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So we are playing D&D now, and we like some things in it, but, of course not all. I would like to know if there is an RPG system that would have what we like in D&D and Pathfinder, but without their most significant flaws.

What I consider good would be:

  • Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths.
  • Fast rules in session (at least once players know special rules they want to use)
  • Variable character complication:
    • It's OK if wizard's spells get complicated, they are slow to learn and may be complicated to cast
    • It's not OK for simple warriors to be complicated, if someone wants to play hit'n'smash, let him
  • No limits without justification:
    • Wizard can run out of juice or have to weak will to force magic staff to listen to him.
    • Warrior unable to use some stances because game says no, when he isn't even tired? Or unable to even grab a magic sword that is by all physical means identical to the one he is using now? No.
  • Easy for DM to scale encounters for players without too much math and planning ahead.
  • Dice based chances over narration based ones. Dice roll should be a basic and standard way to decide success or failure, but at the same time rolling should be simple. Simple enough not to discourage rolling by being time consuming or complicated. One, maybe two rolls per action preferably. We don't want to throw buckets of dices, or roll five or six times just to decide if it was a hit. (Warhammer 40k or fantasy battle game is perfect example of rolling that uses everything we want to avoid)
  • Rules stiff enough to prevent advantage of more imaginative payers, or players who simply happen to have more time to prepare. Time and imagination should contribute to fluff etc, not to power.
  • Readily available high-fantasy rules (not necessarily whole setting, just rules would suffice), like magic and typical monsters, so we don't need to invent all of it from scratch. We don't mind filling some gaps, but we simply will not write a substantial part of the game.
  • Class-less and level-less of course, that's what I said in title.
    • Various aspects of what we know as classes should not be tied to each other. Like "You can't be better at picking pockets unless you learn to backstab people better as well" - why? What if someone does not want to backstab, at all? That's why I don't like levels.
    • And what with dirty fighter types who wants to backstab, but don't care about traps? That's what I dislike about preset classes.

About our party:

  • 3 to 6 players, usually.

  • Campaigns we play vary from 3-session ones to half a year ones.

  • Mix of old and new players.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not quite the same requirements, but this question has a lot of overlap, and some of the recommendations should be good for this question too: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/50041/… \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Dec 9 '14 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Dice based chances over narration based ones. Less dices the better, but that's not critical." If less dice is better, shouldn't it be "Narration based chance over dice based"? \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Dec 10 '14 at 5:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o They make sense if you read them in order as separate layers of requirements. Paraphrasing... 1st: "Fortune-based instead of drama-based resolution preferred." 2nd: "Fortune-based preference doesn't mean I want buckets of dice, so fewer dice / simpler rolling mechanics are preferred." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 10 '14 at 6:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie You are right, that's exactly what I mean. Except for me these are not so separate. Can you tell me if my last edit made this point clearer? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Dec 10 '14 at 7:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Looks good to me! You might want to leave a clarifying comment on the answer below that suggests Amber Diceless Roleplaying, too, since I suspect they misunderstood that part before to mean the opposite of what you meant. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 10 '14 at 7:38
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I believe that Savage Worlds meets your requirements

Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths

Savage Worlds is classless, and allows you a great deal of flexibility in the way you build your character. Although there are Professional Edges, these are very specialist, and do not lead to the types of career paths you get in some other systems.

This tends to make the system relatively straightforward to balance, and as long as you are aware of the strengths of individual characters then it is simple to design sets of encounters that spotlight where necessary without letting one type of skill set dominate.

Fast rules in session (at least once players know special rules they want to use)

The Savage Worlds ruleset is relatively simple, with a common dice roll mechanic that is used for the vast majority of situations. For a typical fantasy genre game, individual magical powers might have some added complexity, but only to a certain extent.

Variable character complication. It's OK if wizard's spells get complicated, they are slow to learn and may be complicated to cast. It's not OK for simple warriors to be complicated, if someone wants to play hit'n'smash, let him

Characters that cover most of the common niches in a typical fantasy party can be built with a desired level of complexity. This is done by carefully selecting their Edges, which are typically the aspects of the character that allow them to perform manoeuvres/tricks that are special cases with their own tweaks to the rules.

No limits without justification

I am not aware of any unjustified limits in the system. Magic users are typically limited by having a set number of power points to cast their spells with that recharge over a set period of time. Strength limits the carrying capacity of all characters, acting as something of a balance for non-magical characters as it can significantly reduce the amount of armour and number of weapons that can be feasibly carried.

Easy for DM to scale encounters for players without too much math and planning ahead

NPC design is simple, and the core rulebook provides a rough mechanism for helping to ensure encounter balance. However, this will vary depending on the exact capabilities of a particular party.

