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So, here is the situation: I am DMing an RPG group that is almost finishing one of those old and small RPG books with introductory campaigns (written by Steve Jackson and NO GURPS!).

The problem IS: This group is my family, summing up 17 people. Not everyone appears all the sessions, but there are a few (3~7) that are mostly always present. Sometimes a random friend of someone appears and joins the game to play once or twice(I personally can handle this by turning him into an NPC until it goes away/dies). Most of them are NOT into numbers, and get confused easily with "complex" systems, or by the NEED to keep track of so many things at once(but not all of them, one or two can be the "banker" and still play normally). As a side note(not a problem itself): they can have any alignment, but none of them will ever want to be evil.

So, bullet points: - Flexibility in the number of people (single game handling from 5 to 17 people in a party, commonly 9~10) and their frequency/rotation on table.

  • I like the absurd freedom of choice of players("I want to hug that evil bad-looking zombie-demon and ask it to be my friend! :D" ), so choice flexibility for DM and player is also a must.

  • Most choices made should have some meaningful impact in the future, as I'm thinking in a sort of sand-box campaign with some hidden and bigger plot going on. The setting will be somewhere around medieval-fantasy (a deep and open campaign setting)

  • Being a party SO BIG, combat must be practical, no number crunching, fast and flexible (probably using the PCs aptitudes paired with dices, cards, w/e).

  • The system can have bookeping, but must be kept low OR optional , as only about 2 to 3 of my family members are capable of doing so decently. Something like one player keep track of the money for the whole party until shopping-time.

  • There must be an explicit progression system going on their characters, as well as the world around them (characters getting stronger and better, world getting somewhat more challenging where they are). (PC development)

  • There must be a good variety of choices, especially for classes/roles(no need for explicit rules, just have room for it). Some may want to be a wizard, other warriors, and one wants a pirate...(the PF gunslinger-fighter mix? xD)

  • greatly desired, but not a must, is the ability to reuse and adapt content from other systems(namely pathfinder, that I am playing as a druid in a party of 6).

I already looked upon some systems mentioned in similar questions, like Fate(very good on the practical combat, the fate tokens), but I suppose my group's crazy varying range of people playing and the sand-box nature of my campaign would conflict with the plot-based nature of Fate. Sorry for the length, but I thought in as many details I could for the question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do not answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 20 '14 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any particular requirements for the setting/genre e.g. Fantasy, Sci-Fi? My choice of answers here would greatly depend on that. \$\endgroup\$ – Aiken Nov 20 '14 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ We aggressively delete answers in comments. Don't worry about it, oh querent. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 1 '14 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ So many of these requirements are hand-wavey and vague that I'm not clear which of 100 games is a good answer for it. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 2 '14 at 1:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then could you make a more clear example from one of the bullet points listed? I tried to be as clear as possible, if I know or learn something about how to make it better, I'll try to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – RodrigoCns Dec 8 '14 at 14:52
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I think you should give Fate (and especially Fate Accelerated) another look. There isn't really anything in there that would hamper a sandbox campaign; if anything, Fate's loose, "Declare a Story Detail"/"Create an Advantage" narrative devices are really well-suited for an open-ended game, and the Fate Fractal/Bronze Rule makes for a great world management system; IE, your players just killed the Big Bad, the world takes stress and the complication "Massive Power Vacuum" comes into play.

I ran an introductory one-shot to Fate recently with a n00b to the whole roleplaying thing and a guy who's mostly played old-school D&D and they both had no problem getting into it, even if they did mostly just roll dice and completely forget about their Aspects except when they needed to invoke them for a reroll. Worked out just fine.

Fate's great in that generally speaking you can only use the parts of it you need; if all you want is the skill system and aspects, go for it. It's a great basic system with or without whatever extra trappings of plot or storytelling you may or may not want to throw in.

As to the bullet points...

I like the absurd freedom of choice of players("I want to hug that evil bad-looking zombie-demon and ask it to be my friend! :D" ), so choice flexibility for DM and player is also a must.

