Gaming Tonic

Top Five Games That Influenced My RPG Play

I saw on Character Generation and then again on Dice Monkey the other day a post about what five games influenced the way you play?  I pondered the question for a couple of days and after serious consideration decided to share them with you.  I have played lots and lots of rpgs with many different groups in many different situations.  Some were long campaigns that lasted years, while others were one shots with a group of gamers I met at a convention.  I will explain my reasons for each game as we continue.

Marvel Super Heroes - I had become accustomed by the time I purchased this classic yellow box to rpgs either being a bit slow paced (mapping the Temple of Elemental Evil) or deadly (Boot Hill, Top Secret, Traveller).  So the classic yellow box was a welcome change.  This was the first time I really set about creating my own material, both adventures and rules hack, for a game that I would run.  The accessibility of the rules made it much less intimidating to take the reins.  The fact that most my friends, and myself were huge comic fans just made it that much sweeter.  It was also the first game I ever ran at a convention.

Star Wars RPGStar Wars D6 - I was five years old when Star Wars premiered in the theatre.  I have never known life without it.  When the rpg was released in the late 80’s it seemed like the perfect escape for a hardcore group of gamers.  The rules were easy and so was the character generation.  That left time to start role-playing the characters without rules distraction.  It is also a really difficult system to munchkin, so our games never broke down from power level bloat.  Venger Mok (points if you can pick out the two sources combined to get that name) was my first character and I still have the character sheet more than two decades later.  My favorite campaign of all time was using this game and it was run by a novice GM who was a big Star Wars fan.

GURPS 3rd EditionGURPS Basic Set 3rd Edition – When one of the best GMs I have ever had the opportunity to play with introduced me to GURPS.  I was intrigued by the flexibility and scope of what the game could cover.  I had purchased Champions 4th Edition but kind of set it on the bookshelf out of fear until I learned to play GURPS.  I am not a generic system addict, but when a genre specific system is not available for an idea I am dreaming up, I turn to generic systems before trying to hack some other system for my needs.  The first games in my homebrew fantasy world were used GURPS, and while I haven’t played GURPS in eight years, my fantasy world continues to grow regardless of what system I use to play.  I usually use Savage Worlds or Hero Systems for a universal system now.

Mage The AscensionMage The Ascension – What I learned from this game was a lesson that I keep in the forefront of my mind when I am designing adventures.  In certain games if players have access to certain powers, spells, technology, social groups, or whatnot, then be prepared for anything to happen.  If those powers are sort of make up what they day within abstract spheres of control then be prepared for the impossible.  In some settings like Mage the Ascension in a modern setting, be prepared for the characters to rely on magic, technology, wealth, political power, and more to figure things out.  In Mage the Ascension the players also have the ability to affect environment, time, and reality.  There will be very little that they will not have access to.  I carried the lessons that I learned from a game that had great concept, characters, and promise but poor execution into lots of other games.

Dungeons & Dragons 4EDungeons & Dragons 4th Edition – I have had some vocal criticisms of some of the mechanics of 4E but I in some way I feel like I was delivered what I had been asking for as a DM for years.  I had wished for a D&D game that would allow me to gauge the challenge of encounters better, for a game that could be played without a cleric, and a game that wouldn’t be all scrying, detecting, teleporting, and layering of spells before a fight.  A game that didn’t grind to a halt at every door. 4th Edition delivered but the fantasy was better than the reality (that was intended).  The deadliness of each encounter could easily be figured out by the DM and also the players, the party didn’t need a cleric because other classes could pretty much do the same thing but if the player didn’t really role-play their powers they all had the same feel.  The characters were more than tough enough to never need to slow down or prepare.  So wish granted.  I also learned I want action points, all characters to have some limited self-healing, spells and rituals, at-wills, interrupts, and themes in 5th Edition D&D.  Those were great additions to Dungeons & Dragons.

The things I learn in games are usually mixed blessings that I carry with me into other games I play.  I don’t really ever think a game is bad just some time not right for me.  Some of the games that I mentioned other gamers will hate.  I try to look at every system for the positives that I can use in my next game regardless of what system I use, and the negatives that I will try to avoid which forces me to be a better Gamemaster and a better player.  What are your five games and why?  Let us all know in the comments or link to your blog. Until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. 1. GURPS : I love gritty realism and Gurps is the first system that showed it to me. The realism makes you consider little details which, for me, makes the immersion that much better.

