23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?
My immediate thought is Technoir, it really excels at having a minimalist future vibe that is clear, concise and easy to read. Those last aspects are particularly important due to nature of the information RPG books have to convey but where Technoir excels is that it achieves this while maintaining an appearance that suits the genre. Many books will lean heavily on one aspect over the other and at the moment there does appear to be a push towards more graphically complex books that lose clarity and readability. I’m of the opinion that this is partially down to the multi-facetted role that game books have.
At the simplest level they have to convey the rules of the game, in a manner that is logical and clear. Fate Core is a prime example of a game that achieves this, with a heavy lean towards the technical. It clearly lays out the mechanics of the rules in an unambiguous but also rather flavourless manner. The book is also well indexed and easy to flick through when double checking individual rules / aspects/
Which leads me on to what I consider the second level of game book design, enjoyability. Regardless of whether or not it impacts on playing a game I’m of the opinion that a game book should be enjoyable to read. Fate Core is an example here of where the writing puts me off, the first time I read the game I found it a slog, to the point that it put me off the system. The interesting contrast? I’d previously read the original Dresden Files RPG and really liked it, the style of that book helped me learn Fate because I was enjoying reading it. That game sacrifices a lot at the base level of clarity due to being heavy on the visual aspects of layout so I think somewhere inbetween is best. Amongst the Fate material I’ve read Atomic Robo probably achieves the best balance of clarity and enjoyability.
The final layer for me is inspiration. How well does the game get me to want to run it. A lot of this comes down to the writing and its ability to convey setting information (generally I’m not a massive fan of setting neutral systems) but the visual presentation also plays a part. I know there may be the argument of ‘well I can already use my imagination’ but to me that doesn’t really work. Just because I can imagine it doesn’t mean I will do so in the way that the designer intended. Having those visual elements is, therefore, important to me though once again it is possible to overdo them. It’s all about the balance.
22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?
This again mostly comes down to familiarity for me, so once again I’m going with Cortex. More specifically Cortex Classic or Cortex Plus Action (such as Firefly) which are the two variants I’ve personally run. For both of them I could pick up the game and presuming I had a setting inspiration have characters ready to run in a few minutes. Especially Cortex Classic where I’d even be comfortable with characters being generated in play using the old ‘assign your stat when you first roll it’ approach.
The other reason for picking Cortex is that I know I can comfortably run it for players unfamiliar with the system. I’ve done so a number of times for both friends and at conventions. Having that level of system mastery means I can focus more on the game in front of me without getting tangled up by the mechanics.
Double post before I fall even more behind and because two days is the most dramatically appropriate number of posts to catch-up on.
20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?
For me it’s a mix of eBay and drivethruRPG depending on whether I want to own physical books or not. I’ve drifted over to the not camp for games I’m just interested in if only because of the space saving or because it’s splat book 21 of a given system and really I only need it to reference a single page.
In terms of the single best out of print purchase I’ve had it was from an Oxfam bookshop. Somebody had obviously been clearing out their shelves and had donated a massive pile of WEG Star Wars d6 books. I ended up buying almost all of them, spent close to £100 on them which is probably the single biggest book purchase I’ve ever made.
21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?
A difficult question but I think that I’m going to go with Hell 4 Leather. The rules fit on a double sided fold out (around A3 size) but manage to be both evocative and detailed enough to outline the entire story arc. The game is designed for single story play but because of the way scenes are described it has tremendous replay value.
The game isn’t known nearly as well as it deserves but I highly recommend picking it up: Hell 4 Leather on DriveThruRPG
19th) Which RPG features the best writing?
A quick last minute post here that I might expand on later but here’s a few that I enjoy reading for a range of reasons.
Legend of the Five Rings – Probably the best world building and setting information I’ve come across. The text is just a joy to read and really lets you know that Rokugan is a fully fleshed out setting.
Corporation – Another one that is an easy to read and gives a clear indication as to the potential depth in this post-cyberpunk world.
Demon Hunters – Almost as fun to read as it is to run. The writing does an amazing job at conveying the tone of the setting.
Dungeon World – Clear writing that helped me grok PbtA while simultaneously actually managed to make me interested in standard fantasy in a way D&D has consistently failed at.
18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
In terms of total hours it would have to be Torg, I was in a long campaign of it and have run a couple of campaigns of it. Total play time would be around a year and a half of weekly sessions and GMing time would be similar. While I love the setting I’ve slowly drifted away from liking the rules, they are very much a product of their time (early 90’s) which is why I’m stoked for Torg Eternity. The update looks like it has succeeded in keeping the feel of the game while also introducing a more modern approach to many of the mechanics.
As for the one that I just keep going back to then it has to be Demon Hunters from Dead Gentlemen Productions. Again, there has been a new edition recently and while I’ve not played it as much as I’d like it does lean itself more towards my current mechanical inclinations. I can pick up that game with essentially zero notice and throw something together there and then. Plus it is just pure, unadulterated chaotic fun. Perfect for both one shots and a series of short adventures.
17th) Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?
Probably some of the really niche indie games such as Best Friends by Gregor Hutton, Cold City from Contested Ground Studios or Piledrivers and Powerbombs by Prince of Darkness Games. There was a vibrant Scottish small press community during the time I lived in Glasgow so I was able to pick up a lot of games I’d otherwise never have encountered.
I like reading RPGs as much as playing them so I do tend to pick up a lot of small things here and there without necessarily expecting to ever run / play them. The downside is, as always, time. I’ve got a lot of great games that I’d love to play and even more ok games that I’d just like to give a spin. There’s always something new and with the tendency for most players to prefer campaigns it can be difficult to find people to give them a try, especially given the onus on the GM having to teach the systems.
16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
I’m not sure there is a single RPG I’ve played where I haven’t wanted to tweak it in some way or another but at the same time I’ve enjoyed using most ‘as is’ and I make it a point to play at least a few sessions that way before I consider tweaking them.
In terms of the games I’ve modified the least it’s probably the lightweight indie games. Many of those are built around short term, highly structured games with a single central premise. Given those tend towards shorter experiences the desire to modify them didn’t have as long to form. That’s not to say it can’t, Project Cassandra started as a hack of Lady Blackbird and I’ve only played that once.