I recently did a review of Open Design’s Courts Of The Shadow Fey 4e adventure, an excellent little romp through the interaction between the fey courts and the mortal world. I was incredibly impressed by the adventure, and it reinvigorated an old similar campaign idea that I had been kicking around for a while. The game I’m playing in is trailing off and it will be my turn in the hot seat next, so I’m going to be running a version of the Courts adventure. There are a few roadblocks in my way.
First, my group doesn’t really want to play a 4e game. Second, I’m growing a little tired of sword and sorcery fantasy right settings right now. I like them, but I want a definite change. I’ve solved the second problem by integrating the Courts Of The Shadow Fey adventure with a modern era urban fantasy campaign idea I’ve been kicking around. The module has proven flexible enough in story and concept that I’m not having a lot of trouble converting things I need to a modern era, but I’m still stuck with the problem of converting from 4e D&D to …. well I don’t know what yet. There are a lot of great systems out there that could handle the hodge podge idea I’ve got, but I’m not sure which one to use. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a few frontrunners, mainly Savage Worlds and Fudge, but I don’t have extensive experience with these systems. I’ve run one-shots in Savage Worlds and I’m fairly familiar with the concepts. I’ve played in a few fudge games and I’ve liked the flexibility, but I Just don’t know which one would work best. They both have many supplements and derivatives that will be great to mine for data and inspiration. In Savage Worlds I can easily see stealing from Solomon Kane, Realms of Cthulu, and even the Superpowers supplement. In Fudge, and it’s derivative Fate, I can see snagging stuff from the Dresden Files RPG and being able to easily tweak the systems out to fit my needs. Both systems are great and could work beautifully, so how do I choose?
Luckily, I’ve got access to some friends who can give me some in-depth help evaluating the systems. Gnome Kurt “Telas” Schneider is incredibly familiar with the Savage Worlds system. Gnome Patrick Benson is an avid devotee of the Fudge system with incredible insight into the system. I decided to put some of my ideas and desires for the game up to these two to get their insight. So let the RPG faceoff begin!
In my modified Courts Of The Shadow Fey game, a Faery court returns to a small city in America that was founded primarily by Irish, Welsh, English and Scottish immigrants. The Duke who funded the expedition treated with a faery court for favor and good fortune in the new land. They helped the city get established and then promptly forgot about it for a few hundred years. When they came back in the present day, they found the city completely different and without the Duke’s family in charge. Seeing this as a violation of the treaty, they have taken over the city and clouded the minds of most of the people to their ownership. They are slowly changing things, things which the PCs notice and don’t forget. They are definitely not your Disneyfied faeries either. The PCs become embroiled in the oddities occurring and are made ambassadors to the faery court, where they must gain enough status and power to try to find some way of ending the occupation or right out destruction of the mortal city. The player characters will be normal humans with some minor fey blood or magical aptitude that makes them worthy of being ambassadors. The feel is definitely one of being a stranger in a strange land, learning to cope with the oddity and hopefully resolve the issues. I want a system that is open enough to allow me to emphasize the weird and untamed nature of the fey, but mechanical enough that it can handle the 4e conversion and provide nifty combat options while still emphasizing roleplaying choices over sheer chance.
Ok, with that out of the way, here are some of my questions/ideas.
The conversion from 4th Edition D&D to another system will be interesting, and I know both of these systems are light enough to handle it. 4E enemies have a lot of interesting powers though and the game requires an element of interesting combat, so how will each system handle keeping enemies and combats unique and with interesting options?
How to keep enemies and combats unique? To be honest, neither system does that. You as the GM are responsible for that part. So first you have to come up with the unique and interesting parts which is all above the system. Once you have those unique elements established, then you can focus on how the system would handle those elements.
For example, you might think that a dragon’s breath weapon is a unique element when used in D&D 4e combats. How do you apply that to Fudge? Break it down into its basic parts. It has a range, an area of effect, it does a certain amount and type of damage, and it must recharge before it can be used again. Using Fudge take the numbers from D&D and try to describe those qualities using the Ranks Ladder in Fudge.
So a fire breathing dragon has a breath weapon with a Good range that can hit all of the targets in a Fair sized section on the map. It causes Superb damage, and recharges on a roll of Good of better at the beginning of the dragon’s turn. Things vulnerable to damage by fire are easier to harm so they have a defense of Poor against the dragon’s attack, while fire-resistant type materials or creatures have a defense of Great against the same attack. If in either case the target has a defense that is more applicable to situation use that instead (it may be better or worse).
