role-playing games

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from about 6th grade on i've been interested in roleplaying games.  i
was given a first-edition "dungeon master's guide" by a family friend,
spent a summer trying to reverse-engineer the rules for dungeons &
dragons, and have been interested in playing (and designing) tabletop
games ever since.

i plan to use this page to document games i've played (or want to
play) along with some thoughts about them. this is mostly for me but
might be useful if you are looking for games to try. eventually i
might try to write up some general feelings on what makes games good
(or bad) but that will have to wait.

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games i've played:

 ⊛ dungeons and dragons (1e, 2e, 3/3.5e, 5e)

   despite all the problems with the game system, i still have
   a lot of love for d&d. i think 3.5 was an interesting
   (but failed) experiment into how crunchy you could make
   the rules. i find 1st edition to be the most inspiring:
   the art and writing are really fresh and unique, and i
   enjoy its commitment to simulation and imagination over
   too many concerns for consistency or polish.

 ⊛ teenage mutant ninja turtles & other strangeness

   i played this game a few times with an older cousin who had a copy
   of the original edition. i think my character was some kind of bear
   maybe? i had a great time, and definitely have fond memories of
   this (despite the fact that it used palladium's rules).

 ⊛ world of darkness (2e, 3e)

   i mainly played these games between about 1994 and 2002. i remember
   being inspired by the focus on story, social activity, and
   personality (as opposed to older games that simply focused on
   "adventure" and fighting). the "goth-punk" setting was sort of
   ridiculous but we all had a good time with it.

   to try to characterize the individual games:

   werewolf probably the setting i enjoyed playing the most. i
   was also a big fan of the other shapechangers as well. i ran many
   werewolf games (often starting with first-changes) and also played
   a ton of werewolf on aol in the mid 90's as shadow804.

   mage the most inspiring setting by far. i think this game
   still has some of the best ideas of any game i've
   seen. unfortunately i tried playing the updated "mage: the
   awakening" in 2007 and it was really terrible -- they had removed
   almost everything that made the original interesting.

   vampire not normally my favorite, but a friend ran an
   amazing sabbat campaign that i really enjoyed -- she was an english
   major who had never really played (or ran) games before, and she
   took it really seriously. probably one of the best-run games i've
   ever played in.

   changeling i had a real soft-spot for this game, and despite
   the fact that most of my friends didn't find urban fantasy cool i
   ran a bunch of successful games.

   wraith i remain somewhat obsessed with this game, despite
   the fact that i suspect it is unplayable. another of my cousins was
   really into it too, so we spent a lot of time with this one. it
   felt a bit like an rpg version of "waiting for godot."

   project twilight this was a weird little game that was sort
   of like a world of darkness version of x-files. it was also pretty
   great -- i ran several games of this. the excitement of playing
   "normal" people who were underpowered compared to the supernaturals
   they were investigating helped keep the tension high.

 ⊛ rifts

   interesting setting and art, terrible game system. never managed to
   play a game of this that didn't go horribly-wrong very
   quickly. i've always imagined it would be interesting to mix the
   rifts setting and a non-terrible game system, but so far i haven't
   tried it.

 ⊛ deadlands (1e)

   in high-school i briefly ran a fun deadlands campaign with a few
   friends. i'm not sure the system was worth the complexity, but the
   setting was good, and it sort of inspired us to play on the tropes
   in an interesting way, so i have fond memories.

 ⊛ shadowrun (3e)

   i like shadowrun, but i've never really played in a successful
   campaign. unlike rifts, i don't think the rules are that bad, but
   somehow it just never came together. one common complaint that i
   can share: having to "split" time between cyberspace hacking and
   the real world almost always feels like a massive drag.

 ⊛ middle-earth role playing (1e, 2e)

   i grew up in charlottesville, which was where iron crown
   enterprises (rip) was based. as a result, i've actually seen
   someone run rolemaster before, and it might have also helped get me
   into "merp". i like the source material (tolkien), and while the
   rules were a bit complicated i do find them somewhat compelling. i
   started a few games of this, but never had a steady group where it
   caught on. this is one of those systems where i like collecting the
   source books and reading the rules.

 ⊛ call of cthulhu (5/5.5e, 6e)

   had some good times. it's a weak system with strong source
   material, but the understanding that everything will go
   horribly-wrong helps make it a fun game to play. definitely had
   some memorable experiences with this one.

 ⊛ the shadow of yesterday

   this was my introduction to "narrativist" roleplaying games. i am
   not the biggest fan of the setting, but i had a great time with the
   group i played with. this was the start of a "west philly games
   group" that ran many of these games. overall the system worked
   pretty well. i'd definitely play it again.

 ⊛ burning empires

   ugh. the complexity of something like rolemaster but with fewer
   guiding principles and more arbitrary subgames. i was really bummed
   to see that the mousegard rpg was written by the same guy -- i
   guess he's a famous designer?

