Favorite TTRPG, and why?

hi all!

i’m trying to use the fall to work on some of my creative projects more, one of which has been an ongoing design of a TTRPG. ive written for rpgs before as a freelancer and have been nursing this pet project for about two years. one thing i continually try to do is look at what other games do well and what people love about them as inspiration for my own. so i thought i’d ask here: what’s your favorite TTRPG, and what do you like most about it?

fwiw ive had a ton of personal experience playing d&d (3.5e and 5e), pathfinder 1e, stars without number, and monster of the week (PBTA), and a little less with story games like follow and microscope. would be very interested to hear from people who play other games, or more story games, on this!

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I’m in the middle of a Kingdom game a few threads down the page that’s been enjoyable, but I think that’s largely due to Waypoint being full of excellent storytellers who hate capitalism and truly love sci-fi.

As a fan of Friends at the Table, I’m way into basically any of the Powered by the Apocalypse games. That rule structure seems great and easy to follow even for someone who isn’t staring at the rulebook.

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I’ve run D&D3.5e and d20 Modern, played in a variety of Powered by the Apocalypse and Chronicles of Darkness games, and we’re even running a Houses of the Blooded game, but I always come back to simpler systems and systems driven by narrative rather than mechanics.

Thus far what I’ve loved to run the most are Laser & Feelings, and Fiasco.

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I’ve run or played a lot of Stars Without Number, Monster of the Week and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars (Age of Rebellion and Force & Destiny). I liked them for very different reasons!

SWN has amazing GM tools for content generation and very cool faction mechanics.

MotW, as most PbtA games, is very easy to get into even after longer breaks. We’ve mostly been using it as a palate cleanser between longer campaigns, doing a few cases before moving on.

AoR and F&D may be my group’s favourite system from a player’s perspective at the moment. It has a moderate amount of crunch while not requiring a ton of maths to optimize your build.

The game I haven’t played a lot of but am most itching to really dig into is Blades in the Dark, or one of its hacks. The stress mechanic is absolutely brilliant and I wish it was easier to hack into other systems like SWN!

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I’ve played a bit of 5e recently, and I have a sort of negative recommendation in that it’s still as focused on combat as earlier editions, but with the “streamlining” of 5e just mostly stripping out the stuff that made it okay to do other interactions with [whilst not removing much of the complexity of d20 itself].

So, I’ve played one or two Powered by the Apocalypse games, and I would say they’re my favourite “class-oriented” TTPRG games systems - they’re more focused and each “class/playbook” gets to have a very unique feel. Plus the partial-success system (and encouragement to the DM to dynamically adjust threats) is a massive gain in terms of DMing.

However, since it’s not been mentioned here, I want to mention the Burning Wheel/Torchbearer/Mouseguard family of TTRPGs - I’ve played BW very little, but want to play it a lot more [and know a bunch of people who play it much more]. I love the character construction via lifepaths (sort of related to Traveller’s character building system), which is almost a game in itself - the way in which all contests have a uniform means of resolution (which can include “degrees of success”), the fact that you improve by doing - skills (or even attributes) improve when you test them a lot, no “random levelling where you can just randomly make things you probably never used better”; and, from a contrast with combat-oriented TTRPGs, the fact that the “advanced combat” system is mirrored with an equally sophisticated “advanced debating” system for social interactions.
Yes, it’s a very “crunchy” system, but there’s a lot of “points of principle” which you can also pick up from it, and might be applied to simpler systems.

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I’ve mostly played PbtA and Forged in the Dark games (D&D also but that hardly counts) so I’m probably not adding much to the conversation, but I’m about 3 sessions into a game of Masks and I’m slowly realising how well designed it is. It’s a hyper-focused game about teen superheros in the vein of Teen Titans or Young Avengers and it mechanises all of the identity based drama and angst that comes with the genre in a really compelling way.

Your stats don’t reflect your physical abilities or skills, but your perception of yourself as it relates to doing different superhero stuff. So Danger determines how good you are at actually fighting dudes, but if you want to use your powers to do something specific that isn’t attacking someone you’re going to need to roll Freak instead. And because those states are based on your own perceptions they’ll shift up and down over the course of play as you interact with the wider world and have your identity challenged.

It’s a really interesting game and I think it absolutely wouldn’t work unless you come to it ready to tell a pretty low-stakes, vibe-heavy story about teens being teens, because the entire game is built around that premise.

