Recommend unto me a good pen-und-paper RPG that likely no one will play with me

Having not played a pen-and-paper RPG since Shadowrun and AD&D a decade (or more) ago, I have recently gotten the itch to play something again. However, aside from perusing the occasional relevant thread here, I don’t have the slightest damned clue about what my options are.

So here is the deal: when I mentioned my recent desire to play some pnp to my friend who I thought would be the most likely to play, he indicated that he wasn’t interested. This leaves me with very likely just reading the rules and material, but that’s about it. So I would like an rpg that is a good read with some well-written source material and an interesting system. I love reading rulebooks, as evidenced the mountain of never-played board games that I own. I’m not overly picky about a setting or genre, although steampunk might be interesting.

edit: I nearly bought Exalted and the 3.5 D&D books at a used bookstore today, but then I refrained until you fine folks could advise me.

If you’re looking for an RPG rulebook to read for entertainment value, the best one in my opinion is HōL.

It’s available at Amazon.

I actually read that and the Buttery Wholesomeness when they came out. Great reads.

Earthdawn was always one of my favorites in this respect.
I loved how so many of the rules systems tied in with the setting.

Reading RPG sourcebooks without ever actually playing the game is sort of a hobby of mine. I get into the settings and backstories, but the actual playing usually just kind of bums me out. It never seems to live up somehow.

That said, I really enjoyed reading Nobilis several years ago. If it sounds a little flowery and emo, well, it is. But as RPGs go, it’s really well-written and setting-heavy/rules-light. There appears to be a third edition due any day now, and another sourcebook I’ve never read.

Some of the Exalted stuff is pretty damn good. It seems to be mostly for min/maxers and powergamers, but the backstory is really well fleshed-out and suitably epic.

EDIT: Oh, and Dogs in the Vineyard, which has one of the odder settings in all RPGdom I think (sort of a weird mystical Mormon/Deadlands thing going on). I haven’t actually finished this one yet, but it’s strange and again, quite well-written.

Unknown Armies, the coolest and weirdest occult/horror setting for a RPG ever. Great stuff, and I’ve never been able to play it. As an example of what you’re in for, there’s a school of magic based on pornography. (Magic comes from extreme obsession over something.)

Universalis is a unique quasi-RPG with no fixed setting but a very interesting ruleset. Everything is basically invented on the fly, but the game enforces a metagame economy that is designed to keep everyone involved and prevent total chaos.

Since you mentioned D&D, you might be interested in the upcoming 4e stuff. It sounds intriguingly different to me (speaking as someone who spent a lot of time reading AD&D 2e books and creating characters with a friend, but never actually playing, back in junior high). Plus there’s a boxed set of the core books that combines the virtues of 1) having sweet matching covers, 2) having a slipcase, and 3) being under $60 for all three books if you preorder at Amazon, which is, what, one videogame?

Also, they’re supposedly doing some funky online stuff that I bet won’t work well because software isn’t their core competency, but if it does, you could play TABLETOP D&D ONLINE, which is apparently nothing at all like playing MMORPGs. Perhaps you’re still allowed to use the English language while playing, I dunno.

Dogs on the Vineyard looks right up my alley.

I’m considering getting the D&D boxed set thingy too.

Trail of Cthulhu looks very interesting as well. I still have a 1e of Call of Cthulhu somewhere.

My wife is a schoolteacher that focuses a lot on slavery with her 5th graders. Does anyone have any opinions on Steal Away Jordan?

Nobilis looks kind of interesting, but I suspect it’s unplayable without a really good GM – and good cooperative non-rules-lawyering players, if such a thing is possible.

No, but I have no doubt I’ll be adding it to my collection of oddball indie RPGs soon. I love these things…

I hadn’t heard about Trail of Cthulhu either. Looks cool. I buy most anything Lovecraftian or Cthulhoid.


And then look out for squidgy things clinging to the bottom of your car. Not to mention Little Gray Alien Fungoid Bastards.

All the Delta Green novels are damn fine too.

I also do a hell of a lot of RPG-buying-without-ever-playing. Latest acquisitions: Galactic Champions (I just love reading through books of Champions characters, the character design system is a solo game unto itself), and Deadlands D20 (at least I think that’s what it’s called, the campaign world where a “ghost bomb” war devastated the planet and left it ravaged by the four horsemen of the apocalypse).

Delta Green is of course very very cool…

But, if there’s any setting I could will back into existence, it would be Deadlands classic edition from the 90’s. I love the setting (steampunk-lite Lovecraft in the Wild West), love the conflict resolution mechanics, the character classes, the payoffs for roleplaying…the whole game was just really well thought-out with brilliantly written source material.

Also, it’d make a kickass CRPG…

These ones are fun to read:

Toon: Player characters are cartoons, with stats like “Zip” and “Chutzpah” and skills like “Fast-Talk” or “Cosmic Shift”. There’s no character death: when you run out of hit points, you just Fall Down for 3 minutes. Co-developed by Warren Spector and Greg Costikyan.

Over the Edge: An island state where everything is a conspiracy.

Rifts: Canada: A sourcebook for Rifts. I just thought it was funny that a demon portal wiped out Calgary.

Discworld Role-Playing Game: “Powered by GURPS”, but you don’t need GURPS to play. Terry Pratchett himself gets a co-writer credit. The extent of his contribution isn’t clear, but much of it has the rhythm of his words.

This is something I’ve done forever but stopped when I realized it was very unlikely I’d ever get any non-reading value out of the sourcebooks. And to be honest, they can be fun reads but compared to actual novels, given no play value? Nah.

Nobilis and most anything White Wolf are good material for such a craving, though. Nobilis just found a new publisher, and the long-promised Society of Flowers sourcebook is actually being published for free online in installments. I believe the first one or two are already up.

Too bad Paranoia is so old, because if any game was more fun to read about than actually play, it was that one.

I’m in the same boat, in terms of having people to play with and in being addicted to rulebooks. These have been the best for my money:

Burning Wheel and it’s companion game, Burning Empires have great systems, including–as far as I know–the first social conflict mechanic to be as involved and interesting as a straight up fighting mechanic. Burning Wheel has the closest things I’ve seen to a good representation of Tolkien’s elves, dwarves and orcs. Burning Empires is interesting, too, for being set up to be competitive between the GM and the players, with each side having a pool of points that are whittled away by strategic level maneuvers. It’s pretty cool, and the books are fun reads.

Greg Stolze’s Reign is a fun read, too, and has a fun system. The world is a genuinely, legitimately bizarre fantasy world with lots of different cultures, instead of different races.

Edited to note: kill puppies for satan, which is a hilarious read. It’s also very easy and fun to play.

I’d also heartily recommend Spirit of the Century, if you like pulp and the pulp aesthetic. It’s worth it just to read the character generation, which sounds like a lot of fun by itself.

They put a new one out just a few years ago. It’s more playable, but I’d say the criticism still stands.

My favorites from a simply source material point of view were Heavy Gear and Fading Suns. WONDERFULLY realized universes with lots of character, depth and appeal.

Also, if you’re a Firefly fan at ALL, the Serenity RPG makes for GREAT reading.

That’s good. I was going to mention that it’s a waste of time to mention Nobilis because the rule book is impossible to find anywhere.

Paranoia XP is fairly recent. And the game is sorta fun for a single session.