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Working The System

I’m starting to get to the point in my planning where I need to choose a system. There are a lot of games that can do fantasy, but each game handles things a little differently and some of my planning has to fold the idiosyncrasies of the system into the world so that the PCs will fit in the world and the world will make sense within the context of the game. Today, I’m going to discuss some of the systems I’m considering and the reasons why I might select them and why I might not.


My intention is to run a campaign that has at least an old school flavor. Parties of adventurers delving into dungeons to discover treasure, defeat evil, and then generally blow their money on new gear and ale. Not to say that there won’t be a story, there will be a story. However, the story will be wrapped around the “old school style” concept.


The stepsister of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 has some immediate appeal. Most of my potential player pool is familiar with it. I have the most supporting material for it. The system lends itself to heroic fantasy and a lot of the conceits of the system are built to that end. I like heroic fantasy and larger-than-life heroes are where I tend to lean.

The flex room in Pathfinder is pretty low though, in my opinion. That’s a curse of it’s OGL ancestry. It’s pretty easy to break the math of the system by handing out treasure too slowly or too fast. That might change a bit by folding in some of the interesting looking systems from the new Pathfinder Unchained book, but that breaks the familiarity for my player pool. And I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder lately and while I love the system, it might be good to do something else.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

This one is an unknown. I’ve read most of the Player’s Handbook and I like what I see. The monsters look easy enough to run and there’s plenty of standard fantasy fare amongst the pages of the Monster Manual. The Player’s Handbook provides the standard fantasy tropes while giving enough variation that not everything seems perfectly cookie cutter. It looks like it would fit quite nicely with the world I’m constructing.

The major downside is that I’ve never run the system before and I haven’t played it since the first round of beta. Very few people in my player pool have played the game, so it would be a learning experience for everyone. I also have very little supporting material for the game, but that could easily be a good thing that gives the game more focus.

Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS)

This has a pretty old school vibe, which is what I’m going for in this campaign. I like the focus of the system as your character grows from a simple adventurer to a leader. However, I mostly considered this because it’s on my to-run list. While I like the focus of the system, I don’t think that focus quite fits with the campaign I intend to run. Not to say the PCs couldn’t end up running the area, but I’m not sure I’d focus on it. It also suffers from the unfamiliarity problems that D&D 5th suffers from.

1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Ah, the old “loot the idol” cover and the sometimes awful interior art. For me, this system will always be the king of old school. Some of my player pool is familiar with the system. I’ve built up a system of house rules and tweaks over the years that make the system run pretty well. The system can be pretty open if you let it be and there’s plenty of room for doing strange things.

This system is old though and so getting a hold of actual books for players that don’t have them could be an issue. It’s also a lot harder to figure out balance in the system since I haven’t run it in so long. It also seems like those in my player pool who are familiar with 1st Edition tend to prefer 2nd Edition, so there’s that conflict right out of the gate.

Final Thoughts

I’m still piecing through what I have, but Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition are the clear front-runners in the pack at the moment. There’s certainly room for one of the others to overtake them in the final selection.

Is there a system I’ve missed and should consider? Something else I need to think about? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

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