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Best beginner PnP RPG rule set?

LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
edited February 2010 in Critical Failures
I decided I wanted to try a pen & paper RPG with my parents (not kidding!) and a friend or two. Due to the players being who they are, I think the potential for hilarity and good times is pretty massive. The caveat is: I have never done this before.

I've polled my players for a list of what elements they think are important in an adventure, and this is the list so far:
  • nice clothes
  • sense of comradeship
  • pets
  • weather
  • scenery / beautiful locations
  • puzzles
  • situations with multiple solutions / outcomes
  • "... but by puzzle I don't necessarily mean something like zelda of course, I mean maybe I spill a drink on a guy at the bar- do I end up getting in a fight, getting the party into a bar brawl, do I talk my way out of it, do I lose money or make a friend..."

I am currently working my way through the D&D 4th edition handbook, which is what I defaulted to because I've played a shitload of D&D-based CRPG's (and read the damn rule book for the relevant edition on more than one occasion to make sense of one thing or another). But it is pretty complicated, there is a lot to do and keep track of with characters (for my parents I will probably pre-make a set that they can choose from), just lots of stuff in the game world. Also, WOTC has done its best to make me have to buy a whole bunch of crap. I'm hoping to get away with just some dice and the one hard copy of each of the "big three" books and try to keep things simple for my players, but still.

I'm perfectly willing to study up so that I can be a badass DM and keep everything moving, but I am wondering if there is another system out there that would be just as fun/balanced (with potential for real depth) and less work for everyone. (Setting is generic fantasy for now, probably PG or PG-13 for minimum awkwardness.)

LoneIgadzra on

Posts

  • nakirushnakirush Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Hey there,

    It's great that you can game with your parents! I would love to be able to do that.

    Most of what you listed (actually, everything except pets) will likely be handled by you or your players, so that won't be a determining factor in what system you choose.

    Now, here are my recommendations:

    LORE -
    This is a very, very simple approach to RPGs that streamlines everything. It's free and easy to digest, so it's a pretty good choice for first-time roleplayers. The big down-side to this system is that it's a home-made game with very little campaign and setting support. Don't expect monster manuals, pre-made campaigns, and the like. This will require you to invest some time into making up your own stuff.

    Savage Worlds -
    This is my system of choice at the moment. Not too hard to understand, but deep enough to do pretty much everything I want. The core rulebook is $10 (I think?) and it has several good campaign guides to go along with it; everything from Super Villains to Wild West Fantasy to High Fantasy.

    D&D -
    Obviously, the most well known of RPG system. Definitely pricier than most games on the market, but one of the highest quality products out there. As a DM you will never lack for content, the supplements for this game are amazing and WOTC is very good about producing a steady stream of content. I'm not too familiar with the system, but from what I've seen it's fairly easy to get into.

    Hope this helps in some way!

  • RainfallRainfall Don't lose your WAAAAAAAYRegistered User regular
    edited October 2009
    I would almost say Paranoia, but despite it being an incredibly easy and fun game to get into, it probably doesn't fit the comradeship requirements(although maintaining the illusion of comradeship is required, but they call it friendship because comrade is a communist word.)

    Neither is it fantasy at all.

    But some casual advice while my tired brain can't think of a system for you.

    Nice clothes, weather, and scenery/beautiful locations are more things you'd request in a video game than an RPG. However, as the DM, you can go out of your way to describe the above(and honestly making a note of various weather conditions can add a lot of mood to a game. So can scenery descriptions, if your players will listen.)

    A sense of comradeship will depend on your players. Are they going to work together? Will their characters fit in and start palling around? If everyone knows each other then you're probably set to go, but you never know. It might be something you have to work towards, and it certainly doesn't come default in most game systems.

    And puzzles/situations with multiple outcomes, well. That's up to you being a decent GM and not following the typical path of 'well I planned for this to happen they can't possibly do X so I'll just push them back on track'
    Don't do that. Be cool.

    Anyway, my 'good' advice ends there because honestly I don't play a lot of standard fantasy RPGs. However, something like Reign or Burning Wheel might be a lot easier to play, and requires a mere one book to play from rather than the three core that D&D requires(That's not normal for most systems, by the way. Most games only need one book, not three.)

    Hopefully someone else will be able to give you a bit more guidance as to what systems might fit your criteria, but I'll say right now that there's a good chance D&D isn't what you're looking for. Sure, it'll work, because if you have a decent group they'll play anything and have fun, but you should probably keep your eyes open here for a better pick.

