Need an alternative to D&D.


Staff member
If you use HERO for D&D, the main thing you need to do is figure out how magic works for each class. I would suggest:

Wizards should have something like a Multipower or Variable Power Pool that operates off of charges, must preselect spells, and can only change spell selection with time and a spell book (obvious, inaccessible Focus).

Sorcerers should have Multipowers that run off of Endurance pools.

Warlocks might not have power frameworks, and would simply buy powers normally, with the advantage of being bought to costing 0 End to use.

If you wanted to get super simulationist of D&D, you could make spells, charges & Endurance pools have "levels", and if you don't have the right ones, you can't cast.

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This was interesting. I looked at it following your suggestion (and the other poster). It's charming, I liked the layout and presentation of the PDF and I especially liked subtle references to F. W. Morganstern's great work and Big Trouble in Little China. It seemed good but I don't think I could actually replace D&D with it because there are too many elements of D&D that it has (purposefully) stripped. Higher level play is gone along with higher level magic. Classes are pared down to the essentials and gone are paladins, warlocks, et al. Even something I could reskin as these things. So whilst I thought it was a fun little system, it didn't fit my needs.

Hahah so awesome you picked up on those references, and thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it :D


I've now read through the Wikipedia entry and their website. I'm going to pass this one by unless you tell me I'm wrong in my impressions; but it seemed a little simple and it also seemed very focused on co-operative story-telling and rolls where players determined how NPCs would behave, resources available, etc. That's pretty much the polar opposite of my GM'ing style. I am very much a GM who creates a world and then tries to distance themself from it and let it unfold as it naturally would. Burning Wheel seems to be one of those games where the dice create a story for you all together as friends. That's utterly not me. I hate players. Players are the enemy. My job as GM is to set up a world where by default they will die and their job as players is to frustrate me in my desires.
Burning Wheel is not simple. It's mechanically intricate. (I would compare it to Rolemaster, personally). But more than that, I find it is extremely demanding on players.

You can download the core resolution mechanics for free.

If, however, as a GM you like having complete control over action resolution than you may not like BW. It is based around the basic premise that if a player declares an action, and succeeds, than the PC gets what the player wanted. (I had some trouble with your post because you present " one of those games where the dice create a story for you all together as friends" as opposed to "My job as GM is to set up a world where by default they will die and their job as players is to frustrate me in my desires", whereas I don't see the opposition.)

So, my group recently expressed interest in doing a fantasy campaign so given D&D is the big name in the genre I bought it - naively it appears. The PCs are still low-level but I'm already finding the system a little hinky with things like Perception and AC feeling very loose with balance and result. But more especially I'm learning things like the system really doesn't support well anything other than, well, "dungeons". I'm participating in several threads on topics like encounter balance and balancing ranged and melee combat on the 5e forums but constructive discussion is just being bombed by people insisting that people are "playing it wrong". For example, it seems to break if you have one encounter a day. In my games, you could go weeks without an encounter and when you do have one it's a big dramatic finalé. I don't see the point of combats that don't advance the story. I've been told by other posters on the forums that "D&D isn't for you." There's a thread on ranged combat and tweaking that and it's just getting buried by aggressive posters who insist that encounters should start at X range, etc. Ignoring the fact that my GM'ing style is very player driven and I don't want to deny them the strategic ideas they have that control how encounters emerge. Honestly, certain posters here, the issues I'm seeing with the system and that people are telling me that those issues are baked into it by design, have put me off 5e.

But that leaves me stuck with a load of campaign background I've written out, a group that have developed PC backgrounds, etc. There's a lot of work and investment. So I'm looking for suggestions for an alternative fantasy system that I can drop in, in place of D&D 5e. That could be a different edition or a different system entirely. I know there are a lot of games out there. My requirements are moderately crunchy combat but capable of handling other things well, a magic system that allows similar things to D&D (i.e. needs to be fireballs not subtle curses) and ideally a similar range of power - i.e. you can scale up from goblins to ancient dragons.

I know there are a lot of D&D clones of various flavours out there. Anyone know any that fit the bill? Thanks for any responses.

There are so many systems out there and so many of them overlap in their mechanics. There are the over-ruled newer style games that makes them more about unleashing hidden rules than actually playing an RPG (I know I will catch flack for that comment he he), which it sounds like 5E has tried to compensate for. In the end you always end up with the same problems that have plagued these games from the beginning.

I would suggest home ruling your game more. As things develop in the game, just change the rule and write down a note about it. Or plan how you want to handle certain issues ahead of time. Check out some older systems which you can download as PDF's and simply lift sections of their rules that seem more workable. Most of the problems you seem to be describing are game mechanics issues that have existed since before the existence of role playing games. It shouldn't be hard to devise your own way to run those parts of the game.

And also, there is so much that a DM does that should be based on common sense and not a chart. Like those ranged encounters you described. Is the enemy standing on a hill crest in broad daylight? Is it foggy? Is it night? Based on this information one can easily decide who see's who first, and at what range it happens. But this is a more hands on DM'ing style.

From a player's perspective, the most important thing is that they feel they are being treated fairly. Sometimes as DM, if you play more of a real time ruling style, you can simply communicate to them, "are you sure you want to do that?", or "Well you do realize you only have a 1 in 8 chance of surviving that" In this way, you give players a choice and they know their odds before being told they die.

Rules do not have to be complicated to work!

