Monday, October 20, 2014

The Big and Little Five

I am attempting yet again to pare down the hundreds of RPGs I own/read to a more manageable number. In this latest attempt, I have selected ten RPGs that I shall try and be completely devoted to, my Big Five and my Little Five.

The Big Five RPGs are my “front-line” games, the ones I follow the most fervently. These games are all very mainstream, very big in the hobby. This is by design; I like playing the biggest games because they are the easiest to draw a crowd for, particularly new players.


  1. Dungeons & Dragons: Really? Do I need to explain this one?
  2. World of Darkness: I've written before about the great legacy of the WoD games, and I'm a firm believer in their power, even today. I wouldn't necessarily call it the best horror RPG out there, but definitely the most popular and the best supported. I plan on spreading my attention to both the new, post-God-Machine WoD, and the old-school 90's stuff (the brilliant 20th anniversary editions they've been lovingly putting together for every gameline).
  3. Shadowrun: Mainstream gamers looking for something a little wild and crazy but still recognizable devour Shadowrun by the pound. This game practically built its brand on answering the question "are there any settings out there that combine fantasy and sci-fi?"
  4. Numenera/The Strange: These are two of the best RPGs to come out in at least the past several years. Numenera is a masterpiece of vision and playability, and any of my players looking for some sci-fi action are going to love it. The aptly-named The Strange will scratch the itch of any players looking for an urban fantasy/sci-fi game that can put out an X-Files or Fringe kind of vibe (as well as just about anything else, should the need arise).
  5. Star Wars: Perhaps the only franchise that can approach D&D for sheer recognition, both Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion are incredible games in their own right.


My Little Five are my personal favorites, games that I love but tend not to run because they aren’t as mainstream-accessible. If the Big Five are summer blockbusters, then the Little Five are the independent films.

  1. Cortex Plus: The RPG trinity of Cortex Action, Cortex Dramatic, and Cortex Superheroic are some of the breeziest, fastest, most fun RPGs I've ever played. I'll keep all of these games, particularly Firefly and Marvel, on tap for casual play.
  2. Eclipse Phase: My favorite of the transhuman sci-fi RPGs, and perhaps my new favorite sci-fi setting. I doubt I'll ever get this game to the table, but reading the books for the wild ideas alone is well-worth it.
  3. Apocalypse Engine: Dungeon World was a revelation when I read it two years ago. You could argue that all of my renewed interest in tabletop role-playing was sparked by reading that one little book. It, it's older sibling Apocalypse World, and its younger siblings Monster of the Week and tremulus, plus my own hack World Gone Mad, are extremely fun games that are great to whip out on a rainy day.
  4. Warhammer Fantasy role-playing: Using a crunchier version of Star Wars' narrative dice system, the latest iteration of the Old World has all the crunch of classic dungeon-crawl role-playing with absolutely none of the math. People who appreciated what D&D's 4th edition was trying to do, but thought it could have been done better, should definitely give this game a look. WFRP is, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated role-playing games of all time. If I ever have a chance to do this game justice, I shall.
  5. Call of Cthulhu: The old stalwart, and definitely one of the greatest horror RPGs ever made. My favorite game for traditional D&D gamers looking for something different.

So I realize there are a lot of notable games missing from these lists...Fate Core? GURPS? Savage Worlds?...know, however, that I'm not saying I'll never play those games, or that these games are somehow better than those. These are simply the ten RPGs I want to focus the majority of my free time and energy on. Think I should reconsider? Let me know!

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