My Playtesting Conundrum

Save Vs. Options

So. If you’ve read my posts from earlier this week or follow me on twitter you probably know that I’m in a bit of  a tough spot with trying to figure out what game to play for my about-to-kick off weeknight campaign. I have no plans of stopping playtesting D&DNext but I really don’t think it is going to work for an ongoing campaign, at least not until more material is released.

The problem isn’t with the rules, or anything about the game itself really aside from the rules being kind of ephemeral as the playtest iterations roll out but those are usually minor things and isn’t anything that would stop my group from playing. The problem is the slim amount of classes, themes, backgrounds, monsters, and low levels. Normally I’d just create my own content for the game and chug along, which I have already done to some extent – but the fact of the matter is that I don’t have the time to devote myself to that right now and my players (and I) want a solid ongoing game with lots of options.

Character creation rules aren’t even an issue, if there was just some more variety in the pregens we could probably cope – but we’ve been playtesting since shortly after the announcement. I have more than 4 players so we end up with duplicate classes, and not that there is anything wrong with the core 4 classes but my group demands more variety.

Finding The Right Game

So, does this mean if I pick up some other game I’ll be writing off 5e? Not hardly, but I need an interim game to fill in the gaps until a solid release comes for D&DNext. Maybe not even the final product, but one very close to done would be optimal. I need druids, and sorcerers, and level progression that extends beyond 3! I need a campaign I can run with for hopefully a year or more, I still plan on playtesting too – but as one shots on the weekends and such. I’d love to play a game like gamma world, or shadowrun, or a modern post-apoc game, or even Warhammer 40k. But I’d be playing those alone, so for now my group is sticking to high fantasy until I can convince them otherwise.

I’ve got a lot of suggestions over the past few days about what to play, and started with a few ideas of my own. I rounded up my options here and laid out my thoughts via pros and cons for you to all. So please, tell me what I’m missing, give me suggestions, or just tell me to suck it up and stick to my D&DNext guns. Looking forward to your comments!

Game Pros Cons
DD&D Next Great system so far, it’s D&D, familarity, simple. Only 4 classes right now, 5 pregens and a level cap of 3. I’ve been at this for 4-5 months now.
Dragon Age Immensely fun, fast, simple, stunts! 3 Classes, different styles of each but still…3 classes. Setting is somewhat baked in, extra work to make it my own.
Dungeon World Narrative focused, adaptable, fresh. 4 core classes and one playtest druid. Will have to wait a month for full rules release w/ more classes
Pathfinder Familiar, well supported, lost of material and aides, it’s basically D&D It’s still basically 3.x which I’m not super fond of
Dungeon Crawl Classics Cool artwork, gnarly mustaches, weird dice? I’m not a masochist. The rulebook is laid out like a ransom note, and I can only take so much gygax fetishism.
13th Age I’m told I would like it, it’s very D&D-like, escalation die! Still not fully released yet, not positive I’d like it. Personal reservations.
GURPS Steve Jackson makes cool stuff. The name sounds like a horrible disease and I’m not sure I’m up for plundering all of those pages
Savage Worlds Fun system, I love edges and flaws, love the progression. Not sure how well it does high fantasy after reading it all, magic system is unappealing to me.
Song of Ice And Fire RPG Seems fun, Schwalb wrote it, I love Game of Thrones Might be too low-magic, I wouldn’t do westeros justice, incest.

So, loyal readers – what is a nerd to do?


  1. I suggested via Twitter that you look at something Unisystem. After later seeing your “high fantasy” delimited, I’d suggest playing All Flesh Must Be Eaten with the Dungeons & Zombies supplement.
    What’s not to love about a high fantasy zombie apocalypse, as long as everybody knows that’s what they’re getting into?

  2. Looks like the ones youre leaning towards the most are Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder. Unsurprisingly, since they’re the most D&Desque and wouldn’t be hard for your group to adapt to.
    I believe I’m the one who recommended Savage Worlds. Great thing about it is that there’s so many settings (I also live edges/hindrances) but its a totally different non-d20 mechanic, and if your players are hesitant about anything that’s not *high fantasy*, you’d probably be better off w/ Pathfinder. Like you said, Pathfinder is vastly supported and if you want options, I mean, that’s options to the roof. Hope this helps!

