Monday, June 6, 2016

Search for a current fantasy main system Part 1: suggested games and evaluating their samples

Prior posts in the series
Search for a current fantasy main system Part 1: suggested games and evaluating their samples
Search for a current fantasy main system Part 2: First look at downloaded samples
Search for a current fantasy main system Part 3: Organizing "Battles"
Search for a current fantasy main system Part 4: Organizing Losers Battles
Search for a current fantasy main system Part 4: Evaluating the game systems

On a forum, less than a month ago I started the search for a current system to serve as the main core for fantasy gaming. It could be a fantasy or universal system.


Using the forums wide audience, the core I wanted had to have depth of play, still putting out new material, and not have D&D combat nor magic system.


From suggestions there this list was created.

I used their own official websites to look for available material to evaluate the game. In this period of widespread Internet access, having a usable sample of the game is something I believe even the most casual of game makers can provide somewhere.

All of the game makers had websites. What they provide varied. I graded that material based on this simple score.

Sample Material Grade Scale

I gave them grades so based on the quality of available information, samples, and quickstart rules to help me judge the game system. I also divided playable rules put in bold, from unplayable rules. The actual order listed doesn't mean anything except the order that I looked at their websites.

A - exceeds my expectation by giving me an entire rules, or full playable game.
B - gives me a quickstart rules to try out the game, need to buy the system to progress further.
C - gives me partial look at the rules. may be somewhat playable for one time
D - gives me just enough information to judge what the rules will be like.
E - gives me nothing but almost unusable information.

Current order of consideration
0. Rolemaster Unified (?) - A -
1. 13th Age (2013) - A -
2. OpenQuest (2013) - A -
3. Godbound (2016) - A -
4. Radiance (2012) - A -
5. Hackmaster (2012) - A -
7. Mythras (Runequest 6)(2012) - B -
9. Fantasy Age System (2015) - C -
10. [moved down to D]
11. Dungeon World (2012) - A -
12. Earthdawn (2015) - C -

Older games not in the range that I wanted
13. Ars Magica (2004) - A (although older, I might look at the free BW 4th edition book since they gave it in it's entirety, including bestiary section)
14. GURPS (2004)(if I decide on allowing an older system. No Bestiary. If not I will skip it) - B
Unchained Heroes (2015) - A -
What's O.L.D. is N.E.W. (2014) - A -

This is the end of the good sample material. By then I will check one last time to see if any more games have download evaluation material. Then I will start to delve into detailed reviews & gameplay, going through the entire list from 13th Age down again for a few weeks to ingrain those systems into memory and get an even better feel for the A, B, and C systems. At the end of that I may decide to narrow them down. Also I will evaluate if continuing to look at the D & E games - games without available content - is necessary or not.

10. Burning Wheel Gold (2011) - D - moved due to sample content.
15. The One Ring (2011) - D - Zedturtle made an introductory adventure learning material.
16. Shadow of the Demon Lord (2015) - D -
17 Hero System (2009) - D -
18. Blades in the Dark (?) - D -
19. Heroquest - Glorantha (2015) - E - Will read & evaluate Alban's post for mechanic summary
20. Pendragon (2010) - E - Will read & evaluate Alban's post for mechanic summary
21. Cypher System (2016) - E - Tarot left a link of a video of how to play two other related games: strange and numenera
22. 7th Sea (?) - E -

Here are my main comments on the material provided.

Rolemaster Unified (? future release) - A - The entire beta 2 material (4 volume core: char/combat, spells, beastiary, treasures) is downloadable from their website. I like the monsters, races, spells, and beta 2 combat system. I don't know how the final revision since they are currently revising combat rules.

13th Age (Most Recommendations) (2013) - A - It looks like all or most of the main game is found in the 711 page Archemage Engine SRD available on their site. Very nice. I will buy the full game if this is the game I choose. They also have a great set of resources which may move this game to the top of the pile for first look and evaluation.

OpenQuest 2 (2013) - A - Free basic game and entire rules in SRD.

Godbound (2016) - A - Wow. The entire beta game without most of the pictures is downloadable. If I choose this game, I will buy the full game book with pictures in any format because this is the type of business that I would love to support.

Radiance (2012) - A - Impressive full players guide all in it's entirety. This is beyond my expectation. If I choose this game, buying the Master Guide will be easy and without hesitation.

Hackmaster 5E (2012) - A - (It will depend on how different the game is from AD&D. I don't want a clone. I give them an 'A' for being test drive friendly with the 232 pg illustrated free basic set and adventure modules. But it might not fit the non-D&D aspect I am looking for. I wont add it to the list games to look at if it's a clone.

Runequest 6 (Highly Recommended) (2012) - B - The free Essentials book will help me examine, learn, and even play the game. I can then buy the game - if this is the game I choose.

Fantasy Age (2015) - C - Although I couldn't find Fantasy Age sample, I did find the free quick start Dragon Age, which I hear is the same system, which has material for one adventure, and thus it becomes my first 'C' grade game.

