The group I play with and I really like the fantasy setting of D&D 3.5. However, we find the rules a bit cumbersome, particularly in complex battles. We would still want the system to include rules for non-magic combat and also magic items (including weapons and armour).

I have recently started playing World of Darkness (Vampire: the Masquerade) and I really like the different levels of success. The whole idea of the skill level giving you a "dice pool" and you having varying numbers of successes really appeals to me. It provides much more interesting gameplay than the success/fail of D&D.

Is there any system that uses this concept of different levels of success but that is primarily written for fantasy (medieval world containing magic) rather than horror?


White Wolf materials:

There are two White Wolf released games set in medieval times...

  • Vampire: The Dark Ages
    while focused on vampire characters, it can easily be run for normals, using the Sorcery discipline for magic use (including additional paths from various other old-WoD supplements).
  • Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade
    This one is focused upon Mages, which in the old-WoD pretty much makes them equivalent to demi-gods of legend. Still, it has some elements that make it useful for a high fantasy game.

And a couple more that can be adapted:

  • Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game
    Highly detailed combat rules oWoD variant. While technically modern über-powered martial arts, it can do fantasy fairly easily. Especially if you add the sorcery paths from WoD Sorcerer. Note that World Of Darkness: Combat is adapted from this one.
  • Hunter: The Reckoning.
    A purely Mortal game, near the end of the old WoD line; I don't have it, but have read it. Again, for mages, use WoD: Sorcerer instead of Mage. Add WoD: Combat for the same detailed combat mechanics as Street Fighter.
  • World Of Darkness (New WoD core)
    This is actually a generic ruleset. It can be used to do a variety of genres, but this will requires some work.

Other Dice Pools with counting successes

  • Burning Wheel
    An excellent game, using only d6's for the dice pool, aimed broadly at European-ish cultures circa 1200-1600. Multiple levels of combat detail, which can be slowly layered in. Current edition is Burning Wheel Gold - lovingly referred to as the "gold brick" by fans. Don't be intimidated by size; almost half of the book is lifepath options, and almost half is optional rules. General complexity higher than White Wolf's system. The truth is, tho', that BW simply checks for whether you succeeded or not - excess successes have little meaning outside of combat, and even then, far less than WW
  • Arrowflight
    1st edition. Out of print, hard to find. Still, an excellent dice pool game. Simple - on par with White Wolf's. 2nd Ed has a brief (1/2 page) option to use a dice pool, but that is poorly worded. Still, the rest of 2E is still compatible with the 1e dice mechanics, and is in print. Excellent setting. Unusually, the dice are rolled for low numbers being successes. Stat d6's for skill or less (with skill adjusted for difficulty). Fun combat, but pretty deadly in 1e.
  • Mouse Guard
    Named after the comic of the same name. Same basic task system as Burning Wheel, but streamlined and much different in the details. To quote the author, "Not ••••ing Burning Wheel Light!" Would require some adaptation for more classic fantasy... some of which has already been done. There is a free adaptation supplement for doing Rangers of the North in Middle Earth. No magic.
  • Sorcerer
    rules-light pick-your-favorite-kind-of-dice dice pool system. Advice on tone setting by which size of dice to use. Successes are counted against opponent's best die... so both sides can succeed with multiple successes. Interesting but not overly detailed combat. Focused mostly on the demon summoning, but the Sword & Sorcerer supplement thrusts it into classic swords and sorcery fantasy, with magic items as demons.

Dice Pools using Roll & Total

These are a roll a pool of dice (usually d6's) and total them, comparing to a target number. I don't think they're what the OP is looking for, but the ones I'm listing are pretty well regarded.

  • d6 Fantasy (OOP, but PDF available free legally via RPGNow.com)
  • EABA
    BTRC's generic system. Has excellent ability to do fantasy, tho' the various fantasy settings for it are pretty dark. Roll stat+skill dice, total the best 3.
  • The One Ring
    Recent offering from Cubicle 7; uses 1d12 plus (skill)d6. Has a system for counting quality of success other than just beating the TN by a large margin; each 6 rolled on the d6's increases quality of success. late 2011 offering. In print and PDF.
  • Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea, and Legend of the Burning Sands
    AEG's d10 dice pool. Roll stat+skill, keep (total) stat worth of best dice. Dice open end. Excellent, L5R in print. LBS may still be available new. Noted for strong rules/setting connections, simple mechanics, and excellent combat.
  • Orkworld
    Out of print. Still, often available used. Excellent rules, but the winter rules are badly broken, unless you want everyone starving. Roll many, keep best single die, with multiples of a given die increasing the best die. 4,4,4,4 is a 7, while 4,4,5,6 is just a 6. All d6's.
  • Tribe 8 (and other Silhouette System games)
    Roll skill d6's, count best, but note that multiples add +1 each, in a manner similar to Orkworld. Tribe 8 is post-holocaust fantasy, with magic, and decent combat; it's the same mechanics as Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles, and so the vehicular and mass combat mechanics from those can easily be ported in if that's your desire. All d6's.
  • Savage Worlds
    Roll Stat Die + Skill Die (+1d6 if PC) and total. Well regarded generic system. Has several good fantasy settings.
  • Cortex System
    Roll Stat Die + Skill Die for TN+. Only called a dice pool on RPGGeek because of a poor initial definition and the pain of recalibration of the database. Note that Cortex Plus is a different engine, really, that evolved out of Cortex. Cortex's first game was Sovereign Stone; the second was Serenity; only after Serenity was the system named.

