Category Archives: Systems

Tabletop RPG Games by Genre

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A D&D game session in progress

A D&D game session in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of several RPGs and the genres fit into. Some games are harder to classify than others, so you may not agree with my placement; as always, YMMV. Also, a few games fit more than one genre. In this case, I’ve placed them in all genres I feel are appropriate.

Animals (You play animals)

  • Bunnies and Burrows
  • Critter Commandos
  • Furry Pirates
  • Justifiers
  • Mouseguard
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


  • Big Eyes, Small Mouths
  • In Nomine: Anime
  • Teenagers From Outer Space


  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Elfquest
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Toon

Fantasy (also called “High Fantasy”, “Straight Fantasy”)

  • 7th Sea
  • AGE
  • Amber Diceless RPG
  • Arcanum
  • Arduin
  • Aria
  • Ars Magica
  • Burning Wheel
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Chivalry and Sorcery
  • Conan
  • Dangerous Journeys
  • DragonQuest
  • DragonRaid
  • Dungeons and Dragons (all editions)
  • Earth Dawn
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Empire of the Petal Throne
  • Everway
  • Exalted
  • Fantasy Hero
  • Furry Pirates
  • HackMaster
  • Harn
  • Iron Claw
  • Lace and Steel
  • Lord of the Rings
  • One Ring
  • Man, Myth, and Magic
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • Palladium
  • Pathfinder
  • Pendragon
  • RoleMaster
  • RuneQuest
  • Talislantia
  • Top Secret
  • Tunnels and Trolls
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • Ysgarth

Historical (includes SF and fantasy firmly grounded in a historical periods)

  • Adventure (1920’s)
  • Ars Magica (Medieval; Fantasy)
  • Bushido (Feudal Japan)
  • Call of Cthulhu (1920’s; Horror)
  • Castle Falkenstein (Victorian; Fantasy)
  • Gangbusters (1920’s)
  • Gaslight (Victorian)
  • Indiana Jones (1920’s)
  • Lace and Steel (Cavalier)
  • Legend of the Five Rings (Feudal Japan)
  • Mouseguard (Medieval)
  • Pendragon (Medieval)
  • Qin (China, Warring States period)
  • Space 1889 (Victorian; SF)
  • Vampire: Dark Ages
  • various GURPS supplements, including Japan, Russia, China, etc.
  • Victoriana (Victorian)
  • Werewolf: Wild West


  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  • Call of Cthulhu (and it’s off-shoots such as Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cthulhupunk, etc.)
  • Chill
  • Deadlands
  • GURPS Horror
  • It Came From the Late, Late Show
  • Kult
  • Little Fears
  • Necroscope
  • Nephilim
  • Nocture
  • Ravenloft (AD&D and d20)
  • Unknown Armies
  • Whispering Vault
  • World of Darkness
  • Zombi


  • Bullwinkleand Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Bureau 13
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • HoL
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Murphy’s World
  • Pandemonium
  • Paranoia
  • SLUG
  • Stuporpowers
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Toon


  • Bureau 13
  • Dream Park
  • Dresdan Files
  • Etherscope
  • Feng Shui
  • Gumshoe
  • Immortal
  • In Nomine
  • James Bond 007
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Nobilis
  • Over the Edge
  • Pandemonium
  • Scion
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Twilight 2000
  • World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith/Ghost, Changeling, Hunter, etc.)
  • Unknown Armies
  • X-Crawl

Near Future

  • Aberrant
  • Cybergenereation
  • Cyberpunk
  • Judge Dredd
  • Shadowrun
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Trinity
  • Underground


  • Aftermath!
  • Darwin’s World
  • Gamma World

Science Fiction

  • 2300 AD
  • Alternity
  • Blue Planet
  • Darwin’s World
  • Dr. Who
  • Fading Suns (D&D)
  • Gamma World
  • HoL
  • Jovian Chronicles
  • Justifiers
  • Mekton
  • Murphy’s World
  • Paranoia
  • Serenity
  • Skyrealms of Jorune
  • SpellJammer (D&D)
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Traveller
  • Trinity
  • Universe

Spies (Espionage)

