Table of Contents
- 1 (Played) Blades in the Dark
- 2 (Played) Goblin Quest
- 3 (Played) Parsely Games
- 4 (Played) Legend
- 5 (Played) Into the Odd
- 6 (Played) Feng Shui 2
- 7 (Played) Dungeon World
- 8 (Played) Dread
- 9 (Played) Everyone is John
- 10 (Played) Lasers and Feelings
- 11 (Played) Numenera
- 12 (Played) BARON MUNCHAUSEN
- 13 (Played) The Strange
- 14 (Played) Quiet Year
- 15 (Played) Wushu
- 16 (Played) Monster of the Week
- 17 The Indie Hack
- 18 Daytrippers
- 19 Vow of Honor
- 20 Enter the Shadowside: Destiny
- 21 Alienòr
- 22 Chuubos Marvelous Wish Granting Engine
- 23 PuppetLand
- 24 Clover
- 25 TrollBabe
- 26 Big MuthaF%Kin Crab Truckers
- 27 Warrior Poet
- 28 Motobushido
- 29 Trinity – QuickStart Rules
- 30 Pariah Missouri
- 31 Always/Never/Now
- 32 Anima Prime
- 33 Project Dark
- 34 Becoming – Hero Journey
- 35 Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
- 36 Durance
- 37 Nova Praxis
- 38 Ars Magica
- 39 Clockwork and Chilvalry
- 40 Eclipse Phase
- 41 Beat to Quarters
- 42 Shadows of Esteren
- 43 Stars Without Number
- 44 All Flesh Must Be Eaten – Quickstart
- 45 Iron Kingdoms – Fools Rush In
- 46 Ghost Lines
- 47 PreHysteria
- 48 Wild Talents – Progenitor
- 49 Scarlet Heroes – Quickstart
- 50 Technical Grimiore Games
- 51 The End!
Games are listed in the order that I read or played them. This list is for my own satisfaction, and not a full-blown review, so don’t take anything too seriously.
If you would like to suggest an RPG for review comment below, or shoot me an email at email@example.com. Game suggestions that are free/cheap have a higher chance of being reviewed.
(Played) Blades in the Dark
Created by John Harper
From the book:
“Blades in the Dark is a game about a group of daring scoundrels building a
criminal enterprise on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city. There
are heists, chases, escapes, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, deceptions,
betrayals, victories, and deaths.
You’re in a haunted Victorian-era city trapped inside a wall of lightning powered
by demon blood.”
Inspired by the same base rules as Dungeon World, Blades add two major twists that really grabbed me:
1) Focus on Flashbacks. One of the key tenants of Blades is that you jump right into the action. Even on a complicated heist, your group only works out the most basic details: “We go in the back while you attack the front.” Then the heist begins. If players ever bump into an obstacle that they didn’t expect, they can have a short flashback detailing how they planned ahead for this. “Oh no, the door is locked? Well good thing we knew to pack climbing gear 5 hours earlier.” This keeps the game fast and loose.
2) Gangs and Turf. In addition to character sheets, your gang also has a sheet. The players can perform jobs, pay bribes, or intimidate other gangs to spread their influence. As your gang levels up you can tackle bigger and bigger jobs. Maybe one day you’ll run this godforsaken place!
The flashbacks and the focus on expanding the gang prevents players from spending the entire session making a plan that will fall apart. It cribs a lot of great ideas from board games by keeping players engaged mechanically and in the fiction. I absolutely adore it, and since Dungeon World, this has become my new darling.
(Played) Goblin Quest
Goblin Quest is a game that makes death fun, and has some of the most humorous writing since Baron Munchausen. The artwork is also amazingly charming. Seriously, just go look at it!
The game itself is very simple and easy to get behind. Each player controls 5 goblins (one at a time), working together to accomplish some mundane mission: make breakfast, steal a wizard robe, catch a fairy, and so on. The problem is that goblins are prone to dying in horrible and unlikely ways (which is why you control 5 of them). You’re trying to roll some dice above a certain number whilst describing your cunning plans.
Failure means death. LOTS OF SILLY DEATHS! This is a fun game for silly/drunk adults, and the perfect game for silly/caffeinated kids. This is the kind of game that my 12-year old self wanted to play.
(Played) Parsely Games
Do you remember those old text-based rpgs and adventure games like Zork? Me neither, that was WAY before my time. But it’s never too late to try out something similar with a Parsely game! There are almost TEN Parsely games (as of this writing), and they all have a similar structure.
One player is the Interpreter, or the computer, and the others control someone exploring this world. Players issue commands, and the Interpreter tells them what the results of their commands are. Here’s the rub: The Interpreter only knows a few words (look, use, inventory, go left, etc). If a players says, “What’s behind the door?”, the Interpreter must respond with: “I don’t know that command.” At which point the player groans and says, “Look Door.”
If that doesn’t sound like fun, then you haven’t head the best part: Players take turns around the table. Each player can issue one, and only one command on their turn. This creates a fun sort of group puzzle that players can solve, and can be REALLY silly as players keep forgetting what commands are valid. As the Interpreter, it’s a blast to watch players ignore something important, or try different variations of the command, “Use Dog Poop with Blowtorch.”
These games work well as fun party games, and if your group is looking for more of an adventure-game, puzzle-like experience, then these games will offer a really fun, unique gaming experience. I highly recommend you read Action Castle (#1), since it has the best rules explanation, but the first game that you PLAY should be Spooky Manor (#3).
Legend was the first RPG that I ever played, and the longest campaign I ever ran! I’ve been meaning to review it for years, but finally had some free time. It was originally recommended to me as “Poor Man’s 4th Edition”. It delivers that, and more! While the combat is similar to 4th edition (multiple kinds of actions, grid-based combat, etc.) It’s the character creation that really shines.
To create a character, pick you race (6 choices), your class (8 choices) and then you pick 3 Tracks (3-5 tracks per class, plus a handful of extra Tracks). What’s cool is that each Track has 7 Circles, or Stages, each one granting different skills and abilities. Whenever you level up, you unlock the next circle from one of your Tracks.
This make character creation REALLY streamlined and clever. Instead of picking from a list of 30 abilities for the fighter, and 30 abilities for the Wizard, simply take the Fighter Track, and the Wizard Track. As you level up, you get the next abilities from each of those tracks. Some groups may find it too constraining, but not a lot of games this complex can create characters in 20 mins.
