As an alternative to trying to play a game that normally requires a grid, I'm looking for an RPG that

  1. Has mechanically interesting combat (plenty of depth, not necessarily high complexity).
  2. Has a lot of rules for character customization (again, depth preferred over complexity)
  3. Is built to not require a grid for its combat, but instead have combat described. I'd like to clarify that I would rather avoid miniature combat all together and just have descriptive combat.

I would prefer to move away from Class/Level systems a bit here, but that's more preference than a requirement for the question. I would also prefer either a highly developed setting or a totally generic game (either one works), but again, these are more preferences than requirements for the question. I would like fantasy more than some other genre, but having a universal system or a system with its own well developed setting I think is more important.

Edit: A short description of my version of Depth versus Complexity

Deep: A system that allows for important choice. The deeper a system, the more important choices you can make within the framework of the system.

Complex: The more fiddly bits/pieces a system has, the more complex it is. Example: D&D 3.5 Spell-casting is both Complex and Deep. So is Chess. Quite a bit can be done with it, but you'd better know your rules. Unknown Armies is deep but not complex (relatively). You can do a lot with spells, the skill system is wide open for customization, but the rules governing them are fairly simple. Rock paper scissors is neither deep nor complex. The board game Life is relatively complex but has no depth (you only spin the wheel, with no real choices).

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question needs more requirements to become good. Every single game in the world except the D&D variants doesn't use a grid/battlemap, so as answers you're getting every single RPG that's not D&D with more than 5 pages of combat rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 5, 2013 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and the guidance on recommendation questions on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 5, 2013 at 11:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the requirements are fine—I just think some answers are overestimating the tactical depth and underestimating the complexity of their favourite systems, simply for not having experience with the rare few "deep but not complex" combat systems out there. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2013 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that contention is disproven by the answers, which have little in common except being "every system anyone likes." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 10, 2013 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Except that many of the answers don't meet every requirement and preference, often meeting only some of them. I'd say maybe the top two answers meet every preference/requirement. \$\endgroup\$
    – user5834
    Sep 10, 2013 at 1:28

11 Answers 11


Burning Wheel

The Burning Wheel has an in-depth and involved subsystem for melee combat. Its main features are:

  • Double-blind decision-making. Both sides secretly choose a series of actions like Strike, Block, Counterstrike, Feint, and Lock; these are then executed simultaneously. Players (including the GM) have to plan ahead using incomplete information.
  • System mastery is focused on in-play tactics. Making a combat character doesn't really involve any tricky stuff in character generation. Most of the challenge is in choosing the right maneuvers in play. The system has a basic attack/defend flow but also strongly rewards effective use of risky special actions like feinting, beats, or grappling.
  • Abstract positioning. There's no battle grid, but the rules take weapon length and footwork into account in the form of vying for advantage.
  • Brutal wound system. Injuries are nasty. They incapacitate characters rapidly. Healing up successfully afterward requires time and skilled help.
  • Relatively low lethality. Injuries are nasty but the game is designed with ways to avoid outright death.
  • Equipment matters. The game doesn't have a lot of magical gear, but having the right tools for the job is important. Just having a high Knives skill isn't enough for your quick-witted sneak-thief to kill a fully-armored knight in straight-up combat; you need to use tricks to overcome his defenses.
  • Easy math. You don't have to do nearly as much bonus-counting as a typical D20 game. It's all roll-and-compare dice pools and a bit of single-digit arithmetic to find margins of victory. Combat does tend to involve some reference and research, but the number-wrangling side of it is pretty simple.
  • Heroic metagame currency. Players get points that they can use to boost individual rolls or mitigate failure.

The Fight subsystem caters to one-on-one face-offs. Generally if a whole group of PCs is fighting, we break down the fight into smaller individual scenes (think about the action sequences in the Lord of the Rings movies, for example).

BW has similar in-depth systems for ranged combat (more group-oriented) and social confrontations as well. It also supports robust one-roll resolution for all these sorts of scenes, so you're never forced to use the complex subsystems. Generally groups only use the detailed rules when they want to "zoom in" on a scene because there's a lot on the line.

The game's general mechanics focus on character-driven dramatic stories. It supports quasi-historical medieval fantasy and Tolkien-esque fantasy well "out of the box."

Character creation uses a lifepath system. Advancement is tied to using skills and abilities in-game; the group also awards characters special traits and reputations based on narrative accomplishments.

