Does anyone in here know a system that is both fast-paced, brutal and suited for fantasy roleplaying?

By brutal, I mean dangerous. Most RPG's have a tendency to have lenient combat systems, given people multiple chances to change/regret the decision of going into combat, simply because it takes such an awful amount of time just to die. Hit Point based system often times has this annoying effect.

For me, combat speed is of importance. Brutality and pace is key. No matter how hard or exciting a boss battle might seem, players tend to lose interest after half an hour, as do I as a game master. Mind you, I'm a game master that wants to see my players win, but not at any price, and especially not at any arbitrary length of time. I want them either to win fast or die gloriously. In-game of course.

However, I do want them to pay the price of victory. This is tremendously hard to emphasize in most mainstream systems out there. Why? Because most system do not account for permanent or even temporary wounds, like being hamstrung or losing an arm. I want the players to fight if they feel it is necessary, not because it is the easiest way of dealing with a problem. And want a system that makes every fight at least somewhat dangerous. If not, what's the point? I would never actually let my players roll a single die, if I expected them to emerge victorious and unharmed. I would much rather let them narrate to me, how they crushed their opponents.

For the third time; I really want combat to be fast. If the players decide upon fighting, let us be done with it, letting them die, be captured, wounded or be otherwise impaired, and decided in minutes. If they do not dominate the opposition in seconds.

I dislike magical healing in most cases, since it has a tendency to remove negative consequences for stupid decisions and lame role playing. Scaling HP has a tendency to diminish negative consequences as well. If you are hit, it should feel bad for the players.

Rant aside, does anyone have any recommendations? It's a big plus if there is a nice associated meta-setting.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Seems to me you're getting "every single old game other than D&D" listed. BRP, WFRP, Rolemaster, Harn, etc. Once someone lists GURPS we'll be complete. Then you might want to expand your requirements, as everything is more brutal than D&D. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2012 at 18:53

17 Answers 17


Though it is debatable if it should be described as a fantasy setting, Pendragon has a simple combat system that is fast paced and brutal.

Pendragon rules attempt to stay to true to the legend of King Arthur, specifically the literary conventions of "Le Morte d'Arthur", so combat is extremely brutal. The standard way to play has a character engage in one adventure per year, because recovering from injuries takes to long to survive fighting more frequently. Magical healing exists but is incredibly rare, so it's mostly first aid and chirurgery, which is about as effective as actual 15th century medicine.

Since characters can't survive for very many adventures, between injury and age, in long campaigns players don't play an individual, but a family whose history is fleshed out over time.

The combat system might be too simple for many people's taste, since the mechanics are kept simple to emphasize story telling, and a large part of the mechanics deal with the character's personality and passions, to better model a genre which deals heavily in tests of character.

Basically, in combat both sides simultaneously try to roll under their skill level to hit. If both rolls hit, only the higher roll does damage, but the lower roll is considered to have parried and takes less damage if using a shield. Damage is based on strength, and armor subtracts from the damage. There are criticals and fumbles, some rules for how damage affects someone, rules for ranged weapons, some small differences between types of weapons and a few optional rules for combat tactics, but that's about it.

Arthurian legend isn't many people's favorite thing, it isn't mine, but Pendragon is a shockingly good realization of a genre with some very interesting game mechanics, and a long time labor of love from designer Greg Stafford, and it has the fast and brutal combat you are looking for, so even it isn't exactly the kind of fantasy campaign you had in mind it might be worth checking out.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I will note Pendragon's system is an adaptation of BRP. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2012 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's interesting. Pendragon really tries hard to stick to its literary convention, but it would probably work pretty well if you stuck with the emphasis on personality and moral tests - kind of the spirit of the literature with a bit of low-fantasy theme on top. \$\endgroup\$
    – psr
    Oct 10, 2012 at 16:51
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 "Since characters can't survive for very many adventures, between injury and age, in long campaigns players don't play an individual, but a family whose history is fleshed out over time." THIS \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Jul 7, 2014 at 11:37

I'm a fan of Burning Wheel's combat. It's brutal, but rarely deadly. Take a mid-level wound and you're basically useless, fighting at a severe handicap. None of this nonsense of having 1hp and still fighting at full strength.

Plus, there are three ways to resolve a martial conflict: the full Fight! rules (for melee), the Range & Cover rules (for ranged combat), and the Bloody Versus test (for handling quick stuff that's not important enough for a full-fledged combat).

My favorite part is the unpredictability of it, though. Each combatant chooses his next three moves in secret, and then they're revealed at the same time. So there's a cool rock/paper/scissors dance where you might both choose to Strike at the same time, wounding each other severely, or you might both script Block and find yourself circling around each other, waiting for the perfect moment.

