Hello once again everyone, and welcome back to another go around. So, last time I talked a little about some of the things I look for in a good rpg, discussing a couple of game sessions I had played in and what helped me to connect with the system and what just struck me as off and kept me from having a fun time. While I said that I do appreciate a game that goes out of its way to strive for detail and realism, I can’t help but prefer something that’s just more free flowing and lighter in tone and design, that allows the narrative to progress with as few interruptions as possible. With that said, and as promised during our last get together, here are a few systems that I really enjoy and feel like live up to the idea of easy playability, while still giving a player and GM a fulfilling gaming experience for their time and money. Let me preface by saying that these are in no particular order or ranked in degree of favoritism, so with that said, let’s go.
Big Eyes, Small Mouth (BESM)
BESM is a great system that was released by Guardians of Order in the early 2000’s that looked to replicate the feel of anime in a tabletop game. It was an open system that could be tailored to fit any genre or setting your little heart could imagine, so everything was a blank slate to be worked with. The first edition was sparse and a bit clunky in my opinion, while the third just hit me as a bit much with its power build mechanics. The second edition of this game is what really shines for me, and you can still find it for about twenty-five bucks online (a steal since the company that made it went out of business in 2006 and the third edition is about seventy-five dollars).
For me, BESM is fantastic. It runs on what’s called the tri-stat system, which as it says, is based on only three statistics that define the core of a character. It’s a point build game where characters are designed with a set amount of points for a player to spend rather anything being rolled for randomly, with a simple mechanic of rolling under a challenge number on two six-sided dice to resolve conflicts. The actions can be modified for difficulty by the GM a little bit, but in general, it’s pretty quick and straightforward. What’s nice is that the system can handle any type of game you want to throw at it, with suggestions for everything from fantasy and giant mecha, to magic girls, superheroes, or space opera. Oddly enough, I find that its non-specificity is also its greatest handicap. It provides absolutely no setting, background, or npc material for a GM at all, so prep can be an extensive endeavor sometimes, but that can be solved easy enough, just keep on reading to see how.
For its overall versatility, BESM is clean, well explained, and works very smoothly with no charts or tables to refer to during gameplay, with everything being contained on a single character sheet that can quickly be referred to so things can keep moving along. For anyone worried about not having a setting then the system does have a fair share of licensed products to choose from, some being fully contained games and all in one rulebooks in their own right, which is always a plus from me. Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, Demon City Shinjuku (this one is REALLY good if you like urban or gothic horror), and Dominion Tank Police are all their own games, while supplements like Hellsing and Tri-Gun need the BESM standard rulebook to be of use. I have almost the full line as most are reasonably priced and I like them just that much. In all, if you enjoy creating your own settings and game worlds, or just love some anime, give BESM a look, you won’t be disappointed.
DC Heroes Roleplaying Game (Mayfair Games edition)
This one is an oldie and hard to find at a decent price, but still a goodie and worth picking up if you have the chance to snag it. It’s been through three editions over the years, with the second and third being the ones I recommend most.
Generally speaking, this is my go-to game when the mood to run some superheroes hits me, as I feel that the mechanics and rules can easily handle the sheer scope of what characters like Superman or Darkseid are capable of, while still allowing street level do gooders like Batman or Greenarrow to have a chance. The only thing is that the system does break my no chart rule in that all rolls are compared to lines and columns on a results table to determine success or failure, but a lot of super’s games either include some grueling math or crazy number of dice to accomplish the same, so I can live with it. Seriously, in one game I have, Superman alone has a strength rating of like 32D, which is thirty-two dice being thrown at a time which I just don’t have the time, not to mention, the dice for. DC Heroes is a nice system where every value represents double what the previous one did, like with a two strength you can lift roughly one-hundred pounds while at a three you can put up two-hundred, and on up the scale. To work anything out you just compare numbers and look where they intersect on the chart, and then try to roll over whatever that number might be on two ten siders.
It’s pretty easy to create your own hero here if you don’t feel like playing one of the many DC characters that are available as well, with plenty of powers to choose from that can be further defined and customized with advantages and drawbacks. The only thing that really keeps me coming back to this over something like Mutants & Masterminds is that everything can be taken in with a quick glance without the need to keep track of dozens of modifiers, and the fact that there is no power level to cap a character’s progression.
DC Heroes has been out of print for quite a few years now and can be expensive to track down, with even the knock off Blood of Heroes system that it later turned into getting rather pricey. There is still a strong online community for the game, though, and it can be found for download if you care to look hard enough. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to do, I recommend going with the DC Universe rpg from a few years ago for all your crime fighting needs. It’s basically Mutants & Masterminds, but with a heck of a lot better npc’s to play around with.
