I really like D&D third edition. However, I've long been dissatisfied with the gameplay at moderate and high levels. In addition, while Vancian magic is cool and useful, I missed the kind of magic I often see in modern fantasy, magic that plays out much differently than D&D magic.
To both of those ends, this project.
Blog about this project is here.
This game is based on Pathfinder, the SRD of which can be found here.
I really like the subtle and not-so-subtle changes Paizo made to 3.5e, from how skills are now much easier to calculate and non-class skills aren't so onerous, to the roll-up of skills, to combat maneuvers.
This isn't a low-magic system, exactly -- there is magic everywhere. There are thaumaturges who can call up fire, or twist the gaze of others, with but a wave of their hand. This common magic is limited, and cannot heal directly, transform, or create. Common magic is usually in the form of cantrips.
But there is more powerful magic, the province of magical crafting, weaving, and ritual magic.
Magical crafting is limited, but a number of characters have varying ability to make miraculous substances and items.
Ritual magic is a fairly straight port of Incantations, from Unearthed Arcana. They are slow but very powerful forms of magic.
Rituals are calculated a bit more simply than incantations: work out what 'spell level' a ritual counts as (either pick a spell or guesstimate), calculate spell DC as 18 + 2 per spell level. If the particulars aren't easily calculated, pick nearest equivalent value and then pick appropriate Incantation adjustments (for example, to create a permanent form of a spell).
Rituals always have at least 1 point of backlash. Failure usually results in the spell level of effect manifesting in some other, uncontrolled and usually dangerous, way.
Weavings are minor rituals that thaumaturges can develop and cast with great speed. While rituals can take hours, a weaving is cast in seconds. Generally, weavings have 1 point of backlash per level.
Weavings are constrained much like common magic: a ritual can conjure up a fiery elemental, but weaving versions of 'summon' spells usually take the form of an enchantment of an existing creature -- though a thaumaturge faced with an elemental may have the skill to bind it as a servant, if briefly.
Another rule outlined in Unearthed Arcana, action points allow characters to have some flexibility and play, and defy the odds in interesting ways. The ability to 'fake' a feat, when necessary, makes characters a bit less rigid.
Action points in this game are not gained per level. Instead, they are gained for doing cool things, acting according to character in interesting and dramatic ways, and when suitable adventure goals have been achieved. They can also be used as a 'bribe' from the DM for certain 'just go with it' moments, like the PCs being captured.
Following alignment or character when it's difficult is worth an action point -- provided it is interesting or leads to interesting play. The DM should avoid giving action points when the actions are disruptive or annoying, however.
I've never liked the whole D&D resurrection 'revolving door to the afterlife' thing.
To that end, in this game, when characters die they may choose to 'narrowly evade death.' This has two effects. Note that some deaths are certain: falling into lava, death effects, being finished off by an assassin.
If death is evaded, the first effect is the permanent loss of one ability score point. This may be from any score the character wishes. Keep in mind that at 0 of any ability score, the character is permanently dead.
The second is that the character gains a negative level. This lasts one week.
Powerful magic may be able to repair or negate these effects.
Very powerful magic has been known to transport heroes to the lands of death, where souls may be reclaimed -- though such efforts almost always fail.
XP is rewarded differently. Take the amount of experience expected per session in the normal system (based on 2, 3, or however many encounters you'd expect), divide by 2. This is how much the party gets per normal session.
Keep track of how many sessions go by until a crucial event/adventure milestone is reached, at which point the group receives XP equal to that given out since the last milestone.
In a campaign structured around designed adventures, this breakpoint should be a crucial accomplishment in the adventure. The DM may even divide the XP further, and have a big reward at the end.
In a more free-form game these breakpoints are whenever the party has accomplished something rather notable.
As a guideline, the breakpoint should be approximately every 3-4 sessions.
This experience system rewards getting things done in clever and effective ways, and rewards solutions that don't revolve around fighting as many enemies as possible.
Money and Gear
Characters have three types of goods: gear, money, and assets.
Gear is limited by Wealth By Level guide. Gear covers weapons, armor, magical items, alchemical items, mounts, and specialized tools.
Money covers all sorts of mundane goods, crafting supplies, and basic cash.Any money not spent in a reasonable amount of time on gear (say, a week or two) is considered to be pissed away on ... something.
Assets include things like research libraries, keeps, sailing ships, and the like. They are typically expensive and big items. Characters don't have to buy such things with treasure, acquiring such things is the province of adventuring and play.
Note that magical items are limited to a few classes or the item bond feat. At high levels, characters will probably want to take the item bond feat or most of their gear allowance will be unfilled.
It is possible for characters to find magical items, but such items are very rare, and often have drawbacks or the risk of being stolen.
Crafting does not change WBL, but it does allow a character to reach her cap faster, particularly when refilling expendables or swapping gear. For example, a crafter can use up alchemical goods and then replace them, using 1/2 the treasure normally required.
Craft times for many goods is determined by eyeballing rather than the normal system. Most weapons can be crafted in a week or so, masterwork items and compound bows will normally take a month or two.