What I want out of an RPG

So one thing I’ve said in conversations is that D&D 5e looks great, but that I’m passing on it. Mainly because I’m already quite happy with two other D&D off-shoots. Namely Castles & Crusades and 13th Age. I plan to go into more detail as to why I like both of those games so much some time in the future, but I figure a better thing to talk about is what I really want out of games, especially a game I might run.

With that in mind, I first wanna say that I don’t think rules light is the right word for what I want. The book(s) for what I’m playing can be huge, and that’s great. But I do want a sense of rules simplicity and elegance. I don’t want to have to keep track of dozens of rules to cover dozens of situations. Instead I’d rather have a dozen rules to cover a hundred situations. Don’t say list everything that would happen and change when gravity is low. Just help me keep track of what actions might be harder or easier and let the difficulty rules you already established guide me from there. If you’ve got a huge book, let it be loaded with options, not requirements. With that in mind, I think Castles & Crusades, 13th Age, and Numenera stand out as rulebook examples that do what I want, in a big way.

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As you can see above, these books can be huge. The only one really tiny per say is Castles & Crusades. But let’s talk about what’s in them. I put up the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook for comparison, but don’t think I’m picking on them. I love the game, and Paizo big time. But it is an example of a game I’d much rather play than run. There’s a lot more to keep track of. But let’s talk about what’s in each of these books.

  • Pathfinder RPG – It’s huge, but it’s covering a lot. This is basically everything a player or GM needs, minus a bestiary. So you’ve got a pretty complete game here.
  • Castles & Crusades – This is comparatively tiny, but close to the equivalent of the Pathfinder RPG as far as what’s covered. Their bestiary also includes their magic items however. There is also a Castle Keeper’s Guide, and it’s a huge book. However it’s also a collection of optional rules. It’s not required to play at all.
  • 13th Age – Bigger than C&C for sure, but also covering a lot more. This has everything you need to play in it. Player & GM info, a bestiary, a campaign setting, and even a sample adventure. They do approach a more fill in the blanks take to campaign settings, but this fits in nicely with my GM style, and provide a lot of information all the game. There is a dedicated bestiary you can pickup, but the included one does not feel incomplete. 13 True Ways just came out, that could be best summed up as “more of everything”, but again, not necessary.
  • Numenera – This book’s huge, but it’s also packing a lot. Like 13th Age we have the info needed for players, GMs, a setting, bestiary, and this time three sample adventures to get the ball rolling. Though the setting is substantially more fleshed out than 13th Age, without being too rigid on what is and isn’t about it all the same. Again there are more books out to give you more to play with, but this is everything. As a kindness, they also offer a cheaper Player’s Guide that’s just what a player would need pulled out of this book. If you’re getting a PDF, it makes much more sense to just get the core rulebook. But for a print copy, you can save a considerable amount sticking to just the Player’s Guide if that’s all you’ll need.

As you might gleam from what I wrote up there, 13th Age and Numenera are pretty much the ideal of what I want out of a core rulebook. You’ll really win me over easily if you provide me with a complete game. (And even though I provided two recent examples here, don’t think that these are alone in this matter. The same could be said for plenty of other games out there. It’s just easier to reference two that I’m running right now. In fact I’m quite thrilled we’re seeing the same thing out of the revised New World of Darkness books coming out.)

Now the other aspect that falls out of this, is that I want to be able to keep small stat blocks on my encounters. As well as be able to pull numbers out on the fly easily if need be. I realize the later can really be done in just about any system assuming you know it well enough, but typically the simpler the rule set, the easier this is to do. For example a full stat block for a monster from Pathfinder can be kinda big. There’s a lot to each monster. You can typically condense a good chunk of this. After all, you don’t REALLY need to have all of a monster’s attributes handy typically. C&C and 13th Age though both have pretty simple stat blocks out the door. Especially 13th Age, where all you really need for a monster is it’s initiative mod, HP, AC, PD, MD, and a list of it’s attacks/abilities.

  • For more concrete examples, look at the monster entry for a goblin in the Pathfinder SRD.
  • Meanwhile, you’ll have to scroll down to it, but look at the blocks for goblins in the 13th Age SRD.

I feel like this does a good job illustrating my point quite clearly. Especially when you’re preparing a toolbox of notes to have ready, the later is much easier to bulk up on with variety. Also at the end of the day, the 13th Age one, while far less detailed, still provides colorful combat all the same. You don’t lose anything despite being a simpler presentation and handling.

I think I’ve rambled on enough here though, but I definitely think I’ll go more in depth on why I like the games I like, probably starting with Castles & Crusades or 13th Age here soon.

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