Top 10 Roleplaying Games of All Time

Just to confuse matters, these are in alphabetical order but to my mind they represent the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to roleplaying games.
Amber – The godchild of Zelazny’s novels, Amber brought us some really innovative methods of determining hierarchy and conflict resolution in a diceless roleplaying system. Re-defining the player character as a “godlike being” among tiny humans while also making them juniors in their own hierarchy.
Ars Magica – The definitive fantasy/Mythic Europe game brought us Troupe Play – the idea that you would maintain multiple characters in a single game. This concept has since been applied to almost every genre. Ars Magica still leads the way in running a Mythic Europe game out of the box.
Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu – One of the first games where the ability to hit someone was not the primary focus of creating a character. It was the first time it certainly when more people were interested in creating characters as “professors” and “archeologists” rather than “fighters” and “magic users”.
CyberPunk – What did it do for us? In such a combat-heavy game, it got us seriously thinking about initiative, armour, the damage that guns inflict and also how playing a bona-fide X-factor applicant (Rockerboy) was a real option. It also gave us Netrunning and helped us realise that a Netrun was really boring for the rest of the players.
Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) – redefined the super-hero RPG genre by presenting the most flexible, most configurable game system of all time without compromising simplicity. Talk about a game that refuses to die!
Pendragon – a shot in the eye for recent indie games which attempt to force immersive roleplaying by pigeon-holing players into restrictive roles. You play a knight. That’s it. Not a priest or magic user. Playing a rogue is right out. Not only that – it pays to be a Paladin. It’s essential to your progress to act like a knight.
RuneQuest – the champion of Basic Role-Playing and also shouldering Glorantha, one of the most popular culture-game settings out there. It helped re-define the role of the magic user (in essence, everyone is a magic user) and gave real depth to the relationship between gods and their followers.
Skyrealms of Jorune – my personal favourite as a culture-game setting which stretched the imagination as to what could be really familiar as well as superbly alien. Not everyone could take Thriddles seriously but the background, a web of secrets, was enticing and rich, richer perhaps than any other man-made background.
SLA Industries – a relative newcomer but in spite of the not-entirely-shocking revelations near the end, we had some of the most involving gaming in this setting which, on the face of it, did more for trivialising murder than any other game. It was the first and last game to successfully meld horror and sci-fi.
Vampire – love them or hate them, White Wolf brought a much needed influx of people into the hobby and some of them remained. We’ve not seen a change in the market since to the same scale and it would be unlikely anyway. Vampire taught us that a game could be about humanity and character and not just about wearing black leather trenchcoats, mirrorshades and strapping a katana to your back.
WFRP – takes a lot of rap for being a game for losers – by this I mean, the game setting kinda reinforces even more than CoC that you cannot win. Even if you do find the demon possessing the guy who is on the throne, tomorrow you’ll catch some horrific disfiguring disease and die anyway.

These are mine.

What are yours?

About matt

Gamer. Writer. Dad. Serial Ex-husband. Creator of The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO, ZOMBI, Testament, Creed. Slightly megalomaniac
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13 Responses to Top 10 Roleplaying Games of All Time

  1. Jim says:

    I’d be interested to see your definition of ‘culture games’ Matt (since I know it includes Ars Magica, so we’re not just talking Jorune, Talislanta etc).

    Don’t have a ‘ten greatest’ but the five greatest would be:

    D&D (Rules Cyclopedia-vintage) – it’s flexible, it’s fun, it has that old-school charm, and a fun mass-combat system (Greatest Game Evar was age 13 when I had a one-on-one game with a mate and he led the Isle of Dread’s cavepeople on a rampage against those soft southern tribes…).

    Call of Cthulhu – ‘Adventure in HP Lovecraft’s Worlds of Wonder and Terror’: sums it up, really. Intuitive, unobtrusive (if slightly broken) system, scope for tons of unpretentious fun.

