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

Forgot about Burning Wheel/Empire and Fading Suns. Both great reads, and interesting rules systems.

This looks pretty awesome. Going on the list.

I’ve had my eye on this as well. Spaghetti Western world could be fun.

Call of Cthulhu is a lot of fun, and even though the rulebook looks substantial, everything pretty much comes down to a d100 roll with some modifiers if you feel like it. Great fun, great stories!

I’m one of those readers more than players myself. Let me take a slightly different approach. Pound for pound what gives you the most useful content while still being highly readable?

  1. Talislanta 4th Edition. A bizarre original fantasy world littered with just so much stuff it’s impossible not to come away with some new ideas, critters or places you’d like to use somewhere else. Also has its own rule system that’s very simple and newbie friendly. Most famous for its marketing slogan, “No elves!” (or any conventional fantasy races). The tome itself is gigantic and packed with setting fluff and just enough crunch to get the job done. Lots of art to appropriate for your own uses too.

  2. Pendragon 5th Edition and The Great Pendragon Campaign. While many might still be attached to the classic 4th Edition with its wide ranging flexibility in character design and wholehearted adoption of player magicians - 4th Edition gets back to knightly basics. What’s really amazing is The Great Pendragon Campaign book. This thing needs its own museum quality display case. A massive work which purports to cover roleplaying through three generations of player characters while putting them in the context of the evolving nature of Arthur’s reign (and just before and after). One neat trick is how they condense the technological and cultural evolution of the entire middle ages into those span of decades. You start off with Romano-Britons and nigh barbarous robber barons and vicious Saxon invaders and, over time, end up with Mallory and high chivalry. From Clive Owen’s “King Arthur” to Boorman’s “Excalibur” all in the same, massive, game. I don’t know whether it’s actually playable but it’s a dense, and content packed, masterwork.

  3. Sengoku. The ultimate medieval Japanese RPG. It’s actually modest in size compared to The Great Pendragon Campaign or Talislanta but the type is small. This game covers more than you ever wanted to know about the Sengoku era in Japan, Japanse culture, terms for everything from different kinds of priests to the parts of a Samurai’s armor and a just boggling bibliography packed with book and film selections to get players in the mood. The game system seems pretty simple and straightforward but I just read 'em. I don’t play 'em. And if you love this game you’ll probably want to pick up the companion volume, Shinobi. It gives the same detail obsessed treatment to the ninja clans and offers various approaches to using them, or featuring them, in a campaign.

  4. Okay, since I had to go and mention ninja, I’ve got to give the pirates a plug. One stop shopping for the ultimate pirate tabletop game is to be found in Run Out The Guns!: Adventure Kit by Iron Crown. Just crammed with rich details about ships, the Caribbean and pirates along with a streamlined version of the Law rules series. This critter’s really unique in that it was originally designed to show off the Rules Law system to newbies at conventions but folks loved the setting so much they went nuts fleshing it all out. The only other Pirate RPG that comes close in both flavor and utility is still a distant second - Conan: Pirate Isles by Mongoose. It takes a more streamlined and mechanical approach but one very much buttressed by the colorful source material. Obviously less historical than Run Out The Runs, Pirate Isles is still based on Hyboria, which in turn is based on real world cultures with a gritty edge. Both are great reads and inspirational.

  5. Heck, now I’ve gone and mentioned Pirates and Ninjas - what about Cowboys? GURPS Wild West. Covers all you need to know about the Wild West setting including more than you’d expect about Indians. In fact, whenever in doubt, just grab a couple GURPS setting books shuffle them together and, voila, instant original setting!* The downside to GURPS is GURPS. It’s really complicated. There’s a new edition out that’s supposedly streamlined but you might not go wrong picking up GURPS for Dummies. No, I’m not kidding.

There’s your basics right there: Knights, Cowboys, Pirates and Ninjas along with an obligatory high fantasy setting for dem Wizards (though Ars Magica would be a better choice for historicism).

Lots of great games already mentioned in this thread and many I’ve never played or even read. I can heartily endorse Paranoia, Fading Suns and Nobilis. I’ve heard good things about Burning Wheel and Dogs in The Vineyard as well.

*I think I stole this idea from Robin Laws book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering.

Paizo has decided to leave the WotC fold and create a variant on 3.5 D&D for their campaign setting. They are alpha testing the Pathfinder RPG now, so not only can you download the alpha sourcebook and read it for free (assumes you know/play D&D 3.5), but you can get on their message boards and argue rules with every other D&D nerd who has ever wanted a hand in designing a rulebook.

Man this thread makes me want to get a gaming group together again. I have a lot of these books.

