Three years of fun, sporadic, research.

It’s been about three years since I decided to start running RPGs again. As with many gamers, I stopped when I had kids, and then ten years later I realised how much I missed them. But a lot had changed while I had been away.

All the proto-storygames had grown into Fate Core, a landslide of Apocalypse games and many indie games intended for a single evening’s entertainment. Inexplicably, there were more World of darkness games than I remembered. D&D had just launched 5e and everyone had opinions on it. And the OSR, which I vaguely remembered as being OSRIC (AD&D) and Stars Without Number (Basic D&D in space), had exploded into more games than I could count. None of these developments made any sense. I grabbed my dice bag and threw myself in.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the last three years trying out all sorts of different games. Honestly I think the first thing that I did was realise that there are much cooler dice now than there were in the ’90s when I bought mine. I soon spent a ton of money on some awesome new dice. Then I started playing games.

I discovered that Fate is the opposite of what I want to play. Maybe Fate would be amazing if you manage to get exactly the right headspace, but I think it’s very easy to get it wrong. My biggest problem is that it seems to want to recreate all the annoying tropes of TV which I find make most TV boring and predictable. It reminds me of when videogames decided they needed lens flare. Anyway, I’m glad others like it, and I’m glad I tried it.

I have discovered that 90’s style “Stat&Skill” systems like GURPS, UniSystem and Silhouette, don’t actually seem to offer anything other than more rules. These were Young Brian’s jam back in the day; I wanted fiddly combat rules and loads of character creation options. Skill lists, spell lists, advantages and disadvantages. More numbers=more detail=more real. Or Something. No longer though. Give me a few numbers and a job or a little background. That sounds like enough for Mid-Life-Crisis-Pending Brian.

I discovered that I am happy to play less than perfect systems if they just let me get on with the game. I’ve had a lot of fun both running and playing OneDice and Whitebox despite their minor flaws. Anyway, I suspect that I’m a lot more picky when it comes to the specifics of the systems I use than most of my players are.

I discovered some excellent, fun, Science Fiction RPGs. SFRPGs used to be so po-faced and serious. Edge of the Empire captures the excitement depth of the Star Wars universe. Mindjammer presents a massive and actually optimistic view of humanity’s far future. And then Fria Ligan hits us with Tales From The Loop and Coriolis. Science Fiction with a healthy dose of wonder again.

I have found that as long as they are only applied on the immediate scale some story game elements can really work for me. I love it when my players negotiate the effects of their abilities in Whitehack and the shared narrative of the awesome dice in Edge of the Empire always keep things moving in interesting directions.

Best of all, I have discovered that taking a tried and tested system which works well as a game, rather than as a simulation or a drama generator, and using it as a foundation for all sorts of awesome DIY stuff is a great idea. I could happily run nothing but WhiteHack for years. Lamentations and Beyond The Wall are two other favorites with great atmosphere but even better than the OSR games are the worlds the community has enabled. Yoon Suin, The Ultraviolet Grasslands, The Kingdom of Light, and so many others

So I think I’ve done a pretty good job of homing in on what I really enjoy running. I tried to go into every game with an open mind and I played each one for long enough to get a really good feel for it. I want to have a good idea of what games are available across the tabletop spectrum, so I’ll still be trying out different things from time to time but really, for the next while all the games I’m planning are either OSR fantasy games of some sort or the SF games I mentioned. The fact that I am now writing some OSR content of my own should help keep me focused.

PS – I should probably try something Apocalypse World at some point.

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