Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

My Seven Most-Played Role-Playing Games

Here are the games that have gotten the most enjoyment from during the past ten years or so. There are many games that I’ve wanted to play that I haven’t really gotten around to so much… so I’ll include some notes on the things that helped to get actual game sessions off the ground as we go through these.

I. Moldvay Basic D&D — I can play this with my kids. I can play this with my best gaming pals. I can run this game with random people at conventions. The three things that help get this thing played are that it can be run with practically no prep, there are lots of people that kinda-sorta know what it is and are willing to give it a shot, and there are also several classic modules that everyone knows but that few have played but that everyone seems to think that they should play. The nostalgia factor is very useful in getting people to slow down and try a game. The way that the players are forced to cooperate and work together is the clincher, though. The free Labyrinth Lord rules made it easy to try out the system… and stuff like Stonehell meant that modules were in print and available.


II. GURPS Prime Directive — This is another one that is easy to explain to a very large group on non-dedicated gamers: “original series Star Trek but with more of a military science fiction feel.” There’s lots of stuff going for this: all of my Traveller and GURPS stuff works with this, I don’t have to pick through the GURPS rules to get a reasonable subset of rules to go with, and the picture of exactly how space combat works in this universe is both playable and completely detailed. Best of all, a setting that has a place for “Roaring Twenties Gangster World” and “Parallel Nazi Earth” gives me a free hand to get away with just about anything as a gamemaster. (I never really felt qualified to manage a more serious science fiction game.)

III. Car Wars — Once you have a character that’s “made it” in Amateur Night scenarios, it’s hard not to continue on with role playing sessions. If anything else, you have a better chance of surviving an implicitly “fair” gamemastered adventure than you do grinding away at one arena scenario after another. The ADQ adventures like Convoy and Badlands Run can give a lot of flavorful encounters with a minimal amount of playing time, but the $100,000 at the end of the rainbow can have a huge impact on the campaign.

IV. Traveller — Classic Traveller is compelling enough that it is a must-play game. Synthesizing the world data, the ship combat system, and the trade system to generate a coherent campaign can be quite a hurdle, though. Faking this sort of thing is easily the most harrying campaign I’ve ever run. I’d like to try this again sometime now that I’ve been through the classic D&D training modules B2 and X1.  No matter what other space game is on the table, the Traveller world creation sequence from Book 3 is still the last word on that facet of setting design.

V. FASA Doctor Who — It doesn’t matter how clunky the system is– anything that doesn’t make sense at the table just gets ignored in the interests of keeping things moving. While some aspects of the game are maddeningly hard to suss out, it is nevertheless easier to master than something like Twilight 2000. Also… people know what this is and how to play it even if they are completely unfamiliar with the system and even if you’re stealing plots from the first five Doctors.

VI. First Edition GURPS Autoduel — One of the best supported settings for the GURPS system. I’d run this more, but I don’t feeling like upgrading any of this to fourth edition GURPS and the Car Wars rules just got so much better developed over time within their own line. While my Road Atlas and Survival Guides have gotten a lot more use prepping for Car Wars games, I’d still like to try some of the GURPS adventures “by the book” and with the system they were originally designed for, though.

VII. Gamma World Third Edition — This one is just pure, unadulterated gaming awesome. This is another one that I’d like to revisit now that I’ve been through the gamemaster boot camp that is B2 and X1. I believe these rules assume you would construct a large sandbox with lots of wilderness adventuring culminating into sweeping changes at the domain level. I’m curious to see that play out with this ruleset that is simultaneously detailed and silly.

Reviewing this list… each of the first three games have been played more than the last four put together. The most important factors that ensure that a game will get run by me are that a game must require little to no preparation to play, it must have a theme and setting that are immediately graspable by casual gamers, and it must have a strong default campaign structure.

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5 responses to “My Seven Most-Played Role-Playing Games

  1. earlburt July 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

    “a game must require little to no preparation to play… and it must have a strong default campaign structure.”

    That is an interesting contrast– a low investment campaign is a totally alien idea to me. Of course, there is a sense in which you’ve done enormous prep in having digested source material for these games for twenty years.

    • jeffro July 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

      I’d presume that I am an outlier. I’m just not the typical gamemaster by any stretch. I do it only because it’s the only way to get my favorite games good and played. I think I need training wheels and simple premises so that I don’t implode when I start hyperfocusing.

  2. jas July 15, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Curious why you landed on Moldvay in particular, rather than any of the other actual D&D iterations, or one of the many knock-offs that are available. I cut my teeth on Holmes, back in ’79, but very quickly thereafter went AD&D. All of the future “basic” D&D variations were only oddities to me, something to collect and read, but never to play.

    • jeffro July 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Entire posts could be written on that, but briefly… Moldvay put together the first D&D ruleset that could understood by people that didn’t already know how to play. It is minimalistic, but surprisingly well engineered. In theory, it should be broken and stupid… but the game works far better than it’s “supposed” to.

      I understand why we went with AD&D then. I think Moldvay provides a very compelling gaming option for now.

      • Jason Packer July 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

        I’ll take it as a compliment that my group of friends figured out how to play from nothing more than the thin, blue and white covered book in the 4th or 5th printing Basic book. :)

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