Best RPGs of 2013

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Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Luke » Mon Oct 28, 2013 9:17 pm

So each year I put up a post to get a feel from Wellingtonians what RPGs published that year have been their favourite. Though this thread is aimed at RPGs published in 2013 only, please feel free to mention supplements or any other RPG you encountered this year that stood out.

Last year's thread is here: http://nzrag.com/nzrbb/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=537. Like last year, this one is a little earlier than previous years (I tend to post in late November) as I am confident that the following will be accurate for the remainder of the year.

This year followed last year's trend (in fact a trend now since the low point of 2010) in being an amazing year for RPGs. Where 5 slots may have been a struggle for me in some years, this year 5 slots is not enough. This year the top 4 of 5 being not only great RPGs but ones I want to run and play right now. Its at that point you realise that the standard for judging RPGs has been raised. I think Kickstarter remains perhaps the main driver of this trend. As major RPG publishers started to loose ground from around 2006, KS reversed that trend for small publishers in 2011.

For me, this year saw the rise of the all round RPG. An RPG that was solid in all aspects without needing either a gimmick to make it appealing, whether mechanical, setting-wise or some kind of new approach. This has been a challenge as these kinds of games suit regular gaming more than one off Con style gaming, so I haven't had as much actual play with my top 5 as I would like.

Before leaping into the top 5, I have to give a nod to Dungeon World, which I got a lot of actual play experience with in the first half of this year. It only got a notable mention on the year of its release but thanks to it I finally got to revisit some of my older D&D modules.

My top five for 2013 are:

1. Atlantis: The Second Age: I love Sword and Sorcery. I also think its a perfect genre for gaming, more so than the more common heroic fantasy found in D&D and its many imitators. However, I had not found a S&S RPG that appealed to me, despite some great attempts. They proved either too gritty and specific (Stormbringer) or too OTT and unspecific (Barbarians of Lemuria). This is very much the dichotomy of the genre though, with OTT heroes in a gritty world that has a specific flavour but no grand concept.

Atlantis: The Second Age is the perfect balance for me. It is a gritty world with powerful and motivated protagonists that has a strong flavour but lacks a lot of detail. Its can handle the 30s classic novels, the 70s revival in books and comics and the gonzo 80s Hollywood movies. Its system is straightforward and approachable, but also gameable and supportive. With the nearly completed Beta already out, I am highly anticipating the final book, along with the setting/bestiary book already being KSed.

2. Double Cross: This RPG is a dark X-Men conspiracy RPG. It came out of the blue and is an English translation of a popular Japanese RPG. I think it also will earn its way into my top 5 RPGs of all time in time. It didn't beat out Atlantis for top RPGs this year, purely on it having less playability. However, its design is pretty amazing and finally presents a modern supers RPG that I think I could really get my teeth into, with D&D4e lite tactical mechanics and a "limit" system much like that found in Tenra Bansho.

3. Warbirds: This is a diesel punk dogfighting RPG set in an alternate universe based on the Caribbean (though in the sky). This RPG also took me by surprise, though I had only encountered the designer's superb previous RPG, Remnants, earlier this year. This RPG is just a joy, with traditional mechanics that pitch just the right balance for an incredibly fun dogfighting system, complete with the ability to pimp out your plane without a degree in accounting. The setting is also filled with enough hooks and guidance to get you started, but with lots of room to explore. Its not a world I thought I would enjoy but I find myself wanting to run it.

4. Golden Sky Stories: This is also a joy, an RPG in which the PCs are magical shape-changing animals, helping people with everyday problems and having fun along the way. Perhaps not my natural cup of tea, hence its fifth placing, but well executed and with lots of love. It is also great to see an RPG without physical conflict as its focus. It also got Sam back into the GMing seat, so that's awesome.

5. Lords of Gossamer and Shadow: I missed out on Amber Diceless, but this spiritual successor really won me over. I couldn't even imagine how a diceless RPG could work until I read it, but now I think it would be a great outing for Kapcon. Also, the move away from the setting specifics of Amber to something reminiscent of that, but also more generic and accessible is a great combination. Added to this is superb art direction, with many pictures looking like great artworks. A heady combination and truly awesome.

A notable mention goes to Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, showing that good RPGs from big publishers aren't a thing of the past. Though a little confused at times, its a decent attempt at combining several successful RPG ideas into a cohesive whole that will appeal to a lot of RPGers out there.

My 2012 choices: Tenra Bansho Zero, Shadows of Esteren, Marvel Heroic , Hellas 2nd Ed., Legends of the Wulin.

My 2011 choices: One Ring, Mistborn, Fabled Lands, Vampire the Masquerade 20th Ann. Ed., Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e.

My 2010 choices: Eclipse Phase, Gamma World D&D4e, Dresden Files, Eoris, Icons.

My 2009 choices: D&D4e, Mouse Guard, Summerland, Anima, WFRP3e.

My 2008 choices: CthulhuTech, Dragon Warriors, D&D4e, Dark Heresy, Grimm.

