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Since I am thinking about running a short adventure (one or two sessions) set in Westeros for some roleplaying amateurs, and I personally think the Song of Ice and Fire RPG Rules by Green Ronin might be too heavy and complex, I am looking for light-weight alternatives.

My gamers know the world mostly by the TV series, and i would like to run it combat- and action-focused, and with low to no magic.
The players should play lowborns, so grim and gritty rules would match my thoughts quite well, which is why i was thinking about WFRP rules, but there is a problem with the magics and the careers.
I thought about Savage Worlds as well, but i dislike the freak roll opportunities - I would prefer it a bit more reliable.
I think D&D is too heroic and too magical as well.

And that's where my deeper knowledge of systems ends.

To sum it up, i am looking for a system that:

  • Has low to medium complexity
    • For comparison I would rate Savage Worlds and D&D5 medium complex, while DSA (The Dark Eye) would be high complexity.
  • Has quick combat
  • Can do Fantasy without magic (or with magic as a non-crucial aspect)
  • Can be nasty and grim and lethal, if you are not careful
  • Is somewhat reliable (preferably no exploding dice)
  • Preferably does not use character-classes
  • Preferably focuses on simulation rather than narration
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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

closed as primarily opinion-based by mxyzplk Aug 7 '15 at 16:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

locked by SevenSidedDie Feb 23 '16 at 6:05

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it's a dupe, but have you looked here? \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 3 '15 at 11:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, possible duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/16207/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 5 '15 at 12:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to close this because as best as I can tell literally none of the answers are following our game-rec guidelines of "only speak up if you've run this kind of game with the system you are proposing." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 7 '15 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Isn’t it weird to close a question because of the answers? \$\endgroup\$ – Édouard Aug 16 '15 at 17:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sad you had to close this, but i can see why. I actually got some Ideas out of the answers and comments, although none of them was exactly what i was looking for. Should probably have posted it on a forum instead. Sorry. \$\endgroup\$ – Krayzeee Aug 17 '15 at 6:12
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The Sword, the Crown, and the Unspeakable Power (SCUP) is designed to emulate the political fantasy found in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it doesn't do everything you're looking for. SCUP is currently in beta, so you would need to contact Wheel Tree Press to get the latest draft. If you're curious how it plays, I Podcast Magic Missile recorded a ten-episode run of SCUP.

Pros

  • It's Powered by the Apocalypse and stays close to Apocalypse World rules-wise, so it inherits getting started quickly, a lot of the grittiness, and the way mechanics and narration are tied together.

  • It can do one shots, but a few sessions will help establish the setting and give more opportunities for the Faction rules to have an effect.

  • Quick combat. PCs are tougher than most NPCs. Characters can be killed outright if they're captured, helpless, etc., but the game is generally more about wheeling and dealing between characters.

Cons

  • It has playbooks (eleven to choose from), which might be too close to character classes for what you're looking for. The Beloved is closely tied to an Unspeakable Power (Melisandre), and the Voice influences those in power (Littlefinger). At the less overtly powerful end, the Screw is a professional torturer (probably in the employ of the Crown), the Spur captains a militia, and the Black Hood is more of a thief/assassin type.

  • Magic is present and available to everyone (Gaze into the Unspeakable Power), but it is not something players want to do lightly. Some playbooks offer more powerful moves (Harness the Unspeakable Power); you could limit access to these.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer does not meet the requirements of our game-rec guidelines, which are based on the Back It Up! principles of having done or seen done what the OP proposes with the game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 9 '15 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1. "Might be helpful" doesn't meet our guidelines as you know. 2. Yes, Back It Up! indicates that either you or someone else has used the game to play a kind of campaign the OP proposes. So documentation of someone else running a Westeros-esque, mod-low complexity, quick combat, low magic, grim and lethal, etc etc. game is valid. Given that Apoc World is pure narrative and the complete opposite of sim, but that's a reason to disagree with an answer, not to declare it "not an answer." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 9 '15 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Fully disclosing that your answer does not meet the requirements of being a good answer does not make it a good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 17 '15 at 1:15
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Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) or The Dark Eye (DSA)

Okay, I know you ruled them out explicitely, so give me a chance to explain before you downvote.

I agree with your idea that both are somewhat complex and include too much magic for a campaign in Westeros.

However, those two drawbacks are not independent of each other. Those games are complex, because of the magic. And you don't want the magic. So don't use the magic. That solves both problems at once.

Just declare that magic does not exist. All rules concerning magic are null and void.

As an advantage, you seem to already know both systems. No need to read another rulebook.

I have played non-magic campaigns in both D&D 3.5 and DSA that were a lot of fun. They were not forced to be non-magic, but we had only very few players and none picked a magic using class. So about every other adventure the enemy was mundane, too and the adventure was completely without magic. It worked well. Obviously you need to pick classes that work without magic.

