Zachary over at RPG Blog II is putting together a top 25 RPG list, and it got me thinking. I’m an old-timer but also a fan of some odd-ball recent games, but when I really dig into my collection, a lot of my favourites are oldies and “classics”.
So here’s my list.
#1 Moldvay Basic / Expert Dungeons & Dragons
This should come as no surprise, I’ve even blogged about it previously as one of the few non-character posts to this blog. I love the art, I love the simplicity, I love the game. Back when Fighters were real fighters, Magic Users were real magic users, and small furry-footed adventurers from the Shire were REAL small furry-footed adventurers from the Shire.
#2 Gamma World
But already I’m having issues with this list. I’m not sure which edition of Gamma World is my absolute favourite. I tend to prefer third edition, but the lack of player interest usually has me run other editions. The Omega World mini-edition by Jonathan Tweet was sheer genius also.
#3 Vampire The Requiem
I loved Vampire the Masquerade to death. Vampire the Requiem cleans up the system and the metaplot and is completely metaplot independent and I love that. The whole game is so much cleaner and I’ve used it to run Anne Rice styled games as well as a very Sabbat feeling game. The rules (and particularly the Storyteller’s Guide) provide the tools to run just about any vampire game imaginable.
My favourite flavour of the Traveller rules set, although I have little to no interest in the setting changes they included with this edition. I much prefer the GURPS Traveller retcon where the Imperium never collapsed. The game mechanics and play style of this game really seemed to promote sandbox style play, and it’s one of the few games that we dealt with true sandbox play repeatedly with many different groups.
#5 Lacuna Part 1
It may just be an infatuation brought about by playing in three games of Lacuna in the past two months, but this game is awesome. It starts out feeling like you are playing in the Matrix, but when a glitch occurs, instead of becoming more like the Matrix, it becomes more like Naked Lunch. Having Control (the game master) actually stand up from the table and start yelling at the players for doing exactly what we were told? Yeah, really set the tone of the game. It’s like Paranoia meets the Twilight Zone in a dream of Eastern Europe.
#6 Savage Worlds
An uber-system. Great for running one-shots and amazing for running short campaigns. The tool-kit aspect makes it easy to tweak to suit your game and game style. I’ve played Shadowrun, Traveller, Superheroes and several other styles of game with just a few Savage Worlds books.
#7 Dungeons & Dragons 3 and 3.5
It was a wonderful romance that lasted for nearly a decade. My bookshelves sag under the weight of supplements and adventures.
#8 CyberPunk 188.8.131.52
Aka the “Shopping Game”. What a wonderful explosion into an NRA wonderland dystopian future. Unlike Shadowrun which had you play corporate mercenaries as the default campaign, CyberPunk was very freeform, giving examples of dozens of different campaign styles. While you could play a Shadowrun style campaign, far more common in my experience was trying to survive on the mean streets, strung out on drugs and looking for the next big score.
#9 Street Fighter the Storytelling Game
Best application of the old Storyteller system. Even with hundreds of combat maneuvers, combat is quick and intuitive. And it’s Street Fighter! I should really get back to work making my update of the game to the new Storyteller system and add in the characters from Samurai Showdown.
(10 through 25 after the cut)
#10 Wraith the Oblivion
I love this game for two reasons – violence is almost never the answer (after all, if you kill an opponent, he has a harrowing and comes back… and now he’s pissed off and looking for revenge), and each player not only plays their own character, but takes on the role of another character’s dark side, with mechanics to support the dark side, allowing him to wheedle and deal with the character to get things done. It’s also awesomely grim.
#11 Top Secret
First edition, second printing. And house-rule the interpersonal rules. For some reason I still adore this game. Overly complex gun combat (while not as insane and over the top as Phoenix Command), long tables of maneuvers for brawling… a whole pile of ability scores… Old school espionage.