Definitely check it out if you like tactical combat and free games.
(Played) Into the Odd
Into the Odd is a quick, simple system to facilitate dangerous and deadly dungeon crawls. The rules only take up a single page, and the rest of the book is random encounter tables, dungeons, advice, traps, magic items, loot, character generators, etc, etc.
Normally I HATE these kind of games. I don’t like putting my players in a situation where they will most likely fail, and I don’t like killing player characters. It just seems mean and cruel. I get no love out of torturing my group. Usually, I want to have a sweeping story, character growth, high adventure, etc. But there are 2 reasons why Into the Odd works so well for me:
1) Into the Odd has fast and interesting random character generation. My players didn’t mind having their characters die because their characters weren’t crafted with love and care. They were rolled up.This creates a fun detachment between player and character that keeps the deadly danger more fun than frustrating
2) Combat is lightning fast. I played this game with two regular pathfinder players, and it took a while to transition to Into the Odd. The big difference is that in combat, players and monsters only roll for damage. It’s assumed that players and enemies ALWAYS hit. This means that combat is more dangerous (since you’ll always take at least 1 damage); but combat is also more reliable. You know that you and your 3 friends won’t miss the monster. The question is: Can you kill it before it kills you?
These two facts ended up turning a dark and deadly dungeon into a sort of fun-house that players could throw their characters into and see what happened. It was a lot of fun, and I would definitely break it out again if my group wanted to have some murder-hobo adventures!
PRO-TIP: I printed out the Oddfield Survival Guide and made a small booklet for it. This set a really silly tone for the game that enhanced the funhouse aspect of my dungeon crawl. I HIGHLY recommend it.
(Played) Feng Shui 2
My love of modern action games should be obvious by now. Between Wushu and Mythic Mortals, I always enjoy games that let me create epic fight scenes and adventures in a bug dumb action movie environment. Feng Shui 2 is the new edition of the game that did it first!
Feng Shui 2 aims to re-create 80’s and 90’s action movies with all the tropes and fun adventure that comes with them. Characters are encouraged to fit into a melodramatic stereotype. Classes have names like “Kung-Fu Cop”, “Old Master”, and “Big Bruiser”. Heck, you even have reload rolls; if you roll well enough, your guns never run out of bullets!
All of these little elements combine to make a game that is really easy to enjoy. Is it balanced? Fair? Well designed? That doesn’t matter. The writing, abilities, tone, and mechanics all lead to a ridiculous romp straight out of Big Trouble in Little China. Every time I break this game out, my group has a blast with it. I highly recommend it for any action movie lovers.
(Played) Dungeon World
Dungeon World has a terrible name but a wonderful system. Although the setting and the characters harken to common cliches, Dungeon World brings something new to the table that completely changed how I run games.
The system relies on the concept of “moves”. Players can simply describe what they’re doing, and the mechanics don’t click in until they trigger a move. Walking across town, finding the bar, and talking to the sheriff won’t trigger any moves. Moves look like this:
When you attack an enemy in melee, roll two 6-sided dice and add STR.
✴On a 10+, you deal your damage to the enemy and avoid their attack. At your option, you may choose to do +1d6 damage but expose yourself to the enemy’s attack.
✴On a 7–9, you deal your damage to the enemy and the enemy makes an attack against you.
This means that most of the game is very rules lite, and the mechanics only kick in for interesting things. It has become the gold standard for me, and is my go-to game system.
As an aside, the GM advice in this book is PURE gold. Any aspiring GM should pick it up and give it a skim just for the GM section alone. I also reviewed GrimWorld, an expansion for Dungeon World. (Get it here!)
If you haven’t heard about this game, prepare yourself. There are a lot of great horror games out there, most of them fairly complex, and all of them difficult and dangerous. Most horror games rely on high-risk dice mechanics to create that tension and danger that is so necessary for good suspense. But not Dread. Dread replaces traditional dice with a Jenga Tower.
And this works beautifully! The rules are dirt simple: whenever someone wants to perform a risky or dangerous action, they pull a Jenga tile. Refusal to pull the tile, or stopping halfway means your character fails that action. If you can pull out a tile, then your character succeeds. BUT! If the tower falls when you’re taking your action, you DIE. Death. ouch.
In most games, your HP or sanity represents how close characters are to death or insanity. In this game, the current state of the Jenga tower represents the groups mental fortitude and courage. It get’s REALLY intense when the tower is leaning to one side, and the mutant with the axe is chopping down the door, you don’t think you can pull a brick, but you HAVE to, otherwise he’ll get inside and then….
You get the idea. The book has a lot of great examples, GM advice, and scenarios included, but if you had to, you could just run the game with the quick-start rules for free on the website. Check it out if you want an intense and pulse-pounding game session!
Also, I wrote a little Sci Fi adventure for Dread, if you’re interested.
(Played) Everyone is John
Created by Michael B. Sullivan
I don’t think I need to mention this game, but just in case you’ve never heard of it, EIJ is one of the most enjoyable 30-minute rpg experiences you can have. The rules take up a page, and can be explained in about 2 minutes.
All the players are different voices in John’s head, and the GM is “everyone else”. Fight for control over John, earn points, and tell a crazy store about an extremely disturbed man.
I have no complaints about Everyone Is John, simply because it accomplishes exactly what it wants, with little to no mechanics. Absolutely beautiful design, concept, and application. I hope to make something this simple and fun someday.
(Played) Lasers and Feelings
Created by John Harper
Play a very light science fiction game with simple mechanics. Somewhere between Star Wars and Star Trek, LaF is versatile enough to run nearly any sci-fi setting. Just read the game, it’s only one page. No point in reviewing something that is only one page long!
The layout, flavor, explanation and mechanics of this game are all top-notch. John Harper did an amazing job with this AND Ghost lines! Also, this game has more random generation tables! Woohoo!
I’m starting to realize that I’m not hard to please when it comes to rpgs.
PDF is $20
Created by Monte Cook
Numenera is the brainchild of famed Tabletop RPG writer and creator Monte Cook. The result is incredible, brilliant, and singular. Much like a movie with the same director, producer, and main actor, Numenera is Monte Cook inside and out; no filters from the publisher or printer. And it shows, in both the good ways and the bad.