Edit: As noted in the comments, the speed at the table can be a bit slow, especially when you're just beginning to fumble around with the system and don't know all the interactions. It's a lot like Rock Paper Scissors, except you have 12 choices instead of 3. Which means there are 144 different action pairs, and until you know them all by heart (ha!), you have to constantly reference the crazy Fight! action matrix.

With that said here's why I feel it qualifies as fast paced:

  1. Every action matters. Every decision has an impact.
  2. You aren't just sitting around waiting for your turn. Everybody goes at once! Well, mostly...
  3. Make one minor mistake and you're screwed. Or legitimately outwit your opponent and you can end the fight in one hit. And most fights DO end after one party lands the first good hit, unless you're a badass orc who was raised in a brutal environment and knows how to grit his teeth and bear the pain.

All of that adds up to battles that actually feel tense and exciting.

And if you ever get to the godlike status of knowing all the interactions by heart, then I imagine the battles are truly epic, fast paced, and brutal.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ You're not likely to get killed outright in Burning Wheel, but there's a good chance you could get injured or crippled, which can take weeks or months to heal. So pick the fights you get into carefully. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Oct 8, 2012 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it remotely qualifies as "fast" though, unless you take the "not a full combat" option. In fact, it's tuned to long detailed combat as a specific feature of the system. It gives you lovely intricacies, but "fast" is so totally the antithesis of what you get. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2012 at 18:49
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk The game is designed so that an entire campaign can go by without ever going beyond Bloody Versus, so I'd say it qualifies, especially since BW agrees with the OP's preference for narrating away trivial fights and getting real ones over quick. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2012 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mikalichov There's a free 75-page download of the core rules (same as the first 75 pages of the Gold Brick), which is all you actually need to read to play the game. Those pages + lifepaths are enough for a years-long campaign of Burning Wheel, so if you really want to like the system, don't be discouraged by the weight of the book. It's mostly optional. :) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2012 at 19:19

The system/setting that springs to mind is Savage Worlds and Hellfrost. As per your criteria:

Fast paced

Combat in Savage Worlds is specifically designed to be quick, and mostly resolves one way or the other within 5 rounds. It also deals with larger numbers of opponents without a great deal of slow down in how things are calculated, and minimises the work the GM needs to do to prepare.


The way damage is calculated in Savage Worlds means any encounter has the potential to be deadly. Also, Hellfrost as a setting encourages GMs to be a little less concerned about balancing encounters so they are 'beatable', instead focusing on things that make sense in the environment. This makes every decision as to whether to fight/avoid/surrender extremely important.

You mentioned you disliked magical healing in most cases. As an additional bonus, in Savage Worlds healing (including magical healing) only works for the first sixty minutes (the "golden hour" rule). It is not uncommon for characters to survive a battle with wounds that cannot be cured because of lack of time and/or magic power. Those wounds, and maybe injuries, stay with the character for a long time (at least a week, maybe longer); every wound brings a -1 penalty to every die roll, which is a lot in Savage Worlds.

Further to this, lethality can also be tuned by the 'Benny economy'. Bennies are a bit like rerolls, but can also be used to try to avoid damage. A fixed number are handed out at the beginning of each session, but others may be earned through good roleplay etc. If you want your game to be dangerous, a simple way is to limit the number of bennies you hand out as rewards.

Suited for fantasy roleplaying

Hellfrost is hands down my favourite fantasy setting. The detail and variety is amazing, and there are huge numbers of plot hooks liberally sprinkled across the source books. Magic is varied and dangerous, and there are all sorts of interesting regions to explore.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ The testdrive rules can be downloaded free from - peginc.com/freebies/SWcore/TD06.pdf, and there are lots of one sheet adventures to try here - peginc.com/product-category/one-sheets. These should give you a feel for the general rules without having to spend any hard earned money :o) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Oct 8, 2012 at 12:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. SW is more "brutal" than D&D but then again almost everything is. If you completely remove bennies, then it could qualify as fast and reasonably quick to kill, but there's no long term injury or stuff like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2012 at 18:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk It's only when you succeed on your Incapacitation roll that an injury can be temporary. If you fail the Incapacitation roll you either bleed out (and die) or stabilise and suffer a permanent injury. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2012 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Savage Worlds ticks all boxes: "either win fast or die gloriously...in minutes". Check. A combat rarely takes more than a few rounds. "dangerous". Check. Explosive damage dice means that even a poor goblin can occasionally strike down your uber-warrior. "account for permanent or even temporary wounds". Check. Wounds give penalties to dice rolls and can lead to injuries (long-term or permanent). "big plus: nice associated meta-setting". Check. Shaintar. "I dislike magical healing". Partial check. Healing only works during the first 60 minutes, then wounds (and penalties) become long-term. \$\endgroup\$
    – sergut
    Jun 19, 2013 at 18:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @sergut As much as I love Shaintar, it's far from an "associated meta-setting". SW has more settings than most people have socks—Shaintar does not have a special prominence among them. As much as I love it. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2013 at 19:03

