View Full Version : Light games that feel like contemporary D&D fantasy

2015-03-02, 11:35 AM
I've been playing a lot of games in the style of pulp fantasy and versions of older Dungeons & Dragons. Player characters are weak and poor and they will probably die as soon as their torches go out and the underground darkness claims them. Magic is rare and probably evil. The adventurers themselves aren't shining beacons of goodness, either, but opportunistic mercenaries and graverobbers looking for a quick payday.

Lately I've thought it could be fun to play something a bit more contemporary. Specifically, I'm looking for the very specific kind of fantasy produced by modern D&D. Adventurers are heroic and savvy figures that are concerned primarily with slaying monsters, not claiming treasure. Magic is a relatively common tool that can be used for good and evil. The party isn't going to be worried about their torches going out, they're armed with sunsticks and magical compasses that will show them the way. The barbarian isn't a dirty peasant dressed in a loincloth, he's a gallant figure clad in spiky, stylized armour.

I was primarily inspired by the fun of Fell's Five (http://majorspoilers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/DnD_FellsFive-7.jpg) and the hyper-stylized aesthetic of Pathfinder (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0e/Pathfinder_RPG_Core_Rulebook_cover.jpeg). Put the Order of the Stick in there, too, though I'm not looking for comedy as such.

Problem is, I find D&D 3rd and Pathfinder both intimidating and boring these days. The character sheets look like tax forms, there's just too much number crunching. I love the range of options, but jotting down all those numbers just isn't fun for me anymore.
D&D 4th is perhaps simpler, but I'm not necessarily looking for a game to be played with miniatures. Plus teaching the moves to players that don't own the books would be more trouble than it's worth, I think.
I imagine D&D 5th wouldn't be a bad choice, being quite a lot simpler, but it's a bit steep in price for me at the moment so I thought I'd look for alternatives.

So, are there any lighter games that produce that same kind of fantasy? Grand adventures, magic as almost-technology, selfless yet pragmatic heroes and exotic locations.

2015-03-02, 11:56 AM
Maybe Atlantis: The Second Age might be to your liking? It shares many basic elements with D&D and is based on another game the D&D 3rd edition designers drew lots of inspiration from (Jonathan Tweet worked on both 3rd Ed. and Talislanta). The implied setting is quite different, having no elves, dwarves, and orcs. If you want to reskin it to a more standard setting, making new PC races and creatures is very easy.
The game doesn't really have money and instead Heroes are fighting for fame. Both from the common people, as well as getting recognition from the gods. Characters start pretty strong but don't grow into demigods as they advance. There are no character classes and while something very similar to feats exist, there are only 20 of them in total and as you advance you can split your advancement points between increasing your skills and getting additional talents as you want.

The basic assumption behind Heroes is "fortune favors the bold", and in this case literally. The higher you work yourself up in the eyes of the people and the gods, the more Luck get on your side. As your Renown increases, you do get Advancement Points to improve your skills and attributes, but perhaps even more important is that you get more Hero Points and can spend larger amounts of them at once. Hero Points allow you to add a bonus to any die roll and to reduce damage you take, similar to many other games. But since your skills and attributes only grow little, it's really the use of Hero Points that allows you to fight the really big and dangerous monsters.
This game is designed to be pretty balls to the wall and Hero Points are not a limited resource you need to carefully save for emergencies. As I said, fortune favores the bold, and the more agressive and reckless you play your character, the more Hero Points you are going to get. If you want to play something that feels like a Wayne Reynolds picture, I think this game gets really close to the mark.

The rules are not a small book and it's not a rules-light game by any stretch. But it's significantly lighter than any d20 games I know (not entirely sure about D&D 5th ed.) and doesn't bother with small situational modifiers that quickly get fiddly. Instead it's designed for GMs to not having to deal with too much rules and being able to make up things quickly if it should really be needed.
There's a couple of pretty detailed reviews here (http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=20172).

2015-03-02, 12:06 PM
FATE would be my suggestion and the nice people at Green Ronin even have a Freeport Companion for it that does a good job of adding the necessary bits for magic.

Karl Aegis
2015-03-02, 01:02 PM
Tenra Bansho Zero was heavily inspired by D&D back when it came out and the character sheet (http://www.tenra-rpg.com/support/TBZ-Sheet.pdf) isn't bad at all. The line between magic and technology is pretty blurred with many things combining magic and technology. Buddhist Monks, Cyborgs, Mecha, Samurai, Shinobi, and Sorcerers all use the same energy to power their abilities, with the odd man out being robots powered by amnesiac tormented spirits. Doing well out of combat can lead to some very potent combat bonuses or permanent character improvements like leveling up would normally give. Being able to crush soda cans is something to look forward to, as is swinging an eight foot long blade at a twenty-five foot mech and cutting it in half.

2015-03-02, 01:34 PM
So, are there any lighter games that produce that same kind of fantasy? Grand adventures, magic as almost-technology, selfless yet pragmatic heroes and exotic locations.

How about AD&D or basic D&D.

Beta Centauri
2015-03-02, 01:40 PM
D&D 4th is perhaps simpler, but I'm not necessarily looking for a game to be played with miniatures. Plus teaching the moves to players that don't own the books would be more trouble than it's worth, I think. Then don't play it with miniatures. I don't, when I run pbp games, and for simple battles you don't have to at the table. If you know of a system that can handle complicated encounters without some kind of shared representation, I'm sure we'd all like to hear it. All I know that works for that sort of thing is trust.

And don't worry about the "moves." The powers are just to give players guaranteed things they can do that are fun, without having to ask for permission. If they don't mind asking for permission, and you don't mind letting them do cool stuff (and it sounds like you wouldn't), there's nothing much you have to teach.

Given that Fell's Five was based around 4th Edition, if that's the kind of adventure you want I recommend you use 4th Edition.

Other than that Dungeon World could work for what you want. It seeks to emulate gritty old school, more than big-budget heroics, but you might be able to reflavor it some.

Good luck.

2015-03-02, 03:48 PM
D&D 5e. Relatively low on content as of yet, but designed for a combination of simplicity and function.

Plus, unlike 4e, it doesn't suck.

Eberron campaign setting might be worth looking into for the cinematic flavor.

2015-03-02, 03:53 PM
13th Age is definitely lighter than 3.x and D&D4e, while retaining that distinct D&D feel (and showing heritage to both). It's not light by any definition, mind. Check out the SRD for yourself here (http://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=13316).

2015-03-02, 03:59 PM
Your list of requirements leads me to recommend...

13th Age (a d20 offshoot with lighter overall rules and some narrative influences)


Dungeon World (a love-letter to classic D&D using highly narrative mechanics and a very simple system. Not always intuitive to a new gamemaster, but definitely light, fast, and fun.)

I personally run 4e because I am looking for similar aesthetics, but it's heftier than both of the above games, without a doubt.

1337 b4k4
2015-03-02, 09:52 PM
Dungeon World. Ratcheting up and down the lethality and grittiness is a function of the DM making more or less "hard" moves vs "soft" moves.

2015-03-03, 01:27 AM
Warrior Rogue and Mage is one possibility. It's free, it's short, it should work just fine. Several of the lighter generic systems should be able to handle this - Fudge, Savage Worlds, Fate, even something like Sketch. Savage Worlds has a fantasy compendium, Fudge has three distinct fantasy games built on its engine (Deyrini Realms, Fudge Fantasy*, Hack-n-Slash), Fate has Legends of Anglerre.

*In the 10th Anniversary Edition.