Searching For The Best RPG

I have been on an epic quest these last few months tirelessly searching for what could be considered the very best table top pen and paper role playing game out there. My fingers surfed the keyboard of my MacBook Pro all over the Internets asking search engines the question, “What is the very best table top RPG out there?” I have read forum posts, blog posts, e-mails and chats with friends. Sadly, I was unable to get a clear and concise answer.

I took my quest to the next level. I pored through just about every single RPG book and PDF I have collected in the last three years since I got into table top RPGs. It’s a shockingly large amount of material I have collected. I focusing my time on reading how each different RPG handles character creation and game mechanics as those are the areas I have issues with in the RPGs I have played.

The truth is, I didn’t know what to look for, but I will know it when I see it. I wanted simple character creation with lots of choices for races and classes. Something that would fit on one piece of notebook paper old school style. You should not need several sheets of paper and index cards to build your character and track all of their powers. To me that is no longer a pen and paper RPG. It’s something else that I don’t think the hobby has developed a name for.

I also want simple gaming mechanics. When I first started playing RPGs with my friends it was, for me and everyone else at the table, all about rolling dice. We all eagerly awaited our turn to roll dice. Now that our dice addiction has subsided we have all learned that the story is the most important part of any RPG. I would like to find a game where the conflict resolution, from jumping over a pit to slaying a dragon, to intimidating a Non Player Character (NPC), is solved quickly by a dice roll. Where I don’t have to memorize or keep large tables of numbers.

As I near the end of my quest. As I finish up reading through the last few RPGs left on my book shelf, I have resolved to the fact that I will not find this perfect game. I don’t think it exists.

I don’t view my quest for the perfect RPG as a total failure either. With each RPG I read through I gain knowledge about RPGs in general. I learned that even though not one RPG fit 100% into what I was looking for I did find a handful or so that appear to be very close. Of these books I am going to go back and dig deeper into them before settling on one that will be my gaming groups next RPG.

The games I found to be top contenders for my group are:

My game plan is to stick with a medieval fantasy game (OSRIC, Dungeons & Dragons, or Castles & Crusades) as my group’s main game while tossing in the occasional one-off of something like ‘Serenity’or ‘Ghostbusters’ to just give me as game master a change of pace and a chance to recharge.

I wrote this post to not only share my experience with you, but to hopefully start some good conversation in the comments section. I would love to hear what anyone has to say about finding the best RPG out there.

20 thoughts on “Searching For The Best RPG”

  1. I think a lot of us are actually doing the same. We are constantly on the lookout for the one great game that will solve all our problems, is easily run but offers enough depth that we need.
    But one thing is sure: that game doesn’t exist. Actually the whole concept of “best roleplaying game” is flawed. There is no such thing.
    The closest you can get is by finding the best game for you, now, for the particular group of people you’re playing with. In two weeks, with other people and with you in a different mood, your former favorite game might be a bad fit.
    I have basically given up finding the best game. What I am doing now is looking for cool and interesting games that might be fun to play for a while, perhaps just for one session. Looking for the best in games is a futile exercise at best. In the worst case you will be unhappy with every game because it’s missing that one element that would make it “the best”.

  2. I’ve found myself in such a quest too, as Stargazer said it’s something we do (I mean, we’re in it for the Quests to begin with, right ?), and stumbled upon the same conclusion. There is no “best RPG ever”. Ideally, mechanics of the game are the translation of a mindset or a goal from the designers, be it to fit a specific setting/mood or achieve a certain degree of realism in the reproduction of a set of actions…
    In the end, what matters is knowing what you want to play and how you want to play it, and then finding the game that fits the bill (or homebrewing it).
    In my specific case, this has led me to accrue a rather considerable amount of books and then finding out I enjoyed reading them more than actually playing the games.
    In the end, it’s all about self-discovery, I guess.

      1. You’re welcome :D

        Forgot to ask : have you tried Strands of Fate or Mutants and Masterminds ? Both are generic systems I’ve come to love (tried Hero System but found it WAAY too crunch-heavy), though you may find M&M a little confusing for your needs.

