by Delos

Comparing Apples to Different Fruit

Over the year (almost) that I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve covered a bunch of different systems. The fantastic thing about RPGs is that there is no right or wrong way to play. Find a way that works with your group and run with it. I want to cover all the different systems that I’ve played/read/and seen and what they bring to the table. I’ll cover how crunchy the rules are, how focused on story the system is, and other points that make each one a great game in their own right. We’ll start with Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons 3.5/Pathfinder

I’ve put these two together because, well let’s face it, it’s the same thing only Pathfinder is still getting updated and is much more balanced that what D&D was/is. D&D 3.5 was the first RPG I ever played and has a special place in my heart, but if someone offered to run either D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, I’d go with Pathfinder. The classes are more fun overall and there is less rules bloat since they adopted the whole Combat Maneuver stat and rules as opposed to having separate rules for each possible maneuver you can do.

  • d20 based game made by Wizards of the Coast/Paizo
  • System belongs to OGL so you can find a lot of 3rd party material for it.
  • Very rules crunchy when it comes to combat. Recommended for use with minis and maps. Can be done without but you need to house rule that.
  • Very little in terms of Story Mechanics. The system doesn’t prevent story, but has little in terms of adding story elements via in game mechanics
  • Has years of play under the belt so most problems with balance and such have been fixed
  • Still has balance issues at high levels between casters and martial characters (check out the house rules for e6, it’s what I ran towards the end of our run with Pathfinder)

Dungeons and Dragons 4e

For those of you who never played D&D I just want to let you know that 3rd and 4th are vastly different games. WotC tried a much different formula for their approach of classes and monsters. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. The biggest thing they went after was trying to homogenize the classes so that wizards were just a fun and complicated as barbarians or any other class. They also made sure that each class filled a certain role in the party (tank, support, damage, or control) which they picked up from MMOs. It became much harder to make an ineffective character since you had to pick things from lists that would stay useful and relevant. I had players that would create terrible PCs in 3rd (due to not understanding mechanics to personal choices) but their 4th ed PCs were vastly better.

  • d20 based game made by Wizards of the Coast
  • System is NOT OGL so you can only find 4e material from WotC
  • Early classes had massive overhauls due to balance issues (my core book had a lot of errata written in), later classes and the Essential material came out much more balanced
  • This is a very good system for tactical combat. I’ve played a 4th core game (all about the numbers and beating the dungeon, no real story) that was a lot of fun.
  • There is no story mechanics for this game. The system only covers combat. You need to provide the story.

Dungeon World

This is the current RPG love of my life so I’m going to be a little biased. This game was made by two guys in their mom’s basement (not really…I’m sure it was their own basement) and harkens to old school D&D (of which I read the core book ages ago). This game uses the Engine of the Apocalypse from Apocalypse World, but is set for medieval fantasy.

  • Engine of the Apocalypse based RPG made by Adam and Sage
  • System is OGL, there are a lot of great fan based add ons
  • Progression is very horizontal and a little vertical (so you can have a level 1 and a level 10 next to each other and they’ll be close to the same power level)
  • This game is VERY story driven. The mechanics create story.
  • Very heavy on impromptu GMing. You can write up a bunch of stuff but this game works much better by the seat of your pants.
  • Very rules light on combat. It’s all about the narrative.
  • Read this book just for the advice on how to GM games. Seriously their section on running games needs to be in every RPG core book.


Jacob’s favorite system and one I’m definitely fond of.

  • Fudge Dice based system from Evil Hat Productions
  • Can be used for any setting (and I do mean any)
  • Very dependent on players being creative (if you have players that need to be rail roaded, you’re gonna have a bad time)
  • Allows for any character types
  • Easy to hack and change
  • Check out my favorite mod for FATE-The Dresden Files. It’s an amazing hack for modern fantasy and horror
  • This is all about the story. Mechanically very light and all about the narrative. This is the lightest rule set out of all the games in this review.

13th Age

This is the love child of 3rd and 4th D&D. The lead designers of 3rd and 4th got together and wrote their own system. It has the best bits of both with a lot of the fat trimmed away.

  • d20 based system written by the lead designers of 3rd and 4th Ed, but without WotC or Hasbro meddling
  • feels like D&D 3e but with classes being balanced from low to high level
  • Very easy to run monsters
  • Some crunch to the rules of combat but still much more simple than 3rd or 4th (no minis or maps are needed)
  • Mechanics that produce story (Icons, One Unique Thing, Backgrounds)
  • Excellent ideas that should be stolen and used in every RPG you play
  • Great for epic stories or dungeon crawls

Well those are all the big ones in my life. If you have a favorite that I didn’t mention please leave a quick review that gives the highlights of that system in the comments below. Thanks for reading.


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    • By Delos


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