Comparison of tabletop roleplaying games (RPG)

Not all RPGs are the same..

Bookshelf Aug 2018

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Consider the following as a work in progress I will keep adding comments, and updating from other peoples comments. And yes I will listen to all opinions.

Overall Rating

Overall ratings are my perspective on how easy the game is to “get into” and I mean from a combination of Universe, Mechanics/Rules and support materials.

For some they will understand a lot from a set of movies or famous books which will make the transition much easier e.g. if you have watched the Lord of the Rings (LOR) it will be easier to play Dungeons and Dragons or Middle Earth.

Systems that are more crunchy/complex often take longer to get characters created and sometimes can become bogged due to mechanics, of a course a good GameMaster will take what they need and ignore the rest, but either way Legends of the Five Rings or 7th Seas are really easy mechanics (maybe too easy/simplistic) compared to RoleMaster.

Breakdowns

This has grown a lot since I started.  In part from people asking what is this game like to play.  With the advert of Boardgames really explore what is collaboration?  It seems that we started with very private collaborative systems for players, which is upto the GM to reward and punished, could their be better ways i.e. Coriolis  asking the group to choose its group Talent together or Ars Magica exploring both Troupe Playing and sharing a character i.e the convent.

I know I have to build out the complexity and give specific examples of rules, which I will do over time.

How do you compare RPGs? I would love your thoughts?

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – What is the universe like, what are the common themes
    • Combat – Abstracted or realistic, including healing
    • Religion –
    • Magic – How Common?
    • Races – More than Human?
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – D&D Alignments etc?
    • Personalty – Are traits defined? Are they for the roleplaying or are they part of how characters success/failure
    • Group/Individual orientation – Does the game encourage or is it upto the GM?
    • Official Music – Adds to the emotional atmosphere
    • Overall –
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Overall how are they
    • Dice – Which Dice?
    • World/Universe – How simple or more of a stretch
    • Campaign World – Examples
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? –
    • Companion Rules –
    • Multiple Editions –
    • Solo Scenario –
    • Card Decks –
  • Community
    • People Playing – Size
    • Where can I find the community?
    • Scenarios – How many
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – How Simple?
    • Character Growth – How dow my chapter grow
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – For the player team
    • Character Death – How common?

These are different for each grouping i.e. Fantasy vs Present vs Sci Fi. There are some exceptions e.g. GURPS, it has packs to mimic any environment and any universe.

Fantasy RPG

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Wipe map and miniatures

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition – Simple

Lord of the Rings (LOR) kind of world with hope e.g. High Fantasy.  My favorite version of  D&D, keeps the magic but loses the tactical/card feel of the 4th Edition and feels more like Redbox D&D with m much more common sense.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real e.g. HP for whole body, Damage not to specify parts of the body.
    • Religion – Lots of Gods
    • Magic – Common
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – defined
    • Personalty – Non existent
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on DM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d20
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
    • Campaign World – Forgotten Realms
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Where can I find the community -> Forum
    • Scenarios – Small for 5th, but loads for other versions
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes, a bunch
    • Movies – yes, mostly awful
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – defined in class and levels
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Rare

WarHammer Fantasy Role-play 3rd Ed – Simple

LOR kind of world with NO hope. Chaos, Evil is much more powerful with Good slowly dying. Really interesting career flow that defines character growth. Currently been reworked into 4th edition.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Lots of Gods, with a lot of hands on demonic gods
    • Magic – Uncommon
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – undefined
    • Personalty – undefined doe shave insanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on GM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Where can I find the community -> Forum
    • Scenarios – Intermediate number
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character growth – Defined in careers
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

7th Sea 2nd Ed – Simple

1400 AD with Magic, pirates, You are all heroes and there is little chance of failure.. go forth and be dramatic and heroic. The more dramatic the better. Encourages much more role-playing than tactical thinking.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Renaissance swashbuckler fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Earth like
    • Magic – Small, is actually advanced technology
    • Races – None – creates difference through country of origin
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Undefined
    • Personalty – Virtues/background
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-playing and rewards in mechanics
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Very Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – Minimal for 2ed
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Where can I find the community -> reddit, Forums
    • Scenarios – Small for 2nd Ed
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computersgames – no
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Archetypes to start than free + Advancement Points
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

Ars Magica 5th Ed – Intermediate

1150AD Medieval Wizards, Faeries, Demons and God. The most flexible Magic system in existence. You are thrown in the dark place of medieval where most are peasants, and die easily and power within humanity rests within the nobles and church. Each player has a Magi, a companion (imagine any class) and shared grogs (fighters/bodyguards). Most are scared of Magi, thus your companions often do the communication with humanity. Also a Troope system so the Storyteller moves around the group and the covenant is a shared character.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Medieval fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare, the most flexible system
    • Races – Multiple
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Traits, Virtues/Flaws
    • Group/Individual orientation – Group oriented rules encourage
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play, multiple characters per player
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, Magic can get Complex
    • Dice – d10s
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple – you will create multiple characters a mage and companion
    • Character Growth – Experience/Aging/Decrepitude/Warping/Reputation
    • Shared Characters – The Covenant and Grogs
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Grogs – Common, Companion – Uncommon, Mage – Rare