        1. It is funny you should bring up M&M. That is the last game my group played. The first day we tried it i gave everyone pregens and i stumbled through the rules. That first game was a lot of fun for everyone, me included.

          When we met up next week to build or own characters and we all saw how badly i goofed up on the rules and tried to play again using the rules correctly I just lost steam.

          I have not tried strands of Fate. But I will give it a look see before picking out my groups next RPG.

    1. I agree with NeoDodge when he says, “mechanics of the game are the translation of a mindset or a goal from the designers, be it to fit a specific setting/mood.” I have been on this quest for years. I eventually gave it up and found that I would rather find the stories I liked to tell (pulp, scifi, swashbuckling, and high fantasy) and which system made me feel like that was possible. Which system makes the setting and theme meld with the story. Spirit of the Century did that for me the first time I played it. Deadlands actually did that for me when I wanted cthulu western. The closest I have come to a universal system to love is Strands of Fate but I haven’t gotten to apply it to any big campaign ideas yet.

  3. I to have been chasing this dragon. In my case it was trying to rekindle the magical feeling of the games of my youth. Those old games no longer spark that old feeling as I have learned too much about game design. I have settled on compiling changes to old games to make them more enjoyable and taking the best parts of systems to make a whole new one.

    Enjoy the quest, just remember that after you have slain the last dragon and return to your village you may feel like an outsider.

  4. I see you have GURPS on the list. Mission accomplished. ;)

    Seriously, though, GURPS can be whittled down to the lightest of games if you want, but can also be scaled to maddening levels of detail. If I had to have a desert island system, GURPS would be it (just as long as the desert island had all of the source books. ;) )

    1. I am going to give GURPS, and all the games I mentioned a second read though. Sit down and make a couple of characters and really understand the rules. GURPS really stuck out to me as a good one.

    1. I hear you James. I did do a read through of Swords & Wizardry as well as a lot of other old school clones. If I had not found ‘OSRIC’ I would probably have done S&W or the original basic D&D. I was very impressed by S&W white box and it almost made my list.

    1. This is half the reason why I wanted to write this post. To help me find games I was not even aware of. I will look into Tunnels & Trolls before making a final choice.

  5. The very best RPG is B/X (or classical D&D in general if you prefer). Study the campaigns of Gygax, Arneson and Hargrave to help appreciate it. The trick is understanding that you can do absolutely anything you want with it. Never be bound by the rules, because the greatest RPG is the one YOU make. D&D not only expects it…it demands it.

    The second greatest is Vampire The Masquerade 2nd edition, corebook only. It’s whitewolf’s greatest work. Don’t be tempted by anything else they’ve published, it’s all dreck, especially 3rd edition. A lot of people don’t like the style, but remember, you can do ANYTHING with it (hexcrawl and kill orcs if you feel like). It’s different enough from D&D to complement it well rather than replace, and it nearly overtook D&D in the 90s…

  6. Thanks for the post!

    One of the most interesting games I’m currently playing is Eclipse Phase. It’s a very detailed rich setting with point-buy character creation and easy rules. I think it’s near the best science fiction game I know of (at the moment)…

    In the past I’ve played a lot of GURPS, which is a great game but requires a lot of work from the GM to define the setting and determine which of the supplements to use. One thing I love about GURPS (and other similar generic system) is that you only have to learn one set of rules as well as it’s easy to customise your own setting.

    At the moment I searching for one of the best Fantasy RPG, and I’ll definitely look into some of the tips posted here…. :)

  7. I did this search million times. Here my diamonds:
    – Savage Worlds (with this one I trashed old D&Ds)
    – Fate (use Anglerre if you need a ready-to-use fantasy)
    – Smallville (forget the setting, simply use the system to create incredible games – even fantsy – that resemble TV series)

    I don’t want to deeply describe my choices… please, read those systems, enter the community, play for a while, then you’ll understand my point of view.

    Cheers!

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