Need numbers? Take the Ranks Ladder and starting at the bottom count up. Good is five levels up so your range is five units on the map, and Fair is four levels up so it hits anything within four units of the center of the attack. Do you feel that range is too short? I do, and that is why I usually apply a multiplier based on the creature’s scale. If your dragon is a scale four creature that range is now 20.
Savage Worlds (Kurt):
One of the differences between Savage Worlds and modern versions of D&D is that critters in Savage Worlds often have abilities unique to that critter. In D&D, a critter’s ability was usually described as having a certain effect (blinded, stunned, etc) or being identical to another effect (as in D&D 3.x). In Savage Worlds, a creature’s abilities are not so cut and dried. An ancient vampire, for instance, have the power to summon and control wolves or rats with a simple Smarts roll at -2. This ability is not found anywhere else in the system, and the words “summon” and “control” don’t have system-specific definitions, but the ability is entirely appropriate to the traditional vampire.
In other words, if you want a critter to have a certain ability, give it to them. Don’t worry about ‘building’ or ‘converting’ critters, just assign abilities as needed. One of the common bits of advice given on Savage Worlds forums is to convert the concept of the creature, and not its statistics. This does take a bit of experience to keep from over/under-powering the critters, but there are plenty of examples to guide you.
This also applies to skills and abilities. Most Savage Worlds player characters won’t have a skill (such as Fighting or Shooting) above the Attribute it is dependent on (Agility in this instance). Simply put, it’s too expensive. But critters are not subject to this restriction, so the Ogre generally has a d6 Agility but a d8 Fighting.
An aside for the Savage Worlds “Bennie Economy”: Unlike most systems, an unbalanced encounter will generally not end up TPKing a party in the first couple of rounds. Unless the party has no means of escape, or no desire to escape (a party member is captured, etc), they can usually get away. So don’t worry too much about the actual power levels.
While I’m going to be working on a lot of prep for this game beforehand, I know I’ll be coming up with NPCs on the fly, both combat and social, so how quick is it to make an NPC in each system? What sorts of elements can I make up on the fly and what sort of prep should I do for NPCs beforehand?
Write a couple of sentences or a paragraph about the NPC using the adjectives from the Ranks Ladder for Fudge. Get all of the details that you think are relevant to the NPC described using those adjectives. Need to add a detail later when the unexpected happens in game? Just add to that description as needed using the same process.
Savage Worlds (Kurt):
Basic NPC creation in Savage Worlds is quick, once you get the hang of it. There are five Attributes, three derived Attributes, and however many skills you want.
I’m running a modern action-horror game as well, and I’ve come up with lists of possible abilities and such for various types of critters. For instance, vampires have lists of abilities, weaknesses, and quirks. Vampires of a bloodline are similar, but they are not necessarily identical, and I can pick from the above lists to make each one unique.
I want to keep the feeling of the PCs dealing with things beyond their ken, and a lot of that is going to be in the roleplaying and story, but what options are there for including odd or weird magic systems or powers that might not easily fit mechanical definition?
Use Aspects and Tags which have been made very popular by the Fudge derivative FATE. They are both a nice way to deal with those non-linear matters colored with shades of gray that pop up in every RPG.
Savage Worlds (Kurt):
Savage Worlds has the concept of the Trapping, which may be what you’re looking for. A Trapping is the in-world effect of the power (spell, etc). For instance, the Bolt power does 2-3d6 damage, regardless of the Trapping. But a flaming Bolt of sticky napalm is not identical to a psychic Bolt of pure chaos. The former may be somewhat negated by a wet target, while the latter may be completely blocked by an enclosed steel helmet. To many GMs, raised on the concept of “if it’s not in the book, it’s not in the game”, this can be a difficult concept. But to GMs familiar and comfortable with adjudicating in-game effects, Trappings are a godsend.
Courts has a status system that I intend to port over almost verbatim, but diplomacy is going to be key in some aspects. How do the systems handle diplomatic and speaky situations mechanically?
Again, break down the system from the original mechanics into its basic elements and then rebuild it using the other system’s mechanics. Here is another example where you can use some of the rules that FATE has introduced for Fudge but having multiple stress tracks – one for measuring physical states, and the other for measuring social states. NPC challenges a PC’s authority? Have them roll the appropriate skills or compel the appropriate Aspect. Depending on how the challenge plays out one or both characters might take damage to their social stress track.
