Friday, July 27, 2012

Just Ten?

I came across an interesting blog post via DungeonsMaster that was posted from Untimately. A rather simple question is posed that took a lot more thought to answer than I expected. That question was simply this: if you could only keep ten of your printed RPG books, which would you pick? I don't think I have the viewership to pose that question myself, but I can certainly offer an answer.

Initially, I spent a good deal of time reading other people's responses. It might just be based on my own perception (check), but it seemed like a lot of people clung mostly to one game line (D&D for example) or one sort of broader linked area (OSR games) barring an exception here or there. I suppose I don't fall into any sort of norm with that. After a lot of deliberation my own list is all over the place. Some old, some new, OSR, fantasy, horror, anime inspired and beyond. In the end, my list also ended up skewing solely towards core rule books. I noticed in a lot of the lists, people had selected modules or source books. There's certainly nothing wrong with that approach and when weighing the actual physical RPG books I own there were some tough calls.

I guess when it came down to the bottom line, when I began to consider the idea of only having ten printed RPG books my train of thought led me to the idea that I should just be selecting core rule books. At the end of the day, I can make up additional content (whether it is as good as printed content is a different story) and I can design my own plots and adventures. The core rules for a certain genre or style could go a lot further, in my eyes. I also tried to avoid grouping multiple books together. I saw a lot of that and while I get the logic, I wanted to adhere to the base question as much as possible (though in one instance I had to break my own rule). Again, neither approach is wrong. This is just the mindset I went into while parsing down my collection into ten books. And to be honest, it was pretty tough. I think every official DCC module I have picked up since the new RPG launched are all top notch five star material. It would be rough to let them go.

Likewise, I feel a little bad that as important as 4e is to me (got me back into the hobby, I have played or ran it almost weekly since then and it takes up a majority focus with this blog) it didn't manage to get a book into this list. I think that is in part due to how much content for the game is available in digital format. When you never consult the books 95% of the time, they tend to not keep much of a hold on you. However, the fact does remain that in this scenario losing the 4e books I own would not really impede my playing of running of it due to the digital tools available. I suppose then that if I could give an honorable mention it would go to the Rules Compendium which is excellently put together and probably my, and many 4e players', most used resource at the table.

So if I could only keep ten of my printed RPG books here are my picks, in no certain order:

1) Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: Easily the game I am most excited about right now. DCC won me over with its Free RPG Day preview. If I could only keep playing one game this might be very strong in the running. I like the feel the game tries to present and the gritty sword & sorcery tone it has. To me, this is my D&D NEXT. I haven't posted anything on this blog about my feelings on 5th but they are not positive. Rather than being a proper evolution (which is what a name like NEXT suggests to me) it feels like WOTC is backpedaling to try and win back old fans. DCC on the other hand is a step into new territory while also holding to a lot of old school (and OSR) conventions while still being new and fresh. The artwork is also gorgeous and the best I have seen in an RPG product for quite some time.

2) World of Darkness Core Rules: For a long time, White Wolf's World of Darkness was the only tabletop RPG I would play. After moving away from D&D I bounced around trying a lot of games and finally settled on WoD. I have always been a fan of horror stories/films and I liked how simple the game was to run and deal with. At the time, it really felt like it was the first thing I played that was outright designed to put the story first. Ultimately, I ended up riding out the "Time of Judgement" that heralded the current (new) World of Darkness and though there are differing opinions, I prefer it over the old (though I enjoy both still to this day). The rules were super streamlined and fixed a lot of the quirks in the old system. It also helped that, this time, the game was designed from the ground up to better handle crossovers between the various supernatural splats. The core rules (blue book) alone is extremely useful in my opinion. With it alone you could easily run a lot of different styles of horror games or even other genres like a cop drama or some high action mob film style affair.

3) Big Eyes, Small Mouth Revised 2nd Edition: Being such a big fan of anime, it is only natural that some of the picks in my ten would be anime-themed RPG's. I initially discovered Guardians of Order, believe it or not, through their Sailor Moon Roleplaying Game & Resource Book which used a modified version of the BESM system. Sailor Moon happened to be one of the earliest anime that I had a chance to see. Call it mass appeal or my friends and I were just weird, but we all enjoyed and once we stumbled across a tabletop RPG for it several of us picked it up. We played a surprisingly lengthy, given the source material, game with the PC's cast as members in the Negaverse and though it played out much more light-hearted and comical it was probably my first taste of a villain/chaotic campaign. I enjoyed the system and how well it hit the feel of Sailor Moon that I always kept a look out for the GOO logo.

