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I'm a relatively new player who was introduced to Fantasy RPGs with DnD 3.5 and have continued with 4th edition. Now I'm active on forums and I know how they are developing 5th edition, but honestly I think it's a huge step back and want nothing to do with it.

I've seen 13th Age being offered up as the Pathfinder for 4E, but looking at how they present themselves ("13th Age is a love letter to D&D: a rules-light, story-oriented RPG that honors old school values while advancing the OGL art.") I don't like it.

Basically I'm looking for a game which is:

  1. Fantasy Knights and Sorcerers take on Dragons for fun, profit or the hand of a princess.

  2. A class-based system, with as many classes as possible. I have no limit on the number of classes.

  3. A more rules-heavy game. I understand that DM's will fudge rules, but I'd like as many defined rules as possible so there's no heavy burden on the DM. Also, spells/actions should be distinct. For me 4E is distinct. A "This is a blast template, create your own fireball/thunderball" approach is not distinct enough.

  4. None of the rules motivations should be "That's how we did it back in 19XX".

  5. None of the elements should be old school. No "black and white pictures because that's what I had as a kid," and nowhere in the books or press releases should there be lines about "bringing back the good old days of 19XX." I want a game designed for 2012 not 1982.

  6. Balance is desired. Please no Exalted-level rifts between the PC classes for any reason.

I'm sorry if the list is long but does anyone know of a game which fits these criteria? 1, 4 and 5 are especially important to me.

4e fits these criteria somewhat but I don't want to stay with 4e because it's on the road to being obsolete and I want something in print.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

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Also, I second Simon Gill's question: based on your list, not everything that takes inspiration from old school games actually violates the list. Dungeon World (for just one example) is a modern design with modern art, classes, a strict rules system, balance, and plays extremely well for fun and profit; and yet, it's appealing to old-school values in unrelated ways. (Aside, I don't think 13th Age even violates 1, 4, and 5. A love letter isn't the person it's sent do.) –  SevenSidedDie Nov 18 '12 at 17:39
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Yes, what you're asking for is difficult and, possibly, only knowable by you since you're asking to avoid getting a "feeling" from a game. That's extremely hard for us to judge. That said, have you looked at Dragon Age? It has the advantage of not having any direct D&D heritage, coming to us via the video game. It's also quite popular. (I haven't played it though, only read others' thoughts on it, or I would give my own experience in a proper answer.) –  SevenSidedDie Nov 18 '12 at 20:20
    
As this is a system-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  mxyzplk Jan 10 '13 at 4:19
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Keep in mind that " honors old school values" is often marketing speech to calm the "they changed it, now it sucks" crowd. –  Philipp Dec 11 '13 at 15:47
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I think this is a poor game-rec question - the requirements are overly broad and stated negatively more than positively - any of the 400 extant fantasy games that don't say "old school!" (and some that do, from looking at the below answers) qualify. Should probably have voted to close long ago. –  mxyzplk Mar 25 at 11:56

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition

I'm playing this at the moment, and have run a session as well. It can provide a lot of fun in a well defined world which is beset on all sides by fantasy threats.

Against your list:

  1. The options for basic classes are generally the common mass of humanity, apprentice wizards, men-at-arms, thieves and initiates (and so on). Knights and archmages crop up later in the game. Defeating a dragon is hard, but there is a good range of adversaries at various threat levels.
  2. There is a stack of classes and an interesting system of multi-classing. It is unlikely you will have two players of the same class in a particular group.
  3. There are plenty of rules defining combat, pacing and social encounters. They aren't well organised (which is the biggest downside of the game).
  4. The rules motivation appears to be "How can we sell more cardboard?". Again, this is a disadvantage, but you might not find it so bad.
  5. The rule book is in full colour as are all the cards and tokens. There was no way it would have been produced 30 years ago.
  6. Any class is capable of reaching any level of ability in any skill. There are socially-focused classes which would find it more difficult in combat, and vice versa, which makes sense.
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On the way out, soon to be out-of-print. Just saying. –  javafueled Dec 13 '13 at 3:10
    
WFRP careers are not classes. They don't restrict what you can do in the way classes do. They generally provide only one unique ability. They're more about where you come from than about where you're going. –  mcv Mar 25 at 8:49
    
The system is absolutely innovative, though. There's a number of bugs in the system, though. They got fixed in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, which is a mechanical successor to WFRP3. –  mcv Mar 25 at 9:26