The Riddle of Steel

The Riddle of Steel is a fairly similar system created by historical swordfighting enthusiasts. Many of the bullet points above apply to its melee system as well, with two main exceptions:

  • Straight-up lethal. The wounds are brutal and nasty wounds do just lead to death.
  • Always-on bonuses instead of points you can spend. If a fight relates to your Passion, the bonus is applicable to the whole fight.

Its double-blind action system is a bit simpler and more direct than BW's "scripting," which tends to make for quicker play (at least if you have the fan-made wound charts that simplify look-up).

The outside-of-combat mechanics are less polished than the Burning Wheel's, however. The main book sketches out a setting inspired by a mix of sources, including the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and sword-and-sorcery fiction.

Character creation is point-buy for skills and stats, with players ranking several categories in order of priority to determine how many points you get for each. Advancement is point-based like WoD but requires temporarily spending down your motivations.

The game is currently way, way out of print, but fans recently introduced a "successor" game, Blade of the Iron Throne.


You want Atlas Games's Feng Shui. Seriously.

You want it because it has mechanically interesting combat. It's simple mechanics belie an interesting and engaging blend of resource management and potential "deck building" no matter the PC's preference of shticks; however, the numbers rarely exceed, like, 20 no matter what you do, and a smooth system eliminates many fiddly bonuses.

You want it because it has a lot of rules for character customization. Characters are initially semi-customizable archetypes that are supposed to develop fairly rapidly. So while initial character selection is easy: pick a heroic stereotype, muck with the numbers for 10 minutes, pick some schticks and guns, and you're out the door, the long game sees hard, interesting choices which diversify and deepen a character.

You really want it because there's no grid combat. The game eschews maps in favor of cinematic description that puts the pot of boiling water, chandelier, or pitchfork at your fingertips because that's awesome. The awesomer the idea, the more the GM is supposed to encourage the act. Places are described by what would make a cinematic fight scene there more interesting, but not where exactly the vat of ooze or lava pit is.

Feng Shui isn't class-and-level. It archetype-and-additions via a point-based reward system. It has a ridiculously developed setting which can be overwhelming to a newbie (I count 16 Feng Shui gaming books on my shelf), but the core system--what it asks of players and what it demands of a GM--is universal and infinitely adaptable (which makes sense as its ancestor is Nexus: The Infinite City), but many genres can be played with what's in the main book: kung fu masters versus eunuch wizards in ancint china, contemporary action heroes versus transformed animals in modern anywhere, and rebellious cyber-monkeys versus an oppressive world government in the near future are all part of core setting.

You won't be disappointed. And I'm not even kidding about the cyber-monkeys.


I'd recommend Rolemaster. I've run it for many, many years. The combat system is pretty detailed and I've never used more than a few scraps of paper and some scribbles to run it. No grid is required by the system.

Let's check out your points.

  1. Mechanically interesting combat. Yep! Parrying (trade your attack off to defend), flanking modifiers, wound penalties, ambush strikes, adrenal strikes, criticals, (that don't just do more damage) frenzy, stuns.
  2. A lot of rules for character customisation. Yep! Plenty of different rules, skills and abilities for both in and out of combat. Numerous options in the RMSS and Standard system (and even more if you start buying extra books) Characters can be a bit of a grind to create but once you get the hang of it it's not too much trouble.
  3. No grid required. Yep! I never used a grid for play, didn't even bother with miniatures. Just a piece of paper or descriptions. RM doesn't require it either. You can cinematically describe where you are and it's easy to work it out. There isn't any cinematic modifiers per se, but you could easily work it into the system.

You could also give MERP a try, which is RM's baby brother and rather less complex.

Note: For reference Rolemaster is pretty much inextricably intertwined with a class/level system.

Rolemaster has (had? It's pretty old) no default setting per se, but there was a load of supplements to run it for game setting Shadowworld.


I would chip in 13th Age, a high-fantasy, quick-moving d20 game with elements mashed up from D&D 3.5E and D&D 4E, featuring streamlined rules and narrative mechanics. Classes each have their own set of combat options that you would come to expect from the previous two editions of the game. Characters can be customized with Backgrounds (which functions like Careers in Barbarians of Lemuria or keywords in HeroQuest). However, a big departure from 3.5E and 4E is that:

Combat is gridless

I would like to mention this first, because D&D 3.5E and 4E feature the grid as a big part of the game. 13th Age is different. It doesn't use the grid at all.