#12 Warhammer 40,000 Dark Heresy
While I liked the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy RP, Dark Heresy really turns my crank. Dark, grim, and pretty damn fucked up. Burn the heretic, kill the xeno, and if everything really goes wrong, have the whole planet wiped out. But more likely you’ll find yourself dying in a ditch on some desert planet of an infected wound delivered by an assassin hired by the local administrator who was fed up with your meddling.
#13 Vampire the Masquerade
One of the games that really changed the face of gaming. I remember looking around in shock when all these goths and punks started showing up at our gaming events. I had never seen a body piercing prior to that… It approached gaming in a different manner than the other games I had discovered previously, and I loved it. I think a lot of my love for darker RPG settings came from this game.
I would be remiss to not put this on my list, since we keep going back to it year after year. It’s a free RPG that’s very simple and to the point – the players kill people in messy and violent ways.
#15 Over the Edge
Surreal setting, simple system. A genius combination that has impacted RPGs pretty heavily since. You can see the roots of Risus and many modern Story Games in this book. A must have.
#16 Star Frontiers
Some part of me keeps saying that this is my favourite science fiction RPG of all time, until it comes down to making a list. I prefer Traveller for the sandbox aspects and the true mutability of the game and setting, and I prefer the dark grit of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. But I love the simplicity and gentle goofiness of Star Frontiers and the alien races it introduced.
#17 Call of Cthulhu
A game where stats really don’t make that much of a difference, and often skills don’t either. It’s about exploring, learning, and going insane. In the long run, I don’t think the Chaosium system actually supports the style of game this is, but it doesn’t detract from it either.
#18 Ex Machina
If you like CyberPunk, you need Ex Machina. This is the tri-stat book I go back to again and again. Even if you don’t play the Tri-Stat system, it’s an essential sourcebook and idea mine for any other CyberPunk styled game. RPG gold.
#19 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition
I’m playing in a game of this right now, and I’m not really a huge fan. However, it was really formative to my early gaming and we played thousands of hours of AD&D through my teenage years and on into college (whenever I couldn’t convince a group to play B/X D&D with me instead).
#20 Palladium Fantasy
The first edition, not the new Rifts-friendly edition. Based on AD&D, this game had much more flavourful magic and combat and armor and character classes (and 20 or so player character races to choose from). It was my go-to game for inspiration when working on my B/X campaigns.
The RPG that pushed the concept of pacing with downtime for me. Generally an adventure (or even a single game session) was all you got done in one year of game time. Characters advanced as quickly as in other games, but in the game’s time-line it was much slower as years had passed since the campaign began. I also love the paired alignment traits system. I should really pick up the latest edition.
#22 Twilight: 2000
The first edition, before GDW standardized to one system for Traveller: TNA, Twilight 2000, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, and so on. While somewhat complex, they worked hard to keep combat somewhat simplified for a military RPG, with “shots” used instead of individual bullets (a shot being a burst of roughly 3 rounds). Twilight: 2000 was initially about getting your people home from a disastrous mission into Poland in the late days of World War III. It’s the standard I judge military RPGs by to this day.
#23 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness
With the addition of SDC to the character’s hit points, TMNT started the hit point escalation from the Palladium RPG that eventually lead to the inanity of RIFTs characters that are 100% immune to regular weapons. However, this game was a lot of fun for running Road Warrior styled “after the bomb” campaigns where everyone plays mutant animals in the post-apocalypse. The sheer number of animals in the books to mutate into characters made it awesome. And ninjas. And team characters. And don’t forget the Terror Bears.
#24 Fading Suns
Back to science fiction, but this time to a solidly space fantasy RPG that feels like an uber-religious Dune universe. Pretty good system but an incredible setting oozing with flavour.
#25 Burning Wheel
Complex and detailed, this is a great toolkit to steal ideas from when working on RPGs. Circles of connections, an abstract missile combat system that handles cover, movement and range very well, and incredibly detailed character creation process.