  • James Bond 007
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Top Secret


  • Castle Falkenstein
  • Cthulhu by Gaslight
  • Gaslight
  • Space 1889


  • Aberrant
  • Champions
  • DC Heroes
  • DC Universe Roleplaying Game
  • Marvel Superheros
  • Mutants and Masterminds
  • Stuporpowers
  • Villians and Vigilantes


  • Boot Hill
  • Deadlands

Licensed Games (based on books, movies, or TV shows)

  • Amber Diceless RPG (Amber series by Roger Zelazny)
  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Conan
  • Dr. Who (Dr. Who TV series)
  • Dresdan Files (Dresdan Files books and TV)
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • One Ring (Lord of the Rings)
  • Serenity (Firefly TV series and Serenity movie)
  • Space Opera
  • Star Frontiers
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars (Star Wars franchise)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Generic or multiple genres

  • d20
  • Amazing Engine
  • Dream Park
  • FATE
  • Hero System
  • Rifts
  • Savage Worlds
  • SLUG
  • TORG

Of course, this is by no means and exhaustive list. I concentrated on games available in the US, mostly because I’m not familiar with any others. Even so, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone’s favorite game; if so, leave me a comment and I’ll include it in a revised list.

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What RPG games do you want on deserted island?

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deserted islandIf you were stranded on a desert island, what five RPG games would you want with you?

The RPG Circus podcast posed this question at the beginning of December and it got me thinking. For the purposes of the question, it was assumed you would be able to choose the systems you were stranded with and that you could have all the dice, supplements, paper, pencils, etc. that you needed. It also assumes that there would be other people stranded with you, so you’d have players.

Here’s my list of five:

  1. Classic World of Darkness – Yeah, okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one, since it’s actually five separate games. But I love this setting and I’ve had many happy hours playing it. If I absolutely had to pick only one of this games, it would be Mage: the Ascension.
  2. D&D – No brainer, right? The grandaddy of all RPGs. The only real problem here would be if I had to choose an edition. I’d either want 1st ed AD&D or 3rd ed (d20). Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d go with 3rd ed., since I find it a more flexible system. But I’ve also got a soft spot for 1st ed, since it got me started in gaming.
  3. Savage Worlds – I wanted a generic system in this list and I love Savage World’s innovative dice system (combined with playing cards) as well as the “wild die.”
  4. Traveller (4th edition, also called “Marc Miller’s Traveller”) – Yes, this edition had issues with editing, but it was the first version of the game that made me go “Oooh, I want to play that,” despite the fact that I also have a good chunk of the original “Black Box” books. I love the campaign setting and reading it gave me more campaign ideas than I could possibly use in a lifetime. I also prefer it to the “Black Box” edition partially because computers no longer take up a huge amount of your ship’s capacity and you can’t die during character creation. I’ve never gotten a chance to play in a Traveller campaign, but it’s on my bucket list of games.
  5. Skyrealms of Jorune – I’ve only gotten a taste of this game in a campaign that lasted about three sessions, but I would love to play more in this unique setting. I figure if I’m stuck on a deserted island, I’d have the time to sit down and really learn the game setting as well as being able to convince other people to play it.

It was hard to choose just five. I figure I’d also have Amber, because I already have everything I need to run it in my head. But I’d have loved to include Everway, Cyberpunk 2020, Trinity, Shadowrun and In Nomine, as well.

What about you? What five game would you want with you if you were stranded on an island and why?

[Image courtesy of steve conry via Flickr Creative Commons.]

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One for the Amber Crowd: Trump Poker

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Those familiar with the Amber universe know one thing–everyone carries a deck of cards with them wherever they go. Granted, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill 52-card standard playing card decks. But gambling is a universal activity and card games are so wide-spread, I can’t image that the ultra-competitive Amber court wouldn’t develop ways to gamble with those ever-present decks.

To that end, my heart-sister and college roommate Romilly Mueller got together and created a set of scoring rules that allowed us to play poker in character during our Amber Diceless games. Poker is such a common game, I won’t go over the basic rules here (especially since the best way to learn poker is from someone else who already knows it). This scoring can be used with any of the multitude of poker variants out there. My group tended to play seven card stud.