Savage Worlds (Kurt):
Most of the Savage Worlds diplomatic mechanics are built on three skills: Diplomacy (based on Spirit), Intimidation (based on Spirit), and Taunt (based on Smarts). Diplomacy is the primary skill here, but I the other two can be used in combat, and will certainly come in handy among the courtly intrigues of the Shadow Fey. In addition, a number of Edges (similar to Feats) will affect the final outcome. As with nearly everything else in Savage Worlds, the GM is strongly encouraged to apply situational modifiers wherever appropriate.
What are your closing thoughts on the best way to use these systems for my concept?
Focus on the story elements of the setting, and the narrative elements of the game in general if you decide to use the Fudge system. Think of the Fudge system as a set of guidelines that you use to direct a plot with while the players use that same system to throw in plot twists or to focus the narrative on certain elements of the plot. Treat the session as an act of collaborative storytelling with the mechanics being used to heighten a dramatic element of the game. Once you get the ball rolling with Fudge it all seems to come together on its own if you just keep an open mind.
Savage Worlds (Kurt):
One of my favorite aspects of Savage Worlds is the combination of exploding dice and Bennies. Separately, they add to the fun in their own way. Exploding dice mean that anything is possible, if highly improbable. Bennies mean that the players get to choose what is important to them, whether it’s Soaking damage or succeeding on a very important die roll. Together, the combination adds both chaos and player (and GM) directed order to a game. In a world where everything is topsy-turvy, exploding dice make perfect sense, and the Bennie can be used to send signals to the players of what the various NPCs consider important (saving face, scoring social points, etc).
Evaluating Will Always Make A Game Better
These answers have given me a lot to digest and a lot of insight into how to utilize these systems. Doing evaluation like this can really bring out the strong and weak points of a system and concept. I’d suggest doing a deep evaluation of any game you are intending to run to help you get a grip out of what you really want. You can start by asking yourself some questions about your concept, determining what it is you like and figuring out the particular elements you’ll have to take into account when you run it.
- What specific elements will the game concept focus on? Time period, setting, character interaction, combat, unique twists, comedy, etc?
- Will I need to do a lot of prep in figuring out NPC motivations and plots?
- Are there specific players in my group who will enjoy this concept? Are there specific players in my group who won’t enjoy it?
- How many players do I want?
- How long am I planning for the game to go?
- How much backstory will be required from players?
- Will I need to make information available in some format like a wiki or online shared site? Will that help my game?
- What movies and books fit the theme and inspiration for this game? Will they be helpful to get my players into the feel?
- Can I or should I make props, a soundtrack, or specific maps, etc? Will elements like this enhance the game or being unnecessary?
- How much time would each session take? Would taking breaks for dinner break the mood?
- Should I make or find a list of NPC names to use beforehand?
- Will my players find this type of game fun?
- Will I enjoy running this concept?
You can also ask yourself questions about the systems you are looking at running. They can help you evaluate if the system fits what you want
- Will the system fit my concept or will it need modified?
- How quickly can I create NPCs on the fly?
- How fast/slow/detailed/fluffy are combats and actions scenes?
- Does this system have sourcebooks that I can mine for inspiration/information?
- If this is a new system to my players, how quickly can they pick it up?
- Does the game require minis or a particular playing space (table, etc.)? Do I have minis or other accessories appropriate to the game?
- Is there anything innovative about this system that I particularly like? If I choose another system, can I port those elements over to it?
- Will my players find this type of system fun?
- Will I enjoy running this game?
You can also make a scale of game needs and compare how various systems meet up to them. Figure out two opposing elements of a system and assign it a score. Determine if it leans more in favor of your concept or not.
- Roleplaying or Rollplaying
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
- Fluffy or Crunchy
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
- Rules Light or Rules Heavy
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
No matter how you do it, devoting some dedicated time to evaluating your game, concept, system, or setting can help you get more confident about running the game. It can help you determine areas that need work or help you modify your concept to fit a particular niche. Asking yourself questions AND asking others questions helps you get new insights, even if those questions seem obvious. Going to people who have more knowledge than you do about a particular subject can help you discover new areas of a system or setting that you never would have known about beforehand.
