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I'm looking for a system, class based preferably, which allows me to play a noble (i.e., the son of a lord baron, etc., forced to adventure). I am looking for something along the lines of SW Saga's Noble class but in a fantasy environment. If you have a very good re-skinning of SW Saga for a fantasy game please share. The main things I'm looking for:

  • The class should model a noble from level 1, as it were, to where at level 10 you gain a castle and followers
  • The class should have explicit rules for interacting with non combat social challenges
  • The class should have explicit rules for interacting with my party members/henchmen so that I make them fight better i.e my most potent ability is leadership
  • Please no class like a bard where I have to strip out all the musician flavour but then I'm still stuck with a noble who is very very good at singing despite having no reason to be that good
  • Please no classes that would derive their authority from supernatural powers. Playing sorcerer kings descended from the dragons is fun, but not related to this question
  • An exception to the previous requirement is if I have powers to summon my ancestors who were they themselves nobles as a "magic in the blood" thing.

I'm interested in non-D&D systems.

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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. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 22 '12 at 12:03
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Not class-based, so sadly not answering the question, but I thought I note it anyway: Exalted, specifically playing a Dragon-Blooded there (which are typically nobles and pass their abilities by blood). –  Martin Sojka Nov 22 '12 at 12:03
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Wheel of Time has a noble class I remember not being half bad, but I can't remember seeing it in play so I won't leave an answer. –  C. Ross Nov 22 '12 at 12:19
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For those who chronically don't bother to read the system-rec guidance, it boils down to "your answer better be about you doing this or seeing it first hand," where in this case "this" is "playing nobles," or else your answer will get deleted. –  mxyzplk Nov 22 '12 at 15:24
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@Dakeyras We have a question that solves that. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 22 '12 at 20:37
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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!

8 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Rolemaster is my proposal.

It's a class and level based RPG that covers many of the requirements that you are looking for. I've played and run Rolemaster for nearly 20 years years and it's a flexible system that can accommodate a lot of your wishes.

Note: My experience is with Rolemaster Second Edition, which is now available as Rolemaster Classic (RMC) after reprinting in 2007. I have a little experience with the Standard System but didn't like it enough to change over as the systems aren't easy to convert characters to, although the supplements are fairly compatible.

RMSS or RMC?

The core RMC system does not support that many classes, but Rolemaster Companion I, II, III (etc) bring this up to a mighty number of professions (many non spellcasting) that cover a huge variety of character types. Specifically Rolemaster Companion III has some key professions (classes in Rolemaster) that cover what you want.

The RMSS can be easier for those new to the system to get into it from my experience. RMSS handles this with packages of skills that start your character off as a background as well as having a lot of supplements available for it.

Both versions of Rolemaster have professions that just make it easier to learn certain skills (Wizards learn Runes skills more easily, for example) potentially any class can learn any skill. Skills are also categorised into areas (social, combat, magical, etc) and professions get level bonuses in these different areas.

So what can Rolemaster do for you?

  • It is a class and level based system with a wide variety of non-combat based skills (everything from Siege Engineering to Duping to Diplomacy and Tactics) that are applicable to social and nobility type classes.
  • There are specific professions for whole hosts of different character types but classes are not restricted to what they can learn - it's just harder.
  • The Cavalier and Noble Warrior (RMC CIII) both are dedicated professions to leadership types, the latter having supporting spells as well. In RMC CIV there is also the Leader as well (a non spellcaster). The RMSS has the Armsmaster (Mentalism Companion) who is spellcasting warrior similar to the Noble Warrior.
  • Social challenges and every other skill based challenge in Rolemaster are all based through a difficult/success based system, RMC CII expands on the basic success tables on almost a skill-by-skill basis. Intimidation, Leadership can all boost your party and hamper your opponents.
  • The RMSS has a merits/flaws based system (and the RMC does to some extent with some of the companion books) that can be used to build a background for your character to give them noble lineage and so on.
  • Rolemaster has excellent critical hit tables. Okay, it's not a point you wanted, but really, they're a hoot - consider this a bonus!
  • There are hundreds of spells in Rolemaster organised into spell lists; some classes (like Rangers in AD&D) get a little bit of magic as well as skill/combat ability and many of these spells are very buff friendly for your henchmen and friends.

