Our current Freeport campaign will be wrapping up soon, although I'm not sure when I might be able to start up another campaign. He is also starting his own game very soon.
There are several RPG settings that I would like to run. Freeport was one of those, and the Hyborian Age of Conan is at the top of the list. We had great fun in the game(s) that S. ran. I've been putting together background notes for a Conan game since at least 2005, and regularly think about ideas for it. It's the setting that I feel most comfortable with running, particularly for improv riffing and winging it. In my mind, it's as real as any fantasy setting could be.
The uncertain part of my planning has always been what rules system to use. At various points I've considered:
- Dungeons & Dragons 3.x (or some flavor of d20)
- GURPS 3rd Edition
- Basic Roleplaying System
- Savage Worlds
- Mongoose RuneQuest
There are four main points that I'm looking for in a rules system:
Rules that play quickly and resolve smoothly. In my experience, the best RPG moments involve the storyline and the interaction of all the players, not necessarily crunching numbers. The suspense of a crucial die roll or card flip is great, and can ratchet up the tension. That's not what I'm referring to here. I'd rather that the rules help facilitate the role-play rather than cause us to spend time looking up obscure rules in several books. I've tried to be better about making a ruling and moving on, and looking it up later, but I still need practice in that area.
Rules that simulate pulp action. Howard's Conan stories are prototypical sword-and-sorcery and firmly rooted in the pulp tradition. Pulp action, in an RPG, should have that over-the-top feeling. "Cinematic" is used often when referring to RPG rules. I think pulp is similar. The PCs should be heroic, in the sense that they are better than the average human in abilities. Pulp generally follows what is often called "gritty", as it's more human-focused than the usual fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, orcs and the like. I'm also very enamored with some of the mechanics from the pulp RPG Spirit of the Century, especially the idea of Aspects. I'd like to use that or something with the same literary style to play up the trappings of the genre.
Give a variable level of "crunch" to those who want it. I would like to use a system that allows players some latitude on how detailed they want their stats and special abilities to be. It should be simple for the players to add extra detail to their characters, as add-ons (feats, special abilities, etc.) beyond the standard, if they wish to do so.
In-print and available or, even better, free? Used copies of out-of-print rulebooks are possible to find, although it can make things complicated. It's much easier if the books or documents required to play are readily available, particularly if the game is currently in print and actively supported by both the publisher and the fan community. Additionally, I do not want players to feel that they need to buy books in order to play. Players may want their own rulebook or player's guide but it shouldn't be necessary. I can make table copies available. Even better if the system is free to download, where as many copies as needed can be printed for all.
Currently l'm considering:
A retro-clone? Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Castles & Crusades, OSRIC... one of the old-school games might give the proper vibe. Related to this is ZeFRS, the free retro-clone version of TSR's Conan rules.
Shadow, Sword & Spell. I first learned about this system from Zach's posts on RPGBlogII, and I was so impressed by his comments about it that it was number one on my list to investigate at Gen Con last year. It's a human-centric sword-and-sorcery RPG with Howard, Lovecraft, Smith and Leiber as direct influences.
OpenQuest d100. I have experience with Basic Roleplaying as the system behind Call of Cthulhu, and its use in RuneQuest seems like a good system for pulp fantasy. OpenQuest is a project to create an open d100-based fantasy RPG using the RuneQuest SRD along with the best ideas from Chaosium's RuneQuest and Stormbringer.
Crypts & Things. A recent development from the folks that brought us OpenQuest; a Swords & Wizardry variant using house rules, changes and additions to promote a pulp fantasy feel to the game.
Maybe even Action Cards?
Plenty to think about...
Update: I forgot to mention Barbarians of Lemuria in the list above. I haven't read it yet, although it has received great reviews.