The Good: The worldbuilding, universe detail, theme and setting are absolutely incredible! I’ve never read an RPG with such a rich world just begging to be explored. Every sentence in this book promises incredible people, places and adventures. Numenera is set millions of years in the future, in a world where humanity has lost its former glory, and explores the mysterious and powerful remnants of its past. The whole game is built around the idea of exploration and discovering incredible things; and for the most part, it does its job admirably, with one notable problem…
The Bad: For a game that is so focused on exploration and adventure, all of the player abilities, skills, and gizmos are heavily focused on combat. So much so that whenever I run the game, I prefer to use a different system (like Dungeon World) so that my players won’t feel so useless outside of combat. And the combat mechanics themselves are very reminiscent of 3.5 (which Monte Cook also designed.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I found them very obtuse and unsatisfying.
Numenera is the most beautiful world I’ve ever played in, and one that I will be coming back to again and again. The system, however, may not return to my table.
(Played) BARON MUNCHAUSEN
created by Magnum Opus Press (James Wallis)
Wow. The amount of character, clever writing, and 18th century humor in this game is astonishing. I still can’t get over how every page oozes with classical British “Hmph, well I say!”, and makes me smile. Written in the Baron’s own hand, this book describes how to play a game where everyone sits around a table and tries to out-do each other with greater and more fantastic stories. The game can be played with dice and pencils, but has rules for playing with wine, cigars, money, and anything else a classy person might have.
The fun part is that each adventure is prompted by someone else. So you ask the person next to you: “Most honoured and noble prince, if you could refrain momentarily from the gracious attentions you are paying to my ſiſter, mayhap you might ſatisfy our curioſity on the matter of how it was that you eſcaped from the prison of Akkra after you had been burned at the ſtake there two days earlier ?”
Whoever tells the most imaginative story wins. The sheer amount of substance and humor is probably the main draw for this game. If any of you wish to admire pristine writing, tone, and atmosphere, this is easily one of the best I’ve ever read.
(Played) The Strange
PDF is $20
Created by Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell
The Strange is a game where the players are universe jumping secret agents. Set in a modern, FBI meets MIB type of world, Earth scientists have discovered a way to travel to other pocket universes anchored near Earth. Whenever players travel from one universe to another, they shift and change to adapt to the new universe (guns turn into spears, kevlar turns into plate armor, etc). This is a really neat concept, and gives the game a lot of promise.
It uses the same system as Numenera, although a lot more work has been done to expand the non-combat options. In general, I’d say that the Strange is much more mechanically sound and diverse when compared to Numenera. However, the Strange doesn’t have nearly the same appeal and incredible world building that Numenera does. Luckily, The Strange subverts that problem with this twist: there are basically infinite universes that players can visit, some of which are created by our own imaginations.
Want to solve crimes with Sherlock Holmes? Fight flying monkeys in Oz? Go for it! The bulk of the Strange is a toolbox for GMs and players to create their own pocket universes and worlds; keeping the same characters throughout their dimension-jumping adventures. It works pretty well, and if you’re the kind of group that likes to create worlds, then this is the perfect system for you.
(Played) Quiet Year
Available for $8, Source
Created by Avery Adler
This is a community creation game. The group builds up a small town or village over the course of a year. The game is played week by week, where during every week a card is drawn, triggering a specific event, trouble, setback or discovery. Players work together to build a map, gather resources, and resolve problems that arise.
Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever played anything like this outside of a video game or board game. The cards as seasons mechanic is brilliant, and creates lots of anticipation for the next week. There’s a great table that gives you a good idea of how the weeks affect the game. Great way to spend an evening on something new and interesting.
Also, as an aside, when a game session is over, you will have a fully fleshed out town with history, culture, and nearby geography. I took our first few resulting towns and used them in my Numenera and Dungeon World games. Cool creation tool.
Uh…no major complaints, except that everyone draws and contributes to the map, and I am a terrible drawer. This game is perfect if you and some friends want to try your hand at world-building. Also, there are only 2 options per card/week, so I can see getting 2-3 sessions out of it at the least.
PDF is Pay What You Want
Created by Daniel Bayn
I hadn’t heard about this system before, and it was pitched to me as “the best way to choreograph a fight scene.” The number of details you include in your action descriptions increases your chances of success. I’ll let the creator describe it:
For example, someone who says “I dodge to the side” gets 1 die. Someone who says “I dodge to the side / and grab his sword blade with my chopsticks / before punching him in the face” gets 3 dice. Someone who says “I catch his sword blade with my chopsticks / when it’s chisel edge is less than an inch from my face, / then twist it around with one deft motion, / jam it into the bastard’s gut, / and whisper ‘Can’t you see I’m trying to eat, here?'” gets 5 dice. Thus, anything that contributes to the atmosphere and energy of your game becomes a smart tactic.
This system is absolutely brilliant, and very elegant. The rulebook includes advice for handling mooks, nemesis, power levels, streamlining fights, and lots of great examples. For a narrative-focused group like mine, this is definitely the way to go! Whenever I play it, I always walk away with an amazing fight scene to rival anything Star Wars has done.
Also, if you like the idea of Wushu, and are a Star Wars fan, checkout my game Jedi Wushu.
(Played) Monster of the Week
Another Apocalypse World hack (just like Dungeon World); Monster of the week is a game where players take on the role of a group of modern day Monster Hunters a la Supernatural or Buffy. And it is fantastic!
Michael Sands does a great job of explaining how to run a mystery game. The playbooks are well designed, with lots of neat abilities and roles (like The Chosen, The Professional, The Flake, etc). And of course, the apocalypse world mechanics are rock solid, and really fun to play.
The thing I’m looking forward to the most is how the adventures are structured. Every adventure has a main monster, a big bad. This monster can be pursued by not defeated until the weakness is discovered; creating a scenario where most of the game is players tracking down clues, finding leads, and trying to deduce the best way to take down the beast. The players are given lots of tools to hunt down clues, and the GM is given lots of guidance to plant and lead players through a funhouse of monsters and mayhem.
The perfect game for a good mystery romp.