In Fate, you get to choose your character's concept; the only limitations here are the ones the GM sets for his world. So, if you want gunslingers and knights, you're A-OK. Also, the Aspects system allows you to try anything you want in combat and have it be useful in the form of Creating Advantages to either Invoke yourself or pass on to other players. Hugging the zombie may distract it enough for the fighter to stab it in the face (Create the aspect "hugged!", gain a free invoke, fighter invokes it for a bonus to his roll, zombie is dead. Alternately, treat the hug as a social/mental attack and if the zombie is taken out of the conflict, it's because he's now your friend and doesn't want to eat your brainz anymore).

Most choices made should have some meaningful impact in the future, as I'm thinking in a sort of sand-box campaign with some hidden and bigger plot going on. The setting will be somewhere around medieval-fantasy (a deep and open campaign setting)

...This isn't really a system thing, it's a "GM making use of player choices" thing. Still, there are examples in Fate Core on using your players' aspects to help build your world.

Being a party SO BIG, combat must be practical, no number crunching, fast and flexible (probably using the PCs aptitudes paired with dices, cards, w/e).

All combat actions are one of the four Core Actions (Create Advantage, Overcome, Attack, Defend) and are resolved with a single roll of 4dF + skill vs. either a target number or opposing roll.

The system can have bookeping, but must be kept low OR optional , as only about 2 to 3 of my family members are capable of doing so decently. Something like one player keep track of the money for the whole party until shopping-time.

Fate handwaves bookkeeping completely. Even money is abstracted as a Resources roll.

There must be an explicit progression system going on their characters, as well as the world around them (characters getting stronger and better, world getting somewhat more challenging where they are). (PC development)

Fate does have a progression system, and I'd say it's explicit in that you know that at the end of a story you're getting a skill point and a Refresh, and you can buy additional stunts and what-not, as well as change your aspects. While it's true that you won't be dealing with the "I'm level four now, what are my new skills?" thing, this is either a plus or a minus. YMMV.

There must be a good variety of choices, especially for classes/roles(no need for explicit rules, just have room for it). Some may want to be a wizard, other warriors, and one wants a pirate...(the PF gunslinger-fighter mix? xD)

Choices are limited only by what you're willing to play, and Extras can be easily created for any oddball choices (the Core rules give a quick and dirty example of using Lore for magic, and the Fate Toolkit offers suggestions on building your own).

greatly desired, but not a must, is the ability to reuse and adapt content from other systems(namely pathfinder, that I am playing as a druid in a party of 6).

Not really an issue, as Fate characters can be statted up in a matter of seconds. But there are a lot of Fate rules hacks and other versions of the system to ste... uh, research from if you want additional rules.

As to the issue about characters assumed to be competent from the start, this can be tweaked by simply lowering the skill cap and/or ranks available to a starting character, so that no one can begin at anything higher than a +2, for example.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Fate and FAE fit most of the requirements, but they start from the assumption that characters are already competent; there's less of an advancement system, which the OP is asking for. (In my experience with Dresden Files, Fate advancement is incremental.) Do you have any experience with a stronger advancement system for Fate/FAE? \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Nov 20 '14 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvoters: feedback? \$\endgroup\$ – Sandalfoot Nov 24 '14 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the not so robust advancement system in fate made me get some distrust in it, but now I am about to begin our adventure with a mix of Fate and Fudge system (still generic, free-form, and few more numbers for me! :D ). The advancement system felt more reasonable ... Thanks xD \$\endgroup\$ – RodrigoCns Jan 22 '15 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Glad it all worked out in the end... good luck with your game! \$\endgroup\$ – Sandalfoot Jan 23 '15 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RodrigoCns If you're mixing Fate and Fudge, play FATE 2.0. It's better for this anyways and is also known as "FATE with Fudge" \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 4 '15 at 6:51
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Ars Magica

I've run large ars magica games before, and it seems like it fits your requirements nicely.

First and foremost, the world of Mythic Europe, drawing comprehensively on philosophy, history, and myth, is a deep, rich setting with hooks for additional research. (A surprising number of books in my library are both older than I am and purchased as campaign research).

