My Favorite Tabletop RPGs

I’ve worked in the games industry now since 1984. Most of that time was spent working retail, some in distribution, some working for a manufacturer, but all of that time was spent gaming, and trying out new stuff. I enjoy roleplaying as much now as I did in my teens, even though most of the people I grew up with view RPGs as “kid’s stuff”, or something one is expected to grow out of.

Which basically I think is bullshit. Just like dressing up in costumes now and again, RPG gaming is a healthy outlet and a fun pastime. So to give those of you who might be looking for a new game some ideas, I present to you my list of favorite RPGs, in no particular order. If you want to learn a bit more about the games — or order a PDF copy — click on the picture of the game.


Victoriana

I’m pretty into Steampunk these days, and gaming-wise nothing scratches that itch as nicely as this game. Victoriana uses a dice pool system: When trying to accomplish a Task, you roll a number of dice equal to your rating in a skill or ability, plus a number of dice equal to your character’s rating in the related physical or mental ability. Sometimes, if the challenge is tougher, you receive black dice as a penalty. You roll the black dice at the same time, but any successes on those count against you. The setting reminds me of Shadowrun; the world has magic, and elves, dwarves, humans and beast-men mix with humans. It’s fun, and the setting is a change from most games.


Shadowrun

Take the dystopian, sci-fi future typified by Cyberpunk, add magic, fantasy humanoid races, and a group of characters skirting the law to complete jobs and get paid and you have Shadowrun in a nutshell. Another dice pool game, Shadowrun uses only six-sided dice, and does so to good effect. You have a number of dice equal to your skill, plus more equal to your mental or physical ability,. plus maybe more or less depending on how easy or difficult the taks may be. The setting for this world is fantastic, and like so many RPGs, is the main reason — far more so than because of a specific system — why people play any particular game.


Bushido

Finding people willing to play this game with me was never easy; for some reason, most white Midwesterners don’t get into mythical Japan the way I do. This game uses the basic d20 concept made famous-ish by D&D, only a it’s a bit skewed here. Instead of trying to roll high, you want low, the lower the better. Makes it easier to parse that as your skill improves (i.e. the number goes up) you have larger range of numbers that indicate success.
This game incorporates a great deal of historical information about feudal Japan, as well as a lot of mythology and folklore, and if I had to pick only one, Bushido is probably my favorite RPG of all time.


Vampire: The Requiem

After being sneered at for years by numerous Vampire players, I was finally convinced to give the game a try, and was pleasantly surprised. Like any RPG, how much fun the game is depends on the quality of the folks you game with. Vampire examines concepts such as humanity, redemption, and the slippery slope of evil in a framework of the politics and mind games that only beings with greatly extended lifespans have the patience for — and the time to watch those events unfold. I may be pilloried by the True Believers for admitting that I like the new incarnation — Vampire the Requiem — better than the original Vampire the Masquerade, (especially since I’m doing some writing for Vampire the Masquerade right now) but my preference may have something to do with being exposed to the new one first.


Call of Cthulhu

The grandpappy of all horror-themed RPGs, Call of Cthulhu will always occupy a squamous, rugose place in my heart. Players confront cosmic threats to humanity, and battle them as best they can. Challenges are resolved by rolling percentile dice (generating a score from 1 to 100) and then compare that to their skill level to see if they succeed in that task. This is another game to play for the setting, pulp-era 1920s and 1930s, borrowing heavily from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and many, many others. Character mortality is high as character witness things “Man Was Not Meant To Know and go insane, or get eaten by rather nasty creatures from beyond space and time. Tons of films have been made from the stories of these writers, and they can easily inspire one to play this game.


Mutants & Masterminds

If you’re a fan of comic-book superheros, M&M is your game. Using a simple d20 roll + your skill value to determine success, the system is surprisingly flexible and elegant. Simple to understand and easy to get into, M&M does for capes and cowls what D&D does for swords and sorcery. I also really like the injury system: not based on hit points, it’s instead based on levels of injury or fatigue. After all, nobody ever really dies in comic books, right?
Full disclosure: I used to work for Green Ronin Publishing, the folks who publish Mutants & Masterminds. That doesn’t make the game any less awesome.

So that’s a few of my favorites; it’s quite a mix of stuff, but I find that I’m not all that interested in playing the same setting using the same system for ever and ever. I like having some variety in life, and games are no exception.

Oh, and you may have noticed I left D&D off this list. While the progenitor of all tabletop roll playing games was a fine entry drug, I find that, for the most part, D&D games devolve into a standard routine: kicking in doors, killing things, and taking their stuff. Lather, rinse, repeat. I got bored with that a long time ago, and while I’ve played newer iterations of Dungeons & Dragons since then, I find I can’t stick with it for longer than a few sessions before I start looking for other options.

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