Warhammer Fantasy RPG is quite famous for its grittiness and brutality. I played only the 2ed, but I can testify for it. Low HP, brutal criticals, complications, a d100 that makes it always possible to fail no matter how much XP you have... A few examples:

  • My first time playing, someone tried to kill me in my room. I surprised him, he ran away. Against the advice of everyone, I ran after him, without any weapon or armor. He was waiting outside, shot me with his crossbow, and rolled a critical. My character was one-eyed for the whole campaign after that.

  • Once, the dwarf of the group jumped into the river to help me while I was having trouble, even though he was in armor. He had played this character for two years. He rolled a new one.

  • Another time, we found a tavern being ambushed by a dozen of peasants. We had more than 3000XP, into our third career, and rolled in like heroes not afraid of anything. We suffered two deaths, I lost my nose, and was never again able to totally close my right hand.

As for speed... Well, I find it pretty fast, as it is only opposed d100 rolls, there are not too many abilities to choose from, and multiple attacks are rare.

And the meta-setting is... quite important ;)


The Riddle of Steel

I can't believe I'm this late answering, and nobody has yet mentioned The Riddle of Steel. TRoS was designed by a Western Martial Arts practitioner and the combat is quick and yes, brutal. The rest of the rules have flaws, both plentiful and deep. But the combat and injury systems are the best I have ever seen for muscle-powered melee.

The gist of the system is that your combat skills will generate a dice pool for you. Certain maneuvers reduce that pool - they have a cost - but will yield benefits if you succeed. The pool that remains must then be split between two clashes in a single exchange - if you look closely here, you will catch a glimpse of genius. By splitting the pool, the player is forced to allocate her resources in a number of combinations of attack and defense: Leave yourself a decent defense, and you may find you lack the wherewithal to prosecute a successful attack. It does a better job of representing the real mechanics of fighting, from weight-shift and momentum to the risks of making an attack than anything I have ever seen.

When a strike connects, rather than arbitrary "hit points", three separate forms of harm are inflicted:

  • Shock - immediate, short-term penalty to the victim
  • Pain - penalty to the victim that takes time to manifest, but remains
  • Blood Loss - carries the real threat of death

Have you ever been punched in the face? If so, you know that while you might be a little stunned, you've got about 1.5 seconds before the pain really hits, during which you can still act unfettered by the pain. That's the shock / pain duality. Blood loss sets an escalating target number that the victim must roll against to avoid bleeding out and dying. So you could easily kill your opponent only to bleed out yourself the next turn.

I don't know if you can get the books anywhere, or if there are PDFs available, but you should try to track it down, if only to see what a system that makes people consider whether any given fight is worth dying for or not looks like.

EDIT: Thanks to SevenSidedDie for this link to the Quickstart Rules (which is where I started with the game myself). He also says that:

...the IP holder of the core book has authorised the owner of the trosfans forum to sell the core book PDF. To inquire about acquiring the PDF, send an email to ian [dot] plumb [at] griffingrove [dot] com [dot] au (with the email obfuscation replaced with the appropriate punctuation, of course).

Also, Spiritual Attributes, which combine an experience mechanic with a metagame currency are a brilliant twist on both, so it's not like the game is all bad. It just needed a lot of work outside of combat (where SAs also shine, btw).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Apparently, someone did that work. It resulted in a new game, Blade of the Iron Throne. I added this as a comment instead of editing the answer because I have not played BotIT yet. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Aug 21, 2014 at 8:45

The Basic Roleplay Gold book, using the Major Wound rules and table is very fast, and very dangerous. Characters have 10-12 HP each, a weapon will deal 1-8 damage, not counting strength bonus or such, and if you talk more then half your HP in one blow you risk a majour would that can give you permanent penalties.

Oh, and it is all d% based, so it is very fast and light.


@Canageek kinda listed this as BRP, but not sure why you'd use the generic system when you could use the original Runequest. The BRP-based versions of Runequest are the most quick/brutal things I've played with. And the setting of Glorantha is one of the most recognized settings in fantasy RPG-dom. It's the setting that people that now geek out about Reign used to geek out about.

