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Have campaign hook, need system recommendation


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#1 undecided44

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 08:08 PM

While half of my brain has been busy in quantitative academic pursuits (read as: completing a masters degree in applied statistics), I've been allowing the other half to runa little wild, and what it's come up with is the seed and a series of distinct and interwoven quest series that are coming together as the basis for an RPG campaign. The problem is, right now this endeavor exists more like an outline for a novel than a game because it is without mechanical underpinnings.

It's been ~15 yrs since I sat at a game table, and I don't have much experience with games other than D&D (which in it's latest form is not the right thing for this exercise). I've really liked bits and pieces of a number of games I've heard from the Texan group (and from Hal's groups before the Texans) as well as the Pantsless group, and Whartson Hall, as well as Balazaar's alter ego and his devotion to slightly different fare, but I'm lacking general experience, and specific experience in writing for a given system. Let me lay out a couple things I like about a few systems I've heard, and please offer suggestions if you have any about where I should spend my limited funds in acquiring a suitable system source book.

-I'm quite taken by the Rolemaster combat system: suddenly deadly in some cases, but generally a function of both the attacker's and defender’s skills (roll + weapon skill - target's defense), and weapon skill can be cashed in to upgrade defense.
-I dearly love the out-of-combat skill mechanics and advancement in Call of Cthulhu: you get better at something only when you use it, the better you are at something, the harder it is to improve it, and the more sane you are, the easier it is to hold yourself together, but combat seems to be a function of only the attacker’s speed and skill (unless you execute an opposed check for a grapple or something similar). The straight percentile system also gives a good idea of what likelihood a PC has of success, but I’m not familiar with what modifiers can be applied to account for difficulty (i.e., roll library use to find relevant info, but what can the keeper do to manipulate the availability to represent an uncommon or rare source)? And is the Chaosium basic roleplaying system driven by “sanity” or an analogue stat?
-I like the various hindrance/advantage exchange systems for character gen as it seems to do a better job of giving weight to the PCs back-story, and giving them more personality to think about than the D&D style alignment system, but I’m woefully unfamiliar with the rest of the game system that these characters run in.

Please, please correct any of my observations if you think I’m just undereducated, but I’m not looking to start a fan-boy argument about any system. If you have specific experience of writing your own campaign in any of these systems I’d be happy to hear about your ups and downs. If you think I’m longwinded, you’re right! If you think I’m an idiot, send it by PM, rather than posting here. If you’re cold, put on a sweater. Thanks for your time and attention.
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#2 Ieqo

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 07:38 AM

Chaosium BRP is very much Call of Cthulhu with SAN as an optional state.

As far as "generic" systems go, there are a few that I like, but each has its strengths and weaknesses, and thus is appropriate for some styles of play. BRP, as said, works great for the things we love about CoC. Not so great for others. Like combat. If fightin' is going to be any more than ten percent of the game, then maybe cast your eyes elsewhere.

Savage Worlds is in many ways the opposite end of the spectrum. You can fight and fight and fight all day long there. Awesome for pulpy, cinematic action sequences. Not so much for anything else though. So if your game will be less than 75% action...

FUDGE is one that I really enjoy for certain styles of play. And it is available for free. But there's a lot of work for the GM setting it up for your specific game. If you're not very experienced with running games and/or don't have a specific idea of how you want it to play out... Maybe too much here.

Or there's GURPS. I personally prefer the third edition over the current one, but that's just my own bias. Both of them are fairly well balanced, and quite easy to learn quickly. The problem with GURPS is... Well, if you use it more than once or twice, your players will notice that everything feels the same. There's no difference in mechanics between genres (indeed that's also a selling point), so the GM really really has to work hard to make different settings feel different.
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#3 Nicholas

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 09:47 AM

I recommend Burning Wheel for almost anyone, but it does sound like quite a good fit for what you described.

Combat can be quite dangerous, but generally not deadly. It relies on a combination of weapon skill and anticipating your opponents. All combatants script a full "exchange" of actions in secret and then reveal at once.

Skills are on a d6 system. The player rolls a number of d6s equal to his skill, 4, 5 and 6 are a success and he needs to equal or exceed a target number of successes set by the GM based on the difficulty of the task. Using skills is also have a character advances. Comparing the number of dice rolled to the target number assigns the check as routine, difficult or challenging for that character. It takes a certain number of each kind to advance but as you reach higher skill levels it becomes harder to find things that are challenging for you.

