Welcome to 2016! Let’s get started…
If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at GMing, make this the year you plan at least a one-shot. If you’ve been wanting to get back on the horse, make this the year you pitch a new campaign. If you’ve been wanting to take a break from GMing and get to play for a change, make this the year you help and support a friend wanting to try GMing. And if you’re already running a game, make this the year you up your game to make it more memorable than ever.
First, for the new game folks! Here’s a little sampling of worthy reading for getting you started. I particularly recommend The Mandatory Minimum and Gaming for Grown-Ups. If you’ve got ideas but need a group, check out Proscripts and Conscripts for help linking up with new players in the new year.
For new GMs, you may want to also start with:
The new year should mean new experiences and new experiments. In that vein, if you’re a veteran GM looking for something new or a new GM with an idea you’re having trouble finding a system and setting for, let’s talk about the Genres Less Traveled.
They’re well known to most of us now, but don’t forget your omnivore systems for when you have a lovely idea for a setting or scenario that no one has Kickstartered a book for yet (or that they have, but the system gives you and your players a headache). These are also great for Genre Mash-ups if you’re looking to trade on some familiar territory with a new twist:
- Fate/Fate Accelerated
- Apocalypse World (and it’s many variants)
- Savage Worlds
- Dread (often best for one-shots)
I’m sure some people are already groaning at GURPS, but if you tightly limit which GURPS books are valid for use in your game, it’s far less of a mouthful than you may have heard (or endured). d20 and the Cypher system are both close contenders for omnivore systems, but they tend to require a little more tweaking than the others when you’re trying something that isn’t one of the classic setting styles like sci-fi or fantasy.
Now let’s talk about more specific off-model pairings. If you’re running a fantasy or sci-fi game, you’re probably more than covered. Post-apocalyptic, mech combat, and/or modern supernatural? Again, you won’t have to go far to find a system and setting perfectly suited for them.
But what about the wild west? What about prehistory? What about a game about Roman legionnaires or European political espionage on the advent of World War I? Where does “I want to play in a world where everyone is a popular video game character” find a home? Playing crime scene investigators in the world of Shadowrun, or kobold trap builders doing the RPG equivalent of tower defense with traps, all of these aren’t automatically handled by the big name systems without a lock of hacking involved.
Other than the omnivore systems (which are always an option), here are a few more specific suggestions for the more off-model ideas that actually do have professional products to help you run a fun and balanced game with your desired theme.
For the wild west:
- Dust Devils uses actual poker rules for conflict resolution
- Deadlands includes a zombie supernatural element
For political and espionage games:
- Hillfolk is perfect when you’re dealing with the story-based mechanics of winning over different groups
- Wilderness of Mirrors handles espionage beautifully
- Nights Black Agents deals specifically with supernatural espionage
For investigative games (there’s just no beating GUMSHOE for systems here):
- Mutant City Blues handles crime procedurals in a pseudo-superhero world
- Trail of Cthulhu rocks the suspense of Lovecraft’s surrealist mythos
- Ashen Stars is a bit more of a Repo/Bladerunner feel, adding gritty noir to a space-age setting
Time travel games:
- TimeWatchRPG handles paradox beautifully
- Naturally, the Doctor Who RPG delves into time travel inside the show’s specific framework
And if you just generically want to run “something different” and are short on ideas of where to start, I recommend checking out Bully Pulpit Games’ library of esoteric delights, where you’ll find things like Night Witches (because who doesn’t want to try and bullseye nazis in a flying piece of cardboard), Durance (Australia in space!) and The Warren (because bunnies).
For most everything else, the omnivore systems are your best bet for reliability and affordability, since they (and the dice, cards or Jenga towers they require) can be used again and again for a variety of games in the future.
And of course, be checking out our System Spotlight column to keep up with more in-depth reviews and suggestions on a number of systems, from the broadly applicable to the oddly specific.
Whatever your gaming landscape looks like, have a fantastic 2016. May your hands be steady, your 6’s be exploding and all your crits be confirmed!