That led to stumbling across BESM2R which was basically more of the same, but with even more content and broad enough to cover any type of anime. It is my go to game for running anything anime-related barring the Mecha genre. While the rules aren't that bad (and much less of a nuisance than the overbearing rules-heavy approach of stuff like Mechwarrior or Mekton; just not my style), they also don't feel to me like they are (or act out in play as) very evocative of the Mecha genre in anime.

4) Chris Perrin's Mecha: So if I don't use BESM to cover Mecha anime (perhaps my favorite genre) then what? I have spent a very long time looking over systems and trying them out to find that one game that really struck me for running an anime Mecha rpg. I first stumbled across mentions of Chris Perrin's Mecha through a thread on about what system to use for a mecha game. It was the only one in the thread that was unknown to me and after stumbling on the actual site and the drivethrurpg page I was intrigued. I ended up downloading the quick start and instantly fell in love. It was rules-light (my favorite), but still captured the feel of the genre.

It even included built in rules to really hammer home the feel of watching a Mecha anime such as having an opening theme to play at each session's start, using background music for combat and constructing the story into Episodes that follow a similar flow in construction. I ran a short-lived play-by-post game and it was a lot of fun, but I'd really like to try a game at the actual table with the music and everything. It's just a matter of finding the right people I suppose. Chris Perrin is a pretty cool guy, in any case, and there's actually  a sourcebook on the way called Mecha Combiners which caters to the combining giant robot genre for stuff like Voltron.

5) Weird West RPG: One of the main points of discussion here at this blog! I sort of picked up Weird West on a random whim. For a long time I frequently checked drivethrurpg for reviews or info on RPG products, but I just never made that leap to getting digital releases beyond freebie indie stuff that was distributed online by the creator. With the release of DCC I decided to finally bite the bullet and picked up Perils of the Sunken City, the first 3rd-party release for the system by Purple Sorcerer Games. Aside from being an excellent module (it's hard to pick a favorite 3rd party publisher for DCC because all of it is so good, but Purple Sorcerer would be in the running for #1 in my book), it also warmed me up to the idea of owning RPG material just in digital format. So one day, in boredom, I was scrolling through the best seller list for small press publishers and happened upon Weird West. The low page count and dollar price tag made it seem like a joke, but it had several good reviews and also some references to OSR so I decided on a whim to pick it up.

It turned out to be an excellent little game. It's pretty much a stripped down version of the original D&D, in my eyes, flavored for the weird west genre. I love the genre and I love how fast the game plays as well as how easily it lends itself towards making up new rules, content and what not. The PocketMod concept is a great idea too and yes, pictured here is one of my own printed out copies of the PocketMod. They say a dollar doesn't go a long way anymore, but if you use to buy this game I think you can get far more gaming hours back than what you put in.

6) Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition: H.P. Lovecraft is one of my all time favorite authors so Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu being on this list is not a big shocker. I picked up this book, yes it's a hardback copy, years ago and never had a chance to try it out. BRP is a nice straightforward system though it gets a bit wonky in combat to me; I'm looking forward to see how the 7th Edition will change things. While World of Darkness might be my top choice of all time for horror roleplaying, I think it is just easier to turn to CoC for something rooted solely in the Lovecraftian realm of focus. A lot of us buy RPG books and they end up sitting shelves and never being used. Sometimes we wonder about getting rid of them and sometimes we do.

Call of Cthulhu sat on my shelf for probably six years or so without seeing any play. Then, just a few months ago I got invited to play in a game and I was so glad that I always held onto this book. The campaign has been pretty fun. it is set in the Modern Era and the Keeper has basically worked out much of the standard Cthulhu Mythos (wiping them out or having them pretty much put out of focus back in the 1920's) and instead replaced them with a modern sort of Mythos drawing from things like J-Horror, Creepypasta and popular internet media like Slenderman. Like DCC, it's on my list to get around talking about eventually as I have had a lot of fun with the system.

7) Demon: The Fallen: My first dip back into the same game line with this list; though arguably it is for the (old) World of Darkness so to some degree it is different. Demon is hands down my favorite of the supernatural splats for the oWoD. I was a latecomer to WoD so Demon was just hitting the shelves and as I worked on picking up a backlog of core books little did I know that it was almost at its end. It might be seen as a controversial game to some, but I always thought it had a certain charm. It clearly drew a lot off of Milton's Paradise Lost and to some degree was really a modernization of that motif. I really enjoyed the struggle placed on characters between embracing the monsters they had fallen into or trying to walk the hard road in the hopes of redemption. For all the supernatural elements and reliance of Christian imagery, that's really a very personal human tale; in my opinion. It was hard for me to decide between Demon or the Dark Ages stuff they put out which was also excellent.