DSA does not have "classes" per se. D&D does have classes, but for a one off with only mundane characters, I'm not sure it matters. You may not even level in two sessions and I'm not sure it matters how you built your starting character.

You never said anything about races. When we played the non-magic campaigns, we all chose humans. You don't really need different races. Or you could reflavor them to the seven kingdoms. But humans only works fine.

Personally I find D&D at lower levels pretty gritty and DSA can be the same way. But that's largely a matter of playstyle. You can make it gritty if you want to.

I'm not saying that D&D or DSA without magic would be the same as the original. I'm not claiming that the balance of a campaign of two years and into epic levels will still hold. I'm not claiming that adventures crafted for normal play would work.

But what I do claim is the fact that I did play both systems without magic and it worked very well. For a one-shot self-created adventure that is aware of the rule-changes, I don't see any drawbacks.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As always, if you think this is "not useful", please leave a comment, so I can change it. Without a comment, I can only wonder and that does not improve my post. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Aug 7 '15 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's probably the missing Westeros experience. A question about "low magic fantasy", that this answers, would probably be closed as too broad; the needs for politicking, low magic but mysterious and powerful magic where it appears, and gritty realism that mentioning "Westeros" brings is more than just low-magic fantasy. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 7 '15 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Lots of people play in Westeros, especially since the books have been around for decades, so it's not extreme to expect people to answer from experience. (Doubly especially since there are not one but two licensed RPGs set in Westeros.) In any case, I'm only guessing at what the voter(s) may have been downvoting for, especially since the view that Westeros is generic low-magic fantasy is not common among those who do game in Westeros. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 7 '15 at 22:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't have to get as specific as "Westeros," but so far this answer does not meet our game-rec standards as it does not describe experience with a game sufficiently like the OP's request (it does describe it with a non-magic-using D&D, but that still deviates from the request significantly - grim and gritty, no levels, etc.). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 9 '15 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt Personally, I downvoted because "play D&D without using magic" seems like a really bad suggestion for a gritty low-magic fantasy game. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 17 '15 at 2:05
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For this game I would go with FATE RPG.

Now let's look at the reasons.

You want a short and light adventure with fun and rules-light environment. Has low complexity but is a bit higher on the creative end with the aspects. And the aspects replace the character classes of old D&D.

Combat can be easely set to fit with what is happening with pacing "Scene", "Exchange" or "Turn-based". The simulation / narration divide is controllable, while the simulation feel will strongly depend on how the system is run and the feel of the GM.

I like system for the option of a low magic fantasy.

I reasently took a gamegroup and told them to make them selfe in there own lifes, and the brougth them to a distopian feudal medeval world by a magic experiment that thay where playing with. Thay had no skills that where good for the setting and had problems with the language, but I let them have basig grasp of the language. Thay where forced into labour in a castle that was later under sige by horrible forces.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is this at -2 ... I do not understand \$\endgroup\$ – Kári Gunnarsson Aug 8 '15 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be because it didn't contain any indication that you had read the guidelines for answering game recommendation questions. (Links to the guidelines can be found in the banner beneath the question.) Your last edit added some of the things the guidelines requires, but I would recommend reading them still to see if there's anything more you can add to improve the answer's adherence to the guidelines. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 9 '15 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer does not meet the requirements of our game-rec guidelines, which are based on the Back It Up! principles of having done or seen done what the OP proposes with the game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 9 '15 at 14:52
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For something like this I would use a system like Torchbearer, a game based on both The Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard - Role Playing Game (Cannot post the link, sorry).

Torchbearer has been designed to be a modern take on the original D&D, making it very lethal. I have read the rules and I know pretty well both Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard. They have a very interesting combat system and Torchbearer makes use of Mouse Guard's simplified combat system making it a very fast strategical combat where precise positioning does not matte but trying to predict enemies' behaviour is crucial to survival.

Magic is not a crucial aspect, while careful planning is. And the game does not expect you to narrate a lot. It is very focused on exploration. As an example: going to a town, for the game, is just a play phase, in which you decide the actions, roll dice to fix things and replenish your equipment and then the group is back in action. It is stated that it should not take more than half an hour.

I also consider GURPS 4th a medium-complexity game and very close to what you are looking for, but I know that most people consider GURPS very complex, so I would say you should take a look at it but do not loose too much time on it ;)

Experience:

Since I have been asked here you go some of the experience I have with the listed systems:

The Burning Wheel

I have ran a one year and a half campaign using The Burning Wheel plus a couple one-shots, either with high magic, almost no magic or steampunk. The system allows players to have magical backgrounds, but using magic is extremely dangerous, so most players and DM stick to no-magic settings or low-magic settings. However no character is required to know or have something to do with magic. In addition some of the backgrounds are related with a negative view of magic, so I suppose this would be good for your case. Another thing that adds something good for your setting (if I remember correctly, as I read only the first novels) is that characters require A LOT OF TIME to recover. A LOT. This can help you in advance your power struggles while characters wait to recover.

