I started this on Google +. The entries are by a lot of different people.
I've left in some of the cross-talk below when it was useful.
Feel free to add games in the comments...
Feel free to add games in the comments...
The RPG Speedcyclopedia
1. Describe one game you are familiar with in a way that would be as helpful to total newbies as possible in 4 sentences or less.
2. Each system may only be done ONCE.
3. Read the thread before posting yours to make sure you aren't duplicating.
4. Clones count as separate games.
5. Settings (like Dark Sun) can also count as games.
Things i can think of that are still missing:
Castles and Crusades
Swords & Wizardry
Swords & Wizardry
The Whispering Vault
The Shab-al-Hiri Roach
How We Came to Live Here
The Shab-al-Hiri Roach
How We Came to Live Here
that Marvel game with the stones...
that Marvel game with the stones...
Also someone saying which clones are copies of which D&Ds might be nice.
TIP FOR USERS
The fastest way to find a game here is probably just to do a "Find in page" search for the game you're looking for. They're not in alphabetical order, they're in the order people wrote the entries.
Call of Cthulhu
Horror game with D&D-like stats and a simple percentage-based skill system bolted on. Investigators from all walks of life search for creatures from the works of HP Lovecraft and likely go insane and die in the process. The insanity rules are simple but notoriously effective and fun. It has remained remarkably consistent through its first 6 editions but I haven't seen the seventh.
Paranoia - Satiric game about a dystopian underground society ruled by a crazy computer who's obsessed with rooting out Communists. Players are "Troubleshooters" - average citizens dragooned into nonsensical missions at the behest of their manipulative higher-ups and aforementioned crazy computer. Players have a set of 6 clones to account for all the deaths at the hands of the Computer, their bosses, their enemies, and especially each other. The rules are pretty much exclusively the province of the GM; players should worry about skulduggery instead.
A rich universe set in the 2060s with metahuman races, high magic, virtual reality, and cybernetics. Action-adventure game in which players take on the role of underground criminals, fighting injustice in the corporate-owned universe. The mechanics involve a simple D6 system with character leveling using "karma" point experience. This game is a good way to get your action flick fix, especially if you enjoy fighting the system.
Hollowpoint - play as the violent people from movies like Smokin' Aces, Shoot 'em Up, Pulp Fiction, Rock 'n' Rolla, Snatch, and other various Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino films. Roll handfuls of D6's, try to get more sets of matching numbers than the guy running the game. Play revolves around action/interesting scenes. Perfect for convention gaming.
Fate is a very hackable game that has been used for pulp, sci-fi, and modern magical settings (like Dresden Files.) It is basically a hybrid system: the skill system is fairly old-school, with skill levels ranked from 1 to 5; but characters also get Aspects, dramatic tags like "Just The Man For The Job" or "Vampire Princess," which they can use to get bonuses or narrate effects by spending fate points. Aspects can also be compelled against you to earn fate points. Fate uses 4 Fudge dice - 6 sided dice showing either +, -, or blank - so your results run from -4 to +4, making skills and aspects more important than your rolls.
Mage: The Ascension
"Gothic Punk" Wizards, Witches, Kung Fu Masters, Mad Scientists, Voodoo Priests, and Holy Rollers fighting to define reality in a twisted modern world (World of Darkness, uses the Storyteller system dice pools of d10s). Mage is about the clash between Magic and Technology (which is really just another kind of magic). The free-form-ish magic system can be a mind-blowing experience but requires a significant amount of on-the-spot player creativity and initiative. You can do amazing things with magic but paradox will make you suffer if you try to shred the fabric of reality too blatantly.
Pendragon is a game about being a knight in King Arthur's court. It uses a simple skill-based system coupled with revolutionary personality trait rules that allow characters to grow in unexpected ways. Each game session covers a year, and since the entire campaign spans more than 80 years, it's expected you'll be playing one of your original character's descendents by the end.
Over the Edge — Modern-day game set on a Mediterranean island full of bizarre mysteries and casual violence. Characters are defined by three free-form Traits and a Flaw, with each Trait describing a small d6 dice pool. The simple mechanics are flexible and lend themselves to rapid (even manic) improvisation. So does the setting, which includes magic, psionics, mutants, reality hacking, religious cults, and gang warfare, but forbids firearms.
Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) AKA FASERIP
Superhero game where you can play Marvel heroes or make your own (via random power generation, which is a little weird). The system is fast and swashbuckley, and relies on a friendly-colored chart that makes for a pretty simple degrees-of-success system. The spendable experience point system (Karma) allows players to use xp gained for overcoming foes and obstacles or playing in character (or both) to beat the odds.
In Unknown Armies, can play an Adept, whose peculiar modern madness fuels their magic, or an Avatar, who slowly becomes one with a mystical archetype, becoming more and less than human. It's got a simple, percentile-driven task resolution system, freeform skills, a detailed insanity mechanic, and a simple but deadly combat system. The world is weirder than you think, maybe weirder than you can think. you did it
Can you boil that down a little?--I still don't understand what the game's supposed to be about.
Maybe I should change the last sentence to the following.
Characters fight a dirty, desperate struggle with petty cults and vast conspiracies for the world's limited supply of magical artifacts and power, often to use for their own selfish ends.
Does that help?
Uh...is it a superhero thing? Is it a Hellboy kinda thing?
occult conspiracy, but lowbrow. The joke title is "cosmic bumfights." Reservoir Dogs with magic gained from never ever missing an episode of The Simpsons, or from cutting, or from creating sentient machines by permanently sacrificing your memories. Nothing is free.
You should give it a read, because, as they say, of reasons.
Unknown Armies (different summary by someone else)
A post-modern take on the investigative occult horror genre as defined by Call of Cthulhu. It features percentage-based stats and skills used alongside an obsession/stimulus system that sometimes allow you to flip-flop the dice in your roll (74 -> 47 for example); a number of schools of insanity based magic, each with its own rules for gathering and spending occult power; a set of (pseudo-Jungian) Archetypes that players can attempt to channel to gain some of their mythic abilities; an insanity system based around five different kinds of stressors (Violence, The Unnatural, etc.); and a fast-running and deadly combat system (with some more fun dice tricks) that makes it all feel a little like a slasher film when I'm running it. Starting games and one-shots tend to be about normal humans running foul of the occult underground or monsters in some way--the overall setting is mostly focused on various human occult factions trying to screw each other over and become gods, or trying to supplant other humans who have already become gods before the ontological apocalypse which is nigh scrubs the world clean to start again. Maybe.
Swashbuckling adventures in the vein of The Three Musketeers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Princess Bride. Set in a quasi-European world sometime in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, where every nation has a unique form of magic based somewhat loosely on it's culture. Players roll a pool of d10s against a target number and action is designed to be over-the-top and heroic.
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MWP)
Play Marvel heroes (or a host of others from the homebrew community) in the style of guest-writing the characters in a comic.
Experience is earned through character-specific events. The game makes more sense when you play it than when you first read it. Cortex rules have you build dice pool based on powers and traits of the character you're playing, and the initiative system is sublime.
Burning Wheel --
A fantasy roleplaying game which aims to create the feel of fantasy literature by focusing on the player character's beliefs, and having the Game Master weave situations and crisis aimed at these beliefs. Characters are created by choosing lifepaths, which builds history, personality and ties them into the setting. The rules are built around a robust die mechanic which has added/optional subsystems for more detail, such as for fighting, arguments, or sorcery. Player's earn artha (expendable points which make characters more effective) as they advocate for the characters' beliefs, goals, personality, and flaws.
Toy Story meets 9 meets Small Soldiers. You play a sentient toy with mutant powers, in a post-apocalyptic world with no humans around. Your character has stats like "Condition" and the dice rise in steps as your character increases in power (d4 to d6 to d8, etc.).
