The Top Ten Roleplaying Games of All Time

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570_GRPull the blinds and turn off the phone; it’s time to head to the Game Room and lock in on some hardcore meta-gaming action.  In the Game Room we will explore the world of gaming in all its many incarnations, while lingering over that corner of the meta-verse where games and literature converge.  Bust out your opinions and your favorite snacks, it’s game time.

As any gamer will tell you, an author has not arrived until they’ve had their work immortalized in a pen and paper roleplaying game.  Few authors have reached this lofty status, and the Game Room reserves a special place on the wall for each of them.  As we look at each other across the game table, we know we aren’t getting out of here until we rank them in order.  We just can’t help ourselves.

A few house rules for inclusion in today’s list:

  • The game shall be a traditional pen and paper roleplaying game.
  • The game shall be based on the works of an author in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genre.  Sorry James Bond and Ian Fleming.
  • The content of the game shall originate from literature and not film or television.  No Star Wars, Star Trek, nor Doctor Who.
  • The content of the game shall not originate from comic books or graphic novels.  Superheroes and the like we shall reserve for another game session.
  • Finally, the author’s work must have been published after 1900.

 

Now that we’ve established the rules, let’s get on with the ranking.  Remember that all the games on the list have their own merits.  Ranks are subjective and open for debate, but rank them we must.

 

The Top Ten Roleplaying Games of All Time (based on sf,f,h literature)

1.       Call of Cthulhu

  • Publisher: Chaosium Inc.
  • Origins: Based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft
  • Genre: Horror
  • Status: Available
  • Game Engine: Chaosium

 

Satisfying gamers for over 30 years, CoC is the pinnacle of horror gaming.  Players take on the roles of investigators probe into secret organizations and hidden cults.   No other game elicits the same cold shivers and restless sleep as CoC.  Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos is alive and well.  For those seeking to step into the darkest corners of the paranormal, pick up a copy of Call of Cthulhu and see what the buzz is about.  You have nothing to lose but your sanity.

2.       Conan the Roleplaying Game

  • Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Robert E. Howard
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Out of Print
  • Game Engine: d20/OGL

 

Admittedly I have some personal bias here as Robert E. Howard is one of my favorite authors, and the designers at Mongoose Publishing truly did a masterful job in bringing his world to life.  If you’ve ever dreamed of playing a barbarian from the North travelling the Road of Kings, this is the game for you.  I can personally attest to the pure wickedness thriving in Shadizar and the dark magic being practiced in Stygia.  My poor players have suffered all across Hyboria.  Some of the most appealing aspects of the system are the innovations in the magic system.  Allowing my evil cult leader to gain power through chanting cultists and, dare I say, sacrifices, provides a tapestry that is true to Howard’s creations.  Though this game is out of print, it is a must play for any fan of Conan or for a gamer wanting a little extra spice.  The Game Room keeps the books closely guarded on the shelf and continues to work Conan RPG into the game rotation regularly.

3.      Elric of Melnibone

Elric of Melnibone courtesy of Mongoose Publishing
Elric of Melnibone courtesy of Mongoose Publishing
  • Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Michael Moorcock
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Available
  • Game Engine: Rune Quest II

 

A storm approaches that will bring a great doom upon the world.  Dark forces prowl the Young Kingdoms, stealing power and sowing chaos.  Your character must choose a path.  Adventure and wealth beacon you to action, while on the horizon Elric, the last emperor of Melnibone, ushers in the world’s end.  Will you serve Law or Chaos, or will you serve yourself?  Elric of Melnibone is a game that takes the players through the imagination of Moorcock, delivering action and adventure that satisfies in a way unlike typical fantasy games.  What other game lets you play a powerful race like a Melnibonean, has magic so overwhelming it requires game master permission, and expects you to ride your very own dragon?  You should be begging your game master to run Elric of Melnibone so you can swoop from the skies astride your dragon while your enemies flee before your devastating magic and soul-hungry sword.

4.       A Game of Thrones

  • Publisher: Guardians of Order Inc./Sword & Sorcery
  • Origins: Based on the stories of George R.R. Martin
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Out of Print
  • Game Engine: d20/OGL

 

Another of my personal favorites, the Game of Thrones RPG allows players to create a wide variety of characters from a chain wearing maester to a wandering Targaryen.  Innovations within the game include a smooth running combat system that captures the grim realism of Martin’s world.  That heavy armor might feel safe, but after a few rounds you’re going to be gasping for air as fatigue grips you.  The shock of twenty peasants pulling you from your horse has true terror for you.  The system also boasts innovations in role-play.  The creative influence system allows players to sway the actions of NPCs in ways unheard of in most roleplaying games.  If poor Ned Stark had only put a few more influence points into the Gold Cloaks, he might still be alive.  If you can get your hands on the rules, you’ll find a deeply satisfying world to explore and some rules worth brewing into your other campaigns.