    • You mean the ones leaning away from? Yeah, well DCC was mainly a joke but I’m not completely offput by Pathfinder. It would be great to get intimate with another one of the “big” systems.

      I’ve been flirting with SW for months now for running a zombie game akin to The Walking Dead, I feel like edges/flaws would play awesomely into a game like that. Maybe I’ll just do that instead?

      • Haha, I don’t get it, why is DCC a joke? I know almost nothing about it.

        Savage Worlds zombie setting is called “Deadlands” its a zombie/western scenario but I’m sure you could easily just reflavor the setting as fantasy, if you so desired!

  3. I’m familiar with a few of your options and not with others.

    I’ve tried the Dragon Age RPG and its good if you’re super into Dragon Age. The world is neat and its a good time to run around in it. However the limit of classes is definitely apparent if you have more than 3 players. And mages tend to kick too much ass compared to fighter and rogue.

    13th Age is looking to be a pretty sharp RPG. The playtest documents are enough to play around with for a few months before the full release in the fall. It’s got a good hint of 4E in it but manages to avoid a lot of 4E’s faults. The default world is pretty flexible to make a story in, and the skeleton of that world could easily be used to create a new game world. Just curious – What are your personal reservations about it?

    I grew up with GURPS and it was incredibly fun. It’s a skill focused game and lends itself well to a wide variety of play. You can build just about anything you want, both in terms of campaign and in players. Overall it’s a good system and I think it would really mesh with your appreciation of realism and player threat well. If you wanted to do fantasy with it, I’d highly recommend the Banestorm setting. It’s pretty unique and fun.

    Savage Worlds is a smartly designed game that I’ve unfortunately only played once. But when I did, it was a good time of zombie-killing dragon-riding awesomeness.

    I’d think your group would benefit from trying out a game different from DnD for a while. You can still do fantasy, but I’d avoid 4E, Next, and Pathfinder for a while. Just give your group some breathing room to try some new stuff. I find its welcome every now and then and can give you good ideas to incorporate into your normal games.

    Out of curiousity, have you looked at any of the World of Darkness stuff?

    • Thanks for all of this awesome input! There’s a lot to think about here for sure, going to take all of this into consideration.

      I have looked into WoD and would really love to run some non-fantasy stuff for a while as well.

      • I’d second taking a look at Dave’s fantasy hack. I thought about doing that myself, and actually converted my players’ 4e characters into the system. Really should make a post about that.

  4. You might consider Mutants and Masterminds. It is d20 based so it would be familiar to D&D players. It would remove the fantasy gaming trope of killing things for their property, since you buy your gear with points. It would be very high fantasy since it is basically built for superhero games, but there are some fantasy supplements and plenty of support on their forums.

    I would be using it now, but my current batch of players won’t touch anything but D&D 4e.

  5. I wouldn’t recommend 5E if only because I suspect they will not do an extensive release until the real release. They will limit themes and classes to a select few-just enough to playtest with. If your trepidation with 5E is lack of materials I do not see that changing enough for your desires.

    I see ACKS is not on your list, but it is an option.

    If you pre-order 13th Age you get the latest playtest material which includes 10 classes, 11 races and is mostly complete (haven’t finished reading it yet but looks to cover everything you would need to run a full campaign).

    As Froth mentioned Labyrinth Lord is out there and free.

    Also the 1E books were just rereleased…

    • I hope you’re wrong about this one, but you could be right. Which sucks.

      I’ve jotted down LL and ACKS. As for LL & 1e, I think I’m looking for something more modern for the sake of approachability.

  6. I would recommend Savage Worlds, and go with one of the settings. Evernight is a set length campaign, so it has a built in ending. I love the Hellfrost setting, very different yet intriguing. It is well supported. And I know there are others, these are just the two I have actually played in recently.
    When I do a new game system, I like it if it is supported. I like some published adventures, these give me an idea of how the system flows even if I don’t use them. I like setting information. Actually, I think I just love to read RPG’s now that I think about it!!