In Dark•Matter you play X-files agents investigating paranormal events and monster attacks except instead of working for an FBI manipulated by a shadowy cabal of alien collusionists you in fact work for a private organization manipulated by a shadowy cabal of alien collusionists that have figured out that the world's going to end at the end of 2012 so you'd better play this game quick. It's fun if taken seriously and pretty stupid if played for laughs. It uses either the Alternity engine or d20 Modern so it's basically D&D.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Gary Gygax's attempt to turn Dungeons & Dragons into a truly comprehensive euromedieval fantasy RPG. In addition to broadening out the classes, races, spells and monsters to include most of the bits now known to D&Ders of all eras, AD&D has a great many rules most players simply ignore in favor of earlier versions, later versions, or hacks. It is one of the most well-supported systems of all-time, however, and books like the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide are gifts that have kept on giving for the entire history of the hobby. Still the base system of choice for many for rich and slow-burning but deadly campaign play.
Cyberpunk role playing game with a noir aesthetic (think Bladerunner crossed with L.A. Confidential). Plot settings are based on "Transmissions" which are collections of locations, people, things, and events in a specific city. During character creation the player chooses connections to these things and these connections drive the action. The system uses "adjectives" and "adverbs" as modifiers for dice rolls, which are made using d6s and are composed of "hurt" dice and "normal" dice.
The Fantasy Trip. Based on two hex-based fantasy combat microgames, TFT offered a rich point-buy skill system that was a forerunner for Champions and GURPS. Early modules offered solitaire play opportunities and innovative puzzle-challenges that promised real world rewards for the first to solve them.
In Danger Patrol you play a retro-futurist serial-based collection of heros protecting Rocket City on Mars from Jovian Communists and/or cultists from the 5th Dimension. Everyone has a jetpack and combat is dynamically mapped out using post-it notes and index cards. The GM never takes a turn so the bad guys always act in reaction to the players, who decide how "dangerous" they want to be in any given action by adding red danger d6s to their dice pools. Great game for practicing your "old-timey newsreel voice" and for everyone pretending to be over-the-top classically heroically awesome, so yeah, chance of death is pretty minimal.
d6 Star Wars attempts to capture the feel and setting of playing your own adventure in the Star Wars universe. Rules are fast and flexible- every task from hotwiring a star freighter to hacking a security system to hand-to-hand combat uses the same core mechanic of rolling a handful of six-sided dice and comparing the total to a target number or an opposing roll. Combat is of the 'avoid getting hit' variety to reflect the meaningless deaths of thousands of Stormtroopers and everyone being all worried when Leia got shot like once in the whole three movies. Tons of setting material available to detail different eras of play, regions of space, and the precise Jedi secrets needed to forget you saw the prequels.
An SF rules set that allows for campaigns ranging from modern era to far-future space opera, with shades of various genres in between. While the main player's book features several playable races, there are easy-to-use rules in the Gamemaster's Guide to build new playable races, making the options limitless. The game also features a variety of "optional" rules available in the core books, including psionics, cybertech, and magic (called "FX" in Alternity).
Traveller. Tiny personal spaceships, piloted by ex-merchants, scouts, and former armed forces personnel, dodge huge naval vessels that are mostly water in the grand-daddy of sf rpgs. Lifepath character generation meant you started middle-aged (and, notoriously, you could die in character generation). Little black books embody an ultra-minimalist visual aesthetic that has not been equalled. As the canon expanded, so did the background universe, the expansive Imperium (drawing heavily on Asimov). Many subsequent editions have tried to tie to other game systems or update the setting, or both -- but not always successfully
Advanced Fighting Fantasy
An extension of the popular (in the UK and AU at least) Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure style game novels. Took the simple 3-stat, 2d6 (roll under) resolution mechanic from the gamebooks and expanded them to include a reasonably comprehensive selection of skills and spells and character advancement typical of most fantasy RPGs. Very rules lite. Has had a recent revision (but I haven't looked at it).
In WRAITH you are dead
Your shadow seduces you
The abyss beackons
And you write in stanzas forever after...
In what way are big ships in Traveller mostly water? Like, most of their mass consists of stored h20 but they are still big metal/plastic/unobtanium space ships, or are they actually planets, or are they made out of people, or what?
fuel for ships was liquid hydrogen or scooped water, and each jump number (1-6) required 10% of ship's volume to be fuel per jump (J-1 ~ the ability to travel 1 parsec/week). So a Jump-5 ship required at least half its volume to be filled with water, which meant only large, expensive (military) ships could travel the larger distances. Various workarounds were developed (drop tanks, etc.), but that's the basics.
GURPS: Generic Universal Role-Playing System. What it says on the box; unfortunately, it's kind of crippled by the vast, vast array of special cases and splatbooks which are not actually, despite the name, mutually compatible. But still, it's got a clean, simple, 3d6-roll-low mechanic and if you are planning on doing a genre-hopping game you could do a lot worse.
Eclipse Phase is a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game of conspiracy and horror set in a posthuman future. People can customize their minds and bodies just like any software or hardware, and "human" now includes uplifted animals, robots, and purely software entities. The Earth has been lost in a war (known as The Fall) with military AI's gone rogue known as TITANs, who mysteriously vanished after exterminating 90% of humanity. The players work for the shadowy Firewall group to protect what's left of the solar system's humanity from existential threats like aliens, out of control technology, and the scheming of various factions/governments/corporations.
The Adventure Game
In the Adventure Game, a blend of board game and role-playing game, each player takes on the role of an adventurer, delving deep into dungeons, killing the monsters that lurk inside, and returning home for a night of ales and whores at the local pub after looting the treasures of ancient kings, dead wizards, and forgotten powers.
F.A.T.A.L. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?
Dark Heresy resolves through players rolling a d% and hoping to roll below a relevant stat which results in a lot of whiffing for low-level characters. The game takes place in a dystopian bureaucracy and has players as religious acolytes battling murderaliens, space demons, and supporters thereof. Classes are tightly defined and feature modular variation by having players draw from a specific pool of skills and abilities depending on their class. Character death is highly likely, fortunately the narrow career options allows for speedy character generation.
Legend of the Five Rings puts you in the role of a member of the military aristocracy of the fictional quasi-japanese empire of Rokugan either as a Samurai (Including warriors, courtiers or magic users) of the Great Clans, a masterless Ronin or a member of the various monastic orders . Each clan tends to embody certain themes so you have archetypes from androgynous pretty duelists to hulking he-man warriors to ass kicking warrior maiden cavalry, and their courtier (face) and shugenja (magic user) counterparts, which tend to also accentuate the clan's themes. Conflict can be inter-clan warfare, intrigue and espionage, investigations, diplomacy or fighting off the influence of the Shadowlands - a realm of darkness and corruption emanating from where the black sheep of the Gods fell to the earth. Dice are a d10 roll and keep added to reach a target number, with advancement laterally with xp to buy skills and traits and vertically through increased Insight ranks (which are sort of thresholds for total skill and trait ranks).
Spawn Of Fashan. You only know this from that Internet thing about Munchkins, Real Roleplayers, Real Men, and Loonies, right? Or maybe also from that review from the April 1981 Dragon? Well, it really does exist, and Dragon pretty much nails it, but at the remove of thirty years (holy fuck, way to make me feel old!), it's kind of loopily charming in a fantasy heartbreaker sort of way, and, you know what, we've seen a lot worse since, perpetrated with a straight face. How many Boosboodles are there in your life, really?
Dudes, remember, please, helpful
Ravenloft is a campaign setting for AD&D that focuses more on the gothic horror genre rather than swords and sorcery. Characters are transported from other worlds and become trapped within one of many domains of dread, essentially unique pocket dimensions.