BRP also is the ruleset for Call of Cthulhu, which is of course a fast and brutal more modern day setting. And Pendragon, and Stormbringer/Elric, and various other games.

The system is truly simple because of the percentiles. I've run many a Call of Cthulhu convention one-shot where someone wanders up, you say "see these numbers? Percentile roll under. There's your hit points and how much damage your weapon does. Questions? Let's go!"

There is no leveling, just skill improvement, so you don't get upping of hp and other stuff - you are better with your sword and can ideally prevent getting your bits lopped off, but they come off just as fast as anyone's.

I played a lot of Runequest under a British GM and we had a grand old time - high fatality rate, faster than early D&D.

There's newer versions of Runequest with other mechanics I can't vouch for, but RQ Deluxe is still the gold standard.


I don't have a system to add but I think I can help distinguish between some of those mentioned - I've played almost all of them. In my experience BRP and BRP derivatives are all fast and brutal, which is why they have all been mentioned above, and if fast and brutal combat is your goal, I think you could start your search by narrowing to these games.

RM/MERP/HARP are pretty quick with preparation and they can be brutal as well but the quantity of math can be tedious (for some) and a slight increase in complexity subtracts from the speed - these games would be my second choice for fast and brutal combat. SW can be fast in some situations but it is not particularly brutal. It is not designed to be or feel "real" and is more cinematic. Bennies can make it hard for characters to worry about injury in combat, but they can be ignored or given sparingly to mitigate the situation. More importantly, some SW combats devolve into a wiff and ping match broken only by lucky exploding die rolls or unusual circumstances and tactics. I've never had the feeling that combat was dangerous or scary in SW. Combat in TRoS is dangerous and scary, and believable, but it is slow and complex in comparison with BRP derived games. There is also a learning curve in TRoS (and in SW for that matter) that makes combat perhaps a bit less intuitive in the early stages of play. These are all great games but BRP based games have faster, simpler, and more brutal combat for the most part.

I consider WFRP (1st and 2nd ed.) to be BRP based. The mechanics are quite similar: attacker rolls to hit, defender rolls to dodge/parry, roll damage and hope your limbs are still attached. WFRP, in my opinion (this may be blasphemy) is slower and less brutal than straight BRP. This is because of toughness, various talents, and the critical hit table that is only accessed after hp are reduced to zero. There is a wiff and ping factor in WFRP as well, and some combats (especially against armored opponents) involve a lot of rolling and waiting on an "Ulric's furry" result. The crit tables in WFRP are also scaled toward permanent gruesome injuries rather than death. WFRP also has insanity, disease, chaos mutations, etc. that add to its brutal reputation, but these are outside of combat.

RQ and Harnmaster also have quite brutal combat rules and are BRP derived, but both are more complex and slower than Basic Chaosium. RQ initiative (depending on the edition) and locational HP can really slow down play, especially for the GM if there are multiple opponents. Harnmaster has pretty believable combat. There is some (easy) chart referencing and a few odd rules to remember. The added complexity of Harn adds to the realism of combat, but it slows it down just a little and adds nothing to the brutality.

Then there is Pendragon. You will not find a faster and more brutal system. In fact, it is too fast and brutal for many players. I never introduce casual combat in Pendragon because every roll is dance with death. Pendragon uses opposed rolls to hit and no defense roll so the amount of die rolling is cut down from BRP by about 75% (depending on which rules you use)! and damage is scary. Wounds can take months to heal if your character is young and strong and survives the medical treatment without infection (You can die in the healing process). What's more, any exchange of blows can drop you. Armor and shields help, but Pendragon players don't underestimate any opponent. Combats rarely take more than a few rounds. Combat in Pendragon is lightning fast and horribly brutal - but it is heavily married to the milieu. I've thought about it myself, but I have yet to see anyone adopt the mechanics for a game outside of Arthur's Britain.

So, unless you want to play Pendragon whole and complete (a tremendous setting but not for everybody), or adopt the rules for a different setting (difficult) I think your best option is BRP. It can be adapted to any setting (though it works best for grittier play) and the combat is simple, fast, intuitive and brutal.


Long answer is huge; sorry.

Unknown Armies (urban fantasy/horror, but you didn't specify whether you wanted traditional fantasy or not). It's a d100 system, where skill levels are normally very low, and everything has consequences if the DM runs it right. Combat is fairly fast: roll under your skill, and you hit. Damage is based on what you rolled for your attack: if it's a melee attack, add the values on the dice (eg rolling a 34, which is under your Struggle of 40, results in 7 damage), plus a small bonus if using a melee weapon; if it's a firearms check, it's your roll (eg a roll of 64, under your Firearms skill of 70, results in 64 damage). Most normal people (including the players!) can't have more than 70 hit points (to start).