The Indie Hack
After my review of Into the Odd, I find myself moving from story games to old-school systems. I couldn’t resist when Slade mentioned he was working on a game that combines the two! Similar to Dungeon World, The Indie Hack aims to simulate that classic DnD feel while keeping the flexibility of story games. However, The Indie Hack takes a completely different approach: Details Are Everything.
Whenever players interact with anything, they do this by adding/changing details. Hard details are drastic changes, soft details might be minor or temporary, and scene details can affect multiple things in the area. Attacking an enemy allows you to add details like Bleeding, Crippled. Disarmed, and so on. Objects and enemies can only contain so many negative details before they fall. So an enemy might have 5 “health”, and after 5 details are added, the creature falls to the ground, broken, bleeding, disarmed, insulted, and confused.
The variety of which details are added and how they are added keeps the game simple but engaging. A great choice for anyone who’s looking for something with low overhead but high flexibility. Two other mechanics worth mentioning. When you take a long rest, you can turn your injuries into scars, which add some neat flavor to the game.
But my other favorite idea is how relationships are handled. When someone tries to help you, you both roll dice. If their dice are better than yours, you accept their help, and your relationship grows stronger. Yay! But if their dice were worse than yours, you reject their assistance, and your relationship grows weaker. I just love the idea of someone trying to help pick a lock, but just gets in the way, frustrating the player who needed help. Brilliant!
PDF: $5, softcover: $12
Created by Tod Foley
Daytrippers is an absurdist, psychedelic rpg system for auteur game masters.
…No, I don’t know what that means either. Let’s find out!
Set in an alternate (hopefully) future, the game takes place in a world that has JUST discovered spacetime travel. And, no, I didn’t miss a blank space between those two words. Daytrippers explores the idea that space travel and time travel are closely related, and in fact, can both happen at the same time. (Read the rest of the review here…)
Vow of Honor
There’s a much more in depth review here, but here’s my take:
Vow of Honor tries systemize and pin down what is normally a relative concept (morality / honor). The result is a really interesting concept where players are forced to choose between the simple, direct path and the longer, harder more honorable road. VoH uses a dice pool system where players earn dice for following their rigid codes of honor, and lose dice for acting dishonorably.
Here’s an example: The players have been tracking the path of a known murderer for a while. They find his hideout, and watch it for a few days. Turns out the murderer goes out on his own each night to use the batthroom, unaccompanied by his flunkies. In a game of DnD, the players would simply hide outside, and jump him, killing him without any problems.
But the codes of honor dictate that you face your opponents directly, never striking a man in the back, or while he is down. So now you have a choice: Do you forgo your honor to solve the problem, or take the more dangerous route, preserving your codes.
The whole game is built around creating as many of these moments and choices as possible. If that sounds even mildly interesting to you, I highly recommend you check it out.
Enter the Shadowside: Destiny
Enter the Shadowside: Destiny is the newest edition of the series, and uses a new card mechanics that fascinated and grabbed me. There’s a better description here, but I still plan on using these mechanics for hacks of my own. I just love the idea of giving players the power of choosing when to succeed, and when to fail.
The book itself is very pretty, with some fantastic artwork. It’s well laid out, with lots of good advice, tips, factions, examples and more. The setting is a blend of modern day and mysticism; think The Dresden Files.
However, there is one thing I must mention. The mechanics of the game are dead simple, and quickly explained in just a page or two. The author spends the rest of the Mechanics section explaining how his game is different from Dungeons and Dragons. It comes off as very arrogant and immature. He constantly talks smack about “other roleplaying games” and about how “games shouldn’t be so X,Y, or Z”. It really soured my enjoyment of the game, which is a real shame, because this game need not be so defensive; it stands just fine on its own.
This is the first game I’ve seen hosted on DeviantArt, although it makes sense, especially since it looks like the creator also did the artwork; which is really gorgeous by the way.
The game is very similar to Baron Munchausen, in that it relies on players telling stories in spite of complications and problems.
In Alienor, you play as the suitors, friends, and associates of the Queen, who is shrouded in mystery and here-say. Players take turns telling and narrating their stories. Before they begin, they roll dice to randomly generate some conditions that will form their tale; things like “your pride is wounded”, or “a jealous lover”. Players must incorporate all of these conditions into their tale, and the other players can grant points to show their enjoyment of a particular story.
It seems like a fine game to play, and a good format for an intimate, somewhat silly game. A word of warning: the tone is very sexual, and somewhat mature. Make sure that you only play this game in a safe, comfortable group of people. People you wouldn’t mind telling a story involving: “A man dressed as a woman”, “a loss of freedom”, “caught in an embarrasing moment”, “an ex-lover”, “a broken cup of wine,” and “an awkward kiss”.
Chuubos Marvelous Wish Granting Engine
Whoa! This game sounded like a cute little story game at first, but after looking at the index, this thing clocks in at around 550 pages! Obviously I didn’t read it all, but here’s the skim:
Jenna does a very good job of introducing the idea of rpgs. All of the first few pages are a fantastic introduction to community storytelling, and because she avoid a lot of the trappings of more traditional RPGs (hit points, turn order, initiative, dice, etc.)
Since it is a diceless game, players are able to take certain actions, and spend points towards those actions. So they could drop a lot of points on something important, and just kinda fudge the rest of their stuff. It’s attempting to replicate movies and TV shows, where a character can make a lot of small mistakes (why didn’t he just keep it a secret? If she hadn’t done that one thing, NONE of this would have happened) in order to save their points for the big conclusion (defeating the big bad, solving the mystery).
There are a lot of guidelines and rules in this book, but not the kind that I’m used to. “spears add +2 to attacks” VS “Always keep your Arc in mind, and make actions that follow along it. If you’re looking to avenge your sister, then don’t waste points on impressing the crowd, etc etc.”
If you’re looking for a unique perspective on playing and designing RPGs, or you want to introduce people who are good storytellers but don’t like initiative, this is probably worth a look. It’s also a great choice if you’re very familiar with story structures and character arcs. But it is a bit hefty, and will take a while to digest.
created by John Scott Tynes
This is a strange one, with a unique setting and unique emphasis on rules. You play as puppets set in the unique world of the Maker where no humans control you, and your strings are free. One bad puppet has killed the Maker and now rules the land with evil and power. You play a group of puppets who seek to kill him.
