System Recommendation for Character-driven fantasy

edited June 2018 in Play Advice
Hi all, this is partially related to the ongoing thread about epic fantasy but it is also a practical question. I have some friends that have never played an rpg before and want to try it. I have talked to them a bit about what they are interested in and what they want to get out of it. The gist is that their curiosity was piqued by seeing interesting character art (on social media) from other people's campaigns and they want to create an interesting fantasy character and play a game that engages with that character's personality.

To the best of my understanding, they are interested in:
- Playing a recognizable fantasy archetype (anything in the Tolkien/ D&D popular imagination)
- Playing a character that feels unique
- Play that focuses on character drama: personality, goals, motivations
- Narratives where adventure (overcoming dangerous environments and monsters) is tied to this character-level drama
- Narratives that test interpersonal relationships and ethical commitments
- Narratives with substantive opportunity for character development, or at least change

The systems that leap to mind as doing some of these things:
- Monsterhearts: nails basically everything I'm looking for except for the setting and the 'adventure'.
- Dungeon World: brings the sense of setting and adventure, but (in my limited experience) relies on freeform development of character drama. Bonds give a launching-off point but not meaningful mechanical follow-up.
- Follow: I think some of the quests could do this perfectly, but the Gm-less structure and open-ended scene framing might be off-putting. Follow is great, but it might not match some of their expectations for an rpg.
- D&D 5E. I have never run it, but it's the only game they've heard of. I expect that character creation will require them to make a lot of decisions about the elements of play they care least about.
- Masks: A New Generation: I think this hits a perfect balance between interpersonal drama (from influence and conditions) and adventure. However, this is far from the setting/ genre the group expressed interest in.
-The Shadow of Yesterday? I've never read it but the elevator pitch sounds close to what I'm looking for

I'd appreciate any suggestions about these system or others.

Comments

  • Burning Wheel - probably just the Hub and a couple Spokes (Circles come to mind) for first-time gamers.

    Blades in the Dark.
  • edited June 2018
    The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System (a booklet which reframes the rules in a generic fashion, and has some great explanatory text) is an excellent game for these purposes.

    There may be some good PbtA games for this purpose, as well. I'll think on it. Perhaps The Watch? (It's epic, fantasy, and does interpersonal drama, but I don't know if it's "adventuresome" enough.

    The Shadow of Yesterday would be my first recommendation, or a similar game, like Lady Blackbird or my own "The Adventures of Eowyn..." (you'd have to write your own Keys, if the standard ones don't suit the particular characters you write up, but the link to the Companion towards the end of the thread would suit you well).
  • edited June 2018
    Burning Wheel - probably just the Hub and a couple Spokes (Circles come to mind) for first-time gamers.

    Blades in the Dark.
    Hmm. Burning Wheel definitely brings the character drama full-force, but it's my favorite game that I no longer play. I find that I spent too much time for my comfort telling new players to ignore 'spokes' information (because it's all intriguing). I'm looking for a system that is pared down to relevant info for a one or two session game.

    Blades has some of what I'm looking for, and it's one of my favorite systems to run, but this group is looking for a more traditional fantasy setting. Blades Against Darkness is closer, but still a little weird west.
  • The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System (a booklet which reframes the rules in a generic fashion, and has some great explanatory text) is an excellent game for these purposes.

    There may be some good PbtA games for this purpose, as well. I'll think on it. Perhaps The Watch? (It's epic, fantasy, and does interpersonal drama, but I don't know if it's "adventuresome" enough.

    The Shadow of Yesterday would be my first recommendation, or a similar game, like Lady Blackbird or my own "The Adventures of Eowyn..." (you'd have to write your own Keys, if the standard ones don't suit the particular characters you write up, but the link to the Companion towards the end of the thread would suit you well).
    I have the Watch but it didn't occur to me. Might be a great fit; close enough to setting expectations while also pulling in deep themes. I'll read up on your other recommendations!
  • edited June 2018
    A "one or two session game" is going to be quite a challenge to get significant character drama out of unless you preload things pretty hard. It's not traditional swords & sorcery, but I suggest going with Lady Blackbird and then, if the group wants to play more, going with something else that satisfies other desires more.

    Late edit: Also, I'm not sure why you'd need to bother telling your players to ignore the spokes. The players don't choose when to use those subsystems. Especially if you're just running a two-shot, they don't even need the book. Explain the Hub and maybe a spoke or two when they're relevant and there you go. Even if they've read the book cover-to-cover, you're likely to spend multiple sessions prompting and explaining things that they don't have dedicated to memory through experience. So that doesn't seem like it'd be an issue with a game like you're describing.

