SAGA System Overview

The SAGA system was a role playing system developed by TSR in an attempt to create a role playing game that wasn’t Dungeons and Dragons. Given this goal, it’s not surprising that it is a pretty large departure from the Dungeons and Dragons formula. Only a few games were officially published using the SAGA system, and I’m not aware of too many games out there that seem to have taken heavy inspiration from it.

So how does the system work? Cards.

Cards are the SAGA as a 20-sided die is to Dungeons and Dragons. Basically everything you do centers around a set of cards. You even build your character with the cards!

The actual process of building a character was the part of the game I found the hardest to wrap my head around, and the fine details aren’t necessary to understanding the design elements there. Essentially, you get twelve cards drawn randomly from the deck and have to use those twelve to build your character. Eight of them go into your eight ability scores.

The most interesting part about your ability scores is that you almost have two scores each. The first score is numeric and is the number on the card. The second is a letter grade that represents how closely the suit of the card matches the score you’re assigning it to. For instance, strength is represented by a sword. If I put an 8 of swords into my strength, my strength would be 8A. “A” because it is the closest possible match. If I put an 8 of helms into it instead, I’d get an 8B. Helms are closely related to swords (they are both physical, physique). An 8 of shields would be an 8C (both physical).

The numbers represent how likely you are to be able to do an action, or for things like strength, represent the damage that you do. The letter grades determine what you’re able to even attempt. For instance, you have to have at least a score of 8 in Spirit to be able to cast any mystic spells at all. Your perception letter grade determines if you have any exceptionally strong senses (smell, for example) or possibly exceptionally weak senses.

Just due to how the math works out, this decision isn’t as interesting as it could be, because you can actually calculate whether the number of the letter grade is better for combat-related abilities. But this sort of uneasy balance, where you have to decide between getting a better raw score or a better letter grade, is something that I found very interesting.