And now we throw it back to you. Have you got any insights into these systems that might help me decide? What about an outside contender that I don’t know about yet? Are there any conundrums like this that you need a little help figuring out? We gnomes would be happy to help, just throw it out in our suggestion pot with some elements of a concept you want evaluated or systems you are trying to decide between. Give us some specific questions or wants and we’ll see if we’ve got the right stuff to answer them. We might even do another RPG faceoff with your concept.
Unexpectedly enough, this article comes right on the heels of Martin’s excellent Eating an Apple with Your Nose: Aligning Out-of-Game Expectations with In-Game Reality article. I’d definitely go read that, as the conundrum I present here is definitely one of how the mechanics will affect the in-game reality of things.
I’m all for Savage Worlds, if only because the dice are easy to find (most likely, you already have them) and it’s already assembled. From what I’ve read of Fudge, it takes some work from the DM to decide which parts of the system you will use for your game. I might be mistaken on this.
For me, Savage Worlds was a great discovery. It’s an easy system that still allows you to use minis, battlemats, tactics and all the things I’ve gotten used to in other, more complex, systems. As the saisd in the PS3 commercials: “it only does everything”.
I would choose Savage Worlds. It’s extremely flexible, but the mechanics are more “traditional” than Fudge (I know that’s subjective, but I think it’s important). Most groups will be able to switch over to Savage Worlds without any trouble, while Fudge will require more explanations and more getting used to.
While playing, I think you will find the dice ranks in SW to be less arbitrary than the word rankings in Fudge – the word ranks sound nice, but in practice you will end up choosing which number/die roll you want and then looking up which word is associated with it instead of the other way around.
If you are coming from a D&D background, you will be amazed how quickly you can generate NPCs with SW – with a little practice, you should be able to manage it in a matter of seconds. Also, the diplomacy mechanics are among the best I’ve seen, especially considering how simple they are – given your scenario, this may be an important factor!
And I don’t know if it’s necessary for your adventure, but SW is great at handling large-scale fights quickly – even major battles lasting a period of days or weeks in-game can be handled using the basic system, with the PCs remaining in the foreground. This scenario might not feature such a battle since most systems wouldn’t be able to handle it, but for an “ambassador” game it’s nice to know the ability to handle the consequences of a major screw-up is there if needed (so you don’t have to GM-fiat avoiding a war).
On the topic of creating NPCs on the fly, with Savage Worlds I use a tip provided by Shane Hensley (the creator of SW): Whenever my heroes meet an NPC I haven’t planned for, I on the fly create one with all attributes and skills at d6. Most of my NPCs and extras are “d6 NPCs”. If I need a harder NPC, I make a “d8 NPC”, and sometimes I make it a “d8 Wild Card NPC”. That’s it. Players never ever notice, the game doesn’t even pause, and the NPC JUST WORKS. I always felt this was “cheating” somehow, but I love this flexibility of Savage Worlds.
Many years ago I had the good fortune to work in a collapsing manufacturing industry where I came across the Kepner-Tragoe analysis technique for Making Hard Decisions.
It works like this. You identify bullet points that identify core Features You Care About And Want. You shouldn’t have more than a dozen for the best results.
Then you evaluate everything on a score of one to ten as to How Important It Is That You Have That Feature.
Note that this isn’t a “how much do I like/dislike it?” thing (you already said that when you picked it for the list), but a “how much do I care about it?” affair. There is a difference.
Run the numbers on every option (in this case, make a bullet list of the things each game system touts as a positive and everything you see as a drawback, and rate the level to which you care about each one).
High total score is the “best” choice because it will include (in general) more things you care about and fewer things you could care less about.
One of the key things that falls out of this is the growing ability to identify key issues about stuff and disregard loud but essentially harmless quirks you dislike *without* doing the math.
For example: I might make a bullet “Need special dice” for Fudge (not strictly true, but this is just an example so work with me here). Most gamers are dice addicts anyway and will welcome the excuse to fling money at the dice merchants, so this will get a surprisingly low score on my worksheet even though to a non-gamer this might look like a make-or-break issue.
I use this technique when buying a car. There isn’t any other way of peeling off the hysterical marketing crust to work out whether or not this metal box on wheels will please me better than that one (no car has had enough real style to influence me purely on looks since the sixties).
Your mileage may vary (and certainly will never match what they claim on the window sticker).