13th Age uses an abstract range band. You are either engaged with a foe (toe to toe in melee combat), nearby (I can reach you with a move action) or far-away (I need two move actions to reach you). Spells, powers, talents etc. all uses this range band description. It works pretty much the same as Edge of the Galaxy and Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition.

Class Customizations

A class is defined by his talents and feats. Usually, a class has 5 to 7 talents, and at the beginning of your character's career, he chooses 3, and will eventually end up with 5 when he hits maximum level. 13th Age encourages customization through talent swapping. Do you want to play as a Paladin with an animal companion? Easy enough, take the Ranger's Animal Companion talent. Perhaps you want a Warlord-style Fighter who can inspire your companions in battle. You can negotiate with the GM to get some of the Bard's battle cries instead of your usual Fighter's powers.

Feats modify only your talent or a power, so while there's are still many of those, they are easier to keep track off. For instance, if you take a feat for the Ray of Frost spell, there's a chance it will prevent an enemy from moving.

The rulebook also encourages reskinning. Firstly, many classes have options for you to change the primary casting stat. For instance, most of the Cleric's spells uses Wisdom, but if you want to, you can take a talent to switch it to Charisma instead, if you want to role-play as a charismatic religious leader. A Sorcerer can take the Spell Fist talent, and instead of adding Charisma to your spell damage, you add Constitution.

The second form of reskinning is less formal. You can rename any of your attacks to fit the idea of the class you want. For instance, you can reskin the Ranger as a Warlock, and instead of firing arrows, you are blasting foes with eldritch energies, and your animal companion is a demon. One reason why this work is because all type of attacks work against all type of enemies, unless due to plot reason. Hence you don't have to worry about being ineffective because you change your Ray of Frost spell to a Scorching Ray, or that if the Ranger's default attack deals fire damage it will be too powerful.

Narrative Hooks

13th Age also introduces two ways to provide plot hooks for each character. The first is the One Unique Thing, an aspect that defines the most outstanding feature of your character. It can be totally unique for your character as well - such as "The Dragon Emperor has many bastard sons, but I'm the only he cares about." Usually, the unique thing shouldn't confer any actual mechanical advantage, but to provide plot hooks.

The next is Icon Relationships. The various Icons in the setting - the Emperor, Archmage, Diabolist, Crusader etc. - are archetypes commonly found in other fantasy settings. They represent factions, organizations and groups and are the movers and shakers. Your character can have relationships of varying utility and friendliness with them, and guidelines are given to the GM for how to generate adventures and complications based on those relationships.

Non-Combat Abilities

As mentioned, 13th Age doesn't use skills, but use Backgrounds - which acts as professions/careers or keywords. They are not limited by classes, and each class has the same amount of points to build backgrounds. You can have a Fighter who used to be a herald for a famous knight, a Wizard who is a successful innkeeper, or a thief with a background in obscure occult texts.


13th Age's combat runs pretty much like the standard d20 fare, with a couple of big differences. First, there's the escalation dice, which starts at 0 and increases by 1 per round. Players add the value of the escalation dice to their attack rolls, simulating the tempo of battle. This helps combat to move faster, and adds some interesting considerations as certain abilities work differently depending on the escalation dice. (For instance, monks get an extra attack if they have the Flurry secret, and the escalation dice is odd).

Monsters also have abilities that triggers depending on the value of the dice; more dangerous monsters may increased damage or chance to hit, depending on the escalation dice too.

13th Age combat is designed to run fast; no big list of situational modifiers, no iterative attacks. Tactics come in form of deciding where to position yourself, when you should intercept an enemy approaching your allies, and how to best spend your action. Every class has a different 'shtick' in combat. Fighters have flexible attacks that trigger base on their dice roll. Bards have songs, which confers bonus while being sang, and when ended, will cause a powerful effect. Sorcerers can gather power to do more damage next turn. Rangers can choose between double attacks, going for high critical chance, or commanding an animal companion. The rogue has powers that requires momentum to use, and momentum is gained by hitting someone, and lost when he is hit. Every class has a little something interest that makes it different from its peers. (Except perhaps the Paladin.)


The 13th Age setting is rather generic. It has lots of colour and style to it, but the main rulebook only gives a sweeping overview. Rather, it focuses more on the interesting bits about each geographical region.


Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds seems to tick all the boxes. The game is quite simple to play and works fast. The motto of the designers is "Fast, Furious, Fun" and the game really feels that way.

It has mechanically interesting combat, with a lot of options and tactical decisions, both for melée and ranged combat. Should your character attack more wildly, getting bonuses to attack and damage but penalties to parry? Should they aim better but at the cost of shooting less often? Should I aim for the head (more difficult, more damage) or the body? Should I invest in learning how to attack several enemies with one attack? Should I fight with two weapons or use a shield? Should I stop fighting this enemy and move to help my comrade who already has too many wounds? The game system manages to take into account aspects like aiming, cover, parrying, armour, carelessness, retreats, cooperative fights, attacking different parts of the body, and the effects of different kinds of weapons, armour, and shields without compromising speed of play of making the game difficult. Every decision counts. There is no clear winner in most decisions: you always have to sacrifice something to gain something.

Combat is also quite realistic (or simulationist in the GNS sense) compared to mainstream games like DnD (this also means more deadly, see below). Your mighty high-level fighter should not charge mindlessly against those humble kobolds with crossbows in Savage Worlds. Hitting targets at short range is easy. If the fighter has a good armour most darts will not do much, but (a) darts have armour penetration and (b) when a lot of people fire at you, some of them will likely hit you in a place where there is no armour (in game terms, some damage dice will ace/explode and do a lot of damage).

As an additional benefit, the distinction between wildcards and extras means that it works pretty well with combats involving tens of characters where most other systems drag their heels.

Another thing that I find relevant is that the game includes smart additions like tricks and tests of will that give an important role to non-fighting characters while in combat (no more feeling useless in combat if you a non-fighter); and the magic system is simple, flexible, and powerful.

It has good rules for character customisation, simple but deep. Characters have the usual skills and advantages, plus they also have hindrances that help make the characters something that has life beyond their combat stats. Is your character old and fat? Are they arrogant with the powerful but kind with those in need? Did they lose an arm or an eye in a fight? All of this is built into a character-creation system that can create a character in 5 minutes (or less if you take any of the pregenerated stereotypes) but can keep your obsesive minmax players busy for hours: the system is very well balanced and it is very difficult to have characters that outshine the others. It adds depth without adding complexity, lots of dice rolls, or long tables (actually: no dice rolls, no tables). In Savage Worlds there are neither classes nor levels.

By design, it can be played with a grid or without a grid, with a physical map or without. The rules give clear indications on what to do if you play without any grid or map (e.g. "a fireball is a sphere of six-inches of diameter; if you play without map, it affects 3d6 enemies"). This gives you all the freedom you need.

Finally, it is a totally generic game that works well with high fantasy. You also have high fantasy settings for Savage Worlds like Shaintar and Hellfrost. At a personal note, I have just played a Pathfinder Adventure Path (from DnD) converted to Savage Worlds, with the Director doing the conversion of stats as we advanced; it worked so well that we are not going back to Pathfinder for high-fantasy RPG and will soon start a second adventure path.

Update: Savage Worlds is far more deadly than DnD. Have a look at Downtuning lethality in Savage Worlds, and in particular the two answers more related to high-fantasy: 1, 2.


Try Exalted by White Wolf. It's got a heavy anime influence, which leads to dramatic, well-described combat. It uses the d10 system, like Vampire or Mage.

Your characters have a very few resources (Willpower, magic points) which you use to power your abilities. That said, your characters are essentially demigods, Chosen from amongst mortals to be elevated to their status. The traditional opposition are the Dragon-blooded, individually less potent demigods (think Yamcha or Yajirobe as compared to Nappa, if you've watched DragonBallZ) who rule the majority of the society and are present in much greater numbers.

Each character has a number of abilities which let them do some very off-the-wall things. As this is largely anime-inspired, one of the very simplest and cheapest abilities allows any character to leap a few dozen yards into the air.

For example, in 1st edition Exalted I built a Night clan archer. At the start of the campaign, he could scale walls at a normal move speed, fire an arrow accurately enough to split an apple on the other side of a busy marketplace, and dodge arrows and spears all day long. This was without using any magic, just normal skills and abilities.

With magic, he could stand on the ceiling, fire an arrow that could split into seven mid-flight, and disappear into shadows like he'd never been there.