Dice based chances over narration based ones. Less dices the better, but that's not critical

There are no systems that reward players with greater chance of success based on the quality of their narration. However, the benny mechanic, similar to things like fate points includes suggestions for how bennies could be earned, and one of these is often for providing a particularly vivid description of a character action. Having said that though, its easy to ignore and will not affect the balance of the game if you are consistent with all players.

Rules stiff enough to prevent advantage of more imaginative payers, or players who simply happen to have more time to prepare. Time and imagination should contribute to fluff etc, not to power

As previously commented, 99% of the rules are based around a common dice mechanic that provides the GM with a framework to adjudicate on edge cases that imaginative players might come up with. This helps to ensure consistency and prevents such cases from offering unfair advantages.

Readily available high-fantasy rules (not necessarily whole setting, just rules would suffice), like magic and typical monsters, so we don't need to invent all of it from scratch. We don't mind filling some gaps, but we simply will not write a substantial part of the game

The core rules have everything you need to get started with a fantasy genre game. In addition, there are a number of other products that would be well worth your attention. In particular, The Fantasy Companion extends the basic rules with a large number of additions specific to the fantasy genre, including new Edges and Hindrances, genre specific equipment and magic items, and a large menagerie of creatures.

There are a number of Savage Worlds settings that sit within the fantasy genre including Hellfrost, Beasts and Barbarians and Shaintar. I have personal experience with Hellfrost, which is one of my favourite settings in any system, but not with the others.

Classless and levelless

Character advances are based on the amount of experience points earned, which themselves are not tied to killing monsters. Every 5XP gives you an advance, which can be spent in a number of ways (increasing skills, attributes, buying Edges).

Characters also have Ranks, which limit access to certain Edges. For example, Novice is from 0-15xp, Seasoned from 20-35. This mechanic helps prevent access to the more powerful Edges too early in the game.

Various aspects of what we know as classes should not be tied to each other. Like "You can't be better at picking pockets unless you learn to backstab people better as well" - why? What if someone does not want to backstab, at all? That's why I don't like levels

Granularity is at the skill and Edge level. Skills are completely independent, but are linked to the basic character attributes. This means that a character with high Agility will find it cheaper to increase skills linked to Agility. Edges often have prerequisites in the form of minimum levels of certain skills, but in my opinion these make sense. For example, the Edge 'Martial Artist' requires a minimum level in the Fighting skill, representing the fact that to perform the feats the Edge gives you, your character would have to have a certain proficiency in basic melee combat.

3 to 6 players, usually

The system scales well with player number, and I've been involved in successful games ranging from 1 all the way up to 8 players. I'm also aware of GMs that have run with tables of 10-12 players, although that is outside of my personal comfort zone as a GM.

Campaigns we play vary from 3-session ones to half a year ones

Campaign length depends solely on the desire of the GM and players at the table

Mix of old and new players

Savage Worlds is a relatively easy system to pick up and play

Getting a quick look at the system without having to spend anything

As an additional bonus, there are test drive rules and a number of one sheet adventures that cover a wide variety of genres, all of which are freely available to download and try out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You say it's levelless, but it appears that Ranks are identical to typical "levels". OTOH, the idea of a "level" is pretty meaningless when not attached to a particular system, so it's not much of a requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Dec 9 '14 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MooingDuck Are you speaking from experience? IME, they aren't like levels in ways relevant to the question requirements (or in any way, really). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 10 '14 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: Nope, I have no experience whatsoever. Upon rereading I had mentally merged "advances" and "ranks". \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Dec 10 '14 at 17:29
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GURPS is a very versatile skill-based system, completely classless (though recent editions have introduced templates that can be handled much like classes) and level-less; progression is by GM award of single-digit quantities of character points (typically 1 to 4 per session or adventure).

Making magic less common is easy in GURPS; increase the point costs of Magery and/or increase the difficulty levels of spells (common spells become Mental Very Hard, for instance) and the point cost of being a mage goes up -- not to mention that the kind of very powerful spells commonly seen as a main magic in high fantasy have a high prerequisite count, making them costly in any case. Another approach is to use Powers for magic; this eliminates much of the prerequisite tangle, but typically increases point cost for the same effect (but makes it much less likely for non-mage characters to have a couple useful, simple spells in their bag, like Aragorn's healing lore).

