I’ve been playing tabletop pen-and-paper roleplaying games since fourth grade. Since then, I’ve been kind of a junkie, collecting whatever RPG that looks interesting that I can lay my hands on.

I think it was in high school that I realized that not all RPGs were created equal, after trying to play a game of Cyberpunk with my friends. The game talked a lot about skills and character attributes, but didn’t say anything good about the actual gameplay. After we were done creating our characters, we didn’t really know what to do. I suppose that epiphany led to being a bit more picky about the games I bought and played - although never too picky.

I’ve accumulated some favorites over the years. Most of my favorites are so for a similar reason - They allow free play with limited rules, or rules designed to be very malleable. So here’s my top-of-the-head list of role playing game favorites:


Risus started out as just a small obsession I had with things borne of stick figures. Actually, it started before that, but seeing that the game was fun was pretty helpful. One of the great things about Risus is that it's all available online (the very good expansions are available for a fee).

The system is simple: Dream up a knack, assign dice to it form a pool. Roll that many dice and try to reach your target.

The system doesn’t come with a world, but that’s another one of the interesting things about Risus – it’s really just a pickup game. You can apply it to any known world. I believe that with a little creativity you could replace d20 with Risus and have more fun.

Unknown Armies

I was sure I had raved before about the joys of Unknown Armies, but it's really just me interjecting little bits here and there and no solid effort to say good things about it. Unknown Armies has great character construction, including a Cthulean fear/madness meter. The world in which Unknown Armies takes place is one that is very original to me, and one that I enjoy playing in.

The system is an interesting thing with Unknown Armies. You can see the influence of Robin Laws on the game design in how open it is; how in can better accommodate players that are willing to lose themselves in a role. The magic system is great - using modern sources of power (money, sex) instead of vague occult candles and sigils.

And the construction of story is great. I especially like that all of the pre-packaged adventure give low, middle, and high road options for many of the characteristics of the non-player characters involved. It gives flavor to the game based on what the players will like, which is why we all play.


Everway is a sort of misbegotten child in RPGs. I think it was commissioned by TSR recently turned Wizards of the Coast almost Hasbro, as a way of both luring girls in to playing RPGs and doing something with their overabundance of fantasy art. But saying that's all it's about is a misstatement.

Everway’s uniqueness is in many things, but two things come to mind. First, character creation is based off of using baseball card-like fantasy art cards to create a background for the character. The game actually encourages coming up with a background first, which sounds very strange, but when you really think about it, the first thing you’d do to create a character in D&D is… roll.

The second unique thing is the magic system. After building a character based solely on background, applying abilities to the character that fit that background would be difficult outside of this system. The way powers work is so flexible, it’s very easy to be very powerful at the beginning of the game. It lets you dispense with growing in power and get down to growing in character, which I’ve always thought would be more interesting.

Everway also has a rich world to explore, although there are not enough details provided, it’s enough of a glimpse into this specific fantasy setting that you can build plenty of fun stories.

Dragonlance 5th Age

Everyone laughs at this choice, but I love this game. I should say, of all the games in this list, I bought copies of this game and Everway for everyone in my gaming group because they were so good that I needed to play them. I walked into this game without knowing much about Dragonlance at all - that's not what drew me to it.

5th Age uses the Saga system, which is a system based on cards. It’s one of the most interesting developments I’ve seen in system in my years of playing RPGs. There are so many advantages to using cards instead of dice that it’s hard to list them all. One of my favorite ideas is that you have a hand of cards, and as you progress through the game, you are forced to make a choice about how much effort you want to spend on tasks. As a result, this simulates fatigue, which is what happens when you spend all your good cards and you’ve got nothing left but 2s.

5th Age’s magic system is a lot like Everway’s, but it’s a bit more detailed. It’s a kind of open point system. Assign a number of points into each of several categories based on what your magic effect is designed to do. Although there are some canned spells, you can create any effect you want just by figuring out how many points it costs and spending them. This freedom is very appealing to me.

I was going to pick five things, but the fifth item is too difficult. My contenders were these:


Teenagers From Outer Space feels to me like what Big Eyes, Small Mouth should be. It's fun, irreverent, and includes a light, easy-to-use system. The illustrations from the original version are superior in every way to the later ones, if only for that one girl in the sweatshirt. You'd know what I was talking about if you saw it.


I have both editions, and although the second is probably the only flawless RPG ever made, it's density is a bit overwhelming. Nonetheless, it is one of the best written games I've ever seen.

De Profundis

It's a roleplaying game, told with letters, written as letters, playing the game. It's a great idea, and only $8.