My 2007 choices: CthulhuTech, Star Wars Saga Ed., Monte Cook's World of Darkness, Solomon Kane, BlissStage.

My 2006 choices: A Game of Thrones OGL, Spirit of the Century, Qin, Burning Empires, Agon.
Last edited by Luke on Tue Oct 28, 2014 7:35 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Mike Sands » Tue Oct 29, 2013 12:04 am

Some of these are marked "tentative" as I haven't had a chance to play them yet, but from reading them they seem like they'll be awesome.

1. Owl Hoot Trail. Streamlined D&D by way of Westerns. Great fun.
2. (tentative) Sagas of the Icelanders. The Apocalypse World engine powering stories about 9th-10th century norse settlers. Does some really cool stuff with the engine.
3. (tentative) Fate Accelerated Edition. Super-streamlined version of Fate Core. Plus free as an SRD or pay-what-you-want for the fancy PDF.
4. (tentative) Torchbearer. A cool and kind of idiosyncratic take on old school D&D. In my mind, it goes with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dungeon World to cover different aspects of how I played D&D back in the 80s.

I don't have any obvious fifth choice. It's a tie between Numenera (cool but flawed), Fate Core (solid update of an already good generic system), Steve's Left Coast and Soth (if we count the sort-of beta versions of those as published) and Simon's Nod game (which is unfinished but already fantastic). I also have a feeling I am forgetting something. Too bad!
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Dale » Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:21 am

As ever Luke, I think we couldn't be more different in our RPG preferences if we tried! :D
My list looks like this:

1. EPOCH scenario collections Frontier of Fear and War Stories. Great, evocative, single session scenarios by local authors.

2. Eternal Lies - a new mammoth campaign for Trail of Cthulhu which looks set to become another classic, epic Cthulhu campaign and is receiving rave reviews.

3. World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour - an interesting take on Delta Green style gaming in WWII, and the first in a series of Cthulhu war books. Interestingly with the parallel release of Achutung! Cthulhu you can choose whether you prefer a pulp or purist take on Cthulhu in WWII.

4. Esoterrorists 2nd Edition a refresh of the Gumshoe system in this clever and compelling contemporary horror setting.

Plus a mention to local GM Aaron's game Slasher, which I haven't read yet (so can't rank), but which I enjoyed playing and the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu rules, which have only been released in quick-start form thus far.
Last edited by Dale on Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:50 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Luke » Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:37 am

Dale wrote:As ever Luke, I think we couldn't be more different in our RPG preferences if we tried! :D


Now you mention it, there is not a single horror RPG in my previous years' lists (unless you count the likes of Grimm, World of Darkness and Cthulhutech, which I wouldn't :)). So that's fair comment :D
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Anarchangel » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:48 pm

1. Sagas of the Icelanders is a fantastic game both as a play experience and as an example of creative use of the Apocalypse system.

2. Empire of Dust, which I just played on Sunday, is a near perfect combo of evocative setting, 3.0e level tactical crunch, and procedural campaign generation. This is everything an OSR sandbox game should aspire to be. Unfortunately, it came out in 2008, so the cute little boxed set is out of print. But you can get the pdf from IPR for only US$13. A game so good it deserves to be on this list, even though its five years old.

3. FATE Core fixed the only real problems with FATE (namely that having 10 aspects slowed character generation and overwhelmed new players; and that it was quite wiffy). The reduced number of aspects tightens up chargen and characters generally, and success with cost removes the wiff factor. I haven't run it yet, but it's back on my radar as an option.

4. Night's Black Agents is an amazing setting. Forget about the engine and run it using FATE. That will give you the game that the flavour text promises.

I'll leave 5 free in case something else turns up.
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Steve Hickey » Sat Nov 02, 2013 2:57 am

Luke, given your Sword and Sorcery preferences ("a gritty world with powerful and motivated protagonists that has a strong flavour but lacks a lot of detail"), you might be interested in checking out Simon Carryer's On Mighty Thews, and Ron Edwards' Sorceror and Sword at some stage. They both hit your sweet spot, but in different ways.

(Edited to add: And Simon's Nod (which Mike pointed out, above) is a spectacularly good, super-simple game that also fits the bill. Cannot wait for the public release of it.)
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Luke » Sat Nov 02, 2013 8:01 am

Thanks. I own Sword and Sorcerer and have read about On Mighty Thews. I will investigate the later again :)

Personally, super rules or setting simplicity are not that appealing as I work better from structure. TBH I was turned off Jaws of the Six Serpents and Barbarians of Lemuria as their simplicity just left me feeling in the dark. That is not to say Atlantis is complex but I feel it gives me support to better place and refine the ideas I have. I have done a bunch of PCs in LJ which demonstrate this. It's a tricky balance and differs for each person.
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Vile » Fri Dec 27, 2013 5:55 am

Ooh, look, there's a Wikipedia list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_o ... games#2013 - and I'm on it! :mrgreen:
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Alasdair » Fri Dec 27, 2013 11:37 am

I don't think I've read 5 new RPGs this year, let alone 5 that were new this year. I tend to find that it takes a few years for a new RPG to settle sufficiently into my mind to really get what they're all about and figure out what I'd use them for. I'm still getting to grips with exactly what works about EPOCH and I was involved virtually from the ground floor. So, having said that, the three new games which landed in my inbox this year were:

Deadlands: Noir

I am a fan of the original Deadlands, and the change of system to the current iteration of Savage Worlds was a big improvement. I am also a fan of the source texts for a gritty noir story. This supplement advances the timeline into the 20th Century, by which time history diverges pretty substantially. Deadlands works fairly well partially because it has an underlying familiarity, which is heavily disrupted by the time we try to imagine the 20th century where the South successfully seceded from the union and the Ghostrock-powered Weird Science has had 50+ years to advance.