I also love Scum and Villainy for adding the Gambit system to BitD, team pool mechanics are always fun and the scoundrel playbook is a really good pulp archetype and it also feels like it has such a satisfying playstyle compared to other playbooks. And Band of Blades is really good at codifying a lot of the GM side stuff that Blades didn’t explain in detail like Scale, Tier, and Effect and making it feel crunchy and tactical in a way that fits the setting.

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A lot of people in this thread already recommended some Forged In The Dark games, so I won’t retread that ground, but Blades in the Dark, and the sci-fi hack of it, Scum and Villainy, are both excellent.

My absolute favorite TTRPG is Fiasco. I’m not sure how many others would agree with that, but I’ve loved Fiasco from the first time I played it, simply because there really aren’t any strict mechanics you need to follow. In TTRPGs, my favorite thing is character interaction, and having moments together, where the characters get to talk, and not have to roll dice to determine anything, and that’s Fiasco to a T. Of course, you roll dice in the game, but all the dice are really used for is to set the scene of the game (determine who your character is, what their relationships are with the other players, what they need out of the situation they’re in). Fiasco is a role playing game in the purest sense of the phrase. It’s more akin to improv than D&D. I love building these over the top characters, plopping them into intense situations, and having improvised dramatic arguments with my friends while we’re pretending to rob a bank or something. No dice roles to determine if we succeed or fail in unlocking the vault or not, just pure roleplaying.

Some people like the more crunchy side of TTRPGs, with pages and pages of rules you need to memorize, and I have love for those games too, but there’s something about Fiasco that helps me get lost in a character and a setting better than any other TTRPG I’ve ever played.

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thanks everyone for your replies so far!

a big thing i want my system to address is the apparent player fun vs gm fun dichotomy. i remember when i first got into d&d 5e i was thrilled because so much felt wide open, the rulebook just said to “ask the gm” on a lot of things that in pathfinder (i thought) would’ve had a bunch of boring rules i had to figure out! then i ended up in the dm seat and found that the stream-lining and “opening the story up” components that were so fun as a player were often a disproportionate amount of work for the dm…

i want to make something that doesnt give one participant in something that’s supposed to be fun all the work or all the power (really depends on the gm), and makes it easy for the role to go around a group of friends, even to people who wouldn’t normally think theyre a good fit for it. thats why i asked about peoples’ experience with story gaming, because i really like that genre’s general toolset for collaborative decision-making and story-telling. fiasco is one i havent checked out yet but definitely will now!

aside from that, as i expected, y’all have brought in systems i’ve never even heard of for me to take a look at! scum and villainy, burning wheel, age of rebellion, lasers & feelings, etc. thanks so much and keep them coming! :smile:

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I haven’t played them but the one-page RPGs from https://gshowitt.itch.io/ are amazing at creating a lot of possibilities with very little prep and rules. The most emblematic being maybe Honey Heist, I really want to try it sometime.

(Also I have been GMing some Blades in the Dark and, yep, it’s so good. Mixed successes + clocks is a recipe for unpredictable fun for everyone playing.)

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Have you looked at the Black Hack series? It’s under the Open Game Content license and has a ton of different spin offs. The thing I like most is that the DM is hardly ever rolling, you set a challenge level and players need to roll under the number. It also never feels crunchy but still has enough dice based combat to keep it interesting.

I personally really enjoyed the Mecha Hack variation.

Also it feels like you could easily combine different rule books? Like I see no reason you couldn’t combine Mecha Hack with another for out of mech adventures.

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One negative thing I’ll say about Age of Rebellion (all of the FFG Star Wars systems, really) is that they can get really expensive. Especially because you really do need their special dice. If you play on Roll20 there are sheets that do everything for you, but for the “good” version of those you’ll need a Pro account for API access. The same is true for Genesys, their setting-agnostic version of that ruleset, which I’ve successfully GMed a Mass Effect one-shot in.

As far as more story-oriented games go, my group isn’t super interested in those, but we’ve played a few. I especially liked Stewpot, a cozy and fun GM-less game where you play a group of adventurers who retire to open a tavern. I still remember my former Dread Knight reforging his life-draining sword into a plow, reversing the flow of energy in the process. My crops got huuuge!

I don’t get to play TTRPG’s as often these days, but the last really interesting game I played was House of Reeds (https://heterogenoustasks.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/house-of-reeds/). I love the way this combines a visual element with the narrative ‘challenge-response’ style of building a story as a group.

My classic faves are either crunchy (and not realy something I’d play any more), or well covered in this thread (PbtA is great for packing a lot of action into shorter sessions).