There’s a fourth edition of Shadowrun, too. The system finally works, and is actually unified, so there’s not around a million different rulesets for every damn thing you want to do. But it’s mainly fun to read because they haven’t really updated the assumptions behind the setting at all, though they’ve moved the timeline up, I think, twenty years from the original. But it’s still got the idea of Japan conquering Asia, and whatever else crazy, 1990s cyberpunk nonsense the setting was founded on. Now, though, cell phones don’t cost as much as a car.

In Nomine has flared more ideas for a game for me than any other. It’s angels versus demons with humans being used as pawns and as the reason for the battle. God has been missing for centuries but heaven has carried on as normal, saving souls, fighting the good fight, etc. The main players, the established politically powerful angels and demons have control of the lesser celestials and use them to play out their own power games, all of this eventually spilling down, in little ways to the human world.

It’s particularly interesting because it takes the religious history of humanity and spins it all as a powerplay from the angels and demons. Often you end up with angels and demons surreptitiously colluding to further their own goals. Very interesting setting as well, with physical manifestations of heaven and hells struggles popping up on earth, and an interesting method for the angels to work in the celestial, and earthly realms as well as the dream worlds.

And it’s high on fluff, low on crunch, so interesting to read.

Dean: I’m currently taken with Green Ronin’s True20 as a gaming alternative. Looks like a very simple but highly customizable (moddable) system that loosely borrows d20 terminology and concepts but blends them with simpler, more flexible, constructs one might see in old WoD or FUDGE to handle a wider variety of situations. I’m actually even tempted, for the first time in ages, to try and run a game. There’s a new edition coming out this month which I’ve got on order and a whole slew of indie folks publishing settings and expansions for it. The default setting of Freeport - sold seperately - is Cthulhu meets Pirates (maybe they juggled a couple GURPs expansions to come up with that one?) in a generic fantasy context. It’s just laden with colorful NPCs and situations. Not all work so well as others but I can think of alot of ways to adapt and expand on it to suit my needs.

Buceph: My post was already long enough but I was tempted to mention the little known, late in the day, Old World of Darkness game Demon: The Fallen. Sounds similiar to In Nomine. Set in the real world, or White Wolf’s version of it, Demon places the players in the roles of the actual devils who joined Lucifer’s revolt against Heaven. Somehow, still a mystery to them, the gates of Hell have cracked just enough that some minor demons have escaped. But in order to remain anchored on Earth each one has to find a dying mortal to possess.

In the end you have a hybrid character that’s part amnesiac demon and part human in a hybrid game that seems to touch on and polish many of the elements in all of White Wolf’s other games. The grand setting has thousands of these returnees struggling to understand the world and the more ambitious shape it more to their liking. God and the loyal angels seem to have vanished (or they just don’t want to be seen) and humanity appears even more fallen and disappointing than they remember. More powerful Dukes and Archdukes plot in Hell where they demand the escapees free them. Other, ancient, demon kings that were summoned in bygone times, and are now warped beyond all recognition (like Lovecraftian horrors), remain and awaken from their slumbers to destroy or enslave the interlopers. And Lucifer is missing still.

But unlike many of White Wolf’s previous games there’s actually a heroic streak here. Inside each possessed human is a demon. Inside each of those demons is something that was once an angel. Some do seek to redeem themselves, as their natures mingle with those of their host mortal, and unlike the doomed Garou or irrelevant Fae knights these guys potentially have the power to change things.

It’s a neat mix of Vampiric angst and politics, the “fight for reality” attitude of Mage, and the shapeshifting asskickery of Werewolf along with the dependance on others for power one finds in Wraith (assuming a fetter linked to a person). Demons only gain power from worship so they develop rings of NPC followers to fuel them - or turn to darker measures.

Orpheus is different, although still World of Darkness. I personally detest the reset,
but Orpheus has some neat ideas and an unusual setting. I treasure my huge
collection of 1st-3rd edition VtM/WW etc. books.

My strongest vote goes for Nobilis as well–it’s a terrific read in the “RPGs that no one will ever play with you” genre. Unlike many others mentioned, even clearing the logistical hurdle of putting together a gaming group who’ll try different things, Nobilis is a tall order to sell, so I think it wins.

I would highly suggest your picking up a main Ars Magica rulebook and seeing how that interests you. Cheap, used AM source books are available on Ebay (especially the White Wolf produced 3rd edition, which some feel didn’t live up to the game’s root ideals, but I really enjoyed it.)

In a nutshell, the players are Mages living in a pseudo-historical Medieval society (with the consession that most of the superstitions of people of the time are, in fact, real.) The magic system is the most interesting and in depth I’ve seen, and the “troupe style play”, wherin players are incouraged to take on the roles of not only the powerful Magi of the covenant (the stronghold inhabited by the players) but also their assistants, hired swords and others who dwell there, is a fresh look that almost makes the covenant a character in it’s own right.