Dungeon World (2012) - A (if I can find an official one) - Nice that the SRD is online in several forms. Is there an official one? I don't want to used someone else's creation, especially if it has adds that earn revenue that doesn't go to the creator. I don't want to use dungeonworldsrd if it's not officially by the creator.

I added Earthdawn (2015) - C - I downloaded the quickstart from 3E, Misguided Ambitions.

Ars Magica (2004) - A - They provide excellent preview material including the entire last edition game free and free downloadable adventure. The game is older than the time frame, but I may take a look at the 4th edition since it was given in entirety. SJG has the old edition on their site, which only asked for email to download, which was fast and easy - not very invasive.

GURPS - B - The GURPS Lite book will help me to learn and play the system, minus any creatures or NPCs. A sample of creatures and NPCs is the only thing I would hope was included. As is, I would have to make some humanoid NPCs only. I wish I had one page even of simple creatures from various genres, all in a chart without pictures or anything like that.

JAGS 2e (2006, 2015)(Re-implemented version coming soon) - A - They provide the core rules and an archetype compendium of powers playable material, both in their entirety on their site. As mentioned, I will consider the possibility of using the indie game instead of Hero System, using the powers in the archetypes compendium as a magic system. There are fantasy weapons and race samples in the books. What would be lacking is the monsters & creatures book - but there are rules to build them, which could be converted from other sources. The wall post says that the three Hero System books (Hero System 6e, Urban Fantasy Hero, & Fantasy Hero 6e) don't really provide any creatures and monsters in the core. Hardback and softback books available.

Unchained Heroes (2015) - A - I suppose it's sort of 4e (I only looked at 5e) with a different combat engine and from what I see a different magic system compared to 5e. This may be good to go up against other D&D similar games. They offer a free downloadable SRD at DriveThru which has 4 classes and 5 races of the full book along with all of the rules. The core has at least 6 more classes and 2 more races that I can see. Two more hero classes have come out since the core: Gigas and Necromancer.

What's O.L.D. is N.E.W. (2014) - A - The entire rules are on their site in the reference document. I will be focusing on the O.L.D. fantasy stuff. Also their is a bestiary on the site. I also downloaded the free basic rules.

Burning Wheel Gold
I downgraded Burning Wheel Gold to a 'D'. It's my fault. I assumed the 74 pages of material were playable. It does let you know how to play the gave very well. But the actual character creation material is not present. This is the best D material that I have seen so far. The sample lacks material on races, the actual skills, list of traits, equipment, and magic. Maybe a D+ since it's almost playable. I wont be considering the game in this first pass to be fair to the other systems and have moved it down in my prior list post.

The One Ring (2011) - D - Although I couldn't find a playable sample, they have several pages telling about the game mechanics on their website. They also have several supporting documents.

Shadow of the Demon Lord (Highly Recommended) - D - The video I watched explained the game well. Although I get no sample rules that I can find, I have an overall sense of the game from the video. My interest in this game is already much more than Cypher.

Hero - D - I can't find any official downloadable playable material for Hero. I do see glimpses of a GM screen on their official site, so I will give them a D. Actually a very low Dminus.

Too bad. I wanted to test play it and compare it to GURPS. Does there site have material if I register? I see files available for members like an Introduction to the Hero and the GM Screen. I don't want to register unless there is good playable material.

As to GURPS v Hero. From what I see in other posts: realism vs cinematic, many skills v fewer skills, prebuilt powers v build your own powers, linear vs exponential, fixed v flexible, faster combat v bogged down phase combat.

Blades in the Dark - D - I can only find brief notes

Heroquest - Glorantha - E - I can't find much about this version.

Pendragon - E - I can't find any sampling of the game much like Heroquest which I believe related to the same creator. I could only find some adventures, which doesn't mention the rules.

Cypher System (Highly Recommended) - E - Gives me practically nothing to judge the entire system on except nearly useless and sometimes strange and confusion sample pages. What they give already is a big negative and feels a little insulting despite the high praises of the recommendations. They advertised "Free Preview Available". To get those free previews you have to fill out and create an account. And what you get is beautiful, but shit! Nothing that would let you evaluate the system. I feel insulted after creating an account to get a taste of their heavily guarded system. This is the only game that I had to create an account to gain access to crappy samples. It makes me want to stick their system book on the bottom of the pile of games to consider, despite beginning out at the top.

7th Sea - E - I can only find the kickstarter information, which is nothing really.

Next post in this 'search for a modern fantasy main system series'.

After evaluating their test material, I went back and actually read through the material. In the next post of this series I will show notes for that information, my opinions of that information, and eliminate several of the systems based on that quick read through.


  1. Ken,

    I saw the grading system on and I would love for you to grade my game. May I send you a PDF of ATLANTIS: The Second Age?

    Thanks for the good work

    1. Not at the moment. Sorry. I'm just doing the ones listed.

    2. I did a last call on the June 1st, and then started phase 2 yesterday. I did just pick up the Atlantis: The Second age quickstart on drivethru. but won't look at it if I get some spare time, and not in this closed list.

    3. Oh, Im not interested in having it graded with the others. Im just curious as a personal matter. Still, I'm enjoying the thread