The combat is really too large-scale to confine to a grid (it frequently goes into three dimensions, and can literally cross a city), has plenty of character customization (you can even combine different spells/magic effects to build unique ones), and it has a game mechanic which encourages you to do extremely cinematic things.

Consider the Matrix rooftop battle. Neo is standing on the rooftop when an Agent fires at him. Neo's player could say something like, "I dodge" and roll a normal dodge roll, opposed by his oppoonent's attack roll.

Instead, Neo's player said, "I face the agent and use my altered perception of time to lean out of the way of the bullets, watching them ripple through the air past me." In Exalted, that would give him a 'stunt die' - he would get to add an additional d10 to his dodge dice pool.

From what I've heard, the 2nd Edition only improved things.

Information provided in comments included the following about 2nd Edition:

Combat in 2nd edition can become like Tic-Tac-Toe, where there is a finite set of known moves and an optimal strategy can be found. This is known as Paranoia Combat.

2nd Edition can also get a bit squicky - there are somewhat less than work safe images in many or most books, and the books dealing with the Infernals (basically, Hell's Exalted) went a bit overboard on over-the-top evil/sexual content.

3rd Edition should be out soon, which should address the above issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Second Edition combat mechanics are like tic-tac-toe. They're awesomely fun only until you figure out how to play the game. Then they become slow, grueling attrition between characters with supernatural flurries that will kill any army in Creation in one go and characters using perfect defenses. First one out of essence loses. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwrush
    Sep 5, 2013 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you use a grid system to map a combat taking place in a 100-foot diameter circular tower, 9 stories tall, filled with criss-crossed chains, given that all 7 characters involved are leaping from chain-to-chain-to-wall and the floor wasn't touched (except by corpses) after the first round? Or a combat that literally crossed a city? If it comes down to a war of attrition, your allies aren't working with you right. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeff
    Sep 5, 2013 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jeff: There's the problem jwrush mentioned, where the two sides of a conflict flurry at each other until they run out of motes and then explode, and there's also the problem that characters that don't buy a perfect defense will simply die to reasonably specced combat characters, and the problem that creating and running NPCs involves a very large amount of work by the GM, and the problem that some charms are just pointless, or don't actually do anything as written, or are ludicrously overpowered, or... \$\endgroup\$
    – Aesin
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jeff: Oh, and as I see it, because the mechanics of the system are a known in-character element of the setting, character optimisation is an in-game, in-character, legitimately character-discuss-able activity, and when you have a supergenius Twilight attempting to stay alive in a hostile world, I don't see why they wouldn't develop tactics and combos that in other systems might be considered "power-gaming". \$\endgroup\$
    – Aesin
    Sep 5, 2013 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Aesin That's one of my favorite things about the game. It's like the game design decision was explicitly made: let's take every guilty pleasure players have in games, and give them justification to do them. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwrush
    Sep 7, 2013 at 3:04

Iron Heroes

Iron Heroes is a high-combat variant of D&D 3.5 by Mike Mearls, who later went on to design D&D 4e. It's low-magic; instead of spells and magic items, player characters have more interesting melee and ranged combat abilities.

Combat is mechanically interesting. Each class has a pool of tokens in combat, which they can build by taking certain actions and spend to activate class abilities. For example, the berserker builds his rage when taking damage or by spending an action to stoke his rage, and he can spend those rage tokens to activate one of his rage powers. Each class has a great variety of abilities to choose from at character creation and levelling up.

Like D&D 3.5, Iron Heroes can use miniatures but doesn't require it, and actually makes extra room for non-grid combat. For example, without a grid it's harder to set up a flank. Iron Heroes lets you move around an opponent to the opposite side and gain flanking on the same turn without an ally, but you provoke attack of opportunity.

Drawbacks, this is still a class-based, level-based game, and anything you didn't like about D&D 3.5 is probably still in Iron Heroes (except that they made fighters both powerful and interesting to play). It's also specifically low-magic (you gain more class abilities but no magic items; there's only one spellcaster class and it's not well balanced), so it's not really suitable for a campaign with spellcasting player characters.


You want GURPS.

GURPS has a scalably-difficult combat system (all-out attacks, parries, dodges, various rules for aiming distance weapons, ...) and there are add-on rules for specific techniques and the like, if you want.

GURPS have rules for grappling and tangling combatants up.

