Recommend a table-top pencil-and-paper role-playing game

I spent much of my youth playing role-playing games and I often miss them. I love the face-to-face interaction and group creativity and world-building.

My biggest game was AD&D 1st ed, but I also played a bit of 2nd ed. as well as Tory, Traveller, Star Trek, Top Secret, Champions, and others. I don’t recall much about the non-D&D games.

I’ve never gotten over role-playing and I’ve been listening to some podcasts in which people are rediscovering D&D.

I’m trying to get some folks together to start playing again now that I’ve found my stash of RPG stuff.

I’ll break out the D&D obviously but I’m also interested in space opera and superhero games and other non-sword and sorcery stuff.

I’m wondering if anyone has recommendations for games. It would have to be something that’s reasonably possible for me to get my hands on in new or used form, and not require acquisition of a million times right off. Also it would be good if there were a few pre-written adventures available to start with.

I definitely prefer actual-role playing to mechanics, so I’m not into complex and lengthy combat systems.

Any thoughts?

Mutants and Masterminds version 2 is a good superhero system. (M&M is on 3, but I haven’t played that, so I don’t know how it is, or how it differs from 2.) It’s a d20 system, and fairly simplified one, combat-wise.

5th edition Dungeons and Dragons is pretty well loved: the designers looked at all the previous editions and managed to create a game with pretty easy rules (no more THACO tables or complicated saving throw progressions or blah blah blah) that still manages to be hella fun. Almost every level, your character gains one or two cool new things.

For example, a rogue might be like this:
Level 1: Sneak attack (extra damage), extra-good at two skills.
Level 2: Bonus hiding or running or dodging each round.
Level 3: Choose a set of special abilities, for example, become really good at dodging and able to sneak-attack in more circumstances. Also, sneak attack becomes deadlier.
Level 4: Ability bonus or feat (new special ability)
Level 5: Take half damage from a single attack per round. Also, sneak attack becomes deadlier.
Level 6: Become extra-good at two more skills
Level 7: Drastically reduce damage from area-effect spells. Also, sneak attack becomes deadlier.

(I’m simplifying some of those, so please don’t nitpick me).

Anyway, you get the idea: there’s a steady progression of coolness, and your character becomes slowly but steadily more complicated to play.

I really enjoy it and recommend it highly.

Not that I’ve played many games in the past few years and I’m a Chaosium Call of Cthulhu fan myself (and the BRP mechanics in general) but if you want a rules-light game that emphasizes narrative and role-playing, I think FATE system is one of the best, and both the Core (complete) and Accelerated (quick) rule sets are available online for free; all you need are some six-sided dice. (You can—and should—buy FUDGE dice but you can use normal six sided dice and just remember that 1-2 is -1, 3-4 is 0, and 5-6 is +1). The system is rules are genre-independent although there are games with specific rules for their setting, such as Spirit of the Century, and because of the streamlined rules and quick character generation it is ideal for a quick pickup game where you just want to play through a single scenario. Here is a Tabletop episode of playing a pickup scenario using FATE Core. One of the best things about the game is that it gives the players some considerable freedom to influence the action by using Aspects and Fate Points. This can seem a little daunting at first to both the GM and players because in a good game the players have to actively participate in the narrative rather than just responding to whatever the GM throws at them, but a good collaboration between GM and players can really bump up the storytelling to another level.

I’ve never played it but Monte Cook’s Cypher System is supposed to be rules light and fast playing. Numenara, the first game published using that system, got a lot of great reviews.

If you actually want a purely narrative game with no GM or mechanics other than some die rolling to pick plot points, Fiasco can be a lot of fun, although it does take a creative group which are all on the same wavelength regarding the sensibility of the game. If you go into it with half the people thinking of a Coen Bros. film and the other half trying to play a Jane Austen story—well, that actually might be a lot of fun, although someone is probably going to end up in tears. Anyway, that’s another game that only requires six-sided dice, although you are going to need a bunch of them.

Or, if you just want to kill some people quickly, Machine of Death offers some quick sort-of-roleplaying under time pressure; basically, given a way the target is predicted to die, you have to arrange for their death in often improbable ways. It doesn’t lend itself to extended play but is good for a quick pickup, or to take a break from more intense game playing.


These are some intriguing suggestions and I shall have to start researching them.

So if Fate is not genre specific, I could play it in space opera or superhero form?

And what about pre-written scenarios?

It’s not back in print yet. But Steve Jackson’s first RPG system, The Fantasy Trip, is being re-released.

Although it can be played with more subtle games like Call of Cthulhu, FATE really lends itself to fanciful genres like superheroes or space opera/science fantasy. Because of the Fate point system and Aspects, you can use these with the GM’s consent to pull off cinematic-like stunts and absurd actions like surviving a nuclear blast in a refrigerator, if that’s your thing. Basically, you can play the game as subdued or freewheeling as the GM cares to run.

Evil Hat offers the Worlds of Fate with a variety of settings and premade scenarios, and I’m sure you can find content online, as well as conversions from other games. And because of the somewhat collaborative nature of narrative play, with an active group you can really create a scenario with just a few ideas and notes and flesh it out on the fly, or take an existing story from a movie, make some changes to names and places, and play it out with a willingness to let the players pull the story in novel directions. If you wanted to run a spy-themed campaign, for instance, you might start with the plot of Thunderball but change the nuclear weapons to a weaponized virus, the villain to a rogue South African scientist on the lam, and the change the settings from England and Nassau to Nairobi and a secret PRC resort island in the South China Sea. Throw in a couple of stock henchmen with quirks, an army of faceless minions, a private yacht that turns into a zeppelin, and you are one Marlon Brando impression away from an evening that no one will ever forget.


