The Top 20 RPGs on My Bookshelf, Part 2

Remodeling my game room gave me a chance to re-organizing my role-playing game collection and dig out books I haven’t touched in years. As I shelved them, I couldn’t help but start to mentally order my favorite and/or most influential games. This list is the result; this is Part 2, which covers games #10 through #1. You can also read Part 1, which covers games #20 through #11.

10. Battlestar Galactica/Serenity

I originally had these as two entries, but they’re powered by the same Cortex RPG system so I decided to combine them here. The single best thing about Cortex? Plot points, which may be the single best game mechanic ever for getting players to come out of their shells. The game awards points for role-playing, which can then be spent to bolster die rolls or make minor edits to the story. It’s had a significant influence on our game, mostly in changing the way we look at how the story unfolds.

9. Basic Dungeons & Dragons

The game that got me into role-playing in the first place after my mom bought my the old red boxed set. It’s this far down the list because while influential, my time with Basic D&D was short compared to my run with AD&D.

8. Spirit of the Century

SotC is one of those games can can shift your world view; play it once and you won’t look at RPGs the same. The ability to tag Aspects — to identify aspects of your environment or villains, and bring them into play in the game — is huge, and something you need to experience to really understand.

7. Spycraft 1.0

Two words: Action dice. I’ve yet to find a d20-based game that has a comparable action point mechanic, and while Saga Editions force and destiny points come close, they lose the inherently dynamic nature of the action dice (in which players freely spend them, and GMs freely give them, knowing that they’ll get more dice themselves if they do so).

6. Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition

The pinnacle of the mechanics-heavy branch of D&D 3.x, Mutants & Masterminds tosses classes, introduces a point buy system, and scraps hit points in favor of an abstract wounds mechanic. The flexibility of this system perfectly fit its superhero genre, and it had the added benefit of being as complicated as you wanted it to be.

5. Call of Cthulhu

The single best horror RPG I’ve ever played, and not just because it’s the only horror RPG I’ve played (ok, technically I played Chill once). Cthulhu’s Basic Role-Playing System core mechanic, which relies on skills rather than classes to define its characters, coupled with its lethal and/or sanity-ruining magic system, fits the genre almost perfectly.

4. Star Wars: Saga Edition

M&M wins the rules-heavy mantle for d20-based games; Saga Edition wins the streamlined one (I was going to call it “rules light”, but that’s a stretch). It ditches the most cumbersome aspects of D&D 3.x, while retaining the multi-classing functinality my group loves (or at least, most in my group love). This is what we’d hoped D&D 4E would be (and if it had been, 4E would probably have been much higher on this list).

3. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

While Basic D&D laid the foundation of all RPGs that came after it, AD&D is the game that fueled (directly or indirectly) my Greyhawk campaign for 12 years. It’s also the game that many others define themselves against — either in seeking to emulate it, or reacting against it. It also represents the origin of the “crunchy” branch of RPGs; while it may seem lightweight compared to what came after it, the word “advanced” is there for a reason.

2. Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds represents everything I loved about D&D without all the baggage. I love the role-playing aspects of edges and hinderences as well as the exploding dice mechanic. It fulfills its motto of “fast, fun, furious”, and it’s my go-to game for any pulp adventures I want to run.

1. Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

The game that saved Dungeons & Dragons (and perhaps the RPG industry). Things were looking dark in the final days of D&D 2nd Edition, with an unmanageable pile of rules and a defunct TSR. D&D 3.x got rid of what didn’t work, kept what did, and introduced a host of new mechanics for customizing character. It powered my Dungeons & Dragons campaign for a good nine years, and spawned many of the other games on this list (including Spycraft, Mutants & Masterminds, d20 Modern and Star Wars: Saga Edition

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