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Looking for a more narrative, less combat-centric alternative to D&D


Alright, coming back to this thread after a week of reading about your various suggestions. Many thanks for participating!

For future use and reference, here are my "research notes", in the jotted-down format... They're about those systems that have most often been suggested, or that I frequently came across. If the one you proposed isn't listed, I apologize... I certainly didn't discard your comment. It's just that there's so much to read about and try that I have to prioritize the relatively bigger names.

Fate Core: setting-agnostic, narrative-focused, very flexible, easy to improvise NPCs, traditional skills and stunts, roll 4 Fate d3 (-1/0+1), aspects drive narration through fate points economy: players spend fate points to invoke aspects and accomplish things/reroll/get bonus, gain fate points by being "compelled" through negative aspects. Four actions to perform with skills: attack, defend, overcome, create advantage. See Book of Hanz to better understand Fate. Fate Accelerated: approaches (adverbs) instead of skills. Condensed: patched Core, shorter rule-focused text. Perhaps better to start with Core.

Swords of the Serpentine: action-oriented GUMSHOE derivative: investigative skills (auto-succeed in finding clue if trained) and general skills (d6). Spend skill points to improve outcomes. Fast combat, minor NPCs die in one hit. Social combat system. Grounded in sword-and-sorcery urban setting where magic corrupts.

Savage Worlds: "fast, furious and fun". Dice type depends on proficiency. Explosive dice: reroll any maxed-out dice (can be repeated). Wounds instead of HP: limited number of it (3 for PCs and major NPCs, 1 for "extras"). Subtract resistance from damage. Shaken when hit: lose action. "Dramatic tasks" for non-combat challenges (n successes before p turns). Easy to improvise encounters. Characters start strong, then flatter power curve than D&D. Overall fast, swingy and random feel; good fit for pulp, swashbuckling, cinematic action... Many available settings.

13th Age: similar to D&D 4e with more RP and faster combat. Classes are combat roles. No grid, abstract range. Escalation die: d6 increasing each turn of combat, gives bonus to d20 rolls. Many random effects (on odd/even d20 roll, activates on rolling 17 on d20...), help automating monsters. Fixed damage. Mostly combat-oriented magic. Nerfed non-combat magic to protect plot and setting from excessive effects (teleport, resurrect); rituals can be derived from combat spells. Higher power level in early game ("big damn heroes"). Icon system: major NPCs embodying alignments, PCs can be friendly/hostile, roll Icon each session to see if Icon meddles in plot, good to drive sandbox. One Unique Thing about each PC (background feature). Montage system: players describe problems and solutions to improve ellipsis / filler moments like travel.

Shadow of the Demonlord : D&D-like system, Warhammer-style dark fantasy. Insanity rules. Streamlined combat. Fast turns (one action, act first) / slow turns (2 actions, play last) system. Gradual character specialization, very much zero-to-hero (literally lvl 0).

Mythras: flexible d100 system with many skills and free-form advancement (no limiting classes). Crunchy simulationist approach: separate HP per body part, wind matters for ranged attacks... Lethal combat. Social conflict system. Characters need be rooted in setting. "Passions" (honor, revenge...) system that compel character actions. Default setting: bronze age sword-and-sorcery; otherwise setting-flexible.

QuestWorlds (formerly HeroQuest): free-form narrative rpg, just two resolution mechanics: simple contests and extended contests, single number depending on the difficulty of the opposition (easy, moderate, hard...), combat is just one contest among others. Setting-flexible, with roots in Glorantha (like Mythras: bronze age sword-and-sorcery).

Fellowship: PbtA for world-saving quests, like the Fellowship of the Ring. GM is the Overlord. Collaborative world-building and storytelling.

Blades in the Dark: PCs are scoundrels in a large city, plan criminal jobs, run a crew and try to grow it into a crime syndicate.

So, overall, I'm leaning toward Fate Core. Or at the very least, I'd like to try it. We'll see if it fits our group before migrating. I'm also quite interested in Savage Worlds and Swords of the Serpentine; definitely keeping an eye on the latter for playtests when it's released. 13th Age and Shadow of the Demonlord are too close to the standard D&D experience, which I realized we'd been moving away from... We do far less combat and traditional dungeoneering than such systems assume, and I don't want PCs to grow much beyond the scope of human threats (otherwise Cold War-style campaigns with espionage and political intrigue are no longer doable). However, there are cool ideas to loot from them, such as the escalation die. Mythras is too crunchy for my taste, that's not what I'm looking for. QuestWorlds... maybe, though it seems a little bit too free-form. As for Fellowship, it doesn't fit my campaigns; in fact, none of the PbtA games to my knowledge does (for instance, Dungeon World is about dungeoneering, not Eberronesque pulp action in Sharn). Lastly, Blades in the Dark may be too complicated to repurpose, although faction mechanics are interesting.

Thanks again!
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