Just some basic facts at first. Hmm. I'm big on lists aren't I? Here is a list of roleplaying games I would count in my Top Whatever. Note, I am restricting myself to games I've actually played before. Note that they are not in any particular order, just as they occur to me. Note that many of these games are available in my Bookstore.
Why I love it: It's simple, basic. The design limits your choices but it also encourages imagination.
I started playing AD&D when I was 8 years old. I went over to my friend Mack Hammonds' house (against, I think, the better judgement of my parents, although with their permission) and we played a game. This was after my mom bought me the Basic Dungeons and Dragons boxed set - not the one that came with Keep on the Borderlands, but the one before that.
I tried playing with my parents first, but I was struggling with the rules and hadn't figured out things like hit points yet. Remember, we didn't have anything to explain these things to us back then - even video games didn't have damage points yet. In Space Invaders, for example, it was either "Dead" or "Alive."
Mack ran a game of AD&D where I played a magic user (came quickly to understand how powerless a first-level magic user was when after a while, the only thing I could do was throw daggers at people. Whoopie.) Then Mack said he was tired of DM'ing and that we'd have to stop unless someone else wanted to run a game. My first time playing, I said I'd give it a shot. And I created this dungeon called "The Corridor of Corona" out of wholecloth right there.
It wasn't a bad trap-and-trick dungeon, the whole point of which was to fight a dragon who lay at the end of a tremendous extra-dimensional Corridor, waiting to eat you, I suppose. It was a Monty Haul scenario with powerful weapons and magic items and swords handed out like candy. But I knew I was hooked. My players loved it, because they had no clue as to what I would throw at them next, because I was making things up as I went along. This has shaped my creative style ever since. I am always "making it up as I go along" when I run games.
From 8 years old until I went to college, I played mostly AD&D, with some occasional forays into Marvel Super Heroes, Gamma World (really just AD"D with mutants), a halfhearted attempt to play the utterly crappy TSR version of the Indiana Jones Roleplaying Game (great story, Dean, but the game mechanics sucked), and a failed attempt at Traveller.
I created a whole milieu for AD"D called "Cora-Ni." The basic concept is that there were these six swords of elemental power (young boys love those phallic symbols don't they?) which had, over the course of thousands of years, completely re-shaped the world. These swords were all of the level of power of the One Ring, each with their own personality. And I thought this up before I read Saberhagen (but I did play in a wonderful AD"D game run by my friend Beau Barineau that involved the Swords from Saberhagen's books - that was a lot of fun.)
I first started playing Cora-Ni regularly with my friends Dale Strickland and Richard Giadrosich, introduced to them by Mack who soon got too busy to play. I played with Dale, Richard, Richard's sister Stacy, and the irrepressible John, and later with Tony Sanders, Lee, Terry Rutledge, and the amazing Gilbert Winters. These guys were great fun, they had an unorthodox way of looking at things that kept me on my toes, no matter what game I was running, and they appreciated my gaming style and I appreciated the way they played their characters.
We all switched off, although I preferred to run games rather than play. That was the first wave of Cora-Ni players, the Old Days. Then I moved to Athens to go to UGA and met a bunch of gamers there - Gary Nistler, Michelle Laughran, Sean Healy, Glenn Harper, David Stabler, Bert Poston, and Rick Wallace formed my central group, but I played with many more people, including my now-ex-wife Leigh Ann Hildebrand. The stories for Cora-Ni turned introspective and mythic in college. My players were much more interested in interaction than in combat, so I was very happy with them.
I will perhaps write a "Game Geeking" page one day going into what happened in those games - it isn't very interesting reading for people who weren't a part of the game, but I really enjoy remembering some of those wonderful stories.
Needless to say, I threw out most of the AD"D rule structure, using only the very basic bits. It really wasn't AD"D, but some kind of hybrid RPG that I'd come up with over the years.
Let me close this section by saying that I have played AD"D with my kids, and they love it. I've decided to dedicate a whole page to my kids' characters. In many ways, they're like my first "grandchildren!"
