Recommend Me A Roleplaying Game?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I fell out of love with D&D when I realized that the game was tilting towards explaining everything.
I couldn’t blame them; the vast majority of players want firm stats, new feats, monsters with clearly-defined powers and a set number of hit points.  So they buy supplements that give them those hard figures… and when Wizards of the Coast figured that out, they made D&D 4th Edition, which is essentially nothing but a dry set of rules to accommodate combat.  “Why should we accentuate the roleplaying?” Wizards asked.  “The people who want to do that will just break the rules anyway.  So let’s give the players a strict framework of guidelines to run combat in, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Me?  I want mysteries.
This is why I adored Planescape, which was a world defined largely by belief, and had many things that could not be beaten by mortals.  (You weren’t taking down a God, you weren’t settling the Blood War, and there were no stats for the Lady of Pain.)  I love Delta Green, with its methodical attention to detail and its grim meathook way of dragging you into the abyss.  I love Unknown Armies, the way that there’s always some new and crazy obsession-related magic around the corner.  I love Deadlands, with its crazy Wild West History and stock archetype characters carving their way through a fragmented United States.
What I really like, as it turns out, is a detailed look into another world.  These aren’t necessarily roleplaying games for me; they’re a travelogue into a new land, with different magic systems and strange challenges.  I’m a writer, I don’t need stats; what I need are mysteries to spark ideas that I can then run with in my own campaign.  I love reading someone who’s clearly gone to great lengths to devise a land that’s both meticulously thought-out and yet still full of unanswered questions.
(…Which is why I never liked White Wolf’s supplements all that much.  They always struck me as well thought-out, but I never felt there were serious mysteries in them; rather, there were these intense political campaigns with no room for the players to squeeze themselves into.  I kind of wished they’d just write novels and stop pretending like they wanted players to interact with them.)
And I know such things exist these days; I just don’t work in a game shop any more, so I’m unaware of them.  So I’ll ask you experts: What roleplaying games do you think I’ll enjoy reading?
(Not playing, sadly.  Just reading.  I really want to run an Unknown Armies campaign now, but that’s a very acting-heavy system, and I’d need at least four people willing to throw themselves deeply into character.  I just don’t have the critical mass of local peeps to make for a satisfying UA campaign, which wouldn’t involve victory over the odds but rather people trying to come to terms with the deeply weird world they’ve accidentally opened the door to.)
I’ve given you my top four: Planescape, Delta Green, Unknown Armies, Deadlands.  If you can recommend any new RPG worlds (preferably created in the past seven years), I’d be grateful.  I’d like to get up to speed, and see what folks have done lately.
 

14 Comments

  1. Keely Reine
    May 6, 2013

    It’s definitely not as recent as the last 7 years, and my memories of the details are a bit rusty, but one of my college roleplaying groups alternated between Unknown Armies and Over the Edge. It’s another by Atlas Games, and I think it would definitely meet your criteria about well thought-out plus plenty of mystery.

  2. Björn Paulsen
    May 6, 2013

    Witchcraft, by Eden Studios. Not only is it free, it’s essentially the World of Darkness done right.

  3. Scott Van Essen
    May 6, 2013

    I’m not much of a role-player, and when I am, I’m pretty much the anti-you. I’m Hack-N-Slash all the way.
    That being said, I saw the Fiasco episode of Tabletop, and I thought that the game was absolutely brilliant. I in fact thought of you when I saw it.
    I believe you mentioned something about Fiasco here a little while ago, so I don’t know if you played it and didn’t like it or if it was just a passing mention or exposure. Nonetheless, that would be my recommendation to you if you haven’t played it.

  4. Tyson of the Northwest
    May 6, 2013

    Anything by John Wick.
    Okay seriously though. Houses of the the Blooded takes the old D&D “roll dice to determine if you succeed or fail” and shifts it to “roll dice do determine who decides how you succeed or fail”. The setting and backstory are well written and engaging. Gameplay focuses on an antediluvian culture known as the Venn, a culture where the word for love and vengeance are the same. Very operatic in feel, and does political drama an intrigue better than old White Wolf did.
    John’s work is always interesting and often thought provoking, even his “traditional” Wicked fantasy supplements for Pathfinder (basicly D&D 3rd ed) are intriguing reads.
    Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, we are young, inexperienced, and here to “Help”. A light adventure game of good intentions, unforeseen consequences and taking responsibility. You play “meddling kids” traveling from world to world “helping” solve problems, getting into and out of trouble. Taking inspiration from “The Little Prince” and “Avatar the Last Airbender” it is a story heavy game that is great for an evening of light, “pass the stick”, role playing with imaginative folk.
    Smallville, bear with me here. As a superhero game it avoids the root problem of traditional supers games, where the conflict is centered around the competing strengths of different superpowers. While this allows players to simulate superhero stories it doesn’t get to the heart of good superhero stories, the ties between characters and making hard decisions. Margaret Weis Productions did a great job of hacking their Cortex system into a new take on how to run a superhero game. Also MWP is working on generic rules for superhero games not tied to the Smallville IP.
    Leverage, the rich and powerful take what they want, you steal it back. Structured similarly to the TV show of the same name, leverage typically begins during the heist, dice roles not only determine success or failure during the heist, but grant flashbacks to preplanning common in heist stories.
    Amaranthine: Romance, Vendetta, Eternity. Structured similarly to White Wolf games Amaranthine is about reincarnation and the interconnectedness of souls through multiple lifetimes. Borrowing from the narrative style of Highlander your character draws powers and abilities from their past lives to influence the actions in their current ones. The system is a bit rough in places, but it has an engaging world with thought provoking backstory.
    Eclipse Phase, roleplaying on the edge of humanity. A post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror game. Players take part in a cross-faction secret network dubbed Firewall that is dedicated to counteracting “existential risks” — threats that could drive an already decimated transhumanity to extinction.
    Sword Noir. The first game based on the lightweight “Swords Edge System” that I have used as a replacement for my urban D&D games. Tuned for small combats similar of the style of the Three Musketeers. Characters grow based on their motivations or “pivots”. Other Swords Edge Games include; Kiss My Axe, a viking game that evokes the feel of “The Thirteenth Warrior”, and Centurion: Legionary of Rome.
    Dogs in the Vineyard, paladins in a west that never was. Solid system, and interesting storytelling opportunities.
    Anyway, there is a handful of interesting games I have played recently. All of them are available inexpensively in PDF on DriveThruRPG (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/). Have fun.

  5. Trey
    May 6, 2013

    I really like Lesser Shades of Evil, and I think you would too.

  6. Tyson of the Northwest
    May 6, 2013

    Fortuitously enough my copy of Magicians was waiting for me when I got home. Also available on drivethru, Magicians tells coming of age stories along the lines of Harry Potter or Earthsea but set within Korean Folklore. The magic system is based around speaking Korean and is tuned to assisting learning the language.

  7. Jennifer
    May 7, 2013

    It’s not a game that creates a new world, but I would recommend taking a look at De Profundis. It’s a Cthulhu-inspired game, but I think it can be played in many settings. It’s played by (snail) mail and the players create the story between them, with no-one and everyone in control. There are no stats or hard rules and the great thing is that you don’t need a local group or a fixed date, just people willing to write letters and get creative.

  8. Anna
    May 7, 2013

    Pathfinder is the ship most D&D players have apparently jumped to; I don’t get to read the supplements (I’m a player and our DM doesn’t like us getting sneak peeks), so I’m not sure how much story they have. I know I enjoy RP and there’s definitely plenty of history for people.
    The other suggestion that I couldn’t stress enough would be Palladium Fantasy, Rifts or any of the affiliated products. The rules for these games are intentionally fluid to allow flexibility that gives the roleplay the front seat and free reign. The system is designed in such a way that it can be played with just a DM and a player, or as many players as the DM wants to accommodate. I have a friend who has been playing Palladium games for over a decade and goes to their open house every two years (that’s how often they hold it; it’s like an awesome convention built solely around their games). I honestly enjoy it a lot and wish it was better known so I could find a regular group to play it with.
    You can find out more about Palladium at http://palladiumbooks.com/ (sorry for sounding like an advertisement).

  9. CaptainCassidy
    May 8, 2013

    I’m a big fan of 7th Sea. Very rich and involved gameworld, the magic systems are varied and well-described, and it’s got pirates.

  10. xragon
    May 11, 2013

    I would suggest checking out Monte Cook’s new rpg and world Numenera. It sounds like the world has some great backing Anne story to it.

    • TheFerrett
      May 17, 2013

      I’ve been a fan of that since before his Kickstarter hit $100,000. 🙂

  11. Marc
    May 13, 2013

    Nobilis!

  12. ARBW
    May 14, 2013

    You might really like Conspiracy X. Think “the X Files,” but instead of being plucky young FBI agents, you’re the OTHER folks…

  13. Craig
    Jun 2, 2013

    Let me start with the ‘not a recommendation’ for reading: Scion from White Wolf. The whole game is about giving stats to gods and then beating them up. What I do like from it is their “stunting” system – it is a built in mechanic that if the players describe their actions in a particularly cool manner they get a bonus. I think that should be stolen for any game.
    For ones where I thought the world was neat reading:
    7th Sea – seems like our world during the 1500’s but everything has a bit of a twist to it. The characters/villains have positive and negative motiviations and other players or the GM can trigger them for story purposes. It also encourages the players to try ridiculous impossible feats.
    Tenra Bansho (japanese) / Tenra Bansho: Zero (english): The english version is soon to be released following a kickstarter last year. Set in what seems to be a world based on Japanese legend but it may actually be a sci-fi world colonized by humans who have forgotten their origin.
    Blue Planet: Humanity has discovered a worm hole to a planet that is 90% water. A strange panacea called longjohn was found there. The original colony was stranded for several generations and now consider themselves the natives. The corps are trying to control everything. A strange possibly sentient manta-like species patrols the oceans. Humanity relies on modified humans along with uplifted dolphins and orcas for most of the undersea exploration.
    Artesia: Created by Mark Smylie as a setting for his comic of the same name, they created an RPG set in the same world. The core book delves into a wealth of detail (possibly too much) on the history, mythology, terrain, politics, castes, clothing, armor styles, and heredity of the world.
    Exalted: Another White Wolf game but the setting itself is pretty neat. The power levels are ridiculous, but that is part of the setting.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.