I had a realization this year that I had completely stopped socializing with real humans. So I called up my D&D buddies from *cough* years past and asked them if they'd like to start gaming again. Maybe it's the recession or the offer of junk food, but the turn-out has been excellent. We've playing twice a month with seven players and myself as DM, including two first-timers.
Most of us cut our teeth on 1st edition AD&D but this time we've been playing Labyrinth Lord – modeled after Moldvay's Basic D&D boxed set. I suggested it for two reasons; First, I could legally email everyone a PDF of the rules and print a few copies to have onhand (plus I ended up buying a couple hardcovers from Lulu). Secondly, it was really easy to jump back into with such a light ruleset. Well organized too. We're almost done with Gygax's The Keep on the Borderlands.
Nice to hear people are still playing the "real" D&D. :)
I haven't played in years, but I still have a shelf full of 2nd edition books, and a somewhat smaller shelf of 3rd editions. I resisted getting the 4e set, mostly because I no longer know people who are willing to play on a semi-regular basis, but also because I'm not overly happy with the direction they're taking the game.
When I was still playing, we switched to 3e rules, and many things about it were quite an improvement over the older system. But some things seem a bit too computer-game like, and from what I've seen… 4e goes even further in this direction.
I do also have a shelf full of "weird" RPG's, and among my favorites is the old Arduin system. Almost everything is done in pairs, so rather than a single dice roll determining your fate, it's more of a dice battle. The attacker and defender both roll, and the higher number wins, adjusted by weapons/armour/level differences/etc.
Plus, it has my absolute favorite spell in it. I forget the name now, but the spell takes quite a while to cast, if completed it drops a 1 square mile sphere of absolute darkness over the target (typically a city), where non-magical light sources just don't work, and everyone inside has to make periodic saves vs. fear to continue functioning normally. Anyone attempting to leave the zone has to be some horrendous saves or they go violently insane. It lasts for 24 hours I think. :)
I played a little D&D, as well as AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, but never liked them much, the rules always felt really clunky. Played a whole load of other roleplaying games over the years, then a few years ago I decided to give D&D 3.5 a shot (back when the Eberron campaign setting was fairly new). And…I thought it was actually very good. Far more flexible than the older D&D games.
From what I've heard, 4th edition has become much simpler again, and what I've read about it doesn't really appeal to me. However Pathfinder sounds like it has quite a bit of potential - quite a few of the 3.5 fans seem to think that Pathfinder is what 4th edition should have been.
More recently (based on a suggestion from Tonitrus) I've been having a play with Tri-Stat, a very flexible barebones roleplaying system that you can use for any genre (conceptually like GURPS I guess, but I could never get into GURPS, despite owning several of the books). Tri-Stat is light on rules, but allows a huge amount of customisation, and it's free - so all your players can download the pdf.
The Burning Wheel is a very interesting, roleplay-heavy game. During character creation, you determine what skills your character has by choosing various lifepaths - thus, by making your character, you've also written your background. Then, during play, a major source of extra dice for your character is when you invoke your personal beliefs. I like these things because they mean my munchkin people are going to want to do some amount of roleplaying in order to get themselves their bonuses to die rolls.
Dread is a really neat horror RPG that uses a Jenga tower as its mechanic. Characters are created by answering questionnaires; your in-character answers provide what skillsets you have access to, which simply determines what you can do in the game without requiring a pull on the tower. Any time a character wants to do something that their character doesn't reasonably know how to do (or is especially risky), it requires you to pull and place a block from the Jenga tower - failure means your character has died.
I also am a big fan of D&D 3.5. The Pathfinder books are less of a new edition than they are some clever new rules (and a good campaign setting, if you like using those).
One funny moment came trying to explain to one of the new players that no, she didn't want to drop that cursed -2 sword and that, in fact, she REALLY liked and would fight anyone who suggested otherwise.
On a related note, I recently decided to try out the GM Emulator - I've bought the PDF, but there's also a free online tool (which makes a lot more sense if you also own the PDF but is still worth playing with even if not): http://artifex0.50webs.com/GMEmulator.sw...
I had some initial doubts about it, but it's actually pretty cool. You just need to come up with an opening scene, and then it's a matter of asking and interpreting questions to create the story as you go along. You can either ask yes/no questions (you have to provide a likelyhood) or a detailed question (this gives you some random words you need to interpret). The actual questions you ask don't matter - they're only useful for the story log.
Here's an example story created with the emulator:
My character is Raymond Winter, a hitman, contracted to kill a crime boss. The opening scene involves a meeting with a contact who knows where I can find my target.
