PnP RPG Rule Systems: Your Faves


There lots of systems that PnP RPGs use for action resolution and character creation/progression. Some are systems unique to a setting/IP, while others are more universal.

Which that you have played are your favorites? Feel free to offer different systems for different types of game. For example you might love the way a setting-specific system runs but feel a different is better when adopted for various settings. Some systems work well for the feel and flow of one game but would be awkard in others, after all.

I am just wondering which systems you have found to flow really well and provide substance and/or get out of the way just enough to be useful. Really there is only one metric: the rules feel good.

I have played and run lots of different ones. I quite like the Cypher System as a universal system since it’s so easy to mangle and adapt, plus fast. Vanilla is problematic for a few reasons, but the fixes for this were easy and encouraged by the rules themselves.

D&D 5E is my favorite edition yet, but that’s just for D&D . Lots of fun and runs great.

Shadowrun 5E is far more granular and crunchy than I normally care for, but somehow it works for the setting. My biggest gripe here is how much of a slog the Matrix can be for Deckers/Technomancers.

What about y’all, players and GMs?


I have really, really been digging Blades in The Dark lately, and I’m still a weirdo who enjoys playing Paranoia XP from time to time. Paranoia makes a great one-shot, too. Knowing the rules as a player is treason!

I also still play Pathfinder because sometimes it feels good to have seventeen thousand rules and skills. But mostly not.


I have read and heard really great (almost seemingly hyperbolic) things about Blades in the Dark. I really should check it out. People who like it REALLY like it! I love the premise.


I’m a big fan of the system from Over the Edge by Atlas. It’s been SRD-ed as the generic WaRP/Wanton RolePlaying:

(edit: I should note, a system it has a lot in common with is Risus: which was free last time I checked)

It’s pretty rules light, so that needs to be your cup of tea, but it simplifies things and gets out of the way. If you’re better at something you roll more dice against a target number or another dice pool. It only uses six siders and a player or gm is typically not rolling more than 5 in a single test so you can raid somebody’s Risk set and have enough dice to go, and the rules, outside of maybe character creation, can basically fit on one page.

Another system I like is the one from Lady Blackbird:
which is set up as a one shot with pregen characters, but it’s maybe kind of halfway between WaRP and Fate. Third party people have written up ideas for genericizing the Lady Blackbird system for proper campaigns, different settings etc.:


If you’re into collaborative, narrativist systems, BiTD can do a lot of really cool stuff. It embraces players’ desire to succeed at anything by making success on just about anything reasonably likely, or at least possible, but stacking consequences and complications on. The setting is interesting but non-essential (our Duskvol is more London than Dunwall), and I really like the “clocks” system that it uses for ongoing effects.


My favorite RPG system is The Sprawl, or really, most Powered By the Apocalypse games. Rules are simple and keeps the action flowing. It is also very thematic and easy to get in the right mindset.

I do have a soft spot for Cyberpunk 2020. The first system I played with a truly excellent GM. That system was a mess and tried to do way too much, but it was fast paced and deadly compared to my first system of DnD 3.5.

When it games to the more mechanics driven games like Dungeons and Dragons, my favorite would probably be Fantasy Craft. Fantasy Craft was a system heavily based on 3.5 but really improved balance and made all classes interesting, while having a lot of useful enemy creation tools for GMs. It also had some great guides to create your own player races with racial bonuses and abilities. I managed to make really good Zelda races such as Zora and Goron using that system. Too bad I never got that off the ground.

Over the years I’ve really moved away from those mechanics heavy systems in favor for rules light systems.


@dogsarecool I love shared narrative systems. BitD’s flashback thing (iirc that’s a thing right?) appeals to me a lot.

@CBTech OMG I used to play and run SO much Cyberpunk 2020. Looking back, I abhor the system itself for many reasons, but I and my friends enjoyed it immensely despite the rules. Edit: I have moved away from super-crunchy stuff as well. As I get older, I am more about telling stories (and letting players tell theirs) than about sophisticated achievement systems.


Yeah, the flashback system is really fun - done right it can play out like a great heist movie. I also enjoy that inventory exists in limbo until the players decide to take ‘load’ to have an item or tool on their person. It can provide a wonderful balance of risk/reward, which is what BiTD is all about.

I’ve played a lot of systems over the years - Traveller, AD&D, Shadowrun, 13th Age, Vampire, Aeon Trinity, etc etc and really the #1 dictate is that a good group can have fun with almost any system.

Maybe even Hackmaster, but I’ve never convinced people to give that a serious try. Hell, we had a one-shot of Human Occupied Landfill once and had a good time with it.


CP2020 was such a strange system. It felt like it wanted to be simple and fast paced, but had a ridiculous amount of skills. Why would I ever need skills in finance or zoology? I’m a trained killer! The cyberware was also very funny in retrospect. I’ll implant a cassette tape into my arm so I can record things. Having first played the system in 2009 all of the cyberware felt very anachronistic.


I’m currently playing in an Exalted 3E game. It’s enjoyable, but mostly because we have a really good storyteller. The system is okay, but certainly not one of my favorites.

I enjoy many of the Powered by the Apocalypse engine games. I bought a copy of Blades in the Dark, which seems wonderful, but haven’t gotten around to playing it yet.