 ⊛ diaspora

   after the failure of burning empires, i joined a small group
   playing diaspora. we heavily-modded the rules, but had a good time.
   i felt like the rules were in a bit of an uncanny valley between
   the "fate" system and something like traveller. (disclaimer: i am
   sort of in love with first-edition traveller despite never having
   played it.)

 ⊛ in a wicked age

   only played this a few times. i found the system awkward, but in an
   intentional, interesting way. de-emphasizing characters (and
   character ownership) was a really interesting mechanic i'd like to
   explore more.

 ⊛ pdq sharp

   i played in a surprisingly-historical swashbuckling campaign using
   these rules (with some light modding). i had a great time, and
   found the system to be lightweight but fun. the west philly folks i
   played with were good at storytelling, so lightweight systems
   tended to work well for us.

 ⊛ don't rest your head

   this was such a good game! we played a relatively short campaign
   (maybe 5-6 sessions) and it was great. the rules were super simple
   and stylized, and the setting (taking part in a sleep study on a
   college campus) was really flavorful and intense.

 ⊛ arkham high school

   a small two-part session that a friend of mine put together.
   our character sheets were student report cards! seriously, this
   was a really great idea. i still think it would be great to
   release (though i guess it would probably have to be re-branded).

 ⊛ spirit of the century

   after having experienced fate indirectly in a number of other games
   i had a chance to play this one. the pulp setting is charming
   (although not always my thing). one of my friends is a huge fate
   fan, very adept with the system, and also a great storyteller, so i
   invariably have a great time playing this game.

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games i created:

 ⊛ bespoke star trek rpg

   i started playing this in ninth-grade. a good friend of mine was
   really into stark trek, but at the time there wasn't a viable
   rpg. i took some time and created a relatively simple game (that
   had some superficial similarities to 2nd edition ad&d).
   unfortunately i think i lost most of the rules but it was good
   enough that we played it for at least a couple of years.

   (making this made me a sort of "honorary trekkie" for a bit.)

 ⊛ minimal redwall rpg

   i never actually played this one, but it was a basic fantasy rpg
   where the "races" were actually taken from redwall. it wasn't
   especially inspired but i think it could have been a lot of fun
   with folks who appreciated the source material. since then i've
   talked to lots of folks who wanted some kind of game like this.

 ⊛ unnamed freeform rpg

   i really liked this one. you used a small index card, drew a
   picture on 1/3 of it, and then wrote a small amount of information
   on the rest. the character info was:

     + name: self-explanatory
     + description: phrase or sentence
     + 3 dislikes
     + skills (anything you wanted), 1-5 points each (10 total)

   i don't totally remember the system, but it was very simple. the
   game was mostly about creating ridiculous stories with your
   friends. i remember helping people make characters in high-school
   and playing short sessions during lunch.

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games i want to play:

 ⊛ apocalypse world

   maybe i waited too long and missed the moment where everyone was
   obsessed with this one. but i'd like to try it out.
 ⊛ dogs in the vineyard

   i'm not sure the setting is really my thing. but it's a really
   important game and with the right group i'd like to try it out and
   see how it goes.

 ⊛ traveller

   i freaking love original traveller. i have a hard time explaining
   why -- the system is sort of broken and also very old-school. there
   is a common joke that you can die during character creation (which
   is true) and also that random mishaps can easily destroy your game.

   in some sense, i think the flaws are what appeal to me. i like rpgs
   that are unselfconscious, and that came out before the "idea" of
   what an rpg was had fully-formed. in that sense, i think the
   original traveller material is pretty interesting and inspiring.

   if i were going to play traveller i'd probably use the original
   system, but heavily-customized. i'd also want to make sure the
   group was interested in simulating dangerous space flight, and knew
   the risk and chance of disaster.

 ⊛ microscope

   i read some blog posts about the development of microscope, as well
   as about a group that played it. being able to move through time
   and space in a single campaign seems like a really promising way to
   find interesting things -- you can have a remarkable triumph or a
   disasterous defeat without having to end the game.

 ⊛ monsterhearts

   this game sounds amazing! i've read about some play throughs of
   it. i think it might capture some of the things i've enjoyed about
   other "coming of age" rpgs (say in werewolf "first-change" games,
   or in the arkham high school game i mentioned). definitely a game
   where i'd want to play with people i trust, as opposed to a more
   casual group.

 ⊛ polaris

   a collaborative rpg without a storyteller? great! the game requires
   exactly four people, so it might be a bit hard to set up.

 ⊛ the mountain witch

   another classic narrative rpg. supposedly there is a reprint in
   the works (it's out of print). from what i've read about the game
   it sounds pretty great.

last updated: Fri Mar 27 15:40:02 EDT 2015