Perception is somewhat odd in the newer systems. A lot of what has been done with these newer systems is to give the dice a lot more power. The way you describe your games is that you want player engagement to be empowered. This comes back to mechanics and how it is expected that they be used. In OD&D the rules were very simple. No matter how one feels about them, they had their merit because of this. As an example: a player rolls to find a secret door, only if they stop to look for one. If you are marching down a hall, you aren't searching for anything. The older rules-free style requires more player interaction with their DM, as opposed to everyone makes a perception roll. The actual mechanic was beyond simple, but no one seemed to mind back then that is was a 1 in 6 chance regardless of your wisdom or whatever skill.

I have a friend who jokes about how the new systems have a chart for deciding whether or not your character likes caviar.

If the system is a short combat round time-sliced system, you can go simple and reduce hassle, by making it a more abstract system of dueling rounds.

As far as AC classes and how that works. One of the big changes between 1e and 2e was how people perceived combat took place. The original rules were very vague. Essentially, they were using war game style mechanics. So a single combat round was long, but represented all the dodging and lunging that really happens in a fight as one squares off. It wasn't meant to be a single hack, it was much more abstract. And many played it as an equal exchange of strike attempts by both sides that occurred simultaneously. I won't claim that is how it is written, but I know Dave Arneson's group still plays that way. Most gamers who tried D&D couldn't wrap their heads around that concept, because the second generation of gamers weren't war gamers anymore. So we ended up with systems where time is critical and it changed how the games play; since not everything in a combat is a single hack. What if a player wants to take off his pack and search for that odd item that he really needs right now. OD&D - DM says, "ok that is what you do this round." Time sliced systems of individual hacks - DM says, "uhm, hang on let me look at this chart here, it will take you x number of turns to do that."

No matter what the system is for your combat, you should be able to break down the equation and see where it is failing.

I find it interesting that D&D does not base damage done on a to hit roll. Instead it is alway roll to hit, and then roll damage. You might consider that as an option for changing combat; how much higher than the hit number did you get, ok you do X damage. I have not bothered to check out 5e, but if it has a D20 style combat then the equation is simple. But I am guessing that your problem with the AC and how it works is to do with a lack of hits under some circumstances.

In D20 as I recall, it is your die roll plus your mods must equal 10 plus all the enemy mods to hit. So what if you do a system with a lower value than 10, and use every point above the defensive rating as your damage? This way you get an averaged out system of more hits for less damage. And to make people feel better they get to add the weapon length as both a defensive and offensive modifier. (I never did understand the whole thing of someone with a dagger fighting someone with a sword; it really does not work well in real life.)

The funny thing about all D&D systems is that to hit an unarmored person it was always 50% as a base value. It just got baked into it somehow.

There are systems that have a base to hit ability that is not modified by AC at all. What they do instead is use the AC value to reduce damage.

Back to abstract old D&D. When I was a kid players had a fighter in the party who was AC whatever with magic armor. One day they came upon a room full O skeletons. Well, being the little snots that my players were, they realized that his AC was too high for the skeletons to hit as low level monsters. They kicked open the door, threw the fighter in, and waited for the sounds to die down. It was my first encounter with excessive rule playing. I really should have said, "ok he's X level as a fighter, there are Y number of skeletons. For every value of the fighter level in hit dice X, Z number of skeletons get one attack roll to see if they do anything." That would have worked on the graduated chart of OD&D and would have been in the spirit of how the system was meant to work because it was based on wargaming. But I was a dumb kid and rolled my eyes and let them get away with it.

As to having people tell you that you shouldn't be playing D&D at all. Or that you're not doing it right. That's just silly. Every one of these systems is entirely flexible, if you home rule it to your own liking. And if your players keep coming back, you must be doing something right. ;)

Ok, It's late. I really shouldn't let myself get sucked into these game discussions.


First Post
I haven't read the thread, so I apologize if these have been suggested already.

1) FATE. The only system I have seen that is anywhere near as flexible as this one is GURPS, and GURPS is... complicated.

2) Savage Worlds, if you want a bit more math and don't mind the PCs occasionally getting utterly amazing rolls.


First Post
Burning Wheel is not simple. It's mechanically intricate. (I would compare it to Rolemaster, personally).
Come on! _Nothing_ can be compared to Rolemaster, unless it requires looking up multiple tables for every action... (Well, I guess Harnmaster might qualify...)

I wouldn't necessarily consider Burning Wheel a rules-light game, though.


First Post
Come on! _Nothing_ can be compared to Rolemaster, unless it requires looking up multiple tables for every action... (Well, I guess Harnmaster might qualify...)

I wouldn't necessarily consider Burning Wheel a rules-light game, though.

Like 3.0 DnD, 3.5 DnD, or Pathfinder can be with certain combinations involving a lot of splats? Or GURPS when doing anything outside of chargen (and, depending on setting, including chargen)?


Come on! _Nothing_ can be compared to Rolemaster
So much harshness towards RM on these boards!

I ran it for nearly 20 years straight, so know its foibles. I've been running BW for about two years now. I think the reason it's less mechanically heavy than RM is not so much the mechanics per se (still lots of look-ups eg for interactions between manoeuvres, for DCs for various skills, etc) but because it uses non-sim techniques (say yes, let it ride) to manage pacing and framing - whereas RM is all sim, all the time, pacing and framing be damned!

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