Each domain is ruled, or at least overseen, by one or more powerfully evil creatures who have been chosen by the mysterious Dark Powers, though none can say for what purpose.
In keeping with the genre, the AD&D rules are modified to include fear, horror, madness, curses and diminished spellcasting abilities.
Chill (1E) is pretty much Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark: The Role-Playing Game. Its mechanics are dated and kinda clunky, but if you want to play a monster-hunting game that owes a lot more to Seven Arts Hammer than to Cosmic Horror a la Call Of Cthulhu it's really quite fun. If B-Monster-Movie horror is what you're looking for, honestly, Chill is pretty hard to beat.
You are a solider in the Vietnam war, you take up various different positions available to a solider in the army/navy/marines/air force. It is a very brutal game where even one bullet can and will kill you. The game is made by plaidum and doesn't use SDC/MDC/etc. It is easy to change the games setting to any armed conflict within the last 100 years, you just need to change the names of some weapons and make some single shot.
D&D like adoption of the gritty original teenage mutant ninja turtles. You play mutant animal (editors note: any animal) martial artists in the modern world and custom building your own mutant animal is the fun part of character generation.Various source books exist for post-apocalyptic and science fiction settings. Notably, Transdimensional TMNT sports a time travel theory that does not suck.
Subtitled A Game Of Lords And Leaders, a fantasy game with a built-in domain game. You roll a handful of d10s and build sets to accumulate successes. Character generation is a blend of "roll dice or point buy". The game world includes strange physics and other weirdness but is easily stripped (as seen in the Enchiridion edition of the "pure" rules). Holes in the domain game are meant to be filled with PC action.
World War III tears apart the fabric of spacetime and turns Earth into a multiversal nexus riddled with unstable dimensional gateways (the eponymous rifts), bringing psionics, magic and every imaginable lifeform from insane genocidal cyborgs to dragons to Cactus People to our corner of the cosmos. Most of the world is a devastated wilderness with pockets of civilization being few and far between; those include the Coalition States, a militaristic, expansionist alliance of North American city-states with a human-supremacist, magic-hating agenda, and a taste for putting skulls in everything; vampire-ruled Mexico; and a resurfaced Atlantis that serves as an outpost to transdimensional slavers. System's vague at times and requires houseruling, with supplement power creep being a huge problem starting with World Book 6.
Day After Ragnarok
WWII alternate history with fantasy elements; Nazi occultists suceeded in unleashing Ragnarok in April 1945. Quick-thinking Allied forces save the world by nuking the Midgard Serpent, but the continent-sized reptilian crashes over Europe and Africa, causing tsunamis that drown most of North America and contaminating the world with mutagenic snake venom. Most of the US outside the West Coast is a post-apocalyptic monster-haunted wasteland, and a British Empire ruled from Australia opposes the Soviet Union (allied with their fellow god-haters, the frost giants), Imperial Japan (never nuked, still expansionistic), Nazi remnants and apocalyptic serpent cultists. Author Ken Hite describes it as "Conan: 1948". Available in Savage Worlds and HERO System versions.
Less of a traditional role playing game, more a set of rules to negotiate a setting and events in said setting. You start out by declaring facts about how and what to play, which then segues into actual role playing, with the twist that items/facts with investment by more players and/or over a long time are harder to "kill" or remove from the setting. If negotiation fails, you can roll a bunch of d10s to resolve the item of contention, which yields points to build upon the outcome of the roll. Comes with a sample setting, but is essentially settingless.
Dungeons & Dragons 4e
It's a medieval fantasy roleplaying game where you play as fantasy heroes who fight monsters, go on quests, collect treasure, and gain experience to grow more powerful. You play it by describing your character's actions to the Dungeon Master (referee), who adjudicates. Polyhedral dice (Mostly the 20-sided dice) are rolled to account for random elements like chance, damage done, and certain actions. It's core system is based around previous versions of D&D, but there is a much greater emphasis on grid-based tabletop combat with miniatures, which the game suggests you purchase.
A simple and fast roll-under-system, that only uses a D20. It provides a really nice old-school feeling, but is not one. The enclosed setting Caera is a standard edo fantasy setting. The system itself is easy to hack.
Das Schwarze Auge
The German 800lb Gorilla of Fantasy Role Playing Games. Started out as an OD&D clone when licensing fell through and the publisher needed a game to fill the gap in the release line up. Has evolved into a point-buy fantastic realism system and is best known for having a setting with no white spots (i.e. anti points-of-light) and a history of railroady adventures so the setting is kept consistent and intact.
3:16 CARNAGE AMONGST THE STARS
A simple System that uses only two stats: F ighting A bility and N on F ighting A bilitiy und uses mainly the D10. The SC are Squad member of the 3:16th Expeditionary Force on a Mision: Kill every damn alien beeing in the universe in order to protect the earth.
(it's like Space Hulk is my understanding)
Another German Seventies/Eighties Fantasy Game. Borne out of a Play-By-Mail strategy game, has a mixture of percentile and d20 rolls and sports a pseudo european setting. Variants include a victorian setting (Midgard 1880), a license of the most successful scifi pulp magazine setting published in Germany (Perry Rhodan) and an attempt at a beginner game (Runenklingen).
Ghostbusters is an easy, rules light game based on a D6 dice pool system. Each Ghostbuster character is defined by four traits (Brains, Muscle, Moves, and Cool) and a talent for each one. Another score called Brownie Points acts as both "luck" points to be spent on rolls and hit points.
Flexible guidelines are included for creating not only ghosts and spirits but also physical creatures like werewolves, vampires or whatever you could imagine.
The SC are angels in a world after a great plague. The church rules over the most part of europe. Technology is forbitten, the great Enemy (Traumsaat, I've forgotten the translation) are mutated insect-like monsters. Comes with a really great twist for the SC. Uses the D20 System or a system with arcarna cards.
WEG's unlicensed Firefly RPG, only that it was released a decade before Firefly was aired. Uses WEG's Masterbook rules, which are a d6 pool system and a funky initiative/special events system. Recently re-released by Precise Intermedia Games.
Savage Worlds Explorer Edition is a generic roleplaying system that is adaptable to many different game genres, and is designed to be easy to learn and play. Character generation is a fast point-buy system, task resolution is via a simple target number mechanic, and NPC creation is quick and simple. Easily adapted to a number of different game genres, Savage Worlds Explorer Edition is designed to make adapting materials for other game systems easy.
Subtitled Romantic Fantasy, caused some friction for inclusion of absolute moral disambiguity and gender politics. First iteration of Green Ronin's True20 game system which is a 3rd Edition D&D offshoot. According to Yours Truly, has true potential for comedy in actual play and sports winged cats as it's redeeming feature.
Hollow Earth Expdition - or HEX for short - is an absolutely cracking pulp RPG if you feel like punching Nazis in the face and feeding them to dinosaurs while defending your buddies with Death Rays against evil Atlanteans at the center of the Earth. The Ubiquity game system is a simple and clever binary dice mechanic (roll a bunch of dice, evens = good, odds = bad, did you get more evens than odds to succeed?) that runs very smoothly, and the core setting is supported with several beautiful sourcebooks — Secrets of the Surface World, Mysteries of the Hollow Earth, and the soon-to-be-released Revelations of Mars (c'mon dammit, publish it!) as well as some free adventures. Sample characters and adventures can be found here: http://www.exilegames.com/downloads.html
In the Sketch! RPG (Corsair Publishing) you draw your own character and then the other players vote on what they think your stats and super powers should be.
Then everyone can either fight each other like a free for all wrestling match or you might want to fight crime and rescue people, or rob banks, or whatever.