Scoring Hands

Here are the scoring hands of Trump Poker, from lowest score to highest:

  1. Highest Card: When none of the players has any valid combinations of cards, the player holding the highest value card wins the hand. Aces are high and beat all other cards except trumps (see Scoring Trumps, below).
  2. Highest Pair: Two cards of the same value. This is a very common hand, since all trumps are wild. If two or more players have a single pair, the highest value pair wins.  If all players have pairs containing trumps, the pair containing the highest pip card wins. If all players have the same pip card or the pairs are all comprised of two trumps, the highest trump card (or card combination) wins. Hands of two trump cards lose against a “natural” pair (a pair made without wild cards).
  3. Two Pairs: Player with the highest pair wins. If the highest pair is tied, then the highest of the second pair wins. If that pair is also tied, the player with highest single remaining card wins.
  4. Blaze: Five court cards. If more than one person has a blaze, the highest pair in the blaze wins.
  5. Three of a Kind: The highest three of a kind wins. Again, “natural” hands beat those made with wild cards.
  6. Royal Blaze: This is unique to Trump Poker. A hand of only trumps, or four trumps and the Ace of Coins. If two or more players both have a royal blaze, then the hand containing the Ace of Coins wins. If no one has the Ace of Coins, then the hand with the highest trump or trump combination wins.
  7. Straight: Five cards in numerical order. Aces can be high or low, but scoring doesn’t “wrap.” That is, page, knight, queen, king, ace counts, as does ace, two, three, four, five. But queen, king, ace, two, three doesn’t.
  8. Flush: All five cards of the same suit, not in numerical order. If more than one player has a flush, the flush containing the highest card wins. If the highest cards tie, count the next highest cards and so on. In the event all cards tie, the highest suit wins (see Scoring Suits, below) Natural hands beat those made with wild cards. Note: the trumps aren’t considered a suit and any hand containing all trumps is considered a “blaze” and scores lower than a three of a kind.
  9. Full House: Three of a kind + a pair. If more than one player has a full house, the highest three of a kind wins. If three of a kinds tie, the highest remaining pair wins.
  10. Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank, plus any other card. If more than one player calls a four of a kind, the highest one wins.  Note: it’s possible, given the high numbers of wild cards in this variant to have a “Five of a Kind”. This is considered a four of a kind and scored accordingly, remembering that a natural four of a kind beats a “five of a kind.”
  11. Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in numerical order. If there are multiple straight flushes, the straight flush containing the highest value card wins. This is the first of three hands that has to be made of natural cards. If the hand contains a wild card, it’s scored as a flush.
  12. Royal Flush: Ace, king, queen, knight, page, all of the same suit. This is the second of the three hands that must be natural to score. In the unlikely event of multiple royal flushes, the highest suit wins.
  13. Royal Hand: The final natural hand, this one is also unique to trump poker. This hand consists  of Oberon, Eric, Corwin, Random, and the Ace of Coins. (All the people who have ever worn the crown of Amber, plus the Jewel of Judgement).

Scoring Suits

Unlike normal poker where all suits are equal, each suit in trump poker has a ranking (from lowest to highest scoring): coins (pentacles), cups, rods (staves/wands), and swords.

Scoring Trumps

When combined with other cards, all trumps are wild and take on the value of whatever hand contains them. When compared against each other, they have the ranks given below. Combinations of trump cards score higher than single trump cards.

On PC trumps: Usually only the trumps of the Elder Amberites (Corwin, Random, Oberon, Fiona, Dworkin, etc.) are used; all other trumps are discarded from the deck before play. Sometimes they “younger” trumps are left in, but score like the jokers in a regular playing card deck: they’re purely wild cards and have a rank of zero when compared to other trumps.

Single Trump ranking

From lowest scoring to highest: [Ryalle]*, Sand, Delwin, Random, Florimel, Gerard, Julian, Llewella, Caine, Brand, Bleys, Fiona,  Deirdre, Corwin, Eric, Benedict, Finndo, Osric,  Oberon, and Dworkin.

This ranking is based on birth order (with the exception of Ryalle), from youngest to oldest, as I determined it for my game. Change the order as you see fit for your own game.

*[Ryalle is the full sister of Benedict, Osric, and Finndo in my game and is one of the “dead or missing” siblings Corwin mentions in Nine Princes in Amber. She’s last in the rankings because she was exiled from Amber for supporting Osric and Finndo’s ambitions. ]

Trump Combinations Ranking

Combinations are a set of trumps combined with each other or with other cards in the deck. The Ace of Coins represents the Jewel of Judgement when combined with trumps, thus its presence in the highest-scoring combinations.