Each character has three passions and an obsession, which allow him to reroll or invert his roll, and five madness meters. The more madness checks you pass, the more hardened you become, making it easier to pass madness checks. Once you fill up two madness meters, you are a psycopath, and lose the use of your passions and obsession until you've had a number of sessions with a psychotherapist. If you fail a check, you have a fight, flight, or freeze reaction, and mark a fail. Once you fill the failed meter (which is five boxes, as compared to the hardened track's ten), you can never make a check for that meter; you always act as if you'd failed. Again, psychotherapy. A note: psychotherapy can only remove either one failed, one hardened, both, or no notches. And you get one session per game session. And you're only cured once all the hardened/failed notches that required you to get therapy are gone.

Magical healing, that staple of fantasy systems, can only really cure cosmetic damage (it can fix lost limbs or organs, but requires you to know someone with that sort of power, willing to "waste" it on you, and with a price you can meet). Serious injury will still take a character out for a while.

As well as all this, the two types of magic users have things called taboos. Breaking these causes the character to become far weaker. One type, Adepts, loose all the magical charges they've built up when they taboo. The other, Avatars, lose points in their Avatar skill when they taboo. Adepts have to perform certain actions to gain charges; Avatars merely act in accordance with their path.

Look it up. Hope that meets your request.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A great game and totally brutal. Definitely a modern occult game and not a traditional medieval fantasy game though. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2012 at 19:01

Cyberpunk 2020's FNFF (Friday Night Firefight) system is supposed to be based on FBI and police firefight statistics over the more Hollywood style of action in most RPGs. Limbs can become crippled and crushed beyond saving, and every unaimed (aka no body part called, a called/aimed shot lowers to hit) has a 1 in 10 chance of being a headshot. Not wearing a kevlar helmet? Maximum checkout. In general the system takes a hard and gritty approach to combat which encourages players to avoid combat if possible and when its unavoidable to always stack the deck in their favor (ambush, heavy weapons, explosives, etc.) if they can.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Explicitly its not a fantasy set rule-set, but I honestly don't see anything stopping it, other than no inherent magical attacks or system for magic (but if you play a low-fantasy you could just retool them as some of the exotic weapons like acid or lasers). The martial arts system could directly be ported into melee weapon styles/fechtbuch schools and adapting the ranged projectile rules should be doable (there may even be crossbows in CP 2020 already). Armor could also be modded directly. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2012 at 20:21

Harnmaster by Columbia Games.

Character Creation is no more involved than Rolemaster or Basic Roleplaying and combat plays brutally fast and realistic in feel. The reason is the frontloaded character sheet and the two page combat charts (for resolving to hit and the other for damage). The basic rules are only $10 and you can download the charts for free.

Of all the RPGs I played with detailed combat, Harnmaster is the fastest and most playable.

The way it works is

  1. Attack picks an attack
  2. Defender picks a defense
  3. Both roll a d100 any roll ending in a 0 or 5 is a critical rest are marginal results
  4. You cross index the attack margin of success with the defender's margin of success (CS, MS, MF, CF). Roll the amount of damage if any. Special results also could happen. This causes combat to ebb and flow in a way different than most RPGs.
  5. Subtract the armor
  6. Look up any injury rolls (i.e. saving throws) that result from the hit. Roll and add your previous amount of injury. Possible rolls include fumble, stumble, falling unconscious, and amputation.

The charts makes this a snap to use in play and are very well designed. The result is a combat system that brutal and resolved only a tad slower than a comparable older edition D&D combat. I also found it to be the only combat system that enhances the players immersion due to its ability to graphically and simply detail each blow.

The downside is that very much focused on the medieval technology of western Europe.

The third edition rules are perhaps too brutal. Instead of the Xd6 roll they have you make with X being the total amount of injury (including the current hit) you took. I would go with a Xd6 roll based on the injury they took that round plus +1 to the roll for each prior injury.

I wrote an account of a Harnmaster session.

And there is a comparison between d20 combat and Harnmaster.


1st Edition Warhammer FRP

WFRP1 fits nicely the requirements.
associated meta setting.

It does have "Nekkid Dwarf Syndrome," tho' - certain high Toughness characters are practically immune to damage.

(Note: 2E is much more forgiving a combat system)

Burning Wheel

Can't get much more brutal than one roll determining combat and leaving the victim dead if that was the goal.

And when you choose to use detailed combat, it's still quite lethal.