Character generation is on a lifepath system that lays out the basics of the character's life up to the start of the game. So you might start with born in a village, then became the village trouble maker, then moved to the city and became a criminal thug. Or a character could be born in the noble court, became a student, then a wizard's apprentice and then a full wizard. The sum of your lifepaths determines your resources, skill points, age and what skills and traits you have access to.

There are negative traits in Burning Wheel but unlike most systems they cost points rather than giving them back. The flipside is when a trait causes problems for a character in play he is rewarded with artha, which can be used to influence dice rolls. It really stops players trying to take flaws they ignore or that won't be a big issue since you only get rewarded if they do hinder you.
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#4 Balgin

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Posted 31 October 2010 - 02:20 PM

Chaosium BRP is very much Call of Cthulhu with SAN as an optional state.


Really? Interesting. As a part time Rune Quest player I always saw Call of Cthulhu as Runequest with a few "modern" skills, a Sanity stat (and insanity system) and without the annoying "everyone knows magic" rule that seems to exist in RQ.

The Runequest combat system is pretty much the same one as is used in Chutlhu but the heroes are on an even footing with the monsters. Most people's experience of CoC combat is that they die because the monsters are just better. So they (quite rightly) tend to avoid it and focus on the adventure.

I'd be tempted to recommend Runequest but I've absolutely no experience with the latest edition released by Mongoose (they highly offended me by removing total hp so in their version all damage is locational with no total life :(). I've heard they made combat more tactical and action based rather than being quite so dice heavy.

RQ doesn't have much in the way of swapping penalties for bonuses during character creation. Once you've rolled the dice it's pretty much automatic.
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#5 undecided44

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 01:31 PM

Thanks to all for the suggestions. I've found a copy of the fudge rules and have been reading through them lightly. I think it may work out, but I'm not settled yet.

While I appreciate the flexibility of some of the systems suggested, my planning/writing has hit another stumbling block: how are players likely to react to pretty limiting guidelines for their initial character gen? Not to get too far into it, but I intend to eliminate the "you look up and two dwarves, a minotaur, and a halfling walk into an inn" situation by forcing a common backstory element of town of birth, which in most systems limits the racial choices, and will probably have something to say about "classes" (in systems with such). This is making me think about aiming for a system that limits things a bit in order to avoid a character gen session opening discussion about "yeah, you see this stack of books? forget them, they're off limits. No you can't open the game with a character capable of summoning things from other planes." Is it easier to cut things out of a wide open system, or am I better off going for a system that carves out a narrower setting?

Also, see here one of my early quest networks. Are graphics like this helpful for GMs running a campaign, or is an outline of avaialble questlines better?
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#6 Pheonix

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 06:52 PM

If you want something cheap and cheerful its worth looking though out of print sales. I saw this in Mongoose publishings site

http://www.mongoosep... ... sSeries=67

I have no idea what it would be like, but you cant go wrong for 3:99. At least you could suck ideas out of it.
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#7 StirringSagacity

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 07:48 PM

I recommend Burning Wheel for almost anyone, but it does sound like quite a good fit for what you described.

Combat can be quite dangerous, but generally not deadly. It relies on a combination of weapon skill and anticipating your opponents. All combatants script a full "exchange" of actions in secret and then reveal at once.

Skills are on a d6 system. The player rolls a number of d6s equal to his skill, 4, 5 and 6 are a success and he needs to equal or exceed a target number of successes set by the GM based on the difficulty of the task. Using skills is also have a character advances. Comparing the number of dice rolled to the target number assigns the check as routine, difficult or challenging for that character. It takes a certain number of each kind to advance but as you reach higher skill levels it becomes harder to find things that are challenging for you.

Character generation is on a lifepath system that lays out the basics of the character's life up to the start of the game. So you might start with born in a village, then became the village trouble maker, then moved to the city and became a criminal thug. Or a character could be born in the noble court, became a student, then a wizard's apprentice and then a full wizard. The sum of your lifepaths determines your resources, skill points, age and what skills and traits you have access to.

There are negative traits in Burning Wheel but unlike most systems they cost points rather than giving them back. The flipside is when a trait causes problems for a character in play he is rewarded with artha, which can be used to influence dice rolls. It really stops players trying to take flaws they ignore or that won't be a big issue since you only get rewarded if they do hinder you.


I agree wholeheartedly with you Nick. You guys need to run a BW game (whenever Kingmaker explodes (or implodes)). Yes, Burning Wheel is a wonderful system.
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#8 Nicholas

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 07:57 PM

Recording my games has made me regret that I haven't been doing it my whole life. Kevin, John (Halungalum), and I (along with a few others) have had so many fantastic moments in BW and no one else will ever get to hear them. It makes me sad.
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