The five games that have shaped me the most as a Game Master are, in roughly chronological order:
- Savage Worlds
To this list, originally shared on the podcast back in 2019, I would add one more: GURPS.
Each of those games had a large impact on my gaming mindset, despite me not really getting to play much of one of them. They have shaped my thinking and affected the way I think about gaming. They are very different games and yet they all have some striking points of connection.
What Traveller introduced me to was the idea of Referee design sequences. In other words, the Referee – what you might term the Game Master today – had some mini-games that could be used to drive the creation of the game. The player mini-game, character creation, is the most famous but I personally got a lot more fun and entertainment from using the other tools in the box. Memorable favourites include creating star systems using the Worlds and Adventures book, designing starships using the Starships book, and creating alien animals as challenges.
As a fantasy RPG, Rolemaster was a step deep into the more “realistic” territory that I sought back in the 1980s. I think, alongside Palladium Fantasy Roleplay, Rolemaster moved me deeper into detail. It has multiple skills, a percentile die rolling system, a different combat chart for each type of weapon, and a very innovative system for magic spells. This was the game we played for 24 hours and used to delve all of Moria. This was the game that spawned my most famous and best-remembered character: Goriel Swiftfoot, the Halfling who slayed the Balrog.
Alternity has given me two of the best science-fiction settings out there: StarDrive, the rather good space-opera setting, and the amazing DarkMatter modern horror/conspiracy setting that fuelled my Game Mastering in 1999 through to 2000. I still refer to Dark*Matter as THE best conspiracy horror setting to this day. Two innovations from Alternity stand out in my mind: the first was the idea of having three target numbers – an Ordinary success, a Good success, and an Amazing success; the second was the durability tracks – you have a Stun track, a Wound track, and a Mortal Wound track. Stun damage rolls into becoming Wounds damage if you take too much, and so on into Mortal damage. But you can also suffer straight up Wound or Mortal damage, depending on the weapon used.
Savage Worlds has encouraged me to play with those high-powered characters that I usually despise. Because the system is so light and easy to run, if you want to have a cool evening’s gaming with a cinematic feel, Savage Worlds is just the trick. Savage Worlds is, for me, the one-shot king. It’s also slick and quick – with a playing card system for initiative that I really like, for example – and relatively easy to prep for. Plus, and this is important for those of us returning to the hobby, there are several dozen free to download, one-shot adventures right there on the Pinnacle Entertainment website. Yes, free one-shots are Savage World’s speciality. Not to mention that there are LOADS of cool settings and licensee worlds to adventure within.
Mythras is a very clean and more experienced inheritor of all that is great about classic RuneQuest, married to much-improved combat and magic systems. Mythras gives you combat with armour that makes sense and heroes who don’t amass more hit points than a dragon. It’s worth telling you of how the game makes combat exciting by adding opposed rolls, to hit versus a parry or evade, and generates very cool special effects. You can choose where the blow lands, try to disarm your opponent, or simply aim to increase the damage inflicted. There are hit locations to strike and cool manuevers to try. It’s a very rich system. And that’s without mentioning the four magic systems built right into the core rulebook. Nor have I mentioned Classic Fantasy, the supplement that makes Mythras emulate AD&D.
GURPS has become my go-to game in recent months. The staid and reliable core engine is 3d6 roll-low. There are few rules for the players and GM to learn but there is huge scope for customisation. This is a game that gives you endless options and details… if you want them. It’s a game system that can handle any type of game imaginable but only requires you to learn one set of rules. GURPS is designed for deeply immersive long-term play. For that alone I think I will always have a warm place for it in my heart.
What are your favourites? Which games have influenced the way you think about roleplaying the most? Which games do you most fondly remember?