Five Awesome RPG Systems You Should Check Out

Posted by on June 14, 2010

Dice illusionRole-players tend to find their “favorite system” and stick with it. While they’re moreopen-minded about other systems than, say, programmers are about languages, they often avoid new systems in favor of the familiar.

So, here are 5 role-playingsystems that are worth checking out:

Fudge

Technically, Fudge is a toolkit for making a system. The basics are brilliantly simple:

Every character’s attributes, skills, abilities, etc.–whatever you want to call them–are represented on a simple linear scale, from Terrible through Average to Superb. Each step on this scale has a number (-4 to +4) and a term (Poor, Fair, Good, etc.).

To swing on a rope over a burning building to safety, you choose your character’s most relevant attribute–in this case, Acrobatics or Athletics or Dexterity or whatever–and you roll Fudge Dice. These are four dice, painted with sides containing +1, -1, and 0. Let’s say I rolled +1, -1, +1, 0. That’s a total of +1. Take the results and add them to the attribute’s value, and that tells you how well (or poorly) you succeeded at the action. That’s it.

So, if I’m Good (+2) at Acrobatics, and I roll my Fudge Dice and get +1, I was Great (+3) at swinging over the burning building.

FATE

FATE takes Fudge and adds a literary hero vibe. Characters are created by dividing the character’s past into several major eras (childhood, young adulthood, the War Years, etc.), and for each era, defines one major Aspect that defined the character during that period (working as a bounty hunter, association with the Black Hand, learning to hack, studying at the Temple of Pages) and the skills learned during that period.

Characters also have Fate Points, which they can use to change fate. This ties in beautifully with Aspects–the GM can bid to use one of your character’s Aspects to get the group in trouble (for example, your Expert Gambler aspect tempts you to wager everything on a game of cards). You can spend a Fate Point to resist this twist of fate, or allow it to happen and receive an extra Fate Point. Fate Points can also be redeemed to essentially guarantee success on dice rolls.

This explicitly encourages flawed characters. The more flaws you have, the more Fate Points you build up, which allows you to succeed wildly when it counts.

Houses of the Blooded

An indie game of political intrigue. In a sense, this is more of a setting than a system. You play one of the Blooded, a race of magically and genetically modified humans who now rule humanity (some benevolently, others less so) in a pre-historical feudal age.

Its creator, John Wick, describes Houses of the Blooded as a reaction to D&D. Well, I’ll just quote him:

Almost everything that’s true about D&D is untrue in this game. In D&D, the most common kind of character is a wandering nomad who lives outside the law, an adventurer roaming the countryside, killing monsters, gaining treasure and weapons so he can kill bigger monsters….

In Houses, you play a noble. A character with a past. A character with a family, with vassals, responsibilities and duties. The Law is an ever-present factor in your life….”Treasure” really has no value for you and problems such as “wandering monsters” are problems for someone of lesser status to handle….And rather than living in a bubble immune to the effects of political scheming, your character lives in a world that looks like a bastard child of Tanith Lee and Niccolo Machiavelli.

But this is not a game of drawn-out conversations. Your character actively pursues goals. But those goals are far more complex than clearing bugbears from a town.

Dread

I’ve run this game several times, and it’s always been a blast. I think I’ve blogged about it before, but I’m going to blog about it again. It’s that effective.

It’s a game of one shots and high body counts. Only one character survives the session (sometimes not even one).

Character creation involves answering a series of invasive questions, such as, “Why do you keep carrying that thing in your pocket?” and “Why does your father hate you?” Each questionnaire is specific to that player.

The mechanic is a Jenga® tower. Really. Every time a character attempts some difficult action, the player must make a pull from the Jenga tower, according to standard Jenga rules. A very difficult action requires two pulls.

If a player knocks over the tower, that player’s character dies. If a player intentionally knocks over the tower, that player’s character succeeds at whatever he or she is trying to do…then dies.

When the tower’s rebuilt, the GM makes three pulls for each dead character.

Here’s the genius: it takes an hour or two before the first death. But the next death comes more quickly. So the longer you survive, the greater the danger.

It’s an impressively tense game, ideal for survival horror.

Primetime Adventures

This is a simulation of a TV show, particularly a drama. If you want to play Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, The O.C., or E.R., this is the system.

It centers on the idea of drama. Each player is a character in the drama (except for one player, the Producer), and the drama is divided up into episodes and scenes. The system determines which characters have most “face time” during each scene, and the players collaboratively decide what happens during that scene. Compared to a traditional RPG, there’s far less random chance and far more discussion about what would be the most interesting plot twists.

As a result, Primetime Adventures doesn’t play like a traditional RPG. You’re building a series of TV episodes, really. It’s more abstract than a D&D game; you don’t hear the screams of combat or feel the hilt of your sword; you think about drama and suspense.

If nothing else, it broadens your mind.

Hope this helps! Do you have any favorite systems you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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