So, you’ve decided to try out roleplaying games and are prepared to do a bit of logistics and math to make it happen- but it turns out there are so many different ones with different kinds of rules! Or maybe you’ve played before but want to try out a new game and aren’t sure how easy it will be to adapt. While a game creator can come up with a unique system, there are also many popular ones that span wide swathes of games. Here are some short introductions to some major ones. It may give you a few ideas of where to get started!
By far the most popular game systems are Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, both of which base their game mechanics around the d20, or twenty-sided dice; players add or subtract points to these dice rolls based on their own abilities, then roll the d20 to see if they can meet the target number. D&D was the original roleplaying game, based around the ideas of combat, exploration and quick thinking. Over many editions (it is currently in its fifth,) its options have expanded to allow for epic and wide-ranging campaigns, not just crawling through dungeons looking for treasure. Pathfinder arrived in 2007, bringing with it more options for character customization, an intricate setting, and detailed campaigns or ‘adventure paths’ to take players through long adventures of any genre. Thanks to the Open Game License or OGL, any author can make a game based around the systems of D&D or Pathfinder, so you can find practically any resource you could want. And if you liked the super old D&D editions, back when Elf was a class and magic users were rare, that’s what the Old School Renaissance or OSR games are for!
The game Apocalypse World, about playing post-apocalyptic action-heavy games, had such an elegant set of rules that it spawned an entirely new system- Powered by the Apocalypse! This game uses two six sided dice for most things; the higher the result, the better the outcome, but even lower numbers still accomplish things. Players pick playsets representing archetypes for their characters, including what actions they can take and details about appearance and backstory. The system is so flexible that there are games for every conceivable genre and premise, from the Buffy and Supernatural-inspired Monster of the Week to the darkly comical fantasy of No Country for Old Kobolds. One dark steampunk game, Blades in the Dark, was popular enough that it spawned its own system, Forged in the Dark.
One single game with many unique and thorough settings is Savage Worlds, known for its weird western title Deadlands. Players create their characters by spending points to earn helpful traits and earning more points to spend by taking troublesome ones. It encourages players to really get into roleplaying their characters by awarding points for good acting and investment, and some of the books outline ways to build campaigns with very player-driven quest lines. You can put together elements from any of the many settings to create one of your own, and it will all fit together perfectly!
And for a game that departs from tradition far enough to use its own set of dice but is still intuitive enough to play any time, give Fate a try! This game has you rate your skills to build your characters and their strengths, and then when you roll, dice that have plus, minus or blank sides add or subtract to your number so you see whether you accomplished what you aimed for. It is designed for fast-paced, improvisation-heavy gameplay, with the tone of pulp novels and comic books. You can pick up one of the acclaimed rulebooks like Spirit of the Century or Mindjammer, or use the base rulebook to create your own personal setting- the rules make it easy.
Whatever game system you choose should serve to help you and your group have a good time; something that works for one group of players may not interest another. Check out some of the systems here and start finding out what it is you like! You have a whole world of fun and exploration ahead of you.
Written By: Mira G.
Edited By: Irenee W.