RPG mini reviews, part 1

This has been on my mind recently. A few times every year, I will be looking for a RPG system to play with my group, or wife or kid and spend ages going around in circles looking for something. Exactly what i want varies depending on the game i’m trying to run but what I don’t like is pretty much the same. Anyway I though I’d put some of these thoughts into some short reviews of the systems I’ve looked at. I’m using a simple Good, Bad and Ugly format…because it’s easy and clear.

Let’s start with some familiar systems

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

The Good

  • Plenty of people playing it
  • Easy to find homebrew stuff for it
  • The basics of the system are pretty easy to understand

The Bad

  • Lack of classes and options. We’re years in now and we’ve had like one extra official class and still only a handful of subclasses and feats. This really restricts character building
  • In general character building is limited to a feat (every 4 levels) and which sub class you pick. Some classes have very few choices beyond this.
  • Doesn’t work for other settings. In Fantasy it’s fine. But in Sci-fi Dex is now the god stat giving you better attack and defense and a bunch of skills.
  • Despite all the old setting stuff, we only have a few setting books and plenty of classic setting so not have 5e books, which is a shame.

The Ugly

  • Spell casting. Spell descriptions are crazy long and complicated – so remembering them all is a pain. And then you are restricted to what you can cast at lower levels.
  • HP bloat. at low levels it’s fine but at higher levels you are fighting monsters with 100+ HP and combat becomes a massive grind, especially if your casters have used their big spells.

FATE Core

The Good

  • You can easily make pretty much any setting using a combination of skills (or approaches), aspects and stunts
  • The basic system is easy to run, play and understand and the 4 actions system is simple and clever
  • The various toolkit and monthly books mean that there is a lot of help to make your own games

The Bad

  • The dice are sort of annoying. Rolling dice and getting a zero is quite dull.

The Ugly

  • The Fate point economy is a real driver for the game. But it requires having really good double edged aspects which are hard to write, and players who are happy to take compels or hinder themselves, or give up, and a number of players, and when these things don’t happen there are not enough fate points; which means the aspects don’t work and the game doesn’t work as it should.

Genesys

The Good

  • 2 axis dice rolls. So you can succeed but have bad things happen or vice versa. And then you can spend advantages like currency.
  • Basic system works well
  • Simple minion system.
  • Can run quite a few different settings well
  • Magic is open ended

The Bad

  • The dice can be confusing. Working out final results can take a while relative to other games and then you have to work out what to do with the results.
  • Level 1 characters are pretty much all the same. Because you can’t easily increase attributes in play, so spend all your starting XP on attributes and hardly anything on skills or talents, so starting characters aren’t that different or interesting.
  • Magic is also quite complex, and possibly too open ended

The Ugly

  • Talents. Most level 1 and level 2 talents are rubbish, with very little effect. But to get a level 3 talent you need 3 L1 talents and 2 L2 talents. Something simple like Animal companion is a L3 talent. That’s a basic starting ability in most games. The Talent archetypes from the expanded players guide (or Star Wars) alleviates this problem to some extent.
  • Supers. There is no where near the stuff needed to run supers and the advice for super attributes is very basic, and unlikely to work

Savage worlds

The Good

  • Exploding dice are fun
  • The basic mechanics work quite well
  • It can be quick to play
  • There are a lot of different books out there
  • Lots of character options
  • Magic is pretty simple

The Bad

  • Basic Mechanics can be confusing for new players, especially if multiple dice explode or they are unskilled
  • Exploding dice can also one shot PCs, or your villains

The Ugly

  • Toughness. It does allow for quick combats. It also means that sometimes you sit there swinging doing nothing having hit someone.
  • No scale rules. Everything uses toughness on the same scale. So warships and mechs and so on. So when they are shooting each other they have to beat the same toughness as a guy with a gun. Which often means they miss the toughness and then do 4 wounds and destroy it. Supers has similar issues. The system works for pulp adventures (like deadlands that it was designed for), the further you move from this, the less well it works

That’ll do for now. Probably a bit ranty, and I imagine fans of each system may disagree. But I actually have played and enjoyed each system. For me, they each have massive positives but also big negatives.

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