GURPS has a relatively[*] simple resolution mechanic, compute all the bonuses and penalties, add this number to the skill value (pre-computed on the character sheet), roll under on 3D6.

GURPS combat deals (relatively speaking) a lot of damage. It would be surprising for a character to stand up after taking a rifle bullet to an unarmoured body (typically 10-11 hit points, with rifles dealing 4-6 D6 damage).

[*] Simple to describe, there are many possible modifiers and initially it will be slow figuring out what modifiers apply in a given situation. All projectile weapons have range penalties that set in pretty early, offsetable with accuracy bonues ("aiming" and "scopes" for firearms).

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    \$\begingroup\$ @shatterspike1 GURPS doesn't require a grid to play. It is definitely more complex than it is deep, though—to gain tactical depth, you have to add subsystems, and complexity increases faster than depth as you add those options. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2013 at 1:15

I would very highly recommend 7th Sea. The combat system is involved but not overly complex. You can use maps but they're more divided into segments than grids if you do. Personally I don't use the maps because the narration and combat itself is enjoyable enough.

EDIT: Combat Sampler Every character has five traits. All of these are involved in combat in some way.

  • Brawn is taking/dealing damage
  • Finesse is (part of) accuracy
  • Wits is part of Active Defense (AD)
  • Resolve is how many Dramatic Wounds you can take before penalized or unconscious
  • Panache is the number of actions able to be taken in a round.

A character rolls a number of dice equal to Panache, keeping the numbers separate and not "exploding" tens. These are the phases a character can act without special abilities. Every round has 10 phases. Starting at 1, the round progresses through each phase. If more than one participant shares a phase number, they total their remaining dice for "Initiative" to determine who goes first. Let's say Alpha rolled 1, 2 and Bravo rolled 1, 5, 10. Both would go on 1, and Bravo gets the option to go first because his 15 beats Alpha's 2. Bravo decides to "Hold" the action (it gives him the chance to use it to trump initiative in any later phase, but anyone can only hold one die at a time).

Alpha attacks with his rapier. He has the Fencing skill, which contains two knacks: Attack and Parry (Fencing). For this example Alpha has a 3 Finesse and 2 in his Attack (Fencing), so he rolls 5 dice, and keeps any 3 to total together (5k3) baring in mind exploding/open-ended rolls. The roll is [15, 6, 3, 5, 2], and Alpha keeps the 15 and 6 for a total of 21. For this example, Bravo also has a Fencing skill with both knacks at 2. He has a "Passive Defense" (PD) of 15 (5, +5 per rank in parry). Alpha's 21 is good enough to hit. Because of this, Bravo uses his held 1 to do an "Active Defense" His Wits is a 2, so he rolls 4k2, getting [9,7,6,2] selecting a total of 16. Now at this point I'll make a point to mention Drama Dice. Every Hero has 2 or 3 usually (= lowest trait), and Bravo uses one of his two. A Drama Die is +1k1 to any roll (except dealing damage) and always explodes. There are special abilities that use them too, but they won't apply in this example. Bravo's DD results in a 3, so his total of 19 is still not enough.

Alpha has a Brawn of 2, and his weapon is a melee weapon with a 2k2 damage rating (DR). He rolls 4k2 (Brawn k0 + 2k2) getting [9,2,7,4] and chooses to hold back a little for the beginning and keeps the 7 & 4 for an 11. Bravo has a 3 Brawn and thus rolls 3k3 to absorb the damage. He gets [12,2,3] for a 17 so Bravo records 11 Flesh Wounds.

Alpha decides to go all out on phase 2. He has a swordsman school that gives him a knack called "Lunge". Alpha's PD is now 5 until the end of phase 3, and he can't actively defend (not that he has the actions left). His attack roll is [18,8,8,7,6]=34. Bravo has a choice to either take the hit, or spend his two remaining actions to perform an "Interrupt Action" right now, namely to do an AD. He decides he's very unlikely to get a 34 or higher on 4k2 and takes the heavy hit. Thanks to the lunge, Alpha gets +2k0 damage on this attack, making the roll 6k2 now for [9,8,8,5,3,2]=17 wounds. Bravo already has 11 Flesh Wounds, so when he rolls his 3k3 for Brawn he must get a 28 (11+17) or better. Bravo's result is a 20 [9,7,4]. Bravo erases all of his flesh wounds and marks down one Dramatic Wound. Being very resilient and having a Resolve of 3, Bravo still needs to take two Dramatic Wounds before his dice (other than damage and soak) stop exploding, and yet three more before he is unconscious. Had Bravo rolled less than an 8, he would have taken 2 DW (since the rapier weapon type deals an extra per 20 the Wound Check is failed by)


Try Fate Core

Character customization

Although Fate doesn't have a lot of rules for character creation, it's got a lot of depth. The mechanical foundation of your character is a set of short, pithy phrases ("aspects") that "describe something centrally important to your character." (FAE 8) This gives you the room to describe personality, relationships, history, even equipment.

