So here’s a question to start your day: Which games excite you? Which ones give you the buzz as you read them and make you want to drop everything so you can just sit down and game? Widening the field, which supplements do it for you? Which adventures? And – most intriguingly – why? What is it about those games/supplements/adventures that light the spark, and what is it that the others lack?
Here’s a few from my own list, just to start the ball rolling.
Third Edition D&D
If it weren’t for Third Edition D&D, I wouldn’t be gaming D&D at all now. Reading those books brought back all the nostalgia of playing Classic D&D back in the good old days to the point where I rammed the books under the eyes of my friends and forced them at gunpoint (metaphorically, of course. But is was a loaded metaphorical gun) to read it themselves. And they did. And it was good. Unlike the mind-meltingly bad (in my opinion) AD&D with it’s slew of jumbled rules (but kickass settings), this was finally a modern D&D I could understand, and want to play.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Mutants & Masterminds, 2nd Edition
For years our go-to game of choice for superhero gaming was HERO System/Champions. We’d tried and played the rest, but it seemed like nothing but nothing could shift this wonderfully crunchy system off it’s perch. Then came M&M. We played one session. We changed.
One of the things that makes it such a great system is the writers’ deep love of the genre. They “get” comicbook superheroes like few rpg authors ever do. They understand the conventions and the many tropes of the genre, and make that shine through their writing. Of course, it helps that the rules are superb and that character generation is every bit as flexible (if not moreso) as HERO System. But what won me over first and foremost was the writers’ love. Get that right, and everything flows.
Red Book D&D
Ahhh Tom Moldvay. I challenge anyone to hold a copy of Red Book D&D in their hands and not want to play it that instant. From the Erol Otus cover to the interior style and layout of the pages it’s got a charm and design all of it’s own that puts it leagues ahead of any modern over-typeset over-designed piece of pap. I’m looking at you, 4e D&D: much as I love you as a rule system, your design leave me colder than a cold thing in Coldland.
This is a game that says “THIS IS FUN!” in large friendly hand-drawn letters. In comparison, 4e D&D says “THIS IS A COMPUTER MANUAL!”.
When it comes to sheer gaming appeal, there’s no competition.
What do you do with a game that has everything? Play it, of course! Every single page of Rifts adds another layer of batshit crazy onto the batshit crazy. Anything that can say Giant Nazi Vampire Death Robots with a straight face is allright by me.
I know it’s the vogue to knock Palladium games for the quality of their rules but in Rifts they work. This is a crazy jumbled everything of a gameworld that needs a crazy jumbled everything of a rule system to come even close to showing how crazy jumbled everything is. It need characters whose damage dice are a hundred times greater than their peers. It’s not a balanced world. Trying to impose a balanced rule system onto it would just be BadWrong.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Talking of which, there’s TMNT, from way back before Those Movies came out and the Ninja Turtles were gritty, dark and dangerous comics from the pens of Eastman & Laird.
And TMNT the RPG reflected that with extensive (and typical of Palladium games) rules for many different types of weapons, martial arts and armours. Oh, and pretty much any talking animal imaginable. Dude, you’ve not lived until you’ve played a game where you’re a Rhino WWF Wrestler, Cheetah Taekwondo master or Mouse Samurai.
See? You want to now don’t you? That’s why TMNT is on the list.
I’ve heard it said that Birthright is the best D&D campaign setting that no one played, and that’s certainly true of me. I’ve read and re-read it countless times and would gladly kill to be able to run a game of feuding empires and warring fiefdoms – but trying to get player buy-in is next to impossible. The general opinion is “Nah. Seems like too much hard work.” and I’m just left holding the book in my grubby little hands sniffling quietly in a corner. Players can be so cruel sometimes.
Rolemaster, 5th Edition circa 1985
If D&D is dark and dank dungeons, Rolemaster is wide open meadows, fields, copses of trees and patches of rare and occasionally dangerous herbs. It’s fantasy blown wide open where character generation (especially with with Rolemaster Companion II by your side) is a real thing of beauty. It’s one of the few systems where you can honestly say you are crafting a character. You go through his (or her) adolescence adding the skills of his (or her) childhood before moving onto those gained through training and prior to taking the life of an adventurer. By the end of it you know the character like you know yourself. You know that they went riding at he age of 14 and suffered a bad fall so never went near a horse again. You know they went fishing in the Blood Lake by moonlight, and you know their first secret kiss under the floorboards of the Gallows’ Head.
And that’s before you even start playing.
Rolemaster is famous for it’s combat charts but what folks who haven’t played it don’t realise is that IT WORKS. Photocopy the one for your weapon and attach it to the back of your character sheet and you’ve everything you need to play. It plays fast, feels every bit as modern as 4e D&D even now almost 25 years on and has the deadliest combat system ever made for a role-playing game.
So that first secret kiss under the floorboards of the Gallows’ Head might well also be their last.
I could go on, listing GURPS WWII, Tome of Magic (the Binder is my favourite D&D class, ever) and more. But I’ll stop there, and hand the floor over to you.
What games excite you, dear reader, and why?