By Christine Martin-Resotko
As many of you know, last week some controversy started surrounding a leaked copy of Wizards of the Coast’s Open Gaming License (OGL) 1.1. We aren’t going to discuss that here. Nope. Plenty of that going on around the internet. Instead, how about we prepare for people who are ready to look for a new, favorite TRPG in the fantasy genre? Here are some of my top picks, including their pros and cons. Hopefully, this will be helpful during these events in the gaming world.
Let’s start with Earthdawn, by FASA Games. Currently in its fourth edition, it is a high magic Earth from the far past that is in the process of recovering from a magical disaster, aptly named “The Scourge”. Now that the worst has passed, people are emerging from their underground and magically protected kaers to rebuild their societies and reclaim the world from the Horrors who still remain after the Scourge.
This high magic setting has many of the things you have come to expect from the fantasy RPG genre: underground constructions that have been forgotten over time, magical items of all types, every character class has some type of magical ability, and a plethora of different species. You use the same, standard 7-piece dice set, but with a “step” based dice system. The setting is super rich, and there is a strong community that has been playing since the first edition. The drawback is that this is not a rules light system. There are a lot of rules, but not so many that it is prohibitive for those learning the system. And, to help see if it is the right system for you, you can get a free Quickstart right on their website!
Next up is Fantasy AGE, by Green Ronin. As they are gearing up to put their new Core Rulebook out (which expands the Basic Rules, but is backward compatible), now is the time to try it out. Fantasy AGE is a system that allows you to create the fantasy world you want. There are a variety of ancestries and lots of ideas for campaigns and locations. Facebook has many groups out there to support the different AGE games, so there is always someone to throw ideas out to.
The benefit of this system is its LARGE amount of resources. There are a variety of settings out there (Blue Rose, Dragon Age, Freeport, Titansgrave, Trojan War), plus other supplements to assist you in creating the setting and campaign of your dreams. The system is also very simple to use and pick up. This game uses a 3d6 system, with a very interesting stunt mechanic. Not a lot of drawbacks other than having to learn a new system. If you want to check it out, there is a free Quickstart bundle available in their webstore that has Dragon AGE, Blue Rose, and several other Quickstarts all together.
RuneQuest, by Chaosium, is our next entry. The latest edition takes us back to the world of Glorantha, a bronze age setting where the gods and mortals, myth and cult, collide in a world filled with many types of magic and creatures only dreamed of. This system has been around since 1978, so there is a long standing community ready to welcome you anywhere in the world.
This system has a rich setting right from the start. There is lots of lore, and many of the editions are easily compatible with each other. Also, you can always create your own setting and just use these rules as your framework. That is how I was introduced to the system, way back in 1990. This system uses a percentile roll, but rest of your 7-piece dice set will still get some love in damage rolls. The drawback is that the rules seem really intense when you first start making your characters. Take a deep breath. Once you get through character creation and the advancement rules, the system really is a piece of cake. There is a free Quickstart in the Free Stuff section of the Chaosium website.
7th Sea, now published by Chaosium, is a fun ride. Get ready to swashbuckle and explore your way through a magical world inspired by Earth’s age of exploration. The second edition of the game covers everything but the Asia-Pacific countries, which will soon be represented in their own book (7th Sea Khitai). There is a large fanbase, and active groups on Facebook.
The setting is dynamic, and has been carefully created by writers from the cultures represented. The original creator, John Wick, wanted to be sure that even fictional counterparts of real cultures were done properly with sensitivity. There are TONS of books already available for everything but the Khitai areas, so you can start wherever in the world you would like. Direct parallels to different parts of actual world history make the setting very easy to jump into. The game uses a pool of d10s for all rolls. The biggest difficulty is changing your mindset in how you play. Instead of a “can I do this…roll to see” mindset, 7th Sea has a “I am doing this” mindset. It is almost impossible to fail to roll a success, but you do get benefits if you choose to fail at something (which you can narrate to epic levels). There are two Quickstarts in the Choaium website Free Stuff section, one for 7th Sea and one for 7th Sea Khitai.
The last entry will be Swords of the Serpentine, by Pelgrane Press. This sword and sorcery game owes its flavor to the inspiration of stories by Fritz Leiber, Terry Pratchett, and Robert E. Howard. Adventure and skullduggery await you in Eversink.
This setting is heavy on cinematic mystery and adventure. This is the latest adaptation of the GUMSHOE rule system that powers most of the Pelgrane Press games. It uses a d6 for all determinations within the game, so it is easy to use. The only difficulty with this system is getting used to the different pools. You have pools to use to help you with your rolls, and they refresh over time. Once you get the hang of that, you are ready to adventure. There isn’t a Quickstart for this game, but there are lots of articles to help you understand how GUMESHOE works, and some articles about the setting, Eversink, to get you ready to investigate.
Hopefully this selection of games will help you and your patrons find a fantasy system and setting that will create their greatest adventures. There are many more systems out there, and I could go on for days. However, these will get you started on your own adventure to create epic fantasy adventure for your gaming table. Go, start your quest!
Christine Martin-Resotko is a Library Assistant with the Mason branch of the Capital Area District Libraries in Michigan. She is a lifelong nerd starting with Star Wars, and has continued that with a multitude of nerdy interests. She has been playing RPGs since 1990, and has a collection of 40+ RPGs at her own home. Christine created the CADL Adventurers Club for her library system, which now has events for every age group at many of the system’s branches. In 2020, she was presented with the McConnell Award for Innovation, one of the top awards that CADL gives out to its staff, for her use of her abundant nerdy knowledge for the library system. She has a B.S. in Anthropology from Michigan State University. She lives with her husband, son, and crazy cat, all of which still admit to knowing her.
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