  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    nakirush wrote: »
    Hope this helps in some way!

    Yeah, it does, thanks!
    Rainfall wrote: »
    Hopefully someone else will be able to give you a bit more guidance as to what systems might fit your criteria, but I'll say right now that there's a good chance D&D isn't what you're looking for. Sure, it'll work, because if you have a decent group they'll play anything and have fun, but you should probably keep your eyes open here for a better pick.

    Thanks for the info. I've read a lot of PnP RPG threads on this and other forums so I do have a good idea of what is possible, what to do / not to do, etc. I really just want to get some idea of what's out there now. I should add that the reason some of those things sound like CRPG elements is that most of my players are well-read and have strong imaginations such that me saying "you see some beautiful mountains" is what they are really after. I mean, I dunno, I think you can have beautiful scenery in a novel.

    I should have mentioned, one of the main reasons I am wary of D&D is not the cost so much as the emphasis on combat (but I don't know how bad that is really as I have not made my way through the handbook in its entirety yet). I want to create a rich, detailed world with lots of possibilities for exploration, role playing and just plain adventure rather than dungeon crawling. My players have differing desires, so I will try to mix things up and I don't want combat to be the only thing with interesting in-depth gameplay.

    Now I have read a lot of D&D campaigns that were really cool and combined lots of elements so I don't think I'll be hamstrung there if I continue the D&D route, but I just want to know what the options are.

  • PMAversPMAvers You wouldn't have heard of it, anyway...Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    This thread needs more Risus.

    Bonus points if you get a copy of A Kringle in Time and run it for them as their first RPG adventure.

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    COME FORTH, AMATERASU!
  • KiasKias Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    nakirush wrote: »
    Savage Worlds -
    This is my system of choice at the moment. Not too hard to understand, but deep enough to do pretty much everything I want. The core rulebook is $10 (I think?) and it has several good campaign guides to go along with it; everything from Super Villains to Wild West Fantasy to High Fantasy.

    As a first time GM running an intro game, this is the system I chose to use and it has worked out very well. The system is really easy to get the feel for, trait/skill rolls etc., are straight forward and easy to reference from the character sheet, the price is right, and, best of all for the first time game master, the system has lots of pre-made campaigns just waiting for you to run. Also, if your group decides to keep playing but wants a different setting, you are still playing with the same rules.

    I am currently running the Zombie Run game (Road trip across zombie-apocalypsed America), though it may be more fun for you to go with a more colorful setting (depending on how your friends/parents like to play). I would recommend the Necessary Evil setting in savage worlds simply because its always fun to play the villain, your players will get lots of fun powers that are good for combat and creating hilarity, and its a contained setting (easier on the GM) with lots of material for you to use. Once you get the feel for it, feel free to make things up as you go (i.e. lets say your parents decide they really want to rob a bank: go for it!).

    However, if you want to keep it fantasy they have a couple settings along those lines. A friend of mine had a lot of good things to say about the Evernight setting.

    One thing I also found helpful for keeping my game organized is getting some cardstock minis and a battle mat, but that becomes more of a matter of personal preference and how often combat is expected to occur.

    Another quick note about the price point, if you have a good printer you can buy the players guide off their website and it comes with a print license to print up and distribute copies to all your players (saving them the need to buy their own copies).

    Hope my minimal experience helps. Make sure to check out the savage worlds website to see what they offer and take a look through some of the setting available.

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  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Holy hell the savage worlds web site is confusing and somewhat headache-inducing.

  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    The 4th edition reviews on Amazon are pretty funny: http://www.amazon.com/Dungeons-Dragons-Players-Handbook-Heinsoo/dp/0786948671

    Are the complainers just bitching because it's different or do they have a point?

  • LockedOnTargetLockedOnTarget Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Some people act as though becasue the 4th Edition rules focus heavily on the combat side of things, that it somehow means the game has less actual roleplaying. Even though it allows just as much roleplaying as any other edition of D&D. But we don't have to spend skill points on Perform: Irish Jig anymore, so it is the suxorz.

    There's also the really stupid "4th Edition = World of Warcraft" complaint. Which is a pretty horrible comparison that is based on a few small similarities.