I have toyed around with trying Exalted but never had a group to do so with. But what I will say is somewhat similar to what @dogsarecool said: a good group (and/or storyteller in this case of your example) can make pretty much any system work just fine.

I just like to think about the systems themselves outside of that sometimes to imagine what best ushers along the process of telling a shared story. There are SO many approaches, and it’s crazy that though I have been playing for decades, I still get surprised by the creative ways in which developers find new ones. It’s fascinating to me to sort of analyze the interplay between how the rules might affect the storytelling and vice versa.


I’ve messed around with a lot of systems, but I have yet to find something better than the Chronicles of Darkness Storyteller System. It is fairly easy to adjust for pretty much any genre of game and it is a perfect balance of mechanics solid player-focused mechanics (though I do house-rule it here and there). Plus you can tweak it easily to be more or less mechanic focused based on your preference, there are a few official books with various house-rule suggestions which are really good for customizing the system to your liking. I’ve always favored dice pool systems and D20 is just cancer on the entire hobby.

If I do want to play something more “hardcore” I pull out Cyberpunk 2020 with Friday Night Firefight rules and a couple of my own tweaks. It is more bookkeeping than I generally like and table lookups are annoying, but you get as close to a realistic simulation of modern combat as possible in PnP.

I also have a special place in my heart for Risus. I’ve run a couple a great goofy one-shots with the system and its perfect for just on-the-spot pickup and go games.


For more traditional tabletop stuff, I’ve really liked Mutants & Masterminds, both 2e and 3e. It has a good balance of freedom and structure, and while it’s not too hard for players to get a little OP, it’s built for superheroes and supervillains, so that’s encouraged a little bit. It’s really fun to run Justice League or Avengers style teams, with a mix of super-powered people, rich gadgeteers, and magic users. For a GM it presents some fun challenges- making sure you have stuff for Batman-types to do while the Superman-types do their thing too means you need a lot of variety and different ways to handle situations in your campaigns. Which is what I love about tabletop stuff!

Also speedsters are the most fun thing to play in tabletop games, period.


Always wanted to play since I used to run a fantasy True20 game some years ago and knew it was a more general take on the M&M system. Upon reading up, I quickly realized that they were quite different… more like divergent variations of 3.5 D&D than the same system used in different contexts.

But I have been told that M&M is a great superhero game. Strangely, I have never played a superhero PnP game!


As a good friend of mine once said, in PbtA games the system has the decency to get out of your way and let you have fun telling stories with your friends.


My group recently played Fate and Fate Accelerated, and we really liked that system. I have a decent amount of experience with D&D and Pathfinder, but I grew sick of the crunchy-ness of the systems. It took us a little to un-learn the bad (IMO) habits from those systems to fully appreciate a system like Fate.


Grew up with D20 based systems, mostly Pathfinder and D&D 3.5. I dabbled in ADnD and 2e but my friends didn’t have the patience for it.

I love those systems dearly in the sense that they’re basically made to be broken, min-maxed, and exploited to make the party as powerful as possible. It creates some really fun situations with mages casting fuck-off huge fireballs, monks running at like 100ft a turn, rogues jumping off 10 story buildings to assassinate a target from stealth and running around naked because their Dex modifier basically means they don’t need armour.

But, at least how I tended to play them, they don’t offer a fantastic system for conversational role-play, and thats what I’ve come to love more than rolling dice and moving miniatures.

For that I’ve basically moved into Powered By The Apocalypse games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, The Sprawl, etc). Sessions of those games always feel so much more collaborative and fruitful.
The GM and players are forced to ask each other questions and make things up on the fly that more often than not, creates a world and characters that everyone can feel good about. There’s still a lot of prep (I have a 15 page Google Doc of prep for a Sprawl game) but the systems themselves I think encourage GMs to not be so precious about that prep. Listen to the players. Make a map and leave blank spaces.


I just wrapped my 21st session of GMing Blades in the Dark.

It was the end of our second narrative arc. I think for next season I’m going to start hacking the game a little (starting with the XP triggers).


Currently, Starfinder. Pathfinder and Dnd3.5 was my jam for the longest time (i’m a sucker for those Adventure Paths and Golarion books). Also, Numenera (OG Cypher system) was my sci-fi fix before Starfinder.


When I was much younger I fell in love with BattleTech, which is an old table-top game with miniatures, it was spun into the computer games series MechWarrior and MechCommander, it also had a MechWarrior RPG later called BattleTech: A Time of War the BattleTech RPG, its a mouthful for sure.

You played MechWarrior RPG like any other RPG, you had a GM, and other players and do stealth missions or just general living your RPG life kind of things, but my group we had not only MechWarrior RPG but also BattleTech, BattleSpace and AeroTech, they all kind of tied in with eachother so you’d be playing your character running around doing RPG stuff, then suit up in a BattleMech, later we’d use BattleSpace to roleplay some space adventures, Star Trek style, then go back to MechWarrior RPG for on-the-ground missions.

This was awesome, I did have the tabletop miniatures for the BattleTech parts, think of it like WarHammer, and it was some of the most detailed RPGing I’ve done in my life.