In my endless struggle to find RPG systems which suit my style of game mastering I've made my way through endless pages of results on the RPGGeek with no avail, so once again I am going to surrender to the community knowledge.
My most successful campaign ever was run in The Riddle of Steel in a custom, alternate reality setting but there was one, rather big hitch – while the combat system is really awesome (in my opinion), the fact that I specifically DIDN'T want my players to get killed rendered it pretty useless, it's just too easy to either make the adversaries a piece of cake to defeat or to get your players dead in one unlucky roll. The more narrative style of gameplay was something I have thoroughly enjoyed though.
So, a list of my requirements:
- Supports fantasy settings
- Little randomization in rolls, anything bell curved is fine (classic d20, d100 are out). I want dice though, so please save the diceless systems for another question of mine in near or far future!
- Generally non-heroic, but supporting such characters. What I mean: In DnD, you can make the game non-heroic by making it impossible for the characters to advance beyond, let's say, level 6 – this supports non-heroic gameplay by restrictions. Ideally I'd like the system to revolve around human abilities and improving them, but allowing heroic characters by giving them ridiculously high attributes.
- Skill/stat based character development, no classes.
- There should either be no hitpoints, or losing part of the character's hitpoints should have a negative effect on said character's performance.
- Fast (or at least not ridiculously slow) combat without gazillion of statistics, tables and number crunching techniques.
- It would be a nice addition if a system does not use too many rolls to resolve conflicts – again, in DnD you roll twice for an attack: first is to hit, the other roll is damage. Ideally the success of the attack roll would also determine the damage.
- A magic system supporting generating spells on the fly would also be a nice touch but it is not required.
I want the system to improve the gameplay, not create fixed boundaries which are difficult for both the players and the GM to step out of. To quote mxyzplk: "Conan doesn't ask if he can leap up on Dagon's back and tear his horn out […] He just does it." As in, Conan doesn't have a fixed list of moves he can perform. He attempts to do whatever he wants. That's the type of gameplay I am looking for.
Now, I am generally negative towards generic systems like GURPS or FATE. That's because I have a real hard time getting into them – they have so many extensions and content that I can't wrap my head around them. If you want to suggest them, please tell me exactly WHICH books should I look into.