The main thing is making the big bucks and becoming an intergalactic media superstar.
The game uses a simple 2D6 rule system.
My Life with Master
Story game with simple, abstract mechanics where you play the minions of a dastardly villain. Group character creation is fast and also involves the players creating the boss him/herself. Lots of potential for fun, campy/creepy (melo)drama and angst. Plot is sort of on rails (The Master always loses in the end) but the players' narrative control and ability to craft the details of how it plays out are what make it fun.
Mouse Guard is the adaptation of the comic series of the same name. It is a simplified variant of Burning Wheel and as such has a d6 pool system at it's core, and some funky mechanics tied to PCs goals; rules for seasons and weather, a glorified rock/paper/scissor combat system and a rigid GM/Player turn structure that supposedly helps implementing a typical three-act story experience.
Neoclassic Geek Revival
Old school D&D as inspired by bad 80s movies in the best way possible combined with modern sensibilities. Open ended character options without the complexity of later editions,yet creativity is still rewarded to a greater degree than rules mastery. +1 for an eyepatch. +5 is you actually need it.
Champions — An early superhero RPG with a complex point-build character creation system. Allows the elaborate modeling of super-powers, vehicles, magical spells, and so forth, by combining powers with advantages and limitations. Resolution is 3d6 roll-under, and a character's Speed attribute determines the number and timing of actions within the context of a 12-phase combat round. You'll need lots of six-sided dice (I once built a character with a 30-die attack), but none of the other kinds.
Fiasco — Lightweight storygame often described as the "make-your-own-Coen-Brothers-movie game". The game includes a number of playsets, each of which describes a setting and provides tables you roll on to establish relationships among the characters, drives, goals, and locations that will be used. Game action is more like improvisational acting than traditional role-playing, with players having broad freedom to narrate action within very loose guidelines established by the mechanics, but the game pushes things to end badly. A wealth of fan-created playsets can be found online.
James Bond 007 RPG
You play Hugh Hefner style playboys solving mysteries and making enemies who will come back to haunt you later. Despite a spy genre setting the PC power level is less ninja superheroes and more athletic Ivy Leaguers: it's aimed at reproducing Goldfinger/Dr. No era Bond. You'll probably pack a glock and drive a Toyota. The system is streamlined, modular, and has chunks that you'll want to steal for other games (the chase rules are especially celebrated), except for the core dice-rolling mechanic, which is needlessly complicated.
Chivalry & Sorcery
A fantasy game made by people who felt DnD wasn't "medieval" enough in the sense of needing more peasants wearing sack-cloth. Discouraging tables for social class are there to remind you that statistically you're most likely to be a nasty, brutish and short nobody. Monsters and magic items tend to be low-key, but wizards can be remarkably more powerful than other characters from the first day of play. Its notorious complexity pales in comparison with many more recent games, although rolling up a magic user does take hours and combat is extremely deadly, so cautious wizards are an emergent property of the rules.
A fantasy game made by people who felt DnD wasn't "medieval" enough in the sense of needing more witches, dark haunted woods and Lambton Wyrms, and absolutely no science fantasy or portable holes or generic monsters. You can play at 3 different power levels: wizard (which can sling fireballs, raise the dead or warp terrain right out of the gate), companion (musketeer) and grog (hireling), all at the same time in a "troupe" of shared characters. Typical adventures involve hunting for magic ingredients for your life-extending potion and investigating the dark secret behind the haunted tower you call home.
The rules are simple but tend to be dominated by the magic system, which relies on a verb-noun combo (like "Create Fire" or "Ask Plants") for made-up-on-the-spot effects and for more powerful learned rotes.
The first post-TSR edition of D&D systematized and rationalized most of the rules from the previous editions, while adding a new layer of complexity by adding a skill point system and special moves (feats) as well as "prestige classes" accessible at higher levels. The result was a broadly flexible but generally more combat-focused and mechanically straightforward game than previous editions. Experiences with the combat system vary wildly depending on the GM and how closely the rules as written are followed and, depending who you ask, the problems with it:
1. ...presaged those of the following edition
2. ...were entirely solved by the following edition, or
3. ...do not exist.
In addition to being cloned and slightly altered to create the Pathfinder system, the engine of D&D 3.5 also spawned the "D20 system", used for a wide number of RPGs in various genres.
is a setting book for GURPS but easily adaptable to other game systems (notably in +Chris Hogan's Small But Vicious Dog).
You play down-and-out ruffians in a cartoony Dickensian London, who just happen to be itchy, spiky, Pratchett-esque goblins. Rules for chauvinism, drinking, superstition and embarrassing diseases paint a portrait of the characters as venal, larcenous scamps who don't need any other monsters to make their world challenging.
You play an immortal spirit that possesses humans in order to further its occult conspiracies and eventually amass enough magic power to ascend to the next level/world/state of being. The setting is present day plus the usual Templars, Illuminati and other secret history cabals. Adventures are likely to involve breaking into museums to retrieve the talisman you last used in ancient Harappa, trying to stop the moon wizards from turning France into Mordor via a ley line nexus, and trying to figure out the Pyramid Code and achieve enlightenment before Dracula can get to Egypt.
System is totally compatible with Call of Cthulhu, so even if you never play it as a game in its own right, it's the best CoC villain generator ever.
Chill 2nd Edition (Mayfair)
Like Call of Cthulhu, you're regular people with jobs who hunt monsters. Unlike Call of Cthulhu, you might have psychic powers, the monsters range from folkloric classics (Werewolf) to game-specific inventions (Mean Old Neighbor Lady) and the system is kinda pointlessly clunky. Interesting art and excellent, genuinely creepy flavor in the monster descriptions set this RPG and its supplements apart from its competitors and its more light-hearted predecessor.
The original cyberpunk role playing game, based on d10+attribute+skill rolls. Character creation was random life path events plus archetypes (cops, corporates, fixers, media, netrunner, nomads, rockerboys, solos, techies); followed the genre of Neuromancer closely and had a range of sourcebooks including a low earth orbit setting, a vampire setting, a nanite mutant teenagers spinoff amongst others. The basic game covers the standard tropes of cyberpunk (dehumanization by technology, corporate greed and control, a dark underbelly of people eloping the status qo), and the various spinoffs take it to other venues.
Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM 1st edition)
A d6 based roleplaying game where you play as anime characters in an anime world. Sessions are referred to as 'episodes' and the whole game is inspired by the wide variety of anime produced in the late 80s and early 90s. No genre is off the table, so players can play characters who are magically powered steampunk robot samurai high school girls; the rules do support this. Players can choose strengths for their characters, and can round them out with defects/flaws, which can provide roleplaying opportunities.
DC Heroes (Mayfair)
No other superhero system will make you feel so confident in your belief that the difference between Martian Manhunter's strength and Captain Marvel's strength has been accurately represented, but then there's these 2 annoying charts with numbers where you have to look everything up. The presentation in all editions was top-notch, comic book fans will find even the core books dripping with trivia, and martial arts, magic, and various unusual powers are all represented in interesting ways. There's a hero point system, not unlike Marvel's karma system, plus advantages, disadvantages and a basically simple and satisfying point-buy character generation system. But there's still those fucking charts.
Post-apocalyptic game with simple dice mechanics (all rolls are 2d6). PCs choose from character archetypes that offer a wealth of player options, and drive the story forward with the MC. Character creation is straightforward, and the 2d6 mechanic emphasises hard choices with failed rolls. Suitable for a one-shot or for a much longer campaign, so long as all who are playing are happy to "barf forth apocalyptica!"
A lightweight projection game where players play themselves in a half-classical, half-medieval Laitia (Italy, but with anagrammed toponyms). Extremely lightweight mechanics and an extremely colorful character generation, where a Keeper of the World Gate gives you stuff to pretend you're actually from there. Adventures and setting are full of period warped cultural references.