Dice Pools doing more than count successes

Not all take the one-dimensional approach of a set number of successes.

  • Reign and other One-Roll Engine games.
    The dice pool is rolled, and looked at for both height (what number got 2+ dice showing) and width (how many showed that number). I found it cumbersome to grasp, poorly worded, and not at all easy to use. Some swear by it, others swear at it.
    Most noted for the rules for Reign for running groups and landholds.
  • Warhammer FRP 3rd Edition
    Note: 1st and 2nd editions are NOT dice pool systems at all!
    Roll a nuber of dice, dice from stats are one type, from skill a second type, etc. (Blue attribute d8's, Red Stance d10's, Green Stance d10's, Yellow skill d6's, white boon d6's, black penalty d6's, purple resitance d8's.) Some symbols represent success, others represent side benefits, others still side effects, and others reduce success or side benefit effects. Simple, but not to everyone's tastes. Expensive, too - core box is $80 list price last I checked. Component driven, too. No numeric dice included nor used - just the symbolic ones. Substitution may be difficult.
  • Houses of the Blooded & Blood and Honor
    dice pool is split - some dice are rolled to see who gets to contribute, while others are set aside to determine how much one gets to contribute... Everyone who rolled 10+ on the rolled dice gets to contribute, with the highest determinging success or failure and keeping all dice set aside; others making 10+ lose half the set aside dice, while those not making 10+ lose them all. Anyone with set-aside dice gets to (in order) say one thing true about the task. This makes for very simple rules, and very fun fights. B&H, while Japanese themed, is much easier to grasp the mechanics from. HotBlooded is more machiavellian in scope, and has lots of fight-crunch, politics crunch, and funkiness. Neither is big on magic, tho'.
  • Brute Squad
    Warning: EXPLICITLY PVP Game
    Excellent satirical game. Does some fun stuff with dice and tasks. Not for everyone. (My wife won't even consider a repeat.)

Not Fantasy, but still worth considering for adapting, various types of dice pool:

  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (and other Cortex Plus games)
    Roll many, keep 2, and level of effect is by largest type of dice left uncounted. As with many highly narrativist games, this system can easily be reskinned to fantasy. Once players grasp the dice mechanics (took about an hour when I tried it with friends online), things really started to flow. If going to Fantasy, most non-mages would have gear as one "power set" and use skills; one could add normal level skills into the mix easily (they're defined, just not used for supers); wizards would add one power set per type of magic. Magic items might be power sets of their own, as would companion animals.
  • Space 1889
    Available in reprint edition. Combat is roll many, count successes. Non combat is roll and total. Since it's victorian era setting, there are good rules for melee. Inspired heavily by the Martian Chronicals of Edgar Rice Boroughs... pretty much, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy with Guns and flying steamships.
  • Dogs in the Vinyard
    While set in "Deseret" (a historical Mormon nation that was where Utah is now), the game uses a wonky but well regarded system of pushing dice forward to make bigger totals. Without looking, I can't recall the details, but the more dice you push, the more you risk if you lose. Rules light, easily adapted to a variety of settings (several of which have been done by fans as conversion booklets).
  • Prime Directive 1E aka PD One
    Technically, it's a trek game. It is, however readily adapted. Dice pool is average of stat and skill. Pool is read by best single die, but noting that 6 is counted as "5 plus another die" and this recurses. I've had a character hit a 56... his initial pool was 10 dice, and he rolled a lot of 6's. The psionics rules can easily be used for magic, with only minimal changes, but they are focused on mental abilities.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you ever so much for this thorough answer. It will allow me to choose exactly what would go best with my group. \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 20 '12 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dom it's not an exhaustive list, but it's a good starting point. I left out Exaulted - another White Wolf - because it's essentially fantasy demi-gods/super-heroes, and has notorious balance issues. I left out several lesser known games because I haven't even read them, nor have I seen multiple recommendations for them. Likewise, New WoD core can be used as a generic engine; you should be able to adapt it readily. I need to add that... \$\endgroup\$ – aramis May 21 '12 at 5:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a clarification on Dogs. You have two ways to roll more die. One is called escalation and involves different actions. You could add dice by escalating a talk into a gunfight but also escalating a gunfight into a talk. The other is including objects and relationships in your descriptions. The two methods don't automatically raise the risk, but when your actions convince your cousin he could only get away with his idea by shooting you ...you'd better let him go or someone's gonna risk his life. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Sep 27 '12 at 17:39

It sounds to me like what you are looking for is a fantasy RPG with a dice pool system and varying levels of success. There are a lot of those around, and they don't have to be -based to be good.