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Yes, GURPS Lite is the recommended introduction if you haven't played the game before. There are enough rules in that free download to play and run a basic RPG campaign and see if the game will do what you want -- even though it's about 5% of the Basic Set rules. What I've seen as the biggest drawback to GURPS is that if you're a simulationist like me, I can be slow to play, but you as GM control how much or how little of the system you actually use. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Dec 9 '14 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote this, but I'd like to see addressed this point: "Easy for DM to scale encounters for players without too much math and planning ahead." I've run a long-term GURPS campaign, and unless something's changed dramatically since I've run the game last, GURPS hasn't changed it's here's-the-tools-now-get-to-work stance, making it not a GM's nightmare but at least a GM's uncomfortable bad dream. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 9 '14 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The part about fantasy rules and inventing them wasn't so stressed when this was posted. The part about scalability and encounters was not touched, thought. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Dec 9 '14 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, i disagree, GURPS is crazy hard to balance •Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths. There's so many rules its ALWAYS a crawl •Fast rules in session (at least once players know special rules they want to use) I haven't managed to get a fun encounter EVER with this system, either its a massacre or a drag •Easy for DM to scale encounters for players without too much math and planning ahead. That point is ambiguous... oh it sure is stiff, a little too much maybe? •Rules stiff enough to prevent advantage [etc]... \$\endgroup\$ – Mouhgouda Dec 9 '14 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of the complexity of GURPS and the difficulty of balancing can be addressed by using the Dungeon Fantasy lens supplements. These still give you the flexibility and power of GURPS. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Dec 10 '14 at 9:22
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GURPS and Savage Worlds are both good choices, but if your only objection to using Dresden files was the high power of magic, then I would recommend Fate Core, which is the latest iteration of the Fate system Dresden Files was based on (but not skewed towards the magic-heavy nature of the setting).

Easy to balance, no significant "tiers" of career paths.

Fate doesn't use careers or classes; it's aspect and skill/stunt-based. Since all types of characters use the same rules, no one approach is more powerful than another.

Fast rules in session (at least once players know special rules they want to use)

There are four actions one can do in a turn, and they are all resolved in a single roll against either a set difficulty or an opposed roll by the other character.

Variable character complication: It's OK if wizard's spells get complicated, they are slow to learn and may be complicated to cast

You'll be responsible for figuring out how complicated wizards are. Dresden uses a completely unique magic system but the example campaign in the Core rulebook shows a character simply rolling Lore as his magic skill. Magic can either be handwaved into abstraction or expanded into a complete system, depending on the interest of you or your players. There are also a number of example magic systems in the Fate Toolkit that you can use, abuse, or modify to your own ends.

It's not OK for simple warriors to be complicated, if someone wants to play hit'n'smash, let him

All characters are as complicated as players want them to be. If a player wants to get all strategic and stack Advantages in combat, passing free invokes around and otherwise using superior tactics, he can. Conversely, if all he wants to do is roll Fight every round and hope his attack does the trick, he can dump all of his skill points into Fight and be done with it.

No limits without justification:

The only limits are those that make narrative sense. If you as a group decide that the wizard can use a sword, he can. If the fighter wants to pick locks, he puts some points into Burglary and that's that. There's no classes or set rules for classes to restrict anyone.

Easy for DM to scale encounters for players without too much math and planning ahead.

Fate encounters are easy to balance; the rules for them are very straightforward and tell you "if a character has an ability score of X over the party's they will be this difficult to defeat." It also tells you what scores opponents of various power levels should have, from nameless cannon fodder up through big-name villains.

Dice based chances over narration based ones. Less dices the better, but that's not critical.

Every roll is 4DF (four Fate dice) plus a skill rating.

Rules stiff enough to prevent advantage of more imaginative payers, or players who simply happen to have more time to prepare. Time and imagination should contribute to fluff etc, not to power.

Although it's possible to steer the narration in ways that gives advantages to certain players, mechanically speaking everyone has the exact same rules available to them. There's no real way to 'game' the system in the ways that, say, clever feat selection in D&D 3E might.

Readily available high-fantasy rules (not necessarily whole setting, just rules would suffice), like magic and typical monsters, so we don't need to invent all of it from scratch. We don't mind filling some gaps, but we simply will not write a substantial part of the game.

Between Fate Core and the Fate Toolkit, you should have everything you need to have a system as rules-light or rules-heavy as you want. People have also been writing Fate hacks and expanded systems since its release, many of which are freely available on the Internet.

As for "having to invent it all from scratch", the great thing about Fate is that all you need to do is follow the guidelines listed in the book to create content for any genre. For example, the aforementioned Toolkit contains magic systems. The basic rulebook also gives examples on creating your own, as well as other general props of the setting in the section(s) on creating Stunts and Extras.