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  • PMAversPMAvers You wouldn't have heard of it, anyway...Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    The 4th edition reviews on Amazon are pretty funny: http://www.amazon.com/Dungeons-Dragons-Players-Handbook-Heinsoo/dp/0786948671

    Are the complainers just bitching because it's different or do they have a point?

    Yes. No. Maybe?

    I'd say that it's definitely different. Some people like the new style. Some people prefer the classic version. It's just a personal preference thing, and there's good reasons to go either way.

    Of course, though, it's the internet, and the Internet Fuckwad Theory also applies to both camps.

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    COME FORTH, AMATERASU!
  • LockedOnTargetLockedOnTarget Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Basically, there are reasonable people who just simply aren't looking for the kind of game 4th Edition provides and are turned off from it, so they play something else.

    Then there are the people who rage on it without thinking or giving it any kind of fair chance.

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  • UtsanomikoUtsanomiko Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    D&D, in its current incarnation, is a pretty easy game to run. I wouldn't say it's an easy one to learn, however. It has a very solid, transparent system that leaves enough room for roleplaying outside of combat but there's still quite a volume of crunch and mechanical rules that could leave behind people looking for a more narrative experience.

    Because at some point they're going to go from rolling d20s + skill bonuses to an hour and a half of trying to keep track of how many actions they take per turn and which bonuses to add to which powers and what keywords mean what and that they have six or seven special rules due to race + class. There are ways to make learning the game easier, such as premade characters (on simple character sheets without all the workspace) for the first game and the ever-usefulness of power cards.

    For some people this is fine for a game and they'll have it down by the end of the session. For others I can see how the dungeon-crawler rules get in the way of acting out having nice clothes and pets.

    But regardless, there are a lot more roleplaying games out there that are lighter and simpler than D&D. That might be more what you're looking for. I stick with 4e, Warhammer RP, and D6 to cover my bases, so I don't have a lot of recommendations like others here might.

    D&D does deliver very well on the comradery though; classes have a nice balance of power and clearly-defined roles this edition, in that each can contribute well in and out of combat while fulfilling different niches of offense/defense/support. The DMG also encourages letting the players influence the direction of the campaign instead of just being led around by the DM. This includes letting the group fill in the blanks of the default 'points of light' setting, players describing the style of their own spells and attacks, quietly adding their tabletalk theories into the actual plot, and just generally learning to say yes to their ideas and learning to roll with their suggestions rather than make them be quiet and stay out of the way while you tell 'your' story.

    All the other items in the list are a matter of DM style of narration and flavor of the adventure. D&D can do something story-driven and light on intense combat if you're willing to learn how, but in the meantime you might just need something without more than a basic resolution system.

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  • El SkidEl Skid The frozen white northRegistered User regular
    edited October 2009
    I'll go ahead and think a bit out of the box here- If you're worried about the roleplaying mechanics being too much of a bother, you could always go with a diceless system, like Amber.

    There's no dice to get in the way of things, and most everything comes down to the characters describing what they want to do and the GM considering the stats of the people involved and factoring in the difficulty of what they're trying to do and describing what happens.

    It's based on a Fantasy series by Roger Zelasney, and has quite a few neat concepts tossed in from the universe, but really you could just take the basic concepts of the game and run with them in whatever setting you want. Heck, the series is based on an infinite multiverse type concept, so switching from roleplaying in pretty much any environment into the Amber story universe is easy, if you're of a mind to do it.

    Something to think about other than D&D- it can be a bit more difficult to run for an inexperienced GM, but it doesn't present any barriers to roleplaying however your group wants to go, mechanically... Plus there's virtually no rules for new players to learn.

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  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Once again, I would like to thank everyone for all the info. I'm currently in the process of putting together a small town and surrounding landscape, and populating it with a number of scenarios (hotly-contested local election, disappearances along one of the primary trade routes, etc) and dozens of ways for the party to potentially get involved in any of these things. Hopefully enough for one session, so that by the end I'll have an idea of what kinds of things they really want to do and flesh that stuff out more for the next session. Making a big list of encounters of every type that are just generic and I can throw in anywhere to break up monotony.

    Probably sticking with D&D 4e for now, since it's what I know and I lucked out and acquired the materials for a pittance earlier today. For my parents I'll be pre-making some characters that they can choose from, and maybe allow them some freedom for skills, equipment, powers & feats by providing simplified choice sets. (My friend is enough of a nerd that he can do it all on his own.)

  • fadingathedgesfadingathedges Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    One thing you might try is a sheetless first session.