In A Wicked Age
A story game by Vincent Baker; it's lauded for it's random setting generation by way of "Oracles" (decks of cards with bits of setting) and has a custom dice stealing mechanic that tries to enforce narration by all players. Like Polaris, this is a game for a group of GMs.
Hackmaster 4e When you steal the artwork of someone who's day job is "copyright lawyer" you pretty much are lucky by only having to give them the right to publish a rule system based on 1st edition. The first retro-clone, often derided as a "joke system" turns out to be a completely playable game with more depth, consistency, and verisimilitude then 90% of the gaming market. Written by people who love role playing and don't need the money because writing comics pays the bills, insuring each book is a work of art. It's the best version of Dungeons and Dragons you've never played, or ever, really.
Heroes Unlimited is a Palladium superhero RPG that can be compared to a 'pre-apocalyptic' Rifts set in present day Earth, sharing the underlying Palladium mechanics system, a gonzo ethos that embraces including the kitchen sink in terms of character options, and 1980's-style cut-and-paste layouts. Character options include the usual array of super-powered mutants and aliens, plus cyborgs, robots, ancient martial arts masters, mutant animals, butt-kicking Bruce Wayne-style superatheletes, hardware wiz kids with custom guns and cars, wizards, detectives, stage illusionists and anything else you can think of. Paladium games are often derided for clunky mechanics that have never been 'revised' in any real way, nonsensical organization, time consuming character/NPC creation, and zero advice for GMs on balance or adventure creation, but people that enjoy them have 30+ years of compatible material to draw from. You'll know real quick which category you're in.
Witchcraft is called "World of Darkness done right" by some people. It uses the Unisystem – a d10+modifiers vs. target number seystem – and is set in an Urban Fantasy world with werewolves, vampires, witches, necromancers etc. and is available for free these days (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/692/CJ-Carrella's-WitchCraft?it=1). It has a nice companion RPG called Armageddon where you're playing those left behind on Earth after the rapture happened; in other Words a metaphysical take on Rifts.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten is an RPG series about Zombie Horror Survival. It is based on Unisystem as well, and has a series of source books that cover a lot of different genres – much so that they almost can stand in as GURPS supplements (i.e. if you own Enter The Zombie you may not need GURPS Martial Arts) only with your guts falling out and your brains being eaten by your mom.
Feng Shui (Deadalus / Atlas) is a roleplaying game recreating the over-the-top action movies of Hong Kong cinema. Characters play participants in "the Secret War" - the struggle to control the flow of history by controlling locations with strong "feng shui". Evil eunuch sorcerers from ancient china square off against bioengineered abominations from a darkly dystopian future, while 19th century Shaolin Kung Fu masters do battle with a shadowy, illuminati-like conspiracy. And at the center of it are the Silver Dragons (the PCs) - the ragtag band of scrappy heroes fighting against overwhelming odds and facing near certain death.
Feng Shui (different summary by someone else)
is a Tsui Hark / John Woo / John Carpenter / Bruce Lee kind of game by Robin Laws, with a setting like that other guy already said. It uses a rolling high-to-low initiative system where each action has a certain 'shot cost' in the 'sequence', allowing for focus passing for defensive actions, delaying attacks to increase their strength, and multiple actions due to superior speed. This, along with a wide-ranging stunt system, player-narrated mook devastation (on a successful roll), simple but unpredictable exploding d6 mechanics, ease of character generation and luck mechanics allow for a fast-paced, highly cinematic action combat game with room for both creativity and tactics. It tends to be semi-railroady, in a fight-of-the-week style, but my players never seemed to mind.
Gamma World - A gonzo science fantasy post apocalyptic RPG, where life has been redefined and you can play anything from a normal "pure strain" human to a kangaroo that shoots laser beams from its eyes. You can play a sentient machine, or an intelligent bit of shrubbery. You wander through the Bones of the Ancients (cities), battling computers gone insane in the centuries of isolation they've endured since they were created, tribes of militant mutated badgers, and each other.
Polaris is a narrative RPG for 4 GMs where everyone plays a light sword wielding polar elf named after a star in a world being killed by sundawn, internal strife and a flood of demons. You play in pairs, trying to either further the goal of your character or obstructing the character of the player opposite to you, while players to left and right play certain NPCs. Narrative flow is controlled via key phrases and eventual conflicts require d8 rolls vs. a diminishing resource which will eventually run out and lead to a tragic end of your character.
Don't Rest Your Head is a horror game in the vein of KULT sporting psychotic insomniacs with super powers being drawn into a world where nightmares are real people that try to eat them. It has a d6 pool dice mechanic where various pools determine tone and levels of success of an action.
GHOST/ECHO is a two-page free cyberpunk-ish RPG where players take on the roll of mercenaries who are on their way back from a job gone wrong. The GM for the game - ideal for one-shots - has a list of prompts and provocations for characters, settings and bad guys. Conflicts and situations are resolved by rolling 2d6 and then assigning one of the two dice to the GOAL of the conflict and one to the DANGER or threat. High-tech/supernatural aspects are encouraged as part of the mechanics, but are also left pretty much for the players and the GM to flesh out.
Legends Of Middle-Earth is a free RPG to play in Tolkien's Middle Earth; offsetting the power levels between Elves and Humans by way of a luck mechanic. It uses a simple skill based pool-roll-under (the harder a task the more dice you roll) system with Passions (goals) that allow for bonuses when you play according to a passion and are the engine to regain story tokens. At 24 pages it manages to capture the Middle-Earth feeling quite well (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/LoME.pdf)
An early sci-fi (space opera) rpg by TSR. You can play humanoid amoebas, human-sized insects, flying monkeys, or humans. I think it was a Basic D&D-ish base with a skill point system bolted on, but my memory is hazy. When i was 12, it was the closest thing i could get to being Han Solo, so basically awesome.
Mutants&Masterminds 1st Edition is a point buy variant of D&D3E for superhero gaming. It replaces hitpoints with conditions and allows wide superhero build tinkering. You roll d20 for about everything. The first edition also has great artwork. There is a 2nd Edition which looks worse but allegedly needs less errata.
Theatrix is one of the first story games ever published. It has a resolution flow chart helping a GM to construct the flow of the events in the game so it is like a story – and to appease people who think it's necessary, the flow chart has numbers attached so you can roll on it. Players have plot points to influence the story. Eminently settingless, there is a supplement covering the setting of the Ironwood comics which are quite inventive in terms of the fantasy world but are also noted for their pornographic bits.
Rolemaster is a percentile based modular system designed for customization. The core game consists of three books: Character Law, Arms Law, and Spell Law. While character generation is somewhat complex and time consuming, the core mechanic is actually fairly simple – roll percentile, add mods, and then usually consult the result on the appropriate chart. Subsequently, the game is often derisively referred to as “chart master”, and is often (imho, unfairly) criticized for being overly complex.
Using the FATE/FUDGE system you play in a modern urban arcana setting inspired by Jim Butchers world in the Dresden files books. Using the characters from the books for the base for its classes, but giving you a series of different abilities to choose from with the points that you have to spend, you can create many different characters from clued in mortals to wizards to were-animals.
Twilight: 2000 is a realistic Cold War era post apocalyptic rpg set in Europe after the bomb. Or rather, bombs, lots of them. You play remnants of a military group struggling to survive amidst the rubble, while dodging other groups of likeminded, heavily armed groups, and trying not to wander into a high-rad zone by accident.
