The other day I was having a conversation with my roommate about gaming; specifically role-playing games and which ones he would suggest to those who aren’t interested in Dungeons and Dragons. The conversation got so intense that at one point we decided to make a list of the best games we have played over the last 20+ years.
7th Sea (1st Edition)
If you ever wanted to travel the seven seas hunting giant squids, fighting off rival merchants and privateers, then 7th Sea may be the adventure game for you. Produced by AEG, the game focuses on the exaggerated representations of 17th century Europe with focus on religion with Theus and his Prophets. While the setting is fictional, it does draw heavily on myth and lore commonly found in esoteric documents, legends, and factions in European Society at the time.
The original system was based on one of the best mechanics in role-playing games; the d10 (Roll-and-Keep) dice system. I originally learned this system back in the 1990s with L5R, which I will talk about later in this article. This simple system doesn’t bog you down with heavy modifiers like other games, which makes it easy for everyone to learn and understand.
Star Wars (West End Games)
So what do you do when you have one of the largest franchises under your company moniker? Well you expand its universe, fully flesh out characters and NPCs to the point where future novelists come to you for story ideas and background research, that’s what. That in a nutshell describes the depth of the Star Wars RPG by West End Games.
This is a system I love and cherish. Even today as I run events for the FFG Star Wars game, I draw a lot of inspiration from this classic system. The system is in fact so popular and beloved by many gamers that, thirty years after its release, you can still run the game from its original source material and its countless open source adventures all over the internet.
West End Games used what is commonly referred to as the d6 system. Characters have a certain amount of dice they are limited to use based on their racial classes. For example, a human could never have a natural ability higher than 5 without getting specially trained from a higher level character such as an NPC, and even then you would only gain pips rather than full dice, but once you achieved 3 pips in a rank it becomes a full die, which created a more natural sense of growth and achievement than other games.
Wild Dice is also a great mechanic for this game. When you roll your dice pool for an action, one of your dice is a randomizer of events. Some Game Masters I have played with over the years have had charts written out for the Wild Dice factor, but the most common one is rolling a 1 on your dice could lead to bad things, while rolling a 6 could result in some very epic storytelling.
If there was ever a system that made everything simple, it’s Savage World. Applauded for its ease and grace, Savage World opens up a plethora of possibilities to games of every genre, from the wild west to high fantasy and adventures under the sea.
The best thing about this system is its ease of combat; while other games can get bogged down on complex math problems or initiative actions, Savage World keeps everything on the level and makes it fast-paced. This allows for more interaction and storytelling to be packed into every session. After all no one needs to fight an Orc for 3 hours because you can’t hit it’s armor class!
Where Savage World is easy, G.U.R.P.S. is the most intricate system you can play with, but the rewards and possibilities are endless. The Generic Universal Roleplaying System could be the literal definition of Hell on Earth when trying to describe it to new players, but the reality is this: G.U.R.P.S. is one of the most fantastic gaming systems you can play. Yes it is punishing if you make mistakes, or rush off ill-equipped to meet the challenges, but therein lies the fun of the system as well.
I recall many years ago, a group of friends and I decided to do an anti-terrorist campaign based on the classic Christmas film Die Hard. The GM played the illustrious Hero who was trying to rescue his beloved daughter from the evil terrorists, aka the party. Rather than cheating his way to victory like how most GM’s would, he played open with his dice pool so we could all see what actions he would take. Suffice to say, when he eventually won, we realized very quickly that G.U.R.P.S. is a live action Tom Clancy novel; a system where only your imagination can stop you, the rewards for great storytelling and roleplaying is why G.U.R.P.S. is a classic that ever RPGer should play.
Legend of the Five Rings
Your shogun needs you, your Emperor needs you, and most importantly your family needs you! This is the tale of legends built in the fantasy world of Rokugan. L5R is a game where central conflict plays a huge part of the story – The world is divided into into provinces controlled by major Clans while all bow at the feet of the Divine Emperor. However, evil awaits around every corner, from manipulating politicians, to rival clans, to shugenja (magic users) that want to tear open the very gates of hell.
L5R, as I previously mentioned in this article, uses the d10 (Roll-and-Keep) system. The game takes you on the life path of a Samurai or Shugenja and it all starts with your gempukku ceremony. Where you will duel with other players, write poetry to please the gods, the Emperor, and your Clan’s honour. There are several different Clans and they all specialize in very different things. You hold true to the rules of Bushido, the way of the samurai. Doing so brings you rewards and honour to your clan. However you can also be a ronin, a samurai without a master or clan, looked upon with disdain and distrust. The ronin have a hard life, but are free from the ties that bind them to any one faction.
Based off a living campaign collectible-card game, the world of Rokugan is enriched with deep traditions, and family, all while trying to keep the world a safe place from corruption, evil, and sometimes even your own family. L5R is a great game if you love the concept of fighting in a fantasy world based on feudal periods of Asia.