    • Definitely nice to have lots of support and examples to read thought to get good ideas and also server to judge whether you think it will work for you or not. I think I have the same problem. Definitely more RPG’s I’d like to play than I’ll ever be able to accomplish in a lifetime or three.

  7. I am no help to you here. I am almost feeling burned out with D&D at the moment and I think its just more of everything else in life blowing up the last few weeks. I really don’t look forward to playing until the moment I walk in the door and sit down with friends and then I enjoy myself for the evening. Almost think I need a break to do something of a non-fantasy genre to recharge.

    • I’m 100% with you right there man. Ive got little time lately, it can’t be spent hacking the game to pieces just to work. I need to use that time to actually play, because there isn’t much of it.

  8. Savage Worlds can do high fantasy pretty well. I speak from experience. However, if you don’t want to do the legwork, check out the Hellfrost setting for Savage Worlds. Its is a very rich and fascinating fantasy setting set during a supernatural miniature ice-age, very much like dark age europe. Its familiar enough to fantasy fans but just different enough in the fine details to feel like something new. I truly love it. The setting is well detailed, but there is plenty of space to make things your own. Honestly, if I wasn’t doing Pathfinder, I’d be doing Hellfrost. Hellfrost rewrites the magic system away from magic points and has several systems including divine, elementalism, dwarf rune magic, and song magic. There are also dozens of adventures available for it for sale in PDF format.

    Otherwise, it is worth picking up the Hellfrost players guide and shamelessly ripping off and modding the races, magic system, perks and flaws, and so on and stitching together a fantasy system more to your liking.

    Check it out here:

    • This sounds awesome, but yeah I am writing my own material here. There’s a campaign world I’m really wanting to flesh out and I’d prefer to not have to do boatloads of work just to get a blank canvas here. I should just suck it up and use Pathfinder.

      • An alternative is to look at the Trailblazer rules addition for 3.5. It fixes a lot of the issues I had and if it weren’t for Marvel, I’d probably be doing that myself.

      • Well, as I said, I used SW to create my own high fantasy setting. Actually, I don’t think I said it. Well, I used SW to create my own high fantasy setting. But I gutted out the mechanical bits from Hellfrost so as not to have to write a magic system from scratch and stole a lot of edges/flaws and monster stats too. The thing is a gold mine.

  9. What about Evil Hat’s Dresden Files using the FATE system? I’m a huge fan of the novels and the setting is great for a real world setting with magic thrown in.

  10. I just started an ASOIF campaign recently, and it’s pretty good. Schwalb honestly took more than a few ideas from FATE for it, although its pretty ‘crunchy’ (and clunky in some ways). I don’t plan to do a long-term game in the setting, though.

    Not to add yet another option up top, but have you considered Legends of Anglerre?

  11. Regarding 13th Age, I only have a little experience with the first draft of the playtest, but I was very excited by and then very disappointed by it. If you’re not a 3e fan I’m not sure if you’d like it. I have no idea what’s changed since then, but as it was I thought it was incredibly kludgey, and you seem to like simpler systems.

  12. You’ve basically covered all the ones I know, but there is one that has been sitting in my bookmarks bar for a while and I’ve been meaning to read up on it: The Legend System:

    I know next to nothing about the game, but a quick glance at the rulebook looks like it’s high fantasy, and contains at least 8 individual classes. And it looks similar to D&D’s d20 system. The other bonus (or perhaps mark against it) is that it’s free and licensed under the Open Game License.

  13. My group is dealing with this question right now, as well. We’re also looking at most of the same options. We have three DMs willing to hack mechanics, though, so not quite in the same boat. We’re leaning towards reworking Dragon Age.

    Given your considerations I’m going to give a +1 to AngryDM’s suggestion. Since you’re writing your own campaign setting already, I honestly think it won’t be as much work as you might think to reskin the Hellfrost material.

    Good luck with your search!

