In my twenty-five something years of gaming I’ve read, run and played in a fair few number of fantasy RPGs, so trying to decide my favourite is a bit tricky. In the end I think I can boil into down into two distinct types; favourite system and favourite background.
How many times have you cracked open a game to find that it is indeed just another western style D&D clone or Middle Earth facsimile? I think when it boils down to it, most of the times it’s someone’s house-rules masquerading as The Next Big Thing TM.
Legend of the Five Rings wins for me here, this game just oozes style and atmosphere especially since the whole background draws upon a number of Eastern mythologies to give you something that is very different to what you may be used to.
King Arthur Pendragon. A classic retelling of the Arthurian legend, where the players can partake in a campaign that spans three or so generations of play.
Dungeon Quest. I haven’t had a chance to play this yet but I love the whole idea of how it works, the simplified combat adds another dimension to it and the character bonds are a really good way of connecting the group together.
Runequest. Another one of those games I looked at when I was getting in to gaming, the Games Workshop editions were released as a set of hardbacks and owing to licensing rights Glorantha couldn’t be used so a fantasy Europe was used instead. I loved the percentile mechanics but not the really deadly combat, later on the system would be used in a modified form for King Arthur Pendragon.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I bet you didn’t see that coming 😛 . This for me was a real alternative to xD&D. You had career based progression, deadly combat, some really odd creatures to battle and a wonderfully dark humorously horrific background; in short is was everything that xD&D wasn’t at the time. Oh and it was completely British so it had some really oddities.
I have to tip my hat to the often forgotten Middle Earth Roleplaying Game. While the system was a bit overwhelming and there could have been more in the way of examples it did justice to Middle Earth and the background was very well presented.
The latest step in the evolution of the worlds most popular RPG Pathfinder has a lot going for it. Released when Wizards of the Coast moved on to do D&D4e there were always going to be gamers who refused to change to the new edition. Pathfinder took the mantle of 3.5 and applied a lot of what I suspect to be several houserules and codified them into a single cohesive whole. This is a game where you really can get away with nothing more than the core rulebook, sure the bestiary is a nice touch but you can find all of the Pathfinder monsters on the http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ Pathfinder System reference document.
I remember the resistance offered when TSR released AD&D 2nd edition, the wailing and gnashing of teeth as gamers perceived their beloved loopholes being closed up in the new edition. There was a similar reluctance for D&D3 as the cleaner design removed many trappings of the system that some people held onto like a security blanket. I was a little hesitant to get the new edition as I had recently purchased the excellent Core Rules 2 campaign package; a suite of digital tools that enabled character creation; writing handouts, dice roller and mapper in an all in one package. The new edition put paid to me using it again which was a pity since Core Rules 2 was a most excellent tool.
Although having everything in one book does make for a monster (ho-ho) tome, it is not the largest game book on my shelf; something that I will discuss in a future top ten posting.
I think where Pathfinder really shines though are the adventure path series, a series typically containing six books which form the basis for a campaign. In an age of every increasing splat books, it is a refreshing change to see a company willing to support their core line with a series of pre-packaged campaigns. Even if you don’t use them as written you can always mine them for inspiration and use them as a basis for a new campaign.
There are quite a few other fantasy games available and many appear to draw inspiration from D&D in one shape or another.
Pendragon casts you as a knight in the tales of King Arthur which isn’t a bad thing; using a familiar setting makes it easier for players to get a sense of what is going on and at least an idea of what may happen. There is one campaign adventure available The Great Pendragon Campaign which enables you to play through the rise and fall of King Arthur. Since this is a rather long campaign, the game provides you with the chance to create and play knights from different generations, with the game clock running it is somewhat important to find time to get married and try to start a family to ensure that there are future generations to carry the family name. Since the system is derived from Runequest combat can be quite deadly and another reason to have an heir and a spare to hand 🙂
Back in the 1980’s, riding the wave of success of the Fighting Fantasy game books a slim paperback RPG appeared called Maelstrom. It was simple to play and had everything you needed in one volume and this little gem quickly disappeared until the rights to the game were recently acquired and a facsimile edition was reprinted.
Last year a brand new edition was crowd-funded and subsequently released the afore mentioned Domesday edition which rather than being a small standard sized paperback is available in both soft and hard cover. The game is set in York in 1086 and has a lifepath based character creation system that reminded me of Warhammer 1st edition and by the end of it you have not only a character but a rich background for you to hang plot hooks off of. I’m always in favour of lifepath systems for this very reason.