One of my players the other day asked me what my favourite systems were and why. After some thought, I figured it would be worth a post at least and so here are my top 10 roleplaying systems. In many ways the more I’m running something currently or planning to in future, the higher it will appear on this list: After all I tend to run the games I love the most!
#10: Dungeons and Dragons
There are many variants on Dungeons and Dragons, with 5th Edition being the most recent example. 5th Edition has brought a lot of new players into the game and has simplified some mechanics from previous editions. It also seems that even with a return to some of the ways spellcasters formerly worked that they seem to be a lot better balanced. Although I find the system lacks the mechanical depth and tactical flexibility of 4th Edition, with some houserules I have managed to make it fairly interesting. Feature creep and splatbook creep have also been kept to a minimum, with wizards going the commendable path of actually releasing a lot of new material for players for free (which is terrific to see).
#9: Gamma World
The only bad thing about this game is that Wizards didn’t release enough for it: One core box and the two expansions was just not enough. A brilliant take on the core mechanics of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World added ridiculous random character generation traits such as making a pile of sentient psychic squids toting a laser rifle. An easy enough game to teach new players and best of all, the zany setting lets you do almost any ridiculous plot you want. Perfect for a night or short campaign filled with comedy, such as factory food chickens becoming sentient, arming themselves and starting a rebellion.
A great game for one shots and for giving a different experience for a regular group of players. This is what I often run when I’ve decided that I want to give players a taste of backstabbing and betrayal for a while.
#7: Star Wars Roleplaying System (Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion)
The newest addition to my list by far, but a system I have already decided I really enjoy based on the intuitive dice mechanics and brilliant use of the license. Of course I am coming into it a bit later than others and with many more books available to me, so a lot of the system is now fleshed out such as Jedi/Sith coming out very soon. Even without that, I still think the core of the game is excellent and the beginner boxes I think are some of the best I’ve ever seen for introducing new people to the hobby.
#6: 13th Age
Full of wonderful ideas, which I have implemented into other games like my current 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game, 13th Age is a fantastic option for non-DnD fantasy. With a brilliant character driven system for establishing the world, via the players relationship with different “icons”, 13th Age perfectly tows the line between the light sort of roleplay of earlier editions of DnD and the more complex mechanical nature of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. It also has some utterly amazing adventures for it as well, with Eyes of the Stone Thief being a particularly terrific example.
#5: Call of Cthulhu
One of my favourite systems of all time, even if the basic roleplaying system is starting to really show its age in some ways. Call of Cthulhu will always be special to me because it’s the first non-DnD system I ever tried and genuinely fell in love with. Most of all I remember Call of Cthulhu fondly because of the wonderful Delta Green that was produced for it, which turned the entire thing into a genuine modern conspiracy thriller – just using the mythos as a backdrop. Even though I have a new Cthulhu love in life there are numerous times where I like to bring this out and just play it again even today. Definitely going to pick up a physical copy of the 7th Edition rules when I can as well!
#4: Promethean The Created
Of all of the nWoD products that were released some time ago, this was by far and away the most brilliant of them in my opinion. Prometheans are unnaturally created monsters like Frankenstein or Golems, whose sole drive in their existence is to survive and create another of their kind on the way to gaining true life. Rejected by everything in nature – even other monstrous creatures – they live a lonely nomadic existence. A horror game that truly captures the existential dread and horror of being a monster, then absolutely enforces it mechanically. Best of all, it’s good for small groups because it’s actually quite logical to have a handful of prometheans in the game at once.
These next three systems are all very close to one another. Even though I did end up giving them an order with numbers, this in no way shows there is any kind of genuine distance between these three excellent products. In fact, I would definitely say that if this were some kind of 100m sprint, they would have finished within only hundredths of a second between one another.
I’ll be honest: The last time I touched Shadowrun before 5th edition was actually a very long time ago with the 2nd edition of the game. So I am not familiar with the metaplot or changes between 2nd and 5th. I have quickly found myself in love with the world building and storytelling potential inherent within Shadowrun. Additionally, while it’s a deeply complicated as a system it produces some wonderfully flexible, intense and fascinating firefights. A decker hacking enemies weapons, drones, grenades and similar furiously during a massive meatspace firefight, which transfers even further to mages battling on the astral plane is amazing when pulled off well.
#2: Night’s Black Agents
Where Trail of Cthulhu is a brilliant and inspired horror game, Night’s Black Agents is an spy action thriller, just with added vampires. The idea of taking a movie like Jason Bourne and basically putting vampires into it as the enemies was both genius and inspired. The deep systems in the book for creating a unique, interesting strain of vampirism for your players that both gives them familiar elements and keeps them guessing is genuinely fantastic. It also adds a lot of great new rules to GUMSHOEs combat system, for even more exciting fight and particularly chase scenes. This is only barely and I mean barely pipped to the post for #1 by Trail of Cthulhu.
#1: Trail of Cthulhu
Trail of Cthulhu for me was a fantastic revelation. It had all of the theme, hopelessness and going insane of Call of Cthulhu, but without some of the die based consequences of having your Latin professor fail to read the book properly. The core concept in GUMSHOE that an investigator always succeeds at using their core skills was a brilliant revelation. Mostly because mechanically, it’s basically what I was doing in Call of Cthulhu anyway, by literally ignoring die rolls or giving players major advantages to ensure they got key information to keep the story going. A fast, simple and particularly lethal combat system still keeps the fragile and very mortal feeling of investigators too.