I'd say Pathfinder sounds like a perfect fit for your requirements. It's slightly more high powered than D&D 3.5, so taking on dragons at higher levels is definitely possible. It has loads of classes that are all different and all interesting (and not trying to redo the same thing in a different way, as some of the later 3.5 classes did). It is absolutely rules heavy. Probably one of the heaviest systems at this moment. It is not nostalgic; it continues in the direction that D&D 3.5 pointed, moving away from older editions of D&D. It has detailed products, with good looking modern art and high production values. It's popular, has loads of support, and there's no talk of a new edition. And if there's ever going to be a new edition, it's probably going to be pretty similar to this one. Classes are more balanced than in 3.5, although Rogue and Monk are still considered a bit weaker than the others.

If Pathfinder is not your thing, particularly if you consider it too old or too complex, then you might want to take a look at 13th Age.

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Dungeon World is an award-winning modern RPG with an old-school feel.

  1. Yes on adventuring for fun, profit, and personal goals.

  2. Yes on class-based system. There are eight classes, with the barbarian forthcoming.

  3. Not rules heavy. You can make new rules, but, in general, fudging rules is not necessary. There are distinct spells, but they're also open to interpretation and especially casting paradigm.

  4. Dungeon World tries to create an old-school feel but using modern rules (adapted from Apocalypse World). For example, there's a Fighter move called Bend Bars, Lift Gates which is evocative (at least, it reminds me of AD&D 2e), but the result is something interesting and to the point.

    When you use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle, roll+Str. ✴On a 10+, choose 3. ✴On a 7-9 choose 2.

    • It doesn’t take a very long time
    • Nothing of value is damaged
    • It doesn’t make an inordinate amount of noise
    • You can fix the thing again without a lot of effort
  5. Color art is in newest version of the pdf, and the art is not basic black-and-white line drawings.

  6. I have not found balance to be an issue.

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Aye, Dungeon World! A game specifically created for people who want to play D&D but want rules from the cutting edge of modern game design. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 18 '12 at 20:45
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For me, Dungeon World creates a D&D experience with rules that make sense and get the point, minimal GM prep, and interesting character options but not so many that I need to plan character advancement. –  okeefe Nov 19 '12 at 3:21
    
I so want to kiss you right now..I was looking for an RPG like this one for years. Tired of Pathfinder and 3.5 –  MrJinPengyou Jan 10 '13 at 22:19
    
I love Dungeon World, but it tries to emulate old school D&D with modern rules. @George Bora seems to want absolutely nothing to do with anything old school, so I doubt this is a fit. Also, I don't think you can advance past level 10, can you? –  mcv Mar 25 at 8:51
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I like DW and have mostly steered around the D&D family of games. That said, I'm not sure if the low amount of crunch DW packs is the right thing to satisfy “A more rules-heavy game. […] I'd like as many defined rules as possible so there's no heavy burden on the DM.” –  Anaphory Mar 25 at 11:46

I'm the PR flack for 13th Age, and although the game won't be right for everyone, I hope you have a chance to try it and see if it meets your needs. We're looking at running more games at cons and local shops.

Here's how 13th Age stacks up against your requirements, in my opinion. YMMV.

  1. Fantasy Knights and Sorcerers take on Dragons for fun, profit or the hand of a princess.

    Check.

  2. A class-based system, with as many classes as possible.

    Check. The classes in the core game are barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer and wizard. The first expansion will add necromancer, occultist and battle captain. It's being published under the OGL, so any third-party publisher could produce new classes compatible with the game.

  3. A more rules-heavy game. I understand that DM's will fudge rules, but I'd like as many defined rules as possible so there's no heavy burden on the DM.

    Sort of. Compared with a really rules-lite game such as Old School Hack, 13th Age is more of a rules-medium game. The DM burden is eased by making preparation very easy through rapid monster creation, and player mechanics that spread the world-building, story-generating burden across the table a bit.

  4. None of the rules motivations should be "That's how we did it back in 19XX".

    More like, "Some of the things we did in 19XX were crap, but some of them worked really well. We'll bring the parts we think worked really well into our game. We'll also include some options that are a matter of preference, so you can, for example, roll for stats or use a point buy system."

  5. None of the elements should be old school. No "black and white pictures because that's what I had as a kid," and nowhere in the books or press releases should there be lines about "bringing back the good old days of 19XX." I want a game designed for 2012 not 1982.