Downsides

  • There's no specific "get a castle at level 10" ability. However by then you'd hope with the skills you've acquired your character would be able to commission such a thing derived from background.
  • There's quite a lot of books to get if you want to get into Rolemaster, the very basic ones (for RMC) would be Character Law, Spell Law and Arms Law plus the supporting books (companions) for the character class you want.
  • Rolemaster is be quite table and maths heavy, which isn't for everyone. It's not a simple system but having run it for as long as I have once you get the hang of it it's pretty easy to introduce to new people. (Pick a skill, roll your cascading %dice, add your skill bonus, done)
  • Not all Rolemaster is still in-print, although second hand copies aren't hard to find.
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You can get an idea of what it's like to generate a character in Rolemaster with this pdf: freewebs.com/irrin/Rolemaster%20ReadAlong%20Guidev0.1.pdf –  Rob Nov 22 '12 at 13:06
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A "get a castle at level 10" ability is not required, what I was trying to say is that I don't want to play 10 levels as a dungeon crawler then you get some leadership abilities when you retire. A class which makes it clear you're a noble albeit a minor and not that powerfull one from the start is what I wanted, and thank you a lot of tables and math isn't a problem. –  George Bora Nov 22 '12 at 13:09
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I miss Rolemaster games. –  Leezard Nov 23 '12 at 10:59
    
It's actually not very math heavy once you're playing. But yeah... character development and similar skill development. Love the RM love though. –  wraith808 Dec 25 '12 at 17:11
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Try the Burning Wheel.

It's fantasy and a noble character like the one you want can easily be built and be mechanically balanced. Nobles can have the finest mentors and a lot of spare time so they're usually good at a lot of things including fighting, ceremonial dance, diplomacy...

Let's check your list

  • Every character starts with a pre-determined numer of lifepaths chosen by the player between those on the book. There's a whole set of lifepaths describing the nobles, with different choices for ladies, clergy, counsellors, heirs and so on. You are a noble at the beginning of the game, even in a highly unprobable "one lifepath only" game (the staple is 3 to 5 lifepaths) thanks to the "born noble" basic lifepath.

  • Every character in tBW can learn skills and every skill can let the character shine. Fighting skills are only a small part of several equal choices. By extention, your lifepaths will grant you those.

  • Interaction between characters will benefit from your social skills. However, during creation you can purchase properies and links with individuals or groups of people. As expected, noble lifepaths give you lots of points to invest there. Don't think they're gonna be your pawns: you're gonna influence their attitude with your actions and with the help of your aforementioned social skills.

  • You're not a bard. If you want to, you can use some of the few non-lifepath-related points you have to be a good singer, and/or improve your singing in game, just to say this road is not barred to any character. But you won't need the "street performer" or the "court buffoon" lifepath to be a noble.

  • The game has magic, but since the setting is decided by the group as a whole you can bar that option. Plus, the noble lifepaths has nothing to do with the mage or the sorcerer one.

The only one downside I see it's that tBW doesn't use proper "classes". However, the lifepaths system is close enough to your needs and probably to those of your group. I'd like to point out that after character creation you advance your skills but you don't gain new lifepaths. Lifepaths are only a character creation thing.

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Life paths are also good. –  George Bora Nov 22 '12 at 12:51
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This answer could use more first-hand experience described (per the system-recommendation rules). I personally have enough direct experience of BW to have seen all-or-mostly-social-conflict characters before to know one is entirely viable (and may actually be the most dangerous character at the table), and that category trivially includes noble characters, but without relating some direct experience in the question, others without experience with BW can't reasonable judge the quality of this answer. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 22 '12 at 16:20
    
Unfortunately I've only played tBW by forum and our adventure never got beyond the third scene. I can see what the system does by reading the rules but your experience is a better source than mine, so thanks for sharing. –  Zachiel Nov 25 '12 at 17:04
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I believe Savage Worlds and Hellfrost meets most of your requirements. Although it is classless, Hellfrost has multiple ways in which it encourages and supports the playing of a noble character, and I would encourage you to consider it even though classes themselves are not supported. In part this is built into the background information for the setting, but there are also specific rules and mechanics for how nobles interact with the world and other characters.

