Remembering the SAGA System

Remembering the SAGA System

Many of my formative roleplaying years were spent playing the SAGA System, used by the old 90's Dragonlance Fifth Age and Marvel Super Heroes RPGs. From time to time, I have kicked around the idea of trying to put together a retroclone of the system, as it has a certain magic that I don't often see in games today.

Given how busy I am with our current game lines, I'm not sure this hypothetical retroclone will ever happen, but as I do toy with the idea occasionally, I thought I would share my notes on how I would go about designing this retroclone. Hopefully someone will find them interesting.

Please note that these are basically statements of intent and the direction in which I might want to take things. No actual rules have been written, and certainly nothing has been playtested.


Create a retroclone of the SAGA system that is for the most part faithful to the original, but with some of the rough edges smoothed out. Some of the design might be modernized, but don’t want to make any changes that will require rethinking large swaths of the system.

I intend to start with the Marvel Super Heroes version of the system as the base, and include sidebars for optionally emulating the Dragonlance version of the system when they differ.

Basic Abilities

Four basic abilities, each color-coded and associated with a suit in the fate deck:

  • Strength (green)
  • Agility (red)
  • Intellect (blue)
  • Willpower (purple)

Abilities range from 1 - 10 for normal people, 11 - 20 in the superhuman range and 20 - 30 in the cosmic entity range.

A sidebar about splitting each ability into two (for a total of 8) à la Dragonlance may be included.

Ability codes (A, B, C, X) may be dropped, as I don’t see them as necessary in this re-design, but I’d love to hear arguments in favor of keeping them if you have any.


Each skill is associated with a basic ability and similarly color-coded. Skills come in two levels: skilled and master. Master skills are noted by being underlined.

Being skilled grants a +4 bonus when the skill applies. Being the master of a skill does this and makes the action auto-trump.

I plan to cut down the number of skills significantly, maybe to half a dozen to a dozen per ability. I’m also tempted to remove combat skills that add a modifier, as in my experience everyone takes one, when you fight a skilled combatant the bonuses end up cancelling each other out and they are just one more modifier to remember.

I also plan to separate out skills that provide a bonus with those that grant some sort of social perk. The ones that provide a perk may end up being renamed feats or basic stunts or something like that, as essentially they are like stunts for abilities rather than powers.


Powers work like abilities, except they represent capabilities that few possess. I plan to start with the list of powers in Marvel Super Heroes as a base and file off the serial numbers of anything too Marvel-specific.

All powers have an associated trump suit.

Only some subset of powers may be available to player characters, depending on the campaign in question. Others may be reserved for monstrous creatures or NPCs. I may include a sidebar with different suggested power availability sets for different genres, flavors of fantasy, etc.

Maximum rank in any specific power may be restricted by experience level, so that player characters are all in the same ballpark as each other.

I’m tempted to take the abstract Wealth rating from the Dragonlance version of SAGA make make it into a Wealth power, complete with Wealth stunts, because sometime Batman, Iron Man or a Merchant Prince solves a problem by throwing money at it.


Each power has several associated stunts - special moves associated with that power. Characters may know certain stunts associated with the powers. They may use those stunts freely.

Players can push (play a card from hand as a bonus without drawing a replacement) to use a stunt they do not know.

There may be a system for making up new stunts with guidelines similar to the freeform magic rules in Dragonlance. Making up new stunts on the fly always requires a push. (I intend this to be a useful limiting factor, since adjudicating freeform magic was always a bit time-consuming in play.)

Limitations and Hindrances

I haven’t given a lot of those to these yet. I think they work well enough as they are written, but I may need to comb through the list of specific limitations and hindrances to fix any problematic options.


This game would use a deck of five suits, similar to the Marvel Super Heroes version. One suit is associated with each ability and the fifth is associated with none. Instead, once players play one f those cards, they go to the GM, who can use them to increase the difficulty of player actions or to trigger specific villain abilities.

The cards would also each have an aura (white, gray, black), an event and one or several descriptors that can be used to generate twists of fate or character aspects.

Character Creation

I intend there to be two character creation options: A random option where you are dealt a hand of cards and assign them to different abilities and powers (similar to Dragonlance) and a point buy option where to spend points to raise powers and buy skills or stunts (similar to the system described in Steve Kenson’s blog).

Experience Level and Advancement

Your experience level (number of experience points you have) determine your hand size and edge. It may also determine your maximum rank in powers and abilities. There would be a table.

At the end of each session/adventure you’d get an experience point, which you can use to increase an ability or power, or to purchase a skill or stunt.


The rules assume that you have adequate equipment (a rope when climbing, a weapon when fighting, armor when defending, etc.) and increase difficulty a degree if you do not.

Truly exceptional equipment may be modeled as a power with an equipment limitation.

There would be no restricting armor and weapons based on ability codes (as was done in Dragonlance), but some equipment might require a particular skill (or feat/basic stunt if we're making that its own category of skills).

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