One of the things that struck me as interesting about the game are the Three Rules. The first is that games only last an hour. In fact the manual encourages you to keep a watch nearby, and limit yourself to hour-long sessions. The second is that players can only speak in character. Everything that is said comes from the mouth of the puppet, not the player. If a player must speak out of character, they have to stand up and signify that they are no longer in character. The third rule is that players and GM all contribute to the story, and it should be told as if in a play, not like recounting your grocery list.
The game encourages PuppetMasters(GMs) to blend a lighthearted children’s tales with visceral horror and darkness. Any heavy mechanics are handwaved, instead clearly defining what different kinds of puppets can and can’t do. If you try to do something you aren’t good at, you take “damage”. Too much damage and you die. It seems like a very simple system that should work fine.
This is a really dark game, and with the right group of people it would be a blast to play. It has a different tone than most rpgs, and the rules of the game emphasize that the players should take the acting and the story seriously, just like in any puppet theatre. Worth checking out, since its free and all.
PDF: Pay What you Want
created by Tao Games
I really like this rpg. The mechanics are non-existent, there’s almost no character creation, GM advice is sparse at best, and the whole thing is only 20 pages long. But it is so heartfelt and precious that I cannot help but like it.
You and your friends play as a 5 year old girl named Clover and her friends. The GM is Clover’s dad, and guides her throughout her day and through most of her adventures. The only goal is to let yourself regress to your childhood days and ask your dad questions like “Can I go over there and play pretend with May?” “I want to see what’s behind the woods in our house. Will you come with me?” The guidance and tone of the game is more about communicating a feeling, and reading the “rules” while skimming the pictures makes me want to grab my 20-something friends and go build a tree fort out back.
“To play the game, you must devote an some time to play it with your friends. In playing, you imagine this girl and her friends in their lives, asking questions and saying what they say and what they do. There is no way to win. You just play because the experience is fun. So don’t play it with anyone mean.” -From their website.
It’s definitely worth a read, simply for the warm, uplifting fuzzies that settle in your stomach. Sure to warm your heart before you start another game of slaughtering your players.
First of all, what a great name. Character creation is dirt simple, and you simply determine where you want your character to fall on a spectrum between physical power and magical might. After creation your characters, the game begins its emphasis on character relationships and the emotional states of your character.
It skips a lot of the rules of combat, there are no extensive equipment and armor lists. Instead, it does a really good job of breaking down an rpg games into scenes, conflicts, resolutions, and transitions. I felt like I was in a tabltop RPG class! They introduce what scenes are, how they should be handled, how conflict should work, all with helpful charts, graphs, and examples. Besides Dungeon World, I’ve never seen a game put so much effort and work into explaining how GMing works, and the theory behind it.
This is definitely a game I will come back and read again. It has some great advice about how to setup your games, and flow from scene to scene. But the actual game mechanics and setting don’t particularly strike me as unique. A great game to read and study, but I plan on applying its principles to some of my other favorite games.
Big MuthaF%Kin Crab Truckers
created by Myles and MaleBox
Only one page long, and it still has 56 F-bombs. It’s a pretty simple system, with the big draw being the ridiculous premise and the hearty language and tone. I’ll admit, I smiled while reading this.
It uses a very simple system whereby the GM and player both roll a number of 8-sided dice equal to your skills, pick the best two dice, and compare each other’s scores. If the player wins, then they did the thing. If the GM was higher, then they didn’t do the thing.
It’s got crabs, mountains, and trucks. What more can I say?
Pay What you Want
created by Grant Howitt
Do you like Haiku?
Then Warrior Poet is
Written just for you
Play a game where you are a Warrior-Poet; a samurai with honor, skill, and style. Duel other warriors before the watchful eye of the Emperor; vying for his approval and attention.
Your Haiku will be representative of your graceful combat, as you trade lines and stanzas back and forth with other warriors. There’s a lot of beautiful imagery in this game, and some neat ideas about competition and art. Luckily, the rules are not written in Haiku, and are explained succinctly, without too much bloat or complicated mechanics. Worth a read, and worth a few bucks, especially if writing and artistic expression as resolution mechanics are interesting to you.
A game where you play as a clan of motorcycle riding samurai. It includes a modernized vision of Bushido and clan loyalty, which is really interesting. You create your pack, each individual chooses their role in the pack, their focus, etc. The reason I mention the character creation is that it is the focus of the game.
Creating the pack, its dynamics, interactions, and goals, you’re basically just set loose with some simple combat mechanics; encouraged to pursue the goals and uphold the honor of the pack. I am really excited to play this with my group. It seems like an excellent blend of different cultures, times, and philosophies. Worth the read, if nothing else!
Trinity – QuickStart Rules
PDF is Free
Created by White Wolf
Trinity is set in the future, when humanity has begun to evolve and psionics are occurring more and more often. They are the next evolutionary step, being treated like heroes and super-soldiers. Psionics are often drafted into one of 8 schools of psionic mastery, and train within these schools. You make a character, pick a school, and head out to save the world, accomplish your own goals, and/or kill something.
The quickstart rules are quite nice! The mechanics are boiled down into a dice-pool system, with the basics there for most adventures and actions. Some of the schools are not detailed, a lot of character class info is missing, etc. But this is definitely enough to run a one shot or two. I like the dice pool system featured here, and can appreciate its simplicity.
There is obviously a lot missing, and I don’t know how complicated or crunchy the main rulebook would be. But this seems like a competent system overall. I probably won’t buy it, simply because I find some other sci-fi settings more interesting. But if you want to play sci-fi psychics, this is your game!
What started out as a comic book is now being kickstarted and adapted to be an RPG Sourcebook. Full Review Here.
This game started out as a custom, short, near-future rpg that Hindmarch played with some of his friends. Mechanics were added, some conventions arose, and eventually Hindmarch had an entirely new system and setting. He ran a successful Kickstarter to turn it into a pretty, well laid out and polished game.
There is a sense of narrative slap-dash mechanics. Not a lot of heavy crunch or complexity, which is nice. The most interesting thing about ANN is the Scene organization and pacing. There’s great advice in here about how to run a game session, how to connect locations, and how to cut up an adventure into several connected “scenes”. In fact, page 11 alone is a unique flow-chart for narrative through location. I like it!