    Your call, of course, but you might be over-thinking it a bit.
  • A "one or two session game" is going to be quite a challenge to get significant character drama out of unless you preload things pretty hard. It's not traditional swords & sorcery, but I suggest going with Lady Blackbird and then, if the group wants to play more, going with something else that satisfies other desires more.

    Late edit: Also, I'm not sure why you'd need to bother telling your players to ignore the spokes. The players don't choose when to use those subsystems. Especially if you're just running a two-shot, they don't even need book. Explain the Hub and maybe a spoke or two when they're relevant and there you go. Even if they've read the book cover-to-cover, you're likely to spend multiple sessions prompting and explaining things that they don't have dedicated to memory through experience. So that doesn't seem like it'd be an issue with a game like you're describing.

    Your call, of course, but you might be over-thinking it a bit.
    I think something in the neighborhood of Shadow of Yesterday or Lady Blackbird is what I'll go with.

    What I mean regarding Burning Wheel is that a lot of things come up during character creation that are outside the hub. Players get to choose traits, but many traits have a specific effect that is only triggered by Duel of Wits or Fight. This specific group of players want to make their own characters in a system that they can get a handle on in around two sessions, so other games seem like a better fit than BW.
  • My reco is going to be Hillfolk. It puts characters front and center.

  • - Follow: I think some of the quests could do this perfectly, but the Gm-less structure and open-ended scene framing might be off-putting. Follow is great, but it might not match some of their expectations for an rpg.
    Why is this? How did they form their expectations?

    I'm asking because my experience is, most first-time players take to framing scenes quite naturally and in no time, as long as it's explained to them in concrete terms: "Where are you? Who else is there? What are you doing?" That's orders of magnitude easier to learn, to most people I've interacted with, than something such as building a D&D character!

    In fact, I was about to suggest Archipelago.
  • Oh, I missed that. I agree with Rafu in that I think they can frame scenes fine...? Hillfolk RAW also uses scene framing. (We sometimes remove that when we mix in frameworks from other games such as D&D.)


  • Why is this? How did they form their expectations?

    I'm asking because my experience is, most first-time players take to framing scenes quite naturally and in no time, as long as it's explained to them in concrete terms: "Where are you? Who else is there? What are you doing?"
    I absolutely agree that players new to RPGs can get right into concrete scene framing. I've been hosting a story games night every couple months and new players take to this type of play quickly. However, this particular group has declined invitations to story games night. I think they might love it, but they aren't that interested in trying it out.

    Rather they specifically want to try an rpg that matches pop culture depictions (one person is the DM, there are elves, etc) but want a game more about characters than combat. As far as where these expectations were formed, examples they gave were Stranger Things, Freaks and Geeks, and Community.

    Thanks for the recommendations! I'll go read through Hillfolk and Archipelago now.
  • In our group we play D&D with some rules replaced with some of Hillfolk's rules. Depending on the campaign we place the balance differently. I.e. sometimes we generate up the full relationship map, dramatic poles etc, sometimes not
  • I'd avoid D&D; It doesn't seem to serve any of your purposes.

    Unfortunately, most of the games I can think of that fill this wheelhouse are pretty setting coupled, and don't tend to feature generic "There are elves" settings.

    I think Sandra's recommendation for Hillfolk actually sounds like a really good idea, assuming there's a fantasy setting for it? (I haven't read Hillfolk yet, it's in the Large Backlog, but it sounds like it has the right goals, and it's setting agnostic, IIRC)

    Some other alternatives (Okay, this list became longer than I was expecting!):

    -- You might be able to run a fantasy-styled game of Anima Prime, but it'd still have some anime-stylings going on. The players need to grab onto the drama with both hands though. While there are a lot of flag-type mechanics, they're not heavy.

    -- You could try Clink, which might be really up the alley of this setup, but it has one fundamental constraint that all the characters are "drifters" -- folks who wander from place to place for some reason. Though I suppose that maps pretty reasonably to "adventurers" in a fantasy setting, but it means it's a little tougher to create characters with strong ties to a place/faction.

    -- Dreamchaser is another option, which is somewhat heavier than Clink (though probably a little lighter than Anima Prime), but I find my memory is kinda foggy on this one so I can't give it the support it might deserve.
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