May 9, 2011

What Systems Do I Like?

People often ask me, "Why aren't you wearing any pants?"  Less often, they ask, "What is your favorite role-playing game?"  That is a slightly complicated question.  By which criteria do I judge RPGs?  The focus of this blog is their game mechanics, but a game may be a favorite based on the quality of the setting or how much fun with friends the game creates independently of mechanics and setting.  Here are the RPGs I am familiar with, and how I feel about them:

  • Mutants and Masterminds:  This is my favorite right now. I have been very impressed with M&M's game mechanics.  It fixes nearly all of the problems I have with the d20 system (OGL 3.5).  There are some opportunities to min-max and create incredible powers, but an attentive GM can easily prevent it.  I love the superpower setting, but the mechanics can actually be applied to recreate most other settings.  I was impressed by Green Ronin for this game, and was looking for information on the 3rd ed. at their website when I found this article by their designer of the Dragon Age TTRPG in which he agrees with my own conclusion about die rolls.
  • Action!: This free system by Gold Rush Games comes with instructions on customizing it!  I just stumbled upon this recently and have not played it, but it incorporates mechanics that I would use if I were creating a system.  It is worth checking out.
  • Aberrant: This game has some of the most broken mechanics, and the canon storyline railroads campaign plots, but I have had tons of fun playing supers in this setting with friends and watching moral and ethical dilemmas unfold.
  • Vampire: the Masquerade: I LARPed (live-action role-played) this for many years with the last version of the rules and setting.  I have not seen the current edition.  I met a lot of people this way, though not all of them were good to meet.  LARPing is a great role-playing experience, and V:tM is the easiest way to experience this because it is so widespread.  It's the Dungeons & Dragons of LARP.  Role-playing with 50+ people at a time is a blast, and this game fosters social and political maneuvers, shifting alliances, and secrets for a fun game.  Many of the other White-Wolf LARPs (Changeling, Werewolf, Mage, Oblivion) were not as conducive.  A bad storyteller will rely on sending monsters in for the player characters to fight, but good storytellers have long-term NPCs infiltrate player factions and subtly construct mysteries to be solved, complete with red-herrings and ambiguous clues that lead to both conflict and collaboration.  The mechanics are not great.
  • Dungeons and Dragons: This is the Microsoft of the RPG world.  New gamers tend to come in with D&D because it has such a broad and deep foundation.  So many people play because so many other people play, and if you want to get in on a game, it is easier to find players familiar with and owning materials for D&D.  I don't like classes in games because they are too constricting, and lead to conformity instead of creativity.  I don't like levels in games because they also prevent customization and realistic development.  I don't like hit points in games because they are wholly unrealistic, and seem to solely exist to support the level system.  D&D has classes, feats, and powers set in stone in their system so they can sell lots of books with more.  What I like is the mechanics to create whatever powers are desired so that players can create whatever they want from a core book.  The d20 provides a linear progression of probabilities of success.  I have played each edition of D&D since the late '80s because those were the games my friends were running (and once I had the materials to play with them, I also ran a campaign), but I have not been satisfied. 
  • Heavy Gear: I played in one campaign about 13 years ago, and I remember it being fun, largely because of the group.  The mechanics are a little weird, and encourage some min-maxing, but are relatively simple and straightforward.  The setting is not totally sensible, but provides opportunities for some different styles of campaigns.  You can also play a flat-out tactical mech game.
  • GURPS: I only got to play GURPS once, but I've made characters in anticipation of other games I was told would happen.  I like that it is generic and uses point-buys.  The skill system tries well to be a good simulation, which I like, but is not great for game balance.  I do not like that powers and equipment are individually determined by Steve Jackson Games instead of them also giving us a point system for creating them.
  • Chaosium: I'm getting around to it.
  • Shadowrun: Also, just sitting on my shelf.
  • Rifts: Totally silly.  Thanks, Palladium. 
I've played a couple others over the years, but they did not leave impressions.  I know there are more that I would like to play, such as Big Eyes Small Mouth, Hero, Paranoia, and Amber.  I will keep picking at the books I've got, then get a hold of more mechanics to evaluate.

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