Shadows of Esteren – Intermediate

Medieval, Dark, Horror, Gothic, Celtic. An Investigation game in the style of Call of Cthulhu, where you try to avoid direct contact t with the monsters. Really interesting characteristics all mental, and balanced.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Celtic fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Rules centered around psychology, driven by a balance of personality traits “Ways” and sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate
    • Dice – Mix
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – some
    • Multiple Editions – no
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Where can I find community -> Forum
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computer Games – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate
    • Character Growth – Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Other Fantasy RPGs I need to add:

Present with Twists RPGs

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

Call of Cthulhu RPG Session

Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed – Intermediate

Find it.. Much Detective work.. Run away! anddd… you’re dead, no that’s because you are  insane.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Horror and  investigation 1920s (many Variants)
    • Starting Location – Boston, Arkham
    • Combat – Lethal, especially SMGs/Assaults
    • Religion – Earthlike
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Encourages deep character background and focus on sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – One rule on working together
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play and fear if a “good” Keeper
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Scenario – Yes
    • Card Decks – Yes – Characters, Events, Weapons, Phobias
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Where can I find the community -> reddit, Forum, google+
    • Scenarios – A lot
    • Boardgames – community is large i.e. Mansion of Madness, etc
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetypes
    • Character Growth – Built around skills used, get better
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 – 6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Games to add:

Science Fiction RPGs

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

Star Wars RPGS ession

Eclipse Phase 1st Ed – Advanced

Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite. Currently been reworked into 2nd Edition.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark Future can be Horror, or cyberpunk or Stargate
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Not Really
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat – no
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes for 2nd Ed
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, crunchy or can be ignore or use Fate
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – A lot but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes, currently working on 2nd Ed
    • Cards – Yes – Morphs
    • Boardgames – No
    • Computergames – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Where can I find the community -> Forum, reddit, Google+
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate, unless using Transhuman packages
    • Character Growth – Free/no class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Common, but you have a backup right

Shadowrun 5th – Advanced

Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi + Fantasy + CyberPunk
    • Combat – Can be Lethal
    • Religion – Earthlike + Mysticism
    • Psionic’s – No
    • Magic – Yes
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat –  No
    • Races – Lots -> Elves Dwarves
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Advanced/Crunchy
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Cards – Items
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Where can I find the community -> Google+, redditrunnerhub
    • Scenarios – A lot in all versions
    • Boardgames – yes
    • Copmputergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Karma
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Star Wars 3rd Ed – Not Simple

Good background, but very unique dice/mechanics.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi Fantasy
    • Combat – Can be lethal
    • Religion – The Force
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon – Force Sensitive/Force
    • Hacking – sort of
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – From Movies
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple, except the dice
    • Dice – Special Star Wars dice + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes multiple for different time periods
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – Multiple Games
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Polaris 3rd Ed – Simple

Far future under earth’s oceans. Amazing artwork.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Earths land is radioactive, the only place to live is under the water
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Part of the background but not rules
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon + Polaris Effect
    • Hacking – not really
    • Ship Combat – Underwater Vehicle combat
    • Races – Genetic types/Mutations
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – No
    • Group/Individual orientation – Not in the rules
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages Tactical Play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6, d10 and d20
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes – Now 3rd
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Where can I find the community -> Facebook, Google+
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – No
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetype or free use of creation points
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Coriolis – Simple

Space Arabian Nights. For me this is number one in terms of artwork in the science fiction category followed by Polaris.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Arabian Nights, Old vs New, Mysticism, dark between the stars
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Yes – Uses Muslim Faith as foundation, as impact all of the game
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – yes
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – Very group oriented, rules encourage and rewards group, even share a group talent
    • Official Music – Yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Where can I find the community -> Forum, reddit, discord, Facebook, Google+
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – Yes – Icons+
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes +Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Numenéra (2nd Ed) – Simple

9 Billion years in the future. The future where science/technology is magic. Beautiful artwork.  This game allows you to really rediscover a whole new world and avoid the standard archetypes. It’s like starting to RPG all over again, because the creatures and play style are so unique.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Super far future
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – sort of
    • Psionic’s – Yes but every character gets a focus which is like a super power
    • Hacking – yes, but very simple
    • Ship Combat – no
    • Races – Human, super evolved and devolved humans
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Dominant characteristic -> Descriptor
    • Group/Individual orientation – Abilities and inabilities encourage a team to work together
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d20
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Where can I find the community -> Discord, reddit
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – Yes – For creatures, cyphers, etc
    • Boardgames – yes
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple = Type + Descriptor + Focus
    • Character Growth – Starts with Type + Experience (spent on character and making things or building community)
    • Shared Characters – Yes, in the Destiny Book a Community can become a shared NPC
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Games to add:

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game – the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

Updated Oct 2018

About Eric Brooke

I’m deeply curious, love to learn, insightful about people and their psychological makeup, deft at communication, excel at networking, deeply tech-savvy and relish growing others through education and leadership. I am a developer, marketeer, gamer, lover of water slides and ice cream :-)

Posted on 10 November , 2017, in Games and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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