Recently, I’ve watched the rise of Dungeons and Dragons back into the nerd culture. Games where you play with actual people as opposed to a controller and a headset have been gaining in popularity and the pen and paper RPG (role playing game) is starting to get a bit more notice then it has in years. It seems like everyone has a Dungeons and Dragons show now: Geek and Sundry, The Nerdist, hell, Dan Harmon is doing one where it’s also partially animated.
But there is more than just Dungeons and Dragons out there. There are tons of different companies that produce pen and paper RPGs of various genres and I thought this week I’d dip into some of my favourites to offer newer players and game masters some games you may not know about that might tickle your fancy.
Classic World of Darkness aka One World of Darkness (White Wolf Games now Onyx Path Publishing)
Now there is a new version of this game which isn’t bad. In fact, it’s very similar but the old codger in me misses the charm that was the original White Wolf World of Darkness books. Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, Mage the Ascension and a few others to come after opened up a whole new genre of RPG to me. I was in my first year of high school when these books came my way and it was amazing. It was horror and conspiracies and there was crossover potential for a GM (Game Master) who was willing to take risks.
As for overall plot, in the shadows of our world, there are supernatural creatures. Blood sucking immortals, shape shifting man beasts and wizards of enormous power. Depending on your GM and the game, you play as one of these beings and navigate your way through a secret world that regular mortals only know from myth.
Among my friends, World of Darkness was the gateway drug to other RPGs (especially among my female friends). Players who couldn’t get into dragon slaying would find the setting of horror (and with the way we played, mayhem) more appealing. Then you could ease them into the dungeons… wait… that sounds wrong… It should also be noted there was a time where this was a very hot property. There was also a collectable card game and even a short-lived (and somewhat terrible) tv show called Kindred the Embraced.
The system is also really easy to learn. Character creation can be done in ten minutes if you really speed through it and even novice players will quickly catch on to how the dice rolls work. My personal favourites of the series were Vampire the Masquerade, Mage the Ascension and a spinoff called Werewolf Wild West.
I thought I might have left this one off the list as many of the books were out of print but due to the wonders of technology, they are pretty accessible to everyone. If you want to seek out many of the books I mentioned above, check them out at DriveThruRPG and if you act quickly after this column is initially published, most of the Vampire books are available digitally and very cheaply through a Humble Bundle.
Rifts (Palladium Books / Savage Worlds)
In the future, there will be an apocalyptic event that nearly destroys humanity, opens up dimensional portals and brings magic back to the Earth. This is the world of Rifts.
Now, having Rifts as a great RPG on this list is in many ways a cop out. Paladium developed a rule system that was used by all of its books and then made a setting where you could easily incorporate all of it’s other game series into the Rifts universe setting, including the licensed material they’ve had over the years. Want to play a superhero? you could. Want to play a futuristic knight? Got you covered. A wizard? Yup, that works too. As long as your GM was okay with it, Rifts opened the doors (or portals, if you will) for you to bring in almost any type of character to the post-apocalyptic landscape.
Now for the bad part.
Palladium Books’ system was clunky and not the greatest for a first time player. Even for regular players, you would always find something that didn’t work right during a game session. The bad part of Palladium creating Rifts and then allowing all it’s other games to fit inside of it was that you could end up with this huge behemoth of a game that in some parts was held together by chewing gum and string.
Recently, an interesting development occurred. The notoriously possessive company licensed out Rifts to Pinnacle Entertainment who have re-created the game using their Savage Worlds system: A new system that allows for easier character creation but still brings you all of the joy of combat Rifts fans knew.
Illuminati University (GURPS / Steve Jackson Games)
As part of the GURPS line of RPG books, SJG created a book called Illuminati University. It’s a magical university that exists outside time and space. A more comedic setting where your character is going to school to study to be… whatever you want I suppose, much like Rifts, Illuminati University allowed you to play anything within the game and GM’s confines.
For example, my friend Doug created what is possibly the best character I’ve seen in a RPG.
Mr. Kitty was a fat tom cat that pushed himself around in a little, red wagon. He also had strong psychic abilities that allowed for him to enter combat and talk to other players. When he spoke to you, it was always in the third person.
Now, GURPS as a system itself can be a little intimidating but if you like a more fun setting, like something akin to Hogwarts on PCP, Illuminati University might be for you.
These are just a few of the myriad of systems there are out there. There are pen and paper RPGs of every flavour from anime (Big Eyes Small Mouth) to mystical kung fu (Exalted) to horror western (Deadlands). There is something for everyone. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas via the comment section below.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!