5.       The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game

  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Robert Jordan
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Out of Print
  • Game Engine: d20/OGL

 

The remarkable world of Robert Jordan comes to life in this fantasy roleplaying game.  The standard D&D classes have been replaced with new creations tailored to the world.  The unique magic system takes great care in representing Jordan’s creation accurately, providing an amazing experience for anyone that has ever wanted to role-play an Aes Sedai.

 

6.       A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying

  • Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
  • Origins: Based on the stories of George R.R. Martin
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Available
  • Game Engine: SIFRP

 

The designers at Green Ronin Publishing are masters at their craft.  In SIFRP they have created another work of art.  Game play centers around a group of players that belong to a noble house of their own creation.  The rules provide detailed mechanics for domain management that add a layer to game play absent in most other games.  The unique combat system presents tactical options that make fighting your enemies one part chess match and one part brute force.  SIFRP is a solid roleplaying game that allows the player to try their luck at the game of thrones.

 

7.       Middle Earth Role Playing

  • Publisher: Iron Crown Enterprises
  • Origins: Based on the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Out of print
  • Game Engine: Rolemaster

 

Affectionately called MERP, this game transports the players into Tolkien’s legendary creation.  The volume of source material produced for the game allows the players to explore every mystery within Middle Earth.  Whether you fancy yourself a Hobbit or a Dwarf, this game has plenty to offer.

 

8.       Mythic Vistas: The Black Company Campaign Setting

  • Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Glen Cook
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Status: Out of Print
  • Game Engine: d20/OGL

 

The Black Company is a campaign setting that brings to life the stories of Glen Cook. Game play centers around a company of mercenaries that strive to chisel their names across the world.  For fans of the Black Company, this is a game worth discovering.

 

9.       Hawkmoon

  • Publisher: Mongoose Publishing/Chaosium
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Michael Moorcock
  • Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction
  • Status: Out of Print
  • Game Engine: Rune Quest

 

The game captures the blend of fantasy and science fiction depicted in Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series.  For those looking for a change of scenery from the standard game worlds, give Hawkmoon a try.

 

10.       Santiago

  • Publisher: En World
  • Origins: Based on the stories of Mike Resnick.
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Status: Unknown
  • Game Engine: Pathfinder

 

I include Santiago on this list due to my undying obsession with Mike Resnick and his universe.  The inner frontier is a rough place where heroes and villains of mythical proportions fight it out in old west style gunfights.  The Game Room reserves a place on the shelf to explore the universe of Santiago.

Summary:  While many of the best are out of print, you can still get your hands on them.  Which games were left out?  How would you rank them?  Special thanks to Mongoose Publishing for providing art for this post.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I loved Call of Chthulhu. I thought it was a great concept for a game. We actually ran a game of it for several years, though few of the original investigators were left at the end.

  2. I LOVED Amber Diceless. We also played it as a LARP.

    I completely agree with Call of Cthulhu.

    But I wonder why D&D isn't on this list? It's still a personal favourite, and arguably is completely based on Tolkien.

    …and this has made me think that it would be wicked cool to make a Wrinkle in Time RPG and/or a Narnia-based RPG. Hrmmmm….

  3. Nice list, but I am disappointed to see you failed to list the Amber roleplaying game (obviously based on Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber and sequels). Not only was this RPG based on one of the most interesting and innovative fantasy series published, the RPG it self is one of the most innovative games of its type.

    The Amber RPG was completely diceless. Success of any player action was based on both the character stats (which are kept secret by the game master after creation), on how well the player describes his action, the likelihood of the action succeeding as determined by the GM, and on the narrative possibilities (what would make a better story). This system is not only flexible, but very interesting to play with and geared towards actual role-playing instead of rules-playing. Amber is one of the truly great RPGs and its exclusion from any list of "best" RPGs is a grievous oversight.

    I wish I could find my game books. I have been wanting to re-read them for years.

  4. Really interesting post. Funnily enough, I never liked the role-playing games based on an author's work (except for CoC). I always found them too restrictive in that you felt like you had to adhere to the rules from the books.

    Personally, I think the best role-playing game ever was Bushido by Paul Hume and Bob Charrette. It was a huge achievement of research into Medieval Japan and a great game system.

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