Warhammer 40,000 Role Playing Games
In the 41st Millennium, there is only war! That is the catchphrase on the lips of any Warhammer 40K player who has played the bestselling miniatures battle game since the late 1970s. However, where the tabletop game has its own lore and major storytelling points, the RPG systems introduced by Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games has its own. The Universe as you can guess is at war – The Emperor of Mankind and his battle-hardened armies of super soldiers have taken to the stars to expand Mankind’s position in the Universe and to subjugate, pacify, or destroy anyone who does not hold Humanity’s concepts in its place.
Then the unthinkable happened; one of the Emperor’s most trusted Warleader and favourite son turned on Him and murdered the Emperor. Now a corpse whose soul protects the Universe from the onslaught of Demons and Chaos coming in to destroy all that the Emperor has built, His loyalist legions are in endless conflict with these traitors, heretics, and alien species who wish to do Humanity harm.
This is the world of 40K – a lore-enriched system, where you can choose to fight on the side of the Emperor, heretics, or even as a regular person traveling the Universe while this unending war rages on around you.
A d100 system, players have attribute numbers that they must roll under to succeed in their tasks. The difference between the two numbers leads to a number of success a player character can achieve. Early levels in the game can be harsh to navigate tasks and skills with, but once you are used to the system it becomes very easy to gain advantages and playing the game is more natural in its later sessions. While not for everyone, this is a game where a dystopian backdrop leads to epic storytelling set in a dark Universe where Humanity is constantly on the brink of destruction.
World of Darkness Systems
WoD, as it is more commonly known, is a supernatural horror-based RPG system that leaves the world-building in the hands of the players and Storytellers (GM) alike. This multi-platform system is so entrenched in the “real” world that it has garnered expansions for Live Action Role Playing (LARP), Hollywood Blockbuster films, and TV shows. As players, you can take on the roles of werewolves, vampires, mages, and ascended beings. Common themes to the stories are political/racial biases and gang/clan related clashes. Clans strive for power in the real world, wanting to either live in the darkness without repercussions or take over the world entirely – they also have to keep their underlings in check so as not to be exposed to the powers in the human world who would otherwise hunt them out of existence.
WoD is a narrative system, and it thrives on rich storytelling from the Storyteller. While there are skill checks and combat, these things may take a back seat for a more intensive narrative. If you are looking to play in a world enveloped in the supernatural, then World of Darkness is a system you should check out.
This is a very non-traditional game when it comes to RPG’s – there is no game master, just an overall backdrop and the characters that you play. The campaign we played was a basically a heist gone wrong with a corrupt theater owner was looking for his piece of the action. This is a quick narrative system that works well for those limited times when you just have to game, and you really want that immersive narrative noir story. I would liken this to some great classic films; this is theater for your mind!
The best thing about Deadlands is that it has one of the most unique style of any role-playing a game.
The traditional aspects of the game – Dice.
The Non-Traditional aspects of the game – Playing Poker hands to complete actions, Cashing in Poker chips for modifiers to your dice roll, and action denials, getting dealt cards for Initiative, Complex combat system (We used a homebrew system to simplify this).
Now that being said don’t let the idea of a complex combat system throw you off. The complexity of it boils down to either Melee, Weapons, or Magical abilities. There are modifiers for almost every action in the game. Some of them make perfect sense to us, but others not so much.
The game can be highly narrative or very action based, in fact it probably is the closest in that regards to D&D Next (5th Edition) – being a skill monkey is also very advantageous. During character creation there are empty slots that can be used to create unique skills that can help you on your journey.
Characters develop and differ even if they are the same archetype and even then you aren’t limited to what you are. A Saloon Girl can be a deadly assassin, or maybe that kid over there, despite his young age, is a genius at science and inventing; a Wild West MacGyver!
I know I am looking forward to the release of the 20th anniversary edition, but if you want to play this right now and are hankering for the Weird West, there is the Savage World variant available.
This of course brings us to the end of this list. What possible game could I talk about that isn’t D&D? Well, the great part about the answer is that despite D&D being one of the most popular games, there is a game for almost every aspect of adventuring in the realms of your imagination, and this last game is no different.
In Covert Ops, you play as a team of specialists and spies. If you love authors like John Le Carre, Ian Flemming, Graham Green, Tom Clancy, or films like Mission: Impossible, then this is the perfect game for you.
The game works on the DwD system of D00lite:
The D00Lite system is a percentile based system. There are two types of die rolls used in this game: Percentile/d100 based rolls (where success is based on rolling under the target percentage) or standard “D” rolls (rolling a number of d10’s and adding the results.) Task resolution is percentile based; the D rolls are usually for stuff like damage, healing, generating stats etc.
The game plays out to how one would think. You are given a covert operation to perform, and it is your job to plan it out and execute it. This is a fun and easy game for all you espionage fans out there.
Until next time!