World of Darkness (new, nWoD) casts you as a normal (or slightly above average) mortal in the world of Darkness: a gothic horror/punk take on the modern world, where every shadow hides something unpleasant and going around the wrong corner can be a bad thing, but everyone's wearing leather jackets and shades at night. Characters are generally meant to emulate the protagonists of horror movies, partake in creepy mystery solving a la Call of Cthulu, or possibly dabble in some Buffy-esque monster hunting. The basic mechanic is (stat + skill)d10s are rolled, each one that's 8+ is a success, only one success is needed to succeed, and 4+ successes is exceptional, and there's a virtue/vice system and morality mechanic which changes slightly for every game in the line and generally also doubles for sanity. The rules also form the core of all of the other World of Darkness lines, each of which adds a template onto the mortals created in this game.
Changeling: the Lost uses the new World of Darkness rules and basic gothic horror/punk setting (which is Real world + monsters that go bump in the night), then adds on Fractured Fairy Tales gone NC17. You play a Lost, a human who's been dragged to the fairy world and escaped, only to come back and find your life is no longer your own and that you've been altered by the experience - the story is how you deal with all that. A large variety of Lost exist, created by combining Seemings (broad eneralizations of what happened to you) with Kiths (specific roles you played) to determine what magics you have affinities with and how they've warped you. All Lost can use their Wyrd and Glamour to influence the Hedge (twilight zone between the world and the fairy realms) and to power Pledges, which are supernatural bargains that give rewards for keeping them and punishments for breaking them, but using the fairy powers too much can cause you to go off the reservation and start a downward spiral of madness.
My unscientific conclusion so far is that liking White Wolf games has a high correlation with liking vagueness.
I don't like vagueness, but I did have a hard time describing what is great about about Mage. For that matter, i would say that i don't like White Wolf games - i love little pieces of them and loathe large swathes of them (like the meta-plot and the basic dice mechanics underlying all of them - so fucking hate).
Perhaps the correlation is with situational inarticulateness.
Rogue Trader (the recent RPG not the original edition of W40k which was also subtitled Rogue Trader) places you at the helm of a starship the size of a small city, in charge of wealth the vast majority of the Imperium will never see a fraction of, with sanction and encouragement to push back the edges of the Imperium in search of profit and adventure. A freeform Endeavor system encourages a sandbox approach to stellar exploration and exploitation. It's set in Warhammer 40k, so there's also a lot of Grimdark. Uses a d%, roll under trait system similar but slightly different to Dark Heresy, with its own tiered classes which start out somewhat more powerful than DH all around.
Brass & Steel by Pamean Games is a steampunk inspired game set in an alternate history 1905, where the discovery of practical alchemy has led to both Queen Victoria's extended lifespan and the increased might of the British Empire - but don't discount ze Germans! Airships and sky pirates, dashing secret agents, scheming groups of criminal masterminds, idle rich Dreamers who pull the stuff of dreams into reality, Inoculated sorcerers who infuse their body with the very stuff of magic, all rolled together in Constantinople - among other places in the empire upon which the sun never sets. Basic mechanic is d20 based, aiming to roll under trait+skill.
Villains & Vigilantes is a superhero game with rules similar to early editions of D&D..
There are no classes though, because each character basically consists of powers rolled randomly. Part of the fun, for some, is coming up with a cool origin and character description to explain the combination of powers, and the game encourages rules modification.
It's a simple game that assumes modern comic books as it's default setting, which leaves it wide open for many campaigns or play styles.
A wonderfully rich and weird fantasy RPG, living in the shadows of the big games since 1987. Simple and flexible d20 resolution system, with anything goes combat and magic and an archetype-based character creation system that tells game balance to go fuck itself. Heavily inspired by Jack Vance's works, it's a world that's rising up from it's sword-and-sorcery/magi-pocalypse beginnings, full of nasty creatures, windships and forgotten lore. The 4th edition is the best version, all of them are available completely free online and none of them contain Elves.
Gargoyles: the Vigil (Lee Garvin)
An unofficial classic World of Darkness game that incorporates the universe from the Disney Gargoyles animated series, with Gargoyles PCs and tying the Illuminati to the Technocracy and Xanatos Industries to Pentex. The game uses the d10 die pool system of Werewolf Revised, and adds Garomancy, new skills (flying) and Endowments (physical quirks of Gargoyles). The game assumes a strong knowledge of the World of Darkness setting, tying conflict to Changeling allies and Mage and Vampire opponents, plus corporate foes loosely connected to Werewolf's Wyrm. Gargoyles are, like Werewolves, physically powerful; their propensity toward loyalty to friends and family allows plots to revolve around fighting to save or assist each other.
HöL (Human Occupied Landfill) (Black Dog Games/White Wolf)
Zany to the point that some merely regard it as a parody book rather than a playable game, the 2d6 system is actually solid, and the attributes and enemy/weapon stats make for a quite playable game. Entirely done as a sketchbook full of marginalia and absurdist jokes that often break the fourth wall (having an IHOP waitress contribute, an entire page that has the only typeset content: "ling" in the middle of the white page), the book can be very hard to read, but also quite enjoyable to read through several times. Once past the format, the world is interesting: you have found yourself on a planet made entirely of garbage, being a dumping ground for the COW, an empire forged through a union of the Catholic Church and Fast Food restaurants. On this planet, you fight for survival through diaper swamps, against foes like the Sodomy Bikers, Unca Mickee (a razorclawed Mickey Mouse) and Crickets, the latter of whom clamp to your skull and count down to explode, unlike the currency of HöL, which explodes randomly.
For HöL, if I could add a fifth sentence, it would be "Character creation (based on die rolls in which you can be "Cornholed by God" and/or die) is in the first supplement, as the corebook assumes you are sufficiently experienced as a roleplayer that you can create a character knowing the system and having been given examples."
Given the nature of the game, I figured more time spent on the unique format and the fact that many dismiss it as a parody (or even consider it non-playable without examining the system closely) is more of what makes it a unique game. Since we're aiming for informative entries, that works.
WarHammer Fantasy Roleplay (1e) is a career-based game with skills and improvement options that are based on, essentially, your job...or the job you had before you started adventuring. It is percentile based, low-magic, gritty and perilous. Second edition tightens up the rules a bit while expanding on questions never answered in the first edition. The third edition almost turns it into a board game, like 4e does to D&D.
(p.s. Opinions expressed by Speedcyclopedia editors do not reflect the opinion of Speedcyclopedia inc. P.S. Warhammer also has Chaos which introduced Britishgrimdarkawesome to the fantasy RPG universe)
Vampire: The Masquerade is about struggling to stay human when you're a young vampire at the bottom of the food chain. You have a Humanity score that, like CoC's SAN, can and will drop when you do evil stuff (e.g. bleeding someone to death when feeding). Vampires have a complex society with several factions, and first edition books usually assume that PCs will be Anarchs (angry Young Turk vampires who oppose the oppressive hierarchy of the Camarilla, the mainstream vampiric society, without actually joining the savage Sabbat or the mysterious independent clans). You're supposed to walk a tightrope between giving in to your predatory side (the Beast) and trying to survive and thrive in a world full of hostile vampires fighting a millenia-long shadow war (the Jyhad, with an y) of schemes and gambits at the behest of their truly ancient and monstruous progenitors (the Antediluvians), that nears its endgame as ancient prophecies foretelling the end of the world (Gehenna) come to pass. System is a d10 dice pool vs. set difficulty number, with the number of dice rolled above the set difficulty giving degree of success; kind of buggy in its pre-Revised incarnation, but both character generation and task resolution, including combat are simple enough.
To the GURPS entry, I'd add: The Fourth Edition cleared up many inconsistencies in a two-volume Basic Set and series of larger genre-wide hardback books; PDF supplements only available from e23.sjgames.com provide additional source material and rules.