I’m really not familiar with table-top pencil-and-paper role-playing games, but I did see a new Humble Bundle with tons of resources for The One Ring Role Playing Game.


Sigh. Game room.

I love Fate, and I play quite a bit of it, but the support materials for it tend to be a bit on the skimpy side. You aren’t going to find a lot of settings / genres for it that have a ton of source material and prewritten scenarios.

That said, if you’re interested in superheroes, there’s a very good Fate setting book called Venture City, that you might want to take a look at.

I’ve played some 3rd Edition Mutants & Masterminds, and enjoyed it, though I think that the rulebook could seriously use some better formatting – I find it hard to locate things in it.

I’ve also played Numenera, which is a gorgeous and fascinating game world. However, IMO, the core mechanic in it is not particularly intuitive. I’ve played it with two different groups, and without fail, a significant number of the players in both groups really struggled to get the hang of that core mechanic.

Also, I love the old West End Games D6 Star Wars RPG. It’s long out of print, but Fantasy Flight Games (which makes the current Star Wars RPG) recently did a reprint of the two core books for the first edition of the West End Games system. I’m running a campaign of the game these days, and those two books are really all you need:

The current Star Wars game by FFG is my favorite RPG ever. Narrative play mixed with action and the rules aren’t a headache. And, it’s Star Wars.

I gave it a try at GenCon a few years ago. It was just as the system had first come out, but I found aspects of it a bit awkward (though, it’s possible that the GM we had contributed to that). You could (and we frequently did) get combat results like, “well, you don’t hit, but you get three advantages,” and my recollection is that the players and / or GM were expected to provide RP narration of what those advantages were. If anything, it seemed to slow down combat more than it made it interesting. But, YMMV, of course. :slight_smile:

The advantage could just be yelling encouragement to a teammate and giving them a bonus die. It takes a little time to get the hang of it, but most RPGs are like that.

But that’s nothing compared to FATE. I personally love the system (I really love the Dresden Files game) but pretty much everything is narration. The Star Wars game, with its occasional bonuses and setbacks from die rolls, is like FATE lite. I’m not really understanding how you think Star Wars is a bit slow in comparison…?

It’s been a few years now, but my recollection (and maybe it was just bad dice rolls) was that we were getting a lot of advantages (and whatever the flipside of advantages are), and not a lot of actual hits or misses. Since, as I understood it, there’s no way to convert advantages into hits (you’re giving more dice, but if those dice, too, don’t generate actual hits, you’re still stuck) we had a lot of back-and-forth in the combats, with lots of advantages being generated, but nothing was actually getting resolved.

In Fate, conversely, an advantage / aspect gives a +2 to the roll that taps it, and, IME, that makes a tremendous difference between a hit and a miss.

Also, and this may have been a matter of it being a new system, and the GM, but the GM, at least, was trying hard to give detailed descriptions of each advantage as it was being generated, which was also slowing us down a lot.

Yeah you reaaally don’t need to do that. :wink:

No more than you need to describe every hit you make in detail when you make an attack roll in D&D.

There’s a chart showing what you can spend advantages on (and it’s not complicated or that large). Usually they’re used to enable critical strikes (if you can hit) or give boost dice. Or restore Strain (which is basically the same thing as Stress in FATE).

I’ve never actually played Fate, but it’s never sounded appealing to me. So, a certain number of times, I can affect the story? Why do I need permission? My D&D character is continually affecting the story, to greater or lesser degree. And when we make major changes to the story, we have to work for it, whether by a clever plan or just by luck.

In D&D you affect what your character does, and that’s all your limited to.

In a FATE game, the players collaborate with the GM for narration. For example, in D&D if you’re in an outdoors combat you might ask the DM if there’s a nearby tree. In a FATE game, you declare that there’s a tree and incorporate it into the scene. Or that the weather starts turning nasty, or that an elevator is out of service, etc. You can’t just make things up as much as you want, in my recollection you acquire “Fate Points” and spend them to manipulate the story.
Also, in the game we played (Dresden Files) the entire campaign was a collaboration. We made up locations and NPCs and themes to incorporate into the campaign, and also shared backgrounds and connections between all of our characters. The GM’s job is to guide you through that process, then take all of that stuff and incorporate it into his story. But it’s much more interactive than a standard RPG.
And yes, it’s very fun. It takes some getting used to because the rules are much, much looser than a game like D&D but it works.

That is essentially correct. The GM can veto a suggestion if it is really going to derail the narrative, but it encouraged to respond not with a flat denial but a “No, but…” and incorporate some nugget of the idea the player has. Players spend FATE points by invoking an Aspect, which is a descriptive term for a behavior or talent. For instance, Steve Rogers would have an Aspect of, “I can do this all day!”, which he could invoke (pay a point) in response to a setback or serious injury to let him continue. Players can also get FATE points from the GM (or in theory even each other) by accepting a Compel, which is a challenge; or they can spend a point to avoid the Compel. The FATE point economy can sound complex to players unfamiliar with it but it is really quite and easy and effective way to enjoin the players into the narrative rather than just reacting to whatever the GM throws at them.

It’s really intended for tight groups who like to collaborate on the fly, and fast pickup games where the GM can basically provide an outline and the players help in filling in details and plot complications, not unlike Fiasco, and works well for a rotating GM situation. It wouldn’t be well suited for a GM that has a rigorously planned story arc and players who like linear play. If you are running an investigative game where the players have to discover clues and events in a specific order, it’s going to be challenging to keep the players on track; but if you have a Roaring ‘Twenties pulp adventure hopping from location to location from one absurd event to another, chasing some nefarious would-be world-killer in loose cliffhanger fashion, it’s perfect.


I just picked up the Fate core book, a packet of dice and a deck of Fate cards.

I looked at some of the worlds but decided to learn a bit more before investing.