Why I love it: in this game, you can be unabashedly heroic, righteous, and dramatic without fear of stubbing your narrative toes. Werewolves are just supposed to be that way. I run it like a classic Hero Story - that's the only way to really enjoy it, for my money.
I first ran this game primarily during my time with White Wolf. My chronicle began in at a Dragon*Con playtest of Werewolf, where I was blessed to have Brenda Stiles in my group. Brenda is an amazing woman (watch for her own Grove page soon) who is also an incredible roleplayer. Brenda was responsible for assembling an amazing group of roleplayers, which included Seretha Madsen (sp?), Kirsten Kelley, and others.
The fun part of the Werewolf game was that I got to write stuff that I knew would immediately apply to my players, so I used them as a testbed for many new rules (such as the Renown rules, the Klaive duelling rules, and the Planetary Aspects). They were also gracious instant playtesters for games like Wraith: The Oblivion and Changeling: The Dreaming. I met Jackie Cassada and Nicky Rea through Brenda and Kirsten.
My werewolf game in Atlanta ran pretty long - long enough for one of the players to die and be reborn, and for another to quit her tribe and be accepted by another. To this day I remember very clearly many games that took place, and they echo through my heart in their sweetness. I ran another Werewolf game in New Jersey and it went pretty darn well, too. I really enjoy running it.
Why I love this game:You can't beat it for using it as a framework for simulating what goes on in comic books, period. The mechanics are easy to teach, the subject matter very approachable, and you can make whatever character you like.
Note that I am speaking only of the old percentile-dice using system, not the new card-based one. I haven't played that one yet, so I can't say either way. Basically, MSH was my "fluff" game to counter the seriousness of Cora-Ni, and it has ever been so. It doesn't take much brainwork to come up with an MSH scenario, and running the game is a breeze.
Like always, I totally eschewed character generation that they provided. It didn't make interesting enough heroes. I would sit down with a player and create their character out of wholecloth. I played MSH with the same people I played AD"D. Because of how casual I was about running MSH, I had something like 15 people playing it in college.
A group would get together and there would usually only be 5 or 6 people who could show up, so it was OK. One time, however, all 15 showed up and so we decided to have a "Secret Wars" style game where all 15 characters played at once. An Annual! It was great fun.
Why I love this game: It is the only game in which there are more character statistics focused on roleplaying than there are on combat. I have seen this game take wooden roleplayers and turn them into amazing ones. Add in the fact that I am a celtophile and love the Arthur myth, and you've got a winner.
I ran Pendragon in the post Cora-Ni post-college days, in the little cramped Married Student Housing apartment my now-ex-wife Leigh Ann and I lived in at the time. It was really the only RPG that Leigh Ann was interested in playing for the longest time, and because it's difficult to play anything else in such a small space, you can imagine what game got played during the year or so we lived there.
It was a marvellous game, however. To a certain extent, I felt as though I was on trial. I played with many Arthurian scholars, who demanded specific accuracy to the stories and weren't interested in my creatively expanding the milieu (vampires, for example, weren't allowed). We played long enough for the original characters to marry and have children, and even started playing their children before the game left off. Of all the RPGs I've ever run, I feel like I ran this one with a very gently sloping power-curve, starting out small and growing fairly slowly. OK, yes, one of the characters ended up a Baron, but hey, it wasn't my fault. They ganged up on me. I will speak of this in the "Game Geeking" page if I ever get around to writing it.
Don't get me wrong - I love this game, and playing it represented some of the best times I've had with my ex-wife. My players were very attentive and kept incredible levels of detail about their fiefs and what happened when. It was amazing. A magical process, very wonderful. This was the last RPG I played for a while as it began the Great RPG Drought that accompanied the birth of my son, Rowan. The Drought lasted until we moved to Atlanta and I joined White Wolf Game Studio. (OK, there were a few attempts at playing Ars Magica, Pendragon, and even AD"D, but those were usually one-or-two shots)
THIS JUST IN! I just found out that Pendragon has been sold by Chaosium to a company called Green Knight. My advice is for you to RUSH RIGHT OUT, buy a copy of Pendragon 4th edition (which is the best, in my humble opinion, of ALL Pendragon editions) and GET TO WORK PLAYING. Spread the word. It's an awesome game. Anybody who is living in the Atlanta area who wants to play, let me know.