Hero System — An early RPG with a point-build character creation system allowing for a wide range of power levels, originally created as the underlying system for the Champions superhero RPG, and then later into an essentially generic system.
You will only need six-sided dice (though potentially a lot of them), where task/combat resolution is generally 3d6 roll-under, damage is normally measured in 1d6 increments (which can lead to 20-die attacks being common in the supers version), and a character's Speed attribute (baseline human is 2) determines the number and timing of actions within the context of a 12-phase combat round.
By combining a base set of powers (most of which have an underlying 5-points=1 die mechanic) and abilities with advantages and limitations (potentially also within some fairly flexible point-saving frameworks), it allows for the comprehensive modeling of super-powers, vehicles, magical spells, weapons, and so forth, allowing for nearly any genre to be played (Supers, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Western, etc. see here for a more complete list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hero_System_Products).
Though it is often considered mathematically complex (note that there are charts for everything more advanced than basic arithmetic), and the level of flexibility it allows in character creation, can both be rather daunting to newcomers, with a little time and perseverance you can create nearly anything you can imagine.
Original Dungeons & Dragons (1974)
The mother of them all, this game spans three booklets and 112 half-sized pages of poorly organized material and half-baked ideas (not to mention piss-poor art). Yet everything required to get a campaign up and running is included, and is offered with the explicit assumption that referees will make changes and expand upon the materials as need and/or desire dictate. Thus, no two OD&D campaigns are ever completely alike, and the books put forward the idea that fantasy gaming is first and foremost a creative endeavor, not one of familiarity with a particular set of rules or procedures. As an added bonus, the books are loaded with peculiarities not found in other editions - such as the notion that a gnoll is possibly a hybrid mix of gnome and troll.
(It's also a fantasy game about fake medieval europe where you get to be a wizard or a fighter)
Original Dungeons & Dragons (1974)(take 2)
A genre-bending game in which you control a fighter, wizard, or crusader-guy and go on unexplained adventures in ruined castles or on mars. Other possible activities range from bar-fighting to grave-robbing to conducting large scale wars. Play is best facilitated by placing a copy of the rules on the table and saying you are playing Dungeons & Dragons, thereafter ignoring the rules and making shit up as you go.
Challenges Game System by Tom Moldvay
An 8-page distillation of the AD&D Player's Handbook that I can't believe he didn't get sued for.
A few six-sided dice and a very basic 2d6 roll-under system are all that's under the hood of this anything-goes game. You never die, you simply "fall down" for a few minutes and can't act if you lose all your hit points. This, and the fact that failure is generally more fun than success, contribute to a highly wacky and unpredictable experience. Although designed to approximate a Looney Tunes experience, it can support pretty much anything that is non-serious.
Robotech, an American cartoon composed of three japanese "real robot" genre anime series stuck together, was licensed to Palladium, who took its D&D+Plus % Skills-only-not-as-elegant-as-Chaosium's-system system and added a "megadamage" hit point class where only giant robots could contend. Works well enough if you're the kind of person who loves to decide which kind of warhead to launch at which part of the enemy's mech and then do some subtraction, though no special cleverness or design rethink was put into adapting the basic post-D&D trad RPG combat system to giant robots other than some crit tables. Outside your mech, you're basically a near-future military type doing alien invasion stuff. Like many licensed superhero games, much of the value here is in what it offers fans of the source material: decent to excellent art, trivia, and the world material's probably more fun than reading a wiki.
Houses of the Blooded
This is a neat little (big) game about an ancient society called the Ven that are all about political one-up-manship, intrigue, betrayal, revenge, lust and forbidden sorcery. It's proclaimed as the "anti-D&D" in the early pages because instead of playing murder hobos, you play a noble with established lands, family, marriage, kids, etc. and the majority of play revolves around the court. There are some mechanical issues that need to be finessed, but the overall concept and method for "establishing facts" is very interesting. Also, as a non-fan of Aspects, this game uses them in a way that's not so grating. If you want to try a game that allows you to flex your creative muscle as a player (in good form) and revolves around political intrigue, give this game a try.
Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game
In the DCCRPG, you take the role of a fighter capable of heroic improvisation, an elf that deals in sword and sorcery, a hobbit that brings luck and akimbo weapons, a thief with extensive skills, a cleric that risks angering gods for petty miracles, or a wizard that risks mutation and dismemberment to exercise arcane secrets.
The game uses an extensive set of dice to resolve the success and degree of variable factors and actions that together are referred to as the die chain as certain conditions may necessitate using bigger or smaller dice.
Also, these dice are even weirder and hard to find than that of a standard RPG.
The setting and rules are a pastiche of appendix N stories and novels that were inspiration for this game's successor, D&D, and so rather gonzo elements such as robots and time travelers are not uncommon though it is a high-fantasy crap-sack world.
Dragon Warriors is a British fantasy game originally released in the 80s, intended as an introduction to roleplaying for what was at the time a booming market of "gamebook" (think Choose Your Own Adventure on steroids) readers. Character creation is class-based, and even though there aren't many to choose from, the classes are very specific (you're a knight, not a fighter; an assassin, not a rogue). All characters are human, magic scares people, and most monsters are unholy and unnatural (no Gygaxian naturalism here). The setting, Legend, is an interesting middle ground between gritty medieval Europe and crazy 80s British fantasy, resulting in something that feels like Robin of Sherwood meets Krull.
Barony & Rogue Swords of the Empire
A very rules-light science-fantasy game, which uses 2d8 to resolve actions as either fails, major mishaps, overkills, successes, or mixed successes.
Characters start with just one of many binary traits with the possibility of rolling for more at generation and getting more as the character advances.
There is a maze-like character tree through which one can progress (sometimes laterally) after each adventure to such lofty positions as God-emperor or Zaire, and each one brings some ability/skill benefits.
The magic systems is rather free-form and almost anyone could attempt to cast spells, but spells are tougher the more physical laws you break or if you are casting a spell that has ever been cast in a certain way before, encouraging creativity and game-breakers at the same time.
Maid is a game in which you generally play an idealized and anime-ish domestic servant (generally the titular Maids, but Butlers are also available) trying to keep in thier Master's (usually portrayed by the GM, but sometimes also a player) favor. The system is simple and attribute based and potentially everything from character generation to the campaign setting is generated randomly, further cemented that players can trigger random events themselves. While the game has support for romance, suspense and adventure, generally it seems geared for comic hijinks and heavy improv.
Dark Sun (2e) is a post-apocalyptic setting where nearly every dominant trope in the archetypal, Tolkein-inspired fantasy game is turned on its head: dwarves are shaved, halflings are vicious cannibals, elves are shorter-lived wanderers with a penchant for violence and thievery, gnomes are all about science, ceramics and bone weapons are much more common than metal, much of the world is a desert, religions worship either the elements or evil dragon-wizards-who-are-also-emperors-of-a-city-state (see below) and clerics of the latter type generally cannot advance to as high a level as in other settings or as other classes, psionics (mind powers) is much more common than magic, magic at its default setting sucks the life force out of everyone and is generally not what nice boys do, high-level evil wizards can turn into dragons, high-level good wizards can turn into what look like a mix between a fleshy kleenex and a pterodactyl.
Forgotten Realms is the archetypal, Tolkein-inspired fantasy setting licensed by the people that make D&D. A likely first stop for anyone interested in Tolkien D&D.
Iron Kingdoms is a setting created by Privateer Press and has been a setting for a 3x rule set of D&D, several iterations of the Hordes and Warmachines war games and a new, Privateer Press-created RPG. The setting is robustly defined and emphasizes internecine political intrigues, as might be expected from a wargaming setting, and generally appeals to a heroic epic gestalt while draping everything in a sci-fantasy, steam (that is, "steam punk" minus any semblance of "punk") aesthetic.