The beauty of Ars Magica is that it supports troupe style of play. If your family is a covenant, the group can tailor the challenges in the local area to their interests. People have multiple characters: their magi, but also companions and "grogs". Grogs, bit characters who are just part of the background normally, are great for unexpected new players, as they can be described in a few simple sentences, are designed to be fun and easy to play, and are eminently disposable. Troupe style, centred around a covenant, allows for ad-hoc parties to be assembled on the night, to deal with "The problem of the week." without need for explaining away the "missing party members." (They're right there, but they're busy with their own research/practice/work)

The game presents ultimate freedom of choice, as the primary activity (in the field) is exploration, rather than combat. Figuring out what is going on is the responsibility of the companions and the grogs, such that a Magi (or appropriate delegated representative (as the magi hate leaving their labs) can fix it with a well thought out spell or two.) An episodic structure with direct or subtle problems fits very well.

You may also choose to use the LARP rules1 for even more expedient resolution, especially for whatever combats do arise (Beyond that, make sure to precalculate the necessary modifiers). For the family members who like bookkeeping, they can play magi. For everyone else, there are plenty of grogs, companions, or other wandering colourful characters (pirate, captain, etc) who can wander in, say a few brief lines, and leave if they desire. The game absolutely supports this style of play. The covenant's setting should be chosen with these supporting characters in mind, leaving the magi and their research as the hub of play.

There have been publications (especially in 4th edition) which show how given ars Magica adventures can be mapped to other systems. By inverting that process, or even my borrowing the plot of those adventures and dropping it in wholesale, you can port most any short non-world-saving adventure to the game, so long as you file off the serial numbers and adapt it to the world's paradigm.)

Because of the rules for the different realms, your family may also want to explore philosophical questions of the divine (maybe someone's a priest or rabbi) or story (the nature of the fae and their interactions with mortals presents a never ending series of plot complications to resolve. By design.)


1 Honestly, the larp rules are an extension of Ars Magica. I hacked them significantly when I ran my larp, and should only be considered if Ars Magica is your chosen setting, but the crunch involved in companions and grogs is a little too much. If you're not going to buy into the setting and the idea of the tribunal-as-family, then it's not worth buying into the LARP rules either. The Fallen Fane contains rules as part of its scenario for the scenario, which offer a basis for understanding and alteration to fit your specific needs. If you want to "Try before you buy" read the free 4th edition PDF of the core rules. If the setting grabs you, and if troupe style play seems right for your group then risk a few bucks and buy the extra rules. I have the dead tree version of them and I've not been disappointed.

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A Western Marches style campaign would help you deal with the varying numbers.

The idea is that you base out of a "safe" base such as a town or castle. The members for each session go out on a mission from that keep, complete the mission and return all inside one session.

This means that if people change between sessions that's fine, the other people are just busy IC and the group going out are the people who have time or interest to deal with whatever problem you are going out to handle.

http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/

In terms of rules systems I'd suggest just taking D&D or Pathfinder, and stripping it down to the bare minimums and then using large amounts of "rule of cool".

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfCool

In other words just use the basic combat mechanics from D&D, for anything else they try and do if it's cool then just pick an appropriate skill and DC and have them go for it.

A Western Marches Example

I'm running an online western marches game at the moment. We run every Wednesday and a group of 4 to 6 people from the pool of 10 or so that are signed up to the game go out after a specific objective.

For example most recently they hunted down some Ogres who had attacked a farmstead and rescued (the surviving) prisoners. Other sessions have involved searching for quarry sites, exploring abandoned mines, breaking the siege on a Svirfneblin hold, etc. The key thing is breaking everything down to the point where the players can get in, accomplish something, and then finish and return to safety in a single session.

A Minimalist Example

I don't have anything like this running at the moment but in the past I've experimented with stripped down D&D (similar to first edition, essentially you had your stats, spells items and that was it). No skills, no feats, no combat maneuvers nothing like that. If someone wanted to try something just roll against the stat.

i.e.

Thief: I leap from the staircase onto the chandelier, swing across the room on it and drop on top of the enemy wizard striking him with my sword.

Me: Ok the leap is fairly easy but aiming the swing is not, Give me a Dex check DC 8 to make the leap and DC15 to land on the wizard.

Thief rolls (including dex mod): 15 and then 12.