    2. HERO system : For me HERO has the most freedom of any rules system that tries to imitate the physical world. There is a purity of concept that comes through in HERO, since every minute detail is the players to create.

    3. Vampire:The Masquerade : This is the first game I played that focused on politics, and it developed my love of defeating a more dangerous foe with cleverness.

    4. Dresden RPG : Some of the ideas presented in Dresden like a rotating GM, collaborative city creation and invoking other players aspects, really turned the GM/Player relationship on its head. If you make table-top a team thing you benefit from several people’s good ideas not just the GM.

    5. D&D 4E : 4E taught me I don’t always know what I want. If after 3.5 you asked me what changes I wanted to see I would have suggested most of the things that changed. However what resulted was a game with a high floor and a low ceiling, leaving players feeling like their decisions barely effected the outcome.

  2. Venger: the arch-villain of the Dungeons & Dragons animated series.

    Mok: the species of Ookla, the verbally-challenged friend of Thundarr the Barbarian.

    Now give me my bonus points.

  3. Meadslosh the raven with those bonus points shall fly straight away. Congratulations for obviously being a fan of quality Saturday morning cartoons of the early 80’s!

  4. Marvel was a breath of fresh air in a time of killer GMs and other silliness.

    I am curious about what it was about Mage, particularly 1st Ed, that you feel could have been presented better for you and your group. A lot of people gave up on this edition who later fell in love with the subsequent editions.

  5. Ooh– fun.

    1. Call of Cthulhu: Though I’d already cut my unnaturally-long horror teeth on AD&D’s Ravenloft setting, Call of Cthulhu gave me my first taste of horror gaming as a main course. rather than just a flavor. I still consider my first CoC game to be one of the best games I’ve ever run.

    2. Shadowrun: I had only played D&D when I first encountered this cyberpunk/urban fantasy setting, and it greatly expanded the scope of my interest in RPG’s. Shadowrun also introduced me to the problems of designing games when the PC’s had access to modern information-gathering abilities. Sadly, Shadowrun was also the first and only game that inspired me to create a GMPC, and I guess the ridiculousness of that endeavor was a lesson as well.

    3. D&D 4E: This game introduced the Skill Challenge. While entirely unplayable as written, the skill challenge changed how I created adventures for all my games– before this, most of my non-combat encounters required a solution of either a) hoping a player would roll high enough, or b) fudging a success out of thin air in order to move the story along.

    4. Gumshoe: A similar cross-game epiphany, the Gumshoe conceit of simply giving the players the clues to the mystery rather than hoping they roll well enough made a lot of my players happier.

    5. HERO System: Not all games teach by being good examples; HERO System defined my distaste for both simulationist games and for generic RPG rules. Strangely enough, HERO System also taught me that even though I may hate a game that I run– a game where nothing works mechanically or storywise, where low-powered monsters massacre PC’s while boss monsters are ineffectual– the players can still have a great time.

  6. Runeslinger it wasn’t the presentation of the game, it was more of a dipping a toe in the waters of a more story based system. In D&D, Marvel Super Heroes, Star Wars, or most systems at that time a GM knew exactly how the powers would work. The introduction to a storyteller style where description was the essence of the power and creativity was rewarded in the story, combined with computers, libraries, political and underworld connections, arcane resources, and others to overwhelm the GM. The game idea is amazing and his story was solid but none of us were experienced enough at anticipating what six powerful modern day mages might do next. With some experience we have returned fondly to the storyteller game. I really like what Dresden and the new Marvel Heroic Basic Game have done with the idea.

    I am excited to see multiple systems show up and see that different gamers are taking away things to improve their games both from positive and negative experiences. Tristan I would have to say Gumshoe is really cool, I hope to get in a game of it soon. I saw on Twitter once although I can’t remember who said it that the Hero System is like “that ex-girlfriend that you know is bad for you but you can’t resist picking up the phone” or something to that effect. I love and loathe things about the Hero System, i love the flexibility but hate that I sometimes have a hard time regulating the system with my idea of the game and what the players want to play. Sometimes I will opt for simple, sometimes for the details.

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