Picking a favorite RPG setting is pretty much impossible for me—I buy RPGs for their settings all the time, and any new setting that is also detailed is likely to make me fall in love with it. So this is pretty much going to be a list of RPG settings that I think pass the bar—specifically, that they are worth playing in even if you don’t like the mechanics associated with them, or you have to make the effort to rework new mechanics to go with them.
This one took a lot of thought. I can think of some RPGs that I love for their art, as a whole. I can even think of games that I basically bought for the art, but even in those I couldn’t think of any particular pieces that stood out to me. And, even more than the art per se, good design work can really sell me on a game, almost as much as the setting or rules.
Then it hit me: I own exactly one piece of RPG art as art, the one time that I liked art from an RPG so much that I spent money just to acquire a print. (All the others I have are freebies and giveaways.)
Why publish a new edition of an RPG? Cynically, I might say “to milk the fans of more money”, but let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt. So why else do new editions of games get made? Sometimes having several thousand people play your game turns up problems that even diligent playtesting had missed. Sometimes you run out of copies and want to print more, and you figure this is a good opportunity to fix some problems, minor or major. Sometimes your game world has a storyline that has advanced and the old edition is no longer current. Sometimes the original was rushed or you can now afford better editing or art.
These are, to me, loosely what I would consider “bad”, or at least weak, reasons. Some are better than others, but they’re generally things that I wish would be fixed before the game was released in the first place, or they’re things that I don’t think merit a new edition. The problem with a new edition is that it fractures the player base if there are significant changes. If it’s just cosmetic, that’s fine, but if there are significant changes to setting or rules, then you run into the problem of people with different editions having trouble playing together.
Then there is what I suspect is one of the reasons that people frequently want a “new edition”: because the old one is out of print. But in that case, why not just a reprint? There are a number of games no longer in print that I’d love to see once again easily available in hardcopy, but I don’t think there is/was anything wrong with the original. Castle Falkenstein, Underground, Primetime Adventures (which is currently in the process of being revised and reprinted), Aria, The Last Exodus, Advanced Marvel Super Heroes—the only thing wrong with any of these games is that they’re out of print.
But the more interesting situation is when a game has real promise and fails to live up to it. Maybe the rules are horribly broken. Maybe it really needs an editor. Maybe there’s the sketch of a really interesting setting married to 200pp of rules, and what it really needs is to focus on that setting and strip the rules down so that it can shine. Or maybe they were so focused on the setting that the rules are junk.
“Favorite RPG I never get to play” is a tricky question. Is that literal, or figurative? My reflex answer to this is Ars Magica or Over the Edge, but both of those I have played on multiple occasions. So while it feels like I “never” get to play them, I actually have—in the case of Ars Magica I’ve had 2 or 3 long-running, awesome games over the years (one using Redhurst as the setting). A few other games that I’ve “always wanted to play”, I’ve actually played, if only once: SkyRealms of Jorune, Time & Temp, Earthdawn, Iron Heroes, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, Cat, Everway, Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth. I’d love to play any of them again, with Iron Heroes and Everway tops on the list. But they can no longer go on the list of games I’ve never gotten to play.
If I take the question absolutely literally—only games that I have never played at all—there’s still quite a list. Deadlands and The Babylon Project are very high on that list, as are Don’t Rest Your Head, Castle Falkenstein, and Dead Inside. Particularly notable is Deadlands: we created characters when the game was new, and then the game fell through before the first session.
But of games that I’ve never gotten to play, I guess I’d have to say that Underground is the never-played game that I most want to play. It beats out the others by virtue of its genre and mechanics. The unique blend of dystopia, cyberpunk, and supers, used to foment social commentary, is something I’ve not found even half of in any other game. The mechanics are not as novel as some games, but still provide some nice touches. I’m particularly fond of the character creation, which puts the player in an impossible situation that mimics the impossible situation their characters are in, and the rules for how characters’ actions change society, always with unintended consequences—I believe Underground was the first commercial RPG to have formal mechanics for this.