@luisto – It is cheating. Bo)
For every D6 skill you should cross one potential skill off the list at least. I use a default of D4 unless the skill set is known to be limited (soldiers, for example, who unlike real life soldiers are a bit tightly focused skillwise). That NPC only has 15 points for skills same as everyone else after all, and D6 costs two points.
After all, the old saying “Jack of All Trades” is extracted from a longer phrase that continues “master of none”.
I would also choose Savage Worlds, but it would be a harder choice even though my previous FATE-derived game experience was frustrating because even though it wasn’t “running like a Swiss watch” I could see the incredible potential of the system to deal with literally anything without GM fiat or on-the-fly one-use rules.
The ad-hoc mechanic is built into FATE (and I imagine FUDGE too) at a low-level so that an ad-hoc ruling will work the same way whenever it is called for – something not true for any other game system I’ve ever used – and I’ve used quite a few over the years. You might say that the entire game is a collection of meta-rules for ad-hoc in-game mechanics (though no-one would understand you if you did).
The real disadvantage of FATE/FUDGE games is that they require a radical change of approach by the gaming group as a whole, with players taking over some of the duties traditionally left to the GM alone.
At least, I think that’s what is required. My group wouldn’t meet me halfway on this because one player “knew better” (but wouldn’t GM of course) and the rest were lazy enough to want me to do all the work like in a traditional RPG.
@Norcross – I think you will find the dice ranks in SW to be less arbitrary than the word rankings in Fudge
This is an astute observation. I found myself in exactly the position you describe when playing Dresden Files RPG because once I had more than five superlatives I forgot the details and had to have a crib sheet on hand, and I almost always ended up phrasing difficulties as numbers before correcting myself which defeated the object.
@luisto – I’ve used similar methods in other games. I’ve got a stock “Average” in all things NPC in some games. I then tweak the template out as I need to represent being better in things and worse in others.
@All the other replies. I notice a huge swing to savage worlds here. I’m curious about one thing from our SW educated readers then: This game being a faery themed game (in the sense of dark faeries, ala pan’s labyrinth), how would you craft or handle the really odd magics and storytelling feel? Things just happen because they do in faery stories sometimes, and that makes me tend to lean to a less mechanical system, but I also want something that scales well to the 4e adventure I’m basing it off of.
@John Arcadian – Could you give an example of “things just happening” that is non-mechanical? I’m not nit-picking; I just think better in analogies and examples.
@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – One thing I was thinking of doing was having a floor start to swirl in front of a PC’s eyes and then engulf them like quicksand. I want to give a mechanical basis for the PC to attempt to not get sucked in. Another, more abstract, is enchantment magic. Some of the enemies will be very subtly enchanting. How would SW handle that without tipping off the players. I can think of many roleplaying ways to do it that are system independent, but they may be trumped by something already in system.
I don’t know of any system that would support subtle enchantment without the players’ knowledge, short of the GM just misrepresenting the situation to the players (or rationalizing it through explanations, etc).
SW works well with the “because the GM says so” approach. If the Swirly o’ Doom is a trap, then the floor starts moving, the characters get an Agility check to jump aside, and then they get trapped. If it’s a spell, use Entangle with the Trapping that it’s the floor. If you don’t want them to be able to escape unhindered, just make it so. If the players can learn this spell, you might want to make it more expensive or only available at a higher Rank, though.
In this specific RPG “faceoff,” I would choose Savage Worlds if I wanted to be a bit gritty and more potentially lethal.
I’d choose FATE if I wanted to have pulpy big time heroes that can take on hordes of enemies and perhaps break a sweat.
Two good games with very different feels. It depends on what the goal is.
I think that it all comes down to do you want a mechanical feel verusus storytelling approach. I’ll play SW any day of the week and twice on Sunday, and although it has very simple mechanics it still feels very much like tactics and strategies type game. This is a good thing when I am in the mood for that kind of play.
When I want something that is more about the story and allowing everyone at the table a chance at telling the story beyond just the normal player contributions I go with Fudge or one of its deriviatives.
Regarding the many ranks in FATE – I agree that there are too many. It just doesn’t work for me, so I stick with the original 7 ranks in Fudge now. After trying to make more than seven ranks work I soon discovered that it is best just to keep the original 7 and to add a +1, +2, etc. to the extremes if needed.
Thanks for the great article. I think it really raises two questions. 1) Should you use Savage Worlds or Fate/Fudge for this game? 2) How, in general, should one go about making a choice among RPG systems?