    13th Age isn't an exercise in nostalgia. Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet wanted to create the best knights-and-sorcerers-vs-dragons fantasy RPG they could make together in 2012, and this is the game that emerged. If any elements are drawn from early RPGs (Tweet likes Arduin a lot), it's because they think as designers that those things work well.

  6. Balance is desired. Please no Exalted-level rifts between the PC classes for any reason.

    Balance in 13th Age is a topic of hot debate, but I'm seeing more people on the "it's balanced" side than not. You definitely won't see huge rifts between classes.

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I'm gonna introduce you to the marvelous world of... no, really, it's a good game. It's called the Burning Wheel, and I think it addresses most if not all of your points.

  1. You could play really different adventures than those, like "old human professor in alchemy school tries to defend his theories" but if you're all on the same track, adventurers are ok. The only one thing to consider is that every player has to choose his own objectives, meaning there's no "I give you a mission" NPC if the group as a whole doesn't agree on this.

  2. The system has lifepaths. Every PC race has several settings (human has noble, city, village, ...) each with a plethora of lifepaths. My last PC was born noble, young lady, tavern maid (there's a story behind that) and ended up being a smuggler. Each lifepath gives you mechanical bonuses (skill points and bonuses to skills, to make a long story short) and might open different settings. After character creation you level up by raising skills, not lifepaths.

  3. You can choose between three different rule systems for combat, with increasing complexity, ranging from comparing rolls to "write three actions on a sheet and compare them". Each of these systems does not rely on GM fiat to work. There's absolutely no need to fudge rolls, the system works fine.

  4. Nothing like that.

  5. It's a fantasy game. It has fantasy art. It might look like an old Tolkien book. But does it really matter if all the rest is ok? The editing is quite modern, with icons to recognize paragraphs. It's not a colorful 4th edition manual.

  6. Not quite a check here. There's obviously poorer choices. The marvelous things is that you don't need to create an optimized character to be on par with optimized characters. If you put all your bonuses on a single thing you're gonna be really great at that. But sucking at the rest of the things will have its consequences, granted.

Take a look at some reviews and have fun.

I forgot to say that a completely playable reduced version of the game is out for free. Unfortunately that part of the website is down for maintenance and I can't provide the link now. I hope it's this one (also, you can see the graphics here).

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Actually, I'd say that 6 is spot-on. It doesn't balance combat, but combat isn't how you 'win' in Burning Wheel. It's perfectly balanced in terms of player control over the world. Most games give only limited player control outside of combat effectiveness, but BW gives players the whole world to master, should they so choose. That's why "optimising" a character isn't important: it's not a meaningful concept in BW. An "unoptimised" character is just going to excel at something else, like earning Artha for getting into messes. You create the character that optimises the stuff that you enjoy. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 18 '12 at 20:48

Rule of Cool’s Legend fits the bill nicely. The game was developed by 3.5 optimizers who tired of maintaining their extensive ban list and house rule document (over 80 pages), and sought to make a modern, streamlined game. It's d20 System, but every option: class, feat, spell, or item, has been written from scratch.

Rule of Cool’s guiding principle is to facilitate play. They want to give rules that cover important decision-points, allow you to keep the game moving by giving rules to judge conflict. But otherwise, they want to stay out of the way and let you play. Character creation is fast, because they get rid of small, "accounting" type decisions. Every decision means big, important things for your character.

There are about a dozen classes at this point, but that number is misleading from a usual d20 System perspective. Legend classes each have three tracks, that each have seven features. You get one of these each level, cycling through the three tracks (you get two at 1st level, for 20 levels total). Multiclassing happens by swapping one of your tracks for another class’s, or for one of the many extra tracks that are available. This leads to an enormous number of combinations, and unlike typical d20 System multiclassing, the overwhelming majority are totally viable. There is some room for optimizing, but it's very hard to be useless, and as far as we know, impossible to overshadow people.

So the system is very flexible, but built with an eye for balance and fast building and play.

I’ll expand this answer when I have time, but for now, I wrote a review of Legend that may be helpful.

Disclosure: I was a play tester for Legend, and since then some of my work has been incorporated into the system. I have received no financial compensation, no financial investment, and am not a member of Rule of Cool. I would count most of them as friends at this point, but that's because I’m involved in the community.

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I always feel that "yes, we have stats that are only useful when they are even, but you don't have the option to make them odd" contrasts with point 4). Many things in the game are made for it to be recognizable as a D&D 3e heavy hack. –  Zachiel Dec 10 '13 at 19:54

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