I settled on Demon for the simple fact that I could not pick just one Dark Ages book and this game will always have a special place for me due to a rather long running campaign I ran during high school. It was my first time really running something long term and serious. The first time where I held a session solely devoted to sitting down and coming up with a background for each player's character and figuring out who these people were within the confines of our story. Time of Judgement was launched amid our campaign so I picked up the book and we had a fitting and highly epic conclusion.

It was a very satisfying experience and I think particularly so because it did end. So often we start a tabletop RPG and things never come to fruition. Like a long running television show, issues arise and eventually things just stop never to continue or be resolved. So while this wasn't some spectacular multi-year game, it was a defined story with a start and a finish; something I will always remember.

8) Labyrinth Lord/Advanced Edition Companion: So this is my one exception to my desire of keeping to a single book per entry. I love Labyrinth Lord. After 4e got me back into the hobby, I stumbled across the OSR and everything that went along with it. AD&D had been my introduction to tabletop roleplaying so there was something of a desire to recapture that feeling. I looked over a lot of the big names LL itself, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC and so forth. In the end, Labyrinth Lord was my favorite. Mixed with the AEC to run 1st Edition it really felt a lot like how we played the game when I was introduced to things rather than the books as written. Best as I can tell, that was the goal with the AEC so mission accomplished. I also enjoy how compatible it is right out of the gate with classic modules or event content designed for other OSR games. If it is not 4e then this is really what I'd prefer to play in the D&D front.

I was lucky enough to take part in a game at Forge-Con this year and it was excellent; especially hanging out with some other people just as passionate about a game that a lot of people I encounter have never heard of. It tends to be one of my go to suggestions when those interested ask about free games as the offer of no-art pdf copies is an excellent idea. While I enjoy B/X as well and the core LL book is great, AD&D just has that nostalgia pull for me so I have to list the core book and its expansion as a "set" for this entry.

9) Star Wars Roleplaying Game 2nd Edition: This was likely the first non-D&D tabletop I ever had a chance to experience. A copy of the core book just sort of fell into the lap of a friend by chance and we all loved Star Wars so it was an exciting idea. I picked up my copy of the book this year at Forge-Con and I was happy to have it again and in such good shape. This entry might be mostly dominated by nostalgia. My friend that ran us through several games, re-starting multiple times, played things fast and loose making things up as he went. However, we had a blast. I'll never forget how in each game he would allow one of us to stumble across a broken lightsaber and lay down hints that somewhere in the galaxy we might be able to find a wise old Jedi capable of repairing it and teaching someone the ways of the Force. On a more serious note, West End Game's d6 system is excellent and plays really well in my eyes. I was happy to learn, as I got back into the hobby, that it's been experiencing its own old school revolution with releases like Mini-Six (I regret not picking up a copy at Forge) and Azamar.

10) All Flesh Must Be Eaten: And we come to the end on another horror game. I really do love horror stories/movies so that's probably got some influence. Again, a level of nostalgia taints this choice but I still think it is a warranted choice. One of the last games I ran before getting out of the hobby for awhile was a one-shot for some friends I have known since I was in kindergarten. I showed up with the book and a few character sheets telling the players to stat up themselves. Following this we began as I ran them through a typical day in their life, but naturally things ended up falling apart as a zombie outbreak occurred. It was very free form but also very fun. Since we all knew our hometown well it was easy for them to visualize what was going on and decide a course of action and likewise just as easy for me to come up with stuff on the fly based on where they were going. For one night, we had our own very personal zombie flick.

Could I run a zombie apocalypse with WoD? Yes. However, AFMBE just has that perfect feel for the genre built right in with its mechanics and how the book presents things. I guess that seems to be a trend for me. Like Chris Perrin's Mecha or Call of Cthulhu some games just perfectly capture that feeling of the genre they represent within the system itself and I find that really appealing. With the surging popularity of The Walking Dead I'd like to think this book might be seeing some more use in the future.

So that's my list. If I could only keep ten of my printed RPG books, the above would be my choices. I stuck primarily to core rule books because I felt that would get me the most mileage; of course any approach would work so long as you were pleased with what you kept. It's certainly an eclectic mix of games covering a lot of different genre. Again, this goes back to why I decided to name this blog after an old collection of Sword & Sorcery tales that hit in all across the wide range of the genre.

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