Why I love this game: The only LARP I've ever run that I have felt like all players had an equal chance for success, not because of their physical prowess with a boffer sword, but because of their own personality and mental skills as a player. A nonathletic person can be a great warrior, a giant weightlifter can be a dainty princess, and there's no difficulty there.
I have run many MET LARPs, "Mourning Night," "The Codexium," "Blood of All Kings," "Who Owns The Moon?," and just recently, "Six Stones." All of them have their draws and their wonderful memories. I had the distinct pleasure of being a regular con guest at places like the University of Buffalo and Wizard's Challenge in Sasketchewan. Those cons let me run a big ol' MET LARP every year for a few years, and as a result I was given a very big canvas on which to paint. There is nothing like creating lots of characters and having people get into them - running a LARP is such an intense rush that I am forever addicted. There is no other storytelling quite like it.
Why I love this game: It's transcendent. It's unique. there is no other game like it, except perhaps its predecessor Ars Magica. It is deceptively simple on the surface, but when you are in the midst of playing it you enter into a world of complex beauty.
I have been running Mage for the past couple of months and it is definitely my current #1 Favorite. Having thrown out all of the other stuff of the World of Darkness (Werewolves, vampires, etc.) and I am running just plain Mage. Not only that, I've gotten rid of the Traditions and the Technocracy and the Nephandi. There are none of these. There are just mages, individuals, and they are in hiding because reality contrives to keep them that way.
Paradox is very scary to my Mage players (for now) and so I haven't had to do anything drastic to keep the "Masquerade" yet. I am sincerely enjoying this run.
Note: These are games that I have read (sometimes cover to cover) and have never played in any kind of consistent fashion, but still love for one reason or another.
Why I love it: Basically, it's AD"D "done right" - and the first game I ever read that blew me out of my AD"D stupor. I have run a session or two of ArM, but nothing long-lasting. I really love the game, though and would love to run it for a good, creative group of people one day.
Why I love it: I have read this gamebook time and time again and lusted after playing the game. The only problem is that I have yet to find enough people who have read Zelazny who really want to play.
Why I love it: I ran this once with three women. It was wonderful. I enjoyed myself greatly. Storytelling a game of personal horror was a great deal of fun, but I have yet to find a group who wishes to play it continuously.
Why I love it: This Australian anthropomorphic swashbuckling fantasy game is super cool and comes with nifty fencing cards and sorcery cards. I really want to play this sometime, but it's impossible to find supplements for it - and players.
Why I love it: God, what a beautiful game! What a cool idea! Too bad nobody I know wants to play.
Why I love it: Perhaps because I've written so much for it, and perhaps because I know what kind of blood has been sweat to get the game out, I really want to run a long-term game of In Nomine. The game mechanics are simple and the storylines unique.
Why I love it: This game tastes a lot like "Dune" with fantasy elements thrown in. I have yet to find a science fiction game that seemed eager to be played - this one is it. An excellent environment and universe. I've written for it several times and I would really love to run a campaign.
Don't think that just because I didn't put a game up here that I don't like it - I just didn't want to dilute the list by filling it up with every game I can think of. These are the very favorite, the first in my heart.
Wraith: the Oblivion and Changeling: The Dreaming didn't make the list because a.) they have a lot of emotional baggage tied to them and b.) they both require players who are interested. I reserve judgement. I am proud of my work on both games, don't get me wrong, and I think White Wolf's developers and editors have done excellent work putting them together. They are just not in my favorite lists yet. They will probably be one day, if I get a chance to actually play them.