It's a well put together game, but after first reading it, I just couldn't see what to do with it. The juxtaposition of massive corporate controls and advanced technology makes this game feel more like a near-future dystopia than an evocation of the roaring 20s. That makes it feel a bit like a version of Shadowrun without computers. The sample adventures and dime novels manage to convey a more noirish tone, so I know it can be done.

Night's Black Agents

I am not on record as a huge Gumshoe fan. I have had some conceptual problems with this in the past. The resource-management makes no sense to me in the kinds of stories that I've seen in my brief actual-play experiences, or that I could imagine for each of the game lines I've read. That means that I've often suggested just lifting the #1 selling point - that clues should be given out automatically. My other critique of Gumshoe has usually been that it does not really explain how to structure your clue chain. The idea that you get a Core Clue for being in the right place with the right ability is only as solid as your ability to construct clues that will mean something to your group. In effect, Clues have become more of a bread-crumb trail than a puzzle.

What I like about NBA is that I think it addresses all of those concerns with the central operations of the system head-on.

Espionage fiction and Vampire hunting fiction include clue-gathering, but I think these are not usually part of a complex chain of deduction, but about tactical positioning. The decision points in those fictions are not about what the information means, but what to do about it. In other words, I think that the fictional basis for the game works well as a bread-crumb trail.

Just as importantly, the resource-management aspect of the core system also makes more sense in a Spy context than it did to me in a Cthulhu or horror/slasher context (e.g. Fear Itself). Spy stories are very much about the creation and deployment of limited opportunities, and the ability to spontaneously ret-con preparation for the core spy abilities in NBA means you can have your spy cake without the endless planning that I recall bogging down other near-future RPGs in the past.

I like NBA because it seems like the first of the Gumshoe games that actually aligns system operations to the story you want to tell.

Addressing Hamish's point about using FATE (BTW Hamish, your pal Ryan Macklin says that people who capitalize it are worthless leeches, so, just sayin'). I think that you can do a derring-do action-adventure quite well with FATE - it remains a go-to game for pulpy action via Spirit of the Century, but I think that is a different kind of game than you'll get from NBA. If we look at the source material for spy fiction, I think James Bond fits your FATE mould very well, but I think Jack Ryan doesn't particularly, and I think George Smiley is almost the opposite experience than you get with FATE. I think that if you want a game of slow exploration and manoeuvring - i.e. a game about espionage - that FATE is not the best tool for the job.

Which leads me to FATE Accelerated Edition and FATE Core.

FATE

I must respectfully disagree with both Mike and Hamish on this. FATE's problem is not the number of aspects, it's that it tries to address what are essentially conflict-level mechanics (Aspects) with task-level mechanics (stunts, etc). The designers have also relished on adding layer-upon-layer of dice and contingencies, etc. What starts off as quite an elegant idea of using descriptive language ends up ridiculously cumbersome and complex. The worst game they've made so far is Dresden Files - I found it almost completely unusable. Which is why most FATE games I've played that were successful jettison 95% of the system, and use essentially just aspect tagging and compelling as narrative aids. Even Fate Accelerated doesn't really fix this problem, though I like it better than full Core.

Having said all that, I was a kickstarter backer, and I think there's enough of general utility in their miscellaneous game discussions and enough benefit in having Aspects up your sleeve that I feel it was worth it. It's just not a game I'm in love with. There is just one use that I have in mind for FATE, which I think will do a better job than any other conceivable system - TORG. The world mechanics inside the fiction of TORG match very closely with the game construct "Aspects". I think as a FATE game, it could finally offer the flexibility that it's supposed to, without becoming the systemic behemoth that it currently is. I often daydream about having the capital backing to buy the rights to TORG and get it back into the world as the amazing game it could be if done with FATE.
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Re: Best RPGs of 2013

Postby Anarchangel » Fri Dec 27, 2013 10:07 pm

I'm personally not a huge fan of stunts, but I don't think classing Aspects as conflict-level and Stunts as task level is accurate. Both modify skill rules which can operate at either level depending on the circumstances and the FATE (suck it!) fractal.

Fate vs FATE: Yeah, I'll piss in Macklin's whiskey for that one.

(Actually what he said about using FATE over Fate was that it shows a disconnect with the main stream of the Fate design community. Which is fair, I'm very close to that community, but not really part of it. I have the same gut level reaction when I see people try to do certain things with the Apocalypse Engine.)
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