The Mountain Witch is a Seven Samurai Go To Hell Roadmovie game. It's about the story of a number of dishonored Samurai going up a Mountain to kill the Mountain Witch for their own goals. The twists of this game compared to usual RPGs are the Dark Fate cards (randomly assigned secrets), the trust/betrayal mechanic where the same value is either used to get a little help or to fuck over someone big time, an explicit dueling subsystem and player narration training wheels.
Dogs In The Vineyard is not about teenage mormon gunslinger religious nuts in the real world, but about teenage pseudo-mormon gunslinger religious cops that have too much responsibility in a world of broken town-sized societies. The rule system is based on dice pools with a raise-and-see mechanic, where damage comes in the form of delayed fallout and the dice are not dependent on how good a character is with stuff but how important what they do is for their story. The author's agenda is to show people how futile it is to try to adhere to a strict religious agenda in the real world and if that doesn't annoy you on one level or the other, the game can be quite fun.
Labyrinth Lord (first edition)* is a rendition of one of the early D&D games, complete with idioscyncratic text structure, scrappy graphics, nonsensical price lists – in other words, it's an early D&D clone that even copied the coffee cup marks rather than trying to keep the spirit but improving the actual book. Requires all the funky dice you'd expect from an RPG and sports the typical six attributes/five saving throws/simple combat trifecta of subsystems as well as typical spell lists for wizards and clerics and a list of monsters to stock your labyrinths and modules with fun opponents. Most of the existing old school material and hacks available on the internets apply cleanly to Labyrinth Lord, other stuff may require some tooling.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Grindhouse Edition) is a rendition of the early D&D games, but cleaned up and structured in a refreshing – logical – way. Some of the details changed, but nothing so much as to make the game too much unlike D&D. The Grindhouse Edition comes in a box with dice and pre-printed character sheets, sports a tutorial for players, a referee manual and the actual rule book which is available for free online. While the game aims at Weird Fantasy where the characters are facing unnatural and unusual horrors and threats in a mostly mundane world, it is very much possible to play a "regular" fantasy game with the rules presented.
*For the clones I think it's important to note exactly which edition it's most closely a clone of
Tunnels & Trolls (5th Edition) was the second ever RPG created in 1975 by Ken St Andre and designed to be a simpler and more intuitive game for players who didn't have a war gaming background. Often unfairly dismissed as a D&D knockoff with silly spell names, but it has a number of innovative mechanics such as: the Saving Roll (SR), the first Attribute+Dice>TN resolution system, a spellpoint/mana system, easy on the DM monster prep with the Monster Rating (MR), an abstract dice pool melee combat (everyone attacks at the same time), armour that provides Damage Resistance instead of making you harder to hit, and Solo adventures. There is no set game world, but an implied world (in the rules and solos) that the creator describes as: Lord of The Rings as it would have been done by Marvel Comics in 1974 with Conan, Elric, the Gray Mouser and a host of badguys thrown in.
Tunnels & Trolls 7.5Ed still has all the goodness from previous editions + an improved skill system + expanded character classes + 2-line monster descriptions for old GMs like myself who do not have time for endless stat blocks when preparing their Saturday game any longer + bacwkards compatibility so you can still use all those awesome solo adventures.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e was a revised and cleaned-up version of AD&D, making a few changes in the implied flavor of the game (cutting half-orcs, assassins, use of the words 'demon' and 'devil,' and some of Gygax's inimitable style), but also maintaining system compatibility with the earlier ruleset. Largely interchangeable in terms of mechanics, but shifted away from some (suggesting replacing "XP for treasure" for story awards) which wound up greatly adjusting in-play dynamics. Vast amount of sourcebooks and supplements (some of the settings will get other entries here). Provided lots of suggestions for ways to customize one's campaign - perhaps not very useful for more experienced GMs, but not a bad way to start on a path to tinkering.
Delta Green A setting for modern Call of Cthulhu that ended up skewing closer to Lovecraft's original ethos, and Sandy Peterson's original intention when developing CoC. DG successfully taps into the dread and paranoia of the 90s and makes government conspiracies and alien abductions truly insidious and scary. Delta Green scenarios are notably deadly, more so than regular CoC scenarios because they tend to be inscrutable, brutal and short. Players assume the roles of Government agents working part-time for an illegal conspiracy within the US Gov't, tasked to confront the paranormal and the Lovecraft Mythos. Scenarios tend to have an air of militarism and a bit of cloak and dagger.
Amazing modern horror Swedish RPG that makes +James Raggi look like a gracious granny. Seriously adult fucked up shit in it. Crazy complicated mechanics (very similar to d20, but you get levels of success and if you want to shot something, be sure you have a calculator handy - also very accurate and movie-like martial arts mechanics). The Conjurer's Guide (two volumes) for American 2E are easily the most impressive game books EVER made. (Yes, even considering The Book Of Ebon Bindings.) Very tied to the setting so that just knowing the very basis of it can totally spoil your experience as a player.
Dungeons & Dragons Basic by Tom Moldvay
Very elegant and simple fantasy rpg, class/level based (races are classes), in just 64 pages. The rules cover levels 1-3, including monsters, spells, and treasure, and focuses on low level dungeon crawling. Very nice DM section that explains how to build and run a dungeon, including an example dungeon and tables to make your own (from theme to room content). Comes in a box including dice and the famous module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands* by co-author of the original 1974 rules E. Gary Gygax.
Dungeons & Dragons Expert by Dave Cook
These rules expands on the Tom Moldvay Basic up to 14th Level (demi-humans are capped at levels between 8th and 12th) in just 64 pages. Contains new monsters, spells, and treasure, and focuses on wilderness crawling, aerial and waterborne adventures, and domain level game. It's organized in a similar manner as the Basic volume to improve cross reference, and contains a similar DM advice section with hints and tables to create and populate a wilderness region, including an example one (the Grand Duchy of Karameikos). Comes in a box with the famous module X1 The Isle of Dread.
Fastlane is an independent roleplaying game that uses the roulette system for resolution - not simply the wheel, but the entire betting schema. This allows players to manage their risk/reward ratio very precisely. It not only takes advantage of roulette for resolution, but also takes advantage of the attitudes associated with gambling - dissipation and loss.
Middle Earth Role Playing (M.E.R.P)
A variant/subset of the Rolemaster system intended to allow players to run either canonical or invented characters in Tolkien's Middle Earth setting. A percentile-based system, M.E.R.P. was more streamlined than Rolemaster, especially in terms of having less combat charts. M.E.R.P has more options in terms of character creation in order to fit with the fiction of the setting and there are some more general setting-specific mechanics as well. M.E.R.P. was well supported by Iron Crown and there are multiple supplements and adventures published for it.
A fantasy RPG from FASA, Earthdawn is the "D&D" to Shadowrun's "Cyperpunk", even taking place in the same universe, just thousands of years earlier. Mechanically, Earthdawn uses "steps" and dice pools in an abstractly similar way to the World of Darkness and Cortex systems. The setting is somewhat post-apocalyptic, as the various races are emerging from bunker-cities after going into hiding from multidimensional magical Horrors. The magic system and how magic items are treated are fairly unique and connect very well with the world design.
The Bullwinkle and Rocky Roleplaying Party Game
Contains three styles of play that vary complexity in and is, to date, the only RPG to come with Hand Puppets. The narration is a card game very similar to Fairy Tale where players narrate a story and attempt to empty their hands by using the elements on the cards in the story. The Everybody Can Do Something game is more RPG like with each player taking on the role of an established character and playing through a set scenario, the GM is the Narrator and the swaps during the game, spinners are used as a randomizer. The Graduate game just expands on The Everybody game having rules for character generation and making your own stories.