Over the years I have amassed quite a collection of Pen&Paper roleplay products. Some of them are solid hardcover books, but just as many are soft covers and boxed products. Not to mention all the PDFs I purchased since I discovered DriveThruRPG. I'm not quite sure I should call any of them Retro, as the oldest among them are my crates full of 3rd edition books and boxes from "Das Schwarze Auge". And none of those are older than about eighteen years. Still I get a nostalgic feeling when I pick them up these days.
And that is something I have done quite often as of late. I find myself browsing through the books of one RP series or rule system or another. And with many of them I get the, probably somewhat unreasonable, urge to buy another book or two that I am still missing. Something especially true for the felt bazillion d20 setting products I own. So far I have mostly resisted that urge, but at the very least I tend to look those books up on Amazon, Ebay, the publishers webpage and if there is a chance that there might be a PDF version of it, at DrivethruRPG or its sister sites.
As is to be expected with series that have fallen out of fashion or are downright out of print the products that can actually be found tend to be quite pricy. Sometimes to the point where it becomes ridiculous. Really ridiculous. Most books are to me not worth the price of a 1000+ pages monster like Monte cook's Ptolus. This is probably the main reason I managed to resist the urge to buy any. The other reason is that there is not even a snowball's chance in hell that I will get to play or master a game for even half the systems I already own. The last reason those old and not so old games only manage to elict a nostalgic sigh at best is that I have found the two or possibly three RP systems that come as close to my idea of perfect as is possible. At least that is what I would like to think.
The first of those would be the 4th Edition DSA system. A very solid point buy system with a setting so rich on information that I doubt I could find an equal. No, not even the good old Forgotten Realms come close. The second would be the Warhammer 40k Systems. Any percentile system is in my mathematically inclined mind superior by default. It helps of course that the Warhammer 40k games have, again, a strong license at it's back. And the third and most recent addition to this list would be the Contact! RPG. Again a percentile system, even better implemented than the Warhammer one if you ask me. An additional plus would be its learning by doing approach, doing away with traditional XP. Its background or game world is not as throughoutly flashed out as for the first two, but it still manages to invoke a powerful sense of deja vu for anyone who liked any of the UFO / X-COM games.
After a few paragraphs of my rambling (sorry I did that again), maybe I should sum up what I look for in a Pen&Paper RPG :
- A mathematically sound system. Preferably one using a percentile system to express challenges and the like. Preferably without any artifical built in level caps.
- Said mathematically sound system should have no problems providing GMs with the mathematics necessary to build content of their own.
- One or more licenses to allow your gamers and game masters to share content they created, for free or for money.
- A system that does not reduce role play to a combat simulation. This one really important. Combat is fine. Battlemaps are too. But it should never ever be all your RPG is about. Else you are better of calling it a wargame.
- A rich world into which the game is set. A single Campaign book just won't do. Book upon book describing parts of the world, to the point where a dedicated GM will never have to use a generic NPC or building, unless he really wants to.
- Adventure modules by the dozen! The writers at Paizo are doing something right there with their adventure paths if you ask me.
- A noticeable lack of splat books introducing new classes, items, rules, ... those have become a serious turn off for me (looking at you D&D).
- A long product life. A new edition every few years? Not with me. Not anymore. Your system should be solid enough that it can make do with regular errata at the most (!) for decades. Make money by selling applications of your rule system instead of selling ever new rule systems!
A bit more elaborate than my last blog on the topic. And don't mistake me, I still like browsing through my collection of RPGs. They still make me feel nostalgic. But when I pick up the books I can't help but think that most of them, even my favorites, are somewhat lacking in one regard or another.
Now let me ask you, what do you want from a Pen&Paper role play game? What are you looking for? Take a minute and share your thoughts.