Aspects generally have good and bad elements: Cast now, ask questions later will let you get the drop on enemies with split-second reaction times, but it'll also get you in trouble when you should've waited to find out more first. There are mechanics in place to reward you for making choices that complicate your situation (making the story more interesting), so that you'll have more resources for success later on.

Characters also have skills (which are used for performing most actions, see "interesting combat" below), stress tracks (which represent your ability to stay in a fight, and are Fate's answer to hit points), and stunts (which give you bonuses in certain situations, or allow you to occasionally ignore a game rule because you're awesome). There are defaults provided for each of these, but each group is expected to design their own set of skills if needed depending on the setting, and stunts are usually custom-made by the group to fit the vision a player has of his character, so they provide a great deal of depth.


No classes. If you want to be a wizard, have an aspect that says you are, and that'll justify doing wizardy things. If you want more complexity in your wizardness, use stunts or "extras" (which are like super-stunts that allow for introducing new game mechanics) to make your magic crunchier.

Character advancement

At the end of each session, you can fiddle with your sheet, changing an aspect or switching a skill to reflect the events of the session. This is a "minor milestone" and doesn't increase your character's power.

At the end of each scenario (short story, mini-adventure) you get a skill point.

At the end of each story (big adventure) you get a skill point AND a Refresh point, which lets you buy more stunts or you can hang onto it and it increases the amount of game currency (which lets you make things go your way, or prevent things from going sour on you) you get at the start of each session.

Interesting combat

Fate combat has very little complexity but a lot of depth. There are four actions available, and each is performed by rolling a skill against passive or active opposition:

  • Create Advantage lets you try to help yourself or you friends by creating or discovering an aspect (On fire or Secret door) you can then use, or taking advantage of an existing aspect.
  • Overcome lets you get past something: pick a lock, jump a chasm, lose a tail. Usually if an action isn't obviously one of the other three, it's an Overcome action.
  • Attack is what it says on the tin: trying to hurt someone physically, socially, or mentally. Shooting a guy and insulting his mother can both be attacks.
  • Defend is what you do if you're in a position to oppose any of the other three actions.

The trick to making Fate combat interesting with these few actions is that each roll has four potential outcomes: Fail (or succeed at major cost), tie (succeed at minor cost), succeed, and succeed with style (your success provides an extra benefit). Suddenly each roll is almost guaranteed to do something interesting to change the landscape of the conflict, without a lot of fiddly bits.

Gridless combat

Instead of a grid with minis, Fate uses zones. A zone is a loosely-defined area that says "you can interact with other people in this zone." A bar might be divided into the parking lot, the bar, and the back room.

Totally generic setting

Although there are example settings, and a couple books of settings are coming out soon, Fate Core expects each group to define its own setting at the start of a game, and provides solid advice and procedure for doing it.


CJ Carella's WitchCraft

It's based on the Unisystem. Character creation is point based. You choose what level of magic you are able to use (mundane, lesser gifted, gifted), and you get points for skills and magic (the more magic you can use, the less skill points you get). You choose attributes, qualities, and drawbacks to build your character as well.

Task resolution is simple: 1d10 + attribute + skill. If your total = 9+, you succeed.

You can find the original rules as a free pdf on DriveThru RPG.

It's a radio theatre style game, combats are described, no grid.

One of the best games I've played was with this system. I felt that it really enabled me to "get into character". I hope you take a look at it, at least. It's free, so there's no monetary loss.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Every roll in Unisystem is based on Margins of Success/Failure so when you get into a combat and you succeed by certain amounts and get instant injuries/kills. I've played their All Flesh Must Be Eaten setting personally and it's easy to pick up. There is also a Cinematic System from them if you want to get all John Woo on things. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Sep 5, 2013 at 1:47