Thursday, 31 July 2008

Not D&D

James Maliszewski and Brian Murphy have been posting lists of "RPGs other than D&D" which they like. Here are mine:

  • Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP). This is a gritty, low-magic, gloriously detailed game, with brutally violent combat and a meticulously realised world. Some people say that it doesn't 'feel' like a Middle Earth game should, but I've never understood that. The atmosphere of the thing, from the art to the text to the mechanics, seems saturated with Tolkien. I love the fact that everything is open to you, too: the idea that you can be a Haradrim, an Uruk-hai, or an Easterling was like a breath of fresh air to me after all the finger-wagging and moralising of 2nd edition AD&D.
  • Cyberpunk 2020. The game I've probably played most after D&D; I spent a ridiculous amount of my teenage years on this thing. It's grotesquely, awfully, irredeemably broken, from the core mechanic to the equipment to the roles, but oddly enough my friends and I never seemed to care. Hunting cyberpsychos with railguns was just althogether too much fun.
  • Shadowrun. I spent a ridiculous amount of my teenage years on this, too, and for a long time it vied with Cyberpunk 2020 for the mantle of my favourite game. But I hear that in recent years the game has rather lost its way a little. That's a pity, but I suppose deep down I always looked on Shadowrun as something of a guilty pleasure. At 14 or 15 I wasn't at all keen on genre-bending, or at least thought that I oughtn't to have been (I was much too serious for that, dontcha know), so the fun I had with Shadowrun was always tempered by a healthy dose of shame. Looking back now that attitude was utterly absurd, but I still have to cringe a little at the thought of fat geeky guys with beards pretending to be elves in a William Gibson novel. That last bit seems like just a step too far.
  • Changeling: The Dreaming. I don't like White Wolf games, as a general rule, and especially don't like the World of Darkness ones. It's all too emo, and too politically just so. But I do like Changeling: The Dreaming, which was by far the most original setting of the bunch and full to bursting with great ideas. It was done with impeccable taste, too: the production, art, writing and tone were absolutely perfect for what the designers were trying to achieve. My only real criticism was that the thing was easier and more interesting to read that it was to play - as with a lot of White Wolf games, there were never enough (for me) examples of what a Changeling game was actually supposed to be like.
  • The Burning Wheel. This just does what it says on the tin, for me: it's a rules-heavy, setting-lite, gritty fantasy game, and it works. You have to invest rather more effort into it than I'm used to, but with a good group all that energy pays off.
  • Risus. I love Risus. In fact I would go so far as to call it my favourite game, if only I had more opportunities to play it. It's always billed as a 'comedy game', and though it works for that, I've never been happy with people limiting it to just a 'beer and popcorn' deal. With the right group of players the game can do absolutely any sort of genre or tone, and a damn sight better than a lot of other rulesets out there; I'm forever scheming of ways to use it to run Arthurian fantasy, ancient Mesopotamian mythology, Pacific exploration name it.
Tell me yours!


  1. You start a Risus game about ancient Mesopotamian myth, and I will swim across the Pacific to play.

    Ok, maybe not, but I'll wish I could. ;)

    - Brian

  2. Just how crunchy is Burning Wheel? My current group knows my general distaste for heavy rules systems, but keep trying to push BW on me nonetheless.

    As a point of reference, the only ruleset with which I've been completely comfortable in terms of complexity is Call of Cthulhu.

  3. kelvingreen: A familiar face from Hi! ;)

    Burning Wheel is pretty damn crunchy for me. Like you, I'm not a hugely rules-heavy sort of person. But I like Burning Wheel. Its rules heavyness really works to make the game better, and it feels pretty seamless to me - once you've got the hang of the rules they're really intuitive.

  4. Brian: Oh, it'll probably never happen, so you're safe. It's just one of those ideas that I'll never manage to get off the ground.