You know what I would like to see? A fantasy role-playing game. In thirty-odd years of gaming, I still haven’t seen one.
That’s rubbish, says you, There’s loads of fantasy rpgs – the various editions of D&D, Pathfinder, Warhammer Fantasy, Castles & Crusades, Runequest, and Rolemaster to name just a few. You’re a fool Grey, you say, and start to walk away shaking your head.
Ah, but each of those aren’t role-playing games about fantasy as a whole. They each carve their niche into the fantasy genre and create their own sub-genre where fantasy works according to the rules and assumptions of the system. Pathfinder, for example, is a role-playing for playing in the world of Golarion (or your own world which operates in broadly Golarion-like ways). Pathfinder is arguably a subset of the D&D “family” – it’s a sub-genre of a sub-genre of fantasy.
No, what I want is a game that can encompass all of fantasy in a single system. I want magic to work in any way seen in fantasy books, movies or games. I want Will and The Word, Rune Casting, Dragon Shouts and any other type of Magic found in fiction. Give me a system which allows me to create any character I choose, and let them grow in perceptible and meaningful ways that go beyond mere increasing bonuses to dice rolls.
Surely D&D already does this, you reply.
Well, no. Says I. You can, for example, use D&D to play a campaign set in Middle Earth, but it’s not a great fit. The further you roam from staple D&D territory the more work you have to do customizing Classes, creating new Feats, Monsters, Prestige Classes, Backgrounds and the like. Eventually (and quite quickly) you get to the point where you have spent as much time adapting D&D as you would have spent creating a whole new rules system from scratch.
Imagine how much work it would take to use D&D to play in the world of Game of Thrones, for example. Or Skyrim. (incidentally, I would kill for an official pen-and-paper Skyrim RPG). You can use D&D (or Pathfinder, or whatever) for any setting, fantasy or otherwise, but not out of the box. A key feature of D&D Next is that you can create and use modules to add and enhance the system in whatever direction you want. In theory D&D Next could become the true fantasy role-playing game which encompasses all that fantasy has to offer, given sufficient bookcase (or hard disk) space.
Ironically the closest you get to my vision of a true fantasy role-playing game is not “fantasy” (actually, subset of fantasy) role-playing games at all, but with generic or freeform sytems. Engines such as GURPS or Mutants & Masterminds (a role-playing game creation engine cunningly masquerading as a superhero rpg) provide all the tools you need to create your own vision of fantasy. They are capable of scaling from the lowest of low fantasy to the highest of high, and handle pretty much any warped or twisted magic system, monster or concept you throw at them. Again, it would take work, but you’re building with tools the systems already provide, rather than creating everything from scratch. That’s a key difference.
Which leads us to more freeform systems where hard statblocks and rules detail takes a backseat to just playing the game. Mythic would provide a satisfying play experience in any setting with little or no prep, so long as you’re willing to improvise and go in whatever crazy direction the game takes you (and it will).
Then there’s RISUS. It is rightly called The Anything RPG, and that easily includes All of Fantasy And Beyond. It’s still not the true Fantasy RPG I would love to see, but it is the system I would reach for over D&D, Pathfinder or any other “fantasy” rpg if I wanted to game outside their respective sub-niches.
Maybe, just maybe, in another thirty years………