Best of Role Playing Games

These are my personal gaming favourites of the RPG products from my experience as a GM and player since the early 1980s. I tend to base my selection on whether the product was innovative, inspiring, with unique ideas or style which made me want to try it out at once. To a lesser extent, I also considered how it was put together, that is the presentation of the rules, quality of the writing and whether the artwork complimented or detracted from the work. For example, the artwork in some of the recent TSR products are an absolute disgrace for a major gaming company and made me wince evertime I saw them...

  1. Call of Cthulhu 5th Ed (Chaosium)
    Classic horror roleplaying at its best, this book is the latest edition of one of the most enduring product lines in the industry. With more than 300,000 copies sold and an armful of industry awards this game is an excellent example of a complete system in one book In this game, the players are ordinary folks battling against the sanity-sapping horrors of the Cthulhu mythos made famous by H. P. Lovecraft. The basic rules have not changed much through five incarnations, mostly due to its completeness and elegant simplicity which made it such a joy to play. Call of Cthulhu also introduced rules for sanity and a whole range of phobias and pyschological disorders which often produced some of the most memorable experiences in gaming. This new version features tight, concise writing, terrific artwork, and wealth of information and ideas for GMs and players and is a sterling example of how a game should be put together. More importantly, this game actually encourages role play (since threatening any of the otherworldly horrors is a good way to die painfully) and captures the stark horror of the Lovecraft novels perfectly. A worthy addition to any rolegamers shelf.

  2. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (Games Workshop, Hogshead)
    This game was the gem in GW's product line (even if it didn't make as much money as they would have liked) before they dropped it aside. Now published under license by Hogshead, this game of gothic fantasy is set in the Warhammer universe made popular by the GW's Warhammer Fantasy Battle miniatures game. Described as 'grubby fantasy' by its creators, this game is a complete rules set in one volume with a unique atmosphere all its own. In this game, the central theme is the battle against the corrupting forces of Chaos both external and internal. Supported by what many players believe to be the best campaign series ever written - The Enemy Within - this game is a classic that should be in every rolegamers collection. See the WFRP section of this site for material on this game.

  3. Legend of the Five Rings (Alderac Entertainment Group)
    While there have been many other books that tried to capture the flavour of the Orient, notably Bushido, AD&D Oriental Adventures, Runequest Land of Ninja, this game does it better than any other and does it in style as well. Set in the fantasy land of Rokugan made popular by the collectible card game of the same name, this game features a truly elegant D10 rule system, great artwork and most important of all, immerses the players in a believable world of Japanese myths and legends. The PCs play herioc samurai and wise shugenja defending the honor of one of the Seven Great Clans in their struggle against their enemies both without and within. See the L5R section of this site for material on this game.

  4. The Masks of Nyarlathotep (Chaosium)
    Described by its authors as a 'Lovecraftian exercise in horror', this five chapter masterpiece for Call of Cthulhu takes the players on a globe-trotting adventure to thwart the machinations of Nyarlathotep. Very little could be improved in this adventure besides uninspiring art: A good balance of action and investigation, exotic locations brimming with roleplaying potention, memorable NPCs, and some truly original problems and situations. In addition, the book is so well organized as to be a joy to GM. For example, all leads to and from each chapter are set aside in a separate box which is a real boon to trying to keep track of the players' investigations.

  5. Power Behind The Throne (Games Workshop, Hogshead)
    There are relatively few published adventures featuring political intrigue and high society as its main focus. Fewer still do it well enough that the players do not lapse into boredom. This adventure is the best of the lot, featuring a multi-layered plot and a huge cast of NPCs all with unique objectives and perspectives. The scenario for Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play takes place in the city of Middenheim during the Middenfest celebrations and the PCs are faced with a immensely challenging investigation to unravel a devious plot by a Chaos Cult. While difficult to GM, this book will provide a serious challenge to PCs wanting something meatier than hack-and-slash. This book has recently been released by Hogshead with the Middenheim sourcebook (originally published separately by GW) as one volume - City of Chaos - which adds much more detail to the adventure. Check out the brief reviews on other WFRP supplements.

  6. Ravenloft (TSR)
    The original adventure for the 1st Edition AD&D by Tracy Hickman (one of the co-authors of the Dragonlance Saga) this one of the very few TSR products deserving of mention on this page. Set in the realm of Barovia, this classic vampire adventure features a rich, engaging and original storyline, terrific artwork, most important of all, the spirit of Abraham Stoker's timeless classic Dracula. The PCs will stumble around in the mists, dodging wolves and bats, receive advice from gypsy taroka (tarot) card readers, explore the haunted Castle Ravenloft and confront its undead master. The sections explaining the history, personality and motivations on the vampire villain Strahd von Zarovich are especially well done.


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