There isn’t much to dislike about ANN, except the setting isn’t really my kind of game. Most of the mechanics focus on a simple roll above X to succeed. Very simple, very easy, but not much depth. I can see why this is more about adventure and storytelling than creating new tabletop mechanics.
This system is designed for adventures like Final Fantasy and Avatar the Last Airbender. It’s made to accommodate a lot of the tropes and archetypes of these genres. The game uses a dice-pool system for attacks and spells, and focuses on specific abilities, rather than customize-able combat mechanics. The combat only takes up one page, with attacks and abilities adding more complexity.
You can either pick from some pre-made character templates (monk, water-bender, summoner, healer, weaponsmith, etc.) OR you can choose from a more in-depth character creation system. This a great way to add complexity without burdening the player, and perfect if you just want to jump into a game of Kingdom Hearts. I wish more systems had archetypes and pre-made characters to choose from, but really, MOST anime characters from the more popular shows will fit into one of these templates with little trouble.
I’m not a huge fan of dice-pool systems, but this seems to handle it pretty well. It does require a lot of dice, sometimes up to 16 dice per character (unless everyone shares). The system is laser-focused, only offering 3 types of powers: Charge/spells, Soulbound weapons/magic weapons, and Summoning. Anything outside of those areas won’t really fly. This system is perfect for playing in your favorite anime universe.
This system is still in development, but I’m putting a placeholder here.
Limiting player actions to the cards in their hands and encouraging creativity within boundaries, which I’ve found is the best way that creativity thrives! I like turning a poker hand into a character sheet. cool ideas.
Becoming – Hero Journey
This game changes the rpg dynamic, and flips it on its head. One player takes the role of a hero, while the other players each assume the roles of the Fates, giving the hero trials, troubles, and adventures. Each of the Fates has their own motivations and abilities. They try to turn the Hero into something else, while the Hero tries to maintain their character in spite of these trials. There is a lot of information for making your own heroes, quests, and fates.
This is a very interesting system, focusing on motivation and roles. Everyone has a defined role, and is expected to act within their roles. I really like this archetypal setup, with clear boundaries on either side. I also like how this game embraces cliches and archetypes, and in fact relies upon them. Becoming can be a very different experience for a group, making a nice change from a group of travelers fighting monsters to one person over-coming the Fates.
This game requires a LOT of dice, at least 60+ if I read the rules correctly. It also requires that players do not stray too far outside of their goals and limits. There are not a lot mechanics, just roles and motivations. This is great for the story-telling game, but depends upon a disciplined group of players self-refereeing and keeping themselves in line. It is also limited to 4 players, no more, no less.
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
This is a game designed for kids 12+, which includes me! (23). Whew. With the same tone as Avatar the Last Airbender, this is a game where players travel to strange lands and try to resolve problems and find solutions. There is not much combat, not many spells, no levels, and no character sheet. Instead, each pilgrim writes down how they tend to get into trouble (curious, talkative, easily distracted, etc) and how they help people; usually relating to how you get into trouble (investigates where other’s don’t, talks people through their problems, notices things people miss). Pilgrims receive a letter detailing the world that needs help, and what the problem is. And then they go do that.
You take the bag of 40 stones, 20 white, 20 black, and on your turn you’re the storyteller, everyone else is termed as troublemakers. You draw 3 and then you get to pick the white or the black stones. You have a marker with two sides. One of them indicates you’re in trouble. One that you’re not. There’s a handy little table that tells about how many stones you keep vs how many you put back in the bag.
The results either put you into or out of trouble, and you write a sentence using goal words from the letter depending on the results. If you manage to eventually cross off all the goal words, you get a parade ending. Things turn out good for you guys.
If someone gets 8 or more stones before you get all the goal words, you get a pitchforks ending, where things aren’t so good, and you get driven offworld for your meddling in their affairs. There’s some cleanup stuff after everything is done to change or retire characters, but that’s basically the idea.
Who writes the sentences (troublemakers or storyteller) is determined by what you choose to keep. So you’re trying to keep as few stones as possible while crossing off goal words. There’s a handy dandy letters book (of which I wrote a couple!) for premade letters too. :) The system for writing them is pretty simple. – Description from AskJames
If you are ever interested in playing tabletop games with kids, this is a MUST READ! lots of great advice about how to handle kids, how to keep things simple, playing to their imagination, and fast pacing. Also a great way to tailor adventures for specific kids. There’s a whole section about using this in the classroom, and teaching morals and lessons through gameplay. AMAZING!
Available at DriveThruRPG, Source
Created by Jason Morningstar in November 2012
A futuristic sci-fi game taking place in a distant colony on the edge of civilization. People become colonists for a host of reasons, and embrace the chance to start anew in a harsh environment. One fun part of the game is the difference between how things are advertised, and how things ACTUALLY are. All colonies and situations have a public, clean description, while the reality is often darker and murkier. Instead of quests, characters have oaths that they must keep or break, and play out situations until the fun starts to run low.
This game has some of the best world and colony generation that I’ve seen. There are tables that you randomly roll up to select environments, planets, colonies, and threats. Everything blends together well, and no matter what combination you are guaranteed a great, grisly situation. This game also has some of the best political and social interaction/setup/focus. There are no combat rules, since combat is just one way to solve a problem. If I ever run a sci-fi game, I will shamelessly steal these generation tables.
This system is designed around single, self-contained adventures, and I can see it running dry after 3 or 4 sessions. This is a system that will be played every once in a while to mix things up, but will not sustain your games for the next 2 years. Great game for non-violent conflict resolution, political problems, and dealing with tough situations. It will take the right kind of group to get behind it, but feel free to yank the setting and planet generation tables for use in other games (which I do all the time!)
Savage Worlds Version available here for $10 PDF
Taking place in the far future, a “hard sci-fi” Post Scarcity and Post Singularity universe. Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, humanity is spread across the stars in various states of augmentation. This game has incredible world-building, and details how a post-scarcity economy works, how life has changed, and what concerns citizens of the future.
Explaining the universe could fill this blog (actually, here’s a good explanation), but if you like hard, well thought out science fiction, the backstory and setting are fantastic, well written, and very detailed. Also, the design and layout of this PDF is incredible! It is the only rpg where the PDF version is far easier to navigate than the book. It’s based on FATE, which is a great system to build upon.