The Problem with The Burining Wheel: It's VERY complex to learn the fighting system. If even one of your players do not know the rules by heart fights become long. And there is a problem with fights different than one-on-one (i.e. as you can split multi-character fights in separated one-on-one fights, you might end with two-on-one, three-on-one, etc. fights. The "one" in the last fights WILL DIE. No exception. I think it's realistic, but players do not want that, I suppose) or combining melee and distance weapons.

Mouse Guard

I ran 2 short (2~3 sessions) campaigns using Mouse Guard. Mouse Guard takes The Burning Wheel background and combat system and removes all the complex bits, leaving only the interesting parts. It is very streamlined but also technical and can be lethal if players are not careful (in my first campaign one expert player died at the first encounter, and I set it to be a tutorial), exactly what you were asking (Quick combat, low/medium ruleset, lethal if not careful). The game also integrates a VERY interesting season mechanic, but I suppose we do not want Winter to come, do we? ;)

The Problem with Mouse Guard: Players should be mice.

GURPS 4th

I managed various campaigns (I started playing 14 years ago with GURPS 3rd and participated in more than 10 GURPS campaigns, one of which was set in Westeros even BEFORE all the social buzz. I think it was 2006) and planned and ran a convention one-shot with GURPS 4th. As I told you before GURPS 4th can be pretty complex if you use EVERY single feature, but you can skim it by removing some of the things that make combat complex (such as the over-complicated distance modifiers, which require you to keep track of every single yard of distance between fighting characters, or some of the most complex fighting actions). GURPS 4th, however, is pretty brutal in fights, making every encounter potentially lethal, has NO classes (only points to distribute to create characters), high customisation potential and magic is viewed as just an add-on to the game, so you can remove it without changing anything/

The Problem with GURPS 4th: PowerPlayers could come up with some over-powerful Advantage/Disadvantage/Skills combination. Keep them in check. e.g. Do not allow them to get a talent in weapons, it will destroy your campaign setting, I think it will result in some anticlimatic boss battles.

Torchbearer

I still have to try Torchbearer due to the lack of time and because I have been away from my group since I have bought the manual, but I have read the manual and having extensive experience with the parent systems I can suggest them for this scenario, as Torchbearer gets the streamlined fighting system from Mouse Guard and integrates it in a gritty fantasy setting.

About the setting

As you might have read I have played a short campaign set in Westeros and I have just ONE SINGLE suggestion to you: do not play campaigns based on very structured settings. I do not know which players will play with you, but if you have a difference in setting knowledge this will ruin the enjoyability of your campaign. People will try to connect to the novels, others will just play because it looks fun while others and others will have problems following all the details of the setting. For a short campaign come with your take of that world, detach it from the novels and the TV series, you'll have much more fun this way.

This is a personal point of view on how campaign settings should be chosen and diverges from the suggestions I have provided you. They still persist if you'd like to run a Westeros campaign.

An additional system you might want to consider - QIN

Since you want to play a Westeros campaign I did not suggest an additional syestem which looks it reflects most of the points you listed, but I will write a couple of things here if you are interested:

QIN is an RPG designed to play Wuxia campaigns, however the "wuxia" powers are very limited in the first levels for character and the setting is very low-fantasy and gritty, with some fantasy creatures creeping around, but most of the enemies are humans. However the game is set in ancient China (or in ancient Eastern setting), so it might be somewhat complex to manage a QIN campaign. I have played a couple of short campaigns and I have to say I really had fun with it. Take a look at it if you'd like, you might find some good ideas to use in other gritty Western fantasy campaigns.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any experience of using these systems in this kind of setting before? \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 4 '15 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. Game recommendation answers require including personal experience or another's personal experience. If you haven't done it, the banner implies, you can't recommend it. You should edit your answer to include your experiences with a system would be good for short adventures in Westeros or delete the answer if you have none; doing either is totally okay. Thank you for participating and trying to help strangers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 4 '15 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think there's been some miscommunication. The requirement is to include experience with using a game for the purpose in the question, not general experience with the game. By that standard, the information here related to GURPS passes that bar, but the rest doesn't. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 5 '15 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have found through painful experience that hundreds of people following that reasoning works really badly with the Stack Exchange structure. As a result, game recommendations were either going to be banned, or accepted only under stringent rules. As you can see, we elected not to ban them; so we require answers to follow the rules. My suggestion for amending this answer is to eliminate everything that does not directly touch on using a game in precisely Westeros (or a "this is my modified Westeros") setting; i.e., limit it only to the section on GURPS. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 5 '15 at 6:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer does not meet the requirements of our game-rec guidelines, which are based on the Back It Up! principles of having done or seen done what the OP proposes with the game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 9 '15 at 14:53

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