And yes, I’ve read a ton of their source books and never played as well :(

Hey, this topic kind of resonates with me – I have actually never played a pen and paper RPG but I have picked up a couple of books that interested me. Specifically, I grabbed the Ogre and Autoduel GURPS sourcebooks because I enjoy the Ogre and Car Wars strategy games so much … I enjoyed getting some background info on those.

Chill is a great game with some really interesting scenarios and creature books - the vampire and voodoo ones are especially good.
I would heartily recommend it to both play (which I only did once or twice!) and to read.

I’m going to check this game out.
A sample skill list from Wikipedia:

[li]Operate Starship and Chew Gum at the Same Time: A Greymatta skill that says it all.
[/li]> [li]Repair Toasters ‘n’ Stuff: A Greymatta skill for fixing things.
[/li]> [li]Turn Radios into Howitzers: A Greymatta skill for MacGyvering things.
[/li]> [li]Organize Fundraiser: The Mouth skill based art of coaxing money and other goodies out of people.
[/li]> [li]Make Someone Stop Living With Your Fist: The Meat skill for bashing in skulls while unarmed.
[/li]> [li]Making Sharp Things Go Through Soft Things That Scream and Bleed: A Meat skill. Self explanatory.
[/li]> [li]Scathing (Ooooo, Big Word!) Sarcasm: A Mouth skill for humiliating your foes into piles of tears.
[/li]> [li]Whining Until You Get What You Want: A Mouth skill that forces victims to give in to your demands.
[/li]> [li]Make Everything You Say Sound More Important Than the Voice of God: A Mouth skill for fast talking and persuasion.
[/li]> [li]That Psycho Bruce Lee Shit: A Feets skill for dazzling your enemy with martial arts.
[/li]> [li]Withstand/Enjoy Hellish Agony: A Nuts skill for remaining conscious after being tortured by watching Barney & Friends for 24 hours straight. Closely related to “Withstand Bagpipes.”
[/li]> [li]Spot Wastit: A Greymatta skill. Only useful if you enjoy keeping your face intact. As stated in the core rulebook, a character without this skill cannot tell the difference between a wastem and a wastit, even if the wastit is walking away from a mutilated body with a bloody knife in its hands. [/ul][/li]

At least one person upthread mentioned GURPS; if you really like reading rules, I don’t think you could go too wrong with 4e (two rulebooks, just for the core rules grin). More seriously, some of the supplements make for a good read, sans rulebook: the 3e supplements cover a lot of different historical periods, and I like what SJG (Steve Jackson Games) has done with 4e Bio-Tech and Ultra-Tech.

I would also echo the recommendations for Spirit of the Century; it seems like a really cool RPG (regrettably, I haven’t gotten the chance to play it yet…).

The latest edition of the HERO rulebook seems like it would be a better fit for what you’re looking for, as it is a single very large rulebook. From what I’ve heard, Pulp HERO is supposed to be a very good setting, too…


I have run a few HoL games in my time - they are always extremely funny and silly if the players are in to it.

Man, those Boy Scouts going for their “tactical nuclear weapons” badge were really damn annoying!

HōL is great, and my edition had the LARP game Freebase. Fun, demented stuff!

I will second the Ars Magica recommendation. AM has given me some of my most enjoyable RPG experiences. The strength and selling point of the game is the amount of non adventure control the players can exert. The campaign part of the game really encourages players to think up projects. When the game works to it’s full potential those individual projects of the players will intertwine with each other and the ideas of the GM and create a very rich setting, both from a social and imaginative perspective. It is a great game for creating numerous small intertwined stories, and the way that passage of time naturally feature in the game can give the campaign setting a very satisfying feel of a strata of previous stories underlying the current story. The succesfull AM campaign is all about the place, rather than about an overarching plot, and that place get richer and richer with every play session and every in game season passing.

I’m not sure it is the greatest game to read about without playing though. The parts when read might not do the whole of the game justice, because what makes the game interesting is not really the source material. You are better of reading the source on which the game draws than the sourcebooks of the game, for the most part. To a degree I even feel that the source books detract from the game. The more you as a player are part of the creation process of the stories the more you will feel a sense of ownership and creative satisfaction with the campaign, the sourcebooks somewhat detracts from the joy of creation which AM at it’s best allows.

I played in a Ars Magica campaign with Rhein*Hagen, so I feel I’ve touched the bottom of that pool. It was memorable though…

As for stuff to read, get Mountain Witch.

Ars Magica was the best campaign I ever ran, or played in for that matter. It has, hands down, easily my favorite magic system.

You can still get the 4th edition rulebook as a free .pdf from the publisher: The 5th edition is a bit better (though not in all ways), but is much the same.