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I'm looking to expand my game system library, and I would like to tap the hive mind to find funky, offbeat core rules or settings.

What system should I add to my game library that best features novel rules that actually work in play?

Guilty pleasures are welcome, but I want to know why it has a place in your heart; actual play reporting is encouraged.

If it's out of print and/or produced by an independent game publisher, I'm interested. But I need you to tell me why it appeals to you. If you have any links to a or site detailing your experiences with your system, please feel free to post that in your answer.

Example Answer: I enjoyed playing Psi World back in the '80s because the idea of an underground resistance movement in America started by people with emerging psionic powers is just cool. Yes, it's a premise detailed in X-Men, but Psi World accomplishes the same paranoia feeling in a much grittier way without so much spandex.

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closed as not constructive by wax eagle, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, C. Ross Mar 25 '12 at 20:12

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Define mainstream, please. :) – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 27 '11 at 12:05
@T.W.Wombat I'm sorry your question appears to be entirely subjective. There is no way people can objectively measure "favorite". We allow quite a bit of subjective on RPG, as much of the hobby can't be quantified, but favorite doesn't add value. – C. Ross Apr 27 '11 at 12:14
I've done a massive edit based on a conversation over in chat. The new question hopefully focuses more on good-subjective (play experience looking for new odd games which are fun for the poster) rather than "big honking list" which is not handled well by the site. Voting to reopen. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 27 '11 at 12:30
I thought this topic might be a bit too broad and too subjective. Thanks for the edits, Brian - I think that'll cover what I'm looking for in a more focused way. – T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 12:34
I would add Apocalypse World to the list of answers, except that I haven't actually played it yet. All of Vincent Baker's games qualify, though. – gomad Apr 27 '11 at 17:15
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Apocalypse World is what I'd recommend, which gomad mentioned in comments. For my part, I have played and run it, so I feel like I can speak to it with at least a bit of authority.

Apocalypse World has the mixed distinction right now of being the "new hotness"—or at least it did last year during the run-up to its public release and after. It has been called a game-changer, which is high praise. I won't say whether it's true in the usual meaning of the phrase, but I can say that it has changed my personal game profoundly. Whether any of the praise is deserved or is just hype can really only be judged personally once you've played, but it's something to be aware of if you go do more reading about the game online.

The game has three virtues going for it relative to your question:

First, it's a very new game; the most recent expression of a well-respected indie designer's cumulative growth over the course of several successful games. Notably, Apocalypse World has outsold by several times all of Vincent Baker's previous games put together, and games like Dogs in the Vineyard aren't anything to sneeze at.

So, it has the vote of the indie-games-buying market, and you can be sure that there will be lots of online discussion, actual play reports, and accumulated wisdom on how to run the game.

Second, AW is a seamless blend of a complete game and an instruction manual on how to GM—at least, in one specific style. It explicitly says that its way isn't the only way to run Apocalypse World, but it does say that the way to GM that it describes is the surest way for the average GM to run AW in a way that gets the most awesome out of the system.

To that end, it describes this very specific style of GMing in exhaustive but accessible detail, going so far as to create a set of rules for the GM to follow. This manual on "exactly what to do right this minute during your game" is one of the innovations that have got people talking about the game so much online.

One of the principle advantages of the GMing style it lays out is that the GM does not need to have a prepared plot. The game goes so far as to say the GM is not allowed to plot things in advance. This enables part of the core goals for the player experience of Apocalypse World: as a player, you can go anywhere, do anything, and impact the setting any way you'd like to try. You may not succeed, but it will be because of poor planning or failed rolls, never because the GM blocked your actions to preserve the story. This is also great as the GM, because you get to be just as entertained finding out what happens as the players.

The GM "rules" enable this through a set of tools and techniques that are designed to be invisible to the players (and they are!) while being highly structured for ease of GMing the game even for novice GMs. The structure is all about creating bits of setting, NPCs, and other playing pieces the GM can bring to bear to either react to the players, or throw a spontaneous (yet structured) development at them when they're not giving you things to react to.

I could go on, but eventually I'd just be spewing parts of the book. I'll let it be and just finish by saying that this is one of the prime reasons to buy the book, even if it never gets run. As a manual of concrete "do this, then do this" GMing techniques, the book is solid gold.

Third and finally, the game manages to both be rules tailored specifically to the apocalypse world setting and a general rules engine for any kind of setting you might like to create. While the "how to run" rules are given to the GM and make up most of the book, the "how to be a player" rules are (nearly) all on the character sheet (usually a folded one called a "playbook").

Each playbook contains the basic Moves shared by all characters as well as the Moves specific to the class in the playbook. The Moves of a Chopper all involve dealing with your biker gang, enforcing authority, and raiding across the wastes. The Moves of a Hardholder let you detail a stronghold (that exists by player fiat) and exercise authority (or fail to) over your people. The other playbooks contain similar Moves that, together, create much of the setting.

In fact, part of what makes GMing Apocalypse World easy is that the setting is created for you by the players' choices of playbooks—you have a Hardholder, a Chopper, and an Angel? Then your campaign is going to be about the threats and opportunities for the hold, enforcing the "peace" and raiding with the biker gang, and all the blood and guts that the Angel is going to have to mop up and put back inside the people who they value (and why). A game with a Brainer, a Driver, and an Battlebabe, on the other hand, is likely going to be about weird mind-control things (whether the PC's or NPC's) and wrestling with the Psychic Maelstrom, staying always on the move while trying to keep the car fueled up, and getting into (and often winning) nasty fights.

