Greetings, readers! At the closing of the year for 2013, I think it’s a good time to talk about some of my favorite RPGs of all time. I can’t really say much more than that—I like top 10 lists, the end of the year seems like a good time for that, and I feel like talking about some RPGs that I have enjoyed the most.
There are some things I should go over when talking about this list—these are the RPGs that I remember having a ton of fun with and are judged solely on my own experiences. I’m also grading these games primarily because of their system and gameplay, nothing else. This means I’m not taking into consideration things like setting, artwork, or even writing quality—just the pure “fun factor” of the game’s mechanics through my own subjective lens.
My standard disclaimer applies, your mileage may vary, and not everyone is going to have the same experiences with each game. Also, the games below are not ranked according to overall quality. Instead, I will rank them based on the number of campaigns I’ve participated in over the years, so the top numbers on the list are going to be older games that I played a lot in my early years.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get this show on the road!
My Personal Top 10 Favorite RPG Systems
#10: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition
Why I like This Game: For me, WFRP has two things that set it apart from other games and make me really enjoy playing it: griminess and randomness. I’ll explain. WFRP is grimy—it’s a world where the heroes (the player characters) start on the very bottom rung as rat catchers and agitators who may, if they’re lucky, someday dream of being something like a pit fighter! On top of that, the setting is also grimy—it’s a low-fantasy world where corruption, greed, and many other vices are front and center while “saving the world” is something that rarely, if ever, gets any focus. And, lest you get the wrong idea here, these things are all great.
Also, WFRP is very, very, very random. Sometimes, random is a lot of fun, and I’ve been blessed to have several groups of friends who enjoy this aspect of gaming play WFRP with me. What do I mean by random? Well, almost everything is random in WFRP. Your race, your career, even quirks of your own appearance all have their own chart that you roll on. WFRP is one of the first games (other than classic Traveller) that I ever played where I had little control over my character’s creation. It was oddly freeing, and I really enjoyed the challenge of it.
Why I like This Game: I’ve reviewed TORG before on this blog, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. I love the interesting mechanics of the Drama Deck, the interesting premise, and above all—the pulp-y superhero awesomeness of the Nile Empire (which includes special mechanics just for that region and characters from that reality!).
#8: Savage Worlds
Why I like This Game: This particular RPG is on my mind a lot lately, thanks to being the core system for my own, recently-published setting Accursed. There are two things that I think are great about Savage Worlds: the Fast, Furious, Fun approach and the immense amount of support material. The Fast, Furious, Fun approach means that Savage Worlds is one of those games where the mechanics are designed to “get the job done and get out of the way,” prioritizing an enjoyable experience and minimal-effort preparation. My experience with Savage Worlds games means that they don’t bog down and the game allows for—and even encourages—thinking outside the box, roleplaying in-character, and memorable moments… which are all things I enjoy the most about RPGs.
In addition, of course, Savage Worlds has a huge lineup of settings to use with the game, from interesting superhero settings like Necessary Evil to the venerable and awesome zombie-cowboy goodness of Deadlands.
#7: Star Wars D6
Why I like This Game: Star Wars has found its way into several different RPGs over the years, but my favorite iteration has to be West End’s D6 Star Wars designed by Greg Costikyan. While this system has its flaws, the fun flow of force points and the very broad skill categories allow for a really iconic Star Wars experience. It helps that this system was designed in an era when the original trilogy was all we had to go on, so it feels very Rebellion-Era to me… which is my favorite part of Star Wars! The gameplay of this particular system of Star Wars always struck me as a very fun version of “a bunch of guys in a ship,” similar to (but, for me, more fun than) Traveller. Flexible and fun, I also very much enjoyed the starship combat rules.
Why I like These Games: I’m lumping a bunch of games with very similar systems into one for this blog post. On a fundamental level, they’re all basically the same system with a few tweaks—I enjoy playing them mostly for nostalgia factor. I played the hell out of these games in my youth, and I remember enjoying several different games using these books. I don’t think they would hold the same magic for me now, especially due to the way my tastes in RPGs have matured, but I have to say there are still some things that these games do right—offering a very deep player character creation system and some interesting approaches to combat and martial arts. In the end, these games earn a spot on the list more for the memories than for the realities, but they did leave me with some /great/ memories.
#5: Marvel Super Heroes
Why I like This Game: This was probably my first exposure to a really “rules-lite” RPG. I’ve covered it before on this blog, so this will be another short section. The FASERIP system is remarkably simple and yet remarkably complete for a superhero RPG. I have my issues with a few small parts of the design (such as skills), but the overall implementation of the RPG rules make for a very coherent take on the superhero genre. I played a ton of games of this in high school!
#4: Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay
Why I like This Game: Anyone who knows me well probably saw this one coming from a mile away—and it’s important that I point out three things up front. First, Warhammer 40,000 roleplay is very heavily based on the WFRP engine, so mechanically, it’s very similar. Second, I didn’t create this system—that would be Kate Flack, Owen Barnes, and Mike Mason in the original Dark Heresy. Third, I did work on this system for many years at Fantasy Flight Games. So, having said all of that—I love Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay. The system has a lot of quirks, but at its heart, it’s quite flexible (having been built on the foundation of WFRP) and has been used to do everything from man-on-the-street investigation to legendary heroic action on the battlefield. It’s been a lot of fun putting my mark on this game system and I’m very proud of all that it has become.
Why I like This Game: Most of my experience with this game flows from 3rd and 4th edition, although I’ve been a player and a fan since the very beginning. Shadowrun’s best when it is using its game system to provide a deep, immersive take on a cyberpunk future with magic and monsters. I love the character options, I love the sheer crazy amount of spells and guns and adept powers you can choose from. I love that it is not a class and level based game but allows you to build to an archetype. I love that it has a strong adventuring paradigm. I played the hell out of this game in the 90’s up to the present day (through 4th edition), and I will always look at it fondly.
Why I like This Game: It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the Rogue Warden that I love Champions—I mean that I have a deep, abiding, heartfelt love of this game. And it’s fair to say that the real heart and soul of Champions is the system. Champions lets you build exactly the character you want, by spending points to build each power or ability by selecting advantages, disadvantages, power levels and limits. It’s a tinkerer’s dream and it solidly placed my feet on the path towards game design early in my gaming life.
#1: Dungeons & Dragons
Why I like These Games: This game is the grand-daddy of ‘em all. The first RPG I ever played and the gateway to a hundred more, Dungeons and Dragons captured my young imagination like nothing else. I learned a ton about games, gaming, game design, social interaction, and even some things about myself through playing Dungeons and Dragons over the years. I’ve gained some amazing lifelong friends through this game. The systems are quite different from the beginning white box set through to the new Next, so most of my memories come from 2nd and 3rd edition (+3.5) where I played the vast majority of my games of D&D. This is also where I got my start as a game designer as well (during the d20 boom). There’s not much more I can say except that there are certain mechanics and gameplay elements that I have firmly lodged in my brain as being “Dungeons and Dragons” and they will always be there.