Monday 12 May 2014

Konsumterra's Top 10 RPG Designs

Inspired by Zac S current discussion on terrible design, rather than let my inflamatory joints speak about things I hate I will discuss the best overall RPG products and lines I have seen in exactly 30 years of game book buying. I have some visual impairments and aversion to some paper stock which are my problem but shape my taste.

Things I rate on:
Good layouts - i like side bars and boxed clarifications
Good rules but enough to steal if i dont want system
Art - I like pretty books but lotsa tiny spot illos help alot
Value for money and completeness
Enough stuff to do a campagn or at leas one really good starting supplement
I am totally biased to games I focus on here lots
Dislike new editions for sake of cashflow - If it aint broke dont fix it
Wish I could buy maps and legit PDF's of some of these

1 Gammaworld 2nd Ed
Golden age of TSR box sets. Great art on cover and books. Great elmore spot illustrations that set mood. Good layout. Enough campaign detail for a few months play and room to do your own thing somewhere on bigger map. Pitzbourke and surrounding area well detailed with maps in several scales. Actually I think this was best game ever in terms of did not ever need changing. While I dont play the rules straight 3rd ed had a choose your own adventure instead of campagn info and was a organisational mess. Some interesting ideas but jumping on a Marvel style table was a mess too. Actually 2nd ed was best box set ever in terms of everything you needed and better value than DnD sets. I recommend the original Legion of Gold and Famine in Fargo which are a great expansions. I will buy a copy if anyone can hekp me as product I most regret selling ever.

2 Traveller 2300
I like Traveller and Megatraveller too which did some good things for layout but I never liked rules. GDW did good design and great settings but overly wargamer and militaristic settings. They did mostly bad adventures. The first box set of this was a beuty. The revised one even better. Some of the best technology ever presented as far as vehichles, weapons go. Insignia and cloth patches were also awesome. Cant say system was for me and I never used It. The vehicle and equipment guides are awesome. The Kafer source book great too. The universe is loaded with well thought out tech, some of best SF race ever in any setting (go Pentapods!). Actually this setting + Cthulhu would work or Aliens. Later cyberpunk setting ad ons felt like bandwagon after though but interesting. Kafer Sourcebook is a really good ad on. I still have this.

3 GURPS 1st-3rd Edition
I followed GURPS from first box set. I liked many ideas and stole add ons for my other games. The setting books came regulary from 1st to 3rd and was like a monthly release. Some of the best genre and historical setting books ever. Dont like horseclans? Dont get it. As system grownt to huge full colour books have lost interest. No longer interesting world books coming out. I regret selling many of these but PDF's readily available. Books are dense, well laid out and the sidebars really ad to the overall effect better than the box full colour modern version. Modern ones just feel cold and no longer interested in lots of new settings. Steve Jackson illustrations basic but set a tone, many recycled from decades of game products. They just add to mood and break up space nicely. Autoduel is a great example because first printing of guy in armour is one of my favorite bits of art and I prefer layout to later version. One of my favorite RPG books - a awesome cyberpunk setting.

4 Top Secret/SI
This was a really under rated system with a very good layout. The rules are quite good and I stole lots of Ideas. The emporary damage system (also in gangbusters) works well in Cthulhu so you can have fist fights without murder (but a woman accidentally murdering a cop is part of Cthulhus charm). Great Chase Rules. Good advantage/disadvantage system. Several of the sourcebooks were very good. Agent13 one of best Pulp sourcebooks - actually better than novels and comics based on. F.R.E.E.lancers setting was a great proto cyberpunk-superhero setting. Mercenaries/special ops sourcebook full of good military trivium if that floats your boat but still influences me. Guns, Gadgets and Getaway great book was very good with hundreds of cars and guns with distinctive differences. Highstakes Gamble box set is pretty but but just an overblown module with lots of props but some would enjoy. A far cry from the spy dungeon game of first version.