But while the setting is expressed by the rules built into the playbooks, using AW as an engine for a completely different genre and setting is entirely possible just by writing your own playbooks; and playbooks are only slightly more difficult to write than they are for a novice player to pick one up and just start playing the game cold, which is deliberately easy. There is, in fact, an official Apocalypse World subforum devoted to setting hacks, and a D&D-inspired hack called Dungeon World is about to go to the printers (a lite version of which is available for download. Oh yeah, and Vincent Baker is very happy to have people run with his game engine in whatever direction they want, including a commercial venture. Which is a good unofficial fourth virtue to wrap up this already-length answer with.

So in sum, there's a lot Apocalypse World has to offer in mind-expanding rules, both for a game of AW and for GMing and game-designing in general. And if you do actually run it instead of just absorbing the rules innovations, it's a lot of fun to play. I had a great time with my Hardholder character, and I've successfully run it cold-start, with no prep by me other than reading the book, and no previous exposure for the players until I dumped the playbooks on the table. It doesn't hurt that it's downright cheap for a complete game.

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That's awesome. I loved Dogs in the Vineyard, and lite prep is the way I GM. This sounds like it's right up my alley and I think it'll rise to the top of my wish list. Thanks for the lengthy description! – T.W.Wombat Apr 28 '11 at 11:16

For novel rules I can't help but think of Penny for My Thoughts which is GM-less and uses pennies to indicate progress. The idea is that every player has amnesia and the story is how the different players help each other remember what caused their memory loss. It's designed to work literally as a pick up game where one person reads aloud the process as if an actual patient were following steps laid out by a doctor to aid their recovery.

The other I am thinking of is Dread which uses Jenga as its mechanism for determining success. When you need to test an action just pull another piece out of the tower. Bad things happen if the tower falls over. The website gives a better description then I could plus has quick start rules to get you going.

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Jenga as resolution mechanic? I'm intrigued. Thanks for the pointers! – T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 17:40

There are 5 I'm going to recommend:

Og: Unearthed Edition

It's a great one-shot kind of game, but it's also suitable for recurrent play. It's not 'high art,' but is an almost elegant system, and a novel way to play.

The setting is essentially a typical newspaper-comic-style dinosaurs and cavemen... think Alley Oop... but even less wordy!


"semi-diceless"... I've had big battles resolved with just a handful of dice rolls, and it's not TOO deterministic.

System is a generic, two-pool point generation, d10's only universal system. The supplements (VDS and 3G3) are excellent.

Houses of the Blooded and Blood and Honor

Same system, two great settings. This is the one where you don't roll to succeed, but to see who decides if you succeed. Surprisingly fun.

Burning Empires

Burning Wheel adapted to run the Iron Empires setting from Chris Moeller's Graphic Novels.

PVP and PVGM, but still cooperative. Narrativist-Gamist. Play hard, the GM is limited by the same rules as the players. Absolutely not about house rules - It's a competition, and if the GM is changing the rules, he's actually cheating!

Also, my first encounter with the new GM Rule 0: Don't be a dick!

Plus, it has an excellent version of BW's various minigames.


Fate System, and character growth without skill growth. Really a good fun time, low prep, players create much of the setting in the first session.

Plus, lots of cool minigames.

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I've looked at CORPS briefly, but I'll give it another shot. I actually have an old version of BTRC's Time Lords, which got pretty arcane bonus-wise but had some great setting ideas. I haven't been exposed to Houses of the Blooded, so I'll give that a shot as well. I've heard good things about Diaspora, so that's already on my list. And "Don't be a dick" is actually Wheaton's Law, but it does work well as a new corollary to Rule Zero. Thanks! – T.W.Wombat Apr 28 '11 at 11:08
CORPS bears little resemblance to SpaceTime (which is the same engine as TimeLords; I have ST but not TL). It's very streamlined, and does gritty fantasy and streetlevel supers fairly well. – aramis Apr 29 '11 at 7:05

Og: Unearthed Edition

This comedy game of anachronistic, bumbling cavemen uses limited vocabulary to hilarious effect.

I have played this game numerous times. Every time has been a hit - even with zero prep on anyone's part.

It's by Robin D. Laws, so you're getting novel mechanics from one of the very best.

This answer provides more details.

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Nice. I missed Og when it came out. I'll give it a look. Thanks! – T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 17:39

3:16 Carnage Among the Stars is good for bare-bones space marines. It's kind of refreshing to find a system that plays so well with only two main stats: fighting and non-fighting. It's kind of tricky to run long-term, due to how things scale on the high end, but it's great for a one-shot or a couple of sessions with maybe 5-10 minutes of prep, for the players and GM combined.

Another I had success with was Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, which uses the PDQ# rules. PDQ# stands for Prose Descriptive Qualities, with the "#" thrown in to signify added rules crunch. Characters have ranked "fortes," which grant a bonus to rolls if they apply. More than one can apply. Fortes are also the damage tracking mechanism, which means that when a character is hurt, he must choose which forte gets a penalty. This forte then generates a plot hook for the GM. It's been said that in PDQ#, you can "punch Spider-man in the girlfriend."

7 Skies is a complete and unique system and setting package, and has a pretty solid chunk of the book devoted to GMing techniques. It's also got a "Further Reading" section, which has a list of books, movies, and other such things for genre inspiration.

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