.
Probability of match: Very Low
Recommend: Moderate - very narrativist.

The Arcanum (The Atlantean System, by Bard Games) has a lot of magic using types, and many combattant types have magic as well; the setting is magic-as-technology in a fantasy Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu. Been out of print for quite a while. 5-20 stat range, 1d20 combat rolls, percentile skills, class & level advancement with ability to buy extra skills.
Probability of Match: Low.
Recommend: Low. I like it, but most don't.

Amazing Engine by TSR, often called Amazingly Bad Engine, was a passable game, but had some excellent worldbuilding for the setting books. Long out of print, but due to the mediocre mechanics, inexpensively if rarely obtained.
probability of match: moderate
Recommend: low - system is playable but not well liked.

Rolemaster, HARP: ICE's various Rolemaster flavors; HARP is essentialy RM Light. All do what you're asking, and HARP seems to do it more simply, but the stock settings lack the explicit disdain of mere fighters; the cultures of the lines' fans do, however, tend to disdain pure arms-realm types.
Probability of match: Nil. Previously Ruled Out
Recommend: Moderate to high - it does exactly what you're asking for, and does it quite playably, especially in this era of spreadsheets.

The Fantasy Trip is an older contender. Long out of print, you'd know the books as Melee, Wizard, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In The Labyrinth. 6-20 stat range at start, stat driven, Xd6 for stat or less. Lacks the disdain, but does have magic to the technology point. Written by Steve Jackson, who later wrote GURPS, it's somewhat similar.
Probability of match: Low-to-moderate. It can be played very high or very low magic.
Recommend: Weak recommend. Hard to find, not quite right.

Tunnels & Trolls is the final contender to offer. System is 3-18 stats at start. Lots of casual players have disdain for fighters, as wizards have more obvious inherent XP gains, and it's a unified XP table. 4 classes (Warrior, Wizard, Rogue-Wizard, Warrior-Wizard), no skills until recent editions (5.5, 7.0, 7.5). Published adventures, both solo and GM'd, are aimed at high magic parties and frequently go way ver the top.
Probability of Match: Moderate.
Recommend: High. I love this game. Originally published in 1975... and been in print most of the time since then.

Monsters! Monsters! Variant T&T, playing the monsters rather than the men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, leprechauns, and fairies.


The "Not Able To Recommend" Maybe possibles... Mostly because I don't know enough, but by listing them, if correct, they'll spark the memories.

Arduin is a magic-heavy D&D variant that became a unique non-D&D system in later life. It's also the name of the setting attached to it.

Skyrealms of Jorune is a system that I recall, read, and sold. It was a mixed magic and tech setting. I can't speak much more.

World of Synnabar is similarly high magic, and didn't catch my interest.

Rhand: Morningstar Missions by Leading Edge Games. I sold my copy off, but ISTR it being percential skills, 3-18 stat range, post-holocaust on a colony world, mixed magic and tech.

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I like the "Probability of Match: Nil; Recommend: Moderate to High" bit on Rolemaster, but that is not why I gave you +1. ;-) –  DevSolar Jun 27 '12 at 10:58
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Hey, I have a copy of The Arcanum. It was a bargain bin gamble that I'd forgotten about. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 27 '12 at 17:51
    
I like to think of The Arcanum as "What Palladium Fantasy should have looked like"... It basically uses the same conceptual approach as Palladium, and very similar approaches to classes and skills. –  aramis Jun 30 '12 at 2:16
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Rolemaster is a High Fantasy system, offering "Pure" spell users of either Channeling ("god" power, prayer), Essence ("ley" power, spells) or Mentalism ("mind" power), "Hybrid" spell users that combine two of those magic realms, and "Semi" spell users that are half mundane / fighters, half spell users. Magic using professions easily outnumber the non-spell-users 2 to 1. The magic system is just short from overwhelming. From my experience, unless a GM (like me) takes pains to steer against it, non-spell-users are at a stiff disadvantage unless "pimped" by magic items.

The original Rolemaster setting is that of medieval fantasy (with a detour into Gothic with Rolemaster Companion VI). However, supplements exist that take the system to other environments. "At Rapier's Point" provides background material and rule adaptions to the Musketeer's age, with some "bare bones" on firearm use. Similar for "Pirates" and the Caribean. "Weapon Law: Firearms" provides comprehensive rules and attack tables for historical and contemporary firearms and explosives. Several other supplements aiming at different genres ("Black Ops", "Pulp Adventures") were published, but I never looked at them.

