Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RPGs Other than D&D

Here's where I admit just how mainstream my tastes can run.

James Maliszewski, prodded by the other Brian Murphy, listed his favorite RPGs that are not D&D. Even though it's rather lacking in "indie" goodness, James' list is still far more eclectic than mine:

  1. STAR FRONTIERS - My parents bought me the Knight Hawks box for Christmas, not really understanding how the game was put together. No problem, a few days later I bought myself the Alpha Dawn box for my birthday, though we had to hunt all over town to find a copy. I loved this game in spite of its many flaws, including a very clunky combat system that usually resulted in people beating each other to death with their otherwise useless guns after they'd burned through all their ammo. I still love the aliens, especially the blob-like dralasite, which was a favorite in our games. It also caught me at just the perfect time, when my reading tastes were heavily into Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, and Alan Dean Foster. You can still get a taste of this game through the "digitally remastered" version now available on the web page for The Frontiersman.
  2. GURPS - Nearly as old as D&D and still chugging along fine. I have a love-hate relationships with GURPS. The trick to really enjoying it is choosing just the bits you need and leaving off the rest. I haven't gotten to play this one nearly as much as I'd like.
  3. Shadowrun - This is one of those games that either clicks with you or doesn't, and it's almost entirely your reaction to the setting that will decide the issue. When it came out, it really clicked with my friends, and it was just as popular as D&D with us through the end of my high school days. It's the game that really taught me to pay attention to mechanics, and how the rules can reinforce or interfere with the setting. The first edition of this game did both. I have very cool ideas for this game, and some day I hope to play them out.
  4. Traveller - My exposure to this game was pretty limited. It seemed to have more promise than Star Frontiers in many respects, but was always a near-miss with me. I suppose that's in large part because what I really wanted was...
  5. Fading Suns - Wow! I adore this crazy little game. It's so deep, so rich, the concept at once so simple to grasp and yet so textured in its possibilities and presentation. The mechanics, unfortunately, are as sprawling as possibilities, and were always a hurdle I felt I had to get over. I've got the outline of a sci-fi setting on my hard drive, and it owes more than a little to the ideas in Fading Suns.
  6. True20 - I'd love to mention Blue Rose here as well, but I really haven't gotten to play it enough to list it. But I have gotten to enjoy a bit more True20, and for a while, I was thinking it would be the last RPG I'd ever need. Yeah, it's really that good, and that flexible, a sort of GURPS-lite without making you feel like you're cheating yourself of GURPS' crunchy goodness. I still adore the rules, but it was my dissatisfaction with trying to tweak them for fantasy that has me turning back to Moldvay/Cook.


Oddysey said...

I love GURPS, but all the games I've actually run with it have been disasters. Hasn't stopped me from thinking about trying it again this year, although I'll probably wait until after my first real 4e campaign. I think (hope) I've got the taking bits out of it thing down. GURPS tempts me to cram all kinds of random stuff into games that don't really need it.

I have too many games I want to run . . . Traveler might end up pushing that GURPS game back even further, because I hear the new Mongoose version is pretty good, and around here it would take about ten minutes to pick up enough gamers to run a game I described as "kind of like Firefly."

James Maliszewski said...

"kind of like Firefly."

Lots of people say this and I can only assume they never played Traveller, because the similarities between it and Firefly are superficial at best.

Edsan said...

I agree James. In fact, one of the reasons I was not impressed by the Firefly series (which caused me much grief as my firefly-rabid aquaintances concluded I must be some sort of freak) was that it struck me as very unoriginal.

I kept telling them it had been done before and that I suspected it was very, very influenced by Traveller. Sadly no one had ever heard of the game and my comments fell on deaf ears.

Oddysey said...

Having not played Traveler myself, my 5-second pitch may indeed be in error, and I'm sure it's more different from Firefly than it is similar. But unless I'm very much mistaken, both Traveler and Firefly characters engage in space trading, get into fights but use misdirection and politics as often as they do huge spaceship battles, and are fairly experienced in their profession when the campaign begins.

I don't think of Firefly as Joss Whedon's gift to science fiction, the way some people do, but my gaming buddies have all either watched it and love it or desperately desire to view it, all being of a certain age and variety of geek. Even if my game isn't likely to end up all that much like Firefly (for starters, it ranks, at best, as #4 in the category of shows I like that feature a space ship) I'm happy to use the show as an example of some things one could do within the system, and how they would be fun.

Robert Fisher said...

I like GURPS a lot, but even sticking to the core parts of the system seems a bit overly complex to me these days.

I thought I was going to like True20 a lot, but since I’ve had the book, I haven’t really had a lot of desire to play it.

If you find True20 doesn’t work that well for fantasy for you, what do you find it excels at?

trollsmyth said...

Robert: If you find True20 doesn’t work that well for fantasy for you, what do you find it excels at?

It works just fine for fantasy, but you have to either be willing to embrace the systems that come with the game, or know exactly what you want when making your own.

Yeah, I know that's a really "duh" statement, true for any game. But like GURPS, True20 invites tinkering, and I was chasing my own tail over magic. Nothing felt right, and it was a burr under my saddle I couldn't ignore. Returning to Moldvay/Cook is as much about trying to figure out what I do want as it is about jumping on the "old school" bandwagon. ;)

True20 works well for space opera, though the weapons are not quite as deadly as I'd like, and you need to bring your own starship rules. I swiped the cinematic starship combat rules from Alternity, and those worked just fine so long as starship combat isn't a strong focus of the game.

If I ever run Shadowrun or Fading Suns again, it's most likely going to be using True20. I love both of those settings, but I only tolerate the rules. Porting either to True20 would likely be about ten hours worth of work, well worth it in my estimation.

- Brian