    Vampire – 2nd Ed oozed atmosphere and was a model of style for its time. I’d still willingly play it today.

    Ars Magica – perhaps intimidatingly complex magic rules, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. Basically ‘ditto what Matt said’.

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – almost makes up for Games Workshop’s other crimes (okay, maybe not). Nice blend of gritty fantasy and Pythonesque silliness.

    These are things I’ve actually played, although I think Over The Edge might make it there if I ever had (perhaps one day I will…).

  2. Mark says:

    Posted my top ten over at

  3. matt says:

    Oh, Mark, you’re such a link slut 🙂

    I have most of the games you mention but find it very hard to

    a) find players
    b) find players who want to play anything outside of the WhiteWolf/WotC stable.

    and Wraith. Nice idea. Shame about the implementation.

  4. Mark says:

    Oh, Mark, you’re such a link slut 🙂

    Nah… 🙂

    Up until a few weeks ago, I had a group of players, most who would play (and were) playing something outside of the WW/WOTC universes. But there were two problems, 1. there was a major White Wolf Fan Boy in the group who loved everything WW and really only wanted to play something if it was WW or very WW-like, but only 1.

    2. I had to practically leave the group with the baby’s arrival.

    And I guess there is a 3rd problem, the group fell apart with the start of the new college year and the Exalted campaign coming to close (ran by our WW fanboy). I know I could get them to play Nobilis, Riddle of Steel and even Universalis, if only I had the time… 😐

    So I guess time is my challenge.

    and Wraith. Nice idea. Shame about the implementation.

    TBH I can’t remember exactly how the system works. Even back then I had major blinkers on that ignored all the bad WW stuff… however we played it twice and both experinces were intense, very much like my first roleplaying game. I haven’t played in a game that gave an experience as close since. I may dig out my copy again, look on it with new eyes…

  5. matt says:

    My big issue with Wraith was that one of the disciplines was entirely an accountancy exercise in moving pips from one place to another. The followup, Orpheus, on the other hand, was lovely.

    My Monday night group has all but dissolved due to one player moving to London, another getting married and a third having new work commitments.

    At least all of the people in the group seem progressive and not stuck in a D&D/WW rut.

  6. Mark says:

    But I thought Orpheus didn’t have the Shadow character? I read the blurs for Orpheus and I simply couldn’t be arsed. I’ve become completely and utterly jaded to the White Wolf formula that they use to create the setting/system. It doesn’t alway work and it isn’t always appropaite. Whats worse, I can read a blur and know what the game is like.

  7. matt says:

    I know what you mean.

    Finding it hard to fing games to buy these days.

    Scion Hero was quite good. Scion Demigod is also out soon.

    Outside of the WW stable? Septimus? 1774?

  8. Mark says:

    Finding it hard to fing games to buy these days.

    Generally I keep a list of any games that I hear that I might be interested in, from some aspect of the setting to the rules. My current list is:

    Shadow of Yesterday
    Spirit of the Century
    Mystic Role Playing
    Second Person (MIT book on roleplaying)
    With Great Power
    Don’t Rest our Head

    I was also tempted by Legend of the Rings but when I go to see where I can get it, I have no idea which one is the core book!

    Hmm, haven’t heard of Septimus and 1774. What are they?

    BTW, your post seems to have become a “meme”…

  9. matt says:

    1776 (oops!) aka Colonial Gothic is a supernatural historical horror roleplaying game set during the dawn of the American Revolution.

    Septimus is a science fiction role-playing game set in the far future, in a distant corner of our galaxy.

    Meme? Where? I’ve not seen anyone else pick it up?

  10. Mark says:

    Meme? Where? I\’ve not seen anyone else pick it up?


  11. Mark says:

    Colonial Gothic’s setting doesn’t particularly peek my interest.

    Septimus sounds interesting… but I’m not sure I like sci-fi games that require a good knowledge of the setting before play.

  12. matt says:

    I’ll try anything once.

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