Posted by : David Guyll August 07, 2015

I honestly can't think of a single free RPG that I like.

It's not surprising, to me anyway: most of them seem to be more interesting in trying to be "artsy" nonsense (like "roleplaying" as rocks), really anemic, and/or focused on very specific scenarios (you're all smugglers).

Since none of them have managed to even pique my interest (much less maintain it), I've never bothered trying to get my group to take one for a spin "just in case": we play only once a week, if that, and I'd rather not risk wasting any time.

So, per the "rules" of RPG-a-Day—post something different if you don't have a RPG that matches the description—I'm going to largely recycle a response from last year, and go with my overall favorite role-playing game: 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Rather than link the post, I'm going to just repeat some of what I had said, as my opinion has changed since then:

I've been a Dungeons & Dragons fan for over twenty years, but for quite some time now I've fully believed that the only reason I enjoyed previous editions was because I didn't have anything to compare them to, namely other dungeon-crawly-type games.

I mean, when it came to fantasy games my only other option even when 3rd Edition came out was Palladium Fantasy, a game where massively front-loaded characters can take over an hour to roll up due to the massive list of stats, skills, equipment, leveling is pretty damned pointless, and so on.

4th Edition marks the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons that I am continuing to stick with, because despite it's faults (and unlike 5th Edition) it made numerous sweeping improvements to Dungeons & Dragons that if nothing else at least justified buying new books:


  • Unlike 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Edition, characters are flexible. All of them, not just the spellcasters. You get to make a lot of choices at the start (I'd say too many), and get to make a choice every time you level. No settling with what the designers feel that you should have. No picking one thing early on that locks in every other choice down the road. No, you have so much control over where your character goes, even before you factor in multiclassing, backgrounds, themes, hybrid classes, and skill powers.
  • Magical healing is not mandatory (which is also true in most fantasy fiction), though a class with the leader role is helpful. Even better, there are leaders for every power source, so if you want to do a low- no-magic campaign (or all primal, or all magical, all psychic, etc), you can do that right out of the box, with the first Player's Handbook, in fact.
  • Hell, spellcasters in general aren't mandatory (also like most fantasy fiction). You don't need a wizard to pull some instant-win/bypass spell out of her ass (most utility magic are rituals anyway), and in fact not only can anyone use a ritual scroll, anyone can spend a feat to take Ritual Caster and have access to "pay-per-cast" magic.
  • Task resolution is the same across the board: if you do something, make with the fucking dice. Makes much more sense than, "Roll to hit, except if you use magic, sometimes anyway; then the target makes a roll to avoid it, which can still mean they take some damage because arbitrary rules, yo."
  • Not everything is based on "the day". Yeah, spellcasters still don't make any goddamn sense, but at least you'll never have the issue of the 15-minute workday. This makes it so much easier to better pace adventures, instead of having to grind everything to a halt due to one bad encounter (or possibly one bad roll).
  • Bard's don't suck, nor do they require specialized builds to become merely incompetent. Actually, no class really sucks (no, not even vampires). I will concede that the 5th Edition bard doesn't suck, but it's also restricted and doesn't make any sense.
  • Solo monsters weren't ideal at first, but still better than surrounding a dragon or giant in 3rd Edition and just hitting it until it invariably fell over. They got a much-needed tune up when Monster Manual 3 came out.
  • Same for skill challenges. They were supposed to be a way for everyone to contribute meaningfully to a non-combat challenge, but were fucking horribly showcased at the start. I remember somewhere around Dark Legacy of Evard they started getting good, which unfortunately was years into the game.
  • It is incredibly easy to build complex monsters, even complex encounters, making them precisely as difficult as you want them to be. Plus, everything a monster can do is self-contained: you don't have to reference one or more other books to figure out what it can do.
  • It's also incredibly easy to houserule and re-skin stuff. I mean, there's really no reason why you can't just say fuck it to multiclassing feats, and just let people pick a power from any class of their level or lower. Same goes for letting people pick whatever skills they want, tweaking the math every so slightly to avoid the "necessity" of math feats, changing all wizard spells to encounter-based (and adjusting the damage) to get a "true" Vancian model going on, and just shucking the "mandatory" grid.

In a nutshell the game is much, much more flexible, intuitive, and elegant than other editions. A shame fights had to drag on too long, characters were way too goddamn complex, and WotC never bothered trying to make magic make sense.

Announcements
We just released The Headhunter: kill your enemies and take their heads, using them to fuel your strange, gruesome magic. We're working on The Rakshasa (which is nearly done), followed by another class that's getting close to being revealed.

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out! Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance! Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

The Dungeon World GM Screen is currently available in pdf and landscape insert formats. No matter which you choose, you get eight sets of pdfs that let you have access to the screen in both landscape and portrait orientation, in color or black and white, and with or without art.

We're waiting on the portrait inserts. Assuming they look good, they'll be available soon. They're now available.

Next up, mini screen!

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