I’ve mentioned the roleplaying I have done with my boys before, particularly the Animal Agents sessions that we played last year. Those sessions were intended to tell stories about the setting and to avoid physical confrontation. They were also using a simplified game system.
Well, the kids are ready for something different: a fantasy roleplaying dungeon crawl.
This has come on because of a couple of things:
- broader awareness of fantasy elements in culture – they’re both pretty knowledgeable about goings on in The Hobbit and Harry Potter.
- playing more games with fantasy combat in them – both video games (LEGO Batman, for example) and board games (Castle Panic, and Munchkin)
More about Munchkin another time.
The boys are old enough to deal with more complex rules, especially now that the younger one is reading fluently. Using a full ruleset seems like a plausible thing to do.
That ruleset won’t be D&D though.
Why I Don’t Like D&D
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is by far the most well known roleplaying game – it’s the first one I played, back when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was a thing. I loved roleplaying from the start, but I was always uncomfortable with the opacity of the game system: determining whether a blow hit was a table lookup in a table only available to the GM (or Dungeon Master, in D&D parlance).
Then there were the systems of class, race and level: boxes the characters get put in which punish the player who wants to do something different. Want a fighter with some stealth abilities? You might have to multi-class with thief, which makes advancing in either class more expensive.
More recent editions of D&D have addressed some of these concerns, but they are still terrifically complex. When I joined my current roleplaying group we were playing D20 Modern, which is the D&D system with modern trappings. We had to use a computer program to manage the characters because of all the interactions of different class abilities and bonuses.
One of D&D’s great strengths is the combat system – there are rules, it seems, for everything, from charging into combat to firing spells into melee. This betrays D&D’s roots as a skirmish war game, and it’s not for nothing that there are players who will play arena combats using the system.
The problem for me is that all of this faffing about gets in the way of telling the story.
So, not D&D.
Savage Worlds is a much simpler system to learn and to administer. It’s a skill-based system akin to Runequest, but there is a unified mechanic for testing for success: each trait has a die to indicate its level, and you just roll that die type to try and exceed the target difficulty number. Traits are divided into skills and attributes: skills are learned and specific (Drive, Shoot, Persuade) while attributes are innate and general (Smarts, Agility).
Combat is faster and involves less bookkeeping than with D&D. It’s also cruder, but a single combat round* won’t take half an hour** which is the point of the simplification.
The Savage Worlds system itself is generic, that is there is a core rulebook and separate materials for particular settings. The most famous of these (and in fact where the system originated) is Deadlands – a Weird West setting of undead monsters, mad science, and gunslingers. There are many other settings from fantasy to pulp science fiction to horror (including a truly excellent Mythos setting called Realms of Cthulhu).
I now have the Fantasy Companion which includes fantasy races and some specialised rules for suitable magic systems. This should help me build some small dungeons for the boys’ characters to crawl around in.
Next time I will explain what a dungeon is for.
[*] games go to combat rounds whenever there is any activity where timing is important, not just combat. Maybe they should be called action rounds instead?
[**] unless there are a lot of combatants, but scaling combat is one of the harder things to deal with.