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TOP 5 RPGs: JOHN WICK
What are my five favourite role-playing games? That's a tough call. Looking at my wall right now, looking to see what fills up my shelf the most. Looking at the other game designers on the list, trying to second-guess their own lists so I don't sound redundant. And then, the question arises: does shelf space a game make? What about those little games that take up no space at all? And then there's the thought: they asked for "favourite." Heh. They also asked "Why?" and that means I gotta defend them.
Do I judge them on how often I play them? I run a Call of Cthulhu game every Halloween. I've got a ton of Ars Magic stuff, but when's the last time I played it? Look at all that Over the Edge material, just sucking up shelf space. And then there's my Vampire shelf. They bring back memories of good old New Jerusalem, sitting still and quiet on the Boston River, all full of vampires and mummies and werewolves. And right below it is the GURPS collection looking like all twenty or so editions of the Oxford English Dictionary along with my half shelf of Nephilim. God, I love that game. Never even played it once. Not once. And when that yearly used book store box comes out of the closet and I start pulling stuff down, I never even look at my Nephilim shelf.
Further down the bookcases now. There's Toon and Tales from the Floating Vagabond sitting right next to Ghostbusters and Paranoia. We're getting smaller now. Do I have to choose five? Just five? Oh, all right. Five of my favourites, 'cause the fact of the matter is every RPG is my favourite. Every one of them is just a little different. Every one of them does one thing really well. And in the end, that's all any of us can hope to accomplish, innit?
I've picked five titles I feel best reflect my personal taste in role-playing games. I refuse to comment on their quality at all. This ain't about quality, it's about my favourites. In the end, role-playing games are a lot like porn: the production standards are pretty poor, the writing generally stinks and the art direction leaves something to be desired, but as you flip through an RPG, you come across one thing that makes you go, "Hey! That's pretty cool." Then, after you've found that one thing, you put it up on the shelf until you need it again.
If you don't get that analogy, too bad; I ain't carryin' it any further.
Except that I used sex to sell the first game on my list. And it worked. A lot.
I used to work at a game/comic store in Minnesota called "The Source." You may have heard of it. Apparently, they have a connection with Atlas Games. Some sort of three pronged conspiracy involving tridents. Anyway, I worked there while I was in college. Met a whole bunch of really great folks, learned a helluva lot about role-playing games. One day, a couple walked into the store. The guy was a gamer, the girl was a gamer-girlfriend. You know the type. He wanted to show her what RPGs were all about, and introduce her in such a way that it wouldn't be all scary. I knew exactly the game they were looking for. The kind of game a couple could have a lot of fun playing.
I pointed them in the direction of James Bond 007.
"It's great," I said. "The system's kind of simple; you can drop what you don't want out. And all you really need is a GM and a player. The player is a double-oh, and the GM& he plays everybody else."
That one line alone sold it. You wouldn't believe how many copies we sold through. I still use that pitch today, and people still look at the game, then look at each other, then smile that smile they really shouldn't show in public.
Oh, and there's that part about me and Dave Williams stealing the bidding mechanic for Legend of the Five Rings RPG. But that's a different story.
The second game on my list comes from a newer story. I was at Gen-Con this year, and I bumped into the guys over at www.indie-rpgs.com. Okay, that's a lie. I went looking for the guys over at www.indie-rpgs.com. How I got to Gen-Con, of course, is a wonderful story about how super-keen-bitchin'-cool my wife is, but all you have to do is look at her and you can see that.
Anyway, I spent the week with a bunch of cool people and finally got to meet Scott Knipe. And did I tell you how frickin' big Scott Knipe is? I mean, not big like the mistake of charging twenty bucks for a full-color hardbound book that everyone would have bought for thirty - oh no sir. I mean big like shoulders in different zip codes kind of big. Big in a "mighty-mighty" kind of big (as opposed to the Great and Mighty kind of big, but that's reserved for only one guy, and we'll be talking about him later). "I shall call you Thrym," I said to Scott. See, he's working on this game called Wyrd which is awfully cool, but I can't put that on my list 'cause I plan on publishing it later next year, and that'd be definitely uncool (and yes, that's a professional term; you can quote me on it).
Scott told me I should play this game these guys were publishing next year. He said they were big fans of L5R and they'd flip if I played their game. I told Thrym not to say anything about me being me and agreed to come down and play the game (the fact Wizards didn't put names on the badges this year made it very easy for me to keep my anonymity, and even easier to sneak people in and out of the sales room - not that I'd do that or anything, I just heard some people were doing it).
We sat down and played the game. It was called Primeval. It's coming out at Gen-Con next year, and you're gonna want a copy. Trust me on this: I had more fun playing Primeval than I've had playing an RPG in ten years. Ten years. Not since I ran Vampire for the first time did a game so kick my ass. I'd been talking about designing a game without target numbers forever, but these guys went out and did it. I'd been talking about doing a game that invoked the kind of energy I felt when I read myth, and these guys went out and did it. I'd been talking about doing something different and cool for years, and these bastards went out and did it. In short, they made me feel like an amateur. And that ain't easy to do. I won't tell you anything more about it; you can go to their website and see it. Or, you can shell out money at Gen-Con and find out for yourself.
Fifteen thousand words, and I'm already up to thirteen hundred and I've only talked about two games. Crap.
All right. Brass tacks.
Pendragon. Why? Because I stole the Honor mechanic for L5R. And Greg Stafford is the basis for Kakita Toshimoko. He's the Gray Crane. That's why.
That's three. Over the Edge is number four. A game without a game system. A setting that lets you play anything in the world you want. A psychic toaster? Got it. A Warhammer Eldar Harlequin? Easy. A guy who lives forever in the bodies of his ancestors? Patty cake, patty cake baker's man. Also, there's an adventure at the end that made me really think about getting into the game industry. If you can't do it better than someone else, don't try. Over the Edge is the perfect RPG& for me. For you, it may be Battlelords of the 23rd Century. I own that one, too. But it didn't make this list. Damn good game, though. Damn good.
The game that came in at Number 5 (not that it's any better or worse than the other ones, but I love it dearly) is not Call of Cthulhu. Nope. That'd be obvious. My first RPG, purchased in Spencer's Gifts for ten bucks. Not that one. Another one. I read a review of it in Dragon magazine that made me buy it in my local gamestore in Albany, Georgia. (Hey Aaron! Hey Robert! Hey Victor! Hey Danny!)
Pacesetter called it Chill. I call it "amazing." And I stole nearly everything I know about gamemastering from it.
All right. I got fifty words left. But so many more games! There's The Baron's Game and Nephilim and Ars Magica and Ghostbusters and Puppetland and Vampire and Stormbringer and Puppetland and Bushido and - hey let go of my arm! I don't care how many words this is supposed to be! I'm not done yet! Prince Valliant and Mage and Sorcerer and Little Fears and - hey what's that? A shotgun? You wouldn't shoot me! Gurps and Traveller and Puppetland! Did I mention what a sweet guy Marc Miller was and how cool Space: 1889 was?