Alright gang, here’s where things get grim, and I mean really grim. Dark Heresy is my old standby for all of my sci-fi needs, and it can, without a doubt, be a brutal system if you’re not ready for it or the setting you’re playing in. For me, it has it all. Cults in the bowels of a forgotten space colony, check. Daemons from a dimension of pure chaos, check. Marauding space Orks with a need for speed and mass firepower, check. And a psionics system that’s guaranteed to blast your poor little psyker’s head straight off his own shoulders, double check. It’s Warhammer 40K’s first steps into the rpg realm and the folks that did the first edition, Black Industries, do every bit of that world justice and do not disappoint. It’s gritty, it’s hellaciously violent if done right, and your characters are bound to get mangled, become horribly corrupt or go insane, or get themselves down right dead if you’re not careful, but it’s also a blast.
For everything I’ve played over the years, Dark Heresy is a truly frightening mix of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy that allows the player to feel like they are truly fighting against the odds, being satisfied with the fact that they just managed to somehow survive, let alone actually win anything in the end. It’s built on randomly generating a character and their statistics, and gameplay is a roll under mechanic with attributes ranging from one to one-hundred percent and then trying to get under that value with two ten-sided dice. It’s pretty simple and straightforward until the GM starts slapping on some modifiers, or god forbid, you go full auto with a machine or roll a critical success with some explosives, because things start to get reduced to a red paste really quickly after that. I will say that the game does have a decent number of charts and tables that can be referred to during gameplay, with everything from critical wound lists to daemonic possession tables, but they’re just so damn good, and sometimes hilarious, that I don’t mind them a bit. My one knock against the game is that some of the career paths that are kind of the equivalent of levels can feel a bit confining, but there’s so much else to like here that’s pretty much just nitpicking on my part.
I ran an extended campaign with this game a long while back that lasted nearly two years, and then a follow up sequel that lasted nearly another year on top of that. If you like your games horrifically bleak with a good dose of gunplay and exploding heads check this one out, it’s the best three-hundred and fifty plus pages of gritty goodness you could ever ask for. Oh, and it’s still the horridly dark world of Warhammer 40K that I really liked, before Games Workshop had to go all Games Workshopy on it and screw the pooch if you will.
AD&D 2nd Edition
Yes folks, sorry to burst your bubbles, but it’s here, dungeons and dragons has finally arrived. I mean in a discussion about rpg’s you had to know it was coming, the question was, just when and what edition would it be? Well, for yours truly, it has to be the second edition, the one that I’ve played the longest out of anything and that started it all for me.
Let’s face it, if you’ve even dabbled in the world of rpg’s chances are that you’ve at least brushed past D&D in one form or another before, and that’s a good thing, because for the most part it’s always been a solid system and there’s a lot to like and enjoy. Now pretty much, everyone I know has their preferred version of the rules, whether that be the really old school first edition, to the hyper detailed third, or the recently released fifth that has a nice blend of both (notice I didn’t mention anything about fourth, because nobody really likes playing with garbage). But I tend to go back to AD&D second edition for my fantasy fix, finding my way there perhaps more out of habit rather than anything else I suppose. I’ll be quick to admit that there is some degree of favoritism with this one on my part, as I’ve played the system so much that I just know it by heart. But there’s a lot to like here too, including it’s simple to explain rules for newer players and its vast wealth of supplements and setting info, which include Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and the much loved Ravenloft. It’s not so suped-up to the point I feel like I’m playing a video game badass ported to the tabletop, but it’s also balanced out just enough to not be just a meat grinder that obliterated so many player characters as earlier editions seemed to do.
While the system does have a good number of things I like, it’s not without its faults. The THACO system (To Hit Armor Class Zero) is horribly outdated and I much prefer an ascending armor class and attack dynamic over the descending one that’s presented here. The fact that you also need three books, as with all D&D systems, to play is annoying and pricey as well, as I tend to like all in ones that are more streamlined and put it all in a single volume, but I guess we overlook things for nostalgia sometimes, so it is what it is. The older books can still be found online but can be a bit bothersome and heavy on the wallet to track down, especially the harder to find supplements and boxed sets. If you want a D&D fix and don’t fancy hunting for out of date material, I say go with the newer fifth edition for your needs, it has a really nice blend and feel of the older style editions but is still buffed up enough and very much geared toward a contemporary crowd. They don’t call D&D the one that started it all for nothing, and it has rightly earned the place that it holds.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on a few systems that I really enjoy playing and running, and maybe it’s inspired you to pick one up and give it a try if you haven’t done so already. For the most part, everything above are nice clean systems that flow really well and are pretty fast and loose, or at least can be with a bit of tinkering if you like to house rule your games. A few honorable mentions I didn’t get around to have to be Vampire the Masquerade, Savage Worlds, and Feng Shui, an awesome system that looks to replicate the feel of Hong Kong action films, but I think I’ll save these for later, I don’t want to use up all my good material straight away after all. I do hope you’re enjoying our weekly get togethers so far and are finding out a little bit more about gaming than you might have already known, and maybe it’s peaked you interest enough to try something that you normally wouldn’t, because it can be really fun when you do. Until next time, gang. Happy dice slinging.