Here are the combination rankings (from lowest scoring to highest):

  • Osric, Finndo, and Ryalle
  • Osric and Finndo
  • Julian and Fiona
  • Corwin and Deirdre
  • Florimel and any cup card (governing love and emotions)
  • Eric and Florimel (Eric’s spy)
  • Caine, Gerard, and Julian (called the “Dark Trio”)
  • Fiona, Bleys, and Brand (the Cabal)
  • Fiona and any rod (which represents sorcery)
  • Benedict and any sword
  • Brand and the Ace of Coins
  • Corwin and the Ace of Coins
  • Caine and any ace
  • Benedict and the Ace of Swords
  • Random and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin and Oberon
  • Oberon and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin, Oberon and the Ace of Coins

Final note: Any hand, no matter what the other cards in the hand are (even if it’s a royal flush), that contains both Corwin and Eric is automatically a losing hand. The only exception to this is the “royal hand”, which beats everything.

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From the Basement: Castle Falkenstein

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Hussars in dashing uniforms, swords always ready to duel over an affaire d’honneur; dainty noblewomen in proper décolletage with tiny pistols hidden in their petticoats; enchanting faerie lords seeking the excitement of love among mortal passions; stalwart dwarven craftsmen seeking that great masterwork that will earn them their second name; willowy tall, cat-eyed dragon lords, resplendent in silk robes from far Cathay…

These are staples of R. Talsorian‘s Castle Falkenstein, an RPG set in a Gilded Age that never was.  Here you can step back into an alternate version of the Victorian age where magick works side-by-side steam technology and faerie lords rub shoulders with both real and fictional characters from that era. What other game could see your character having High Tea with both Dr. Jules Verne (France’s Science Minister) and Captain Nemo? Or solve mysteries with a still little-known Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Steampunk only begins to describe the setting of this game.

The first almost three-quarters of the full-color rulebook immerses you in the world of Castle Falkenstein, via a story narrated by Tom Olam, a computer game artist who finds himself spellnapped into an alternate history version of Victorian Europe, called New Europa. The story is entertaining and makes a good introduction to all things Falkenstein. In addition to describing the politics, history and geography of New Europa (which differ fair amount from our own European history), he gives you an introduction to important NPCs, magick and techology, as well as glimpses of society and the rules that govern it. And does it in a way that makes it very accessible and far more entertaining than most settings rather dry description of details.

Character Creation

In Castle Falkenstein you create a Dramatic Character, which can be anything that would fit into a Victorian setting, and then some. You can play anyone from an anarchist, to a nobleman, adventuress, explorer,  scientist, or writer. You’ll want to be careful to create a character that has a reason for exploring the unknown and participating in Great Adventures, though, because it would be to create a character extremely appropriate to the setting, but who has no reason to venture beyond his or her drawing room. If a more exotic character is to your taste, with your Host’s (the game’s term for GM) permission, you could play a member of one of the fey courts, a dwarf, a sorcerer, or even a dragon.

No need to track down fancy character sheets here; your Dramatic Character is described in words, rather than numbers.  The game suggests you write your character’s backstory before you worry about mechanics. You’re expected to keep a character Diary, a “logbook of the Character’s lives and times in the world of the Steam Age, a storybook in which he or she is the Main Character,” (pg. 154). This can be daunting to players without a writing bent, but the book tries to make it easier by giving you a list of questions to answer in your Diary. By the time you’ve worked your way through the list, you should have pretty good handle on your character concept.

After that, you go on describe your character, both in looks and in abilities. You also need to chose a Grand Passion ( something your character would pursue above all things), a Nemesis (something (s)he  battles, such as a sworn enemy), and a Goal (something (s)he strives for). Finally, you choose three goals: one Social, one Professional, one Avocational.

The actual mechanics of character creation take up less than half a page and involve picking abilities that your character is Great, Good, and Poor at (these are official game terms). Any other ability you haven’t named is considered to be Average, the default level. The abilities are divided into groups that correspond to playing card suits. And that leads us to the…


Because no respectable Victorian Age person would ever play at dice, the game uses playing cards to resolve combat and skill challenges. You’ll need two complete decks (including Jokers) of regular playing cards. One is the Fortune Deck, the other is the Sorcery Deck, so the two should be easy to tell apart.