4 RQ3
It is no secret I love old Chaosium. Superworld was broken but a fun amalgam of Champions and BRP. Stormbringer 1st ed I liked. RQ 1&2 were nice but setting put many off. I love Glorantha and Greg's anthropology and mythology take on fantasy which DnD has never done. RQ3 is slick, detailed, lets you run a wide range of fantasy and a great System. Lots of core remains in BRP. I never liked strike ranks and fatigue a bit much to record and found skill category bonuses a bit painful but loved system that i played late 80s through to the 90s. More recent versions have things i steal from but did lots of stuff i dont like. Layouts were great. Most of the classic box sets are amazing and gloranthan bestiary, apple lane, snakepipe hollow are awesome. Elder Secrets and Troll Gods have some of most disappointing art ever but text good for hardcore fans. Even layouts seem hasty. Single volume book version with errata is great too i might have to get one. I have complte box st of rules, dm version and two players ones. Got a version bound by friend too. Kinda need lotsa books because rolling up stats on everything is hard work which is most painful element. At least foes are individuals. The first few years as a GM only got divine magic. Playing in another campagn i got how to abuse spirit and shamanism. A scientist among us got sorcery and i suits scientists well - later 90s supplements gave better examples of pre gen sorcerers. Dorastor book is one of best campagn settings ever. This continues to be core of my historical gaming. Luckily by calling games cthulhu gets peeps in but viking game has been doing very well and everybody loves vikings.  Will run Babylon and Rome in future. The generic Dark ages setting underrated and very good for Dark Ages Cthulhu.

5 Call of Cthulhu 1st-5th ed
I have most consistently played this game. A simple lethal version of BRP. I dont get why rules needed changing from 1st edition. I like they added extra ststs and book descriptions in new editions. No need to include HPL actual fiction. New edition 7 terrorfies me as seems designed for kids who cant divide or multiply by 5 but possibly more deadly. I have detailed in past how more skill points and less skills in clue finding and languages means more skills for combat. In older editions many characyers had no fighting skills. In 6th ed everyone has so many more skill points most have weapon skill. Has become more pulpy.

I liked everything in this system till orient express - too much real world mythology (not HPL in my book) and too many monsters (common problem in many new books) and too clive barker gore based 80s horror. I actually threw out the adventure part of the terrible barely a box set it came in. I got 6th ed and over design is rampant. Too many bug chewed holes and other useless decor that makes hard to read. Old Chaosium was textbook like and easy to use, best design in the hobby. I got 6th ed hardcover only to find it very hard to use and heard of new edition making it irrelevant when i got home from game con. I really liked games workshop edition but they just slapped content together with no editing but was good. Are some promising aspects to new edition rules wise but basically my 30 year love affair with with Chaosium is over. It's not me It's you.

Several really dud adventure out last year Im glad I only got PDFs. The 50s one I will go elsewhere for a good 50s sourcebook on atomic age horror. Cubicle7 Stuff is mostly superior and I look forward to the non Chaosium BRP Cthulhu game coming out. for the record I find Gumshoe depressing and more linear and less GM controlled. Finally saw d20 Cthulhu and I will read. One of my players said he thinks you should get stronger against the mythos with levels and he prefers but not really horror. I miss old Cthulhu adventure books with 6 or 7 short adventures to the mostly convoluted poor ones I cant be bothered digesting that I recently got.

The lovecraft county line was awesome why is "Adventures in Arkham Country" impossible to get at a good price - i have never even seen it or "Dead Reckonings" The CoC version of Dunwich book with stats for d20 and normal cthulhu is a ugly mess - glad i have first print. I have some issues with Australian Aboriginals in products too.

Still my favorite game but something really rotten sinking in.

6 Ringworld
Dense, detailed, beautiful, good art some very nice. Perfect BRP SF game with companion. A great book on known space setting which is great read. Wouldn't play setting as is though. Has some great variations on BRP and best version of stat derived bonus system im using in my vikings game. Really hey should do Spaceworld and release this stripped of setting. Most of you if you have not seen a copy probably never will. I like lots about Nivens work but he is a jerk. With very old characters in this setting you can have huge amounts of skill points so can take a while.

7 Mutant Epoch
This book and supplements really hit it with me. First the books are dense with text and spot illustrations. The monsters are really horrible. The game deals with horrible topics most games will not - like what if monsters capture you. There are some typos but I can forgive them with the volume of effort and detail. Handy for any post apoc setting and raidable for my gammg and psychon games. Has a fun vibe like 2000 AD comics i dont see in many American products. Modules a bit too box text but could run as solo or have own character with players and has even solo use. I like idea you could rerun and have different room contents each time. Would like to see write advenures for veteran gm without box texts though. The cross road region book is so huge and dense. If they do more of these books wil be a super busy world. I look forward to fantasy version.

