You know how it is getting an RPG group going. It’s a pain and a half to get the players together and when you finally do, it’s always Dungeons and Dragons or maybe Pathfinder if you’re feeling edgy. You can try to get a group for Shadowrun, but you know the players are going to be scared off by a new dice system and then they’ll start disappearing once game night rolls around. You always have to come back to good ol’ faithful D&D. What’s the only thing more inevitable than having to play D&D? You being the dungeon master. Again.
Pictured above: The expressions everyone makes when they learn they’re the only one qualified to DM.
But never fear, 401 is here! And we’re going to let you know about the best RPGs to break that gaming slump you’re in! If you have to DM/GM, may as well introduce your players to charming, quirky, or unique systems. Each of these games will not only get the players invested, but also makes the job of game master not feel as if you drew the short straw.
Number 1: Ryuutama
I almost don’t have to say anything about this one. Just look at how pretty this book is! High production value, gorgeous watercolor artwork, and full colour all the way though. If the pretty pictures aren’t already selling you on this game, the mechanics will.
Ryuutama uses 5 of the typical 7 polyhedral dice (Leaving out the percentile and D20). It’s a very easy to learn system where the stronger a character’s stat is, the bigger die they get to use. Those of you who have played Savage Worlds will be familiar with this set up. Character creation is also fairly fast so you'll be playing in no time.
Now that that you have all of your PCs in a row, there’s a treat for the GM too. In the world of Ryuutama, everything revolves around the dragons. There are dragons for seasons, terrain, weather, emotions, you name it. The GM of Ryuutama isn’t just telling you about these dragons though. You ARE one of these dragons! That’s right. The GM actually gets a character too.
Pictured above: The expressions everyone makes when they learn they’re the only one qualified to GM Ryuutama. Hint: It’s a smile.
The best thing about this setting is that the dragons don’t feed on food, or magic, or anything like that. Dragons in Ryuutama feed on stories told to them by the players. This means that the players actively need to do things that the GM wants in order to please their dragon overlord. If the players want those sweet XP and magic item bonuses, they need to do what the GM likes. Players are encouraged to explore, be reckless, and have as much fun as possible because it’ll make a good story for the GM. Everybody wins!
Number 2: The Hour Between Dog and Wolf
Was Ryuutama too happy for you? Are you the kind of player that needs more despair, blood and, darkness in your life? Well I’ve got just the thing for you! Not only is The Hour Between Dog and Wolf edgier than a tumbleweed made of razorblades, it also jumps over one of the biggest hurdles that RPGs have to face.
We all know the hardest part of getting an RPG going is getting the whole group of players together face to face. With Dog and Wolf, you don’t need to worry about that. All you need is yourself and one other worthy player. This isn’t just an occurrence of “playable with two” or “good with two” no this is a full on, designed from the ground up, two player RPG.
You’ll be having more fun than these nerds.
One player is a maniacal serial killer and the other is a mentally unstable vigilante trying to stop them. You can already tell that this game will be dark. The game allows for shades other than grimdark, (namely grey, smokey grey, dark grey.... you get the idea) but the nature of the setting will always add a sense of discomfort. Just think of this game as a way to work up that pent up frustration against all those players who keep missing game night. Get revenge by jamming dice down their throats or bludgeoning them with those books they never read or giving them thousands of papercuts using character sheets….all in game of course.
Number 3: Dread
Dread is a happy medium between Ryuutama and The Hour Between Dog and Wolf. It may be a horror game but that doesn’t mean it has to be dark. It can be campy like Friday the 13th or disturbing like anything James Raggi (of Lamentations of the Flame Princess fame) ever writes. What Dread really brings to the table though is the most innovative systems ever devised for an RPG.
Dread doesn’t use dice or storytelling points or anything like that. Dread uses a completely unique system using a common object found in most people’s homes. Whenever a player takes any sort of risk in the game, they must remove a block from what the game dubs “The Tower.” Every time a piece is removed from The Tower, the stability of it decreases. The more risks a player takes the more dangerous those risks become. If at any point The Tower topples over that player is dead. Can you figure out which familiar system the game is using?
The system is brilliant and makes the GM’s job much easier. The suspense created by the horror setting matches perfectly with the suspense of a game of Jenga. It’s incredibly intuitive and you’ll sell your players on the idea immediately.
The game starts out tame, but as the session progresses tension ramps up. You don't need to worry about the players feeling too safe or too comfortable. All the suspense is created for you so just sit back and chill.
Imagine this: the player needs to sneak by a monster. The only path they can find is a clearing in the woods, but the player needs to remain silent. If they misstep and a twig snaps beneath their feet, they’re dead. This would be an intense moment in any RPG but in Dread, moving that Jenga piece will always be more stressful than rolling the dice.
You have no excuse not to add Dread to your collection. It’s new player friendly, takes no effort to get going, players love it, the GMs love it, and even Wil Wheaton loves it!