Looking for a heartbreaker

edited September 2009 in Story Games
I'm aching to run some heartbreaking fantasy: story is about the not-so-great characters romping around, seeing the world and becoming more powerful. I'm stumped for the game/system to use, though. Nothing I'm familiar with quite meets the desiderate.

There should be fairly clear mechanical powerscale that allows the players to either say "OH SHIT" or relax a bit: consider the effect of the GM rolling a huge number of dice in Storyteller games, or saying "He has 4 masteries, did you have one or two?" in HQ.

The mechanics should be sandboxy, and a have moderate helping of tactical options for the players. (Which is why HQ doesn't seem like the right choise.)

The overall feel should be fairly old-school classic fantasy -- not grim fantasy, anime or warriors with superpowers. Unless the provided setting is strictly generic fantasy, the rules should be setting agnostic (hence Exalted, Earthdawn and WFRP don't cut it.)

At the same time, the learning curve has to be friendly, handling time reasonable, and the game should work sensibly with a fairly improvisational style of running it (hence things like Burning Wheel/D&D don't cut it.)

Either there should be a fair amount of splat to sample out there (without needing to consume huge chunks of it upfront), or it new cruncy bits should be fairly easy to handwave into existence.

My current top contenders are Reign, GURPS, and HQ2.

Reign means more up-front work then I'm looking for, since a lot of the kewl cruncy bits have a non-classic feel to them, so I would have to generate splats -- but ORE seems like a pretty nifty system for the feel I'm after.

I'm not familiar with current GURPS, but assuming it hasn't changed too much in the last decade the biggest downsides are the long lists: to reduce handling time I would have to build a much reduced advantage/disadvantage/skill lists. The learning curve is on the upper threshold of my tolerance, but should do. On the face of it, it does fit the bill, I don't feel exited about using it. :/

HQ2 does everything except the crunch, and I'd really like to have some here.

Any suggestions?

EDIT: remove stupidity.


  • Just my 2 cents, but Reign seems like the best bet to me. If you're willing to consider GURPS, you must not be afraid of point-build systems or building your setting from the ground up. So long as you're comfortable enough with ORE to improv NPC stats on the fly, I think it'll fit your other requirements, and it definitely runs faster than GURPS, in my experience.
  • I'm also a big proponent of Reign, and just wanted to note that if by 'generating splats' you mean writing up your own esoteric disciplines and martial paths, I don't think that's really necessary. While the names and 'color' attached to each of the paths are often pretty nonstandard, the mechanical effects usually aren't. I've been working on doing something similar with Reign, and find that for the most part, you can just rename the paths and disciplines, and give new descriptions for how they achieve their mechanical effects.
  • I love Reign to bits also, but I'm wondering if it has the right level of scalability for what you describe. Certainly worth a try though, and out of the three you mention it's the one I personally would most recommend.

  • I'm definitely considering Reign. :)

    Any suggestions outside my current range?
  • How about Agon? It might not be as scalable as you want, and the tactical options in combat may not be what you want, but it seems to satisfy the rest. It can easily be tweaked for other settings, and Divine Favour could be reskinned to something like Drives.
  • Have you considered Storming the Wizard's Tower, or The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System?
  • I think Savage Worlds pretty much fits on all your points. Use the core rules and build out yourself, grab something like the excellent Dungeons & Savages to get an explicit D&D feel, or pick up the recently released S&W Fantasy Companion to get a fantasy themed crunch toolkit.
  • It sounds an awful lot like D&D. I can understand not wanting to deal with its complexity, but have you given a good look at 4E? It's made the game a lot simpler. Even my wife enjoys 4E, and she despised 3.x.
  • Thanks for all the suggestions so far.

    Agon: looks like a very fun game, but the competitive focus is a turnoff (though I suppose that can be ignored, since it's a social dynamic more than a game dynamic.) ...and as you say, it doesn't really do seem like it scales or does tactics. That said, I only skimmed the free sampler so far.

    Storming: Oooh, aaah! Lots to like here! (Though the comments on the blog about "serious mechanical problems" sound ominous.)

    Savage Worlds & D&D4E: No minis on my game table, thank you. :) Still, I did consider both. Might give SW a third look still, but D&D is definitely out except as inspirational material. I think. Maybe I'll give it another look too.

    Right now I'm considering writing a one-shot scenario, and trying it with multiple systems. The scientific method and all.
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: nikodemus
    Savage Worlds & D&D4E: No minis on my game table, thank you. :) Still, I did consider both. Might give SW a third look still, but D&D is definitely out except as inspirational material. I think. Maybe I'll give it another look too.
    Here's a recent revelation I had about Savage Worlds regarding minis and not using them:


    Exceeded my expectations.
  • I don't think you want a heartbreaker at all.

  • edited September 2009
    Well, there's plenty of candidates out there, although many of them are at least D&D-like...

    * Savage Worlds, optionally with the Fantasy Companion, is a solid choice - it has plenty of tactical crunch, and it lends itself well to improv.
    * The new HackMaster (5. ed.?) wears its heritage on its sleeve, but is full of cool tactical stuff. Dunno about 'winging it potential', though...
    * Depending on your interpretation of 'classic fantasy', Mazes & Minotaurs may not be what you're looking for. But if you like ancient Greek myths and legends, M&M is a strong contender. As is Agon, BTW.
    * There's also a free and pretty cool RuneQuest clone called OpenQuest, but that one admittedly has a more subtle powerscale.
    * And although you've ruled out D&D because 'the learning curve has to be friendly, handling time reasonable, and the game should work sensibly with a fairly improvisational style of running it', I kinda get the feeling that you're talking about 3. and 4. edition. Take a look at Labyrinth Lord, which is a red/blue box D&D clone; it very much conforms to the points you've outlined.

    Finally, check out Ben Robbins Western Marches Campaign posts at Ars Ludi, if you haven't already - these are some really good blogposts about running a (D&D) sandbox campaign.
  • Hey man,

    Eldritch has a fast-paced no-whiff, no minis combat system.

  • Riddle of Steel... if you can find a copy, would fit the bill... Nothing quite like killing a man with your elbow...
  • edited September 2009
    It is all clear to me now. WFRP is the answer, after all.
  • I don't know if it meets your list of mechanical requirements, but Wayfarers is recently-published game that looks like a classic heartbreaker.

    Wayfarers Website
    A new system with an old-school feel, Wayfarers enables you to play a warrior, priest, wizard, ranger or rogue, or to create an entirely unique persona.

    With dozens of disciplines and proficiencies, four types of magic, and over 500 spells, the possibilities for characters are limited only by the player's imagination.

    For the Game Master, Wayfarers provides hundreds of detailed creatures, items, optional rules, useful analysis and advice, and the vivid World of Twylos campaign setting.
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