Saturday, 31 August 2013

My Favourite RPG Games

The clue is in the title.

And now... counting down from 10 to 1 - MY FAVOURITE RPG GAMES! (cue title music) This article was originally published in my old ODDS e-magazine issue 8 and has been copy/pasted here just for you. And because I had sod all else to write about.

Number 10:
Buck Rogers XXVc

It kicks botty. I didn’t really like the AD&D system but it had been modified to suit this game, and in Buck Rogers I could blast about the cosmos on top of a nuclear missile and rain laser death on genetically engineered freaks. This game reflected my love for the 1930s Buster Crabbe serials, like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, whilst at the same time giving me a rich campaign setting to play in. It didn’t influence me or change my perception of RPGs. I just wanted to blow shit up with my rocket pistol, and after years of gaming in gritty settings and getting serious it was nice to just jump in a spaceship and fire off some missiles. It reminded me that games could be fun.

Number 9:
Pendragon

I never played it. I never even created a character for it. But Pendragon gave me such a wealth of information and a wonderful way of playing a game, of feeling that you were not just playing a game but creating a saga, that I mined it for ideas and information for years. Many of my fantasy games were influenced by Pendragon’s way of doing things and the idea that your actions influenced your character and your family's heritage was exciting and fun to use. I used that idea to document three successive generations of a single player character’s family in a WFRP game that lasted over three years of playing time – the father, the daughter and the granddaughter, all played by the same player. To be truthful, the player never knew the father was of the same bloodline, and we never fully finished the campaign to find the truth. I’m sure if he reads this he’ll have a few questions now.

Number 8:
Traveller

Like many others gamers this was my first science fiction roleplaying game. I also dabbled in Star Frontiers but Traveller was the first sci-fi game that told me that I didn’t have to create yet another first-level elf. As with Runequest I never really played Traveller. I was involved in several games of a long-running campaign but I never settled into a regular routine. I was playing D&D at the time and Traveller was just a curiosity. I had never considered RPGs as anything but a fantasy game so it was intruiging to play in a science fiction setting.
Although my only long running sci-fi campaign would be Star Wars, Traveller let me know that my love for science fiction wasn’t being ignored by the hobby I was beginning to enjoy.

Number 7:
Twilight: 2000

I remember buying this because it was so very different to all the RPGs I had purchased before. My other games were either fantasy or sci-fi, so to find a game set in the modern world with no magic, monsters or spaceships was peculiar. I was already on a military drive (I was playing a lot of MechWarrior at the time) and so I picked the game up. Although the system was so-so and the character creation and combat system were overly complicated, the feeling of reality the game invoked was startling. Nuclear wars, devastated nations, a world clinging to life. It was still fiction but it all felt possible, and that was the appeal. I only ever got two campaigns out of it but they were gritty and dark. Twilight: 2000 taught me that games didn’t just need to be about clashing swords, flaming spells and faster-than-light travel; they could also be much more than that.

Number 6:
Dungeons and Dragons (Basic)

This is what got me started, way back in 1984. It’s not a great game but it does exactly what it needs to do to get new blood into the hobby. Sometimes, when I see the huge number of pages in new RPGs or the fact that you have to purchase multiple books to enjoy a system, I wonder why it is that publishers don’t target new players with the simplicity of a cut-down version of their game. This is what Basic D&D was, a simple game that eased new players into the hobby and introduced them to the world of RPGs. I moved on pretty quickly from Basic D&D to Advanced, but soon after that I stopped playing D&D altogether. There was something about Advanced, in all its incarnations, which turned me off it. It just didn’t seem to have the magic or feel of Basic D&D and all that sense of wonder was lost in charts and tables, rules and regulations.

Number 5:
Star Wars (D6)

Star Wars was my second most-played game. It was also the largest group I played with - consisting of six players and a GM at its peak - and the games went from running around defying the Empire to designing an entire region of space for our characters to explore and adventure in, the Setnin Sector. It was, by far, the largest campaign setting I designed and it grew even larger with additions from the players and other GMs. So why does it not appear higher on my list? Well, it is a great game. I like the easy, fast system and the original rulebooks are wonderful to read. I bought the game as a massive Star Wars fan and it reinvigorated my love for roleplaying. It introduced me to large group games and inspired me to create some crazy stuff. Amongst all this, though, I can’t truly say it changed my attitude to RPGs at all. It definitely got me involved with and taught me how to run large group games, but ultimately it was just that I loved the Star Wars universe and here was a game that allowed me to play in it.

Number 4:
Runequest

Interestingly, I only ever played Runequest twice, both times as GM. I never played it as a player. The reason why I have it on my list is because it showed me that there were games out there other than D&D that could give me more options as to what I could do with a character, and the fact that I didn’t have to ‘level up’ to improve my abilities and that my skills could be influenced by gameplay. Runequest, and I’m talking about the mid-eighties Games Workshop release, was an excellent game and had plenty of long-term playing appeal. I’m upset that I never got to play in a full campaign.

Number 3:
Middle Earth Role Play (MERP)

One of the first fully fleshed out characters I ever created and played was done with this game. I had never really designed characters that I became attached to or regarded as anything other than a set of numbers on a page but MERP taught me that a lot of detail on a character sheet could be interpreted into an interesting, motivated character with goals and ideals. It’s not the best system out there, and I dislike its parent Rolemaster for all its complexities, but MERP opened my eyes to another level of roleplaying I had never experienced, that of playing a character who’s past and present influences decisions, and that I was actually required to play a role, as the name of the hobby suggests.

Number 2:
Call Of Cthulhu

I had never read H P Lovecraft until I played this game and it introduced me to a vivid and somewhat disturbing world. Not only does it invoke great atmosphere it’s a great example of how rules can suit a setting down to the ground. To me, playing Call Of Cthulhu is a bit like getting with friends and experimenting with an ouija board, or sneakily watching a late-night scary film when you should be asleep, and then being kept awake most of the night by the fearful images and ‘could-it-be-real’ thoughts that wander through your mind in the small hours. Personally, I’d forget all the Cthulhu Now, Delta Green and CthulhuTech stuff – stick with the early twentieth century period and experience proper horror.

Number 1:
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition)

The original rulebook was a mighty tome and had absolutely everything you needed to run a game in Warhammer’s Old World – character creation, careers, a full magic system, histories, location details, a bestiary, even charts and tables on insanity, phobias and random magical items. This one book alone was enough to keep a gaming candle burning for years, and indeed it did. I ran WFRP games for years and in all that time I could simply refer to the rulebook for everything I needed, even inspiration for new games and adventures. I bought some supplements, sure, but they were never used. In time the adventures, campaigns and extras I gathered were sold but I never parted with the main solid rulebook, which has been on my shelf for over twenty five years and still gets some use. To me, WFRP is what a RPG rulebook should be – it contains every detail you need to run a succesful campaign, and it’s atmospheric and a pretty good read to boot. I love the system and I even like the idea and implementation of careers. With more than 8 years of continuous campaigning with many, many player characters, and delving into the Old World’s history and possible futures, WFRP is, by far, my game of choice.