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52

How about an Aboleth? These aberrations are distinctly inhuman (to the point that they can be terrible to behold for the unprepared), vastly powerful - both physically and mystically; and they are aquatic, usually residing in deep oceans - which allows you to introduce either a single creature or a whole city of these horrors into your campaign without too ...


41

Behold the Beholder Classic fantasy based, preferably Western culture originating. The Beholder is a staple of Western fantasy gaming, one of the few creatures Wizards of the Coast and its predecessors have almost always considered to be Product Identity. They can't be a standard biped race, humans and elves are so last millennium. Oh, the beholder is ...


37

Supernatural poker face The first option seems to be: give immunities to important liars. But there are two problems on it: a) Being immune to Detect Lies makes you automatically suspect of being a liar, just as someone with his face covered seems to be a criminal. b) As more and more of your NPCs have that immunity, it won't be credible, especially if it ...


37

Sphinxes. You've got an imposing physical form combined with a mind suited to riddles and stratagems. Everyone knows that if you can't outsmart a sphinx, you're as good as meat. They are prone to discussion and monologue, so they can be negotiated with. They're even good spellcasters, some of them. Originates in Western culture, and though they may have ...


31

Ars Magica Ars Magica may not have everything you asked for, but it has bookkeeping requirements for areas you probably never imagined. It doesn't go into the inventory-control detail of Torchbearer, but the nature of the game adds bookkeeping on: your age your history of anti-aging potion use your inventory not just of spell components, but of raw ...


29

Your situation sounds perfect for Dungeon World Dungeon World is a world of fantastic adventure. A world of magic, gods and demons, of good and evil, law and chaos. Brave heroes venture into the most dangerous corners of the land in search of gold and glory. - Dungeon World p. 7. Dungeon World relies primarily on d6s You need a handful of dice other ...


26

This falls under the principle of include three clues for everything. It also is well suited to the approach of using environment-based storytelling. Use Environment-Based Storytelling Introduce the puzzle setting first and let the players be confused over the weird specificity. I like the petrified inhabitants part; maybe have the husband-farmer and ...


24

In real history, almost no land except impassible mountains and deep desert wasn't settled, and there are exceptions even then. The population of the world during the European medieval age was much lower than today, but widely spread out in all the known habitable regions of Earth. Take that, and now add powerful, inimical monsters to the wilderness. ...


21

The system that comes into mind for me when reading your criteria is GURPS. One of the good things about GURPS is that it's exactly as complicated as you want it to be. Any bit of bookkeeping that you would want to do is likely supported in some book somewhere. For your specific criteria: A developed magic system There are multiple books fleshing out ...


20

Would adventurers arise if treasure was about... To your first question, yes. Though it is more about "dungeons filled with treasure" then necessarily the magic or the monsters. People tend to seek ways to make profits, especially if those can be made quickly. People are willing to take on risky endeavors to do so. Today, in the "First World", we tend ...


20

Try Dungeon World. It's an adaptation of the Apocalypse World system, and is simple and rules-light. You can create characters quickly by checking off a few boxes. Dungeon World really provides the setting & narrative essence of classic fantasy adventure gaming, without all of the complex rules systems. I've played it multiple times by sitting down ...


19

Phoenix Though considered primarily in modern context as large birds of prey and not denoted to a particular level of intelligence, in ancient societies they were a symbol of prosperity and good rule, only appearing for good and virtuous leaders. Its immortality makes it a special point, as reasoning may be the only way to deal with it. In the Eastern ...


17

I’ve successfully used Fate Accelerated Edition in a similar situation. My game group had been on hiatus for a while, I wanted to put together a session with very little time to prepare or teach a new RPG, and my players wanted to use the Shadowrun setting (which is similar in depth and complexity to D&D). Mechanics: All actions in Fate determine ...


16

(Edited to meet revised question: all of the systems I've left listed allow you to add an "objectively evil" aspect into the setting and deliberately frame the morality mechanics around it as needed.) Sorcerer Sorcerer is one of the strongest games to deal with morality in a pretty interesting fashion. First, you define "humanity" as the moral aspects you ...


15

Figure out how relations are between the orcs and the ogres in the camp. Give these two groups tribal names, flags, distinctive armor, etc. Are there members of more than one clan within either tribe? If so, give each clan a name and a flag, and figure out the relations between the clans. Is there tension there? History? Pride? Think about how labor is ...