Me: You leap onto the chandelier and start to swing in the right direction but you aren't going to reach him, it's starting to swing back. What do you do. Quick it's starting to fall back!

Thief: Drop, I drop,

Me: Ok, you land in front of the wizard but not close enough to strike

(Moves onto next person's turn)

The more he failed the roll by the worst it would have gone for him, for example a fumble would involve him slipping from the chandelier and landing prone surrounded by enemies. If he hadn't made a decision fast he'd have ended up riding the chandelier back anyway.

This is much more free form and responsive than Pathfinder, D&D 3, etc. In those people tend to be so tied up in looking at what their feats and skills let them do that they forget they can do other things too.

Instead encourage people to come up with crazy ideas and then judge it based on "is it cool" and "is it remotely possible (for a superhuman adventurer)". Assign a difficulty accordingly and then let them go for it.

The best thing is that getting into the game is easy - you just need 6 stats, equipment, class and level. Encourage a few people to do cool things and soon enough the rest will join in (if need be kick start things by setting a few scenarios up or have them see an NPC ally do it).

As a word of warning though stuff like this isn't quite so much fun when the monsters do it back so make sure you scale things down. Personally I'd recommend only having "big bads" pull crazy stunts and have your standard monsters be much more boring. Let the players do the cool stuff.

Roll For Shoes

Of course for a truly minimalist example I've never played Roll for Shoes but the mechanics look solid and I know people who've had some fun with it.

http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/11348/microdungeons-i-roll-to-see-if-i-have-shoes-on/

If considering Roll For Shoes you should look at Roll For Shoes - Does the advancement system work for longer campaigns?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth mentioning that the original West Marches experiment used Savage Worlds. In character-creation weight and play procedure structures that's quite similar to the lighter editions of D&D, so that could serve as a citation that a stripped-down 3/3.5/4/PF (or a full-system 5e, B/X, retroclone, or Savage Worlds + fantasy supplements itself) is suitable to recreate the campaign style. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '14 at 22:00
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New gods of mankind has a fairly easy system for conflict resolution and also character creation. Even if one is not really into playing gods the basic idea behind the character reation system could be easily adapted.

By itself it has a bronze age background story with stats for quite a diversity of species and monsters and also a few maps. There are rules for city creation that are fairly simple but still detailed enough to do the job.

The system is quite easy to use as each character (nongod) has 3 stats which define what dice is being rolled (1d2 to 1d12). The conflict system is quite easy and simplistic but detailed enough so that even 100 attacking 1 person or the other way round can be done with just 1 roll of a dice wihtout loosing a feeling "ok that one person has a problem....at least if he is a mortal". Almost all conflict resolutions can be made within 1-2 dice rolls (if one uses powers it depends a little as a player can react to another players action and so on like "I'm letting your city being swallowed by a rip in the earth", "The city suddenly begins to lift itself off the earth face into the air", "A mighty wind blows the city against the near mountain to crash it", "Before that happens the mountain crumbles to dust",.... naturally 1 dice roll per each of these things and energy must be spent each).

If your players and you are into playing gods and demons then there is a complete system also included for that that builds upon the same simplicity. Gods are defined by "just" saying these are his primary domain and his secondary domains and that is it. For details one can detail sets of rules the god sets for his followers but that is not necessary. Demons are a bit more complex there but still can be created in mere minutes.

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Something fast and loose is Tunnels and Trolls. There is a buncha dice-rolling, but not nearly the number crunching of a proper ARS Magica campaign. You'd have to hack a bit at the classes, but pirate can be a fighter with props and some window dressing.

Suggestion for your bankers / record-keepers: use monopoly money. And use a different type of money for experience points - and maybe MtG cards for your magic weapons. People tend to be able to keep track of things if you give them something physical to hold / fiddle with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This could use some fleshing out with reasons why it fits the requirements - you've covered some of them, but not all, and not in depth. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Nov 20 '14 at 8:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Use of props to make the game more accessible is great idea to reduce book-keeping, and could be expanded. Most of the more rules-lite games will not provide or even suggest those props, but they are easy to add to make them feel even less numeric. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Nov 20 '14 at 9:43

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