And boy does it build upon it. Calling this a Fate game is a stretch. Mechanics have been layered on top, augmented, and enhanced. Make no mistake, this game is crunchy. Tons of lists, tables, and specifics for items, abilities, and character creation. I don’t think it’s too complicated, but it is more than I want to learn and deal with.
An RPG set in Mythic Europe of 1220. The setting is based in this reality, with a thick layering of new mythos and magic. The highlight of the game is the Hermetic Arts; a system of magic heavily based in philosophy and understanding. Evoked with a Technique and a Form, several different words and intentions can be combined to do almost anything that can be imagined. Set in a rich mythology blending Angels, Demons, Fey, and classical monsters, legends become reality; where magic is no longer a myth.
The magic system in this game is famous for a very good reason: it is incredibly deep, well thought out, and flexible. The system requires a deep understanding of the philosophy behind the hermetic arts, giving some real reflection of a person’s mastery of magic. If a player spends time and study of this system, they will be more effective than someone who doesn’t; levels and character sheet be damned. That’s really neat, and I don’t know of any other system that reflects the strength of knowledge and understanding over spell lists and level.
On the other side of the coin, Ars Magica’s flexibility is to it’s detriment. Using this system, one could easily melt a castle, turn an enemy to glass, or make their opponents think they are already dead. Ars Magica’s attempt to balance this with mechanics is…..obtuse to say the least. Mechanics are complicated, simple spells take forever to crunch through, and extensive foreknowledge and preparation is required for every adventure/action. It is one of the crunchiest and paper-work-heavy systems I have ever read. And that’s a real shame too, because if the mechanics could be tamed, this system would completely replace vancian spell lists and spell levels.
Clockwork and Chilvalry
Source, pdf: $25
Created by Cakebread & Walton
Set in the English Civil War during 1645, the two main factions have discovered and utilize advanced weaponry: The Royalists focusing on Alchemy, advanced potions, and magicks, while the Parliamentarians have created complex clockwork machinery, vehicles and weapons. These two sides duke it, allowing the players to find adventure and conflict amidst this civil war. Based on a heavily modified RuneQuest 2 rules set.
I uh….I like the idea, and some of the setting. I know nothing about history, but clockwork vs magick sounds like a lot of fun to play. Some of the items lists, potions, and clockwork machines are interesting, and well-designed.
I am not the intended audience for this game. Along with Ars Magica, this is a complicated, crunchy, and historically entwined rpg. It’s WAY too much, and I could barely read enough to write these few paragraphs. Anyone who likes history and complexity would do well to look into this….everyone else, give it a pass.
Similar to Nova Praxis, Eclipse Phase takes place in the far future, where technology has advanced to incredible heights, and humanity has evolved beyond itself. So far has it come, that most of organized society crashed, resulting in a far-future apocalypse. Unlike Nova Prxis, there is no main government or structure, and people live in an unstable anarchy and faction war. Eclipse Phase focuses a lot more on Transhumanism than the Singularity. The tagline for the game is:
Your mind is software. Program it.
Your body is a shell. Change it.
Death is a disease. Cure it.
Extinction is approaching. Fight it.
Using a d100 system the game seems fairly light on mechanics, although the setting introduces a type of crunch, with details of abilities, dimensions, and long skill lists adding more book-keeping than calculus. A lot of these details and setting materials could be transferred to another system (which is most likely what I would do). I like the idea of death being impermanent, and bodies switching out completely to result in new abilities and game direction. There are lots of great ideas here, and when combined with Nova Praxis, one could make an incredibly rich and detailed vision of the future.
This universe is very detailed and fully realized. That means a lot of research and knowledge of the setting is required by both GM and player. This is a not a pick-up and play type of game, but will provide a lot of depth for those willing to invest in it. I’m also not a huge fan of extensive skill lists, instead preferring aspects(FATE) or moves(AW) to guide character depth and customization.
Beat to Quarters
PDF is $10
Created by Omnihedron Games
Another game steeped in the time period and history. Again, I am a little lost when it comes to this stuff. Set in the Age of Sail (16th to 19th centuries), this is a true-to-form system for playing in that time period, with no additional magic systems or supernatural stuff added. There is lots of info about this time period, with info about social structure, details on ship construction, and common phrases of the day. Also, this system uses a deck of cards instead of dice, which is neat!
I like how the cards are used for generating events, characters, and items. Cards are also used to resolve conflicts and determine outcomes. I like the limited randomness of cards rather than the infinite randomness of dice. Also, character creation is intricate, but not with spells and abilities. Rather, players create backgrounds, skills, and experience in a way that is more grounded in reality, and makes more sense than DnD style character creation. Interesting system with a lot of depth, but with little to no powers or advancement.
Again, I’m not the audience for these games. I can run a Pirate’s of the Caribbean style pirate game, a la Pirate World. But Beat to Quarters is heavily steeped in the historical period, and seems very authentic. Great option for someone who wants to play something with historical accuracy and realistic play options.
Shadows of Esteren
Book zero is available for free, and lays down the setting and basic mechanics for this system. Self-described as a dark, low-fantasy grim world where magic exists, but usually manifests in dark curses or shadowy specters. No wizards or elves here.
Instead of the traditional stats based character options, Esteren focuses on different aspects of a character’s personality, motivations, and goals. I like the idea that characters aren’t based around what they are most proficient at, but what they want, or how they solve problems. If two men are equal fighters, then it all comes down to personality, motivation, and dedication. How far will you go t accomplish your goal? Also, skills and feats are laid out in a large tree, allowing for branching paths of character customization, rather than picking from long lists of abilities. I LOVE skill trees, and would like to implement a skill tree in my next game.
The setting isn’t really my cup of tea, but it’s well laid out, seems to have a lot of depth, and could provide an excellent backdrop to a harsh, gritty game. Also, the preview doesn’t go into too much depth, AND the game itself is spread over about 4-5 books. That’s a heavy investment for me, and too deep for my pockets.
Stars Without Number
A sci-fi role-playing game that portrays a universe where space travel has altered humanity over the course of generations. These mutations result in a section of humanity manifesting psychic powers. After a horrible spacial anomaly kills all the psychics in the universe, humanity is recovering and re-building without the aid of interstellar travel. Worlds are stranded from each other, small leaders vie for power, star charts are mostly out of date, and tales of strange alien beings spread far and wide.