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Have a look at WaRP (free OGL zip here, from bottom of this page). It’s a rules light system underpinning earlier editions of Over the Edge. There’s nearly as much latitude for character creation as a gm decides they want to allow, but characters can still be defined by (more or less) three positive traits and one flaw.

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I think a big reason that D&D makes the DM do so much work is because there are so many different moving parts to characters, maps, encounters and abilities that interact with each other in weird and different ways, and that workload is lessened in something like apocalypse world or blades in the dark where the rules are more flexible. The insistence on binary success/failure and systematic outcomes make it harder to make shit up as you go, because chances are there is a rule for whatever you want to do and to ignore it for convenience is kind of playing the game wrong.

I’d highly recommend reading through something that uses FitD, because those games operate on the basis of fictional positioning and having the context of an action matter in a way that was kind of transformative for my understanding of ttrpg storytelling.

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Someone mentioned Grant Howitt’s one-off RPGs, and those are great. But I also have to mention the Spire and Heart RPGs that he worked on, which are my personal favorites. They’re both set in the same game universe, but in slightly different settings with slightly different mechanics involved in both. For me, it is just the right amount of rules (i.e. it’s not too hard to keep everything in your head), and the abilities are fun for players, and the setting is just super cool and there is a lot of really thematically rich material to work with.

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Yeah, this is what I was vaguely getting at with my comment on 5e not actually removing the complexity of D&D/d20 System in streamlining stuff - there’s still a dense set of complex interaction types (worsened in 5e due to the “informal” style in which the mechanics are written, meaning that interpretation is sometimes hard) which a DM needs to hold in their head. [Compare to both crunchy, systematic systems with general rules for resolving situations - The Burning Wheel - which has principles you can go back to and apply generally, and much more care taken on making the rules clear and unambiguous - and, as many have mentioned, lighter-weight systems like PbtA games, which just have a much higher level view of where you put resolution mechanics, so just have less to remember. 5e is in the worst position between the two: fluffy wording and too many special case mechanics still.]

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A lot of the big, chunky ones have been mentioned already so I’ll go with the weird one: Dread. It’s a horror TTRPG that is played… with a Jenga tower. The reason I love it is probably obvious but I’ve rarely felt the pressure of my character decisions as much as when I’m playing dread. Every time your character does something that is dangerous or outside of their skills, you need to pull a piece from the tower. And the more the story evolves, the more pieces are pulled, generally leading to a spike in tension toward the end of the game (Dread is made for one-shot sessions).

The game also has a very interesting approach to setting up stories, with a lot of prompts pre-game that help players inhabit characters rather quickly. The difficult part of the game is always pacing: a Dread game well paced is INCREDIBLE, but if players don’t pull enough pieces or pull too many (and the tower falls, putting a character out of action) and the game kind of… falls apart (pun intended).

Speaking of which, I’m planning on running a Mothership game for my birthday coming up. :slight_smile:

It’s only 50 pages but it seems like there’s a lot of complexity, which is neat.

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I very much agree here, and I think a lot of the problems with 5e kind of come down to market forces in a weird way. That edition was streamlined to appeal to new players so it wants to come off as a breezy rules-light system that you can just pick up and play, and it does occupy a massive amorphous chunk of the ttrpg space. But because of that middle-of-the-road design and dominance in the space (and especially in ttrpg streaming) new players get exposed to a range of different ways to play D&D that are personalised to different groups and don’t realise that there are games that are explicitly designed for focusing on the stories or crunchy tactical stuff that they want and could be playing. Instead I think a lot of groups just end up cobbling together their own versions of 5e from the actual rules, 3rd party supplements, and shit they saw on twitch that they thought was cool and then start thinking of that as what 5e is meant to be instead of what’s actually written in the books.

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Absolutely, that’s definitely part of it. Ironically, of course, 5e was also designed to try to win people back from Pathfinder 1e (which was super super crunchy) after they left during the 4e controversy… which is actually why it’s more mechanically conservative than it could be [and has a bunch of class balance issues that require a DM to read and follow the encounter design and frequency tips in the DMG to mitigate properly]. The irony here is deeper in that Pathfinder 2e learnt from both PF1e and DnD 5e’s mistakes and is a hugely better product - even down to things like important words being bolded [or even made into Tags at the top of descriptions] to help you parse the rules.
[Not that this has helped PF2e displace 5e in the “public eye”, because DnD has literally 40+ years of history in media as “that roleplaying game” to play on.]