As I write this, I am recovering from both a nasty sinus infection and a bout with pneumonia. I’ve ample reason to complain about things as I have the past few weeks, but James Olchak convinced me I need to be more positive. So today I’m going to talk about some roleplaying games I’ve loved, and why I’ve loved them.
- AD&D 2nd Edition: They say you never forget your first, and this was my first roleplaying game. Looking back on it now, despite the decades of game theory since its release, I still have a fondness for this edition because, for all its janky rules and odd complexities, it was still a fun and engaging game to play. When I think “Old School,” this is where my mind immediately goes.
- GURPS 3rd Edition: This was my second roleplaying game, and it introduced me to the concept of gasp building a character to be exactly what you want it to be. I loved that cover, with the knight and the castle and the universe, and I would spent hours and hours crafting a single character, enjoying every moment of character point optimization. I spent many a day working to merge GURPS-like flexibility in with AD&D-like simplicity in the late 90s. It is perhaps telling, though, that I never actually finished a GURPS character. . .because every time I went back and looked at the math again, I found some little one-point or half-point mistake.
- D&D 3rd Edition: For the longest time, this seemed to be to be exactly what I’d wanted in the late 90s: D&D meets GURPS. I spent most of the first decade of the century playing 3e or some variation thereof. I still think it’s a very good game, but “feat-based thinking” has tainted this edition’s legacy. This was definitely a game designed by people who’d played earlier editions and were trying to mix in some new game design. When new players were introduced to this system as their start, though, I think they saw the game for itself and not through the lens of the games which had come before, which led down a crunchier path than its designers originally intended. This is about as crunchy a game as I can enjoy playing, now.
- New World of Darkness: I had never gotten into the White Wolf stuff in the 90s because I was not (and have never been) that into vampires and werewolves. When the new World of Darkness book came along, though, with clean base mechanics on how to just be a human, I was impressed and really liked the system. I still think this is one of the easier and more fun ways to play “just people,” though I generally move the success number down by one on the die so that we get something more than just a string of failures.
- Warhammer 40k Fantasy Flight Games: The mechanics in these games don’t really inspire me, but the universe. I love the Warhammer 40k universe, and I love these games because they let me play in that universe with mechanics that feel appropriate for that dark, grim world.
- Star Wars Fantasy Flight Games: The narrative dice mechanic is probably my favorite “gimmick” dice mechanic. Playing these games makes me really feel like I’m playing in the Star Wars universe, with it’s surprises and dodges and improbable outcomes and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants storytelling. I’m really impressed with these games.
- Fiasco: Now, I’m going to be honest and say that it took me a long time to start enjoying this game. I had a lot of hits-and-misses with this system, and a lot of frustration, because I kept trying to characterize it in my head in the context of a traditional roleplaying game. It’s not, by a long shot. It wasn’t until I sat down and played a game with Steve Segedy that I can honestly say I truly understood the game. And once I did, I loved it. This is definitely one of the rules-lighter games in this list, but I really think it works provided you’re playing the game from the right perspective – just over your character’s shoulder.
- Fate Accelerated: This is my favorite flavor of Fate, because of its simplicity and its downplay of the Fate Point economy, which I’ve never been able to adapt myself to. I think this is a very clean and easy to play ruleset, and a great introduction to roleplaying in general. I do tend to add, when I’m playing, one rule that’s not in the actual book: I make sure that the GM decides which approaches are viable in any situation. Otherwise, I’ve found, players will always play their best approach against everything.
- The Quiet Year: I was introduced to this game at the Escapist Expo in 2013, and it blew me away. This is another game that isn’t quite a roleplaying game but there isn’t quite any other moniker to give it (unless you prefer to take the stand that roleplaying games and story games are entirely different entities). You make maps and tell stories prompted by a deck of cards, and. . .that’s it. This is absolutely the rules-lightest game that I’ve ever played and enjoyed, mostly because the gimmick – the map – keeps things interesting and clever. I have to admit, though, I don’t play it right – we don’t just sit quietly around the table only talking when it’s our turn, letting the contempt tokens alone say what we think.
- D&D 5th Edition: This is my favorite edition of D&D, hands down. I think it’s taken the lessons it learned through the original games, through 3e and 4e, mated it with some more modern game design and come out shining.
- Microscope: Microscope is a great little game, with very little in the way of rules / mechanics. It’s very much on the story game spectrum of roleplaying, but it doesn’t exist in an odd spot (like, I feel Fiasco can feel) because you’re not playing your character. You’re playing through large swaths of history, looking at it from different angles and finding out why and how things came to be. I love using this game to create campaign settings.
- InSpectres: Sometimes considered the first story game, this game follows your characters around in their Ghostbusters-like franchise while they are filmed for a reality TV show. This game can be hilariously fun as different players interject ridiculous plot elements through those one-on-one camera interviews that are so popular in reality shows. Very much a game with a bent for comedy, and terrific fun when I’ve played it. I feel lucky to have one of the very, very few copies I’ve ever encountered.
- World Wide Wrestling: My favorite Powered by the Apocalypse game, I think the PbtA engine shines brighter here than in any other similar game. Folks will sometimes say that PbtA games don’t have a lot of rules / crunch, but I think that’s baloney. Good ones, like this one, display those mechanics in a clever enough way that the game does not feel nearly as complex as it actually is under the hood. The mechanics for this game are perfectly mated to the ideas behind it, the craziness of a pro wrestling ring and show, and it is terrific fun.
- White Star: This is OSR-style science fiction roleplaying, and I’ve got to say: it’s like 10,000x better than d20 Future. The quality of this product and its clean mechanics work very well, and it’s one of my favorite sci-fi games as a result.
- Monsters of the Week: This is another excellent PbtA game, and evokes that feeling that I first had playing NWoD more than a decade ago. The bits and baubles here are much more focused and easy to pick up, allowing fast world- and character-creation. I’m very impressed with this game.
So, thank you for reading these loving little micro-reviews of my favorite games (shared in the order I encountered them).