Each player begins the game with a Fortune Hand of four cards. Players play cards to increase their chances of succeeding at any particular action (called “Feats” within the game). The process goes like this:

  1. The player describes what her character is trying to do. The more vivid the description, the better the Host can resolve the Feat.
  2. Next the player decides what ability she’ll need to use to perform the Feat (with Host’s approval). If the Feat calls for an ability her character doesn’t have, she uses that ability at Average level, with some exceptions. For example, if the PC is trying to fly a airship, the Host may decide that she can’t fly it without some kind of Piloting ability.
  3. Every ability level has a point value from 2 (Poor) to 12 (Extraordinary), with Average being 4. The player then chooses one or more cards who’s total is added to the ability score. But there’s a catch: if the card used is of the same suit as the ability, the card is worth its face value. If it’s of a different suit, it’s only worth one point. Jacks, Queens, and Kings are worth 11, 12, and 13, respectively.
  4. The Host decides the Ability Level needed for the character to succeed at that Feat, plus he can play cards from his own hand to represent situational modifiers. This creates basically a difficulty level that the player has to beat.
  5. If the PC’s total is less than half the Feat’s total, it results in a Fumble. If it’s less than the Feat total, but more than half of it, the Feat simply Fails. If the PC’s total is equal to or greater than the Feat’s total, it’s a Partial Success. And if it’s equal or greater to half again the total, it’s a Full Success. Finally, if the total is equal to or greater than twice the Feat’s total, it’s a High Success and the Host describes what happens in each case.

The cards of a Fortune Hand can’t be discarded–they have to be used in a Feat to get rid of them.  Once cards are used, they’re immediately shuffled back into the Fortune Deck and the Host deals the player new cards to replace those used.This system allows for some strategy when it comes to resolving Feats, which is great for players with really bad dice luck.

The combat system is basically a series of contested Feats and I won’t go into it or the Sorcery mechanics here. The mechanics may feel a little weird at first, but are easy to catch onto once you’ve been through them a couple of times.

Where to Get It

As far as I can tell, the core book is out of print, as are most of it’s supplements. Used copies are going for $50 on Amazon, but you can get PDF versions of the core rules and all six of it’s supplements from DriveThru RPG at $16 for the core rules and $8.50-$10.00 each for the supplements.

Other From the Basement Posts

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After taking a look at the new AD&D, 4th edition, I’m reminded yet again why I don’t convert my games to the latest rules edition when it first comes out. Now, this isn’t a review of 4th ed. I’ve only leafed through it, so I can’t give you an educated opinion. The first thing, though, that did strike me right off the bat — it’s an entirely different game from the first three editions.

Which got me thinking. I’m famous (infamous?) in my gaming groups for insisting on running “obsolete” versions of a game. Heck, I’m still using second edition World of Darkness rules. The main reason, of course, is that I already know the system. I’m not having to flip back to review the rules every few minutes. I’m a bit of a Luddite, I guess, when it comes  to game systems. I’m loathe to give up something that’s working just fine as it is. Of course, the fact that my shelves are packed with material from the previous editions of a game and I’m cornering the market on out-of-print game books, may have something to do with it.

But it’s more than just not wanting to shell out $40+ on a system “upgrade” or not having to find unfamiliar tables. It’s also a belief that, in general, these older game systems are still good. They’re not like old computer games — you don’t have to worry about new hardware making your 1st ed AD&D books unplayable.  Don’t get me wrong – I do buy new games and run them. I’m always chomping at the bit to try my latest acquisition. But I also like to continue running the old games, too. (Though, I admit, my players did get me to stop running two different campaigns with two different editions of the game system at the same time. Something about not being able to keep the games straight. Whiners 😉 .)

Playing older games, I think, gives us a connection with the history of our hobby.  Yeah, there’s certain amount of nostalgia there — it brings back old memories of game sessions long past, when everything was new and exciting. Sometimes it’s fun to go back, to remember what brought us to gaming in the first place. Beyond that, though, there’s a reminder of how much gaming’s changed over the last 30+ years.

It’s come a long way.