The class should model a noble from level1 as it were, no at level 10 you gain a castle and followers.

Nobles are allowable at a variety of different ranks, and this varies further depending on the realm you live in and your race. There is a lot of background information to give you plot hooks for this kind of thing should you need them.

The system also has additional rules for governing a resource such as a castle (although these are not in the main Hellfrost books and have to be bought seperately), breaking down its management by season and generating interesting events that you might have to deal with. There are multiple ways to gain followers although you have to work out exactly how you are going to pay their wages, and the elegance of the system means that having these followers does not significantly slow down the game.

It should be noted though that a large part of the journey from a 'low' to 'high' level noble will be down to your GM, as they have to fill in the details of how you go through that progression depending on the adventures your character participates in.

The class should have explicit rules for interacting with non combat social challenges

Savage Worlds includes skills such as Persuasion, Intimidation, Taunting and Notice, the latter being used to 'read' people. There are also rules for 'social combat' used particularly for longer social arguments/discussions, and Dramatic Tasks, which can often be used for non combat scenarios. The rules for governing resources are also detailed enough to given you plenty of possible uses for non combat skills.

The class should have explicit rules for interacting with my party members/henchmen so that I make them fight better i.e my most potent ability is leadership

Savage Worlds and Hellfrost in particular contains a huge number of Leadership Edges that allow your character to directly influence the way in which your subordinate party members/henchmen fight etc, and range from simple things such as increasing their morale, to more complex matters such as coordinating ranged combat to have a better chance of taking down larger foes. This is one of the biggest strengths of the system in my opinion.

No class like a bard where I have to strip out all the musician flavour but then I'm still stuck with a noble who is very very good at singing despite having no reason to be that good

Being a noble does not have to have anything to do with singing :)

No classes that would derive their authority from supernatural powers playing sorcerer kings descended from the dragons is fun, but not related to this question

Although nobles can be magical, there is no requirement for this to be the case.

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Thank you when I'm in a "classless" mood I'll give them a try. –  George Bora Nov 22 '12 at 19:34
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Conan d20 has a 20 level Noble class that explores the concept rather extensively.

It has many features and options that revolve around leadership and social maneuvering. And while it has many uses for Charisma, and Perform as a class skill, singing is entirely optional ;)

In this Paizo forum post, someone has extracted the OGL-essence of the class.

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There are two specific games that come to mind: 7th Sea and Victoriana. Granted, these games are somewhat less D&D freeform but nothing says you can't mod the system while it's there.

Victoria demands that you select your character's social class (lower, middle, upper) which will determine the pull and types of places you'll be allowed to go form the get-go and these are designed not to change. The downside is that it is based on Victorian England culture (very steampunk in some ways). It's a little more point based, but does have a level system installed, and it's all a fairly easy d6 system.

7th Sea is based on Renaissance Europe, and has a lot more of the wide arcing setup (especially when it comes to monsters). You can buy advantages like "Noble", "Roving Don", "Gentry", "Commission" etc. showing your nobility level from character creation. The down side is that the level system is only based on if you have a fighting school or sorcery, in which there are tiers for abilities. otherwise there are no levels.

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I'll try to look into these, especially 7th Sea. –  George Bora Nov 22 '12 at 19:32
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Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition

There is plenty of support for playing a noble character in the Empire power structure. The classes do not themselves have rules for the social benefits. Everybody has access to those abilities.

These are the general rules:

  • Non-combat social challenges (although these aren't as detailed as I'd like)
  • There are actions based on the Fellowship attribute which affect people in different ways (Inspiring Words is a buff, Steely Gaze scares someone away from you, Honeyed Words convinces somebody of an argument)
  • There is no supernatural power giving you authority.
  • There are Ancestor actions (which have Dwarfy flavour but can be reskinned) to summon the power of your ancestors.