    Just come up with a good starting scenario and story, and give everyone a d20. Anytime someone wants to do something - bargain for something, throw a punch, climb a wall, pick a lock, sneak past a guard - have them roll a d20. 10+ is a success, 15+ is a good success. Give each player a +3-5ish bonus on things related to their class - the rogue is better than the others at sneaking, the fighter is better at brawling, etc.

    Most of the session would be dialog rather than numbers related. You are introducing new people to the game, and I think there is good value in teaching them the important part first and letting the math come later. I think it would help them shape their characters before they put pencil to paper as well - giving their characters a face and feel which they ascribe numbers to, not vice versa.


    e~
    4e definitely has it's merits, but D&D in general is a loot crawl - and I happen to be one of the people who (at least would try) to support some of the common complaints about 4e - with science! :P I feel that 4e in particular has optimized the loot crawl aspect of previous editions at the expense of non-combat aspects of the game.

    I would mention that Star Wars: Saga and Mouse Guard are good, as some other options. I also really like the flavor of Iron Heroes if you want to stay in the D&D realm - think Conan-esque gritty action fantasy... but the rules are a bit more in depth and crunchy than say 4e, with lots of "if-than's" that you as the DM need to know even if your players don't.

    GL!

  • UnarmedOracleUnarmedOracle Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Mouse Guard

    A fun and straightforward ruleset in a fabulous world. If you're not familiar with the stories, you should be. I'd write something more elaborate but I'm exhausted. Suffice it to say the gaming book has won some serious design awards.

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  • SUPERSUGASUPERSUGA Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    In a shameless self-plug, The Adventurer's Tale was pretty much designed for people new to RPGs. It's typical fantasy in a D&D style but with much simpler and more consistent rules. I've had a lot of success using it to bring in new players.

  • SageinaRageSageinaRage Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Yeah, 4e, and D&D in general, are fairly easy to learn, but are very combat focused. Most of the things they will have to learn will have nothing to do with the things you listed in the OP.

    Honestly, I'd suggest some variety of the White Wolf system. It's very simple and easy to understand what your character is good at, and vague enough to let you not worry about having to look things up.

  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    Mouse Guard

    A fun and straightforward ruleset in a fabulous world. If you're not familiar with the stories, you should be. I'd write something more elaborate but I'm exhausted. Suffice it to say the gaming book has won some serious design awards.

    Hey this actually looks really promising, but I've never heard of the world before. Do I need to get some story books or something to put the RPG in context?

    Edit: This series actually looks really good for my mom's library (she's the librarian). She's been looking for comic books suitable for children.

    Now I'm starting to second guess myself like crazy. At first I saw this as an improvisational exercise that would go well with wine and crackers, then a coop text adventure, now I just need a damn starting point because I don't know wtf and reading the 4e player handbook is starting to get embarrassing. (Dragonborn? Seriously?)

  • JacquesCousteauJacquesCousteau Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    If you want to see how some games are played, you can do a web search of RPG actual play and read up on some RPGs.

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  • SUPERSUGASUPERSUGA Registered User regular
    edited October 2009
    I should have mentioned in my post. For super-beginners I made a one-sheet quickstart for The Adventurer's Tale here.

  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    I just wanted to gravedig this thread to say we actually did finally get around to running a Mouse Guard session around Christmas. It was a lot of fun, but confusing as hell and got played out quickly.

    The rules were a real issue. The mouse guard rules, instead of starting from any easy-to-remember principals like D&D4E, just seemed to be a big list of exceptions. We had an enormous number of questions while playing that the book could only answer via a detailed reading of multiple sections combined with creative license. This nearly killed things a couple times such that we just made something up and continued.

    Also, there didn't seem to be any meat to the mechanics. It seemed more like a round of the classic improv game "lines from a pocket" with dice instead of lines. A half-dozen dice rolls in, things started to feel really pointless. The only mechanically-interesting thing was the conflict system, which we all found incomprehensible when we actually tried to use it.

    Would this stuff be different with another game?

  • SageinaRageSageinaRage Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    I just wanted to gravedig this thread to say we actually did finally get around to running a Mouse Guard session around Christmas. It was a lot of fun, but confusing as hell and got played out quickly.

    The rules were a real issue. The mouse guard rules, instead of starting from any easy-to-remember principals like D&D4E, just seemed to be a big list of exceptions. We had an enormous number of questions while playing that the book could only answer via a detailed reading of multiple sections combined with creative license. This nearly killed things a couple times such that we just made something up and continued.