Two warnings / disclaimers, though:

  1. What I own and play is Rolemaster 2nd Edition. I own "Rapier's Point" and "Pirates" as well as "Firearms", and give them a thumbs up, but my own campaigns were all of a medieval / classic fantasy setting, i.e. I never actually play-tested the material therein.

  2. Rolemaster - at least the 2nd edition I use - must be understood as a "framework". What you get is not so much a ready-to-play polished ruleset, but rather building blocks from which to form your own selection of rules. This allows for great flexibility (and makes RM my favourite system by far, having tried a dozen others), but requires quite some work sifting through the rulebooks and making the calls up front on which rules are "in" and which ones are "out". I am currently in the process of doing a German translation / recompilation of the rules - two years in the making, >550 pages all told... you have been warned. It's still my favourite system.

Edit: The bottom line is, this is most likely not the best choice for you, but it is a viable choice, so I added it for completeness' sake.

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There is also a game called Darkest Dungeons that appears to have some similitude to Rolemaster but doesn't have the cumbersome problems that you mentioned. You can find more info here: gratisgames.webspace.virginmedia.com –  Yaztromo Jun 25 '12 at 18:29
    
I've run and played rolemaster (spacemaster ,etc) and it isn't what I was looking for. –  SteveED Jun 25 '12 at 21:59
    
I love RoleMaster, and have run and played it for years, but I don't think this really answers the question. Fighters are not on a different level than other characters; indeed, pure fighters (and warrior-monks especially) are quite viable without GM pimping. –  wraith808 Jun 27 '12 at 17:18
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Everway comes to mind as a possible solution. It's extremely high-fantasy; magic and monsters are routine. While it's possible to create a character with no magical power, it would be rare to do so, as Everway characters can have major, useful powers easily and cheaply.

As a game about walking between worlds, cultures and technology can be highly variable, from stone age to early-renaissance. (There are certainly european, asian and african influenced cultures described in the default setting, and others would be easy to implement.)

Magic isn't normally so ubiquitous as to replace technology in Everway (it doesn't normally advance past about 1600s-equivalent), but to do so would not be a hard exercise.


Dungeons and Dragons does this in some worlds. In particular, Eberron for that early 1900s feel, or the ancient Netherese empire of the Forgotten Realms for a classic fantasy magic-ruled approach.


If you want to move all the way up to the modern world, TSR published two relevant Amazing Engine games - Magitech for magical-modern-world, and the classic For Faerie, Queen and Country which produced a magic-based Victorian England. The system itself wasn't that great, however.

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Everway is appropriate to almost any setting, because it's so system-light - it's been repurposed successfully for things far more distant from the epic fantasy it was designed for. (I've seen the rules used for space opera or superhero games, for example.) Its natural home ground is mythic fantasy, but it easily ranges widely. It would certainly be my go-to system if I were going to GM the kind of world described. –  Tynam Jun 24 '12 at 16:47
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Amber DRPG

Typically, PCs are younger members of the house that brought order to the multiverse. They walk between worlds, intrigue among themselves and magic is more than a little prevalent, in various different forms, to boot. There's Pattern-based effects, there's sorcery, there's conjuration, there's...

Although fighter-like skills isn't frowned upon, someone who is only a fighter is considered odd and incomplete.

It's also quite possible to play ADRPG campaigns in such a way that the multiversity (as it were) of the game world isn't really expressed at all.

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Rune Quest fits your requirements. Everyone can (and do) use magic, from kings to peasants, via smiths and soldiers. It has fantasy races, allows players to play "monsters", and has a vast detailed world. The latest edition can be purchased here.

Edit: I played Runequest twenty-something years ago so I am not familiar with the newer editions.

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Depending on your definition of a product line, the latest edition is actually Legend –  Nigralbus Jun 25 '12 at 9:36
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The thing that immediately comes to mind is the ever stapled Dungeons & Dragons (primarily 3rd edition). In your campaign world, magic can be as common as leaves on trees so that even the "mundane" folk maintain trinkets, but the dangerous ones are reserved for people in power / lucky adventuring parties. Essentially you can refer to it as a golden age of magic.

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