The associated setting is weak and by inference.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ True, Killing opponents is seldom the actual goal, but I've had it crop up. Had to do with a particular belief... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Oct 9, 2012 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it does happen. Usually there's a much more interesting goal behind the "kill them!" if the group stops to unpack the impulse and find it, but there are exceptions. It makes the exceptions where death really is the aim all the more powerful. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2012 at 3:23

I am suprised FATE has not been mentioned yet. I am only familiar with the second edition, however, if you use the default combat exchange option, the combat is fast, injuries don't heal well, and lead to penalties and further injuries. It is suited to fantasy, and encourages narration of fights. The brutality can be easily modified by changing the amount of wound boxes, and concepts like increasing hp don't apply. Overall, not only does it seem fitting to your criteria, but it also seems a great system for the type of game you apparently want to play.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While I understand the inheritent tendeoncy of downvoting FATE answers, I believe I have matched the criteria in this one: Injuries don't heal well, there is a death spiral once you get hit, it's only one roll, so it's fast, and can be very deadly, especially when using less hitboxes. If there is someone who disagrees with me on this, I'd like a comment explaining what they think is untrue, so I can make sure it gets repaired. \$\endgroup\$
    – kravaros
    Dec 13, 2013 at 19:13

Game system:

My own game, BRUTAL: Big Bad Ball Busting Bloody Battles.


The game rules, supporting documents and adventures are all available as free PDF downloads.


  1. Attacks, defenses, damage, etc. are all added together as a pair of opposing dice rolls. Highest Roll wins. Damages the difference between the two rules. Simple and quick.

  2. No waiting around for your turn. Each round everybody may attempt two moves, two actions and one or more defense rolls, ..but not all at once. Your "turn" is distributed across 12 initiatives that are counted down by the GM as quickly as possible. Mistakes happen, actions are missed, too bad, keep moving!

Dangerous and deadly:

Hit points never go up. They are fixed for the life of your character. And while there are many attack options, there are only a few defense options. You must learn when to run away.


The game rules include a monster manual with dragons and fairies and such, as well as the darker vampire undead zombie types.



I know it gets a bad rap for the complexities, but most of those are only in character creation/leveling, and in enhanced options for 'realism'. Once you get rolling, and have computed your offensive bonus/defensive bonus, it's very fast moving- very few modifiers are required, and only one roll per attack (or two rolls if you get a critical).

And the criticals are very deadly (and amusing), and the trauma delivered can cause trauma to the players (just kidding, but seeing your character go through that type of experience can be traumatizing).

The other thing that I really like that helps to mitigate the deadliness is the ability to defend. You get a basic defensive and offensive bonus from your weapon skills and shield and agility (there are some classes that get another bonus to represent unarmored quickness, but those are rare). You can trade your offensive bonus for a chance to defend against the incoming attacks.

The system is open ended d100 based (roll a d100- if you get less than 5 or greater than 95, roll again and subtract/add), and use charts based on the weapon type. The criticals are similarly d100 based, but not open ended, with a separate critical chart per damage type (slash, crush, pierce, burn, etc).

An example of combat: Jakin - 1st level rogue was hired to break into the room of Kallem, a 1st level warrior, and steal back the money the mercenary had just been paid. Kallem came back to his room early, and caught Jakin in the act, and has no plans to call the guard in to kill the thief.

Jakin charges Kallem with his shortsword, figuring that a good offense is the only thing that's going to keep him alive, as Kallem pulls his long fighting knife.

Framing the combat, the GM pulls out the Dagger attack table and the Short Sword attack table, and notes that the dagger does Slash, Puncture, or Crushing criticals, and the short sword does Slash, Puncture, or Crushing criticals, so pulls out those three tables also.

Jakin has an OB with the shortsword of 62, and a natural DB from his agility of +10. He's wearing leather. Kallem has an OB with the dagger of 81, and a natural DB from his agility of +5, and is unfortunately not wearing his armor.

They roll initiative on D100 + their quickness modifiers... Jakin gets a 78, and Kallem a 52, so Jakin goes first.

Figuring to end this quickly, he goes almost full out with his weapon, using 50 OB, and parrying with 12 for DB, bringing his defensive bonus up to 22. Kallem defends 30 of his offensive bonus, bringing his DB up to 35, and saving 51 OB for his return attack.

Rolling D100 for 46, Jakin adds 50 to the roll getting 96. Consulting the short sword chart for Kallem's armour type (1 for clothing), he gets 14CP. This means that Kallem takes 14HP, and the roll is D100 on the C column of the Puncture critical table. He rolls an 81 - Strike bites into foe's ribs. The impact sounds truly terrible. +6H, stunned, no parry for 3 rounds, -25 to all actions while stunned, bleed 5HP/rd.