8 DnD

The red and blue book editions from 1980 do everything very well with limited space. The famous red and blue box sets with Elmore art on front are very beautiful. Not as complete as Gammaworld 2nd ed but very nice. The cyclopedia edition is the best version of DnD to me and id love to get one again as mine stolen. The gazetters for the setting are pretty good too with very good art. I liked the black covers of late 2nd ed ADnD as less new age looking than first one and those monster folders were terrible. Later versions of DnD I cant read same as Pathfinder. Too much trying to look pretty with full colour totally distracting from readability. My favorite thing about ADnD 1st ed (later covers in mis 80s nice) was the older art with wargamer and historical arms and armour. When i see a crystal bauble in a product i usually lose interest. Same for fantasy computer games. I hate big crystals everywhere.

9 Warhammer Fantasy RPG 1st ed
I only lost this recently and regret it. Very complete setting and game lots of fun, great art with lots of resources for campaign and ideas for any fantasy setting with the UK grit I love. Older edition more unbalanced. Good. The 40k games are very pretty and over designed but get it right. Setting a bit too detailed and too much info but awesome.

10 Eclipse Phase
I dare say one of prettiest games ever rich in ideas, horror without supernatural and way beyond most cyberpunk genre stuff. Great art and layouts. Cant say i follow system but feels like most truly modern SF game with so much to steal.

Honorary Mentions

Star Fronteirs Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks has a built in Universe I played for a while but lack of new stuff made me use own. Now with the free mags is better than ever and free. Space combat is good.

Buck rogers game I think was killed by mediocre art concept but actually a solid settig and early d20 SF game by mike pondsmith.

TORG had so many good ideas and some great art. Didnt care for the universe at war setting but made a good campaign for my Marvel game. The fantasy one had some good spooky stuff but was a bit generic and probably weakest. Kanawa and Cyberpapacy good for cyberpunk. Tharkoldu has that 80s horror i mostly dislike but i like here and the tech good for any sf game. Wished Id got space gods book. Mechanids were a bit pulpy for me but gave me some ideas. I used card deck and then made my own for RQ games I used for years. I rate mos for inspiration over usability.

Paranoia 1st ed and i had games workshop hardcover i ditched regrettably during a purge but great game, great art and settin with ideas for my sf, post apoc and other settings.

DCC i got for art. I wish someone would run it as i dont quite get it yet as I dont metabolize rule sets like i did when younger. Dont think would b a regular game but good for dungeon crawl fun.

Mega Traveller Journal Publications were amazingly better than GDW ones and I recomend the scout and races books as some of the best Traveller products ever. Robot and vehichle book good too. An adventure was probably was one of my favorites. FASA did nice Traveler books too -  a reprint of Skyraiders with great asteroid hab and geomorphs would be a good product to recreate.

TSR MARVEL MSH or FASRIP was of course lucky to have great comic art. But one table does all was a big feature of this game and the built in descriptive elements of stats and ranks was very goo design. Karma xp reward syste very flexible. Has its flaws but core is very good.

Gangbusters box set pretty nice too with good components. Im lucky to have revised modules with very pretty covers.

Cyberpunk was pretty good but the Solo of Fortune book looking like a Merc mag was gold - more supplements like this with items scattered everywhere and fake ads. Teenagers From Outer space and Mekton are awesome too.

Dark Future was a carwars type game from GW i use for all my cyberpunk/carwars games. Jack Yeovil novels are awesome. Great art and setting painted as sidebars and boxed text in a wargames rules.

Cthulhu Tech and Cthonian Stars both beautiful and sexy games, well\designed

Paladium stuff dense with ideas and some pretty art, plenty to plunder for DnD

Iron Crown MERP and historical books very good and dense with info


  1. I am a fan of your blog, and if you are ever in Toronto, I would be very pleased to run a DCC game or two for you.

    1. thanks - i should make more of an effort as i think club would like it

    2. Anything I can do to make that easier, please let me know.

  2. Good list. I haven't played or owned all of those, but I agree with your assessment of the ones I have.

  3. I also regret getting rid of my first edition of WFRP. Easy to play rules, some great adventures and setting and career system was something new. So easy to grasp compared to say DnD 3.5. - too much book keeping zzz


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