1) I would lean toward Savage Worlds just because I know and like the system better. It’s easily my favorite system to GM for because, well, it’s easy. With that said, if you see your story being more driven by personality and dialog than guns and grit, I would opt for FATE.
2) The Kepner-Trego approach is solid, but I think you have to consider the playstyles of your players as well as features of the system itself. How hard will it be to teach the system at the table? Will my players be willing to try this and stick with it for several sessions? Does the character advancement system meet their expectations for character growth? Do I feel competent to run the system?
You can compare systems in a vacuum (e.g. one is more rules light, another is more crunchy) but the analysis is meaningless without first understanding the needs of the GM, the players, and the story you are trying to tell (e.g. do my players want more crunch or more rules-light? Do I?) I would phrase your K-T desired features in terms of needs of the players, the GM, and the story, then do the analysis.
If you are looking to add a little more crunch to FATE while still retaining the storytelling aspects that make that system interesting, I highly recommend Strands of FATE from Void Star Games:
If you are worried about the ‘special dice’ thing, just do the d6-d6 method, you can just have people reroll results of +/-5. If people complain about not getting to use that +5, just point out that they are more likely to roll a +4 using 2 d6s than rolling 4 dFs.
@John Arcadian – You’re really asking about Will, Fort and Reflex saves here, aren’t you?
I often must confront this very issue in my two space 1889 games when people want to build some Weird Science device and I’ll tell you how I would deal with your swirlyspell trap based on what I’ve learned so far (other SW GMs may not agree here, and I’d like to here why if they don’t as part of my own educational process):
Savage World mechanics, like many other systems, base any “resisted attack” not specifically covered by a mechanic (such as parrying in HTH combat) as a characteristic test versus the activating skill or spell roll.
So: Your spellcaster will have a spellcasting skill of some sort (depending on the SW flavor there can be several versions – Spellcasting, Faith, Weird Science etc etc etc) but they all boil down to one thing in this instance – a die roll that will form the target number the resisting actors will need to equal or better on their roll.
Let’s assume your spellcasting Fey uses a spellcasting roll, and since sidhe is a powerful spellcaster (ahahaha), let’s give her d8 or d10. She is also likely a wildcard, so the roll is actually a d8/d10 and a d6, with acing dice rerolled and totaled, highest score is your Target Number to escape. Still with me?
Now, you figure out the characteristic which best represents the PCs’ attempts to avoid being sucked in. Your choices are Strength, Spirit, Smarts, Vigor and Agility. Of all these, Agility probably best fits the situation to not get caught initially, while arguably Strength might be the basis of freeing oneself once caught.
One might also argue that Smarts would be useful for not getting caught in the first place.
If caught in a split decision here, a common SW trope is to give the players the benefit of the doubt and let them roll whichever applicable characteristic has the higher die type.
In any event, PCs end up rolling their Agility Die plus a d6 (either of which can ace and explode the result). Equal or greater than the sidhe’s roll is good for an escape. Anyone getting a raise (four higher than the needed score, or better) should get some extra effect – to be able to aid another during their escape or to be able to perform some action is typical.
The rules of thumb I use with the best equivalents I could think of for specific things I’ve seen come up or planned for:
Agility – to avoid traps (Reflex save)
Smarts – to avoid being bettered on facts in a debate (pre 4th ed Call of Cthulhu DEBATE skill)
Spirit – to avoid being socially dominated by NPCs in a political confrontation (Dresden Files RPG social damage track mechanism)
Strength – to break free of restraints (BRP resistance table)
Vigor – to overcome physical debilitation (covered in much situational detail in the SW rules)
The only reasons to *not* go with Savage Worlds boil down to the Action Adventure based mechanics (and at the risk of contradicting all the Spirit of the Century players out there I’ll stick out my neck and say they are the best I’ve come across for modeling an AA framework), which may not give your game the “feel” you are shooting for, as we discussed earlier, and player resistance to the whole idea of learning a new system.
Sadly, the cost of getting one’s feet wet with SW is no longer so attractive, as the new rulebook (which is a beautiful thing in its own right) is three times the cost of the old Explorer’s Edition. The lack-of-cost was, I think, a major help in attracting players to the system. “Ten bucks for a Player Manual? I’m in!” was a typical response I got last year.
@MonsterMike – Exactly. The questions you ask yourself for the KT analysis are key to evaluating whatever it is you are looking at.
