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Pen and Paper: Picking a Roleplaying Game

Updated on June 15, 2015
The gamer's treasure.
The gamer's treasure.

Picking the Right Game

I love roleplaying games and have for about ten years now. I started with Dungeons and Dragons but have played different rule sets and campaign settings since and I find the whole world of pen and paper, tabletop roleplaying to be one of the best forms of recreation and socializing out there. When I first began, it was mainly with family; my two uncles, my brother and my cousin. It was a great group, but we only met once a week and after a while, I wanted to be playing more than we met. That meant I needed to introduce the concept to my friends and hope that it panned out. Luckily, it was a hit with a bunch of them and I was able to get games going on a regular basis.

Now, years later, I’m in a post-college life. The friends I had brought to the world of dice and stats are far away now and, if I want to play again, I need to introduce my new friends to the world I was loved so dearly. First, I have to find the right game.

The problem I face, if it can really be described as a problem, is that I have a whole shelf of gaming books. The list is decently sized but manageable; Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel Superheroes, Traveller, Legend of the Five Rings, Savage Worlds, Vampire: The Masquerade, Star Wars, Alternity, and Shadowrun. Like I said, there’s plenty to choose from but choosing is the hardest part.

D20 all the way!
D20 all the way!

The Staple: Dungeons and Dragons

I own the old Red and Blue Book version of D&D, so it’s simpler to play then other versions. The thing is, I’ve only ever played the game; I’ve never run a version of D&D. You would think, what with it being the staple of tabletop games, I’d have gotten around to it, but it never happened. I love the game, ever since I played the first Baldur’s Gate game, but I don’t know if it’s the best choice for a new group of people who have never seen a d20. The other big issue I face is that I’d have to learn the rules well enough to run the game, but only have a few days to do so. I don’t want us to get going and have to pause for ten minutes while I search the book for the rules of climbing. Still, how great would it be if this groups first game was in the granddaddy of all roleplaying games?

Incredible, Fantastic, Amazing!
Incredible, Fantastic, Amazing!

True Believer: Marvel Superheroes

Marvel Superheroes is actually the first game I ever ran. My first game was with my brother, set in the Marvel universe, and was a fun learning experience. I had done a few other superhero games with the rule set, but when I introduced some friends to the experience, I adapted the game for a survival horror campaign set on a dinosaur island. All were a success and I always loved running the game. The problem was that after a while, the rules felt a bit limiting and never really did superheroes in a way I love. The game is easy to teach and new user friendly, but there’s a glass ceiling in there. It was fun but I feel as if, like a boy and his first crush, I’ve moved on to more interesting worlds.

Rokugan is calling.
Rokugan is calling.

The Far East: Legend of the Five Rings

Legend of the Five Rings is a wonderful setting that I’ve had a lot of fun with. I was able to play an extended campaign in this world and it was much more dynamic than some other fantasy games I’ve been a part of. The rule set, if I recall, was easy to learn. However, this is another case of me having played but never run. I would love to have a yearlong game with this set, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get past the first campaign with a new group. I need to remember that it’s not that they’re new to playing this game together; they’re new to the whole concept of roleplaying. Plus, I’m not sure many of them are as interested in Far East Fantasy as I am.

But which Savage World?
But which Savage World? | Source

The Favorite: Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds is high on my list and may very well win out. One: it is my favorite rule set by far. It’s fast and fun, character creation is great, and combat is easy to grasp (even if the Incapacitated rules aren’t). Two: it’s a generic rule set and can be used for any setting. All of the edges and hindrances can be easily applied to multiple campaigns; such as space marines or monster hunters. In fact, the Legend of the Five Rings world works wonderfully in Savage Worlds. Three: I’ve run plenty of games with this set and know it inside and out. It doesn’t do superheroes well but that’s what the extra book, Necessary Evil, is for. I’ve always found it easy to teach. The problem for this set is twofold; I know it so well that I never can pick a setting I want to play in and I’m getting a bit bored with it. With a whole shelf of possibilities, I’d hate to think I’m stagnating on one rule set, no matter how great it is.

The Choice

But, then, that leaves me with all new game books I’ve never played or run. Is Alternity any good? What if I learn the rules, try to run it, and it’s just a disaster? I don’t want to mar my group’s view of gaming because I picked the wrong game. Shadowrun looks like a lot of fun, doing fantasy cyberpunk, but it might be too high-concept for a new group, or to learn right away. Vampire: The Masquerade is right out, since a group that has never played before is not going to be ready to actually roleplay.

I feel like this is a universal worry for DMs. Do we run what we’re comfortable with or take a chance? How do we bring friends into this great, but seemingly strange world? Right now, I feel a tie between Dungeons and Dragons and Savage Worlds. It’s tough balancing having fun and making sure the group has more fun. If anyone has suggestions or opinions, please share in the comments below. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write about the experience of running this new group through their first game.


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