Our Meeple Overlords Top 5 RPGs (According to Jay)

It’s that time of year, folks–time for the year-end lists. We here at Our Meeple Overlords would love to do a “Top 10 Games of 2020” list, but due to the pandemic, we didn’t get a chance to play many.

In lieu of that, we’ve decided that, since this is our first year (well, first five months) with this site, we’d instead focus on our favorite games of all time, to give you an idea of where our tastes lie.

That said, Em’s really busy with work today, so we thought we’d start with a category that she would have the least to say about: Role-Playing Games. Em only recently started playing RPGs with Call of Cthulhu at Origins 2019, and since then has only played Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Jay, however, has been playing for almost 30 years, so he has a little more to say on the subject.

Without Further ado, here are Jay’s Top 5 Role Playing Games of all time!

5) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

I had messed around with Basic Dungeons & Dragons, even trying to run a game when I was 12 or 13 (my sole player was Chris Seaman, who now does the artwork in the Dungeons & Dragons books!). However, my first real RPG experience was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I bought the books when I was in junior high, but it wasn’t until high school that I met enough like-minded people to actually get in on a game.

This became our weekend thing throughout high school. I still remember my favorite character, Burle Renault, a burned-out wild mage who talked like Emo Philips (decades before Justin McElroy did that on The Adventure Zone, btw). We would get together at noon and play well into the evening in my parent’s garage, or in my friend Mike’s living room, or in Chris Seaman’s basement.

Looking back on it, my love of AD&D is purely nostalgic. I’ll probably never play it again, as there are much less convoluted systems to play (Like D&D 5e), but I’m glad I spent all those formative hours figuring out my THAC0.

4) Untold: Adventures Await

This one might surprise you…in fact, if you are an RPG player, you may not have heard of Untold. It looks like a board game. The box contains a board, some cards with “Yes, and…” and “No, but…” written on them, and a set of Rory’s Story Cubes.

Basically, you invent a setting, then create character, just thinking of who they are, what their personality is like, what skills they might have. Then, you roll the story cubes. Based on the symbols, you tell a story. When it’s time to make a decision (the board tells you when that is), you draw a card, which tells you what degree of success or failure you have achieved. It’s a very open-ended, setting-agnostic role-playing game that lends itself well to campaign play. And because the dice and cards determine everything, it’s GM-less. Em and I have played this one together, battling rival cults in the Lovecraft mythos.

3) Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu is a game that I avoided for a long time. I’m a fan of HP Lovecraft, but I always heard how brutal, how unforgiving, how complicated the ruleset was.

I finally tried CoC at a Origins in 2018, and, well, everything I heard was wrong. Die rolls are almost entirely percentile-based, with your own skill being the number to roll against. Even when a roll is modified, the modified rolls appear right on the character sheet, so there’s no in-game math for skill checks. And if you think this game is brutal, then you might be playing it wrong.

You see, while many RPGs focus on combat, your characters in Call of Cthulhu are not heroes. You shouldn’t be fighting; you should be running. And investigating. And learning. It’s a nice change-of-pace from hours of rolling-to-hit. And the setting? As I said, I’m a fan of Lovecraftian Horror (just see how often I talk about Arkham Horror The Card Game on this site), so throwing myself into a 1920s investigator is just what I didn’t even know I was looking for.

There are also plenty of printed modules (including epic-length, multi-volume campaigns like The Masks of Nyarlathotep), additional settings (such as Atomic-Age Cthulhu: Mythos Horror in the 1950s), and lots of third-party support (such as Achtung! Cthulhu by Modiphius), so you can play any flavor of cosmic horror.

2) Rifts

I’ll be honest…the Palladium system is a mess. Characters have MDC armor, SDC armor, and hit points. Some characters have “supernatural strength,” making their strength attribute number use a different metric than non-monstrous, non-supernatural characters. Magic users have to keep track of their Potential Psychic Energy (PPE) and their Inner Strength Points (ISP, more used for psionic powers, but still a thing to track). Honestly, I played Rifts more than any other game in the 90s, and to this day, I still don’t understand the combat system.

That said, with a good Game Master, Rifts is one of the most versatile game settings. Because portals have opened and let things in from other dimensions, you can fight the military. dragons, demons, Lovecraftian horrors, aliens…the sky isn’t even the limit. And there are (I think) 37 world books to flesh out the post-apocalyptic Earth, 15 Dimension books to take you beyond Earth, and plenty of Sourcebooks, focusing on the minutia of the various factions that have risen up to stake their claim on the remains of the Earth. Seriously, there have to be at least a thousand character classes (31 in the core book alone) for almost unlimited possibilities.

1) Dungeons and Dragons 3.5e

I remember when Wizards of the Coast bought TSR and announced they were releasing a new, streamlined edition of D&D. “Booo!” I said. “WotC doesn’t know RPGs, and they’ll ruin it!” I said. “Why would you streamline such a perfect game?” I said.

I was just being stupid.

Dungeons & Dragons 3e, and then 3.5e, took everything that was needlessly complicated about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and fixed it. THAC0? Gone. Non-sensical saving throw categories like “Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic?” Replaced by attribute-specific saves. Character customization kits? Replaced with myriad options to customize your characters, such as feats.

There are those who will say that the older editions were better, but these people are wrong. Sure, those old editions had a certain character, a certain charm that is worth revisiting from time to time, but from a game-mechanics standpoint, 3.5e was just a better game, and it allowed the players to focus on storytelling while still having enough crunch for those who really love dice-chucking.

What are your favorite RPGs? Let us know in the comments, or find us all over the internet!

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