Kallem's in a bad place, and takes his stun this round instead of a return attack. New round, and Jakin goes full out trying to finish Kallem. The warrior, now regretting his bravado, is going to make a will roll to overcome the pain and scream out for help. But Jakin has the initiative, and rolls 52 + 62 - 5 for Kallem's agility bonus (no parry) = 109. Again consulting the Short Sword table, that is 17HP, and a D on the Slash table. He rolls a 92 - Sever foe's weapon arm and bury your blade into foe's side - Foe falls prone, and is in shock for 12 rounds, then dies. +15HP, stunned with no parry for 9 rounds.

Rolemaster has a lot of options, and even at it's easiest does have a bit of an overhead (the character creation especially, and in combat, the charts). Add in modifiers for different things such as stance, weapon speed, etc- and it gets pretty ridiculous. But at it's basic, it's not too much to handle and goes very quickly, and is very deadly. I've had characters that I've invested a lot of time in (and not just character creation, but playtime) get killed suddenly because I wasn't on my game, or wasn't paying attention- or just bad luck. But that makes the ones that are successful that much more rewarding.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Vatine - in overall quickness, as long as you prepare for the combat, it is very quick. Note that in the example, I look at the short sword and dagger (which share critical tables) and get out the 5 tables I need. After that, it's a matter of cross-referencing. Most of the slowdown in RM combat comes from two things: flipping back and forth for tables and/or not having OB/DB calculated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Oct 9, 2012 at 11:00


Unknown Armies by Atlas Games


Your max HP is (generally) equal to your Body attribute (for a Street-level campaign on a character with all attributes equal, that would be 55 at character creation). Hand-to-hand weapons deal 2d10+X damage, where X is 0, 3, 6, or 9 depending on the characteristics of the weapon in question: 'piercing', 'large', and 'heavy' each add +3 to the weapon's damage. Ranged weapons deal d100 damage, with a maximum damage based on the ammunition used. (There are some types of ammo listed in the book with a maximum higher than 100, which is achievable with critical hits.) A character obsessed with their hand-to-hand attack skill could potentially deal ranged weapon damage using a H2H attack on a crit. Piercing weapons (knives, etc. – things which pierce the skin without requiring tremendous force) will inflict 1 damage on a miss.

One or two solid hits can easily bring someone into a serious danger zone. Further, in UA the GM is encouraged to keep track of the players' HP, and only describe the injuries rather than giving the actual number. While someone at full health could certainly try to keep track of their injuries themselves, injuries do not heal instantly (even a professional doctor with a well-equipped operating theater cannot fully heal an injury; characters still require convalescence if they wish to return to full health), and none of the published magical effects that I can recall will heal a target. In fact, one of the schools of magic requires the Adept to injure himself in order to build charges for spells, sometimes even reducing the character's maximum HP. That said, the setting provides plenty of room for custom Adept schools, if you happened to desire to create one about healing.

At approximately 2/3 health, a character suffers a -10 shift to attribute rolls. At 1/3, he or she suffers a -20 shift. (Shifts applied to rolls are in multiples of 10, ranging from -30 to +30, and all sources of shifts will stack.) At 5 HP, a character falls unconscious, and at 0 HP, they are dead, full stop. Considering the weakest possible attack in the game deals 2d10 damage, a margin of 5 HP is not very big.


With three exceptions I am aware of, all events in UA are resolved with a single die roll. For example, let's say Gary has a Struggle of 37, and tries to punch Steve. Gary rolls his d% with a result of 12 – success! The punch is not piercing, large, or heavy, so the damage is 2d10... which Gary already rolled. Steve takes 3 damage (12 = 1 + 2). Attack complete. Steve escalates by swinging a knife, rolling 02 under his meager Struggle of 18, dealing 15 damage (02 = 10 + 2, with an extra +3 for using a piercing weapon).

An exception fairly common in combat is dodging. If the target of an attack is using his action to dodge, the attacker rolls as normal. The defender then rolls his or her Dodge skill; if the defender succeeds on the roll and the Dodge roll was equal to or higher than the attacker's attack roll, the attack misses. If the defender fails but the attacker's roll is under the defender's Dodge, the attack deals half damage (round up).

If an Adept takes on negative shifts to cast a minor blast, he or she can use that many extra dice on the attack roll, picking any two to use for the attack roll result; still one roll, just using extra dice. If an Adept takes one or two extra turns to cast a significant blast, he or she can do the same thing.