I create a list of the important NPCs, then indicate that the first scene is "A dark alley", and create the initial thread "Valentino must die":
Valentino Ricci (the crime boss) Jacopo Romani (his right hand man) Valentino's bodyguards (treated as one NPC) Michael Farrish (my contact)
Scene #1: A dark alley
E: Ambiguous Significance: the Postponement of Suffering
I immediately get a random event: I decide my contact informs me that Valentino is suffering from a terminal illness, and has developed a morphine habit. I'm not sure whether this is actually useful information or not (it's an "Ambiguous" event so it shouldn't be obviously positive or negative for the story), but it may have an impact on other things…so I add a new thread, "Valentino is suffering from a terminal illness", and proceed to ask my contact where I can find the boss.
Q: Does my contact know where Valentino is right now? (yes/no) "likely" A: YES
Q: Where is he? (detail) A: The Answer involves Pleasant Spirituality, and might also involve Valentino suffering from a terminal illness
I interpret this as Valentino being in his local church, trying to make peace before his time is up. My contact gives me the address, I pay him, and drive over to the church.
So far so good, and everything seems to be under control - so the next scene will be less chaotic.
Scene #2: The church
Q: Is there anyone outside the church? (yes/no) "unlikely" as it's night time A: EXCEPTIONAL YES
Unexpected…I wonder who they could be…
Q: Are Valentino's bodyguards standing outside the church? "unknown" A: NO
Q: Do the people appear to be mafia types? "unknown" A: EXCEPTIONAL NO
Q: Is there a special event going on? (yes/no) "unknown" A: YES
Q: What is the event about? (detail) A: The Answer involves A Future of Squalor
Okay, so I decide there's some sort of soup kitchen charity event, with a load of homeless people hanging around outside the church.
Q: Can I see Valentino's limo? (yes/no) "unknown" A: YES
Good, so he's definitely in the church…
Q: Are there any buildings with a clear line of sight to the church? (yes/no) "very likely" A: YES
Q: What sort of building? (detail) A: The Answer involves Ironic Armament
Ironic Armament? I think I'll go with a gun shop - let's say it's a gun shop with an indoor shooting range. However I've just spawned another random event:
E: Setback to 'Valentino must die': the Domination of News
Having climbed up onto the roof of the gun shop and set up my sniper rifle, I'm just waiting for Valentino to leave - unfortunately it seems the press have caught wind of his religious visit, and pull up outside the church. That's really not going to help…
Q: Are the press blocking my line of sight? (yes/no) "unknown" A: NO
Q: Do the press have a helicopter? (yes/no) "very unlikely" A: EXCEPTIONAL NO
Okay so it's not all bad…but it's still risky. Let's see how this plays out.
Q: Does Valentino come out to talk to the press? (yes/no) "very unlikely" A: YES
And we've got a personality of "Careless : Thoughtless. Has an identical twin." with the motto "Don't give a sucker an even break". Sounds someone with a grudge against Valentino.
Q: Does he attack Valentino? (yes/no) "likely" A: EXCEPTIONAL YES
Exceptional yes? Sounds like an execution to me…he shoots Valentino - right in front of all those reporters?!
Q: What does the shooter look like? (detail) A: The Answer involves An Incredible Display of Innovation, which might affect Raymond Winter.
An "Incredible Display of Innovation", which might affect my character? And he has "an identical twin"? Sounds like he's disguised to look exactly like me, and he's just executed Valentino in front of the press - I've been set up!
Anyway, I've used the emulator for two tabletop sessions now, and it works well, allowing me to actually have a character (the first time in many years I've been able to play). Of course it only works if you want it to work - one disruptive player can easily destroy the story with silly questions. But if you've got a group of players who really want to create a story, it works well, and the outcome is never predictable.
You can also use it for solo play (like I did above), but I don't find that particularly fun. Another option is to use it as a GM aid, allowing the GM to create complex stories without any preparation - or just for inspiration if they get stuck (it forces you to take the stories in directions you wouldn't normally consider).
I've also seen people use it to create adventures in advance, and in one case someone actually used it to design a game setting.
Major necro, but I thought it'd be fun to revisit this thread.
I played Tri-Stat for a bit, enjoyed the power customisation, but really disliked the combat. So mostly I switched back and forth between WoD and D&D 3.5.
D&D has lots of cool monsters and some great tactical combat, but I hate the zero-to-superhero advancement. At low levels you're pretty much incompetent at everything, while at higher levels combat slows to a crawl, and GM preparation time increases significantly. The skill system is an improvement over older versions of D&D, but still feels tacked on, and is heavily tied to level (high level characters who focus on swimming can literally swim up waterfalls).
WoD has nice character customisation and advancement, you can even start out as an expert in your chosen field if you wish, and advancement has a much flatter curve. But combat was a yawn-fest, no real tactics just fists full of dice.
Then I got into Savage Worlds. It offers the same sort of customisation and advancement as WoD, but tactical combat that's more flexible than D&D. It's also much faster to resolve combat, and greatly reduces bookkeeping. It's not perfect, but overall I've found it a very solid system.
I've also been working on various tools and documents for it. Character generators, combat simulators, an Edge builder (Edges are like D&D Feats), etc. I even created a tool to convert Pathfinder monsters, so that I can loot Paizo's vast bestiary.