My Next RPG Campaign – Choosing a System

About a month or so ago, I realized that my current Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Time & Tide, was winding down. I was feeling creatively drained and done with fantasy role-playing and it was seeping out into my game mastering and the sessions and into my players.1 At the same time, I felt like I could keep game mastering if I started working with other ideas. I’ve spent considerable time examining my latest campaign and will likely be doing some posts on what worked and what didn’t. But for now, I’m preparing for my next campaign.

First, it was clear to me that a standard High Fantasy-based campaign was no longer in the cards for me to run. I love it and it’s certainly something I’ll continue to play in. But it’s not something I want to run right now. As a GM, I am very much a world builder and storyteller. But the stories I’ve wanted to tell haven’t been ones that make sense in a standard high fantasy world.

So my one thought storyline prompts for future campaigns:

  • Burned spies trying to get reactivated
  • Retired heroes stopping the apocalypse
  • Star Trek explorers
  • Star Wars rebels
  • Lovecraftian Horror
  • Superhero team-up
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Pulp Heroes

Now my next problem is that none of these can easily be played using the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Ben used a session to send his group into a cyberpunk world using the D&D rules. Nothing broke per se, but it didn’t feel smooth. Sure, I could pull some of the stuff from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and I could house rule other parts. But that’s not a particularly elegant solution. So, that means we’ll be leaving D&D behind for a time.

Now, there are tons of RPG rulesets out there! Including systems that would cater well to each of these ideas. Spycraft, Star Trek, Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, Mutants and Masterminds, The Dresden Files. But changing systems every time I want to tell a new story is also inelegant. Learning new rules is time consuming. Even after a year of bi-weekly play, my group (and myself) still don’t have complete system mastery. In addition, buying new books2 every couple months is financially consuming. I love and willingly support the designers and makers of my hobby. But that doesn’t mean that every one of players can do the same. Not everyone is in a financially secure and stable point in their lives. Which means, whatever ruleset I recommend need to be flexible enough to support multiple types of games, cheap enough that it’s not a huge outlay for everyone, and simple enough that we don’t all stop playing and go running back to D&D.

Earlier this year, I ran a few sessions of Fate Accelerated Edition. I’m not 100% sure of how I heard of it, but it sounded interesting. The intent in picking up this system was to run an occasional session when the full D&D group couldn’t show up for whatever reason.3 I titled the campaign Code Chasers and it was a setup for a Matrix-based campaign. Players were red pills in the time between the first and second movies. Their primary directive was to gather resources for Zion. We had some great characters and great moments. I liked the streamlined approaches but in the end, I feel that the differences between FAE and D&D were just too much for my players to feel comfortable. Everyone felt weird constantly trying to describe things so that they could take advantage of their best approach. Everything felt a bit too nebulous, a bit too freeform.

So, that experience led me to Fate. Fate feels like a more rules-y based system. There is a wide selection of skills but the system is still flexible enough to fit into any genre. I also love the stress tracks. The fact that I can handle mental, physical, social combats exactly the same is amazing.4 It also makes the rules simple to learn. There’s only four actions, Attack, Overcome, Create an Advantage and Defend. There’s also only four results, Succeed with Style, Succeed, Succeed at a Cost, and Failure. But those actions and results (along with the skill system) give you a diverse set of things to do and things to happen. Also the dice mechanic is simple, roll the four dice, add the appropriate skill, compare the result. This never changes. You don’t roll more or less dice. Higher is always better. Your skill bonus doesn’t change.5

So, I’ve settled on using Fate for my next campaign. My recent experiences in a Star Wars-based Fate campaign has only reinforced my feeling that I’ve made the right decision. But I don’t know for sure yet. I can only hope it goes over well and that my players enjoy it. We’ll find out soon enough because we’re starting character creation in a few weeks and play will hopefully begin early next year.


  1. At the time I was running one D&D campaign and playing in three others. 
  2. Books that generally cost $20-$50 each. 
  3. Interestingly, I never ran it past the Memorial Day sessions. 
  4. While explaining this to one of my friends and players, I came up with a wealth stress track to use for a game of poker. 
  5. Except in the case of advancement. 

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