With last minute shopping or that potential gift certificate burning a hole in someone’s pocket by next week, what kind of RPG would be a good buy for getting a person into the hobby? Both Pathfinder and D&D have some nice boxed sets. However both also have a looming library of other books associated with them. Some potential RPG fans might be a little leery of getting into a game with so much out there. So what about other games that are a full ruleset right out of the box, or a complete game between the covers of a single book. I’ve got a few suggestions for folks then.
Mouse Guard – An adorable setting where mice have their own simple medieval society fighting for survival in the wild. This is the game for a group of storytellers. Using a simplified Burning Wheels mechanic, players select goals and traits rolling regular 6-sided dice to gain successes against the game master, or against each other. Failure usually means more complications and setbacks in achieving goals rather than simply not completing a task.
I feel this game works better with an experienced GM that is confident enough to lay out a framework for adventures and able to adjudicate fairly on the fly. However given the collaborative nature of the game, if you have a group full of imaginative players that burden of coming up with adventure ideas can be shared. Mouse Guard is a great buy for players that enjoy telling a story, although the setting might be a bit limited. I’d also heartily recommend passing one of the graphic novels around as inspired reading before running a game.
Savage Worlds Deluxe – The Explorer’s Edition was a steal at $10 USD. The price of the book has gone up but I still think this is a solid buy for a very flexible RPG game. The core mechanic is based on rolling a single polyhedral die to beat a fixed target number. The better the skill or ability, the bigger the die. PCs usually start out rolling a lowly D4 or D6, but with emphasis on select skills and improved natural ability, they can move up to rolling a D10 or D12. Of course all of these rolls are coupled with an extra D6, allowing a player to choose the best of either die roll.
It is a very quick and dirty mechanic that leads to fast gameplay and is a ton of fun. Best of all, you can play just about any adventurous setting imaginable. From pulp action, supernatural horror, fantasy, superhero, western, or sci-fi, Savage Worlds gives the GM tools to run just about anything. Better yet, it is able to do so with fluid rules that doesn’t get bogged down relying on a difficult, convoluted tome of a rulebook. The emphasis of the game is on imaginative, cinematic, over-the-top action. What results is a very fun game that encourages players to commit heroic acts, with a fair amount of uncertainty for success. Consider throwing in 3-4 sets of polyhedral dice for a complete gift.
Gamma World – The latest edition of Gamma World is a hoot. Just about everything needed to play is in the box. It is a lighter toned take on the radioactive post apocalypse setting compared to other games. The game offers a streamlined version of the 4E D&D rules that plays very fast and is surprisingly light. Combats can be a little regimented, but can be quite deadly adding some brutal tension to fights.
Fortunately character generation is a snap revolving around random die rolls for abilities and powers. I was a little skeptical at first about this. But somehow it just clicks and I’ve found my players loving this process which, oddly enough, seems to generate more character roleplaying ideas than expected. People have lamented quite a bit about the cards in the game. However if you really wanted to shoot for a personal alpha mutation deck, you could still get 6 PCs around the table and have a few extra (in a pinch you could do a draft and allow for up to 8 players with 5 cards each). Don’t buy into the hate rumors, you don’t need to continually buy more cards for the game. In fact you don’t need to ever pick up any cards other than what you get in the box set.
What you do need however for a complete gift is a few sets of polyhedral dice (blows my mind WotC didn’t throw in a cheap set). I’d add that you might want to consider a dry erase battlemap also, but a few printed blank 1” x 1” sheets does wonders too. It is a surprisingly fun game and light hearted enough to get even the most stiff-backed player into a roleplaying mood. Good fun there right out of the box.
So those are my picks for someone getting into RPGs. Each has something folks could likely pick up, start playing, and best of all comes in a single book (or box).