Where would the end of the year be without the end of the year review posts? Nothing says New Year more than a look at what has been. Without further ado I give you Greywulf’s Games of the Year 2009!
Looking back, 2009 has been a wanton harlot of a year, promising much role-playing variety but delivering little. Yet at the same time it’s been a terrific year for gaming with sessions covering everything from Scooby Doo to The End of the World itself. My little group has visited planets (and blown the carp out of them), travelled the multiverse and camped atop a Barrow Mound in Northern Cardolan.
What we’ve not done though is seen much variety in our gaming systems. I had hoped to have some Alpha Omega sessions under my belt by now, and harboured a secret desire to mashup Traveller and Call of Cthulhu one more time. I wanted more Dogs in the Vineyard, more Primetime Adventures and more…. well, just more. but it sadly wasn’t meant to be. But hey, that’s what new years are for, right?
With that in mind, here’s the winners:
Honourable Mention: 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars
Last year’s Game of the Year has earned a pride of place at our game table time and again. It’s quick to prep and blindingly hilarious to play. Take a bunch of friends, lots of alcohol and blow shit up. What’s not to love? As the game develops it evolves with the horror of your character’s actions and increasing questioning of humanity’s place in the cosmos taking over.
Last year I said it was the perfect game system and it still is… almost. 3:16’s only weakness is that it doesn’t stand up well to solitaire (one GM/one player) play. This is one game which demands a bunch o’folks around the table!
Bronze: Savage Worlds
AKA The Little Game System Which Could. The intertubes are already chock full of praise for Savage Worlds so you don’t need me to say how good it is – you should already know by now. This is a great system for Doodle Campaigns where you want to turn your campaign idea into playability with the least effort possible. Character Generation is flexible though demands a lighter touch than hardcore D&D gamers might expect. By default a starting Novice character is far weaker than with 4e 1st level counterpart meaning it’s perfect for that gritty low-level urban sprawl fantasy you’ve been aching to play. Or a modern-era campaign. Or swashbuckling in 17th century France. Or anything else, for that matter. Savage Worlds is generic, in the best meaning of the word.
Silver: Mutants & Masterminds
Anything Savage Worlds can do, Mutants & Masterminds can do better. This is my go-to system for anything outside the D&D norm. Underneath the wonderful superhero battle armour there’s a superb generic system pulsing like a beating heart. This is the game from which 4e D&D has stolen all it’s best innovations only to copy them badly. I’m looking at you, Minions and Action Point rules. With the watertight Power Level rules M&M can scale and handle anything from the lowliest TV cop drama up to cosmic-level threats of Unimagined Awe. The default Power Level (10) is prime for superheroin’ goodness with the heroes roughly equal in power to Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four. Drop it to PL6 and our heroes could match your typical 4e D&D characters or be street-level beginning superheroes.
I’ve yet to find anything which M&M cannot do right out of the single Core Book but it’s also one brilliantly supported system with genre books covering all the Ages of comicdom and beyond. This year saw the release of Warriors & Warlocks, a full-on fantasy supplement for M&M which is inspirational reading for anyone who wants to game with armour and sword. Better than D&D? Oh yes.
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition
Yet it’s the daddy of them all which gets Gold. Yes, M&M is a technically superior system. Yes, Savage Worlds is more flexible. Yes, 3:16 is more explosive. But nothing captures your hearts and imagination like Dungeons & Dragons. The Fourth Edition rules are rock solid and deliver the goods, in spades. Combat has gained a whole new dimension with the Powers system – it’s tactically challenging, tense and exciting. Outside combat this is the same D&D we know and love with the added awesome of Skill Challenges adding another layer onto the game. Anything you could do in previous editions of D&D you can still do, and the designers have done a fine job of adding more without taking a darned thing away.
Where 4e really shine though is it’s hackability. This is a system which cries out to be toyed with. Monster building and customization is trivially easy once more. That’s a huge relief after the painful voodoo of Third Edition. Monsters are monsters again and adding Classes to monsters no longer involves putting aside a couple of hours in a darkened room with a stiff drink. Want a bigger than normal orc or a weakened Dragon? You can do the math right at the table, during play.
Building a whole new class isn’t for the faint hearted but creating a new Race is simple enough and adding new skills is as simple as… well, just adding them. Where 4e stands out is in Encounter building. Given a pool of XP (enough to create an easy, medium or hard challenge) you can fill it in so many ways with combinations of monsters jumping off the page. With monsters being given roles it’s easy enough to match the critters to your tactical needs. Want the heroes to battle big monsters up close while being harried by arrow-fire from above? Drop a couple of Brutes on the table, and add Artillery. Pick your monsters according to XP and taste, and you’re done. Want a load of monsters under the command of a leader? Use one Controller and a load of Minions. Encounter building was one of the most difficult aspects of Third Edition, and in 4e it’s one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the game – for this Lazy GM, at least.
I could go on about just how great the Monster Manuals are, about the individual Classes, Treasure allocation and more, but I’ll save those for future posts. There is a whole new year of blogging to fill up too, after all.
Till next time, and good gaming!