A friend of mine on DeviantArt posted a thing recently talking about his top 5 RPGs. So I decided to do something similar. Let me walk you through my list.
1. Dungeons and Dragons (5e)
I like current D&D. I firmly believe that EVERY book they’ve come out with in the last couple years has been better than what has come before. Not all of their adventures are my cup of tea, but I’m impressed by even the ones I’m never* going to run.
I like how simple 5e can be, and I like how complex you can make it. There are very few game I’ve seen where the core mechanics of the gameplay are so apparent and accessible. 5e has become the RPG I normally think in.
But, to reiterate, it does have flaws. But I’m too busy playing D&D 5* times a week to notice.
Oh, and side note? Not a lot of homework for players, at low levels. The Game is easy to pick up and explain. And that pick up and go is very valuable to me.
2. Timewatch (GUMSHOE)
I wish I could do this game justice, but I don’t know history in quite the right way. TW is one of the most complete games I have ever seen. The only way I can imagine this game being created if for the designers to have filled a whiteboard with every single instance of time travel in fiction, and every sort of weird sci-fi concept, and said “Okay, how can ALL of this fit in a single game?”
Then they crammed it all together and made Timewatch.
I would love to run a long Timewatch game, but I don’t know how to make that happen. I guess I haven’t tried running it since I came up with the 4 aspect model of gameplay. Maybe I can try it again. I haven’t leaned deep enough into the pulp adventure aspect of Timewatch. (“Pulp” being a code phrase for “Don’t worry about it not making much sense”)
Actually, while we’re bound to digital games, I might have to give Timewatch another go. Being able to pull up useful documents on the other monitor would make the game a LOT easier for me to improv time travel. Hmm.
In addition to my lack of historical expertise and some gameplay elements making long games tricky, this is a game system that has a lot of homework involved. It looks simple, because the core of play is, but beyond the core resolution, things like pool spends and the like are rather complicated and powerful and need the players to do some homework.
(I am considering attempting Timewatch again. I’m wondering if I can make a D&D Beyond-style tracker/character sheet that would be a lot easier to play… So that’s a new project.)
3. Masks (PbtA)
Superhero games are tricky, because it’s all about getting all players swimming the same direction. Did I say tricky? I meant really really hard and I haven’t gotten it to work to my satisfaction yet. But I like what Masks does. It focuses the style of play of teenagers trying to figure out who they are and that’s cool.
The things about Masks that I don’t like are easy to resolve. On paper, at least. I have 4 things to nitpick:
- The concept of “Team” is poorly named for a game about super hero teams. I renamed it “Unity” and that made things easier.
- There is no Initiative. The game does not work in neat turns. Instead, I use the term “The Spotlight” and explain to my players that like in comic books, Spider-man might get 3 pages of content to wolverine’s 1 panel. Unless Wolverine steals the spotlight, then it’s all about him.
- Mask Playbooks are weird. They LOOK like classes, but they’re not. Instead, they’re character arcs. And that is a hard concept to grasp at first. A good source of player homework. I do want to make a Neutral Playbook, good for teaching a few people at once, because trying to help 6 people make characters at once was really frustrating when EVERY Playbook has different steps to create.
- The idea of conditions as HP and shifting label is also a bit of a mind twist.
So yeah, watch out for all of that, I guess? (This is making me want to run an RPG showcase…)
4. Tiny d6
I own a lot of flavors of tiny d6. It’s a simple system, with only a thin layer of paint separating each version from the base mechanics. I can’t remember if I played the core game or just a spin off. But simplicity is super valuable in RPGs and yeah, this is as tiny as it gets.
I am thinking, if I can get my printer working, of creating a “Legacy Game” for the system, with stickers for leveling and maybe a dungeon map that the player adds upgrades to and so on. Writing the thing would be interesting. I might have to look into this more solidly.
5. Specialty System
Is it cheating to put a game you made on a list like this? Okay, what about an incomplete game? My Specialty System isn’t finished, mainly because I never get a chance to try out combat. I might have to un-mothballs this project and go back to it. I know I need to build some GM guidance, at least.
I’ve written about Pendragon recently. I think it’s an amazing looking system, although I haven’t gotten to play it yet. There are a lot of wrinkles in how the game mechanics work that just leave me floored with their cleverness. I probably would have started running games on Saturdays with a drop in and out style, but suddenly the world was put on a time out.
I’m also not super interested in the Arthurian parts of the system*. Sure they’re cool, but I don’t want to explain to new players how to RP it every week. So paring down the system so it’s just the bare metal interests me, but it would be a lot of work for probably not much reward? Idk.
7. Stars without Number
Two years ago when I was looking into a sci-fi RPG, I came across a SWN splatbook that is still in my lists as the best splat I’ve ever seen. The Book of Dead Names is an incredible resource for SF games, filled with tables to generate vastly non-human aliens, worlds of interest, and mysterious gadgets. So when the SF bug was nibbling, I started investigating the core game, and I have ordered a copy (which will take FOREVER to get, btw, as Print on Demand is super backed up, ATM.)
Stars W/o Number is elegantly designed. It’s a OSR (early D&D, but now people understand game design), but there’s so many things that keep making me say “Oh, that’s neat.”
For example, SWN has a way to gain unlimited psionic healing, but the game has a mechanic that keeps it from breaking everything. And that mechanic is built in to large swaths of the psionic rules, so when you encounter the “no infinite healing” rule, you don’t think “Oh, they’re cutting off my healing!” you think, “right, that makes sense.”
I haven’t finished reading this system yet, as I realized I needed a physical to really pour over, but I think it looks really neat
There, 5 systems I like, and 2 I want to play. That works for a list, no?
* Indicates this statement is probably untrue