Here’s the first part of a list of 26 lesser-known roleplaying games, one for each letter of the alphabet. Some of these you’ve probably heard of, others you may not. Many of these are out of print, but can frequently be found from used game outlets or on PDF reprint sites like Drive-Thru RPG. Maybe you’ll find something new that sounds fun to try:
On Monday, I’ll post part 2 of this series: G-K. Until then, happy gaming!
*Ball of Abysmal Flame
One of my all-time favorite RPGs is Ars Magica. I love the fact that it doesn’t try to impose game balance limitations on mages. I also love the troupe-style play where everyone gets to play a magus/maga and something else. As a Storyguide, I love the fact that the group as a whole works together to create at least some of the NPCs (grogs).
But something else I hadn’t expected when I started playing Ars was how much it would improve my D&D characters.
I’d never really played many magic-users in D&D 1st ed., mostly because (and my current DM and fellow players are going to laugh at this) I couldn’t figure out how to use spells effectively. Seriously — beyond Magic Missle, Lightening Strike, and Fireball, I’d look at my spell list and my brain turned to jelly. Nothing MUs were able to do seemed to compare to the ability to pick locks, do massive amounts of damage with a two-handed sword, or lay hands to heal people.
Enter Ars Magica.
Ars has something of steep learning curve. Its magic system is definitely very different from D&D. It threw me for quite awhile, but after several game sessions of watching my fellow magi at their best, something clicked. I started to be able to see different uses for my Arts and Spells. I came to love Ars’ Sponteneous Magic. To this day, I rarely use formulaic spells.
Then I came back to D&D. I decided I wanted to give magic-users a try again, hoping my experience in Ars would help me. It did. I had a little difficultly refocusing my mind on formulaic spells, rather than spontaneous casting, which led me to prefer the sorcerer over the wizard class. Yes, I was still constricted to a spell list, but at least I could use any spell I knew any number of times. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t so much a number of spells or the amount of times I could cast one that made the decision for me: it’s the idea of the sorcerer as a natural caster that appeals to me.
I admit, when I create a new magic-user in D&D now, I think of them in Ars Magica terms first, then translate that into D&D as closely as I possibly can. For example, I’m currently play two different sorcerers in two different games. I’ll break them down into Ars concepts, then show the translation to D&D
Galen Gerhardt: In Ars Magica terms, Galen would be a member of House Jerbiton. He’s a court sorcerer and bard (and spy, but that’s neither here nor there…) of a powerful prince, with a Gentle Gift and an Animal Affinity. His specialty is Rego Mentum magic, though he’s got a strong amount of Rego Animal in there, too. In D&D terms, that translates into a human sorcerer heavy on the charm magics and people skills. His favorite spells: Eagle’s Splendor, Charm Monster, Charm Person, and Touch of Idiocy.
Feynan Starshadow: In Ars Magica terms, Feynan would be a rather stereotypical Flambeau, except his magic focuses on electricity rather than fire. Still, he’s heavy on the Creo Ignum magics and has faery blood. In D&D, he’s a half-elven sorcerer of the blaster type. His favorite spells: Lightening Bolt, Electric Loop and Lesser Orb of Electricity (from the Spell Compendium), frequently combined with Web.
By thinking of my magic-user in Ars terms, I’ve managed to create two completely different characters. I haven’t yet tried it with other game systems, but I can image it would work for them, too. And I’m sure this thinking would work for characters other than magic-users. How about you? What other systems have you drawn on to create D&D characters?
Oh — and for those of you wondering:
ArM Code 1.5 4- Ca+ R H++ L- G+++ Y1995 T– SG P++ HoH Cr+ Tr+ Ty++ J+ FZ C+ Cd
Predicting is always a tricky prospect. Where will D&D be in five years? 10 years? 20?
While I would love to sing D&D’s praises to the highest, I’m afraid that five years down the road, I won’t be playing it. What I mean is, that it’s unlikely I’ll be playing whatever the current edition of that time is. Most likely, I’ll still be playing 3.5 ed with the occasional “beer and pretzels” 1st ed game.
You see, I actually left the D&D fold completely after the introduction of 2nd ed. After playing (pretty much exclusively) D&D for almost 10 years, I got far more intrigued by other games: Amber, GURPS, Ars Magica, Trinity, World of Darkness, Traveller, various home-brew systems, including my own. I’d gotten frustrated with 1st ed’s limitations — that a thief always had the same skills as every other thief, etc., not to mention the whole alignment controversy (which I won’t go into here).
It was 3rd ed. that brought me back. The addition of skills and feats meant that I could have a thief that was more of a highway man, or a magic-user who was a “people person” and not a high-powered blaster. But despite the new additions to the system, I felt it still managed to keep the flavor of D&D. Now don’t ask me to quantify why — I can’t. It’s just to me it still, for some untangible reason, “feels” like the 1st ed. D&D done better.
Now 4th ed. doesn’t do a thing for me. To me, it feels like an MMORG brought to the tabletop. Not a bad thing, if that’s what you’re into and I can see how it would be very accessible for brand new players. It looks like, from my read-throughs, that it’s a good game in it’s own right. It’s just not my cup of tea for a number of reasons. And, to me, it doesn’t feel like D&D. Again, that’s an emotional, gut-reaction and I can’t put my finger on why. But because of it, I’m very unlikely to buy anything from the line.
Will there be a D&D in the future? I think there’ll still be something called “Dungeons and Dragons”. It’s staying power has been proven. Will I be playing it? That all depends on what the game does between now and then.
Sometimes creating a believable city or town is one of the hardest parts of building an adventure or campaign. You don’t want all your towns to look the same and you definitely don’t want to get stuck in the generic “fantasy town”, consisting of a tavern/bar, inn or other lodgings, magic shoppe, etc.
Below I’ve gathered a list of web resources to help provide city building know-how and inspiration. Enjoy!
Here’s some listing of world-building sites who’s information can be adapted for city creation:
As a D&D player, I’ve developed a reputation for making combat use of non-combat spells. Sure, dealing out massive amounts of damage with Fireball or Lightening Strike is a lot of fun — there’s no denying that — but I get even more enjoyment out of find ways to use other spells in a fight. Whether it’s casting Nystul’s Magic Aura on all the party’s weapons (great for intimidating opponents in low-level games) or using Animate Rope to trip an opponent, I love watching the DM’s face whenever I come up with an idea he’s never seen before.
When I started playing 3.5 ed., I discovered that familiars can carry touch spells to a target and a whole new world opened up to me. My biggest success to date is the Touch of Idiocy spell. While our opponents were camping in the woods, I sent my weasel familiar to deliver Touch of Idiocy to the group’s sorcerer while he was tending to a “call of nature”. Since we were in a wooded area, I guessed he wouldn’t notice the presence of a normal woodland creature.
He didn’t. After removing 4 pts (each) of intelligence and wisdom and 6 pts of charisma, our opponents were without their spellcaster for the entire combat, allowing us to defeat them more easily than we would otherwise. Unfortunately, this trick now only works once in awhile, as word got around and our opponents have started killing every small creature than came near them.
Other “creative” spell uses I’ve come up with: