Three Favorites? A contest~

Pretty often in gamer conversation, wherever it might take place, our opinions on a game become part of the context of that conversation. Our likes and dislikes get entangled – meaningfully or otherwise – in the topic. There can be a lot to like or dislike in a game and in how that game is presented to us. Depending on who is in the conversation, things can get convoluted and unclear as terms and intentions for terms drift and as people wrestle with articulating formative ideas and feelings for the first time. People might accidentally embrace circular arguments and declare that they like the game because it is a game that they like, or they can find themselves boarding a passing bandwagon to repeat what others have said about it. Polls and surveys regularly flood social media to get people to weigh in on their favorite games, and through a general lack of specificity or planning of what is supposed to be a fun diversion, feed this cycle of incoherent interaction, and thus inadvertently help perpetuate it. Over time, such things grew less and less fun for me to participate in or even read as the effort of sifting through the entries is so often greater than the potential reward of exciting discoveries of cool new games to try. Recently, however, a contest from Jason of the Nerd’s RPG Variety Cast hit all the right notes for me to consider the question and participation again. Jason asked specifically for three systems (not game titles) that his listeners favor with a reason to support why it has become a favorite based on actual play of it. This version of the classic poll question is a complete win for me. (Details about the contest below)

“What are the top three favorite RPG systems you’ve played, and why?”

Short Version of my Response for the busy gamer on the go

You can experience this post as a podcast HERE

FFG Star Wars – When considered as a distinct implementation of what later became Genesys, the system is a cunning collaborator in a Star Wars roleplaying game. Ideal for new GMs just learning to run games, or for experienced GMs who enjoy being a vital part of a vibrant and thrilling experience that relies on their experience, descriptive ability, and improvisational skill. As a bonus, the system gets everyone involved in the description as a part of play. As text, the books offer clear advice and support on using the system. The system has three core settings, Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force & Destiny.

Ubiquity Roleplaying System – The system is flexible, but not generic so it has a low page count and quickly-assimilated patterns that speed both learning and play. It is fast to run with meaningful options for players to explore. Plus, it has a satisfying read-to-use ratio that leaves little to no irrelevant material cluttering up your memory. It is geared for the specific feel of pulp heroics and has advice and procedures that help the group bring that to life. Examples of games using this system are Hollow Earth Expedition, Leagues of Adventure, and Quantum Black.

Mythras – The system is a generic toolkit and so it carries the expectation that it should be able to handle anything a group wants to use it for. It exceeds that expectation. Mythras is the descendent and direct beneficiary of all the fantastic innovation that started with the first RuneQuest and branched off into all the d100 games supported by Basic Roleplaying (Call of Cthulhu being the best known but not only one of those). It has added to what has gone before, not just collected it, and it continues to evolve with gaming. It is a simple game to use, but with tremendous depth. It is intended to be read and to have its parts selected for use or set aside for some other game in some future time. Each section of the book gives insight into what the rules are for, why they exist, and how they can be used. Settings available for this system include Mythic Earth, Lyonesse, Luther Arkwright, and Worlds United.

Long(er) version

I read a lot of games and a like a lot of the games that I read in whole or in part. It is a key part of the process of getting a new game to the table to look at its elements, such as setting, system, and how those things are united in and by play. A game is more than the sum of its parts, obviously, and it is important to recognize the influence of the people you play a game with, and the fun that you have with it, on your overall impression of a game. When asked about my favorite games, I find that my list is too long, and the contexts too specific for the question to be answerable in any useful way, but for this contest, the focus is on system only. That is something that I can do.

To answer the question for myself, and to limit the response to three systems without any honorable mentions or qualifiers, I decided to add a further filter – that of how the games were designed. My three choices, listed in brief above, include one designed for a specific setting and genre, one designed for a variety of settings in a specific genre, and one designed to be a toolkit. One is relatively light, one is moderate, and one appears to be heavy. This weight-of-system varies between the games from effort required before play to effort required in play, and I recognize that a newcomer to these games, or a newcomer to gaming in general may handle that weight differently than I do. That perception of weight or effort has changed for me as well as I have grown in experience with each of the systems. Now that I have years of play behind me with each of them, returning to them quickly for a few sessions is quick and easy, and being in the flow of regular play is very comfortable – maybe even intuitive. These systems are ones that I understand on a deep level, that I like to the point of preferring them to other similar options, and that I have used a lot and used in different campaigns with different people. They make up a large part of my last decade of gaming.

These three systems stand out because they demonstrate the types of system choices I tend to make given the settings that I enjoy, the people that are available for me to game with, and the type of results that they help to deliver. Further, these games were well-written by people who enjoyed the source material and wanted to share it with everyone who wants to play. There are far more games that I would love to share and to play more often than I do, and maybe some of them in the right circumstances could give me experiences as great as these three have, but at this stage I doubt that they could do so as consistently and with as broad a range of people and experience.

FFG Star Wars specifics: The system uses pools of specialized dice (available in the popular starter sets and in separate packs) where some of the dice determine success or failure while others determine the ebb and flow of good fortune. The system has a stable and pulp-heroics-oriented output of potential success, which is flavored by output that influences outcomes on the dramatic level. Resolution of what the output of the dice means is intended to be cooperative and inclusive of each player at the table and so can contribute to the building of friendships, and the confidence of sharing the GM role among the members of the group. The game is very well-written and organized making it a helpful first-game experience with lots of guidance for helping to bring out the Star Wars feel. Even better, it is one of those games which is well-placed to bridge sensibilities in a group that lean toward older games or toward newer games and helping each “side” see the fun and utility of the other. Character creation is a quick point-buy process using a small number of points to adjust a one-page species and career template. The game has a lot of tactical options as well as robust social interaction options and player choices will directly affect how lethal the game can become. Characters definitely start out as competent but among the lower tier of ability in the Galaxy. The game can progress with a high tolerance for character improvement allowing players to experience tremendous variety in campaigns. You choose this game if you want to play Star Wars~

Details of this system and what we have done with it can be found in these three playlists: FFG Star Wars, Edge of the Empire Recaps and Age of Rebellion.

Ubiquity Roleplaying System specifics: The system uses dice pools where each die has a 50% chance of being a success. This allows rolls to be skipped if they seem too easy or well within the character’s abilities, and more importantly it enables the player to quickly assess the risk of a given roll with a fun amount of uncertainty. This both helps them and goads them to figure out what they might have to do to improve their odds. This generally leads experienced groups to interact with each other more in-character and with the environment. Any even-sided dice can be rolled so no special dice are needed to play. Character creation is a straightforward allocation of a small number of points on a single-page sheet and includes both an archetype and a motivation to help launch the character toward who the player wants them to be and frame who the character ends up being in play. The game has a level of tactical choice that I find satisfying that grows along with player knowledge of the system and the setting in which you play. The biggest obstacle to learning the game is not the system, but rather how the characters fit in the spectrum of threats and perils that await them. Are they heroic, because they are daring death with each encounter or are they superheroic because they can do things that most others cannot? Depending on how the game is played, that answer will be found. Talking about expectations beforehand, both for what the setting requires and what the players desire is essential. You choose Ubiquity if you like dynamic characters that are more than what they appear on the page. You choose Ubiquity if you like Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, Tin Tin, Jules Verne, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Buck Rogers, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Millenium or the X-files, the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, or Nancy Drew.

Examples of the system in action can be seen in this playlist which features both published games and my own settings: Ubiquity Actual Play Videos and details of the system can be learned in this overview playlist: Ubiquity Roleplaying System

Mythras system specifics: The system relies on percentile dice (d100) for the resolution of rolls but includes other dice such as a d20 to identify hit location, and other dice for varying weapon damage and other effects. Characters can either be rolled randomly or built using points. Attention is paid both to the background of the character in terms of life events, but also in terms of affiliations and organizations which influence and/or train them. The system’s default runs from the bronze age to the launch of the industrial age. It expands from the industrial age into the far future of purely imagined tech. As such it can be used to run a desperate and gritty historical game such as fending off an invasion of raiders from the sea. With one or more of its five nuanced magical systems, it can go from low fantasy to very high. It can handle games of knights in shining armor, or space knights in blazing energy. Veterans of psychic wars or victims of cosmic horror can all play a role, as can ancient peoples and their cultures. As a system, it provides rules for all of these things so that you do not have to. You can identify or create a setting that you wish to use and then rely on Mythras to have the rules needed to support play in that setting. You choose Mythras to do that if you are looking for a game that starts with detailed characters with connections to their setting and room to grow into it and change it. You choose Mythras if you enjoy detailed results of skill checks and combat and the description that arises from that. You choose Mythras if you enjoy risk in dangerous pursuits, and also enjoy quick resolution of that risk. Combat, for example, is dangerous to the character, invites permanent injury, and is typically processed in just a few turns of rapid back-and-forth interactions. Its nature alters how people play and when violence becomes an option they are willing to take. This in turn encourages more of the character to appear in play as more options are explored, creating richness and connection as they are.

Examples of this system in play can be seen in this playlist: Mythras – Homecoming

Ok: Your turn

Those are my three choices of systems that I favor for Jason’s contest on the Nerd’s RPG Variety Cast. What are your three choices of systems that you have played? Why? If you choose to participate in the contest, it is for charity and Jason will be providing both a prize and a matching donation to the charity of the winner’s choice (or both to that charity). The contest ends on February 28th at midnight EST. Entries can be made by leaving a voice message on his anchor podcast, or by contacting him at one of the other means provided.

One Response to “Three Favorites? A contest~”
  1. 1. CORTEX — the original (well, the Battlestar Galactica/Supernatural version). Just enough crunch to appear to the detail-oriented, simple mechanics that worked and allowed for differentiated characters.

    2. BROKEN COMPASS: The does what Ubiquity and Fate wanted to do, better. Simple mechanics based on Yahtzee-style matches, lightweight character builds that allow for overlap in skills, etc. and a features system that doesn’t get too detailed. Fast to play, fun.

    3. MUTANT YEAR ZERO: Well, version 2.0. Free League does similar to Broken Compass, lightweight character builds with some traits/complications to make them interesting. The original d6 dice pool, while easy, lacked something. The use of d4-d12 in the Twilight: 2000 and Blade Runner version of MY0 scratch the polyhedral itch many players have.

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