More specifically, though, you don't need setting-specific rules or to even generate monster stat blocks ahead of time. Let's say that you need an Ogre. You don't have stats for an Ogre, so what do you do? In most systems you'd have to either follow a math process to generate an Ogre's hit dice, ability scores, etc; in Fate, you decide "an Ogre is a Minor Villain. The Fate Core rules say the stats for a Minor Villain are X, Y, and Z, and has 3 Aspects. I'll make those Aspects Big & Ugly, Hungry for Adventurers, and OGRE SMASH!. I'm done. There's my Ogre." This can literally be done on-demand as it takes all of thirty seconds.

However, most of the play examples in the book are set in a fantasy campaign, and provide a decent jumping-off point. The only thing you'd really have to add is loot, assuming your players are into that sort of thing. The section on creating Extras has a magic Demonslayer blade as an example of how to do that.

The great thing about Fate is that everything is described with Aspects, and the things that aren't, you can find a listing in the book on what numbers to assign. This keeps you from needing a separate ruleset for every genre, although you can still create additional bits if you need to fill a hole somewhere.

As for setting, there's a couple of Fate Worlds sourcebooks available from Evil Hat, and a section on building your own world (again, using Aspects) in the core rules. You can also adapt published settings for other systems very easily due to not needing to do any mathematical conversions; simply take the places you like, drop in the NPCs you like, give them aspects, and then stat them like the Ogre above when it comes time to require numbers.

Class-less and level-less of course, that's what I said in title.

Yup.

Various aspects of what we know as classes should not be tied to each other. Like "You can't be better at picking pockets unless you learn to backstab people better as well" - why? What if someone does not want to backstab, at all? That's why I don't like levels. And what with dirty fighter types who wants to backstab, but don't care about traps? That's what I dislike about preset classes.

There are no preset classes. Your character is what you want them to be.

Seriously, give Fate Core a go. It's free to try at the SRD Reference site. It's also pay-what-you-like at DTRPG. So if you want to check out the whole book risk-free, you can. And if you decide it's worth your hard-earned cash, you can go back and re-buy it at a price you deem fair.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you speak more to how Fate Core satisfies the bolded requirement here: "Readily available high-fantasy rules (not necessarily whole setting, just rules would suffice), like magic and typical monsters, so we don't need to invent all of it from scratch"? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 9 '14 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can do. Edit incoming. \$\endgroup\$ – Sandalfoot Dec 9 '14 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ And for magic/spellcasting systems? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 9 '14 at 22:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know how much clearer I can make "Fate Toolkit comes with a bunch of magic systems" and "the basic ruleset has an example of a magic system in it". Maybe you can explain what else you're looking for? \$\endgroup\$ – Sandalfoot Dec 10 '14 at 0:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do any of them feel D&D-like? Are there magic items, or must these be scratch-made? Are there any spell lists? In general, how "complete" would these magic systems feel to someone coming from a D&D background (which needs no pre-campaign creation)? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 10 '14 at 3:40
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Advanced Fighting Fantasy by Graham Bottley may be what you're looking for. AFF is a British roleplaying game based on the Fighting Fantasy game books written by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (= the English author and game designer named Steve Jackson, not the American game designer Steve Jackson). AFF is a skill-based system. There are no levels or classes. Players may choose from a number of standard fantasy races (Human, Elf, Dwarf), four characteristics (Skill, Stamina, Luck, Magic), Special Skills (Combat, Movement, Stealth, Knowledge and Magical special skills), several Special Talents, and a Social Class ranging from beggar to king. Like GURPS, players can choose optional character archetypes for faster character creation.

Game play is fast and simple. Combat is resolved with opposed Skill dice rolls each round, with the high roller then rolling for damage. There are four magic schools: Cantrips, Priest, Sorceror, and Wizard. Magic power is derived from the Magic or Stamina characteristics.

In addition to the AFF core rulebook, there are many supplements: The Sorcery Spell Book is a magic compendium, Out of the Pit and Beyond the Pit are monster bestiaries, Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World describes the fantasy setting of AFF, and Crown of Kings is an adventure campaign.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, post is edited. And to make things even more confusing, the American Steve Jackson authored one of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. :P \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Dec 9 '14 at 16:28
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RuneQuest as written.

Skill resolution is a simple "roll D100 equal or less than skill".

There's multiple kinds of magic (specifics are likely to vary depending on exactly what version of RQ you end up using), with varying degrees of complication.

Multiple possible player races (including ducks, would you believe).

I don't recall encounters to be hard to balance, but (a) I've played BRP-based systems since the early 80s and (b) by about 15 years when I started playing RQ, so I am likely to be biased.

There's plenty of monsters, ranging through a variety of mythologies, including a fair few that were original with RQ.

Being entirely based on skills, there's no "classes" or "levels". There's, however, recommended career paths that shape initial character skills (that's eminently ignorable, if the GM and players so wish, though).

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