Changing horses midstream, pt 1


My 4e D&D game has now passed its third birthday. What started with three players in May 2009 dealing with mysterious zombie uprisings and hostile tribes of Shifters lurking in the woods has transformed to a cosmos-hopping six player epic scale beast with all of Creation at stake. I’ve never had a single game run this long, nor been running one system pretty much exclusively for this length of time.

But a couple months ago I started to feel burnt out. Partially with the setting and genre but largely with the system.  Skill challenges just never fired and characters in the upper Paragon tier just have so many powers that decision making around power choice and optimal tactical combat was slowing things to a crawl. I have to own a lot of the blame here too; I wasn’t building encounters “smart” and was focusing too much on victory conditions of “kill everything on the table” instead of something more “fun.” But even minor combat encounters were taking an hour and a half to cover three or so rounds.

So  started to look around at other systems to try out with the thought of switching over the campaign for the equivalent of the Epic tier (levels 21-30 in 4e). My goals were to find something that was fairly rules-light and would allow lots of improvisational play (something supporting social mechanics and creative stunting – some of the players and I were feeling 4e’s Powers system too constricting) and that would have speedy combat. I also had a secondary goal of keeping a D&D-like feel so it wouldn’t be too jarring a transition. I didn’t want to switch over to something completely different and have the change kill the game.

After some research I identified a handful of games that seemed worth exploring. Pathfinder/3.5 was popular with some of my players but I’d never played it. I picked up Pathfinder and really like it for a lot of reasons, but I don’t think it is right for this game. It has the best support and I could very easily port over most of my character classes/races but the number of spells high level characters have to choose from and the grid-based tactical combat leave me with the same problems I started with.  FantasyCraft, a d20 retro-clone by the folks who did SpyCraft, was getting a lot of praise and I liked the spin it put on classes and a couple other elements but it was pretty heavily crunchy and I had a feeling my group wouldn’t dig it and that it wouldn’t have the flexibility I was looking for. Given my drothers I’d switch the game over to Rolemaster Classic but, yeah. I liked the look of Savage Worlds but it would be a pretty significant gear-shift for the game.

Then Bryant emailed me with the fateful words “Have you thought about 13th Age?”  I read some of the press about the recently wrapped playtests, listened to a couple actual play recordings and was hooked. The biggest problem being that it’s not out yet. I plunked down the cash for the pre-order, something I rarely do, in order to get my hands on the post-playtest pdf and was not disappointed. A very flexible skill/background system, more abstracted tactical combat, a total of about 9 or 10 class talents/powers/spells at maximum level, mook rules…a lot of this was exactly what I was looking for. The biggest problem was that this was still very much a beta document – the authors were very up-front about that going in so no bad on them, but I had hoped it would be a little more finished. Some classes don’t yet have talents at the higher levels, the Monk class is really not done, and the multiclassing rules the authors admit are broken as heck.  These things will all get cleaned up before the release, I have no concern. But I’m not a very patient man.  In the immortal words of Veruca Salt, I want it NOW!

But I have a couple months before that can happen, sadly. So in the interim one of my players suggested that I run a series of one- or two-shots test driving the various systems in action to see what the group felt about them. A great idea.

So here’s the plan: I’m testing out the systems and will toss some notes/commentary on each here. The ones I decided to run with are Savage Worlds, 13th Age, Pathfinder (or maybe a 13th Age/Pathfinder hybrid), and maybe Rolemaster just to be a sadistic bastard. Each of these will be set in the larger universe of my campaign and will fill in some pieces that were going to happen “off-screen” or may have happened historically. Efficient!

First up is Savage Worlds, which will be covered in the next post.


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2 Responses to “Changing horses midstream, pt 1”

  1. joncassie Says:

    Can’t wait to hear what comes of this. Any system that you test out and that passes the test is probably worth giving more consideration to.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      Oh, there’s little question that it’s going to end up being 13th Age. Unless it drops the ball HARD in its one-shot I think it is a pretty foregone conclusion. There’s just so much that I absolutely adore in it. Check the second post in this thread for the general gist:

      That’s not to say Savage Worlds isn’t a fun game; I just don’t think it is the right tool for this job. And I’m definitely going to give Pathfinder a run, because a Monk with 6 attacks/round at +17 to hit is just a damn sexy thing I cannot resist.

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