  14. I have to support the idea of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It is a solid system with a lot of versatility. Dave Chalker’s excellent fantasy hack for that game is well worth checking out.

    I like hackmaster basic as it gives an old school feel with a new school sensibility for design. Also the western game Aces and Eights, also by Kenzer uses the same basic engine and is good for a gritty western game.

    I actually enjoyed the DCC RPG. It is actually more of a homage to the source material that inspired D&D, rather than D&D itself. It uses some fairly modern mechanics on a D20 core to capture that old school feel. Also it is very easy to tone down the lethality by ignoring certain rules.

    And finally I have one complaint about your post, your use of the term Gygax fetish in the DCC RPG entry has now caused the image of Gary in a gimp suit to be stuck in my head. Some things just should not be imagined. I am going to go bleach my brain now.

  15. I think for a DnD-leaning crowd, Gamma World is a perfect transition game. It still runs off the 4E rules (at least about 95% of them), but you can crank the silliness up as high as you want. If you’re looking for a game that uses familiar rules, but is a lot less formal, then that should be at the top of the list.

    If your group is set on serious high fantasy though, is there a reason why you wouldn’t just use 4E? There’s no rule that says you can’t transition into Next once it is released, as long as you aren’t using the more exotic races/classes.

  16. Happy to see that i’m not alone battling with this question.

    Personnaly, I battled with this question mounths before announce of DnDNext and end up choosing Ture20 as a game system. It’s based on the D20, and Mutants and Masterminds, fixing the level progression of Mutant and Mastermind.

    My only problem with it that my players don’t like True20, well they don’t like the toughness system instead of HP. And now, even if we change it to HP they have decided they do not love the game system.

    True20 came with only 3 classes, but rules are given to create your own classe easily, about 5 to 10 minutes to create a new one. The rules are simple enough your player can even take that into account.

    The big advantage of the True20 system is that is designed to be setting less, in fact in the core rulebook their’s no setting just option and suggestion to make the one you want.

    Hope it will help in your quest ! 😉

  17. Ive kinda given up on dnd for the time being. When the edition is complete i’ll be right back in i’m sure, but at the moment i’m in pen and paper gaming limbo. Playing 4th edition feels like playing an old videogame I have already beaten a dozen times…. 3rd edition math just totally falls apart after like level 8.

    Both are fun, but I yearn for the next edition! C’mon devs crank out a few more classes for the playtest and let us get to level 10! It really seems like the math core of the game should have been completed 2 months ago. At this point I want to start seeing power windows and heated seats. Why are we still making the frame of the car?

    An old gamer friend and I cranked out more material in 2 months than these guys getting a paycheck have made in a year. Makes me think they are chilling on facebook half their workday or playing MMO’s in the office when they should be making 5th Edition.

  18. I don’t see Tunnels and Trolls listed. It’s fast and fun and you need to have D6 and know how to do arithmetic to see if your roll is over or under the goal. Many classes, and they even have gun’s if you get the Flying Buffalo 5th ed version. Characters can be written down on a 3×5 card or use an online tool to generate it. I still have my first copy of the rules from 1981 and have since purchased a replacement set since it got a bit beat up. Lots of solo choose your own adventure books available as well, and most of all Ken St. Andre (lives here in AZ) is a super nice guy. My teenage son first foray into RPG’s was playing with Ken at Phx Comic Con. Ken used his Magic TG deck as a random monster generator and ran a great game that was really fun to play in.

  19. What about Fate? Legend of Anglerre is a great fantasy version of Fate. There are neither levels or classes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t advance your character. Rules are pretty simple once you wrap your head around them and the way things are laid out it works great for long term campaigns. The setting defaults to Anglerre, but the book is more like a giant fantasy setting toolkit. You will have no trouble working your own setting in.

  20. What did you end up choosing? How is it working out? I would have suggested Castles & Crusades. It’s pretty awesome. Simple, approachable but yet D&D through and through.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Playtesting the Stench | Just Crunch Games
  2. Friday Knight News – Gaming Edition: 27-JUL-2012 | Gamerati

Shoot An Arrow At It