[MonsterMike] But the questions are not “do I want…or…”.
You base your “questions” on what the products that you’ve already moved to the final list offer as features, then rate those according to how much you (and/or your players) care about them. This enables you to get the necessary distance to make an evaluation and the fact that you evaluate each one independently means that you avoid dithering over two irreconcilable features that are mutually exclusive.
So if you boil it down to (say) SW and Amber Diceless (to pick two radically and diametrically different systems to illustrate the point) an obvious feature is:
sw Has Dice-based mechanics ad Has no dice-based mechanics.
Note that the “question” is actually quite different for each candidate, but the issue is the same. Once you have given each a score based on cold, isolated evaluation of how much you care about that for its own sake you get a better take on what is really important about your choices.
Naturally there’s more to it than that, and you get better with practice, but try doing it for your next trivial purchase that offers a choice:
Dice set a: Dice set b:
Has swirly colors has solid colors
Is hard to read under dim light Is easy to read under all light
and so on.
@Roxysteve – And the marjkup got bollixed there but I think the sense (what little there was) comes through.
@Roxysteve – “Your spellcaster will have a spellcasting skill of some sort … but they all boil down to one thing in this instance â€“ a die roll that will form the target number the resisting actors will need to equal or better on their roll.”
Not always true, as I discovered. A surprising number of times, the target number for both the caster and the resister is 4, sometimes with a penalty or a greater effect in case of a Raise (4 above the target number).
Every Strength check is ‘fixed’, as is Fear and Slumber. Funny how that works…
@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I saw the Quicksand Trap Of Certain Inconvenience as a special case of [the Novice-level cone template spell I can never remember the name of]. One casts the spell (check), it produces an area effect (check), the PCs must be given a chance to evade (check). The shape is different, but the rest is, as you yourself pointed out, just trapping.
Some of the SW core stuff is excessively arbitrary, and in light of the steampunkery of Space 1889:Red Sands I’m dealing with twice a month I’m increasingly of the opinion that the non-offensive spell lists are overly-limited in scope, underpowered for the cost and generally “phoning it in”, but I think one can take a lead from the BRP handbook here: any contest can be arbitrarily ruled as a skill die vs ability die contest or a skill die vs skill die (though these don’t often work as cleanly).
I think the SW editors got into the same state of mind with simplifying the spell lists as I do when I prune trees – I go at it far too aggressively and the tree suffers unnecessary damage as a result.
The Roxysteve-recommended Fantasy Supplement goes some way to addressing this, but the magic lists – even with trappings – require quite a bot of buffing to become “other game” shiny.
This impacts mostly when doing ports of other magic-use games (Like EPT or Conan) and when trying to help newbie Weird Scientists do something different and clever. If one looks at the rules as written, no Weird Scientist would move out of the Ray Gun and “Dune”-style shield area of investigation. Try building an ornithopter in Deadlands:Reloaded for example, using “Fly”. Truly pathetic for the cost involved. 18 seconds of flight and the battery goes flat or the boiler runs out of water (or whatever), and in Space 1889 that just cost you 10 shillings, more than many earn in a week (which is why you’d do it the way everyone else does, with liftwood). Bo)
In my games I’ve broadened the resources new W-Sci players can use to the Necessary Evil power lists, and I’ll entertain anything I can think about long enough to bash into SW shape with my rules hammer no matter where it came from.
This is why everyone should be an agnostic game buyer – you can crib the good stuff you find in games you never play to put into the ones you do.
The really astounding thing I’ve found with SW is that players don’t care about the dicing details as much as I thought they would. GMs obsess endlessly about “exploding dice ruining the game” but personally I don’t sweat it (though it once led to a rather grisly combat where the NPC extras walked all over the wildcard PCs and jumped on the bits afterwards – a statistical oddity probably caused by my many years of rolling excessive numbers of “1”s making the universe bunch up or something) and the players revel in it, naturally.
If I had any complaint about SW it is the way the published plot point campaigns tend to become rather “Encounters”-like with a set-piece combat every half hour. But the system itself is a winner in my book and the easiest bar one to teach people (the pride of place IMO goes to BRP which is the iMac/Dyson vac/toaster of RPGs – “it just works” and does so very quickly).
All of which has wandered a bit off the path laid by John.
My vote goes to FATE. And if you are looking into something like Urban fantasy I would highly recommend Dresden Files.