15

If you're happy to use a virtual dice roller to substitute for the dice that aren't d6's, you could just play D&D. (Widely known as a D&D-like game.) The Basic Rules for D&D 5e are available here for free, and can be used to play a game of D&D without any further material required. If you're looking for adventures as well as a game system, ...


14

"Adventurers" in the real world Real-world "adventurers" engage in: Trade. A lot of human activity is based on the exchange of stuff for other stuff that you want more. Exploration. Mainly to open up new opportunities for trade. Depending on the era, an explorer might be motivated by the desire to stake out their own land claims, rewards from patrons, or ...


14

Roll for Shoes The entire system is composed of seven bullet points, so it's dead simple, and character creation is done mostly during play, not before, which means you can dive into a game without any pre-game prep at all (great for maximising your time in a one-shot!). The game's settingless, and because players name their skills as they play it allows ...


14

I believe that Savage Worlds meets your requirements Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths Savage Worlds is classless, and allows you a great deal of flexibility in the way you build your character. Although there are Professional Edges, these are very specialist, and do not lead to the types of career paths you get in some other systems. ...


13

Lie Detection Barrier and Misinformation If there is a way to detect lies, then there should be a way to protect against lie detection. Villains would protect themselves, and would not share the truth with their minions. In this case they may even lie to his/her high-rank generals, because if someone try to detect lies, they would find none. They may even ...


12

Change story focus. Just catching somebody on lies is not automatically win. It's a clue. From standpoint of Unusal Suspects: investigators know that this person lies to them. They just don't know what part of this lie is correct. And they need to know curcumstances to charge somebody with something. Detect Lies is a glorified error prone polygraph ...


12

Dungeon World I can honestly say I've never seen a game recommendation question that's screamed the name of my favourite fantasy RPG so loudly. I've played Dungeon World with two players (my Significant Other and a friend with myself as GM) and unlike its parent game, Apocalypse World, I found it coped quite smoothly. The introduction even bills it as a ...


11

What level PCs can manage a horde of 300+ orcs & ogres!? Challenge I think their biggest problem will be the infighting/challenges for leadership from their followers! Other civilized cities & adventurers attacking your horde (even if you've been friendly, I'd take you out before you become a threat) Engaging I think you'd only need a few ...


11

Lie-detection magic being commonplace makes countermeasures commonplace Individuals, and society at large, will naturally adjust to the threat posed by having their private business constantly vulnerable to intrusion. This changes the social environment of fantasy investigation scenarios, but rather than make it more frustrating, actually makes the ...


11

While it's not a fantasy game in the typical RPG use of the word (though it is in the literary sense), I think Shadowrun 4th edition is an extremely good fit for all of your explicit criteria and you may want to look into that system as a result. A developed magic system Shadowrun has very broad and flexible spells. It's also the only system I've seen ...


10

In some eras of Medieval Europe, there was a military unit known as a lance. It is like a squad, but also mirrors adventuring parties really well. This is especially true if you consider some of the attributes of lances: Everyone had a role or specialization within the lance (the knight, page, crossbowmen, the dude with the bill-hook, etc.) Basic lances ...


10

The Closest 'Real World' Equivalent to DnD Adventurers is the Noble Class One of the best, and only, ways to enter the Noble class from the peasantry was to be so ridiculously puissant at combat that you were given a command - and from that tiny band of men, achieved so much so prominently and notably that you were given a higher rank, and so forth. Saving ...


10

GURPS is a very versatile skill-based system, completely classless (though recent editions have introduced templates that can be handled much like classes) and level-less; progression is by GM award of single-digit quantities of character points (typically 1 to 4 per session or adventure). Making magic less common is easy in GURPS; increase the point costs ...


10

GURPS and Savage Worlds are both good choices, but if your only objection to using Dresden files was the high power of magic, then I would recommend Fate Core, which is the latest iteration of the Fate system Dresden Files was based on (but not skewed towards the magic-heavy nature of the setting). Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths. ...


9

I'm going to suggest Eoris Essence (website) as, the most complicated system I've ever run across. (Also the most beautifully illustrated.) Character Sheet I know you didn't explicitly ask about the character sheet, but since it's how I first noticed the system, I think it's a good place to start. This is one side of one of the three types of ...



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