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TTRPG Recommendation for a Friend

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So, a friend of mine previously new to TTRPGs had given D&D 5e a shot a little while back, and while my DMing was questionable and I essentially adapted a 5e Solo Adventure book from an independent publisher into a mini-campaign, complete with some awkwardly shoehorned themes I figured might appeal to some of our shared beliefs…

He actually said the imagination, theming, player freedom and narration parts (most of which I cannot take credit for) were pretty fun. And finished the mini-campaign. What made him decide D&D was not his cup of tea were…

1. We occasionally got confused on the rules or numbers, which he had trouble fully grasping beyond the more basic character sheet stuff. (Also, I was a weaker DM at the time, and didn’t have as much experience even as a player at the time.)
2. I got lost in my if-then adventure text logic to the point where I kinda lost track at parts of where he was located on a nonexistent map. (This was entirely fixable, and I think it wouldn’t have occurred had I not tried to make a text based adventure a DM’d adventure, or be a huge problem even if we tried something like it again now that I know how to better keep track of locations.)
3. The big one for him was randomness, though, which he felt was too baked into both skill check rules and combat more generally. He felt like tactics and builds ultimately mattered a lot less than luck.
4. Later hearing me complain animatedly about Tasha’s and Radiant Citadel, as well as some other Wizards stuff.

He said he might want to do a TTRPG again sometime, and occasionally when not doing other stuff we converse about such games to shoot the shit and see if anything might fit. Normally he references rules simplicity, not being a woke product or from a woke producer, and above all else a lack or mitigation of determining randomness in conjunction with solid tactical/strategic factors. He’ll look into or hear the basics/more complex mechanics of a game’s system, too, and occasionally asks me if I have any new games to try selling him on, so I feel like it’s not just laziness or lack of will.

Generally I bring up possibly relevant games, only to shoot them down as perfect exemplars myself later in the conversation when I really think about fit. Are there any games you can think of that might fit his qualifications? Or should we more or less give up and maybe just play some more standard board and video games rather than TTRPG games with the time we spend discussing? (Or, yanno, just try to settle for a system that doesn't meet all prereqs. Potentially one suggested by this board.)

Rules simplicity, avoiding luck-based games, and less wokeness.

Hmmm. Well, I like Free League's Year Zero engine for simplicity, but the dice can be a bit "swingy" in terms of successes. The ALIEN RPG is up there as a "good" product, but the swingy dice could be a problem. And it's not as "hard" when it comes to tactical maps, especially compared to map-based games like Twilight 2000. ALIEN's design is pretty tight, though, and there's enough to go even without full fledged adventures for everything. (Twilight 2000 4e is a good game, as are a number of Free League's titles.) ALIEN + Colonial Marines Ops = good, solid stuff to work from. Can't wait for their other setting books.

(I mean... part of ALIEN is NOT forcing your players to make endless skill checks. Otherwise, it drives them up the Stress chart too quickly, and then they melt down and do bad things. So, if things are swingy, it can also be that you're forcing too many dice rolls in ALIEN when they don't matter. What matters is dramatic tension, not pointless rolls to bang dice against a table.)

More basic forms of D&D (OSR stuff) may be more "fun", but there's not so much to "builds" in those types of games. Characters are more simple.

I'm just reading through Free League's The One Ring 2e now, but they've got another excellent game there. It's a lot more focused of an experience than 5e.

Tactical games, though. Hmmm. Battletech + Mechwarrior was a big gateway drug for me. Between Mechwarrior:Destiny and the new Battletech starter boxes, I think that's a winning combo... but it's squarely in a more wargaming sense than other RPG setups. (Having a feel for running Battletech as a RPG rather than a TT wargame can also be tricky, although playing the recent Battletech PC game can get you in that mindset.)

Shawn Driscoll:

--- Quote from: KindaMeh on June 30, 2022, 05:31:22 PM ---3. The big one for him was randomness, though, which he felt was too baked into both skill check rules and combat more generally. He felt like tactics and builds ultimately mattered a lot less than luck.

--- End quote ---
d20 rolls are too random. Stay away from games that use them.

The other function of d20 systems is that it tends to be a binary outcome from a d20 roll. The rule system drives a binary response.

Yes, you hit the goblin. Or no, you didn't.
Yes, you detected the secret door. Or, no, you didn't.
Yes, you climbed that wall. Or, no, you didn't.

Yes or No. These results tend to drive me mad. I hate the clear Yes/No duality.

The more narrative and interpretive systems will throw in the "Yes, but" and "No, but" options into the dice results.

No, you didn't hit the goblin, but you manage to knock the hatchet from his hand.
Yes, you found the secret door, but it's sealed and you cannot find a way to open it.
Yes, you climbed the wall, but you see 3 guards in the courtyard below.

The random dice that get too binary tend to be systems that I don't like as a GM and as a player.

Covert Ops if he doesn't mind the spy genre (don't recommend Barebones Fantasy as Spellcasters and Enchanters are problematic).

If fantasy, Savage Worlds is always fun.


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