WISH 99: Best Genre RPGs

In WISH 99, Ginger asked (Internet Archive):

Pick three to five genres and name the best RPG for that genre. Why do you think it’s the best? What makes it better than others? What are its downsides?

Fantasy / Dungeons & Dragons: What makes Dungeons & Dragons the best fantasy game out there isn’t its rules or the quality of its source books, although they’re both pretty good. No, what makes D&D rule — despite all the occasional moaning to the contrary — is its ubiquitousness. Almost every RPG gamer out there has played some version of D&D at one point in his or her life, and quite a few have played an iteration of the current rules.

This makes D&D the glue that holds the hobby together — if you move to a new city, you can be sure that at the very least you’ll be able to get a game of D&D running. It may not be the game you’d prefer to play, but some gaming is better than no gaming.

As for the game itself … I do like it. The easy multiclassing, skills and feats featured in the 3.0 version of the game have allowed a degree of customization not possible in earlier versions, and have done a damn good job of powering my Greyhawk campaign for the last few years.

Science Fiction / Fading Suns: The core rule book for Fading Suns is one of the few RPGs that I’ve picked up and haven’t been able to put down until I’d finished it. I loved the game’s rich far-future-yet-medieval background, which evokes aspects of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels as well as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books. I liked the game’s mechanics as well — particularly the “Victory Point” system, in which in which players didn’t just have to exceed a given number, they also had to come close to that number as well.

Unfortunately, character creation was a lengthy and tedious process, all the more so when I was the only one who had a copy of the book. We ended up playing Fading Suns d20 instead, which had its own issues, but which used rules more familiar to my group.

A close runner up to Fading Suns was Star Frontiers, the classic TSR science fiction RPG from the 80s. I had all the source books and boxed sets, but unfortunately never had a chance to play the game.

Horror / Call of Cthulhu: The obvious choice, but a good one. I first started playing the gaming in college, and some of the best sessions I every played were run by my friend Adam Fox. Adam was exceptionally skilled at crafting a spooky environment — no lights save candles, perfectly timed music, excellent voice control — and wrote scenarios that would have your heart in your throat by 1 a.m. Since then I’ve gotten into Delta Green and run a few scenarios, but none as gripping as what Adam accomplished.

Superhero / DC Heroes: I would have said Godlike but I’m trying to stick to games I’ve actually played more than once. I played in an excellent DC Heroes game in college, once again run by Adam. We were members of the Light Foundation, a Fantastic Four-like collection of superheroes who spent their days and nights fighting the forces of evil (and the occasional DC or Marvel guest star. The system did a good job of recreating superpowers, but its ability charts felt overly complicated.

Espionage / Spycraft d20: Spycraft simply rocks. It captures the over-the-top, larger-than-life world of spy movies and television, making the game a heck of a lot of fun to play … and the book easily as much fun to read. My only complaint is that it doesn’t throttle down well if you’re looking to run a lower-key campaign. Fortunately, that’s not a problem for me.

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