First of all, here's the RPGGeek list of dice pool based RPGs. You'll have to do some sifting to find the fantasy ones.

But you can't go wrong starting with . Burning Wheel isn't a Storyteller-based system, but it is one of the best-regarded fantasy RPG systems around these days. Don't let its reputation scare you off. The things regarded as complex are all advanced systems that are entirely optional.

Another game that might fit your criteria is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. is the latest incarnation of a venerable FRPG dynasty, and the current version has a lot to recommend it - but it also uses a varying pool of nifty custom dice, which all my players really dig. Also, if what you want is narrative possibilities, the custom dice are built just for such interpretation. So you succeeded - was it luck? Skill? Clever tactics? The dice give you the bones you can hang your story on.

There's also Reign. While is largely known for it's rules, it's One Roll Engine system is a nice dice pool system with some really interesting player choices and innovative mechanics. And if you don't want the default setting provided by Reign, you can get just the core rules, without the world provided in the full book.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your thorough answer, I will have a look at those suggestions. Just a quick question about Burning Wheel, what do you mean by isn't a storyteller-based system, does that mean it doesn't have a GM running the game? \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 18 '12 at 0:27
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dom: the system behind all of White Wolf's games is named "Storyteller". This includes Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc. However, there are other systems that use "dice pools" and "successes" beyond that one. For instance, Shadowrun uses a d6 based dice pool system that gives you levels of success, from multiple successes through failures and multiple levels of glitches. However, Shadowrun is not a Storyteller system because it is not specifically the same system Vampire, etc use. \$\endgroup\$ – goofdad May 18 '12 at 1:00
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dom to clarify what goofdad said, the "Storyteller" system is like the "d20" system - it's a set of mechanics on which some games are based. It has nothing to do with whether or not there's a storyteller (Well, storyteller-system games do call the GM the storyteller, but that's just branding, really). \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 18 '12 at 6:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for clearing that up guys. I've now also had a look at the Burning Wheel 'hub and spokes' pdf where they outline the system. It looks really good, and easily lends itself to multiple levels of success. Worth play testing with my group I think. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 18 '12 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dom - I have updated my answer by linking to the storyteller system tag, and have submitted a tag summary entry for it as well. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad May 18 '12 at 20:18

It seems Exalted could fill the role. Medfan setting, swords, martial arts and magic, monsters, gods and spirits, etc... The main castes are even an adaptation of the usual fighter/cleric/wizard/rogue/bard.

And since it is a white wolf game, it is the exact system you are looking for, and is even compatible with the other games you are used to (with some adaptation needed, of course)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Not a bad suggestion, but Exalted isn't "medieval fantasy" in the way the OP describes. It's ancient world/mythic fantasy — more of a Greek epic-style world. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc May 20 '12 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP asked for a setting "primarily written for fantasy (medieval world containing magic)". Exalted might not fit the role, but more for the "anime style" it tends to have depending on the GM. But I disagree with it being an ancient world/greek fantasy. It had its "Age of Wonders" period, as Greece and the Roman Empire are to medieval settings, but they are over. The setting is now specifically similar to our middle ages, with loss of technology and civilization. \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM May 20 '12 at 23:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ That, and you can play a fighter with a greatsword and breastplate, a wizard with robes and spells, or a thief with daggers and leather armor, all fighting against dragons and undead. As I said, I agree there are quite some differences with the usual D&D setting (as your thief can actually carry a greatsword and throw spells if you want), but let's be accurate on what these differences are for future readers ;) (and I'll probably add them to the answer later) \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM May 20 '12 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I'll look into it. To clarify, the main reason I specified medieval fantasy, is a lot of White Wolf games are set in modern day. I don't have a problem with slightly more ancient. \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 21 '12 at 13:51

If you're looking for a version of the Storyteller system that's geared for a medieval fantasy world with magic, you might like Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade. It uses the system in Vampire and combines it with a flavorful, freeform spellcasting mechanic that many people enjoy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. Just some clarification, does Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade still include standard medieval combat, swords etc. and does it have rules regarding magic items / weapons and armor? \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 17 '12 at 23:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dom It certainly has rules for medieval-style combat, swords, and armor. Because the focus of the game is on mages, it approaches the question of magical items from a creator standpoint — you can have a Wonder that's a sword, or a candle, or an enchanted steed, and it will explain how you'd create one in the system. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc May 17 '12 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I'll certainly check it out, although, I was hoping for something more balanced between classes. Currently there is only one mage in our group. \$\endgroup\$ – Dom May 17 '12 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dom Well, I'm sure others will answer this question as well with different suggestions. Perhaps one of them will be the right system for you and your group. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc May 17 '12 at 23:33

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