The other exception applies only to characters whose obsession skill is the skill they're using to make a H2H attack with. If they roll successful doubles (11, 22, etc. under their attack skill), they get a "cherry". One of the possible cherries is adding 1d10 to the attack's damage, and another is rerolling the damage entirely.

It is possible for the PCs or NPCs to drag out a fight, of course. For example, a character could hide behind a piece of obstructing terrain or continuously use their action to dodge, waiting for their opponents to exhaust their ammunition. (Getting hit by a ranged weapon can hurt, after all!) If the attacker has a lot of ammo to run through, the defender might be waiting a while.

Fantasy Setting

The designed setting for UA takes place in the modern world, rather than some high fantasy place like Middle Earth or Faerûn. The schools of magic include things more commonly seen in fantasy settings such as Cliomancy (history magic), Entropomancy (chaos magic), and Mechanomancy (clockwork/steampunk), but also include things like Plutomancy (money magic), Urbanomancy (city magic), and Pornomancy (exactly what it sounds like). The central conceit of the supernatural in UA is that if someone can be sufficiently obsessed with it, it can be done. As I recall, one of the supplemental books talks about a character who is obsessed with her collection of china dolls and, because of her obsession, the dolls come alive at night and protect her when she's not aware of it.

Most campaigns will ultimately take place in the "occult underground", that little bit of strangeness that permeates the world. Personally, I find the combination of realistic and fantastical elements fascinating. However, you're certainly not required to run a campaign in the Real World™. I have recently been running a game which is a spinoff from UA, using the vast majority of its rules, which takes place in the setting of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The sky is the limit – literally so, in the case of my pegasus PCs.

Avoiding a Fight

I want the players to fight if they feel it is necessary, not because it is the easiest way of dealing with a problem.

This sentiment is aligned with some of the design process of UA. At the beginning of the combat chapter of the UA core book, the authors have this to share:

Six Ways to Stop a Fight

So before you make a grab for that knife, you should maybe think about a few things. This moment is frozen in time. You can still make a better choice.

Surrender. Is your pride really worth a human life? Drop your weapon, put up your hands, and tell them you're ready to cut a deal.You walk, and in exchange you give them something they need. Sidestep the current agenda. Offer them something unrelated to your dispute, and negotiate to find a solution.

Disarm. Knife on the table? Throw it out the window. Opponent with a gun? dodge until he's out of bullets. Deescelate the confrontation to fists, if possible. you can settle your differences with some brawling and still walk away, plus neither one of you has to face a murder charge or criminal investigation.

Rechannel. So you have a conflict. Settle it a smarter way. Arm wrestle, play cards, have a scavenger hunt, a drinking contest, anything that lets you establish a winner and a loser. Smart gamblers bet nothing they aren't willing to lose. Why put your life on the line?

Pass the Buck. Is there somebody more powerful than either one of you who is going to be angry that you two are coming to blows? Pretend you're all in the mafia and you can't just kill each other without kicking your dispute upstairs first. Let that symbolic superior make a decision. You both gain clout for not spilling blood.

Call the Cops. If you've got a grievance against somebody, let the police do your dirty work. File charges. Get a restraining order. Sue him in civil court for wrongful harm. You can beat him down without throwing a punch.

Run Away. The hell with it. Who needs this kind of heat? Blow town, get a job someplace else, build a new power base. Is the world really too small for the both of you? It's a big planet out there.


I did a house rule game where we (the DM and my group) wanted something similar to this, and stole a bunch of rules from several games and created some up to fill in the gaps. This cam help if you wish to tailor-make a game to your expectations/desires. Our game made combat somewhere in between the game of Risk (Attacker/Defender rules of the dice) and fencing where it went attack, defend, feint, flank, or disarm for choice of each action, going back and forth. While it wasn't fast, it was very combat oriented, and the story was just a way to fill in between battles. Of course, this was more oriented towards more realistic battles and fighting (and got some rather epic clashes) that was more duels than just two meatshields clubbing away at one another. Our intent was more towards actual swordflight/swordplay, and to do that, a character only had something like 10 hp, and a stike could do something between 1-4 damage, with a chance of debilitating injury, bleeding, crippling, or impalement (which was obviously a win).

If you're looking for something unique, perhaps you should make something unique. Get some ideas from some other games, and then alter it to your own uses. I've played many games of D+D that involved no dungeon crawling what-so-ever (one was actually 100% battlefield where we were scouts and spies; very fun), and even a few that had no real fantastical creatures. If you and your group know what you want, then tailor it that way. After all, the rulebooks are more of a guidebook, and it even says something to that effect in the intro.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I don't think house rule games are an appropriate response to system recommendation questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Jun 18, 2013 at 20:25

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