    Also, there didn't seem to be any meat to the mechanics. It seemed more like a round of the classic improv game "lines from a pocket" with dice instead of lines. A half-dozen dice rolls in, things started to feel really pointless. The only mechanically-interesting thing was the conflict system, which we all found incomprehensible when we actually tried to use it.

    Would this stuff be different with another game?

    I haven't played Mouse Guard, so I don't know the specifics of the rules. Could you elaborate on what felt pointless about it? I don't feel like I understand what you're saying in that paragraph.

    Having a consistent system is definitely something that's better for different games though. It can vary a lot.

  • LoneIgadzraLoneIgadzra Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Well the main mechanic was basically rolling against difficulties. Like, you need some information so you stop at a town and roll the relevant skill against a difficulty level. That kind of thing. For failure there were a number of possible penalties that the GM could apply.

    This got old, especially with how people kept failing relatively easy checks, which put a huge strain on the GM (my sister, because she had understood the rule book better) to come up with reasonable failure scenario descriptions that allowed the mission to keep going.

    I mean we had a lot of fun with the improvisational nature of it for a while, but after a while it started to get pretty eye-rolling and we stopped being able to suspend disbelief. It started to feel a little like work.

  • UtsanomikoUtsanomiko Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    A lot of RPGs can have issues with not enabling the Game Master to narrate results that keep the game moving, whether through a lack of resolution guidelines or result charts that just aren't believable.

    Mouse Guard as I understand it is very light and driven by collaborative narration over top basic task-resolution. But even then, group improvisation is a rather major component of roleplay.

    Most of the time it's up to the GM to interpret the results, improvise constantly and heavily, and sometimes fudge the rules. It's a heavy task of referee and narrator, which is why most people don't volunteer to sit in that seat. I feel that light, open-ended RPGs should have plenty of examples for failure/success results and ways to prevent the game from halting just because the PCs can't find information or pass one obstacle.

    RPGs that aren't improvisational tend to rely a lot on charts or statistics, letting the players refer to pre-made results instead of thinking up their own on the spot. But that can create even more instances of quirky results ("What do you mean I died? That was a two-foot fall!").

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  • SUPERSUGASUPERSUGA Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Explaining failure can be a really tough thing for a GM to get right. As with so many things, Ars Ludi has some great advice.

    A quick summary of the key points from that blogpost.
    Failure should be big. As a GM the urge is to overlook failure, just nod at the bad roll and move along to spare the player the shame. Big mistake. The worst insult to a character in the game world is to have no impact.

    [snip]

    When a character fails at something that (by their concept) they should have succeeded at, blame the situation, not the character.

    Bad luck is your friend. Even the most capable characters can reasonably fall prey to the slings and arrows of fortune, so emphasize the circumstances, not the failure of skill. Make stuff up.

    [snip]

    Or does the character have other traits that can explain the failure after the fact? If another important trait caused the failure, the concept isn’t damaged. The ace pilot rolls badly and wrecks his plane on a supposedly easy landing, but you remind everyone that the character is already known to be a reckless daredevil and probably tried something zany. He didn’t fail an easy task, he turned an easy task into a hard task

    The last paragraph there is the one that's probably going to divide people, and whether or not you can use it depends on the nature of your group. I highly recommend reading the whole article, though.

  • SageinaRageSageinaRage Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    What does 'reasonable failure scenario description' mean? It sounds a little like the players said 'we find information at this town', rolled badly, and then were stuck because they went with the vaguest possible description of their actions. Then the gm had to work double time to come up with an explanation for why they can still continue on, instead of the players doing it. If a particular avenue of attack didn't work, the players just need to come up with different ones that DO work. I'm not sure why it got so bad it affected your suspension of disbelief either.

  • YibnYibn Registered User new member
    edited February 2010
    LoneIgadzra I would say stick with D&D 4E. You can make it anything you want it to be really. If you want it to have less focus on combat and more focus on role play you can. Also it allows the DM (you) the ultimate control of the game; allowing you to fudge numbers if need be as other posters have said makes it a great system to reign back in control of a situation. There are loads of materials to help you out, especially 4E.

  • UnarmedOracleUnarmedOracle Registered User regular
    edited February 2010
    Eek, sorry to hear that Mouse Guard didn't work out very well. Apologies!

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