If you're a fan of gritty fantasy, you've probably already read (and re-read?) Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. If you haven't, you ought to.

Now. Click on those links and drag out your wallet. Or hit your library. Or borrow them from that friend who always buys books but never reads them, like Gatsby.

Regardless of your methods, I now assume you're familiar with the world described in those five (so far) books. I don't know about you, but I started thinking about playing in that world before I was fifty pages into the first book.

I thought, "You know, this reminds me so much of The Riddle of Steel."

Then I thought, "Maybe this is my excuse to finally run Burning Wheel."

Then I thought, "You know, GURPS 4e could probably handle everything this world can throw at it."

And then I thought, and thought, and thought some more, and now I'm all thought out. There are tons of options, and many of them are excellent. But I'm spoiled for choice - I can't decide and the arguments in my head have all started to repeat themselves.

So now I want to know - What system would you run a game in this setting with? In your answer, please explain:

  • What system you would choose
  • What about the system makes it fit the world
  • Why you would choose that game over all others
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I like gritty fantasy but had never heard of Abercrombie's series! I am most definitely going to check this out now. \$\endgroup\$ – Sorcerer Blob Jun 9 '11 at 13:35

Intrigued by the links above, I acquired Best Served Cold and The Heroes from my local booklender*, and based on those I'd have to say the setting's a shoo-in for Burning Wheel.

BW works for me on many levels. It handles Mannish settings superbly, and with BSC in one hand and the Character Burner in the other, I can map the protagonist's life through the fiction into the lifepaths and come up with a very reasonable facsimile. BW also is modular enough that such things as sorcery may be elided or left as vaguely-threatening presences without impinging on play.

What makes BW the most compelling choice for me, though, is that the game explicitly rewards character actions in defense of (or at the spur of) strong beliefs. Indomitable will, steely determination, cold ruthlessness – these aren't just colorful epithets in Burning Wheel, they're ways to earn experience** and empower your character. They're also clear signposts for the GM: if my character has a Belief that she'll go to any length to avenge a murder, I've shown the GM what I'd like to see in the story, and in a way dared him to test me to see how far my character will really go.

And that's why I'd choose BW. If the Abercrombie books were less visceral and more chainmail-pulp, say, or cerebral – perhaps a different system would be preferable. High drama, raw emotion, and (let's face it) bloody violence suit BW very well.

*For which, thanks to gomad for the prompting.

** This is probably not the time or place for a discursion on BW mechanics, so I'll let the term stand.

  • \$\begingroup\$ OK. I'm going to have to try BW sometime soon! It's been sitting on my shelf for years, read but unplayed! \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 14 '11 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think Burning Wheel (or Riddle Of Steel, maybe, but it's out of print) is an excellent choice. I would strongly advise you to be aware that Luke Crane (author of BW) is in the process of publishing and releasing a revised (final?) edition of the game this summer (called Burning Wheel Gold). I suspect you'd be well advised to wait for that edition of the game, as it's liable to be as improved as the "Revised" edition was over "Classic". Pre-orders for the game will start at the end of June 2011, and Luke will be selling the game at GenCon 2011. Paizo is also taking orders for it now. \$\endgroup\$ – Viktor Haag Jun 16 '11 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Riddle of Steel is excellent, if you can find it. It has a a mechanical focus on character-driven action, similarly to BW, but with much simpler and more straightforward (but less nuanced) reward cycle mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 16 '11 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Viktor - I did see the BW Gold announcement. I'm hoping to pick it up at GenCon this August. @SevenSided - TRoS was my first indie-RPG love. The combat is still a high-water mark for muscle-powered melee. And Spiritual Attributes are awesome: metagame currency and advancement in one! But the rest of the game - Magic (urk!), Non-combat Skills, Ranged Combat...everything else - left so much to be desired. I may have a copy of TFoB around somewhere, but IIRC, it made melee combat even better while leaving the weaknesses unaddressed. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 17 '11 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I think it's Burning Wheel Gold for the win. My DFRPG campaign will carry me through to GenCon, and then I'll either grab a BWG there or order one elsewhere. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 17 '11 at 17:18

This is less an answer to your question as it is a response to you problem. I'm reading you saying:

"I have lots of great ideas! Pick for me!"

Which reminds me of an I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow blog post I once read that eliminated this problem for me, once and for all. He was walking with his daughter and asked her for advice on what system of many to choose.

"Well, I want to do this science-fiction game, see, and I'm having trouble picking a system." I told her which ones I was considering, and then asked, "Which one do you think I should use?"




"You sure?"



"Just 'cause."

So, in essence, I should worry less about what system to choose, and instead just pick one and go with it. No more dorking around with pro/con lists...no more deliberating. Just fun.

You're going to enjoy whichever system you choose, and you're going to enjoy the setting. You'll get more of that enjoyment if you start sooner! Grab one and go.

That post link again: "Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it."

  • \$\begingroup\$ The esteemed Dr. Rotwang has a point. But the whole point of this exercise is that I could tell anybody else what to do in 3 seconds. I'm sure your familiar with the phenomenon that other people's problems are easy to solve. So I'm asking other people to solve this problem for me. Also, that article says in essence to System Does Matter, "Nuh-huh!" Which I feel is a sort of incomplete argument. The fact is that the answers presented here have crystallized my own thoughts, and I think I have a winner. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 15 '11 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough! I know that state of mind. Though, it might be the right answer for others who stumble by here, and I have a thing for posting the odd answer out that's aimed at those people. (And yeah, I firmly believe System Matters. I don't think the post says that it doesn't, so much as that it'll be fun regardless of which System gets picked to Matter.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 15 '11 at 16:31
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ System Does Matter, yes, but that phrase typically indicates that the game itself mechanically reinforces the game's theme. In this respect, it's hard to apply it to "I want to do this book or TV show, what system do I use?" The right answer there is probably figure out what the books are about, ask yourself if a game can be about the same thing, and then ask if there's a game already that's about that thing. Burning Wheel is a game about characters being heroes despite the odds, and most especially themselves. To me that sounds like a great fit. \$\endgroup\$ – Viktor Haag Jun 16 '11 at 13:26

I think I'd go for Warhammer FRP (2nd edition.)

Why? You said the keyword yourself. :) It's gritty. Dark. Fast paced, quick and easy, both to create memorable characters and to learn and run. Uses a rather minimalist approach to magic and its default world is also rather "low magic." It would be quite easy to convert the system to the world of the First Law, imo.

Why this game? Simple. WFRP's an old favourite of mine, and reading it gave me about the same feeling that reading Abercrombie's works did.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I never really thought about WFRP 2e. But now I have. And I'm actually thinking about WFRP 3e. I have both - but I really ended up liking the 3e update. I like the way the various dice help you turn the numeric results into narrative. +1 for WFRP! \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 9 '11 at 15:22

I would go with Fate on the grounds that it is a simple system that can easily be adapted to whatever world. It aims to drive the story which, to me, is more important than having a tactical wargame^H^H^H^H^H^H combat system. YMMV.


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