Nothing too special going on, the game is designed to be compatible with most old-school characters, systems, and supplements. So it’s your basic d20 system. The value is not the system, but the character creation packs (simple and easy to port over), equipment and items lists, and finally, the generation tables. OH MAN! The world creation tables are excellent! Roll for atmosphere, temperature, biosphere, population, tech level, and 2-3 more random characteristics. This, combined with Durance tables is really all you need to populate a galaxy! There are a few more random tables for character generation, adventure creation, etc etc. I love these!
No major complaints, SWN knows what it is, and it does it very well. Nothing revolutionary, but a fantastic tool-set and resource for a less “hard” science fiction game. Also, there are lots of great supplements if you don’t want typical sci-fi.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten – Quickstart
As you may or may not know, I’m working on my own little survival/zombie game. AFME is one that I’ve been meaning to checkout, and have heard it’s praises sung by many.
And for good reason! AFME follows the basic d10 system for stats and rolls, and layers on a thick sheet of text flavor, real-life characters, and a humorous take on character classes. The classes included in the quick-start guide are “Clingy Boyfriend, Well-Meaning Slacker, Manic Party Animal, Cool Dorm Mate, etc.” These are all brilliant, and say a lot about the tone of the game. There’s a mental health indicator, as well as some HP type stats.
The setting and tone are fantastic! Player classes are all average people, and there’s no real sense of balance or levels. Lots of great ideas, items, and characterization options. I love how they can show the difference between the Naive Freshman and the Professional Student using stats, equipment, and skills. It would be easy to turn yourself into a character using this game.
However, it really seems like the rules just get in the way. For all the cool customization, you still roll initiative, take long turns, and crunch numbers. It’s too much for me to deal with. What I would likely do is take some of the setting material, character options, and ideas; dump those into the Apocalypse World Engine; and continue on my merry way!
Iron Kingdoms – Fools Rush In
I only had access to the free quick-start rules, so this may not be accurate to the system as a whole. But dang. Steampunk fantasy game that is based on the Warmachine games. It’s very tactical, supports miniatures, and has several different actions per turn.
I get the feeling that this game would take a long time to play, and that combat rounds might drag on. The universe seems fairly in-depth, and well developed. I didn’t have access to the corebook, so I assume that they have the cool items, spell lists, and gadgets.
I don’t really have much to say. If you want fantasy steampunk miniature combat, check this one out. If not, let’s continue forward.
Created by One Seven Design, John Harper
A micro-rpg inspired by Apocalypse World. The players work on the Ghostline, a spectral train transport. Powered by electro-magic, you are one of the Line Bulls, sent to patrol the train in their magnetic suits. When spirits, ghosts, or worse try to hitch a ride, you knock them off and kill them before they can threaten the passengers.
I love the concept, and I especially like the layout. The entire game, with character creation, setting info, and character sheets fit on 4 pages. Including my favorite: Random Generation Tables! Woohoo! In short, I could see getting 4-5 good sessions out of this game, and digging it back up every few months. Excellent excellent!
My only gripe is that for something based on AW, there are a lot of niggling and picky modifier rules. I haven’t played it, so I don’t know how complex it really would be, but eh; there’s my gripe.
PDF is Free, currently
Created by Fantasy Core games
Take the depth, complexity, and strategy of DnD, boil it away, and arrange what’s left into a humorous cave-man rpg. This is an rpg where characters only know a number of words equal to their INT score, in or out of character. The mechanics are bare-bones and the tone is a humorous explanation involving my favorite RPG rulebook quote so far:
In general EXP should be given out in the same way points are given out on the
show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” If you have not seen this show proceed to the closest
bridge and throw yourself off of it.
This game is hilarious in its writing and tone. I also like the idea of limiting players to a set list of words. It seems like some of the rules are kept there just to poke fun at DnD. Here’s the alignment system:
No Roleplaying game is complete without an alignment system (or so we have been told). Selecting an alignment for your character will provide it with an overall personality and disposition towards life. There are nine alignments that can be selected by combining the options given.
FIRST HALF – VERY, SORTA, NOT
SECOND HALF – NICE, AVERAGE, MEAN
I mean, the only complaint is that the dnd trappings just don’t make much sense, but seeing how that’s the point of the joke, I can’t really submit any major critiques. This game is the monty-python of corebooks. Saying that knights didn’t really use coconuts isn’t a valid critique.
Wild Talents – Progenitor
First of all, I haven’t read the whole thing, just skimmed it. For a good review, read here:
But, as for me, I’m excited to dive more into it. The Roll-Once mechanic sounds really interesting. I like the alternate take on superheroes, and the power creep that exists. I’ll post more here once I’ve read the whole sourcebook and expansion (400+ pages).
Scarlet Heroes – Quickstart
This was one that I saw the kickstarter for, but decided not to back it. The big pitch was an rpg with a focus on one player/hero, and one GM. Most rpgs require 3-5 players to make up a group, and balance their enemies around that. Scarlet Heroes focuses on smaller and solo groups. The mechanics are pretty bare, being compatible with almost anything d20. The setting isn’t explained in the Quickstart rules, but it doesn’t seem to be anything too special or groundbreaking.
The most interesting idea is something called your Fray Dice. It’s a way for a hero to kill multiple petty enemies quickly, abstracting away boring combat. It lets Burn the Breaker destroy the 37 zombies in the room, and focus on the Necromancer in the back. Interesting idea, and I think it could be implemented in a lot of systems to give the feel of badassery without dragging down the combat. I like it.
Unfortunately, besides Fray Dice, there doesn’t seem to be anything new or even very interesting here. Some of the random generation tables are handy (of course!) and the lists of equipment and loot are nice. Maybe there is more to be learned from the corebook, but I’m not very inclined to find out.
Wow, if you’ve made it this far, I don’t feel so bad hawking my own games….you’re clearly shopping for something! See what I’ve got here.
This is the end of my list (currently). I hope you got something out of it. Please let me know of any more interesting rpgs and games! I’m always excited to discover something new! And if I was way off in one of my micro-reviews, let me know! I haven’t done extensive research or detail, so more information is always nice.