Posted by: markfender | January 4, 2012

RPGs – Thanks

So, it’s a new year and a time to reflect on what has gone before. But, to be honest, I don’t think last year was a particular banner year for RPGs. There were some standouts, but I feel like they haven’t been thoroughly played to make broad, sweeping judgements on them yet. So, instead, I thought I’d reflect on RPGs as a whole. As more and more people fail to find employment in the RPG field, it comes down to a sincere love of the hobby to bother creating anything. And so, I thought this was a good time to talk about my three favorite games and thank their creators for the years of entertainment.

Fading Suns

To call out a few names, Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg, and John Bridges created what is, to me, the damned near perfect sci-fi game. It does three things really excellently: files off the serial numbers of Dune, exhibits an extensive amount of religious syncretism, and makes every other sci-fi concept fit into that universe. While living in a world of feudalism, it still manages to contain enough cool sci-fi ideas to fire the imagination. There are very few sourcebooks for this game that I would dismiss out of hand. They’re all cool and include really awesome ideas. I don’t think I’ve managed to run a game of this that did justice to the setting, but I love every inch of it. If it has any faults, they are two-fold: the system contains some terrible math (I like the basics, but the numbers don’t quite work – you’re either superhuman, or failing like a bitch), and the there were two promised sourcebooks that never saw the light of day (RIP War in the Heavens: Pantheon and Sathranet). When one of your complaints is that you didn’t get enough of the setting, that’s some high praise.

Unknown Armies

By John Tynes and Greg Stolze, Unknown Armies hits the right buttons for my take on urban fantasy. While I own way too much World of Darkness to dismiss, I do think Unknown Armies’ take on the subject is far better. First off, it hits the right tone for me, far grittier than WoD. Second, I really dig that it keeps a consistent tone throughout the line – it’s all humanity’s fault. As I’m sure I’ve expressed before, I’m really tired of elder gods beyond our comprehension being responsible for every inch of secret history. Unknown Armies states “You did it” and sticks to that. I’ve always summed it up as “Tim Powers meets Fight Club” and, seeing as those are some of my favorite things ever, it still totally works. If Unknown Armies and the Dresden Files met in a dark alley, somebody’s going to be therapy for the next few years, and it’s not going to be Unknown Armies. I’m not overly fond of the dice system, but some of the tricks it pulls are still some of my favorite things in gaming and its madness system has yet to be beaten.


I’ve never been shy about being a total cyberpunk nerd. And, granted, cyberpunk is a dead genre, so this one’s a little more nostalgically tinged than the others. But I think Shadowrun was the first ever game that I read where the die system really clicked with me. Second edition is probably my favorite edition, so I’m going to call out Tom Dowd, Paul Hume, and Nigel Findley in particular for their contributions to the game. In particular, I still think Virtual Realities 2.0 is still the best sourcebook for the game, simply for rewriting the Matrix rules so that they make sense (It’s a shame that later editions moved away from those rules). There are probably more things wrong with this game than the previous ones I mentioned that don’t sit right with me anymore (Native American Nations, silly fantasy races, and some rules decisions), but I still buy every sourcebook, so that’s gotta mean something.

Of course, looking back on this list, I’m seeing some definite trends (namely, modern or later timelines and a definite inclusion of magic). There’s other games that are pretty cool and some others writers that deserve praise, but I’m gonna stick with these for now. Thanks, guys.


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