There are no hard and fast mechanics for owning property, peasants or men-at-arms. There is a rough guide to the different tiers of the economy (gold, silver and brass). It's easy for someone who earns gold income from holdings to pay brass to the commoners on their land. This will be down to the GM to work out the setting details.

In encounters, the henchman rule is helpful to allow players to sensibly lead squads of low-power npcs. Henchmen are groups the same size as the players who are treated as a single character.

The following classes can be used to develop the different flavours of nobles: Agent, Agitator, Bailiff, Burgher, Dilettante, Gambler, Messenger and Student. They all have the key Fellowship ability and a range of different other career skills that can help you develop any concept.

This has worked well in my current game. One character is a foppish noble, another is his gameskeeper. I'm currently playing a greedy sellsword bodyguard and the last player is the butler with a hidden talent for shadow magic.

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Houses of the Blooded is an interesting, “anti-D&D” take on nobles. It's a game about honor, tragedy, and being hindered by one's passions and desires. You will be the source of your own downfall.

In Houses, you play a noble. A character with a past. A character with a family, with vassals, responsibilities and duties. The Law is an ever-present factor in your life. Because you are a noble, “treasure” really has no value for you and problems such as “wandering monsters” are problems for someone of lesser status to handle. Someone you can hire. Someone expendable. And rather than living in a bubble immune to the effects of political scheming, your character lives in a world that looks like a bastard child of Tanith Lee and Niccolò Machiavelli.

  • Characters play the role of a noble—one of “the Blooded”—from a powerful household of nobles. Characters start as Barons with lands that they've usurped (possibly from their parents), a castle, and a village. There aren't classes, but there are titles (Count, Marquis, etc.) one can work toward in play.

  • You have vassals you interact with and also manipulate with Season Actions as time passes in game.

  • Most challenges are about Machiavellian plans within plans rather than combat. There are two sets of combat rules, however: The Duel and Mass Murder (which is everything other than Dueling). There are rules for using vassals in Mass Murder, but why would you stoop to such dishonorable action?

  • Nobles are nobles because they've been Blooded—their Blood transformed through a specific sorcerous ritual. Sorcery is powered by Blood. Sorcery is also forbidden, which is why most nobles dabble in it. There are also blessings from suaven, a sort of ancestor/hero worship.

  • Characters are not forced to adventure. The equivalent of adventure is probably investigation of puzzle houses (a haunted house from a magical precursor race) to search for artifacts, secrets, and ancient documents. Taming a puzzle house and adding it to your domain can greatly increase your standing. No one could resist an invitation to a party held in such a place!

  • Characters earn Style which can be spent to activate their mechanical aspects. Players get Style by being vulnerable and making bad choices. I have received Style for stopping for wine in the middle of a duel, and then received more Style when my opponent threw down his glass to run me through.

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I would suggest you look at Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying from Green Ronin. This RPG, based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, otherwise known as HBO's Game of Thrones, is set in a world where a noble's power to connive is as potent as a warrior's power to kill.

In its intended form, this game is all about mundane nobles scheming against each other.

Let's take your points:

the class should model a noble from level1 as it were, no at level 10 you gain a castle and followers

There are no levels - but you can be a noble from the get-go. You can start young, and even progress in the inheritance heirarchy as your older siblings die...

the class should have explicit rules for interacting with non combat social challenges

There's a full social combat system that allows nobles to change minds and gain favors.

the class should have explicit rules for interacting with my party members/henchmen so that I make them fight better i.e my most potent ability is leadership

There are skills for warfare and managing your house, both leadership functions.

please no class like a bard where I have to strip out all the musician flavour but then I'm still stuck with a noble who is very very good at singing despite having no reason to be that good

None of that.

please no classes that would derive their authority from supernatural powers playing sorcerer kings descended from the dragons is fun, but not related to this question a exception to the request above if I have powers to summon my ancestors who were they themselves nobles as a "magic in the blood" thing I am okay with that.

None of that.

I'm interested in non-D&D systems.

This is a system custom-created for this game.

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